Life and Law Firm Lessons from Tony Soprano

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By William Peacock, Esq. on June 21, 2013 12:50 PM

My stepfather likes to say that he learned more about life and leadership from watching the Godfather than from four years of high school. For me, I grew up watching a different organized crime leader: Tony Soprano. From wise cracks to wise guys, from managing his “family” to dealing with his family, there were a lot of lessons to be learned from The Sopranos.

Here are a few of our favorites:

Lesson One: Lead or Get Out of the Way

"All due respect, you got no (expletive) idea what it's like to be No. 1. Every decision you make affects every facet of every other (expletive) thing. It's too much to deal with almost. And in the end you're completely alone with it all."

"A wrong decision is better than indecision."

Right or wrong, you, as the leader of your firm, have to lead with confidence. Second-guessing yourself, or ignoring the consequences of your decisions can be costly. In six seasons, you rarely saw Tony Soprano face unforeseen consequences. Each decision was calculated and confident, even if it was the wrong decision.

Lesson Two: Roll with the (Market) Punches

Tony: "Sil, break it down for them. What two businesses have traditionally been recession-proof since time immemorial?"
Silvio Dante: "Certain aspects of show business ... and our thing."
Tony: "Now, that's it. That's all I've gotta say. Frankly, I'm depressed and ashamed."

Despite the legal job market, our "thing" is a fairly recession-proof industry, if you can retool and adjust. You may have lost some construction defect work in the downturn, but if you picked up another practice area, like corporate bankruptcy, your firm could continue to earn, even as the rest of the nation didn't.

Lesson Three: Delegate, it's Efficient

"It's your job to make my job easier."

"You're supposed to be earners, that's why you've got the top positions."

The best leaders make the big decisions, but delegate tasks to productive "earners" who get the job done, without excuses. They also don't micromanage and hold employees accountable when necessary.

Lesson 4: Luck is Opportunity Plus Preparation

"What use is an unloaded gun?"

"There's an old Italian saying: you f..k up once, you lose two teeth."

"Let's do it right. Act normal. Plan things out. Make no mistakes."

This is all about preparation. You don't go into a hearing or trial without researching the issues. Even in a losing case, you want to have the weapons to mitigate the damage. Otherwise, there will be consequences, to your firm, your reputation, and your client.

Lesson 5: You Have Work. You Also Have a Life

"To the people I love. Nothing else matters."

Work-life balance. It can be easy to bury yourself in work, especially if things aren't great at home. Even Tony, with bullets flying, would find time for family dinner.

Tony Soprano wouldn't have been Tony without the work of the late James Gandolfini, who took this murdering, thieving, organized crime figure, and made him into someone you actually care about. Even in Tony's darkest moments, Gandolfini portrayed a hint of reluctance and necessity that excused even the gravest of sins. He will be missed.

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