Keith Lee

It’s always struck me as odd how isolated law schools tend to be. They often seem to be the loftiest towers in the ivory towers of higher education. Far removed from the day-to-day grind of their graduates and unconcerned with any sort of practicality as it relates to their instruction. Not only that, they seem to exist separately from the other enclaves of education within their university. For instance, at a university which contains both a law school and a business school, it would seem a natural conclusion for the two schools to work together and provide students with opportunities for cross-pollination of ideas and education. Particularly given law schools’ new found fetishization of “experiential education” and a focus on practical education for law students.

I mean, given the choice to learn how to run a business, would you rather learn from a law professor who spent a year or two as an associate in Biglaw before hitting the life-long professor track, or a MBA who spent 20 years in business before semi-retiring to teach a class or two in business school?

Personally, I would choose the MBA. But law students are never given that option. So they are left to scrape together whatever business skills they can muster. Unfortunately, this often means lots of flailing about before developing the skills necessary to properly grow and develop your business. But if you want a quick master class on business, look no further than Peter Drucker. If you’re a lawyer or law student and have never heard of him: shame, shame. If you have business clients, I guarantee you they have.

There might be no one else who has had as much influence on how corporations and businesses function than Drucker. His ideas, thoughts, and approaches to management theory and practice are some of the most remarked upon and followed in the world. Drucker worked with GE, Coca-Cola, Citicorp, IBM, and Intel. He consulted with notable business leaders such as Jack Welch, A.G. Lafley, Andy Grove, and Shoichiro Toyoda. I’d list all of his achievements and awards (like the fact that he has won more McKinsey Awards than any other person), but it would take a couple thousand more words. The point being, everyone in the business world knows Drucker and his ideas. But he is largely an unknown figure to law students and new lawyers.

And while Drucker’s writings are often geared to effective management, they can be also be applied to other professional and personal pursuits. Back in 1998 in an article for Forbes, Drucker laid out what he felt to be the Four Universal Entrepreneurial Disciplines necessary for success in business:

  1. Organized abandonment of products, services, processes, markets, distribution channels, etc., that are no longer an optimal allocation of resources.
  2. Organize for systematic, continuing improvement.
  3. Organize for systemic and continuous exploitation of successes.
  4. Organize systemic innovation — create different and new techniques that make your successful products, services, etc. of today, obsolete.

Drucker is referring to the development of successful entrepreneurial traits for a business, but these principals are just as easily applied to starting a blog, developing new clients, or internal firm practices and procedures. These disciplines can apply to speaking, writing, research, or almost any other area of professional practice that should be met with constant improvement. They also apply to personal development: physical fitness, starting a new hobby, shedding bad habits, etc.

While you might find the four disciplines straightforward, the language Drucker uses implies much more. Let’s break them down.

  1. Not “re-think,” or “downgrade,” or “re-allcoate” but abandon that which does not work well. Cast it aside and never look back.
  2. Systematic, continuous improvement. Not going to a seminar or CLE once every few months, but integrating personal/professional development into your everyday routine.
  3. When you have success, don’t “build on it” or “synergize with it.” And certainly don’t bask in the glow of success. Instead exploit it — manipulate any success to one’s own advantage through any means necessary.
  4. Not improve your current products or business services — make them obsolete. Compete with and cannibalize your own business because if you don’t, someone else will.

What Drucker sets out is not a simple four-step plan to success. This is a difficult path. Again, the language Drucker uses it telling — he labels these as “disciplines,” not “tips” or “tricks.” A discipline is an ongoing training that corrects, molds, or perfects one’s faculties or character. It is a system one adopts in order to improve oneself.

If you want to thrive as a new lawyer, develop as a professional, and advance your career, you have to adopt systems in your life that force you to grow and surround yourself with people who will challenge and motivate you.


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 keith.lee@hamerlawgroup.com or on Twitter at @associatesmind.


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