Make Money Mondays: Embrace Constraints

Many lawyers view lack of resources as an obstacle to starting or growing a law practice.  And they’d be right to some extent. After all, it’s far easier and less stressful to start a law practice with a deep pocket full of money to fund prime office space, administrative help and professional marketers and coaches who can help you launch and grow quickly or to help you smooth out dips in cash flow so that you don’t have to take on any miserable case that comes through the door.  

Still, even though starting out flush makes law firm ownership easier, where’s the fun in that?  Or the  scope for the imagination as one of my favorite childhood heroines, Anne of Green Gables would say.  Turns out that little Anne Shirley may have been right – because recent research  described in the Harvard Business Journal found that individuals, teams and organizations all benefit from “a healthy dose of constraints” when it comes to innovation.

As the article explains, “Constraints can foster innovation when they represent a motivating challenge and focus efforts on a more narrowly defined way forward.” Thus, when managers impose constraints like a stringent deadline, tight budgets or specific prototyping requirements, it can force team members to think out of the box to come up with a novel approach.  Of course, too many constraints can have an opposite effect: severe resource inadequacy or time constraints requiring 100-hour workweeks can be so demoralizing that they sap any creative energy.

For solo and small firm lawyers, constraints operate the same way.   Decades ago, Supreme Court lawyer Tom Goldstein  ambulance chased circuit-split cases and took them on for free because it was the only way to gain facetime before the Supreme Court.  Back in 1994, small firm lawyer Canter and Siegel spammed 6000 newsgroups to get the word out about a newly announced Green Card lottery quickly and cheaply. Though the pair has become known as the parents of modern-day spam, there’s no doubt that they innovated.  And today, solo and small firms continue to be first to embrace blogs, social media groups, online scheduling and automation to glide right past the obstacles that would otherwise bury them. As I’ve said before, while large firms pay other to innovate, solos and smalls innovate to get paid – and that’s what makes them so good at it.

So – can’t afford $3000 a month in SEO? Try blogging to generate some SEO juice or beefing up your Google My Business instead. 

Is there a networking conference you want to attend that would break your budget? Contact the organizers and see whether there might be an opportunity to tweet the conference in exchange for attending. Or maybe a seasoned lawyer would pay your admission to attend and take notes on his or her behalf.

Can’t afford office space? Visit your clients on site instead – and make it part of your service offerings to clients.

Many times, constraints don’t just result in a pallid version of what you’d originally hoped for but something more innovative and expansive than you ever dreamed.  So embrace the constraints – because they may free you up to create more than you ever imagined. 

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