What is it about lawyers that makes most of us resistant to the entrepreneurial journey? Why is it harder for us? Can we do anything about it? And, why
Most lawyers struggle with entrepreneurship because of the combination of factors that led us to law school in the first place + the way we are taught to think once we get to law school.
While this is not universally true, most lawyers I know (including myself) are perfectionists with tendencies towards control issues. We love to be right. And smart.
Law school teaches us to find what’s not working. We are taught to eliminate uncertainty. We are trained to focus on risk and what could go wrong to prevent the worst case scenario from happening.
Not a single one of these factors makes for a good entrepreneur.
(For more on this, check out this article by author and former lawyer Jonathan Fields where he shares why he doesn’t teach entrepreneurship to lawyers.)
If this describes you, it’s not your fault. But, you CAN do something about it. And, after years of training lawyers to embrace entrepreneurship, I have a less pessimistic view than Jonathan does on whether lawyers can actually be successful at entrepreneurship.
Yes, you can be an entrepreneurial lawyer. And becoming one will improve your life substantially.
By becoming an entrepreneurial lawyer, you get to be in control of your life. This means doing work that feels fulfilling, having total control over your schedule, making a great living that fully supports your family and taking plenty of time off.
Sounds great, right?
So, how can you shift your thinking so you can experience all these benefits?
Step One: Begin to become aware of “lawyer think” so you can use it when it’s helpful and weed it out when it’s not.
Lawyers make decisions with near 100% certainty, focusing on what’s not going to work. Entrepreneurs make decisions with 30% certainty, focusing on possibilities and how they can make it work.
Begin to notice where you are focusing on what you don’t want instead of what you do want so you can shift it each time it comes up.
Once you begin to become conscious of your thoughts, you can change them. I like to use a process where I become conscious of the thought and call it out to myself “there I am again, focusing on what I don’t want, or what won’t work. How can I reframe this thought into what I do want or what will work?”
Step Two: Know your risk tolerance and begin to push against the edges
Entrepreneurship can be risky business. But, the rewards are great.
Begin to identify where your tolerance for risk is holding you back and push against those edges.
What are you most afraid of? What’s the worst that could happen? Write out a vivid description of it so you can move towards that.
I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s my experience that everything you want is on the other side of that thing you are avoiding most. So take a step closer to that fear and watch what happens.
(Note: don’t do this alone. You’ll need support as you are moving through your fears. It’s easy to get lost here, turn tail and hide. With support you can keep moving through and when you get to the point of breakdown, keep going — your breakthrough is just on the other side. I promise!)
Step Three: Get really good at switching hats — from lawyer to entrepreneur and back.
When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re constantly in the realm of the unknown. Nothing is certain. And your job is to become a master at operating in this uncertainty.
As a lawyer, your job is to manage and mitigate risk. To see the holes, find the cracks and fill them.
Your assignment is to learn to recognize when it’s time for your lawyer hat and when it’s time for your entrepreneur hat and to get fluid with putting one on and taking off the other and then changing back again.
For those of you who are ready to make the switch, you’ve got an advantage that not all lawyers will have: you are here and waking up to a new possibility. We are here to support you on the journey.