How We Changed Rivers

0CD4FF2C-9FE0-41F3-9CA9-CE598CE1953DA worth-watching four-minute video called, “How Wolves Change Rivers,” describes how reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone National Park brought on a trophic cascade: barren land to grassy fields; not much wildlife to beavers, foxes, bears, and birds; meandering rivers to channeled rivers, all because wolves set in motion a domino-effect of small changes resulting in big changes.

We can do something similar with the way we practice law.

We know anecdotally that people arrive at law school with healthy senses of self and optimism, but most of us eventually begin to doubt ourselves and become pessimistic about our futures. We begin to measure ourselves by the prestige of our job, the size of our salary, and the country club. This happens for people at firms big and small.

Is there a better way?

When we talk about better ways to practice law, we tend to think of ways to be more efficient, lower our overhead, and draw clients. How to increase our revenue. Often, this means looking at tech, metrics, and A/B testing. This approach has one goal: increase our profits.

Every small firm needs to be profitable to survive, and, as small business owners, it is essential for us to understand how to be profitable and execute these strategies. Be profitable or die.

But, is profitability the end-game?

I’ve met several “recovering lawyers” who left lucrative careers for less lucrative avocations. I’ve met current lawyers with “golden handcuffs,” earning big money with little love for their work.

I wondered, is it possible to love the practice of law?

About a year ago I left an established firm to begin a new firm with a better way to practice law. At my old firm, like many firms, the annual billable hour goal dictated our behavior. Meeting that goal was our primary goal. Our way of practicing law privileged profit.

At our new firm, one of the first things I did was eliminate the annual billable hour goal. This change was, in a sense, the introduction of wolves, and a trophic cascade began for us.

Without the billable hour goal as our primary goal, new goals began to rise. We started to do pro bono work, joined affinity bars, and committed ourselves to diversity and inclusion. We had more time for learning the practice of law and I began speaking at several CLE events. We began an ADR practice and then decided to donate 10% of the revenue to charity.

For my part, I began to love more than ever before the practice of law. Our law firm was too new to have prestige, my income did not reach a new high, and I belonged to no country club. None of these measures matter to me. We tapped into something deeper – work as a source of meaning.

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