In a world which seems more competitive than ever, sometimes it is important to take a step back, gain a bit of perspective… and to realise that the world IS big enough.
The traditional legal industry is one heck of a competition hell-hole.
If any of you know about the Blue Ocean Strategy, you will also know that the inverse of the Blue Ocean is the Red Ocean. The Red Ocean is where a market is so saturated that the water literally turns blood red – for the metaphorical blood spilt amongst competitors in a cut-throat environment. If you’re keen, there is a book about it.
I think I found the Red Ocean!
The traditional legal industry exists in the Red Ocean. Most lawyers will tell you that (despite the attempts to differentiate service offerings), there is little difference between the work that the big law firms do. When you occupy the Red Ocean, you cannot do much about it except for engaging in price differentiation – which leads to a never-ending race to the bottom on discounting.
The only law firms that can escape this pernickety situation are the top two to three firms that have majority market share. The Australian Financial Review publishes a yearly round-up on all the big players, so you can easily figure out who those firms are.
And another one!
Equally, law students occupy a Red Ocean – although this should not be the case.
It’s times like this that I would say ‘the world is big enough’. Honestly, it is.
Here’s a story for you
When I was at law school, I spent a lot more time hanging out with friends from other disciplines at my college than classmates from law school. Why? Partly because I realised that there were so many more perspectives out there to learn from and understand.
Law school is a place for learning, but it can also narrow your worldview. There are specific timeframes where everyone panics about exams (usually in week 10 of the teaching semester when you realise that SWOT VAC is two weeks away), or panics about clerkship applications, or panics about clerkship offers.
It is all too predictable… and this is precisely what creates the Red Ocean.
Some competition is imagined, not real
When I was 17 and in high-school, a particularly lazy classmate (by reputation) asked whether she could have my notes for the entire year of our Economics subject. One of my friends baulked and said, ‘no way, why should you?’. I said, ‘why not? It’s not like she would be able to understand all of it… and even if she did, good on her’. So my 17-year-old self decided it would be a good thing to share my curated electronic notes via email.
A couple of days later, my laptop did the unthinkable. It crashed. This was back in the day before cloud computing and my only backup was on those dodgy 256 kilobyte USBs. Unfortunately, I hadn’t backed up my electronic notes for weeks. HORROR!
By now you’d have figured out the happily-ever-after ending. My lazy (but now entirely life-saving) classmate saved the day. Instead of going back weeks, I only had to retrace my steps of a few days by retrieving my notes.
This truly was good karma in action.
Since then, I have never thought twice about helping someone where I can. Sometimes, it really does come back in good and unexpected ways.
Why the world IS big enough
So, back to my original point. You should realise that the world IS big enough. There are plenty of problems out there which need solving, but no one has been focusing on solving them. Instead, we are too focused on chasing a pipe-dream that life will be all hunky dory when we achieve XYZ or make it to a certain point on the career ladder.
Stuff the ladder. The most important question we should all be asking ourselves is – am I even on the right ladder? I think this quote sums it right up.
If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster. — Stephen Covey
For some, the traditional pathway may be the right ladder, but for many, it can result in disappointment. Unsurprisingly, there are too many stories of lawyers ‘escaping the law’. To prove this point, LinkedIn alerted me to this Business Insider exposé, after which I proceeded to roll on the floor laughing (I jest):
So, what next?
We should all be looking for the road not taken, the path not trod. Here are some takeaways for you to contemplate if you’re hoping for a life in law:
- Legal developments are slow-moving. I would say at a top speed of one inch/year faster than a sloth.
- What can you bring to the table that makes you a better lawyer that can relate to humans, not a droid?
- Can you think of where the law is broken or outdated and needs fixing? (Multiple hints: Access to justice, technology, cybercrime, information privacy, etc.)
For those of you who dare to dream, think big and be creative – the world is ALWAYS going to be big enough. So, with courage, go and seek out your Blue Ocean.