Are you afraid to succeed?

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Published on 2/5/07

I ended a recent column on success in 2007 by suggesting that you should be certain that you want to succeed.

During the holidays, I participated in a fascinating e-mail exchange with members of an online listserv for sole practitioners. The exchange concerned quality of life, and in it a surprising number of lawyers expressed real reluctance about successfully marketing their practices and getting more business.

Some of these lawyers said they barely had enough time now to meet their professional and personal obligations and that new business would put them further behind.

Others feared that new business would rob them of the flexibility to pursue a schedule and pace that they control and prize as solos.

These lawyers all believed that setting limits on how much they could do and wanted to do was the best way to conduct their practices.

My response was simply: why? Why can't you accept every good client and good matter that walks through your door?

If you're so successful that more people come to you than you expect or want, you can take one of two new paths: either raise your fee and earn more revenue per client and thus more revenue for less or the same effort, or hire another lawyer/paralegal to expand your firm.

If you don't want to grow your firm, then you face other challenges: You will always be an hourly worker - and you must hope you stay healthy because when (not if) you get sick, your revenue ceases.

This is not just a lifestyle issue of "balance" (if there is such a thing, which I don't believe). It is a serious economic issue for you and your family.

I suspect that many lawyers who fear success would benefit from working with a coach, who can discuss and explore problems and provide a resource to resolve them. Consider these two examples from my own coaching experience:

  • A young family-law sole practitioner was trying to do a good job for his clients while at the same time trying to attract more business, making for 16-hour days that left him exhausted. I suggested that he first focus his efforts with a strategic plan that defined his revenue and net income goals and the types of clients and matters that would support them. Second, I advised hiring an assistant who could handle administrative chores and allow the lawyer to do the work only he could do - serving existing clients and marketing to new ones.

  • An attorney told me he was stressed because he had so much business that he was worried about inadvertently failing to do something essential for a client. We discussed his procedures for dealing with open files, and I recommended that he use a project management system that would keep track of the details. In just a week, the attorney reported that the system worked so well that he had his best night's sleep in months.

Many lawyers who fear that success requires too much of them can quell their fears with help from a coach, who can show them how to leverage their own wisdom and unique abilities to succeed beyond what they ever thought possible.

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