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The 80/20 Rule for Lawyers

Using the 80/20 Rule will enable you to achieve radical gains in efficiency and results.

When you eliminate 80 to 90% of the inefficiency that most solo and small firm lawyers tolerate in their businesses, you’ll be on the path to becoming exceptionally successful.

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.

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 Essential Insight

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?

Take these actions now

Start by identifying the 80% of less-important things that are bogging you down. And figure out how to let go of them.

Learn to look at things in an “80/20 kind of way,” which opens up your thinking and shows you the amazing opportunities for massive improvement.

Is it easy to shift your thinking? No, not at first.

And it’s not a quick process either. But if you feel compelled to work hard, then this is the place to concentrate your efforts.

And [this book]( can help you get started.

Reduce Bottlenecks

Getting stuck in bottlenecks of thinking or working is easy. Creating momentum toward what really matters is challenging at first.

But then it gets easier and leads to more ease, satisfaction, and peace of mind.

Read this book to get a better sense of how to use the 80/20 principle.

The 80/20 Journey

The “80/20 journey” is one worth making. And you don’t have to make it alone. You can read about the 80/20 principle in books like the one I recommended. Or you can even get ongoing guidance on the journey.

I’d be happy to help if you want. (I have not achieved complete mastery of the Principle or anything grandiose like that, I’m just a traveler on the 80/20 journey who would enjoy some good company 😉).

The best way to join me is to subscribe to my 80/20 Principle newsletter, which you can do below.

P.S. If you're a practicing lawyer, check out this Law Practice Assessment . After answering a few questions, you'll get detailed recommendations for improving five key areas of your practice.
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