Today, 8 years ago, I drove to the Law Society’s offices in Pretoria and registered my firm, Jacobson Attorneys. The firm has evolved over the years from an ambitious attempt to replicate the work I thought I was doing at my previous firm in a small firm environment to a more developed business law firm and launchpad for the next phase in my professional life.
These 8 years have been challenging and educational. It is not easy being an entrepreneur, especially if your vision for what you are creating is very much a work in progress. Anyone who tells you that your new business will be up and running profitably inside 2 to 3 years is abusing some sort of substance or has a wealthy relative. Throw in a recession and those estimates may vary wildly. There are some highlights for sure and, serendipitously, I had one last night:
— adamoxford (@adamoxford) July 31, 2013
I made loads of mistakes and learned lessons about value perceptions based on fees; not compromising myself for anyone (I can’t take credit for that one, a previous boss taught me that one a long time ago and it has taken a while for it to sink in) and the tremendous value of doing work you love because that gets you through some really tough times. Other lessons include –
- Your perspective on your challenges can make all the difference. It won’t necessarily make your problems go away but it will probably make them far more manageable.
- Bootstrap, bootstrap, bootstrap. Banks sell lifestyles and luxury cars, they aren’t very good at providing truly helpful financial assistance. I’m still working on this one.
- Your family and friends are paramount, especially your family. Don’t fall into the trap of working weekends unless it is absolutely necessary and only happens occasionally. You need the break (even if it is 2 days) and you need to spend as much time with your family as you can. Your work week is long enough.
- Focus. Many business gurus tell people to say “no” to more things than they say “yes” to. It has taken me a while to learn this one and it is absolutely true, even if it seems counter-intuitive.
- Take care of your health. Eat well, exercise frequently and get enough sleep. I found out I am diabetic in February this year and it has proven to be the best thing to have happened to me after my wife and kids. It has revolutionised my life and I am in better physical condition than I have been in about a decade and a half.
- Believe in yourself. Creating a business (or even making more of your chosen career) is tough and requires a lot of hard work and perseverance. Believing that you can succeed and deserve to succeed is often the only thing that gets you out of bed the next morning and back up that hill to do battle.
Today seems like an appropriate day to step into a new phase in my professional life. It goes back to 1 August 2007 (I think) when I created a new media law focus area in my firm. Back then, “new media” was the term for what became “social media”. To say I was ahead of the curve is an understatement of biblical proportions. It has taken about 4 or 5 of the intervening 6 years for South African businesses to become aware of the need to focus on the legal and compliance implications of the social Web that I have been writing about for years which have included reputational harm impacting companies’ bottom lines; defamation risks on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere online; content licensing and copyright infringement; privacy concerns and so much more.
The space has changed quite a bit in the last year or so. Emma Sadleir has become the face of a new generation of lawyers who have virtually grown up with social media. Corporate governance lawyers like Michael Judin are urging company boards to take an active interest in the social Web and the risks that face modern companies.
Boards must understand the world of social media, the brand and its reputation. Michael Judin #MLGRS2013
— Web.Tech.Law (@webtechlaw) July 30, 2013
More and more lawyers are catching on to the implications social media have for their areas of the law and it feels like what I have been saying for years is finally taking root (although I’m not sure many people have been listening all that time). I am really glad to see this validation of what started out as a “focus area” for me and, at the same time, the environment has changed and there is an emerging need for different approaches to new challenges. From my perspective, its time to move into new territory again and, this time, it looks like businesses are more or less ready to tackle what lies ahead. The biggest challenge is bridging a tragic gulf between lawyers and non-lawyers which leaves non-lawyers exposed to real risks they are frequently unaware of or, at best, barely understand.
Our social models are changing. Engagement models are becoming more collaborative and complex. Our norms are evolving and there is a growing tension between people expressing themselves in outrageous ways and the law trying to contain these outbursts. Something has to give and I don’t think the genie is going back into that bottle.
What this means to me is a change in direction and approach. Jacobson Attorneys has been my primary business for the last 8 years and while Web•Tech•Law was born about a year and a half ago, it hasn’t really ventured out into the world on its own. That is changing. My focus is shifting primarily to my passion, to Web•Tech•Law and the work I have planned for it going forward in the online and digital spheres. Web•Tech•Law, the company, is also evolving into something that is far more appropriate for an ever changing social Web with all its opportunities and challenges. I’ll tell you more about where this is all heading soon but, for now, I’m just going to take some time to enjoy this new day and the beginning of another year.