News: ABA Journal: Risking Failure

Erik J. Heels is featured in the November 2003 ABA Journal in an article about lawyers as risk-takers.

The November 2003 ABA Journal contains an article entitled “Risking Failure” that tells the stories of three attorneys who “Took a Chance – and Gained Their Dreams in the Process.” Featured in the article are Erik J. Heels (http://www.clocktowerlaw.com/), Susan H. Nycum (http://www.techdisputes.com/), and Gregory Siskind (http://www.visalaw.com/):

Erik heels has been up and down – and up again. He prefers the ups, but he has learned how to deal with the downs.

Fresh out of the University of Maine law school in the early 1990s, Heels cast an eye on the already soaring dot-com rocket ship. As an undergraduate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he had hung out with the folks who invented the concept of cyberspace.

Fascinated with the interplay between law and technology, Heels passed the regular bar exam and the patent bar, and in 1995 took a job with the first of several Internet startups.

“I remember saying, ‘I’m going to put my law career on hold for two years and try this,'” says Heels.

Yet, caution nagged. “Every year you get that bar dues notice and you think, ‘Is this the year I’m finally going to cut the cord?’ But I just never could do it. I love the law and I worked on a lot of IP issues at the Internet firms,” he says.

Six years later, when the rocket crashed to earth, Heels decided to open his own intellectual property law practice. He wrote a 35-page business plan, incorporating all he learned about why companies succeed and fail.

Heels planned a marketing launch, a trade show appearance that cost a small fortune, an open house and a campaign with 4,000 engraved announcement cards – for the week of Sept. 11, 2001.

The fallout from the terrorist attacks canceled his planned big opening. By October, Heels had spent his marketing budget, and he began to ask himself whether having his own practice was worth it.

“I felt like a bungee cord stretched to the max,” says Heels. “Thankfully, it bounced back just before it snapped. That’s when it was good to have a business plan full of contingency scenarios to execute on.”

This August, Heels hired his first associate at his Boston firm. It’s been a long road, Heels says.

And what has he learned? “You ask yourself, ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen here?’ The answer may be, ‘I lose all my money and the business goes under and I have to start over.’ If you can live with that possibility, the fear is gone and you can concentrate on moving toward success. Failure is not even on the radar screen anymore,” says Heels.

Ah, failure, an outmoded concept that hangs up the best lawyers and keeps many from seeking their dream jobs, the dreams they harbor in the deepest recesses of their corporate-attorney/partnership-track/golden-handcuffed souls.

Most will never act because they are too afraid of the consequences of failure to take the risk, says career expert Arlene S. Hirsch, who counsels lawyers on career issues.

What gives lawyers like Heels the courage to risk, while others merely daydream out the window, wishing mightily that they were doing something else?

What the article (http://www.abanet.org/journal/redesign/11fail.html) does not mention is that entrepreneurs need the support of family and friends to succeed. So thanks to my lovely wife Pirjo, my kids Sam, Ben, and Sonja, and my friends, including especially Joshua D. Mather (http://www.lawlawlaw/joshuadmather.html), Rick Klau (http://www.rklau.com/tins/), Ernest Svenson (http://www.ernietheattorney.net/), Peter Schmidt (http://www.liftingmind.com/), Hollie Schmidt (http://www.bostoncure.org/…), Chris Reed (http://www.burningblueaviation.com/), and Joe Wright.

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