Solo/Small

How To Start a Law Firm Without a Plan or Budget: Live Your Bliss, And Become A Happy Expert

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Welcome to Day 14!

The reason your bliss-following is so important is that not everything you do as an attorney creates equal value. When you focus on the big result-getters (and your own self-fulfillment is a crucial result to measure), your business will explode. 

Looking for your bliss sounds oddly spiritual, but it’s also very practical because of the 80/20 Rule. 

Much has been written about the 80/20 Rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, but keep the concept of bliss in mind while we discuss it.

In the early 1900s, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto made some fascinating observations. After analyzing pea plants in his garden, Pareto realized that 80% of the peas came from just 20% of the pods. 

Pareto then found that pattern all around him. In fact, the impact of this 80/20 distribution comes from its nearly universal application.

80% of the traffic in your city occurs on 20% of the roads; 80% of the world’s wealth is held by 20% of the population; and 80% of workplace injuries are caused by 20% of the hazards.

Writers like Richard Koch and Perry Marshall infer from this that you can use the 80/20 Rule to predict the results of your business efforts.

Koch supposes that 80% of the revenue in your company likely comes from 20% of your customers, and that 20% of your customers account for 80% of your service headaches. I’ve seen these patterns in my own law firm.

Further, Koch suggests that you can use that distribution to improve your business. By culling the 80% of clients that are only bringing 20% of your revenues, or letting go of the cases that bring the majority of your headaches, you can focus on what works.

I want to take that idea further and apply the 80/20 Rule to your bliss. If the rule is universal then it’s reasonable to expect that 80% of your bliss comes from only 20% of the work you do.

One more time: 80% of your bliss comes from only 20% of the work you do!!

Have you felt that distribution in your business already? Do you find that most of your activities feel like a drain? Do you stay afloat by waiting for those few moments that fulfill you? You can use that awareness to start designing what you do every day. 

Cutting your work down to the 20% that brings bliss and sourcing the rest will greatly increase your energy in the business. What follows is an incredibly practical result: effectiveness. And the math gets exponential.

Perry Marshall noticed that the 80/20 rule is fractal. Meaning, once you cut the work down to the 20%, you can do it again and again. You can keep the activities that energize you, then seek to get better at them, leading to even more energy and effectiveness.

I focused on my own 20% and now spend most of my time teaching and building relationships. But I’m no expert yet (I have something like 10,000 hours to go before that happens), which means I can improve.

The way I improve is to keep doing the math. I don’t stop at deciding to teach, I try to measure how effective my teaching is and focus on what works. 

Maybe I teach in several ways, but I see that teaching through webinars impacts the most people. Or maybe teaching by seminars brings the most leads to my firm.

Whatever result you want from your 20%, measure it and get to the most effective 20%. Then do it again and again, as Perry Marshall did, to become a happy expert.

When you keep focusing in on your most effective 20%, you will see the results in your business. Your revenues will increase, your customers will like you more, you’ll like your customers more, and you will find more joy in your work.

This is why you need to start living your bliss as soon as possible. Mastery, as we have discussed, is a long-term pursuit. Don’t put off your bliss by failing to hone in on your 20%. You will regret the lost time.

[Mental Exercise of the Day]:

Today, I’d like you to focus on a secret demon that’s holding you back: the fear of success.

“Fear of success — are you insane!?”

Look, I do it. I know what “success” looks like for me. I can paint a very detailed picture of where I will be in 10 years, assuming I have reached that success. I even know what I’d have to do every day to get there. I’ve known for a long time, but I haven’t done it. Why? Fear.

The fear of success is sneaky, because success is complicated. The statistical reality is that most of us are, indeed, average. So being a failure means having lots of friends.

Success, however, means a lot of time spent on an island. People just won’t understand what you’re doing, and constantly explaining it to them will drive you nuts.

Again, I do this. My ideas are a little crazy. (Not so original as to be novel, sure, but odd enough to make lawyer parties interesting.) I know that not everyone agrees with me when they hear these crazy ideas.

When I sit with older lawyers, several tell me that they think my vision can’t be realized. And the youngsters are even more scared than I am, so they know it can’t be realized.

Working in the fringes, being the innovator, implies isolation. We celebrate genius after we see its fruit, but we call it crazy for a long time before that. And sometimes all the innovators want is a cheerleader.

If you know in your heart that you have something amazing to offer our industry and you don’t do it, it’s because you are afraid. Not because you don’t have time or aren’t eloquent or need to read just one more book, but because you’re scared.

You’re scared to prioritize your success. Every minute of your day is a choice. That means, if you don’t have time, you’re really just putting something else above your ideas. If you thought your ideas were good enough, you’d never do that. Ever.

Do you think I haven’t taken a risk writing this book? You may have read through it and rejected every word. I’ve envisioned the day when the Twittersphere tears me up for even trying to write it. Fear made this book take over a year to write.

I don’t know if it’s good enough now, but I know it’s what you deserve. Not that you deserve less than perfect guidance, but because you deserve some guidance, and me waiting for perfection was getting you nowhere. 

Accepting and shipping 80% is a quantum leap above waiting for 100% and shipping nothing.

Stop being afraid. Re-sort your priorities and create. And if your fear makes you believe you have to get it perfect the first time, you’ll find yourself saying “See? I told you so,” and crawling back under your rock. Fear again.

Create, test, and create again. 

None of this is you. Your value is greater than your product. Stop putting so much on yourself. Stop waiting and stop whining. Make something happen. Because you deserve your bliss, and you shouldn’t fear it. It’s waiting for you to be awesome. 

We all are.

[Big Little Step of the Day]:

This is your last Big Little Step, so it’s a huge one: share this ebook with someone.

I mean do it for free. I’m giving you permission. If you feel like your buddy should give you a few bucks for your troubles, that’s your call, but I’d encourage you just to pass on the PDF. I didn’t put any restrictions on the format specifically because I wanted it shared.

Knowledge is a funny thing: it never ends. It never runs out and it always pays. When you share what you know, you have lost nothing, but your friend has gained immensely. I want you to get into that habit.

This isn’t the best book you’ll ever read. I know that. But it’s helpful, and you should be a book-sharer. Be a rabid book-consumer then be a friendly book-sharer. The good will you’ll create will take you far.

Why? Because, as Ferrazzi notes in Never Eat Alone, your contacts will always appreciate help with their health, their family, and their business. What you give your friends with each shared book will come back to you several fold.

If you found any parts of this book particularly helpful, highlight them for your friend. If you thought any of it was total nonsense, warn them. Make the sharing personal.

This habit of sharing what you know should define your professionalism. You will struggle through your first years, but you’ll quickly find yourself mentoring new lawyers. You should. It’s part of our social contract.

I genuinely hope you will share it. And let me know you did. I’m on Twitter at @mikewhelanjr and would love to hear that you took this action. 

We’ve got to be able to come up with a cool hashtag for that. “#nerditforward”??

That works. So #nerditforward. Do it.

Thank you.


Up Next…

Go on to the next chapter: Conclusion

Or, go back to the Table of Contents

Mike Whelan, Jr. is Managing Editor at Casetext. He spends most of his day advocating for and training solo and small firm attorneys in topics as varied as writing, marketing, design, and collaboration. He was a solo attorney himself for several years after graduating from the University of Texas School of Law. He lives in the Kansas City area with his lovely wife and four rambunctious children.