Podcast Life and Career Lessons Through the Eyes of a Lawyer Turned Legal Recruiter — How I Built This: Richard Branson

As we have all adjusted to teleworking and social distancing in a COVID world, we have had to make a number of adjustments in both our professional and personal lives. One adjustment I suggest? LISTEN TO MORE PODCASTS! Puttering around the house, exercising, walking, fixing a meal, shopping, and driving all provide excellent opportunities to learn something new. Whatever your interests, there are podcasts addressing them: Business. Politics. News. Sports. Food. Pop culture. Travel. Money. Religion. True Crime. Comedy. There are countless terrific podcasts, and lessons can be drawn from all of them. My favorite podcasts and the life and career lessons they contain are the inspiration for this regular series I plan to post on LinkedIn.

I listen to so many podcasts I find it hard to keep up with all of them. But one podcast I never miss is “How I Built This,” an NPR podcast in which Guy Raz interviews innovators, entrepreneurs, and idealists about the companies and movements they built. How good is this podcast? It is so good that even my teenage son enjoys listening to episodes with me as I chauffeur him from one athletic event to another.

The first HIBT episode I listened to several years ago was Raz’s interview of Richard Branson, the mega-successful serial entrepreneur and founder of the Virgin empire. This remains one of my favorite episodes. In a nutshell, Branson’s Virgin empire—consisting of an airline, a record label, a bank, space tourism and 200 other businesses—sprang out of his initial creation of a largely unsuccessful magazine followed by his opening of a record store. One day, Branson heard an unpublished recording of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, loved it, and wanted to sell it at his record store. He took it to seven different record labels, but no one was interested. So, Branson did the only logical thing: he started his own label to record and release the album. Tubular Bells went on to become the best-selling instrumental album of all time. And the rest, as they say, is history.

As he recounts in HIBT, Branson seized other opportunities along the way and created countless others for himself by keeping his finger on the pulse of the market. Sure, Branson experienced dozens of failures, but he continued to swing for the fences, seize the opportunities in front of him, and make the most of them to turn himself into one of the most successful entrepreneurs in history. Had Branson limited himself to that initial record store, where do you think he would have ended up? Certainly, nowhere near the level of success and satisfaction he achieved by seizing the opportunities in front of him.

What lessons can lawyers take from Branson’s story?

* Do not limit yourself to the comfortable world you know.

  • There are myriad opportunities out there that may open a world of possibilities you haven’t even considered. When someone calls you to share information about an opportunity, what’s the harm in listening?

* Increase your geographic footprint and practice offerings.

  • Depending on your practice area, consider joining a larger platform where you can offer additional services to your existing clients while exposing yourself to a wider array of opportunities. This will heighten the prospects of growing your practice in ways that staying purely local/small/regional will not. It will also increase your opportunities to hedge your existing practice against economic downturns through diversification—an increasingly important consideration given the current economic landscape.

* Swing for the fences and seize the opportunities in front of you.

  • Many lawyers tend to put their noses to the grindstone and focus only on the work in front of them. Most of these nose-to-the-grindstone lawyers are destined to spend their careers servicing the clients of the firm or of other partners. While there is nothing wrong with servicing the clients of others, our surveys demonstrate that lawyers achieve the greatest levels of satisfaction and security building their own practices with their own clients. To maximize your own satisfaction, make sure you are putting yourself in the best position to do that.

* Pay attention to trends and don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself.

  • Most practice areas have ebbs and flows that depend on the economy, the level of regulatory enforcement activity by the current administration, industry evolution, market trends, etc. These ebbs and flows can create both risks and opportunities. Keep yourself informed of these risks and opportunities and put yourself in a position to take advantage of them.
  • Think about new opportunities to expand services and deepen relationships with clients as a result of COVID-related issues. While in no way minimizing the significant costs of this tragedy, there may be a silver lining. Conversations I have had with countless law firm leaders and partners over the past couple months have identified a number of expanded client service, practice, and growth opportunities resulting from the crisis. Inflection points are the time to make the most of new opportunities.

* Don’t let your own natural risk-aversion stifle your willingness to consider opportunities for greater growth, success, and career satisfaction.

  • In my conversations with law firm partners, I regularly face some amount of resistance to hearing about opportunities based on the “devil you know” phenomenon. Even dissatisfied partners regularly assume all law firms have roughly the same culture, managerial style, and practice philosophy. This is not true. If you are dissatisfied with some aspect of your firm, I guarantee there is another firm out there doing it better.
  • Inertia is the most powerful force in the universe. Don't let it control your practice. Remember: even though you may believe your practice is progressing smoothly along a comfortable path, keeping your ears and mind open to opportunities does absolutely nothing to upset things. Being open to hearing about options just may put an opportunity in front of you that will change your life completely.

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