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7/13/2016: Lawyers and Fear of Failure

There's a lot of talk about doing away with the "fear of failure" in tech and startup writing. There's not a lot of talk about doing away with that fear for lawyers. I've done a lot of thinking about this, and I've come to the conclusion that I am absolutely terrified of failing. Maybe this has to do with the law, law school, the inherent awfulness of practicing law, or something like that, but I'm not sure.

Startup failure isn't like lawyer failure. Startup failure means they unsuccessfully pivoted their automated home juice bar startup after a million dollar seed round and are now reduced to a high-paid consulting gig while they work out what to do next during a sabbatical to the Amalfi Coast. Lawyer failure can mean having your personal equity drained away, all the while defending a malpractice lawsuit from a former client that results in both personal and emotional bankruptcy.

Law is completely unlike any other business in that it's always a zero-sum game. Lawyers don't create value - they take value away from other people. The court system doesn't create value - it takes something from one side and gives it to another, often to the wrong side for the wrong reasons. One side wins, one side loses, neither side is happy with the result, and lawyers try to extract value for themselves however they can. It's a miserable soul-sucking prisoner's dilemma in a prison full of sociopaths. Fail even once and, at worst, your career is over. At best you lose everything and live with a professional stigma for the rest of your career.

I'm obviously being hyperbolic about the merits of both. But legal businesses always grow at the expense of something else. Other normal businesses try to achieve value creation, while lawyers and law firms focus on either value destruction or value reallocation.

Coming from that environment it's hard to understand the concept of value creation. I see everything as zero-sum. Hence the fear of failure. I'm trying to get over that, but after a decade of being force-fed a zero-sum mentality it's quite hard.

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