The Problem With Recipes

Most recipes are terribly written.

In theory, a recipe is supposed to be the roadmap for you to go from A to B to C.

From ‘I want to eat this’ to ‘here’s how to make that’ to ‘wow this tasted good’.

And while many recipes can help accomplish that, they don’t get there optimally.

For reasons that continue to baffle me, most recipes use volume measurements instead of weight (there’s a reason serious bakers use scales, not measuring cups).

They assume everyone is at an equal altitude, even though how far you are above sea level makes a difference.

Recipes assume that everyone’s oven is the same temperature, even though we know that’s not the case.

They imply that you are smart enough to recognize all these variables matter and have the knowledge to figure out the exact impact they’re going to make on your food.

After all, they purport to take you from A to B to C.

But for the average person (myself absolutely included), recipes could do a much better job to set you up for success.

And what’s a precedent if not a recipe for purported success.

From Recipes to Precedents

Just take this shiny document and use it for what your client needs.

Hopefully you understand all the intricacies.

Hopefully you chose the right precedent (at least when you’re making food, you know if it’s the right recipe).

Hopefully the output is right.

But so much of that - even with good precedents - requires the person using them to know a whole lot. About their client. About the law. About the objective.

You surely don’t learn that in law school. And most firms don’t have time to teach this in depth - and certainly not in a just-in-time manner for every associate.

[If you’re sick of these food analogies, then you should stop reading here. Because I’m going all-in, for better or for worse (probably for worse).]

Getting Prepared - whether for cooking or lawyering

I’ve spent the last year building courses (whether it’s the substantive ones through 4L Academy or the business development ones through Build Your Book) because the existing recipes for learning how to be a lawyer are deeply unsatisfying.

Sure, they exist (at least in theory, I think). But they generally leave a lot to be desired.

Before they start cooking, chefs at restaurants get their mise en place in order. You want to know that everything is ready - so that when service starts, you don’t get overwhelmed and you’re able to keep your customers happy by delivering things on time.

In other words, you’re prepared for the job that you have to do.

In a lot of ways, the 4L Academy 101 courses are the mise en place, in an industry that doesn’t seem to have discovered the concept yet.

(law schools, in this analogy, teach you about the theory of washing your hands; which is step 1 of the cooking process, but doesn’t exactly help you get food on the table. Though if we learned anything at the start of the pandemic, the average person needed some education on that - so there is at least some value there.)

How can you work on complicated M&A deals and all sorts of other extremely confusing things if you don’t have your basics in order?

You can, but it’s going to be a mess. And you’re probably going to be stressed and scrambling the entire time. That definitely does not describe the lives of most new lawyers. Nope - not one bit.

(congrats - you are one of 5 people to make it this far)

Gadgets + Legal Tech

I’m a big fan of gadgets for cooking - as my wife can attest, at least half of what I make is in an Instant Pot.

If you grew up in the pressure cooker era, then presumably you’d have some skepticism about using an Instant Pot.

Something could go wrong. And besides, while it may have 8 functions, it doesn’t have 100. It doesn’t replace an oven. And it also isn’t a microwave. What a shame.

But it does a whole lot really well. It’s efficient. It’s safe. And it gets the job done. But it’s still a pressure cooker.

Sounds a lot like legal tech. A much more efficient way to do something - but there’s always a reason to justify not using it, if you are afraid of change.

Yet once you learn to use it, it’s a massive time saver without sacrificing quality.

(Especially when working from home - I’m trying to imagine a law firm letting an associate bring one to work to make lunch or prep dinner, on the days they’re forced to work from the office).

Which is why we integrate legal tech into so many of our 4L Academy classes - because if you’re a busy lawyer (and boy have most lawyers been busy the past 18 months), you’re looking for ways to save time.

Whether it’s doing legal work. Or making food. It doesn’t matter.

Would we ever tell someone not to use a rice cooker until they’ve mastered cooking rice on a stove, because we worry it will impede their rice cooking development? No - that would be ridiculous.

Yet somehow the argument that younger lawyers should do things the old-school way to ‘learn’ still persists in some circles. Which is terribly, terribly misguided.

What’s broken is the training.

Teach them why they’re doing what they’re doing. Teach them how to do it in a modern way. And then watch as they become happier and more productive.

Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.