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Of 'Outliers,' Lawyers and Success

Outliers Am I the only person who has not yet read Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers"? On a recent flight, the man next to me was absorbed in it from takeoff to landing. On the subway in Boston, a woman looked up from its pages only when she heard her stop announced. Not surprising, given that the book is the number one nonfiction book on the New York Times best-sellers list. Gladwell looks at people who have achieved enormous success and concludes that their success is attributable, at least in part, to factors entirely outside their own control.

Coincidentally, two legal bloggers just finished reading the book and both posted their thoughts to their blogs yesterday. For Monica Bay at The Common Scold, the book was "a fascinating study." She explains:

Gladwell concludes that everything from when you are born (for example, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were both born in 1955, so they were young adults at a critical time in cyber-history), and how much time you invest (it takes just about 10,000 hours to perfect any craft), and what type of social/family/cultural structure you were raised with, can sharply influence your ability to succeed.

For my Legal Blog Watch colleague Carolyn Elefant, the book drove home the importance for lawyers of the company we keep, as she writes at her blog MyShingle.com. Gladwell's premise may depress some, she acknowledges. "After all, what's the point of working hard if our fate is determined by factors beyond our control?" But the message she finds in the book is one of encouragement, that anyone can create the kind of environment that breeds success through the company we keep.

What we can do is surround ourselves with good company -- friends and colleagues and peers and mentors who support and motivate and inspire us. That's especially important in solo practice. I wonder how many talented young lawyers have been deterred from starting a practice because they encountered only naysayers along the way rather than lawyers who supported and nurtured their vision. How many lawyers fired from a job have left the law in shame, tail between their legs, feeling as if they'd failed when with the right encouragement, they could have opened their own firm and made a real difference in the lives of clients and to our entire profession.

Thanks to Bay, Elefant, the man on the plane and the woman on the subway, Gladwell has just sold at least one more copy of his book.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on December 29, 2008 at 12:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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