Lawyernomics speaker spotlight: Ozan Varol

Avvo’s annual Lawyernomics conference is in just one week away! The conference is jam-packed with speakers covering topics from marketing and SEO, to mindfulness and the future of law. We interviewed one of our featured speakers and founder of Effective Lawyer, Ozan Varol, to learn more about his background. Read his story below.

1. You have made a few significant career changes that must have been both exciting and nerve-wracking. You went from rocket scientist to lawyer, then lawyer to law professor and productivity coach. Tell us about how you decided those were the right bets to place for yourself and your career.

Change has been the only constant in my career.  Some people are lucky to find their calling early on. I wasn’t one of them.

I was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey. At the age of 17, I bid farewell to my parents and boarded a plane to study astronomy at Cornell University, with the ultimate goal of becoming an astronaut.  During my senior year, I realized—better late than never—that I hated math and physics. Bad news for an aspiring astrophysicist.

So I started exploring other options. I signed up for a class taught by a Cornell law professor, and I fell in love with the law. I spent a year as a paralegal at a Washington, DC law firm and went to law school.

Although I enjoyed the practice of law, my life in the trenches was simply unsustainable. I gave up my hobbies and began to think of my life in six-minute billable increments. After quitting the practice of law, I became an academic and turned into a productivity nerd to understand the plague of “too-much-ness.”  I devoured every resource imaginable on how to construct a happier, healthier, and more effective life. That led me to develop a coaching program to share these resources with overwhelmed attorneys.

It was only after several trials and errors that I discovered my unique ability.  Whether it’s with a coaching client or in the classroom, teaching is my passion.  It’s the most fulfilling and impactful thing I’ve ever done.

2. Was being a lawyer more stressful than being part of the operations team for the 2003 Mars Exploration Rovers mission? What made it more stressful?

For one thing, NASA doesn’t require its employees to bill in six-minute increments.

More important, the mission came with defined success criteria. Each member of the operations team had specifically defined tasks. I was responsible, among other things, for writing code that snaps photos of the Martian surface. I could test the code and make sure it worked here on Earth. What’s more, we weren’t striving for “perfect.” We just had to hit carefully defined mission success requirements and that was it.

In contrast, to a typical lawyer, success is an elusive term. Many lawyers fall victim to perfectionism, which in turn breeds procrastination and stress. What’s more, when I practiced law, my time was constantly being hijacked by other people. As a result, I felt busy but not necessarily productive. I would arrive at the office intent on finishing a brief, but between unexpected meetings, emails, and phone calls, I would have only one page to show for the entire day.

3. What appealed to you about being a lawyer?

A nose job gone wrong.

The first judicial opinion I ever read was Sullivan v. O’Connor during a law class I took as a senior college student. The case is a contract lawsuit filed by a patient against her doctor about a surgery that made the patient’s nose much worse than it was before. After spending several years dissecting the nuances of quantum theory, a simple dispute between a doctor and her patient about a botched nose job was a breath of fresh air. I was instantly hooked.

4. You recently wrote a post about the importance of asking, “What have I failed at this week?” Why is looking at failure so important?

The fear of failure is in our genetic programming.  Centuries ago, failure meant getting eaten alive by a lion. Not anymore.

As uncomfortable as it is, failure is a prerequisite to success. I love reading biographies of titans from different industries, and one common thread is that there is no magical “it.” No overnight successes. No one “a-ha!” moment. The titans got to where they are after failing, failing, and failing some more.

Many of my attorney clients struggle with the fear of failure and rejection. I help them grow more comfortable with failure and rejection—which are inevitable in the life of a lawyer—so that they can achieve their true potential.

Behind every canvas unpainted, every goal unattempted, every business unlaunched, every book unwritten, every song unsung is the looming fear of failure.

5. What’s the worst advice you’ve ever gotten?

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Don’t rock the boat.  Go with the devil you know.  Or any one of numerous other idioms dedicated to avoiding change.

Just as we fear failure, we fear change.

But continued success in the modern world requires continued innovation.  The ability to disrupt established methods and find new ways of looking at old ideas is one of the most sought-after qualifications in all fields.

It’s a super power that allows you to be right when others are wrong.

Yet this super power is becoming increasingly rare. We’ve been brainwashed from an early age to toe the line, use # 2 pencils, and color between the lines.

But you can’t get ahead if you’re simply following. That’s as true in law as it is in any other profession. The law firms that stand out from the crowd eschew the status quo and do things differently.

6. You and your wife travel a lot. Where do you recommend people visit in 2017?

We just returned from a week in Cuba, which was a fascinating country.  It’s only 90 miles from Miami, but worlds apart. It’s not an easy vacation since tourism is still a developing industry in Cuba. But if you’re up for a unique, no-frills vacation, I’d book a trip to Cuba before it turns into Cancun.

7. You read voraciously – about a book every five days. What books are on your nightstand right now?

I read multiple books at a time. Currently, I’m reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and a thick biography called The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris.

Meditations, an ill-suited title for an otherwise terrific book, was never intended to be a book.  It’s the private ruminations of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.  Even though the book was written more than 2,000 years ago, I’m finding its lesson surprisingly relevant to my daily life.

As for the Roosevelt biography, I was flipping through it at a bookstore, came across the passage below, and purchased it immediately. The book has lived up to its promise so far.

“No Chief Executive has ever had so much fun. One of Roosevelt’s favorite expressions is “dee-lighted”—he uses it so often, and with such grinning emphasis, that nobody doubts his sincerity. Physically, too, he is funny—never more so than when indulging his passion for eccentric exercise. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge has been heard yelling irritably at a portly object swaying in the sky, “Theodore! if you knew how ridiculous you look on top of that tree, you would come down at once.” On winter evenings in Rock Creek Park, strollers may observe the President of the United States wading pale and naked into the ice-clogged stream, followed by shivering members of his Cabinet. Thumping noises in the White House library indicate that Roosevelt is being thrown around the room by a Japanese wrestler; a particularly seismic crash, which makes the entire mansion tremble, signifies that Secretary Taft has been forced to join in the fun.”

8. What can Lawyernomics 2017 attendees expect to learn from your talk?

If you’re like most lawyers, life is coming at you faster than you can manage it. You’re thinking too much, juggling too much, and doing too much.  One meeting after another, one deposition after the next, your time is being hijacked by other people.

In my talk, I’ll show you how you can get your life back.

You’ll learn proven strategies to control stress, stay motivated, cut out the junk, and most importantly, get more time out of your day.  You can use that time to sleep in, learn to play the guitar, take a welding class, or read a book for fun—you name it!

You worked hard to get to where you are. Attend my talk to find out how you can create a life where you—not others—are in control.