Welcome to episode five of The Josh Gerben Show. I created this show to discuss the business of our profession, the business of law. I am a huge believer that if attorneys would stop and think about all the business implications of their day-to-day life, and not just about the brief they’re writing, or the particular issues of the case that they’re working on, we would all have much more fulfilled legal careers.
Today, I want to talk a little bit less about something that’s functional in the practice of law, but more of a mindset issue. The mindset of being a hustler. This is something that’s near and dear to my heart because I grew up in a family business where my dad worked seven days a week to make the business work. He was a hustler in my mind.
When I started my practice 11 years ago, I had no clients, I had nothing. It was literally me, and a computer, and a telephone. I had to build that into a law practice of multiple attorneys, thousands of clients, and a law firm that has, essentially, been around for 11 years now. I am a true believer that if you want to work really hard and achieve interesting things in life, you can. But to that, you have to be a hustler. If you’re familiar with the startup space and entrepreneurialism, that word comes up often. A lot of people that are in business for themselves talk about the hustle. It’s a word that has resonated with me since day one of starting my law practice.
What It Means to Be a Hustler as an Attorney
I think everybody has a different interpretation of what it means to hustle, and some people just think, “Oh, that means you’re working 18-hour days, you never take a break in this and any other.” However, that is not the case. I think if you’re going to think about your legal career, and hustling to make your legal career great, you’re talking about doing four things.
1. Work hard. I think it’s very important that you work hard, but that you work hard the right way.
2. Be willing to put yourself out there to develop new business for your practice or your law firm.
3. Have foresight to know that whatever you’re doing today is going to affect future you in four or five years.
4. Enjoy what you do. A hustle is not a job. It’s something fun.
1. Work Hard
The first part of really being a hustler is wanting to work hard for what you’re trying to achieve. I think a lot of attorneys will say, “Well, wait a second. Aren’t we a profession that, you know, bills 2,500 hours a year and just burns everybody out?” Yes, that certainly happens. But that’s not the type of work I’m talking about.
First off, there’s a lot of attorneys out there that just say, “You know what, I want to confine my work Monday to Friday, nine hours a day, no weekend or weeknights working. It’s the whole idea of this work-life balance that has really come into play because of the fact that attorneys have been burning themselves out for so many years. But, I’m going to tell you that you are not going to achieve greatness in your legal career if that’s what you’re striving for. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it if that’s what you want to do. If you want to have that work-life balance, especially as you’re building your career, that’s fine. But don’t expect things to happen fast for you and realize that the ceiling will not be as high. Again, I don’t look down upon that. I think if that’s what you want for your career, that’s perfectly fine.
When I started my law firm, 11 years ago, I knew it wouldn’t be a 9:00 to 5:00 job. I knew it would be all encompassing, but I love that. That’s what I wake up to do every single day. And I have worked nights and weekends for 11 years. If you talk to my wife, she will tell you that since I started the firm, I have not taken a day where I don’t do any work in 11 years. Now, there’s some days where I don’t do a ton, but it’s always on my mind. It’s always something I’m working on. And it’s always something I’m trying to make better.
When you talk about that, and you talk about trying to work really hard, you have to think about working the right way. What I mean by this is that if you are sitting there billing 2,500 hours a year for somebody else, and somebody else’s clients, that’s not working the right way to make your career better, because at the end of the year, you will have 2,500 billable hours to show for it. You will probably get a pretty nice bonus, but now what’s next? You haven’t built anything to let you achieve greater success next year except for continuing to just sell your time. Then the next year, and the next year, and the next year.
What you need to do is be able to pull back from whatever billable hour requirement you have, if you’re in that situation. Or, if you’re in a situation where you’re running a law firm, you need to pull back from the work that you’re doing for clients or hire people to do some of that work. You need to be able to put in all your energy, especially during the evenings when you can go to dinners, meetings, or conferences on the weekends. You need to be able to take that time and build your business.
Working hard as an attorney means working on all the things that will build a client base and a practice for you. Again, you could be working in a law firm billing all these hours. It doesn’t get you to where you want to go necessarily. Same thing if you’re running a law firm, people get complacent. They say, “Oh, I’m really busy right now. I have all this client work.” Well, guess what? It might not be busy in three months. When you’re the busiest is when you should be doing the most new business development, because you don’t need it. You won’t seem desperate. And when that client’s ready for you in four or five months, you’ll have laid all the groundwork.
What we’re really talking about here is having a work-hustle balance. Not a work-life balance, but a work-hustle balance, so that you’re not just sitting there grinding away billing on client matters. You’re actually going out there and hustling, developing your business, and developing relationships that will bring in business in the future. And that, to me, is the hard work that you need to be doing.
2. Put Yourself Out There
Now, the second part of hustling is just wanting to put yourself out there for business development. I think there’s a lot of attorneys, even those that own their own law firms, that shunned the business development side of it. They just want the work to be there, they want to be the lawyer, they want to write the brief, they want to advise the client. But they don’t want to be putting themselves out there. And that is a problem.
In today’s world, it is extremely important for attorneys to develop relationships, because relationships sell legal services. And that could mean that you write a lot of blogs, it could mean you put videos on the web, it could mean that you show up at conferences and you give presentations on your area of law. It could mean a lot of different things. You could organize meetups, anything you can think of, to create relationships in your life with people that might eventually need your services. It is something you need to be doing. That is part of being a hustler. It’s not just sitting there and, again, billing hours, it’s about putting yourself out there. That is something that’s uncomfortable, but I promise you that if you do it, good things will come.
At the end of the day, attorneys that can fish and feed themselves and other people around them are typically the most valuable attorneys for their particular firm. If you have a partner in your firm that’s the rainmaker and brings in all the work, that is one of the most valuable people in the firm and one of the most protected people in the firm. If you’re really good attorney, and you’re just billing hours, you probably have a stable job until there’s some problem like a recession and they have to cut people. Guess who the first person to go is. It’s somebody that doesn’t bring in any business to the firm. Having the ability to go fish for yourself, especially if you work at a firm, gives you great job security, and probably vastly increases the chance you’re gonna make partner very early on in your career.
Now, if you’re on your own, it seems obvious that you’ve got to go and fish for yourself. But many solos and people in small businesses have a few clients that are basically paying the bills and keeping the lights on. They’re not spending the time to really hone the craft of being able to fish for new clients. That’s just something that, as a hustler, you need to take the time to do. You need to take the time to learn and execute.
3. Have Foresight
Now, my third element here is having foresight. When you decided you wanted to be a lawyer, the first thing you did was study for and take the LSAT. And when you were doing that, you had the foresight that in four to five years, you would, hopefully, be sworn in to the bar and be an attorney. So that’s a four or five-year process. We all, as attorneys, had the foresight that that was worth it. It was worth our investment and whatever LSAT prep course we took.
It was worth the investment of time to take the LSAT and everything that followed it: the application process, getting into a school, your first year, all the work up to graduation, and taking the bar. What I find is funny, or ironic, is that most attorneys get into the practice of law and shut all that down. Ttheir sole focus is on “what am I billing today? What am I going to make this year?” I know very few attorneys that look out past a year and say, “Oh, in five years, I’d like to be here.” They might say, “Oh, I’d like to be partner.” That’s it. Right? That’s the plan, to sit there and work and hope somebody taps them on the shoulder and makes them partner. Or, if you have your own firm, what’s the goal? Do you want to have a couple of attorneys helping you out? Do you want to add your client base? Where do you want to be in five years? Do you have a plan?
Most of the time, the answer is no. And it’s shocking, because we’re in a profession where to get here we had to look out four or five years. So, everything you’re doing now will affect where you’re going to be in five years. Nothing happens overnight. You could decide today, “You know what, I’m going to get on social media and start making a name for myself.” Or you could say, “You know what, I’m going to start attending conferences to try to build my relationship with people so that I can get clients.” You’re not going to go to one conference and get clients, you’re not going to put up one post and get clients. You’re going to have to do this for years. Eventually, you will become known to people, and eventually, they will need you for something. But it does not happen overnight and it’s likely a four or five-year process.
So, plan very specific things you need to start doing right now, and you need to do them every single day for five years, just like for every single day for five years, you did something for law school. You took the LSAT, you got your applications in, you went to class every day, you studied for this test, you studied for that test, and all the other things you did to become a lawyer you did day in and day out. And the same principles apply for where you want to be in five years now. The only problem is that there’s no structure. There’s no school. You have to make the structure and that’s really hard. But, that’s why, if you’re a hustler, you’re thinking about these things. You’re trying to make the plan for the future.
4. Enjoy What You Do
So, my final point on what it means to be a hustler, is to love what you do. You can’t just be in this to make money. We’re not in this just to build up our own reputation, so people will think highly of us. You’re in it to have fun and to enjoy your life.
I love running my law firm. It’s just what I love to do. It wakes me up in the morning and gets me out of bed. I look forward to it. If you don’t, then you have to really evaluate where you are because you can’t put in that work if it feels like work. It has to feel like your hobby. It has to feel like what you want to do, what your purpose is. And that’s a very difficult thing for anybody to find.
However, I highly encourage you not to just grind yourself and work yourself to the bone because you want to make more money, or you want to make partner, or you want your law firm to be bigger. You have to do it for the right reasons, and that’s because you love doing it. If you don’t love doing it, it’s not a hustle, it’s a job. The idea behind the hustle is that it’s fun. The word sounds fun, right? We’re hustling. I mean, they make songs after this, right? They make songs around this word all the time. And they’re all fun. Because that’s what it’s supposed to be. So if you don’t feel like it would be fun to go out and meet people, to go to conferences, to put things on social media, to write articles, and to put yourself out there, then don’t do it. But, if you really want it, and you really want to get to a place where you own your career, then be a hustler. If you outwork people, I guarantee you, good things will come.
I hope you enjoyed this episode. If you did, please share it with a friend. I’m trying to get the word out about the show and the more people we can get it to, the better. Also, please leave a rating or review, subscribe to the YouTube channel or iTunes. Let me know what you think, and if you have any topic requests for a future episode, please let me know. Thank you so much, and I’ll see you at the next show.