Why good attorneys achieve mediocre results

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An expert, addressing a group of lawyers starting their own practice, offered this advice:

“Your goal, if you expect to have lots of happy clients and turn a sweet profit, is efficiency. That means creating systems, for instance, that eliminate double and triple entry of information—client information, case information, conflicts information—and looking for systems that save you time and reduce paper and administrivia [sic].”

I agree that efficiency is important. You should use systems and tools that eliminate redundancy and waste and allow you to maximize your time and effort. I credit much of my success to developing these systems and using the right tools. But while efficiency is important, effectiveness is far more so.

Efficiency means “doing things right”. Effectiveness means “doing the right things”. The difference is crucial.

You can be inefficient (i.e., sloppy, slow, distracted, riddled with mistakes, etc.) and amazingly successful in your career, if you are doing the right things. I know people who waste a lot of time and money and don’t get a lot of things done but are at the top of their field because they get the important things done.

I know others who are very efficient but achieve no better than mediocre results in their careers because they are efficient at the wrong things.

It’s far more important to choose the right practice area, for example, than to have the latest software. You’ll earn more by focusing on marketing instead of accounting. Your amazing library isn’t nearly as valuable as your amazing client relations practices.

Many attorneys achieve mediocre results because they major in minor things. They master the details but forget the big picture. They’re climbing the ladder of success, only to find that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.

Yes, you want to be good at what you do. Just make sure that you’re doing the right things.

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