The Importance of the Company We Keep

I’ve finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers which argues that a variety of factors, such as luck, era of birth or family support account as much for success as sheer talent.  After all, what explains the break out success of certain individuals with innate talent in comparison to the mediocre performance of those equally endowed? 

If you haven’t read Outliers, Gladwell’s premise sounds depressing.  After all, what’s the point of working hard if our fate is determined by factors beyond our control?  But I take away the opposite from Gladwell and find his observations enormously helpful.  For once we realize that other factors besides merit account for success, those of us who are less talented can replicate the kind of environment that is conducive to success through the company we keep.

Obviously, we can’t recreate our own families, or re-live our childhood.  But what we can do is surround ourselves with good company — friends and colleagues and peers and mentors who support and motivate and inspire us.  That’s especially important in solo practice.  I wonder how many talented young lawyers have been deterred from starting a practice because they encountered only naysayers along the way rather than lawyers who supported and nurtured their vision.  How many lawyers fired from a job have left the law in shame, tail between their legs, feeling as if they’d failed when with the right encouragement, they could have opened their own firm and made a real difference in the lives of clients and to our entire profession. 

I’m often asked what matters most in starting a law firm.  Is it resources or sheer talent or powerful connections?  For me, two characteristics matter most.  First, doggedness (another Gladwell success factor) – that persistence to keep at it just like a dog with a bone.  And second, community — those solos who have spouses who cheer them on or their proud parents who rave about their son or daughter, "the lawyer with his/her own firm."  Show me a solo who’s willing to work crazy-hard with a strong support group in place versus one who’s read all the latest marketing books and hired the first rate experts to draw up a business plan and create a fancy logo and brand and I’ll place my money on the dogged, every single time. 

As for me, I’m fortunate that I’ve never lacked the support that I needed to start my own practice, and then this blog.  First, it came from my husband who in the early weeks of my practice, bought me the laptop that I didn’t think we could afford that enabled me to work in the library or on the upper levels of our house instead of in the damp, dark and depressing basement.  (My husband also had the original idea for setting up this site, originally conceived as a portal, as a blog).  More recently, I’ve found positive reinforcement in my various on-line communities — the blogosphere, Solosez, my own little mastermind clique and more recently Twitter — all of which have kept me surrounded, nearly 24/7  with people who just dazzle me with their writing skills and wit and accomplishments and who generously share wisdom and knowledge and encouragement.  How can anyone fail in that kind of environment?

For 2009, I wish the gift of good company for all of you current solos as well as those of you who are thinking about making the leap to solo practice.  This is my last post for 2008, so have a wonderful New Year.  I’ll see you on the other side!