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Don’t Draw the Owl (It’s Already Been Drawn)

By August 27, 2019October 13th, 2020basic assistance, Law Practice Management

As a lawyer working to build a thriving, modern practice, you’ve probably realized one thing: everyone has advice. And it probably hasn’t taken you very long to realize that most of that advice isn’t very good. In fact, most of it is just bad.

It usually goes a little something like this: you need guidance on some aspect of improving your practice. Maybe it’s your marketing strategy or setting up more efficient business systems. So, you head to Google, you type in your keywords, and you look to see what all the experts are saying.

And suddenly, you have more questions than you started with.

Because those “experts” aren’t giving out real advice. They’re filling their blogs and sales pages with the keywords you’re after, and spewing edgy nonsense in a misguided attempt to appear clever.

Sometimes that advice comes in the form of some shiny new law-tech software that will supposedly make your life oh-so-much better.

But you didn’t go out looking for new software, did you? You didn’t set out looking to make a big purchase for some subscription software when all you really needed was a bit of advice on how to streamline your practice, right?

New tech isn’t really advice, after all.

So maybe a few days later you go back to Google and try again. Real advice must be out there somewhere, right? Others have it figured out – and they figured it out before this tech even existed.

But this time your web search leads you to a post by a tech zealot who says if you wanna get stuff done you need to learn the “draw the owl” game.

You might remember that meme – it was titled “How to Draw an Owl”.

Step 1 had a couple of rough ovals. Step 2 was a professionally sketched owl that only could have been drawn with years of practice and hours of free time.

Which leaves us wondering… where’s the rest?

Well, these tech-zealots (of which there are many in the legal profession) say that “the rest” is where you come in. You need to take whatever information you have about running a law firm, get creative, and figure out the rest on your own.

No guidance. No hand-holding. Not even a hint.

Yeah, that’s their advice: draw that owl. Figure it all out for yourself.

But that’s ridiculous and useless, isn’t it? You don’t seek out the advice of experts because you want to figure things out for yourself.

You don’t need more online information. You need actionable insight.


  • Obviously, I’ve learned to draw a lot of owls on my own. I love figuring things out. That’s why I’m supposedly a #5 on the Enneagram model (“the Investigator”).

    But what troubles me is when someone learns something that takes a long time, and then turns around and says “here let me teach you how to do it. Copy what I’ve done.” As the renowed physicist Richard Feynman said, the best way to learn something well is to teach it to others. I’ve discovered that, as hard as learning how to draw the fucking owl is, learning how to teach others to draw it is MUCH harder.

    My mission in life now is helping lawyers learn how to leverage technology to get practical, powerful RESULTS. I’ve found that to be quite challenging, but I feel like I’ve gotten to a point where I know my teaching method is working very well. And I find it troubling to watch the breezy, happy-go-lucky tech-zealots dispensing “wisdom” via Twitter or wherever. They have learned to draw the fucking owl.

    They haven’t learned how to teach others the faster way to draw it. Speaking of drawing, if you want to learn to draw, there’s a semi-famous (not among the draw-the-owl crowd) called Drawing On The Right Side of The Brain, by Betty Edwards. She figured out how to help students who had trouble figuring out how to draw realistic renderings.

    Her method is simple, and gets great results predictably and amazingly. But it took her a LONG time to learn how to teach students effectively. I’m sure she scoffs at the “draw the fucking owl” meme even more than I do. BTW, here’s a link to her excellent book:

  • Craig Ball says:

    You’re right. No doubt about it. Why go the hard way?

    But having conceded that, I’ve drawn the fucking owl my whole career. I had to figure out how to develop a case and try a lawsuit. My first firm just gave me some ovals (cases) and said “draw the owl.” All my life, I’ve tried to figure things out, and in my bumbling, stumbling way, I learned how to draw owls and hawks and hummingbirds. Figuring it out made me learn things in ways I never could have achieved if I’d simply been give a picture of an owl and told, “here’s your owl.” Both work, I suppose; but, what happens between the ovals and the owl matters, and is something someone has to know if they want to really be able to draw owls and not just be handed someone else’s rendition. It’s the difference between paint by numbers and painting.

    I’m just saying that “figure it out” makes for broad, deep expertise of a sort that’s disappearing so fast we hardly know it’s gone. A well-known though leader colleague once proclaimed that she didn’t need to know what science keeps a plane aloft to fly. But someone does need to know, and I fervently hope that most who make and fly planes have that knowledge, and that they obtained some of that knowledge the hard way–by drawing the fucking owls themselves.

    Love ya, buddy!

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