You and Eliot Ness. The most powerful scene in The Untouchables, a movie with more than a few of them, came courtesy of Sean Connery. His character, a veteran Chicago cop, is dying in great pain on his living room floor after a hit by one of Al Capone’s henchman. But he directs Eliot Ness’s attention to a train on which a key witness can be found. Then, choking up blood and with his last ragged breath, he grabs Ness and repeats a demand he had made earlier in the film: “What are you prepared to do?”
That moment and that line have stayed with me over the years, because they make very clear the difference between mere talk and actual action, the line we all have to cross to make something really happen. It is incredibly difficult to cross that line, and the greater the risks of action, the harder it becomes. David Maister’s book, Strategy and the Fat Smoker, was about this precise topic: finding the will to do what you know needs to be done.
Right now, in the legal profession, more needs to be done than at any time in recent memory. Upheaval is everywhere, competition is flourishing, economic pressures are brutal. What’s worse is that the individual lawyer, far from being bereft of advice, is drowning in it: magazines, blogs, Facebook posts and more are overflowing with more information than anyone can handle. The result, often, is paralysis: When we can’t do everything, we usually can do nothing.
The most important thing for any lawyer to do, right now, is to do one thing. Pick one task. Choose one course of action. Push every other option, every other idea or possibility or I-really-ought-to, off your desk and onto the floor. Then pick up the one that remains in front of you, and do it. The only prerequisite is that it must be something you are prepared to do.
Do you want to start a blog? Go do it, right now, and forbid yourself from quitting before it’s up and running.
Think you should call that potential client and set up a visit? Pick up the phone immediately, and don’t quit until that meeting is booked.
Is it time to hire that virtual assistant to help you with the paperwork? Start calling around and seeking good candidates, and don’t quit until the person is working for you.
Big or small, momentous or trivial, short- or long-term — doesn’t matter. All that matters is that this must be something you are prepared to do. Today. Right now. Go do it.
And then, after you’ve done it and you’ve shown yourself you can make change happen, choose the next one.