So many lawyers I speak with think that they aren’t made for client development. They’re not good at selling. They’re not gregarious. They’re not [fill in the blank]. But that’s not the real issue.
The real issue is that their learning muscle has atrophied.
When was the last time you studied something so new that you weren’t sure you’d be able to master it? When did you last not even know where to look for the answers to your questions?
I’m talking about learning something riding-your-bike-for-the-first-time new.
Working first as a scientist, then as a lawyer, I used to think that I was wrestling with new things all the time. New experiments, new facts, new law…
Now I realize that, after a while, in both science and law, I was working within well-established mental frames, which allowed me to hang new information onto my existing scaffolding of knowledge effortlessly.
And while good outcomes were not guaranteed, I had a comfortable sense of having the expertise to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. If an experiment didn’t work, the experimental design may have needed a tweak or we needed a new batch of reagents. If a summary judgment brief didn’t gel, I’d start fiddling with the order of the arguments, maybe do more legal research, or go through the hot documents one more time.
Yes, I was quite comfortable in knowing that I was smart and capable. Perhaps, I was even a tad smug.
And then I embarked on this crazy journey of entrepreneurship, where I get to be everything from CEO, to saleswoman, to copywriter (not to mention IT person), and this is on top of the substantive coaching and teaching at the core of my business. Each and every day, I encounter problems I don’t even know how to describe, let alone solve.
I often don’t feel either smart or capable.
Learning something completely foreign is also how lawyers experience attempting to develop business. Many try once or twice, then give up, telling themselves that they are just not salespeople. But business development is not about sales. It is, however, about connecting to others in a way that is different from how most lawyers interact with their clients (brought in by someone else), or with their colleagues.
Many are painfully uncomfortable in a situation where they don’t know the answer (or don’t know with a fair certainty how to get the answer). They perceive any failed attempt as a statement about their core worth (“if I’m smart, I should know how to do this.”). They don’t see not knowing as a mere developmental stage – now I don’t know, but with practice (augmented by some reading, maybe some coaching or mentoring), I will know.
Learning to endure this discomfort, especially when you’re used to being an expert, is very hard. But there’s no way around it if the goal is to expand your opportunities and gain new expertise. And while the frustration and discomfort are only temporary, the gained capabilities will hold for a lifetime, and provide new frames and scaffolding for easier mastery of new things down the road.
That’s a fair bargain, no?