If you’re a football fan, there are many reasons to like Peyton Manning. The four-time NFL Most Valuable Player is unarguably one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game, and more than a few fans and others make the case that he’s the very best ever.
We won’t go down that road here, but the future Hall of Famer’s famous work ethic and surprising longevity provide valuable lessons to those attorneys and other professionals who are closer to retirement than to their college days. Manning’s nearly 30 years of playing organized football hold the key to finding success in an incredibly competitive field – and to performing at the highest level when you’re no longer the new kid on the block.
What Does This Have to Do With Attorneys?
It’s a truism that if you’re alive, you’re getting older. For the first 21 or 25 or 30 years (for most of us) getting older is a good thing. But after a certain point, it’s no longer entirely positive, whether you’re an NFL quarterback or a corporate attorney. Happily for all the lawyers out there, you’re not considered old at 37. On the other hand, for professional football players, 37 must feel like 67.
Yet, just as some 67-year-old attorneys are at the top of their game, Manning – astounding the critics – is very much at the top of his. Just two years after his third neck surgery that many thought might end his career, Manning is showing that 37 can be the new 27. It’s still early in the season, but after four games, the Broncos are 4-0, and Manning has been leading the charge with pinpoint passing that’s led to an astounding 16 touchdown passes with no interceptions.
So, how does the NFL’s oldest starting quarterback continue to perform at such a high level after most of his peers have retired – and what can attorneys who are in a similar situation learn from Peyton Manning?
Three Lessons from Peyton Manning on Being the Best Lawyer You Can Be When You’re Closer to Retirement than Your College Days:
1. Just because you’re getting older, the hard work doesn’t stop. If anything, you’ve got to work harder. Throughout his career, Manning’s been known as the first one in the locker room in the morning, and the last one to leave at night. He’s famous for studying video of his upcoming opponents long into the night. “Preparation” has been not just his middle name, but his first and last name, too – and it’s been a key to his success throughout his career. He knows what to expect from the opposition as well as they do. And that hasn’t changed any in recent years.
Of course, as an attorney, you know just how important preparation is – for a trial, a negotiation or client meeting. However, is it possible that as the years have gone by, you’ve been willing to let some of that preparation go by the wayside, as well? Obviously, our years of experience mean that we don’t have to prepare in the same way as we did when we were younger, right? Well, the best know better. Just ask Peyton Manning.
2. Fashion and fads come and go, but you must continue to focus on your core strengths. Early this season, a sports commentator asked Manning about the recent rise of the new breed of running QBs such as Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick. Manning has never been much of a runner and has always been quick to admit it. The commentator indicated that Manning might be “grandfathered in” (wink, wink) from having to compete with this new breed of QB. Needless to say, everyone knew that the Broncos were not going to try to make Manning a running QB. You either are one or you’re not – and Manning is most definitely not. And that’s not changing at age 37.
Similarly, when it comes to the essentials of your job, you must continue to focus on your strengths. You’ve been around long enough to be confident in your unwillingness to jump on every fad, whether it’s in fashion, business or technology. What do you do best? What separates you from the pack? What was true at 27 for you will likely still be true at 47 – and beyond. Confidence in yourself will serve you well. That said, you do need to distinguish between a short-lived fad that’s worth ignoring, and a long-term trend that’s worth paying attention to. And that takes us to #3…
3. Be willing to make constant adjustments to your game plan. Peyton is famous for reading defenses at the line of scrimmage and making adjustments on the fly. In fact, he may be the best QB ever at doing this.
You need to do this, too. Think of yourself operating as part of a continuous feedback loop in which you’re always pulling in information about your competitors and the legal marketplace, you’re analyzing it, and you’re making minor adjustments as appropriate. How does this square with Lesson #2 for you, the attorney? Obviously, there’s a natural tension between knowing what your strengths are (and wanting to continue to focus on them), and being willing to experiment with the minor things and make adjustments. You should continue to focus on your core strengths – but you also have to be willing to change things up when required. Flexibility is key.
The Two-Minute Drill
So, how do these nuggets of good advice become more than just feel-good axioms for you? How can they become meaningful in your career?
First, it starts with a commitment to your business. Most attorneys are very intelligent individuals, but sometimes that means that they’ve been able to survive – or even thrive – without having to make a real commitment to their legal practice. Things came easily. And if you’re getting closer to retirement age, it may feel as if most of your years practicing law weren’t quite as difficult as they’ve seemed recently.
What’s changed? Is it you – or the world around you? One of my favorite sayings is that it’s never too late to have a happy childhood. Well, in a similar vein, it’s never too late to make the real commitment to your law practice and the business of law that you were not forced to do previously.
Second, you need to have confidence that you have what it takes. Don’t lose faith in yourself as an attorney. You’ve been successfully practicing law all these years. What’s changed? Maybe you’re on your own now instead of in a big firm. You’re just as good an attorney as you were five years ago, but success may take some new skills and a focus on marketing and business development that’s new for you. That’s doable, and it leads us to the final point…
Third, are you finding that the legal arena feels more competitive than it used to? Are the new clients not coming your way as readily these days? If so, perhaps there’s something new that you can try – such as blogging or social media – that will increase your visibility in the legal marketplace. Maybe you should have a legal marketing expert take a look at your website, your brochure, and your business card? And maybe it’s time that you really made a commitment to your business by requesting a marketing audit of all your marketing and business development initiatives. What’s working for you? What isn’t? How are you distinguishing yourself in the crowded legal services marketplace? What’s your Unique Lawyering Proposition?
These steps won’t be as quick and easy as Peyton Manning changing the play at the line of scrimmage, but they will be the first, essential steps to making sure you have a legal career that’s as long and successful as you’re willing to work hard to achieve. That’s the Manning way.