Let’s say that you aced law school or spent a couple of years at the most prestigious firm in your state or the country or worked in-house at a Fortune 500 corporation. If you have these credentials — and even if you don’t — but you’re itching to try your hand at starting your own firm, chances are that you’ll make it happen. On the other hand, even with the most prestigious resume in the world, if you start a firm out of desperation or view solo practice as the legal profession’s sloppy seconds (or thirds or fourths), then you’re probably doomed from the start.
Although none of us can fully control our destiny, mindset plays a role in success. As William Barnett writes at the Harvard Business Journal, winning is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Barnett gives the example of his brother-in-law, a photographer who, literally, missed the boat for a wedding shoot taking place on a yacht. Not surprisingly, the bride was furious – until a racing boat zipped by with her photographer strapped in, snapping photos with a telescopic lens. In minutes, the photographer went from goat to genius – because he’d capture far better photos shooting from a separate boat than in the cramped quarters of the wedding yacht.
Although the photographer pulled off the plan seamlessly – as if it was what he’d intended all along — that wasn’t the case. He’d actually missed the boat, then scrambled to find a racing boat to zip him out to the site, all while coming up with a new way to take photos on the fly. But as Barnett describes:
[There’s a] reason that winners keep winning, a reason that is particularly useful to understand business leadership: Some people tend to be unrealistically optimistic, a view that sometimes makes itself come true. The downside of such unrealistic optimism is that it can lead you to be out of touch. But the upside is that an unrealistically optimistic outlook might trigger what’s known as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I’ve observed the same in solo practice. Those who start with confidence, certain that they’ll make it work no matter what often thrive. By contrast those who on paper have far better advantages – the top law school, the work experience, the contacts – often flounder either because their heart isn’t in it or because ultimately, they secretly harbor feelings of failure because they’ve never attained what the legal profession considers success.
In the case of the photographer:
He could not accept that he would fail. So in a situation where others would throw up their hands and admit defeat, he kept scrambling. Not letting the facts get in the way, the unrealistic optimist expends effort as if victory was within reach, which of course makes that victory more likely. And with every victory, the optimist’s unrealistic view gets confirmed yet again.
But that kind of determination is often what it takes to make it as a solo: ignore that the odds are against you, assume that you’ll overcome them and play as hard as you can.