If you’ve ever started a company, or a new venture of any kind, I’m guessing you read the subject of this post and started thinking about all the lessons you learned during your first year. Who can help it? It’s almost like the brain has this natural inclination to summarize, learn from our mistakes, and adjust accordingly . . . it’s just usually not a conscious process.
To cut to the chase, I’ve learned a ton. Some days came with more, or larger, lessons than I didn’t particularly enjoy at the time. I’ve probably forgotten more lessons than I’ve remembered, but those are surely locked away in my brain somewhere, being processed each night while I sleep (another plug here for Why We Sleep). The list below is not necessarily the most momentous, but the ones that, for whatever reason, have struck me with the most lasting force and that I am trying the hardest to abide by (that preposition is for you, Katie Lorenz).
Lesson #1: It really is you. When you’re at a big firm and are trying to “develop business,” you’re told that clients buy the person, not the firm. To some extent I believe this is true. Clients have a personal connection to you and that connection is often what drives them to hire you and, as a result, the firm. However, this isn’t the whole story. The other piece is the one those of us in the legal industry need to learn from other industries: brand matters. And it matters in the way that Simon Sinek explained it in that great TED Talk about why everyone buys whatever Apple is selling. When your company is truly about something more than simply “providing great service,” that matters to people. How does this relate to All Places year one? Despite being the same lawyer I was when I worked at a huge firm, I have many, many, many more clients than I did back then. It’s not that I have changed, it’s that I now work for a company that reflects my personal values and, as it turns out, the values of a bunch of other people out there who need lawyers.
Lesson #2: Spend time with people you like. You spend a lot of your life working, and thus a lot of your life with the people you work with. We may think about this quite a bit when it comes to our co-workers, but it is equally true when it comes to our clients and customers. Ever had a client make your life miserable? I’d venture a guess most of you are nodding yes right now. I certainly have. One of the absolutely gorgeous things about All Places is that our clients are totally rad. They are nice. That’s right, nice. And then of course they’re brilliant and fun and adventurous and total badasses. But perhaps most importantly they are really nice, thoughtful human beings, and that’s who I want to spend my time with.
Lesson #3: Physical environment matters. This is true whether you’re talking about the difference between working from home or in the office, working on a couch or at a kitchen table, or (in my case) sitting on a horrible saddle chair as opposed to the ultimate rudeness in desk chairs. Putting the substance of the work aside, do you look forward to sitting down in the area you have designated for working? Are you comfortable? Are you warm? Do you have enough space? Do you like the lighting? Does it smell nice? What’s the noise level? This particularly hits me when I have to get back to work after dinner, when the last thing I want to do is work. Sitting in a well-designed chair, at a large open desk, with a warm desk light, and mood-dependent music playing clearly through some crisp, sound-canceling headphones makes a difference. Oh, and there’s a difference between The Wing and WeWork and Industrious. Find a place that feels like home rather than a Thir13een Ghosts-style maze of douchebags, unless that’s where you feel most comfortable (no judgement).
Lesson #4: Having fun is not unprofessional. That’s right. Work does not need to be all serious all the time. Work is still life and life needs to be fun. If you are an All Places client you now know I have a real thing for colored pencils. Now, how do these make me a better lawyer? By allowing me to have fun even when I’m reading an 80-page limited partnership agreement. What document doesn’t give you a lift when it’s covered in red, orange, and purple? Are colored pencils necessary for my job? No. Well, yes! Because fun is necessary, ergo colored pencils are necessary.
Lesson #5: Drink more water. Running a business is hard work, so why make things more difficult on yourself? Many of us, myself included, moan about how tired we are, knowing how much less productive we are when we’re tired. When I feel a wave of tiredness most of the time it can be at least partially cured by a tall glass of water. You’re welcome.
One other thing I've learned is that working all the time is for the birds. You have to take breaks. And on that note, I’m signing off for the night!