in Employers, Legal Profession, Staying in Your Job

Becoming a Legal Expert in 10,000 Hours – is it really achievable?

10,000 Hours Theory – can it work?

At the moment there is a journalist who is trying out the above theory – is it possible to put in 10,000 hours and turn into an expert? – article is on the BBC website – here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26384712. The journalist has given up the day job and taken up golf, with the intention of becoming a professional by the time he has completed 10,000 hours of practising and training. At present he is on around 5,000 hours and has a handicap of 4 (he started out having never played before).

Could the same be applied to work environments? If lawyers spend 10,000 hours undertaking litigation cases or complex transactions of a particular type, are they likely to turn into experts?

I am not sure. Personally I have used the services of lawyers at both ends of their career – senior solicitors and also quite junior lawyers. With hindsight however, on the occasion we had a complex transaction that we thought a senior solicitor was needed to handle, we would have been better with a more junior lawyer dealing.

Why? Because the junior lawyer would have taken more interest in the case and perhaps got the detail right.

The senior lawyer, who no doubt had completed 10,000 hours on very similar cases, simply couldn’t really be bothered applying his mind to our problem and did not put the effort in. The junior lawyer may well have done so.

In terms of expertise, the senior lawyer was probably light years ahead. But his application was poorer. His ambition and drive was not there anymore. This is quite common in sportsmen and women as well. When footballers make it to the top they seem to take their foot off the pedal a bit. If a particularly tough tackle is required they sometimes take a step back and avoid it. If scoring a goal requires a head to be thrust forward in a position where the defender could take it off you can almost guarantee that a senior pro will try to protect himself, whereas a more junior player will take the risk.

I suspect the same applies to lawyers. More junior lawyers may in some circumstances be more prepared to take the risk and go the extra mile than senior solicitors who try to minimise the risk as much as possible and also the amount of work they need to put in.

In recruitment this is very true. I have been recruiting for solicitors firms for over 14 years now, and I would like to think that I can spot a poor vacancy from a rubbish firm pretty quickly. If I do spot one it is likely that I will not do very much work on it, if any. As an inexperienced recruiter starting out it is very unlikely I would have taken the same approach. I would have worked the vacancy and may have spent considerable time sourcing candidates etc.. The client would get a better service from the rookie recruiter than they would from the experienced (yet somewhat cynical) recruiter.

So whilst the 10,000 hours theory may well work – I must attempt to improve my batting performance in cricket by implementing it (not sure my wife will appreciate my efforts) – I suspect that external factors including drive, determination, passion and commitment – also play a very big part in separating out success from failure.

Jonathan Fagan is MD of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment, a non-practising solicitor, author and legal recruitment consultant.

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 17 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at www.legalcareercoaching.co.uk. You can contact Jonathan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk