GPSolo Magazine - October/November 2005
Fake It Till You Make It
Not long ago I spoke with Oren Bloostein, the owner of Oren’s Daily Roast, a chain of nine gourmet coffee retail outlets here in Manhattan. Mr. Bloostein has gone up against gourmet coffee giant Starbucks and survived, even grown. What he said to me about starting his business was very informative—and I believe very useful to solo attorneys.
“People couldn’t understand how I could leave a steady job and take the risk of starting my business,” he said. “But to me, there was no risk. I knew that if I did what I planned I would succeed.”
Having such a strong conviction can be a powerful tool when starting a business. Of course, intelligent planning helps, and Mr. Bloostein prepared for his career change by first going back to school to get his MBA, for which he undertook a study of the retail coffee business. But it was his absolute belief that he would succeed that carried him through all the hardships, including tough competition from Starbucks and smaller retail gourmet coffee chains, some of which are no longer around.
How is this relevant to solo attorneys? Solos face many challenges every day and must have a strong conviction that they will succeed. You must face each day with confidence, no matter that you’re not sure whether you can take care of all the legal needs of a big new client or even if you have just lost a major client. In this column I will describe a powerful tool to help you find this confidence.
First, let me reemphasize that planning is important. There are many resources out there to help you plan the establishment and growth of a solo law practice. A good place to start looking is the GP|Solo Division’s “How to Start and Run a Law Firm” web page, www.abanet.org/genpractice/resources/startafirm.html.
But let’s assume for the moment that you are up on the law in your area and you’ve done all your homework on the mechanics and procedures. You’ll need more than that if you want to see your practice thrive.
Perhaps your practice is doing well but you would like to do better. Perhaps you are struggling to get more clients so that you can make ends meet. Either way, this technique will help you.
Before you sit down with a potential new client or take a call from a possible new referral, mentally prepare yourself. Tell yourself that your practice is busier than ever with good paying clients. Take some time to fill in the details of this lovely picture. You have ample work that you can bill at your full rate for clients who pay on time and don’t get picky about the bill. All your business and personal bills are paid and you have a healthy nest egg that grows every month. This may only be a fantasy, but for this exercise it is important that you make it believable to yourself.
Allow yourself to accept these thoughts and you’ll find that your demeanor is much more attractive to potential clients. If you have done a good job of creating this “reality,” you will smell of success, thereby encouraging potential clients to hire you. Why? Because people like to have a winner on their team.
This technique is effective not only when meeting with new clients, but for many other situations as well. Solo attorneys inevitably wear many hats, and sometimes you can’t help bringing your worries with you when you are having a bad day. Anyone meeting with you, be it a client or someone else, might interpret that edge of tension as a sign that you are less dependable or less confident, notwithstanding the fact that you are a good lawyer. On the other hand, the sense of well-being you emanate when you have a strong inner life of success will not go unnoticed.
Even New York City coffee magnate Oren Bloostein may need to give himself a boost from time to time. The ability to create an inner life might be useful for him on a day when the coffee beans get burnt or when one of his store managers unexpectedly quits. Likewise, even lawyers with a consistently high level of confidence have a bad day occasionally, and they might find this technique useful when they do.
From Russia with Love
The credit for this technique does not go to me. It was created by Constantin Stanislavsky, pioneer in acting technique during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and founder of the Moscow Art Theater. He scorned “representational acting,” whereby actors mimic the external gestures of a particular emotional state, and instead instructed actors to develop an inner life of the character that they play, thereby creating a much more genuine and effective performance. This system of acting was adopted by some of the leading actors of his time and still is held in high regard by many major actors today.
What I have presented here represents only a small part of Stanislavsky’s system. To find out more I recommend Stanislavsky’s book, An Actor Prepares, as an excellent source for lawyers who want to understand more about how we communicate and interact as human beings. The book is an easy read and a classic in its field, with interesting concepts and suggestions, many of which are applicable to other professions, including the law.
So even if Starbucks decides to go into the law business, you should do just fine.
David Leffler is a member of the New York City law firm Leffler Marcus & McCaffrey LLC, which represents clients in business matters and litigation. Prior to that he was a solo attorney for more than a dozen years. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.