I met a young lawyer recently by video who, without any prompting from me, told me how she works each and every day to learn and become a more valuable lawyer for her clients. Listening to her made me wish I was back practicing law and she worked for me.

I shared with the young lawyer a widely known research study that concluded that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. You can read about it in The Making of an Expert. The researchers say:

By now it will be clear that it takes time to become an expert. Our research shows that even the most gifted performers need a minimum of ten years (or 10,000 hours) of intense training before they win international competitions.

I suppose that someone might argue that being an “expert” lawyer and rainmaker is not the same as musicians training for international competitions, or athletes training for the olympics. I happen to think it does take that time, if not more.

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Legendary basketball coach John Wooden said what I believe to be true for lawyers. He said:

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

There are two components to becoming a superstar lawyer and rainmaker. The first is skills capital and the second is social capital-the skills that enable you to interact more effectively with others.

If you bill 2000 hours for five years in the same kind of work you will become a skilled lawyer in that area. But how much time have you devoted to social capital? How much time are you spending on learning to:

  • Ask good questions
  • Actively listen
  • Figure out legal implications of what is happening
  • Understand your clients’ industries and businesses
  • Make effective presentations
  • Write articles and blog posts for business clients
  • Effectively network
  • Effectively use social networking tools