In Episode 18 of Lawyerpreneur, Jay Harrington and I talk about distinguishing yourself from your competition and his path from corporate bankruptcy lawyer to business consultant. But my favorite part of our conversation was where we talked about having a vision for your work (Episode 13), goal-setting, and selling yourself time (Episode 6) to do your most important work.
Today’s show is sponsored by ALPS, the nation’s largest direct writer of lawyers’ malpractice insurance. Right now you can get 25% off one CLE seminar from ALPS. Go to alpsinsurance.com/cle and use promo code LAWYERPRENEUR upon check-out.
Prioritizing Your Vision and Yourself with Jay Harrington
Jeremy Richter: My guest today is Jay Harrington, who is a consultant and strategist in the areas of legal marketing and business development. He writes regularly for Attorney at Work, and has four books, the newest of which is The Productivity Pivot. Jay, welcome to Lawyerpreneur.
Jay Harrington: Thanks, Jeremy. Great to be here. Excited to talk to you today.
Jeremy Richter: Yeah. And so we’ll just warn everybody because you and I talked off air that children may roam in and out. It’s audio only so they won’t get to see him. But like I said, my kids are coming home from swimming in a few minutes. They are not discreet, so they may make an appearance here.
Jay Harrington: Yeah, well, like you said, Jeremy, I think everyone’s accustomed to the craziness of the zoom life now. So…
Jeremy Richter: Yeah, that’s right. We’re four months. And if you hadn’t gotten used to it by now, I don’t know what to say. I do want to talk about your new book, The Productivity Pivot. But before we do that, I want to talk about you and your legal career and your path to consulting. And I’m sure that’s just like a really straight line from point A to point B. But what kind of practice law practice did you have and what you do?
Jay Harrington: Yeah, so I guess if we dial the clock back, I started as an associate at the Chicago office of Skadden Arps in September of 2001. So I had done my summer associate gig there. I went to the University Michigan Law School, and when I was — as a summer associate, it was like the best of times, right? It was in the tech bubble is fully inflated. It had just been the point where law firms had just accelerated salary to a great degree. It was one of the biggest jumps anyone’s seen. So all this good. I was supposed to be an M&A lawyer in the Chicago office. I got a call on September, I guess it was September 13, so two days after the 9/11 terrorist attack saying basically, you along with almost all the other associates starting in the Chicago office are now corporate restructuring lawyers. So, yeah, that was a — so basically I had to kind of flip through my notes to see if I had any taken a class or at any familiar with that.
Jeremy Richter: See what those words meant together?
Jay Harrington: So all of a sudden, I was a corporate bankruptcy lawyer. So it was a little bit of a crazy start to the one’s career, I mean, thrown into the fire immediately, but it was great training. I really enjoyed that experience. You know, once you’ve kind of got through and got a little more comfortable with it. I ultimately went back–
Jeremy Richter: Hey, I’m going to jump in on you because selfishly, that reminded me of a story I have. And then I definitely want to get back to it. Most of the work that I do is insurance defense. But occasionally we get other stuff. And several years ago now we had a lawyer going out on maternity leave. And the managing partner called me and said, “Hey, what do you know about corporate bankruptcy?” I was like, “Nothing.” “Well, we’ve got to trial in about six weeks. Catch up.” And so ultimately, that ended up getting settled, but not before I put about three weeks into learning as much as I could about corporate bankruptcy.
Jay Harrington: Well, I mean, I guess, you know, when you pass the bar, you’re supposed to be able to do everything. right?
Jeremy Richter: I guess.
Jay Harrington: So they say. But it’s like any practice. It’s got its own jargon. It’s got its own procedures. It’s got its own culture, whatever. And it’s hard to just step into something new like that, but glad you got that settle.
Jeremy Richter: All right. Where’d you go from there?
Jay Harrington: Yes. So I went there I went back to the Detroit area, which is where I grew up. My wife and I kind of were ready to maybe start a family and do that. So we went back. I started working at what was at the time a newly opened regional office of Foley and Lardner. So I kind of folded into their restructuring practice there. And then not too long after that, I set off on my own. I actually started this business I have now, this consulting practice. And then shortly thereafter, I decided right as the financial crisis was hitting, and the automotive crisis in Detroit as well, I thought if I’m ever going to practice law again, now’s the time. So I hung a shingle had another partner and we had kind of a wild three years of the corporate restructuring wave of 2009 through 2011. So, when that ran its course, that was it. But that was my practice. The interesting thing was when I had my own practice, that’s where I really learned to be a lawyer and learned to litigate, and learned to do transactional work, kind of got a broader experience, and frankly, learned almost everything I knew about or have come to know about building a practice.
Jeremy Richter: Well, if you’re looking to get back into corporate bankruptcy, now may be the time there may be another wave of coming.
Jay Harrington: Trust me, there’s a lot of echoes of that time period. And the wave is upon us. I mean, I have I still have a lot of friends in that area. And I guess fortunately and probably not surprisingly, because that’s sort of my circle of contacts, we have a lot of in our marketing practice now. We have a lot of clients who have sort of that specialty, and between consulting firms and law firms, we do benefit in a certain sense, but I’m certainly not getting the $1200/hour that the top restructuring lawyers are getting in bankruptcy cases. So yeah, it’s crossed my mind, but I don’t think I’m going to make that jump this time.
Jeremy Richter: So when you went to law school, did you have in mind (to the extent that you thought about it) that you wanted to be a career law firm practice type lawyer. Did you know you had these other interests and might want to do something else down the road?
Jay Harrington: Oh, man, I wish I had a better story to tell here. But I guess I’m one of those who sort of stumbled into law school. In college, I majored in journalism, which was good, you know, which was fine. But then I realized, there’s a — you’ll notice a pattern here — I realized when I actually got to the point where I had to explore what a career in journalism might look like, it didn’t look all that attractive. So I defaulted to applying for law school and, and that’s kind of how I get into it. I didn’t have lawyers in my family, I didn’t really know what it was all about. I truly was sort of, you know, it seemed like it was a well-paying career and, you know, the books, the John Grisham books, and the movie seemed interesting. So that’s kind of how I ended up there. I really had no notion of entrepreneurialism. At the time, though, to be honest, my mom was a nurse, my dad was a federal government employee, his whole career, he was an FBI agent. And I don’t know, I just wasn’t surrounded by that at all in terms of the idea of being an entrepreneur in any sense. So I thought, you know, my path was a career. When I finally got around to getting serious about what my future might hold, the law seemed like a reasonable place to go.
Jeremy Richter: Yeah. Similar story for me. No entrepreneurs in the immediate family. No lawyers in the immediate family. I taught high school for six years after college. I enjoyed it, but then I was ready for something else. So I thought, well, lawyers make a lot of money. Turns out, that’s not entirely true. Or at least some lawyers make a lot of money, but not all of the lawyers, but I didn’t know entirely what I wanted to do. And so it was just kind of, I wouldn’t advocate for anybody that they go in with as little education about what law school is and the opportunities that do or don’t wait after that, as I did, but that’s how I ended up where I am. And, you know, all said, I guess it worked out for me, but it was a rocky road for a little while.
Jay Harrington: I don’t think you can really get a sense of it until you really get into it. And there’s certainly a lot of things I liked about it, and I didn’t leave it because I didn’t like it. There were other factors that perhaps we’ll get into, but it can be a really good career. And I mean, I’m looking at your path, Jeremy, just sort of on the outside, we’ve interacted a few times. But you know, I love the idea of you know that you advocate on your podcast and your writing, of pursuing other interests and things like that. You don’t need to only take the one path where if you don’t love your job, you have to leave it and do something else. You found other ways to pursue those interests within the profession. And I think that’s cool. I mean, who knows if I had stumbled upon your podcast earlier, I might still be practicing law. You never know.
Jeremy Richter: So how did you transition to consulting — kind of tell me how you got into that in the first place.
Jay Harrington: I guess I was at a point in my career where I just, you know, like I said, I before I had started my small firm I had gotten into this a little bit — my wife actually is has more of a marketing and graphic design background and she started what at the time was just a kind of a freelance business. And at that point we had no kids. I paid off my law school loans, had a, you know, not a big but at least somewhat of a financial cushion that, you know, just the two of us living leanly could certainly get by on for a bit and was just looking for something else. I mean, it just been a bit of a grind for a while. And then when I finally after I kind of wound up my law firm itself, that’s when I got serious with it.
But I wanted a different path. There were some things like in the large law firm that I came to realize that it wasn’t necessarily for me, like, it just became obstacles to kind of the practice I wanted to build. I remember as an associate in it, when I was at a firm, I had an opportunity for a significant piece of business with a tier one auto supplier. And when I was trying to figure out a way to pursue that you got to go through the bureaucratic hoops, of course, you know, like 25 lawyers at the firm sort of raised their hand and said, well I already have a pre-existing relationship with that client and I thought, wow, if it’s going to be this hard to, you know, navigate these channels, maybe going off on my own and doing something where I’m in control to a greater degree might be the path forward.
So as far as the consulting goes, I just liked the idea where I thought I could have a better semblance of control and autonomy over my career, I enjoyed aspects of marketing and business development, I had been pretty good at them. When I was running my own practice, and I thought I learned some things that could apply to others. And frankly, it was primarily lifestyle driven. I probably would have made more money as a lawyer, I can almost guarantee that, but it gave me kind of the lifestyle I was looking for at a point in our lives where having small children and a desire to live where we wanted to live and all those things weren’t necessarily going to be possible if I continued in the practice of law.
Jeremy Richter: I can totally identify with the desire for control and autonomy. Like you mentioned, a few years ago, a recruiter reached out to me and said, Hey, are you interested in this other job at this other firm? And I said, Well, I know that firm, and no, I’m not interested. He’s like, well, what are you looking for? And so I told him I have a pretty good gig where I’m at, and I have a lot of control over my schedule. And to the extent that any of us can control court settings or depositions, and my client relationships and the autonomy that I’m able to work with, and so it would take a lot. He said, so you’re talking about a unicorn. Yeah, basically, if you find the unicorn, let me know, but otherwise, I’m really happy where I’m at because I had those things and there’s a lot more to being happy in your with your firm or your law practice, then just the amount of money that you make. For me, it was those priorities that let me be home with my family or orchestrate when I needed to do certain things. And nobody’s coming around check and take roll on a daily basis or ask me, why did you have to leave at four o’clock yesterday?
Jay Harrington: No, that all rings true to me as well. I guess one other thing, just to add to that, is that and I know people are different, because I’ve seen it, but I I’m one of those types of people who I would have a hard time letting go of, you know, my cases and my clients at the end of a work day when I was practicing law. I just would constantly be thinking about things and not necessarily stress. You know, sometimes it was stressful. And it certainly as we all know, practice law but just, you know I just, I don’t know — I got consumed by the work to a degree that I didn’t want to be consumed. And in this iteration of my career I’m still really dedicated to my clients and interested in the work and certainly think about it outside of work hours, but it’s such a lesser degree than I did as a practicing lawyer. And that’s had a big impact on my family life, my personal sanity, my sleep, all of those, all of those things that it’s hard to put a price tag on. And for me, those were valuable.
Jeremy Richter: I get it. There are plenty of days where – this is probably too much, but there’s plenty of days where I’m in the shower in the morning, I’m thinking about a case, I’m getting ready to turn off the water, and I’ve been so enveloped about like strategizing for a deposition or mediation that I have to stop and think like, did I actually wash my hair? I have no recollection of having done it. I think I probably did. But yeah, it just gets to a point of consuming everything and it is hard to turn off.
Jay Harrington: On the other hand, my partner in my prior law firm, no problem turning it off. Like I don’t — it’s just some people are made that way and I wasn’t, so I always marveled at that. He’s a big golfer, and it would be like two in the afternoon on a Wednesday. He’s like, let’s go hit golf balls. I’m like, man, I got work to do. You know, like, What are you talking about? And occasionally he dragged me out there, but I was always the guy on my phone, like on the golf course. So now I can golf with him guilt free.
Jeremy Richter: Good. I’m glad to hear that. Because I’ve talked with several people on this podcast. David Kempston stands out. He and I talked about running and how that for him is a way of escape and that’s his place where he is able to restore his mental balance and just get away from everything. And it just clears his mind. I like to run. I’ve started back recently after having let it go for about five years. And I enjoy it. But I still find that everything like I’ll listen to podcasts or audiobooks, but a lot of it just goes back to … it diverts back to work somehow. But you just got to find that restorative place. And it sounds like your partner had that in golf, and you know, wherever it is, it’s really helpful to be able to find that.
Alright, so when you start into your new business venture, was the training and experience that you had as a lawyer an asset in this new career? Or were there parts of the lawyer mindset that didn’t translate very well?
Jay Harrington: There were some specific skills I’d say that you own as a lawyer that have been helpful in this this aspect of my career. Skills that I think translate to everything. So the writing skills that you acquire as a lawyer had been an asset that’s very transferable. I think just work ethic. Learning to devote the time and effort necessary to do something entrepreneurially is something you’ve learned as a lawyer. And then I’m still in a professional service. So client service is a big factor. I think in the marketing realm, that’s not always something that’s particularly prevalent, where you hear a lot of times our new clients had a prior agency that they worked with, and I think we probably have an ethic of client service in our agency that that maybe some others don’t. And I think that’s rooted in the strong client service ethic that many law firms have. So that’s been that’s been a big one.
I’d say the thing that that maybe is a can be an hindrance or an obstacle is the sort of risk averse nature of many lawyers where your job is to spot risks and maybe help mitigate them, essentially point out all the things that can go wrong. And so you have to – entrepreneurship is about, in some respects, taking calculated risks. So I think that I had to overcome that a bit. And now I feel like more than a decade into it, I probably do things without thinking them through as much nearly as much as I would have previously just because you come to realize, most things are going to work out in the end. If it doesn’t, as long as it’s not like a game changing or like this significant risk that you’re facing, it’s probably going to be okay. And all things will work out in the end anyway. So I think that’s probably something that may stop people from doing something entrepreneurially just because they can’t wrap their head around like all the uncertainties associated with it.
Jeremy Richter: Yeah, my wife’s favorite response of mine when we’re talking about, you know, should we buy this thing or do whatever, I’m like, well, it’ll be alright. Probably, or it won’t. Especially now in the last three months, four months. That’s kind of how everything is spelled out. It’ll probably be okay. But we’ll just have to see.
But I totally understand. I am a very risk averse person, which is probably why I’ve gone toward writing books. It’s a pretty low risk activity as my business venture, instead of something that has a great deal more risk. I mean, I also like the writing and I enjoy the process. But even before I was a lawyer, I was risk averse, more so now, and so I can identify with that.
All right, with your consulting business, you talk to lawyers a lot about marketing, which I feel like is something that most of us getting into the profession don’t have a good grasp on because it’s just not something we — most lawyers don’t go to business school beforehand. They don’t understand the basics of it. And a lot of lawyers aren’t client-centric in their marketing. How do you help lawyers understand and law firms understand that they need to be communicating to their clients about their client’s needs and that’s the best way to build trust and build a relationship rather than, “hey, look how great we are and all the things that we’ve done in here or accolades”?
Jay Harrington: So I think what marketing all starts with really is identifying your target market. You need to you need to start with your positioning, so having a clear understanding of you know, what you’re trying to do, who you’re trying to serve. That is kind of the cornerstone of all marketing. And from there, it really is all about, like you said, Jeremy, it’s about building trust and showing up and being visible. It’s not about you know, putting on the hard sell. It’s about demonstrating value being helpful and showing up consistently. So that is a mindset — it’s sort of a long term mindset to building something. Building a practice isn’t something you do overnight.
And that’s the danger I think with a lot of lawyers where you know, they might turn to a third party like a marketing or consulting agency and say, Hey, I need more business and there’s a lot of people out there who tell you what will get you more business, will get you more website clicks, and will get you more leads, and will get you more followers on social media. But none of that really matters if you’re not doing the fundamental things and these are the hard things and these are things that primarily lawyers can only do themselves. Sometimes they can work with a coach or a consultant to help them think through these issues.
But a lot of it a lot of marketing is just that day-to-day activity in everything you do from how you communicate with your existing clients, to how you go out and meet people and describe what you do, how you be helpful to them in various ways that really forms the foundation of marketing over the long term. So yeah, it’s all about trust. So I mean, some of the principles would be like, one of the most meaningful ways – really, the only meaningful way you can differentiate yourself in the marketplace is by demonstrating your expertise and to the target market you’re trying to identify and attract. And doing that through things like writing thought leadership articles, hosting a podcast, creating content that resonates with your audience and helps them to do their job or run their business better is what, over the long term, attracts them to you and your practice. And it’s easy and natural for them to think that if you’ve helped them in various ways through what you do through your marketing, that they’ll turn to you. And they actually have an engagement that they need assistance with, the assistance of a lawyer to help with.
So you know, it’s just fundamentally thinking differently about marketing. It’s not just like something you can outsource to an agency. It’s really something you as a lawyer need to think strategically about, embed in everything you do in your practice, and really focus. Have a long-term mindset on attracting and identifying your ideal target market. So I guess those are just some of the core principles the way we think about it.
Jeremy Richter: Well, and I will say that having followed you for a while, you have a podcast, you write articles all over the place, published several books. And so I imagine when you have clients who are skeptical about putting that non-billable time that is so precious into creating content and being visible, that you can say, “Look, I’m doing these things, it works. You’re here because you found me through these things. This is the thing you have to do.”
Jay Harrington: Yeah, absolutely. It helps. You have to practice what you preach certainly, and I do try to do that. And you know, our practices, our marketing services are all geared towards what we call thought leadership marketing and PR, which is all about sort of translating your expertise into content that attracts your ideal audience. So yeah, having that ability to and the discipline to create that content, is what that’s really — that’s what drives our practice. I mean, I don’t need to do much of any business development at this point, because we have a tremendously large body of work out there that speaks for us when we’re not there to speak for ourselves in terms of marketing.
That’s the best way to attract the types of qualified clients you want. Whether you’re a lawyer or a consultant, where you are putting your ideas out there for people to consume, they get to know you through that. They get to know you probably better through your podcasts than they do your writing, but in any event, they get to know what you focus on, what issues you are an expert on, what your approach is. So when you do start getting inquiries from clients based on the content you’re creating, oftentimes, they’re better qualified clients because they kind of know what you do and the problems that you’re best at solving because you’ve addressed all those issues through your through your content.
So it is a long term endeavor. I personally have been creating content, a lot of it, for close to 10 years now. So we have a really long tail out there in the digital world, which is particularly valuable these days. But you know, it takes time to build that up. It’s building a body of work that you can rely upon. But once you do, it pays real dividends. And it’s almost like there’s compounding gains to it. The more you do, and the more you have out there, the more visible it becomes. The higher it ranks in Google search. All of that visibility helps and builds over time, so that you get to a point once you put the investment in where there’s that compounding return on the content you’ve created, because you’re you’re showing up in places where people are looking for answers.
Jeremy Richter: One of the things you mentioned in there was that as part of the marketing and branding, lawyers need to differentiate themselves from their competition in a way that their clients and potential clients can identify them in a crowded marketplace. So let me turn the table — and I think that’s hugely important. It’s something I talk to people about. But I want to turn the table and ask you, there are a lot of lawyers out there who are doing consulting with law firms, and, you know, are in the same business as you, how are you able to distinguish yourself from them and attract clients in what is also a crowded marketplace?
Jay Harrington: Yeah, so I think a big part of it is just becoming more visible. The way I look at it is, if I’m looking for someone to help me with something, I want someone who is an expert, who has experience. And so if I look at and see that that person isn’t writing, isn’t catalyzing his or her thoughts on paper, or creating video content, whatever the case might be, I’m skeptical of that person perhaps has the expertise that I’m looking for. Just because I think in order to know what you think, sometimes you almost always need to write about it, right? I never know what I think until I sit down and write about it. And I think if I want someone who knows what they’re doing, oftentimes, that signal alone is it kind of helps separate someone from within the noisy marketplace that they’re competing.
And so I don’t think being a lawyer in and of itself gives you any particularly interesting insights into how to market a legal practice or help a law firm market a legal practice. So I guess there’s a number of ways to qualify someone. One would be to talk to other lawyers. I mean, certainly you want to hear that that consultant has delivered results for other people. So you should be able to have conversations with any number of clients of that consultant and get an insight into it. But they do have conversations with the consultant where, again, if I’m looking to hire someone to help me take something to the next level, I want to be able to have conversation with someone and have them deliver several aha moments to me. Even something I have a considerable amount of knowledge and if I’m going to hire someone and pay what’s oftentimes a significant amount of money, have them come in and help me, they better be making me think differently about what I’m doing in a way that maybe again, brings some value to me, not necessarily forcing them to go through the engagement before you’ve hired that hired them. I would never do that as a consultant, but delivering some general insights that just make me think differently is I think would be something important.
So I think that’s kind of — it’s really not any magic to it. It really just requires that due diligence and saying, you know, is this person just saying that they can deliver me leads or whatever their promises are making? Or have they done it in the past? Do they have a body of work out there that I can look at? What is their digital presence? Are they practicing what they preach in terms of creating content themselves? These are all signals to me of expertise.
Jeremy Richter: Now, I think that’s really good. And I think that those same principles apply to lawyers and law firms. I think it’s good. All right, I want to transition to your new book, The Productivity Pivot. And when you sent it to me a few months ago, I realized there is a lot of overlap between it and the book that I released this year, Level Up Your Law Practice, and that they’re both preaching a lot of the same ideas. And so I’m going to recommend that people read both of them. Is that a good marketing strategy there?
Jay Harrington: I like it. Yeah, maybe we could do a two for one sale at some point.
Jeremy Richter: One of the first things you wrote about is having a vision for what you want your law practice to be which actually, like my podcast about a month ago was about the same thing about having a vision for what you want and sustainable success. Tell us about the importance and the value in setting aside the time that it requires to figure that out and implement those ideas.
Jay Harrington: There’s two components to that. One is actually just figuring out the vision, and then there’s the sort of setting aside the time to do it. So I think a vision is something that’s oftentimes overlooked. I mean, it sounds a little bit like a frivolous exercise to some people. Of course you know what you want, right? But do you really? is it something that you’ve ever reduced down onto paper?
And so the purpose of a vision is really just that it’s an exercise to be able to look way out in the future, say, 5 to 10 years from now and think, you know, am I on the right path? Do I even have — I haven’t thought through what path I want to be on or am I sort of just mindlessly or aimlessly going through my days where I’m just sort of defaulting to whatever the day brings to me as opposed to, I have some sort of direction as to where I want to go. So I think as we’ll get into probably shortly, Jeremy, setting a vision really is the precursor for working backwards to setting goals and creating a plan and executing that plan.
But I think it starts with that long-term vision to understand, are you working in a law firm? And do you want to make partner at that firm? Well, if that’s your vision, then there’s a certain number of steps you need to take to get there. And you better start today, if you if you’re hoping to move forward on that path. Or do you want to go in house? Well, that’s a different skill set, a different sort of network of relationships you need to build, or whatever the case might be. It’s too late — if you wait 5 years to start working on what was your 5 year vision, then then you’re simply too late. You’re not going to be able to take the steps to get yourself in the position you want to be in or you should have put yourself in by starting five years prior. So I think that process of thinking about, just stepping away from your practice — and it doesn’t need to be for a significant amount of time.
I talk in the book about and a lot of people probably heard of this that Bill Gates, for example, sets aside a couple weeks every year, when he was when he was CEO of Microsoft, for what he called think weeks, where he’d go to a cabin, not take any calls, just sort of read and think and set the strategic vision for the company for the next 6 to 12 months. And that’s what I think lawyers need to do more. Have to sort of set aside that time, think deeply about what they really want. What do you want your practice to look like? What do you want your life to look like? Where do you want to be? Where do you want to live? All of these things matter. Because otherwise you’re going to drift, sort of. It’s like you’re drifting down the river with no boat and it’s just going to take you wherever the current takes you.
Jeremy Richter: And I know that I I’ve actually used that same analogy. So we’re speaking the same language here. And another person who does this, that takes this sabbatical, basically, to plan and think is Michael Hyatt, who is a thought leader for a lot of business folks. And, you know, he really advocates for taking that time. And I think that’s really important thing to do.
So you also talk about setting ambitious goals, which you alluded to a minute ago, which is something that is close to me. It’s something that when it starts turning like the end of quarter four, or the end of quarter three every year, I start looking at what do I want out of the next year and so for me the vision is that 20,000 foot view of what I want this to look like going forward, and goals are much more tactical, ground level. What am I going to do to get there? So from your perspective, why does it matter that we actually set goals?
Jay Harrington: Yeah, I mean, for the points you alluded to, Jeremy, I mean, it’s a way to crystallize your vision into an actionable plan. So essentially putting your vision on a deadline, right? Where you’re not just saying, I want something in the future. Now you’re reducing that down into a goal. We say like, okay, in the next 12 months, here’s what I need to do to put myself on that path to where I want to go in the future. And setting a goal and not just setting a goal but actually writing it down is an important component in succeeding and prospering over the long term. There’s a there’s a study I said in my book; it’s by Gail Matthews from Dominican University who found that people are 42% more likely to achieve their goals by simply when they write them down. The act of writing them down does something in our minds to really kind of harden our resolve to accomplish our goals and remind us of what they are. So I think that process of casting a clear vision, and then defining the steps towards that vision through goal setting is a critical component of succeeding.
Jeremy Richter: You also mentioned that the goals need to be ambitious. And in a way, that seems like it could set yourself up for failure. And I have set goals that are overly ambitious. For example, last year, I released my second book in 2019, Stop Putting Out Fires, and I had one of my goals to sell 1000 copies, which to some may not seem like a lot, but it’s a lot of books. And I didn’t get there. I got about halfway there. But I do think that by having that big goal, that ambitious goal, and doing all the things that I did in an effort to sell more books, I achieved more by attempting to reach the goal than I would have if the goal hadn’t been there in the first place. So I guess my question, how do you balance that ambition versus the opportunity for failure?
Jay Harrington: One of the things I point to in the book is — and describe and advocate for — is setting what are called SMART goals. Smart is the acronym what they are in SMART goals is realistic. So I think it’s good to set ambitious goals. You want to be excited about your goals. You want it to seem transformative to an extent. If you want to — if you’re going to accomplish something, you might as well make it ambitious, and be ambitious about it. Yeah, like you said, Jeremy, if you fall short of that, you probably got even further along than you would have if you had set more of a you know, quote, unambitious goal or realistic goal. I mean it without the ambitious part tacked on to it.
So I think that for me at least, other people, if they can’t handle the idea of falling short of their goals, well then, I guess dialing back. But for most of us, we have the capacity to look and say, okay, even if I fell short of what this ambitious objective I had in mind was, I still accomplished a lot, and I still accomplished more than I would have otherwise. So why not get excited about your goals? Why not be ambitious?
I think oftentimes the bigger problem is that people aren’t ambitious enough. They think that they’re not capable of as much as they are capable of, and they fall into this trap of like, short term thinking where they get overwhelmed by the idea that they could possibly do what they set out to do. So they don’t feel they don’t do anything at all. So that can be a risk that I do worry about a little bit when I’m coaching clients. Some of them get so overwhelmed by the process that they can’t move forward at all.
But that’s probably why I wrote the subsequent chapter of the book, which talks about the importance of taking small daily action to move forward on your goal. Because if you set an ambitious goal and you wait too long to move forward on it, then yeah, you’re going to fall on your face. But if you take small incremental steps forward, that’s the way that you’ll aggregate those small gains into a big outcome.
Jeremy Richter: Yeah, and I think for me, one of the ways that I deal with it too, is to be process oriented. And I wrote about it in my book is you have to focus on the process and not the outcome. Because the process makes sure that everything is working in the right direction to achieve your goals. But sometimes the outcome is beyond your control. For example, I tried a case in February, I think it was probably one of the last cases that actually tried before everything went dark at the courthouses. And It was a clear liability car wreck case. Our lady rear-ended the plaintiffs. The questions were damages and injuries and all that. And we ended up getting a defense verdict because the jury didn’t believe that the plaintiffs were actually hurt. But as excited as I was about the that defense verdict, I knew that on a different day with a different jury, it could have been and maybe would have been a different result. And none of that was in my control. What was within my control was making sure that I did everything along the way to put myself and my client in the best opportunity to succeed. And whether we eventually did or not, that’s up to 12 strangers. But it’s the process that matters as much, even more so than the outcome, because otherwise the outcome can be an anomaly because you might get a good result with having put the work in to get it.
Jay Harrington: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I mean, that whole principle of process not results is critical. And in everything we do, it’s like the idea of if you were flip a coin six times, it might come up heads every time. You think, Well, if you were hoping for tails then you might give up flipping coins, but if you flip it 100 times, you’re going to get around 50 of each. The distribution of outcomes will even out over time if you’re doing the right thing consistently, so you can’t get discouraged by the outcome in any particular instance. You just need to keep working the system, working the plan over and over adjusting as necessary to see what works.
And you need to be nimble within your plan. You’ve probably read James Clears book Atomic Habits, Jeremy, or at least are familiar with it. But I think one of the signature lines from that book as you know, we don’t rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems. And I think that’s a great way to think about it where it’s, you know, and that’s kind of the purpose behind goal setting, right, is that it is what allows you to kind of deconstruct that goal into an actionable plan that you take and you make progress on a daily basis. So work the system, don’t get consumed by the results, and you’ll have a good outcome.
Jeremy Richter: Another thing that you wrote about in The Productivity Pivot is being your own client and selling yourself an hour a day. And I think this is really important for lawyers, but I also think it’s difficult for us because so many of us live and die by the billable hour. To set aside an hour for ourselves — and whether that’s for some creative endeavor, or whether it’s just for planning for the future of your law practice rather than just tending to the day-to-day of it — setting aside that time is difficult, but it’s important. What does that look like for you in your business and pursuing your things about selling yourself time?
Jay Harrington: I love this concept. It’s one from Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s partner in Berkshire Hathaway and a lawyer himself. And he came to the realization that he was spending all this time working for his billable clients, and if he was ever going to get ahead, he needed to start selling himself an hour of his time every day, as he put it. And I think it’s just a recognition that especially for those of us in the services business, that our highest purpose isn’t just devoting all of our time to our clients priorities. But thinking that if we want to get ahead, whether that means building a practice, writing a book, developing new business, or for some other person who might be learning a musical instrument, that we need to set aside that time, and not just any time.
But for me, what I try to do is make it my most valuable hour of every day. And for me, that’s kind of first thing in the morning, and that’s where I spend my time writing books, primarily. I try to chip away at a book in an hour. And you don’t get very far in an hour, but you stack up enough days in a row where you’re doing that and pretty soon you’ll have a book. So for me, that’s primarily what I’m doing. I am getting up early before my kids, when it’s quiet. Once I wake up, my mind is fresh, and I haven’t gotten into email or voicemails or anything else that’s going to distract me from what I really want to accomplish.
I don’t know if writing books is my most important priority like I don’t know if that has the most value to my business and whatnot, but I like doing it. It’s a great way to start my day. I write for an hour, maybe I get a workout and then it really does set me up for success in other parts of my day. But if I was just to get in and start working on client stuff, or surf the internet, or just get into email, and I’ve done all those things in the past, I know that I wouldn’t be nearly as productive.
It’s kind of like the analogy of the you know, the Navy SEAL who you know, every morning Navy SEALs and most in the military are expected to make their bed up to a certain standard. And the reason that that be done is that they can look back and say, Well, I started my day off right with some productive thing that I did really well, and it sets them up for success the rest of the day. So for me, that’s really the purpose of it. And, you know, in the book I talked about for any lawyer who really wants to build a practice, because they’re seeking more autonomy, trying to mix in business development during the course of a day where you’re focused on litigation or transactions or whatever your practice might entail, it’s a really hard thing to do. Whereas if you block that first hour on your calendar, and you set aside that time again, before you get into everything else, you can you can make a tremendous amount of progress in one hour of uninterrupted focus on a singular topic or task.
Jeremy Richter: Yeah, I think it’s really good for lawyers who want to pursue another career or a side hustle that’s outside of their law practice. Is there one piece of advice that you can identify or give as just something that’s pivotal and important for them?
Jay Harrington: I’d say probably look for opportunities to really get exposure to that new thing before you make a dramatic or drastic commitment to it. So that looks different for any particular person, but like I think about the example of Susan Cain, who is the author of Quiet, and she has a great story. Now, in her case, she actually did just leave her law firm. She left when she found out she wasn’t — she was at a Wall Street firm and found out she wasn’t on partnership track. Or they were going to at least delay consideration of her partnership decision for a year, and she did leave to pursue a writing career. But she also started a freelance business teaching negotiation skills. She really wanted to be a writer, but she didn’t put herself in a position where from a financial standpoint, she was going to feel that pressure. She had built up a cushion, and she was doing something else while she pursued her writing.
So I think that same principle of like, can you expose yourself to the thing you want to do in a low risk, low stakes environment so that you can get a sense of it? So before you actually go all in on something, that it’s the right move? Because I think a lot of lawyers, it’s the whole frying pan into the fire scenario where it’s a tough career, but there are other difficult aspects of entrepreneurship. It’s not as glorious as anybody thinks. It’s harder than you think. I mean, there’s those old jokes about like, you work twice as hard because you don’t want to have a boss you would have otherwise and you’re a terrible boss of yourself anyway because you’re hard on yourself and all of that. But just try to thoughtfully gain some exposure, have lots of conversations. And then don’t be so analytical about the whole thing, though that you never take steps forward. But think about it, thoughtfully plan for it. Gain some exposure to it, whatever it might be that you’re thinking of pivoting into. And then you’ll have a better sense, you have more data to base your decision off of I think.
Jeremy Richter: well, I want to echo about Susan Cain’s book Quiet. It’s one of the most important books for me that I’ve read in the last couple of years. If anybody’s not familiar with it, it talks about the difference between introverts and extroverts, and particularly for introverts. And I think in law practice, there are a lot more introverts than initially might realize — of how to use that to your advantage, because sometimes the world doesn’t seem like it’s geared toward putting introverts in a place of power and success, but there are a lot of successful people who have introverted tendencies. And this book just really assesses that and it’s really good. I recommend it for anybody.
Jay Harrington: I agree, Jeremy. It’s an outstanding book for anyone. And she has built an incredible business around that book, too, as you probably know. And for anyone who doubts the power of goal setting and having a long term vision, that was a book that took her seven years to write. But it’s paid off handsomely. And in fact, it has impacted so many people. I’ve heard so many people just describe the book the same way you did. And I share that sentiment; it’s just fantastic book.
Jeremy Richter: Alright, so we’re about out of time. If people want to follow you or connect with you want to find you for your business, where’s the best place to do that?
Jay Harrington: Yeah, I’m active on LinkedIn, less so on Twitter, but I’m there. So connect with me on LinkedIn if you’d like. Again, Jay Harrington is my name. My consulting business, our website is hcommunications.biz, I do have a podcast called The Thought Leadership Project [Note: I was a guest on Episode 35]. You can check that out wherever you listen to podcasts. And then my new book is available on Amazon. And you can also check it out and I have some downloadable worksheets that kind of help reinforce some of the principles in the book and help you work through some of these exercises of goal setting and casting a clear vision.