Focus on the Law, But Mind Your Business

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Donald Trump's (most) recent fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants moment is a great example of why no one should employ the tactic in a professional setting.

In this month's "Trump's Abortion Flub Shows Risks of 'Winging It' on Policy," The Associated Press discusses how Trump does not prepare for policy questions the way the other presidential candidates do — and how this lack of preparation has led to trouble for the front-runner. When asked about abortion and whether women should be punished for it, Trump said yes, there should be some type of punishment — but later reversed himself.

His lack of preparation, or apparent lack of preparation, in other instances has also caused people to think less of him as a candidate in recent days.

A run for president mandates a focus on self-preparation, as does running a law practice.

Businesses fail because owners fail to focus their energy on business. Attorneys tend to be technicians who want to do what they love doing, whether it's negotiating, drafting a contract, litigating or some other lawyerly task.

Generally, they don't want to run a business, don't want to spend time seeking new clients, and don't want to do business planning. But as famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said, "Failing to plan is planning to fail."

Most law practices begin to realize that they are in danger of failing only after the money ceases to come in the door in the required amounts. However, cash flow cessation is usually the last symptom of a downward spiral that started long ago.

An example of warning signs can be taken from the world of sports. A law practice is like an athlete who is exercising in hot weather. Hydration is critical to an athlete's performance and health. In fact, dehydration can lead to serious medical problems such as heat exhaustion, heat stroke and ultimately death.

Unfortunately, the body's ability to detect dehydration is slow. There is a lag between the time the body becomes dehydrated and when it sends the thirst signal to head straight to the nearest water supply to do something about it.

Knowledgeable athletes anticipate the problem by drinking plenty of fluids before and during exercise, even if they are not thirsty. The less knowledgeable suffer the pain of not having adequately prepared for their physical exertions.

A law practice functions in a similar way. In other words, the point when cash stops coming in the door is much too late to start wondering if there is a problem. The seeds of the problem were undoubtedly sown earlier — by weeks, months, even years.

Like the athlete who must anticipate the consequences of getting overheated, lawyers need to think about what lies ahead in the business side of the practice so that they are able to anticipate potential trouble and respond to it before they run into problems.

Even if you already have "challenges" in your business, you will find that addressing them through a proper business plan will help you overcome them.

Clearly, "winging it" is not a good choice. If you don't want to have to reverse course; if you don't want to lose the respect of your colleagues, your clients and yourself; and if you want to be a viable contender for any contest in which you find yourself, make sure that you are prepared well in advance.

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