Someone once told me that if your family is poor when you are twelve years old, then no matter how much financial success you have, you will always be fearful that you might lose it all. On the other hand, the theory goes that if your family was rich when you were twelve years old, then no matter how badly you are doing at any moment, you will likely believe that financial success is around the corner.
I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this theory, but it may explain my ninety-five-year-old mother, who I call “the poor little rich girl.” Mom was twelve years old during the Great Depression and her family frequently had their electrical power cut off for non-payment. They moved in the middle of the night more than once to evade their landlord. Today she has more than enough money to meet her needs, but nonetheless lives frugally.
Mom would have fit in very nicely with many lawyers who I know, who, despite earning incomes that most of the rest of the world would be very pleased to have, experience what we now call a “scarcity mindset.” Dr. Google defines this as, “a pattern of thinking that focuses on what you don’t have and the underlying belief that you’re not ever going to have the things that you want…”
In my experience, fewer lawyers have an “abundance mindset.” Such people are described by Dr. Google as having a “focus on what they already have… and (having made) peace with the present moment. Because they’re not living in a state of fear, they experience the many benefits of gratitude and can make better decisions and plan for the future.”
Lawyers with a scarcity mindset rarely say, “there is more than enough work for everyone.” They are more likely to always be stressed about where their next file is coming from, and they say things like, “if I give work to my partner or associate, I may not have enough work to do myself, and then my hours will be too low and my compensation will not be as high as it could be. So, rather than use my extra time to drum up more business, I will fill up my day with as much billable work as possible. It isn’t my problem if my associates are not very busy and stay up nights worrying about whether they are going to be fired.”
Lawyers with an abundance mindset take the opposite approach. Life is good. They are going to be successful. It is their job to keep their associates busy. If work is slow at the moment, they will just go out and get some more. Such lawyers take risks and build firms.
Young lawyers joining firms have to understand that firms may look alike from the outside but they all have different cultures. Don’t hitch your wagon to firms with cultures run by partners with a scarcity mindset. They are not going anywhere, and it will be difficult for you to get ahead when they are in charge.
This article was originally published by Law360 Canada, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc