About 13 years ago, I had my first appraisal at what was then my new firm: Prettys in Ipswich. Colourful shirts, floppy hair and a passion for doing things differently, I think it’s fair to say that I was already rubbing my supervising partner up the wrong way.
“You need to knuckle down”, he said. “You have to fit in.” I still have the notes I made at the appraisal, which was something of a character assassination. Those notes contain just four words:
And for a long time I had them pinned to the wall above my desk, as a badge of pride.
I have never “fitted in” to any law firm that I have worked at. Which is probably why within a year of meeting the right person to partner up with, I had set up my own practice. We work hard, we love what we do. But we will never knuckle down. We will never fit in.
As a result, we will never again get that magical unexpected call from the huge client of which every lawyer dreams. (It did happen to me once, when I was at Watson Burton, and I ended up handling all the grey trading litigation for Canon UK.) But that’s OK. Because what I’ve realised is that even as a lawyer, it’s OK not to fit in, not to knuckle down. There are enough people out there who like the way we do things that differentiating ourselves on this basis is a good thing. A great thing.
Two things happened today that made me decide it was time to write this post. One, we had some wonderful recommendations (one from a client, one about our iTunes podcast, and finally one being a podcast listener coming to our defence when somebody suggested that my post about it wasn’t suitable for a Facebook group about start-ups in London). All this in the space of an hour and a half.
And two, I read this post by Seth Godin. Of course, Seth is all about differentiation. And you’d know that already if you had read Purple Cow. But what I love about this very short post is that it summarises in just a few words not only why it’s important to be different, but why the reason for that difference is important. You’ll see when you read it. And don’t say you haven’t got time. It’s less than half the length of this one…