America has become obsessed with competition. That’s how ESPN rocketed to prominence: by bringing us 24/7 up-to-the-minute news of all kinds of competitive sporting events. These days they even cover hot-dog eating competitions (which, believe it or not, is classified as a form of ‘competitive eating’).
So why do we love competition so much?
Well, obviously, competition is all about the pursuit of
excellence. And that’s what our heros do: they pursue excellence. We
all want to be like our heros, and so we watch them obssesively and try
to imitate them. Of course, very few of us can be like Tiger Woods and
hit a golf ball 320 yards perfectly down the fairway.
But we can take golf lessons from a golf pro and have him (or
her) analyze our swing flaws and suggest ways to correct them. Even
the hot-dog eating competitors work on developing new techniques to
improve their performance. I don’t know if they work with coaches yet,
but you can be bet the mustard and relish that someday they will.
Coaches crop up in every sphere where excellence is pursued, even in
non-competitive worlds. Luciano Pavarotti, it is said, has a gift.
Even though he probably always had great talent, he also probably had
vocal training when he was starting out. But what about now? It
wouldn’t be shocking if he still relies on a vocal coach. After all, Barbara Streisand, Bette Midler, Michael Bolton and Natalie Cole all still work with a vocal coach.
So wherever there is competition and pursuit of excellence you find
superstars working tirelessly to hone their technique, often relying on
coaches to help them do that.
And what about in the legal world? Obviously, that’s a competitive
world filled with lawyers pursuing excellence in their craft. But how are they doing that exactly? Let’s stop and think about that for a second. How many lawyers sit
around and try to refine their courtroom technique and presentation
style? How many lawyers or legal professionals set aside time to
figure out how to improve their work-flow practices? How many try new software programs in the search for ways deliver better client services?
How many lawyers have coaches?
What’s that you say? Who helps coach lawyers on how to improve their practices? Well, Arnie Herz does this. And so does Irwin Karp
and probably a host of other people. Granted, it’s not something that
most lawyers would ever consider doing. Some might even disparage the
notion as Anonymous Lawyer does when he puts down so called ‘life coaches,’
Of course, Anonymous Lawyer is not exactly a role model for the
profession. But forget about coaches.
It’s pretty clear that a lot of lawyers aren’t even working on their own to improve their skills. Why not?
Many of them would tell you they’re busy and don’t have
time to stop and figure out how to use technology to help their practice. Doing that takes
time and requires doing things in a way that runs counter to deeply
ingrained habits, which are hard to break. Hey, they’d rather keep doing
things in a way that they are familiar with.
I’m sure Tiger Woods would rather have kept swinging his club in the
way he was familiar with too. After all, he’d won more than a few
major tournaments with his old swing. He’d certainly have won some more with that ‘old’ swing. But he was willing to make some
sacrifices and create a new swing because he wanted to be the best player he could be. And
this is a very interesting aspect of the quest for excellence. Often
you have to take a couple of steps backwards just so you can make
what kind of sacrifices are we in the legal profession willing to make
to improve things? Are we willing to re-examine top-to-bottom how we
get things done? Are we willing to break old habits and make significant
changes? Or are we too busy and too set in our ways?
I don’t know. Apparently, many of us aren’t too busy to turn on the
TV and root for Tiger Woods, and shower him with admiration for doing what it takes to stay on top of his game. Some of us even have time to watch hotdog eating contests
on ESPN. And that makes me think that we probably can find some time
to figure out how to improve our profession. Whether we want to is another question.