How can I succeed?
Work hard is conventional wisdom. It is supposed to be the cure-all of all problems. Since we were little children, we were told to work hard in response to each and every problem.
Want to be at the top of your class? Work hard.
Want respect and dignity? Work hard.
Want to earn more money? Work hard.
Want to get to the top of the profession? Work hard.
Have you ever considered that working hard is a mantra taught to the working and middle class so that people stay in their place and keep working? If they got the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, they will stop working. How does the system work then?
Work hard is really not the cure call.
Yes, hard work is necessary to solve hard problems. But even the daily wage laborers work very hard and still do not get rich.
What is the catch here?
Work hard is absolutely false. Working hard is an excuse used by a majority of people to not do what they have to do.
Today I rest, and tomorrow it will be fine because I will work hard!
We have this conception of hard work as a brute force that when applied will get us results.
It is true that if you get a lot of work done you will benefit from it. If you consistently work more than others it will put you ahead of them. All of that is true.
But that really happens when you love your work. When you put passion and love into your work, when you are inspired to do something extraordinary, when you really care and dive in to make something happen, you may end up working a lot more than someone just doing a job.
However, this passion and love for one’s work are very rare. These things do not come from a place of arrogance, brute force or greed. It is the same thing that makes a soldier proud to lay down his life for his motherland.
It is great if you are ready to outwork your competition. However, it is not the smartest thing to go for the brute force method. If you really care about the results, will you not try to find the most efficient way to get things done? If you really care, will you not consider the impact of your work on everyone else?
We are entering an era where more and more work can be done by technology. Even if AI taking away our work is some years away, even now an individual can get done what an entire team was required to do, because of enhancement in technology.
There was a time when an entire crew was needed to film an ad. Today an entrepreneur with little technical training can shoot an ad for his own products, using nifty gadgets and easy to use intuitive software.
Anyone can build their own basic website with drag and drop tools. Some of my friends who run boutique law firms prefer to make their own website because they have greater control over the same and they do not want to waste their time coordinating with web developers that they find hard to work with. And this is not an anomaly. Wix, a technology that allows people to make their own website without any technical knowledge, is a billion-dollar company!
Why just a website, WordPress allows you to launch your own blog in a few minutes, and its owner Automattic is a unicorn company too!
Let’s talk about lawyers. There was a time when great lawyers spent a lot of time reading and memorizing case laws. They would systematically spend some hours reading case laws and making notes in their notebooks. Then when a case came up, if they were lucky they would quickly find the relevant cases, in favour as well as against them. This was a very critical aspect of the practice. Those lawyers who did not memorize enough cases would find it very hard to compete with such lawyers, because how are you going to look for a case you do not know exist from volumes of SCC or AIR? So top senior lawyers used to be walking encyclopedias of various judgments.
Nani Palkhivala, for example, was exalted for his ability to refer to cases and facts in a way nobody else could during his long speeches before judges.
Judges used to rely on submissions from both sides apart from what he already knew about the subject matter. It was next to impossible for them to do independent research because the research was extremely time taking.
And now? Judges have law clerks who can quickly lookup each precedence available within minutes, very accurately, and brief the judge on the exact point of law. This means that judges of today come prepared to a hearing, having done independent research if they need to, at least in important cases. This has fundamentally changed courtroom dynamics in a way that few people have talked about.
People used to be impressed by a lawyer’s ability to cite accurate citations of a case! That playing field has been leveled. Today an intern can look up more case laws than what Nani Palhivala could remember on any subject thanks to leaps of technology. The value of hard work in remembering case laws is fast disappearing.
And this is not a one-time incident. It is a trend. This trend is accelerating.
There was a time when a junior who could do due diligence accurately and with no mistakes were valued resources. Today, a bulk of that work is done by due diligence software powered by AI. Where we needed 4 juniors to do due diligence, now we just need 1.
The trend is that simple, repeatable, mechanical work and functions are fast becoming fodder to machine learning and technology. We need to be careful about where we put our work in.
What is of more value then? Has working hard no value at all?
That is not what I am suggesting. However, value has shifted from simple, recurring, functional things to more complex things that require human intuition, connection, empathy, courage, and leadership.
Relationships are more valuable than ever. If you are working hard on your relationships, that will pay off. If you are preserving your integrity, building a brand for being fair and competent, that is worth more than ever.
Working hard on your brand makes sense more than ever.
Working hard on developing your leadership potential means more than ever. Much more than your ability to memorize sections from a statute!
Technology has made a whole genre of legal education entirely obsolete. The hardest part of legal practice once upon a time was the precedence – finding case laws to justify your point. The entire legal education system was built around it. And that used to work until there came platforms like Indian Kanoon and Manupatra. Now even the clients look up such case laws before meeting their lawyer!
But the education system is yet to adapt to this new reality. Our law colleges still teach law the way they used to 30 years back, when the internet was just nascent and Google was not even born. How does that make sense?
This is why you will find a plethora of law graduates who are unemployable, complaining about not being given a chance by the industry. Industry sees them as asking for more than they bring on the table, and very expensive to hire and train.
Most law graduates have worked hard in the wrong direction. They have pursued marks rather than true knowledge and skills. They have learned how to pass exams. This was valuable once upon a time, when rote learning, memorizing and being able to regurgitate accurately was a virtue. But that was a few decades earlier! These days, a computer can reproduce any knowledge much more accurately and faster than any topper of any university.
Do you see how topping in an exam taught you useful life skills 30 years back but does not help at all anymore? I hope you do, because that may help you to think harder about what is the kind of things you need to put your effort behind.
I implore you to do only one thing: identify what can make you into a better, more effective, valuable lawyer. Do not listen to people who built their career in a different era. Most of them are clueless about what technology is doing to change the legal services landscape and those old men are majorly responsible for failing to read the signs and causing much of the trouble the legal industry finds itself in today.
On one hand, it is deprived of well-trained lawyers who can actually do the work clients need then to do, on the other hand, there are employers and clients desperate to find competent and honest lawyers, while lakhs of law graduates struggle to understand what is there to be done.
The answer is simple: develop legal skills. While you are at it, also develop communication skills and leadership skills.
That is the way to the top.
Here are some courses that may help you in that pursuit:
Executive Certificate Courses
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