Entrepreneurial cognizance within the professions

Last week Thomas L. Friedman, three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times columnist, wrote a piece describing the current recession as largely caused by “an education breakdown on Main Street.”  He singled out the legal profession, noting:

A Washington lawyer friend recently told me about layoffs at his firm. I asked him who was getting axed. He said it was interesting: lawyers who were used to just showing up and having work handed to them were the first to go because with the bursting of the credit bubble, that flow of work just isn’t there. But those who have the ability to imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work were being retained. They are the new untouchables.

Before concluding:

Just being an average accountant, lawyer, contractor or assembly-line worker is not the ticket it used to be. As Daniel Pink, the author of “A Whole New Mind,” puts it: In a world in which more and more average work can be done by a computer, robot or talented foreigner faster, cheaper “and just as well,” vanilla doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s all about what chocolate sauce, whipped cream and cherry you can put on top. So our schools have a doubly hard task now — not just improving reading, writing and arithmetic but entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity.

Entrepreneurship is not something that is taught in professional school (other than business school) but as someone who has been self-employed for all but the first two years of my eighteen-year legal career, and as the spouse of a professional who has had frequent bouts of underemployment/self-employment, I regard it as an extremely valuable skill and mindset that our professional schools should be teaching.  Thinking about one’s profession as not just a service being offered but as a relationship with customers that need to be “satisfied,” learning how to “market” one’s professional skills, and recognizing that creativity as well as knowledge is a vital component of professional practice are attributes that frequently distinguish the “successful” professional from the “unsuccessful” one.  Professional schools assume that such skills will be developed through on-the-job training but this is an often-incorrect assumption.

Friday, the South Carolina Judicial Department posted the results of the July 2009 bar examination, with three hundred and seven Juris Doctorates passing the examination, one hundred and seven from the local law school.  After the November 16, 2009 swearing-in ceremony, these newly minted attorneys will join our profession, many in the Charleston area, all seeking fulfilling and remunerative employment.

My experiences from both formally and informally mentoring their recently admitted colleagues is that many will need to develop their own business to earn a living or develop professionally.  I empathize with their plight: forced to be entrepreneurs when they have only been trained to be professionals.  However, the proper response isn’t to divorce professionalism from entrepreneurship but to make entrepreneurship part of professional training.

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