The ‘Life’s Too Short Rule’

I fired a client this morning. If pressed by a judge in some fictitious courtroom for legal authority, I would cite the “life’s too short” rule.

The work the client had asked us to do was well within our area of expertise. We had even worked, tangentially, with this same client on a past project. We had the available resources to perform the project timely and well. I fired him not because of an absence of capability or a lack of capacity, but rather because I realized he was not the kind of client I wanted to represent.

I should stop at this point to note that leaving business on the table – whether by asking a client to find other representation or because we decide against accepting a client in the first place – runs against my DNA. If someone needs services I know we can provide well, my instinct is to take the case. That’s the business owner in me talking. I’d venture to say that most everyone who has run a small business, particularly in these economic times, finds the prospect of turning away work to be deeply unsettling.

I have found, however, that over the past few years, I have come to a greater understanding of the difference between can do it and should do it. The difference lies in the vision I have for this firm and the decision I’ve made about how I want our time spent.

Call it a midlife crisis. We were founded in 2002. In our first few years, while we were hoping just to make payroll and keep the lights on, we would take anything within our small business field of expertise. If we felt we could do it well, we signed it up and brought it in. Later, when we realized that our string of making consecutive payrolls wasn’t a fluke and that the lights were going to stay on, we became a bit more selective…but not necessarily more focused.

The distinction can be illustrated by a construction company. As it becomes more established, the company may elect to turn away from bidding on thin-margin projects, preferring to devote its attention toward projects likely to be more financially rewarding. Although commendable, the financial benchmarks have nothing to do with a determination of the work that the company’s principals want to do.

  • What projects will help them establish the company’s identity in the markets in which it would like to be known?
  • What projects will enable the company’s people to grow and increase job satisfaction?
  • Which customers bring the important side benefit of quality of life for those working with them?

Wagonheim Law is now 10 years old. Too young for a midlife crisis? Perhaps; though in dog years it might be considered too late. It is time, however, to focus not just on the P&L, but rather on the bulleted questions. More importantly, it is time to start turning away from those new engagements that do not pass muster with our list of mission-critical questions.

We excel at serving as general counsel to innovative, growing companies committed to the notion of being markedly better today than they were yesterday. We enjoy working with people who understand the difference between five years of experience and one year of experience repeated 5 times. We gel with clients who enjoy the give and take, want to communicate, and are coachable.

This morning, I fired someone who wasn’t.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 18th, 2014 at 5:09 pm. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.