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Two for You #2: You Better Get Better

2013 January 11
by John Wallbillich

We are getting personal about 2013 to start off the new year on a positive note. Last week, we learned about the importance of creating more value than you capture.

This week, the reality that what you do today may not be enough next month. Or perhaps sooner than that.

I’ve honestly struggled writing this, because it risks coming off as either trivial or obvious. That said, here it goes…

Here’s the big-picture concept: if we are moving to more of a value-based universe, how are enterprise lawyers supposed to work better? Put another way: how can you price by value but clamber along working as usual by the hour?

The fact is with all the efforts spent to improve lawyerly output, we still work in much of the same way as we’ve done for the past 20 years: spending too much time staring at a computer, and at our email inboxes in particular. When we are liberated, we go to a meeting, and surreptitiously stare at our smartphones, at our email inboxes in particular.

Pam Woldow touched on a part of this last year when she wrote about the inefficiencies caused by “digital distraction.” I won’t try to summarize it; just read it. But it touches on a profound reality for many lawyers: we are told to provide value, yet we aren’t taught how to work better.

Since most of us were historically taught to work more, when time comes to provide added value, we are left to our own devices. Figuratively and literally.

This is nowhere more apparent in the admonitions to “work as a team,” to “collaborate,” to “run a winning project.” Many meetings resulting from these worthy goals involve a bunch of people sitting around a table waiting for someone to take the lead; for anyone to point the way.

That won’t work if you want to get better. You will have to take the lead.

I think getting better in 2013 will involve more lawyering skills than just additional legal knowledge. I know that this sounds a bit squishy; I have the first verse of “Kum Ba Yah” running through my head as a write this. (Although when you sing it around a campfire, just think of the teamwork, and collaboration!)

In the coming weeks, I will outline what some of these new skills are. I am testing them in other places. In the meantime, I suggest this. You look around your workplace or your circle of influence. Find someone you admire for a personal quality or skill, and invite them to lunch. Somewhere between sports and the weather, ask them how they “got good at X.” Most people worth learning from are happy to help if asked sincerely.

This isn’t about trying to set up a formal mentor-mentee relationship. Those are not easy to come by, and can end up in some people losing their jobs.

Try it. See how it works. And don’t thank me. Thank Bueller.

(Apparently the German version of YouTube hasn’t gotten a C&D letter yet. Bonus points in the video for Gordie Howe’s No. 9 Red Wings jersey. Yes, hockey is back in Hockeytown! Teamwork on ice; with skates, sticks and a hard rubber disk…).

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