Rarely a week goes by that some lawyer doesn’t ask me what mindset it takes to leave the comfort of a successful firm and start a new firm. Invariably, I share my own journey and the beliefs and fears I had in 2008 when we launched Valorem. I know that one story is too anecdotal to be much use. I just had the opportunity to spend the past several days at a Renaissance Weekend in Aspen, Colo. It is, at its core, and idea fest, with conversations involving really smart people and a few others, like me. One panel I really enjoyed was entitled “The Crazy Ones,” a discussion of the traits of entrepreneurs. While the weekends are nonpartisan and entirely not for attribution, the traits articulated by the panelists are well worth considering in the New Normal context because I think the insights of the panelists provide a much better answer to that oft-asked question.
The panelists included several serial entrepreneurs, a business school professor who focuses his studies on entrepreneurs, a business consultant, and a large-company CEO who is trying to create an entrepreneurial culture in his company. So while the panelists were talking about business entrepreneurs, here is the list that seems to apply equally to legal entrepreneurs:
• Entrepreneurs see opportunities, not constraints. Most people look to navigate through the constraints to a fixed end.
• Entrepreneurs are optimistic, positive, tenacious and comfortable with ambiguity.
• Entrepreneurs dislike rules, while most people find the presence of rules comforting.
• Entrepreneurs are comfortable examining crazy ideas and extracting value, where most simply dismiss the ideas as crazy and miss the value.
• Entrepreneurs reject the orthodoxy of the way things have always been done and instead re-examine issues and ideas from multiple and frequently off-the-wall perspectives.
• Entrepreneurs are passionate about their idea or their created mission. Failure is never an option.
• When things go wrong, entrepreneurs are fixers, not blamers.
And here was the interesting one:
• Entrepreneurs do not like risk. They seek to minimize risk in pursuit of their idea.
Another panel, addressing a slightly different issue, reached consensus that almost every successful entrepreneur has his or her own Eeyore, with the entrepreneur being Tigger. As the discussion progressed, it became clear that this panel was not referring to Eeyore as a pessimistic counterpart to Tigger’s optimistic entrepreneur, but instead as a sober realist who “[makes] the trains run on time,” most often behind the scenes.
From my standpoint, these are all apt descriptions, but they ignore the overlay created by the presence of a client. While an entrepreneur may be all of these things, her client may not be. That means that the entrepreneurial lawyer must be able to operate from an nonentrepreneurial mindset, at least navigate it wisely, when dealing with certain clients. These traits, it seems, may allow some legal entrepreneurs to be both Tigger and Eeyore at the same time, drawing on the competing attributes of both when the situation demands.
Patrick Lamb is a founding member of Valorem Law Group, a litigation firm representing business interests. Valorem helps clients solve their business disputes and coping with pressures to reduce legal spend using nontraditional approaches, including use of nonhourly fee structures, coordination with LPOs or contract lawyers, joint-venturing with other firms and implementation of project management tools to handle lawsuits or portfolios of litigation.
Pat is the author of the the book Alternative Fee Arrangements: Value Fees and the Changing Legal Market. He also blogs at In Search Of Perfect Client Service.