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The problem with short-term thinking

The legal profession is defined by long hours and sleepless nights.

It feels like there isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done. You find yourself juggling a heavy caseload while simultaneously attempting to please the many clients all vying for your attention. When you’re at your best, this fast pace can be exhilarating. But even the most relentless optimists can have those days that feel like a grind; times where you get one project out the door – so that you can start working on another.

When that happens, you're tempted to focus on solving only your most immediate needs – i.e., the one project currently on your desk.

  • You need to quickly find a specific answer so you can advise an important client
  • You need to research a new legal issue that you have never encountered before
  • You need to draft a pleading, motion or brief for a key case
  • You need to make sure you are following the correct process

Is focusing on only your most urgent needs a recipe for success? Or is it merely a survival technique to get you through the day?

Don’t lose sight of the forest

It might seem good enough to focus on a single immediate need at a time. After all, you have many clients, and their work needs to get done quickly – or they won’t be your clients for very long.

But if you keep your head down and focus on a never-ending list of tasks, you might not be able to see the forest (i.e., long-term firm and career growth) for the trees (i.e., your urgent needs).

When your only goal is to check things off a to-do list, you will have the satisfaction of completing tasks. But you are also sacrificing future fulfillment and development because the payoff for short-term thinking is often small. It can inhibit growth, both from an individual and a business perspective.

Short-term thinking is especially tempting when facing new clients and opportunities. Sure, the potential business development is there, but all too often an exciting new opportunity brings to light knowledge gaps that hinder your ability to maintain perspective. The work is immediately broken down into tasks. The papers start moving. The roadblocks are discovered. The view of the forest fades away.

Leverage your skills into something more

When meeting with a potential client, you may not always instantly know how to handle each aspect of their case. Many factors can influence how you will deal with any given matter, including the facts of the case as well as ever-changing laws and procedures. And if their case deals with a practice area of which you are unfamiliar, you may have to spend some time getting up to speed.

But once you have invested the time and resources into learning how to handle an issue, does it make sense to complete the task at hand and move on to the next case? Is it an effective use of your time to obtain this knowledge, only to file it away and possibly never use it again?

The knowledge investment

The reality is that knowing how to approach a task is an asset.  It’s one you can, and should, leverage into something more than merely completing the first project on your list.

  • When you have spent the time learning something new, it can be something you use to build your practice and expand into new niche areas.
  • When you socialize that newly-acquired know-how among your peers, you save them onboarding and discovery time. This is good for business and your reputation.

You and your firm may already implement much of this. But a willingness to continually hone your firm’s organic knowledge while also supplementing it with other resources will keep your team ready for any case that comes your way.

In the end, concentrating solely on immediate needs may seem pragmatic, but it doesn’t set you up on the best path for continued success. By focusing on the bigger picture, you'll know how to leverage your knowledge as an asset to both your firm and your career.

Increase your know-how

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