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Avoid the Lawyer Mentality

By Nov 09,2011 Follow Me on Google+
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Summary

Obsession with details can prove extremely negative; rather than focus on details, you would be much better served by a frame of mind that emphasizes the big picture and keeps things running smoothly. In focusing on the details, however, you make your work and success contingent on a list of conditions, hindering your growth.

Steven Covey wrote in a June 2007 article in Entrepreneur Magazine:

Consider the example of Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett in acquiring McLane Distribution–a $23 billion company–from Wal-Mart.  A deal of this size involving public companies would typically take several months to complete and cost several million dollars in due diligence.  But because both parties operated with high trust, this deal was made with one two-hour meeting and a handshake.  In less than a month, it was completed.  Buffett wrote in his annual report: “We did no ‘due diligence.’  We knew everything would be exactly as Wal-Mart said it would be–and it was.”  Imagine–less than one month and no due diligence costs.  High trust, high speed, low cost.

I love this example and recently heard Steven Covey give a speech, citing the same example again.  Covey uses this example to show that it is incredibly important to have trust in business and that this can reduce the costs of transactions and make it easier to advance.  I, however, like this example for another reason as well–a reason that I feel is far more significant: This example shows that without focusing on minutiae, and arguing back and forth about innumerable small details, a great deal more can be accomplished.  In fact, when you stop looking at small details and, instead, look at the big picture and the person or organization behind the big picture, you can often accomplish more and in a much better way.

An obsession with details can be a very dangerous thing.  Lawyers, for example, make their living obsessing over details.  While this has its place, and may often be necessary, obsessing over details is not always the smartest thing when it comes to your life and your job search.  Instead of focusing on every small detail, you are often better off approaching things from another state of mind, one that takes into account the big picture, and keeps people, places and things all working together smoothly.  More importantly, when you are in this state of mind you will seek to work with, spend time with and be someone who has a fundamental trust and interest in just doing the right thing.

I am a lawyer and I work with lawyers all day, every day.  I speak with lawyers looking for jobs.  I speak with the numerous lawyers who I work with.  I speak and communicate with the former lawyers who have worked for me.  I speak with lawyers who represent me.  I am up to my eyeballs in lawyers and I have seen and dealt with them so much that I cannot believe it.  Everywhere I turn, I am getting a contract from a lawyer, an email from a lawyer, a voicemail from a lawyer, a job application from a lawyer, a threat from a lawyer … it literally never ends.  And the thing that makes all of this so ridiculous is that I was trained in law school and by attorneys to do the very same thing.  For years I had this or that lawyer stuff drilled into me.  It was incessant.  The whole lawyer personality and way of approaching work is incredibly polarizing and dangerous to your job search.

When you start focusing on small details, you act in a way that demands your corresponding action, agreement, or so forth only if one or more conditions about something are met.  You give a bit only if a little bit is given.  This can hinder progress and prevent growth.  To keep you career and life moving forward you should avoid this sort of lawyer mentality.

THE LESSON

Obsession with details can prove extremely negative; rather than focus on details, you would be much better served by a frame of mind that emphasizes the big picture and keeps things running smoothly. In focusing on the details, however, you make your work and success contingent on a list of conditions, hindering your growth.

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  • nysecjd

    If what you’re referring to is the old adage, “don’t sweat the small stuff,” agreed. Unfortunately, however, your example is not a particularly good one. Maybe Wal-Mart proved trustworthy, but there are numerous recent examples of deals that were done without proper due diligence and turned out to be frauds, even where the other party to the deal had a supposedly “stellar” reputation; the case of Marc Dreier comes to mind.

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    • Harrison Barnes

      Hello,

      I certainly agree with you that I could have used a better example. Thanks so much for your comments.

      –Harrison

      Harrison Barnes did not rate this post.
  • http://www.theonlinebar.com Jorge Colón

    Yet another great post! :-)

    Complexity seems to be taking its toll on many industries, including law. For the last 9 years I have observed complexity in law and found my own ways to simplify. Most of my peers frowned upon it when I was in house as it seems that lawyers benefit from complexity much as ancient priests did with religious texts few could read.

    One of my initiatives was launching a global legal organization (The Online Bar) based upon the principle of trust. We’re reminding lawyers to build and maintain trust with each other as a means of improving our lifestyles and growing business. I have not read Covey’s Speed of Trust but the title says it all.

    Thanks,
    Jorge

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  • George Merrill

    I will be 65 next month. I got my law degree when I was 38 and went to practice tax and corporate law at one of Maryland’s most prestigious blue-stocking firms. I stayed there about 3 1/2 years, then left to start a business with my wife that lasted about 17 years. My function, among others, was to handle the general in-house legal matters that every small business has to deal with, only a little more so, since we operated in three states.

    I was a Law Review Editor in law school and consider myself to have good research and writing skills.

    When the business ceased operations about 7 years ago, I started sending resumes to everyone and anyone who indicated the slightest interest in hiring a lawyer. I soon came to the conclusion that most hiring companies and firms want either (a) a young whiz kid fresh out of law school, or (b) someone more senior who brings a clientele with him. I am neither. I am willing and able to do competent associate’s work at an associate’s salary, but no one, it seems, can conceive of someone my age operating effectively at that level.

    I eventually gave up the legal job search and now handle B2B sales for an Apple Retail Store.

    All this to say that while I am flattered to receive an email from you telling me of all the great legal jobs you have for me, I am skeptical. Why should I believe you?

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