Small Law Firms, Solo Practitioners

There Is No Success Without Labor Or Effort

Keith Lee

To say that people want rewards without responsibility or effort is a trite observation. But often times it seems as though the problem is growing increasingly worse. For example:

Five days to fitness, to three minutes, down to six seconds. Of course, true fitness is a total lifestyle commitment that requires years of sustained effort involving discipline and sacrifice. But that’s an awful lot of work.

Far easier to blow $100 on some get-fit-quick scheme, haphazardly follow it for a few days, and then blow it off. Then you can blame your lack of fitness on the program. No need to take personal responsibility for your position in life….

Our modern culture had come to be defined by instant gratification. We’re all immersed in constant positive feedback loops that give false feelings of work and achievement throughout the day. Facebook likes! Re-tweets! Pins! Email dings! You’re accomplishing something! The little number on your phone is going up! Validation!

But the constant exposure to instant gratification quickly gives way to entitlement.  The moment something doesn’t work people become upset. They begin to feel as though the world owes them instant gratification. This is perhaps best seen in Louis CK’s commentary on experience with in-flight WiFi a few years ago, “Everything is amazing, and nobody is happy”:

The culture of immediate gratification that has arisen in our culture pervades even the practice of law. A glut of new lawyers that have been introduced into practice, and with no jobs available to them, they have struck out on their own. Blindly seeking some way to keep their heads above water, they look for something to draw in clients. So in come the marketeers, encouraging new lawyers to embrace puffery in order to gain fame and fortune. Don’t worry about paying your dues and learning how to practice law, just get out there in front of people! Sign up those clients! No qualification to handle such a case, who cares!

Promote yourself as “experienced” and “aggressive” in order to gain clients. No need to bother with the hard work involved in gaining clients the “old fashioned” way –- by gaining a reputation among other lawyers and your community as a competent practitioner. It a brand new world! Web-2.0, social-media fast lane. You can shortcut all that stuff old lawyers had to do.

Yet any shortcuts undertaken by new lawyers are likely to be short lived or blow up in their faces. Lawyers who wish to succeed need instead to focus on the basics: credibility, relationships, and hard work. There are no shortcuts. President Roosevelt summed it up in an address given while still an assemblyman:

Nothing worth gaining is ever gained without effort. You can no more have freedom without striving and suffering for it than you can win success as a banker or a lawyer without labor and effort, without self-denial in youth and the display of a ready and alert intelligence in middle age.

Theodore Roosevelt, Duties of an American CitizenBuffalo, New York, January 26, 1883

People often want to put a happy face on the practice of law. Push for work-life balance. But being a lawyer is hard work. If you want to find some measure of success as a lawyer, it is going to require labor and effort. Last week, I was speaking with an associate at an oil & gas firm (holla V!) and he told me he was coming off reviewing roughly 93,000 pages of documents for a single matter. Not exactly Candyland. But it’s the work he has to put in if he wants to gain experience as a lawyer working on such deals. He can’t “fake it til he makes it.” He has to bear down and put in the grinding hours and hard work to obtain the skills he wants in order to be a successful lawyer.

It was true 140 years ago, it’s true today, and will be true a 100 years from now.

No short cuts. Just do the work.

Keith Lee practices law at Hamer Law Group, LLC in Birmingham, Alabama. He writes about professional development, the law, the universe, and everything at Associate’s Mind. He is also the author of The Marble and The Sculptor: From Law School To Law Practice (affiliate link), published by the ABA. You can reach him at or on Twitter at @associatesmind.

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