Does Doing Work That’s Hard Work for Solos Seeking to Grow?

Marketing god Seth Godin recently urged his audience to take up the challenge of doing what’s hard:

In an industrial setting, the obvious plan is to seek out the easy work. You’re more likely to get it done with less effort and then move on[…] Today, though, it’s the difficult work that’s worth doing. It’s worth doing because difficult work allows you to stand out, create value and become the one worth choosing.

Seek out the difficult, because you can. Because it’s worth it.

Great advice if you’re thinking about your legacy. But how does doing the difficult work as a  growth-based business model for solos and smalls?

Not very well. And if my opinion surprises you, well, it surprises me as well.

For years, I bought into Richard Susskind’s belief that the bespoke shall inherit the earth  — meaning that lawyers with special or unique skills would survive and thrive even in a world where many routine legal tasks formerly handled by lawyers are increasingly automated. I built my practice on a niche specialty in energy regulation that’s always been in demand and enabled me to command more for my work than many of my colleagues in general practice. In an already complicated field, I chased the toughest work possible because most of my peers didn’t want it and plus, I love a good challenge. Today in my industry, I may be viewed as a bit of an outsider, but I know that I’m also respected for the quality of work that I do. 

But in the meantime, I’ve always struggled to grow because given the nature of my work, it’s nearly impossible to find and train quality lawyers to work with me. For the past five years, I’ve relied on part-time associates, freelance lawyers and of-counsel senior attorneys which works but doesn’t allow for growth.

Meanwhile, all around me, I see lawyers launching and growing empires built on fairly ordinary work capably handled but done in bulk. Routine bankruptcy. Trademark applications. Uncomplicated divorce. Social security claims. Some types of estate planning.  While most of these practice areas have a complicated side to them, the majority of cases run to type and can be easily taught to new lawyers and handled through systems, forms and automation. Indeed, services prepaid legal plans and membership services like those offered by RocketLawyer thrive because they cherry pick the small stuff.  The analogy extends to big law as well: companies like Axiom are making a killing  by picking off routine corporate work that big firms once charged an arm and a leg to handle, and doing it efficiently and cost-effectively through a pool of lawyers who do solid, serviceable work.

I’m not saying that choosing difficult work isn’t worthwhile. Most of us didn’t go to law school to process cases assembly line style.  And a specialty can distinguish you and make it easier to compete, particularly if you don’t have natural marketing skills.  But if you want to grow an empire that sustains more than just you and a small handful of lawyers, or build something scalable and saleable that survives beyond just you, then doing exclusively what’s difficult may prove difficult indeed.

What do you think? Chime in with your comments below.