Even if you are a great lawyer, it does not mean that you are a great manager and that you know how to grow your business. You don’t necessarily know what perspective you should take. Should you think big or small? What standards should you set?
Most people think small, because most people are afraid of success, afraid of making decisions and afraid of winning.
Sometimes you need a coach to establish your own potential and ask yourself a right question. I have learnt it first hand.
It was 2014. I was the owner of a law firm in Warsaw. Finally, my dreams had come true and after many years spent with Allen & Overy, I had decided to go my own way and set up my own law firm which would focus on M&A and business litigation.
I was quite proud of myself. I could do whatever I wanted. This was an incredible feeling of freedom and independence. Besides, I wanted to create something lasting for my colleagues and clients. It was a fabulous feeling.
But there was also the other side of the coin. The top-tier international law firms in Warsaw were stronger and more influential. Our firm was like a small boat on the ocean. Every wave could overturn us. Big law firms had better websites, better offices and better marketing. There was nothing we could do about it, although we thought that we were very good lawyers.
One opportunity for growth was my contacts with ex-A&O lawyers all over Europe. We knew each other from my A&O times, had shared values and some of them had (like me) created independent firms. The cooperation started very modestly from a single transaction handled in Hamburg and then it developed into a collaboration among ex-A&O law firms in nine countries. It was a great idea but its commercialization was not easy and it required time. I wanted to do something which would change my situation quickly.
I decided to go to London and see my ex-boss from A&O – Stephen Denyer, who used to be one of the top partners at A&O. At that time Stephen worked at the Law Society in London. I bought the ticket, packed my things and flew to London. Stephen received me very warmly. I thanked him a lot for giving me the chance to work together in the past and I planned to ask him some questions about the network which I was building. Knowing how busy Stephen was, I had hopes for a 15-minute meeting. In fact, Stephen spent with me 2 hours. We went to the café to have a beer. While drinking the cold Stella Artois and looking at the paintings of the illustrious English lawyers hanging on the walls, I learned probably one of the most important business lessons in my life.
“Learn to think big” – Stephen said at the outset. “Ask yourself this question: What standard would I like to be known for? Then go about setting the standard for yourself. No one else can set it for you.”
“Are you aware of your own potential?” – Stephen continued. “Will you be equipped to make a difference when the time comes for you to step forward? Start thinking along those lines and your worth will go up.”
Stephen’s words made me think. I knew we were very good lawyers and we could really achieve great things. Why should I set my goals too low? I remember when my daughter was going with her class for a trip to London she wanted to have a tea with the Queen. Children never have mediocre aspirations. They want to be presidents, astronauts, movie stars and so on. Why should we be different? Not everyone can be the world champion at something but we can strive to be the best we can be.
Stephen continued telling me things I have heard before, that champions go the extra mile, that champions are focused etc. Champions think like champions. They want to win, they want to be the best. Not the runners up, but the best.
I had heard these things before but this time it was different. It was spoken directly to me by a man who knew me and knew the secrets of the City of London as nobody else. Stephen eloquently continued:
“If you want to be a champion, think like a champion. Find a niche where your firm can be the world leader and strive to be the best. Not the runner up, but the best.”
Stephen was speaking to me like an inspired prophet and I was taking notes trying not to miss anything. It was like the wisdom of many generations of great English lawyers speaking through him. How to use social media, how to think about the brand, the importance of an impressive and easily navigated website, attending conferences, and using Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.
Stephen continued: “Don’t avoid success because you think the responsibility might be too much – just focus and keep going! You will be surprised at what intelligent effort can produce.”
I went back home the next day. I talked to my colleagues. We adopted Stephen’s advice 100%. We would think big. London would be our main point of reference, both in terms of quality of our services, the values and the approach. We would set the highest standards for ourselves and we would be able to cooperate with the best law firms in the world. We made a shift towards the cross-border matters, we moved our office to one of the most prestigious addresses in Warsaw, we improved our website and we started to use social media.
We decided to invest heavily in the private client department and go for the highest awards in this field. In 2016 we were ranked by the Legal 500 as No. 1 law firm in Poland in this category. Then in 2017 Chambers & Partners ranked us as No. 1 law firm in Poland in the private wealth. This was the beginning of the most exciting period for our firm – nominations, awards, prizes and mouth-to-mouth recommendations started to pour in from every corner of the globe. Since then, year by year we are ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in Poland.
Thinking big has future. Stephen was right: intelligent effort can produce tremendous effects.