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The 80/20 Principle for Lawyers

Using the 80/20 Principle will transform your law practice in powerful ways.

This principle will enable you to get more of what you want with less effort. Which is especially important if you’re in a solo or small firm practice.

Big firm lawyers have the luxury of wasting time and other resources. But you don’t.

That’s why you need to be Ninja efficient in every aspect of your practice. And the best way to do that is by harnessing…

The 80/20 Principle

When you can identify the 80% of things that make little or no difference in getting big results, then you can reallocate your effort, time, energy, and investment capital away from those things and redirect them toward the 20% of things that matter a lot.

Where did the 80/20 Principle originate?

In 1897 an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto stumbled upon an interesting pattern that involved wealth distribution in Italy. Roughly 20% of the people owned 80% of the land. Upon further study, it was revealed that this ratio was consistent across other nations.

Other economists came along later and made further studies and discovered that this benchmark ratio was present in many other areas of business and life.

I say “benchmark” because the ratio isn’t always 80/20. Sometimes it’s 70/30 or 90/10, somewhere in between or close to those ratios. The key insight is that many resources aren’t just unevenly distributed.

The insight is that there’s a wildly disproportionate distribution. We now know that in many areas of nature, 20% of causes contribute to 80% of the consequences.

That is: 20% of effort causes 80% of the results.

There are other examples of how this severe imbalance occurs naturally and pervasively in nature. But for now, here’s…

The key insight you need

Most people are oblivious to a simple but powerful fact illuminated by the 80/20 principle…

Most actions don’t matter much (or at all).

But a very select few things that we do matter a LOT.

So in our modern world, where we are surrounded by opportunities and new ones are popping up every moment, it’s important to be able to identify which ones matter most.

The 80/20 principle is important for this reason.

First, it alerts us to the fact that there are widespread imbalances in the value of resources, effort, and causes.

We tend to believe that to get better results, we need to apply incrementally more effort. When the reality is that, in most cases, if we apply effort in the right places, we get 80% of the results we want with very little effort.

If you can get 80% of the results you want or need with 20% of your effort, do you really want to spend an additional 80% of your effort to get the next 20% of results?

Or would you rather use that additional 80% to go look for another 80/20 imbalance to take advantage of?

As lawyers, we are particularly prone to perfectionism. Chasing the extra 20% of results by using 80% of our time, money, or energy is a widespread phenomenon in the legal profession.

But it’s not the way to quickly and efficiently scale up your practice.

Examples of 80/20 Imbalance

There are many examples of the 80/20 principle in everyday life, and here are a few well-known ones:

  • 80% of the world’s energy is consumed by 15% of the world’s population
  • 80% of the world’s wealth is possessed by 25% of the world’s people.
  • 80% of the wealth in most long-term portfolios comes from 20% of the investments
  • 20% of products or customers are responsible for 80% of a company’s profits
  • 20% of book titles in bookstores comprise 80% of books sold.
  • 20% of people’s clothes in their wardrobe are worn 80% of the time.

Notice in the first two examples above that the ratios don’t have to add up to 100%. Again, the 80/20 ratio is just a benchmark.

For example, a study of 300 movies created in an eighteen-month period revealed that 4% of movies accounted for 80% of the overall profits. This means that 1.3% accounted for 80% of the profits and 98.7% for the other 20%.

How can you use the 80/20 principle?

The key is to become more aware of the need to pay attention to the allocation of resources and measure which resources yield the best returns.

If certain kinds of cases or certain kinds of clients are yielding most of your profit, then consider how you can get more of that kind of work.

Or, taking a more quality-of-life view, which 20% of clients or type of work brings you 80% of your satisfaction?

Use with technology

The 80/20 Principle is especially helpful in using technology.

If you’re realistic you’ll easily understand why. Namely, it’s because…

Technology is complex, rapidly changing, and massively disruptive.

Obviously, it helps to minimize the complexity of technology which is possible only if you use it selectively.

And strategically.

And the best way to do that is to focus as much as possible on a few key tech levers.

Bottom Line

If you want to learn how to create Ninja-efficiency in your law practice, check out the 80/20 Principle newsletter.

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