Quddus Pourshafie has paved his own way in the legal industry after recognizing the traditional pathways were failing to align with the future practice of law. Since his admission, he has dedicated to solving the legal industry’s biggest problem, transitioning into a future of law brought about by technological disruption. Known for his ability to think laterally and connect the dots, Quddus has positioned himself to bridge the various protagonists in the legal industry to bring about the necessary transformation, making it his mission to assist those who are ready to tread the path.
He also believes it is the first time in recent history where young graduates can change their value proposition in the market as a digital native. Lending from his creative DNA as a musician and various entrepreneurial ventures, Quddus continues to grow futurelab.legal and its projects with partners around the world to accompany firms, university, legal tech companies, and regulators of the legal profession and prepare them for the future of law.
I interviewed Quddus Pourshafie on Oct. 25, 2020.
If you’re not willing to lean into the very things that would be difficult for you, then you should know that you’re giving up the type of joy that you could also experience. – Quddus PourshafieT
Timeline of the Chat
01:45 – What Quddus wanted to be as a child
02:42 – Shifting away from music
05:59 – The deciding moment to stop pursuing music
08:43 – Choosing to study law
11:45 – Challenging the status quo
16:45 – Transferring skills from music
23:37 – The Path of an Entrepreneur and building Future Lab
29:56 – Using your strengths in your career
35:09 – On early adopters
40:24 – Daily Habits
41:34 – Invitation/Challenge
43:23 – Media Recommendation
[Being] weighed down by your experience of how things have been makes it a lot more difficult for you to see or have space to be creative about what could be.Tweet
- Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, Peter ThielPpP ,,,,P,, Peter Thiel
- Seth’s blog
What I’m bringing to the table is having a foot in both worlds.Tweet
Transcript of the Episode
What Quddus wanted to be as a child [01:45]
Damianne: [00:01:45] What did you want to be when you were a child?
Quddus: [00:01:48] Hm, that’s a good question. it was very clearly musician. I think that picked up the violin when I was four. And so, that process and the work and dedication from my parents and discipline of my own efforts really sort of, focuses you in that direction; it only intensifies.
So, you know, you start, when you four. Perhaps you have 15 minutes a day. Very quickly you become eight, nine years old, you might be practicing an hour a day. And then that goes to two and three and four and five. And so, yeah, by the time I was in university, and my first degree was in music at the Conservatorium in Adelaide University, it was up five, six hours a day, the practice. So that’s what I want it to be when I grow up. Before I knew what I wanted to be, I already had a violin in my hand. Maybe that’s the better way to say it. I was very talented and I put a lot of work in.
Shifting away from music [02:42]
Damianne: [00:02:42] So you did your bachelor of music. And then how, and when did the needle shift?
Quddus: [00:02:49] That happened towards the end of my degree. In my heart or in my mind, I think it started earlier than that. All throughout high school and then throughout university just got more intense, but the shifts really happened towards the end. I finished my degree. I applied for honors program and I got accepted into that and I did my first recital.
The needle started to shift when I realized what was expected moving forward. So by that point, I was looking at what’s the next step. You graduate from university, you get a degree. So what do you do after this? And for a violinist, you’ve been doing it already; it’s just more of it.
There isn’t a huge shift in moving from theory to practice. Coming out of a degree, moving into the real world and then figuring out what you’ve learned theoretically, in the real world in application, it’s actually exactly the same thing.
Part of it was recognizing what was about to come up ahead and the life decision that you’d have to make to pursue that particular trajectory. In my sense, it was concert violinist, which meant the next step would be get a scholarship and go somewhere overseas or interstate. Do that for a bit, go to another one, go to another one, and then eventually see if you can make it to that top circuit and start performing all around the world and concertos and all these other things that you could be doing. So, that was one consideration, knowing what was coming up ahead and whether I wanted to keep doing what I had been doing.
The particular aptitude that you get from playing music from such a young age so seriously with discipline, there are studies about how it improves your brain and your ability to process information, your cognition in different ways. But I think there are other parts of me that wasn’t expressed in music. The other part of it was the sacrifices that came with that. So it’s sort of lifestyle. You would have to live the sort of country hopping, living off a scholarship, piecemealing, very hard to have a family and do this at the same time. Those sorts of things became a consideration.
As I said, the other side of it was also I started to almost resent how I was represented in my social circles. It was all compliments. It was all he’s incredibly talented; what a great musician, but…
Damianne: [00:05:06] one dimensional perhaps.
Quddus: [00:05:08] Very exactly right. Extremely one dimensional. And that started to bother me because people wouldn’t go beyond that really after a certain point and it just became almost a cultural norm.
Damianne: [00:05:19] By then you’d spent so many years on music. I actually faced something similar a few years ago when I was going to quit teaching. And often when we have that moment after putting so much time and energy in something, we can get trapped by the concept of sunk costs. So Seth Godin puts it that any investments that you make in the past is a gift to your current self and you can say, no, thanks at any time. When I read that, it was a revelation to me, but I think that’s not necessarily easy to do, even though it might be easy to think or to understand. So what was the process like for you and then how did you choose law.
The deciding moment to stop pursuing music [05:59]
Quddus: [00:05:59] That’s a great question. The process actually came down to a single event, which I can recount for you. And I think what it was was I didn’t have that feeling. When all this happened, I was only 22, 23 maybe. It was 2011 so 21. I would assume it’s a little different.
I don’t know that I would have treated it as a sunk cost because you’re still right at the beginning. That’s the advantage of starting at four and doing it for so long, is that you have barely started with life and you have this under your belt. So I think it was actually less me having some semblance of maturity and thinking I’ve spent so much time and effort on this.
I trusted in its ability to come easily to me because once you master something, it’s very hard to lose it. It’s like riding a bike. You’re not going to forget how to ride a bike. So it really is like that if you put enough time. It was more from the perspective of I became resentful by the one dimensional application towards me; that was one thing.
But the actual process that sort of changed it was a conversation I had with my professor at the time. He said something very interesting. He was mulling over, well, what do we do with you? There was some obviously challenges mentally for me dealing with heading towards this thing that I needed to be very courageous about and going to the deep world where it wasn’t really an upgrade. It was almost like a complete downgrade.
I’ve been doing this from the comfort of my home, with the support of my family. I’m able to make some income and all of a sudden you’re asked to sort of, alright, the real game now is to go out there and then do this on a debt or on a scholarship and have instruments that need to be loaned to you and compete for instruments to be loaned to you and compete for placement at this school. So this conversation was happening and the concept of I needed to do even more than I had already done. And my professor said, you know, if you want to be able to do this and you have the talent, that was never the question, it needs to be like your religion.
That’s when it clicked for me. I didn’t respond to him, but in my mind, I said, but it’s not, it’s just not. That place in my heart sits on a different value set. I don’t have that level of religious belief or fundamentalism towards what I’ve been doing for the past how many years by that point, you know, over 10, 15 years. So that’s the actual conversation that shifted everything. That helped me realize that actually it’s not what I want at all. So I didn’t finish my honors.
I did my first of two recitals and then took that year off and then taking that year off, I served several communities in different roles and then ended up working in the tech industry.
Choosing to study law [08:43]
Damianne: [00:08:43] And how did you find, or how did you choose the law?
Quddus: [00:08:48] Right. I did go into service part-time and full-time, serving the community in a voluntary capacity. And then I also picked up work at Hewlett Packard in a tech role. Tech has always been a passion. I’ve had a computer in my room since I was 11 and I’ve built every single computer that’s ever sat in my room. Through my experience, in Hewlett Packard, on a much shorter time frame, I re-approached this decision again.
I worked for about nine months. I sat down to have a review with my manager, and I was sort of indicating that this is very easy work. Can I do something when difficult? And there was sort of saying, no, the company policy is, or here you got to do this for at least two years before we even consider you for something more advanced.
I was like but this is easy. it wasn’t a question of qualification, but it was just a question of bureaucracy. From there, I realized I need to do something else. I realized I don’t have also the same passion or intention that I have for music to sit and do this sort of work for two years on the gamble of being considered for something more.
I kept looking at the process and being bothered by how the bureaucracy is what slowed it down. It wasn’t based on merit. It wasn’t based on, you know, people’s willingness to exert their energy and effort into something or be creative and really solve problems. They just wanted people to do what they’ve been asked to do and do it over and over and over again.
It works for some but it was clearly not working for me. I really wanted to do more difficult things. And so I left that job as well. I gave my notice and then I realized I probably need to study again. And I was looking at three different disciplines: medicine, psychology and law.
And they were all based on things that I thought I might be interested in. With psychology. I decided through my own reflection not to pursue it because I’m a heavy thinker. I felt like psychology would mess me up a bit. I think one of the challenges I identified about myself in my younger years was that I spent a lot of time in my head. There’s a lot of benefits to that, but perhaps one of the muscles that you don’t flex as much then is outputting based on what’s going on upstairs, you know, paralysis by over analysis. So that was that.
Medicine, I went and spoke with a few close friends who were studying it or had just finished and were registrars. And I quickly realized that health has to be really a passion in the same way that music was a passion for me. So, that canceled that.
With law, I found that at least the technical elements, the practices, the requirements and what it asks of you in terms of becoming a lawyer and reading a lot and analyzing things and being critical and being creative and problem-solving, it just ticked a lot more boxes. It became quite obvious. So then I applied at a university in my city. And I took on a graduate Bachelor of Laws and Legal Practice. It was the degree that would allow me to then actually become admitted to be a lawyer and practice. I went ahead and I did that.
Challenging the status quo [11:45]
Damianne: [11:45] I remember as I moved from school to school, job to job, I’d always ask why are we doing things that way? From reading your bio and from reading about you, it seems that this is a question that you’re very familiar with. A lot of the time, the answer is it’s always been like this, or this is how I did it in my last job. That can be incredibly frustrating. Where did you encounter this and how did you react to it?
Quddus: [12:10] I have to say that throughout my music career, this wasn’t a question. I think that’s the uniqueness of growing into it from an age where you haven’t even established your identity. By the time you figure it out, you are that. You’re a prolific violin player; that’s what you do. You start to form that identity.
So these sorts of questions that you’re asking about frustration at how things are and why they should be different, that became very apparent throughout the law degree, but mostly towards the end, particularly as I was faced with applying for work.
So I finished my degree. I did the practical, legal training. In Australia; they call it the GDLP. Articles is the classic term, in the UK. It is essentially a traineeship that then allows you to actually practice; it gives you a license to practice.
The law degree was a journey into, well, what would I want to do if it was really my own choice? And I felt like I had the capacity to choose at 23. I was very observant of my peers and my surroundings. Knowing that I was quite capable and smart but then also not scoring the highest for instance, or not quite getting it and trying to navigate that and understand what’s going on.
There’s some people here that are a bit younger than me. If we sit and have a conversation that requires a lot of maturity, they’re really failing at that; they’re really not grasping some of those concepts. But when it comes to the raw work of this essay, they’re scoring higher and so there was something there.
Later on, it became clear to me that these people often had family members who were in the law. There’s a cheat code and there’s a lot of people tapping into that through different means. I have zero understanding of what I didn’t know at the time.
So that sort of created a Hmm, why can’t I get this thing? And obviously the pace of university is such that you’re not getting that attention either to break it down. You’ve got so many electives, so many different areas of law. So all of this was happening and but towards the end of the degree became clearer to me.
I had run-ins with a few lecturers that really were married to the matrix, married to the system of criteria that needed to be marked rather than the merit and validity of what the content says. I remember having one of those arguments with someone; I only needed a few points to have passed this particular exam. So I was marked to fail this particular exam which means I have to re repeat the topic. I went to the head of that discipline in law. And we sat down and we went through the exam material. I actually argued every point and the person had said no, but you need to do this.
And then I said, well, but look in the next paragraph, it says exactly that. So it was almost like a semantic of like it should have been in that paragraph but it was in the next paragraph. That wasn’t even a requirement, but she was choosing to argue it on those terms. I was saying if you read the thing, I’ve answered the exact question that you’ve just alluded to in our conversation here.
It became very clear she just didn’t want me to pass. I don’t know what she thought it was. And to be fair, you know, I could have approached it and not even been in that position if I had scored higher. But I think it was just these little things where I realized, hold on, everyone’s just running a program and just trying to turn the hamster wheel and…
Damianne: [15:19] You’ve got to play the game.
Quddus: [15:21] Yeah, and then I realized that I’m not good at this game. I don’t have all the cheat codes to this game. There’s a lot of also elitism, unfortunately, in the legal fraternity, still lingering from its origins. It is definitely a live conversation in the Australian legal community; it’s very vocal about diversity. And I’m sure it’s happening elsewhere too.
So we go through the degree, and one of the other interesting confirmations to me was in the practical legal training. It’s not like the degree; they give you a task. They don’t give you an instruction set of what to do cause that’s the whole point. You need to go and figure it out and do it. I remember there was this transactional law task that we were given and, I remember feeling like, Oh, I know what to do with this; it’s common sense.
I remember hearing one of the students who happened to be an honors student and had this very high GPA freaking out, being very apprehensive about doing this because there weren’t any instructions. You know, that was three and a half, four years of a degree to get to this point where I realized it is actually just about common sense.
Scoring the highest merely means to conform to the process of assessing someone’s capabilities through their methods, so the examinations or assignments or whatever. And there are lots of different ways people learn. Anything where I was told to stand up and talk about, I score the highest.
So it tells you different people deliver in different ways, show their capabilities in different ways and learn in different ways. Did I answer that question?
Transferring skills from being a musician [16:44]
Damianne: [16:44] Yeah. And you also mentioned in the process that you were a bit older than your peers at that time, because you’d already done one degree. And so was there anything that your first degree, your career or your opportunities in music taught you that you think transferred to that second degree or even to your work right now?
Quddus: [17:05] Yes, discipline. I can’t compare it to anything else because learning an instrument is extremely difficult. Just playing the violin, or maybe particularly the violin, you’re doing literally six, seven things at once all the time. And it’s complete body involvement, right? There’s motor skills, mental skills, cognition, oral skills, assessing what’s been played, adjusting fingers, fine motor movements, all of it. It’s all happening at once. And then you work your way up to being able to do that for six hours a day, that’s discipline.
Damianne: [17:35] And what does that look like working in the law?
Quddus: [17:38] I don’t know whether it works for working in the law because I’m not living that life. I don’t have a boss, so no one’s telling me what I need to be doing or achieving one day. As an entrepreneur, it’s all on you, your own discipline of what you’re able to carry through, how difficult of a topic you can really chew on and for how long can you do that before you need to rest?
And so I think that’s where it’s really transferred for me. That discipline has allowed me to sit with difficult problems, sit with complex problems, perhaps complex in size or just complex in nature. I sit with them for longer than most other people would bother. I find joy in that, but also I realized it’s part of having flexed the muscles or trained the muscles to be able to even just sit behind it for that long.
Damianne: [18:22] That connects directly to the fact that you didn’t follow the conventional path. You didn’t just go into line instead you’re focusing on legal innovation. So tell me about this journey to getting into legal innovation in particular, not just the conventional path.
Quddus: [18:41] I was sworn in the Supreme court of South Australia as a solicitor and barrister of the Supreme court of South Australia. And then, I have to find a job. The regulations require you to work for two years full time, supervised by a partner, by a principal in a legal office. The rules slightly change from state to state in Australia, but in South Australia it is quite strict. It can’t be done at a company; it has to be done in an office that primarily delivers legal services, so a law firm. It is extremely hard, extremely competitive.
We have three state based universities there. Each cohort every year could be 300 for law. Even if half of them drop out, you’re looking at 450 graduates. The economy isn’t the size, or the firms aren’t growing at a rate where they’re going to pick up that many lawyers every year. So that was what was presented. We went from university where there’s minimal feedback to the real world where there’s zero feedback. My curiosity then was peaked.
I was trying to figure out how do you work this game. How do you play this game? How do you work the system? Come to find out from several conversations with people who’ve been through it and barristers and partners and whoever I could get my hands on that in some certain cases, GPAs below a certain number is automatically culled from the list. That was the other thing that bothered me too, because I’ve always been able to step into the things I would like to step into as long as I can talk to someone, as long as I can present myself to someone and all of this stuff was being done by paper.
By that point I realized I should have done traineeships from year one for free all the way up into year four of my degree, you know, internships, clerkships, trainingships at firms, so that was what was in the CV. And of course then realized, Oh, I should have gotten a higher GPA.
I realized I’m putting these applications in and there is no response. I was very quick to come to the conclusion. You know, a lot of people would have said you need to write 200, you need to write a thousand applications so that 10 of them get read. I’m not the type.
It’s been called laziness before or something else before, but it’s hard to reconcile laziness with five to six hours of practice a day, every day for almost 20 years. So I think what it was was that I could see ahead and realize this is what everyone says you should be doing. This is what would be considered earning your stripes or that it’s hard for everyone, get over it and go for it. It was just a very strong feeling in my heart; this isn’t the right way, and this is not advantageous and this is not strategic.
If I know I can get in another way or if I know I can put myself in the best position that I can for myself, this is not the way. And so that’s where it started to change. I started to go through a very difficult period, realizing that the actual outcome and practice of law is not something that I want, not something that I’m being invited into.
The most overworked profession is law or medicine statistically, right. And so by that point, I wasn’t a child anymore. I actually got married during my law degree and had a child during that degree. So that gave me a lot more perspective.
I thought there were other parts or like, I don’t think that we should be doing this just because it’s always been done. That led me down that rabbit hole figuring, well, why are these things happening? That caught my focus and attention. And so I let my brain loose on it. I let my being, my emotions, my brain, everything loose on it, my spirit loose on it and went down the rabbit hole, started to realize the issues were systemic.
Once I got far enough down that rabbit hole, I realized there’s an option here. There’s two things happening right now. At the same time I was looking at the systemic issues, I was also recognizing that there are some really creative, energetic sparks of change happening through technology.
I was faced with the question, do I sign up to the prestige of being a lawyer in the traditional sense but work hard to climb the ladder. Obviously, I’m not in an advantaged position. I can work super hard, super long for many years to get to that prestigious position within that game of traditional lawyer in a private practice, when I know the whole thing’s falling apart, so disintegrating and integrating forces essentially, you know, destructive forces of the legal industry, the things that are sort of crumbling or losing their shine and not really working anymore.
Did I want to be part of that ship that was sinking or do I want to be part of the ship that’s been built to replace it. And that’s where I realized that’s where I need to go. But I think that the incredible difficulty of it was I had just worked so hard to establish my identity. Not that it’s purely tied to what you do for work, but it was an attempt at being something else other than a musician, to be capable of something else. So in the midst of applying for work, realizing it’s not really what I want to go towards and then everyone around me is doing the same thing, that was a very tough time. But I think that’s the sort of adversity that also set me up really well for where I am now.
The Path of an Entrepreneur [23:37]
Damianne: [23:37] So you had a career in music. You were going to be a violinist, you were a violinist. Then you studied the law and then you decide, Oh, let me add on one more thing. Let me be an entrepreneur, which is not an easy path either.
Quddus: [23:54] I don’t know that I added anything on. I think it was sort of a coming of age, almost realizing that actually many of my place in the world is a little more systemic rather than a cog in a factory or wheel. So without trying to be something that’s just how I think and imagine, and I can see the world moving in that way. And I realized that being in a position like a junior at a firm wasn’t going to assuage that need to work at that level. What does that look like then? That’s the journey that’s sort of ended up here.
It was more like there’s a lot more space as the law is disrupted. There’s a lot more space and a lot less rigid rules about what it should look like. And so we have the name entrepreneur for it, but it’s really just people being given the space or having the audacity to take the space for creating those things that haven’t been created yet, or those pathways that haven’t been created yet.
Building Future Lab [24:49]
Damianne: [24:49] So you built Future Lab. What is the aim of Future Lab and what energizes you from your work there, with your work there?
Quddus: [24:56] It follows the theme of systemic change, transformation of the industry as a whole. Part of that is then, well, what is this industry made up of?
Future Lab recognizes four pillars: the market, anyone that provides legal services or business; educators or the institutions that actually equips lawyer with qualifications; the regulator, so that’s how lawyers are restricted or what they’re allowed to do and what they’re not allowed to do through regulation; and legal tech, which was its own emergent sort of category.
This fourth pillar is still yet undefined in my field. A lot of people like to be quick to define it in one way, but it has a lot of room to be defined in different ways because it hasn’t yet matured and established itself as to what that is. But essentially any sort of technology application that affects the operation of the law or providing legal services.
The company was established with that vision in mind that there is a future. In my particular case, I have some clarity about that future, whether it’s in 10, 15, 20 years time. That’s what I’m bringing to the table. The operational purpose of the business is to help people, accompany people to transform into that future reality, or what their best version of that would be.
The biggest gap that I found was in legal tech. Anyone who is involved in innovation was also often very involved in selling a particular product. I found that fundamentally wrong in the sense that are we solving the problem, are we actually solving the problem. The other thing that I realized was also the way that that was done. Selling itself, it has its merits but the reality was I realized that there was a whole class of people that were making money off running reports that no one would then action and nothing would change. Some people bought into it and turned it into a hamster wheel to turn money over. Other people had very altruistic aims in doing this and were very frustrated by people not carrying this out.
I realized the underlying issue here was that we’re not educating, we’re selling. And so when you’re selling, you’re trying to convince, and when you educate, you try to draw out. You try to build capacity, you try to empower. You’re not there to win someone over necessarily on a particular point. You may want to win their hearts and their minds on a broader vision. Legal education, that’s how I define it. That was not there.
The operational posture is to really work alongside businesses that want to transition, that want to change, move into a more future ready or future facing states within those four pillars. They can really think about what should lawyers be able to do, or what should people who aren’t even lawyers be able to do in the field of law to help this entire industry move forward.
When they come to me, it’s more about what is their strategic positioning? How are they working to embed themselves in the ecosystem rather than having this idea we are the only solution, even if you are the biggest one at the time. It’s really about how it all interconnects together and if legal tech would take a leaf from technology that’s already been running for 30 years, they would recognize the reason why Google is successful, the reason why Apple is successful is because of an integrated ecosystem that things connect to each other. People are used to a certain behavior with their phone; they love the intuitiveness of the design and they love the behavior of swiping. But then inside the iPhone, you have the Google calendar app. So it’s sticky, its ecosystem allows to create what you want the way you want it and mix and match.
Damianne: [28:35] I hope that legal tech learns some lessons from the mistakes of regular tech as well, because we see lots of regulations being put in, in Australia, in the EU, in California and elsewhere because of some of the mishaps within conventional tech, but I want to go somewhere else with this.
You talked about finding out what the businesses want and so educating the businesses is how you phrased it. I think a big part of education is actually knowing what people need, knowing what they want, being able to communicate with them so that you’re actually addressing their needs as opposed to selling your products. I think that’s a very important point that you made.
Building credibility as an entrepreneur [29:19]
Something you mentioned earlier was about when you’re starting in the law, you have to build credibility, you have to get people to know you. What does that look like in terms of your work to this point?
Quddus: [29:31] I think it’s on knowing what you’re talking about, being able to actually break it down. I think that goes for any situation. Credibility comes when you know what you’re talking about. I found that particular advantage really aligned with my capacities, which was one of the things that I was faced with when I first started. And that was anticipating as soon as I step into these partners’ offices, these conversations are going to be are you a lawyer? How many years have you been doing law for? That’s what they want to know.
Using your strengths [29:56]
It took me a little while to get past that in terms of an internal barrier. I realized the advantage is when you’re looking at the future and how things are going to change, the more you are weighed down by your experience of how things have been makes it a lot more difficult for you to see or have space to be creative about what could be. Obviously that’s a very generalized statement, but the point of that is to say that I realized that was my advantage.
I know my ins and outs. I understand the law, understand the technicality of the law, understand the history of law. I don’t have the experience to carry a large litigation case. It takes time and effort to understand how to do that and to develop the courage, but it also narrows your focus into just being able to do that. So what I’m saying is I know enough about the law and I am qualified as a lawyer to understand the world that we live in right now, and what I’m bringing to the table is having a foot in both worlds essentially, so where it’s going and where it is now. I respect its past too so I understand where we’ve come from in order to get here in order to understand where we’re going.
So credibility in my sense really comes down to then how can you marry a clear vision that you may have to the people that would need to hear that and be inspired by it to change. First of all, do you have the idea? If you don’t have an idea, then perhaps it’s not your place to be talking about the fringe of what’s going to happen next.
So I think there’s a level of creativity and – I don’t know how to explain it – thought experiments, things that you maybe either naturally did as a child or you’re very observant and figure things out, or you work with first principles naturally. You understand that things are just patterns that repeat over and over and very transferable to other situations. This sort of combination of having a vision with technical knowledge and then knowing how to then work with people from pedagogy perspective. I didn’t mention I also taught violin for 10 years, not just young students but also advanced students. How do you get someone to really learn something? That combination is for me credibility.
Now you’re asking a really good question because for credibility, part of that assumes that it’s something that is generally recognized. So right now, you probably benefit personally from having a title of teacher or being able to say I’ve taught for 15 years because people recognize what that could mean, to an extent? So people go, Oh, I know what it’s like to be a teacher. That’s difficult if you’ve done that for 15 years and so great that you did it. We don’t yet have that. I think it’s starting to form.
I have spent the last few months taking a step back and looking at what have I done in two years. And it seems that it really has gotten to a point where there are people that reach out to me who are very senior in the legal field. They want to know what I think. And they want to work with me. There’s companies that really want to figure these things out. It’s one of those things where if you’re going to build it yourself, you don’t get the benefit of a company that has a hundred year old history and recognition brand.
Damianne: [32:52] That has, of course, its values, its positives as well as its negatives because history has the upsides and downsides.
So if we go very concrete, what’s the barrier that you’re working on overcoming right now, or what’s what’s next for you.
Quddus: [33:07] In what sense? Like a personal internal or the business?
Damianne: [33:11] In terms of the business.
Quddus: [33:12] So the business, part of it’s timing. What can we do now to influence change, to help people move along? What’s the best vehicle to do that? So developing for instance a product or service and having an onboarding system and a way to onboard partners. If you’re offering something bespoke, what does that look like? How many times you have to do that over and over to then realize, okay, we need to tweak it. Part of the issue is the vehicle. How do we do this? How do we scale this? Most startups or lean thinking teaches you to have a unique service product or an MVP, a minimal viable product. I sort of was the antithesis of that on purpose.
It’s funny in certain circles, it looks really great. In certain circles, they’re like we don’t know who you are. It’s like, okay, it’s fine; let’s look at the work that needs to be done. But it’s allowed me to sort of then be exposed to different types of work but all could sit under consulting, advisory education, that sort of area, transformation, change.
So the challenge is now how do we then lock it down into a few things without preempting it. If you were to have a menu, what’s actually on the menu. So when someone comes into the restaurant, they know what’s on the menu. It’s recognizable to them and they’re happy to pay for it. So that’s one of the challenges.
I’m a little apprehensive to jump to thinking that I know what that’s going to be. Cause I think part of it is timing. I realized my actual customer isn’t the mass yet. It’s actually the first movers. You know, we have a lot of resistance in the game. So what’s valuable to a first mover is actually, it doesn’t need to be this solid product. What they want is a lot of flexibility and someone who’s going to walk with them anyway, which is how it’s all structured.
So the challenge is where do we grow from here to be ready for mass adoption? How do these single events or clients, short stints or midsize to large projects, all bleed into something that can then just be scaled for thousands of people to benefit from.
On early adopters [35:08]
Damianne: [35:08] So this is making me think about a lot of Seth Godin’s work in terms of starting with the niche and working with that’s 1% who’s going to wait on the long line to buy the first Apple iPhone, as opposed to get it when you get to the point where there’s mass, building your tribe.
Quddus: [35:26] And part of it is also demonstrated that a lot of the intended clients that would seem to be a cornerstone or a flagship client are actually not beneficial for me to pursue because of how large and clunky they actually are. So even if they were sold on the idea, their execution of it would be almost impossible.
I’ve realized I may be spending too much time internally focused on convincing people who are on their way up and actually the people that are sort of chomping at the heels of my content are law grads, law students coming through who are like we really want this sort of life as a legal professional; we don’t like what we’re seeing. They’re going through the degree now to be equipped and then recognize future leveling as a brand and benefit from the stuff that I’ve had to go through. All the courses I can put together help them with system thinking and realizing how they’re going to feel capabilities as a lawyer.
Damianne: [36:22] Yeah, your four pillars are quite broad. They cover all of the different areas of the law. It’s looking at the law as a system. And so there are many different pieces of that and also a challenge in terms of scope.
Quddus: [36:35] That’s the price you pay. If you’re going to go that wide, then you can’t expect to wake up and see a linear progression in terms of I have many projects running at once and they were on a different pace. And so it seems to suit me quite well.
I had up until very recently a very naive belief that everyone could do what I could do. At least I believed in the capacity for them to do that. And I realized that a lot of people don’t have it. And even if they do, and you have that benefit of the doubt that they would never want it, they don’t live in the world that you live in
Damianne: [37:07] So you need a culture fit between your beliefs, your why, and what that company or that organization or person is trying to achieve and their vision. And the one thing I realized when I was doing coaching was that the most value is in the people who want to work with you.
That took me a long time, because like you said, I used to think, but this is for everybody. And of course it’s for everybody. But if people don’t want to work with you, then you just end up pushing that boulder up that hill and you’re in danger of getting flattened by it.
Quddus: [37:41] That’s exactly the same principle. Now that we’re doing this interview, I’m sort of seeing it repeats itself. And that’s why I turned away from the IT job. That’s why I turned away from traditional lawyering because I would essentially be pushing the boulder up the hill of me being part of that. I’d be pushing the boulder up hill my entire life. If I just chose to do something that’s more fitted to me and went through the hard yards of building that moat around something that’s not recognized and it’s brand new, but at least it’s me, it’s a lot easier. I mean, it’s hard, right, but it’s a lot easier at the same time because it’s who you are. So as long as you have the discipline and you’re true to yourself, you’re able to just come into yourself even more and more. And then when the recognition comes, you really start to feel very grateful and proud, and you’re very joyous about it. Your heart is filled with love because you did it on your terms and it resonates completely with you because you did it your way.
Damianne: [38:41] Our last few minutes, let’s talk about some personal stuff, not that all of this is not personal. Do you still play the violin and under what circumstances?
Quddus: [38:54] Good question. It’s actually been sitting away for about three or four years. I had to stop playing completely. So I stopped teaching a few years ago when that was the only time it was coming out, just to teach once or twice a week. Once the last student left, it sat in its case for like a few years now. I think that was very necessary, but I’ve just recently decided to at least take it out, get it reheard, restrung, get it polished and varnished, get it back in mint condition.
Damianne: [39:21] What was that like? It sounds a bit like a bad breakup or you just needed some distance?
Quddus: [39:25] Not at all. I don’t know if it was a bad breakup. I think it was just the space that was necessary. I was never going to pick it up until I was ready. And I had no fear of forgetting how to play. I’ve done too many hours like the 10,000 hour rule, you’ve mastered something. It’s arguable, but the point being it’s second nature to me. I had no issues about that but it was very clear in my mind what am I pulling it out for. If I’m not pulling it out because I want to but because I feel like I’m obliged to or whatever, then I’m going to stay away from it until I don’t know that feeling anymore. And so I’ve started to come to that point now. And I think part of it has to do with my son. He is now around the same age I was when I started. And he’s only just a few weeks ago, asked me, and I realized he doesn’t actually know that I play; that’s a huge part of my life and he doesn’t know. He hasn’t seen it except when it was very small which he won’t remember. That’s the sort of power of the full circle with your children as well.
Helpful daily habits [40:23]
Damianne: [40:23] Is there something that you do every day that you think is a great habit that you want to continue doing.
Quddus: [40:29] There was time when I was doing a regimented meditation. And I haven’t kept it up. So I need to do that. If there was a great habit I want to keep up, that would probably be it. When you build an image of the world around you, you use your faculties, your eyes, your ears, your nose, your mouth. If you can remove all of them and then you have no limitation to how you could build that, and you could learn how to walk, you learn how to explore that space. How do I explain this?
It has made the tangible less important, which allows you to navigate it better. You don’t get stuck in the moment of heat or decision-making of the fallacy or the dichotomy of two choices at a fork in the road that you have to take when you can detach yourself from that. And you repeat that often enough, you realize that you can actually deal with those things a lot better.
So you’re a change agent. You’re into transformation and change. Do you have an invitation for listeners or something that you’d like them to take forward from this conversation, either a practice, an invitation, anything of that nature?
I do have an invitation, but I just don’t know how to word it well enough. I think the invitation is two things. One is to extend the line or the string of your continuum. So contemplate things longer than a day, a week or their implications over a day a week, a year, a lifetime, just expand it. That will definitely help you in change. When you can see things on a much longer timeline, it really helps perspective. What will you do then? What will you choose to do? That’s the first invitation.
The second invitation is, how do I word this? Life has a dialectic, yin and yang, any way you want to look at it. A lot of people, because of comfort or convenience, restrict the range of which they can go from black to white, from sadness to joy; they limit the range.
So I would say live the life that you want to live, but know that that’s going to be determined by this range. So if you’re not willing to lean into the very things that would be difficult for you, then you should know that you’re giving up the type of joy that you could also experience.
Damianne: [43:11] Oh that so resonates with me. I never thought about it in those terms before; you just put it so beautifully. For example, if you don’t take risks, then you don’t get those rewards either. Wonderful. Thank you.
Media Recommendations [43:23]
As we end today, do you have a favorite book or podcast or media that you would like to recommend to listeners?
Quddus: [43:32] That’d be such a good thing if I did do that. Yeah. I don’t know if I can go down this rabbit hole now, as you’re trying to wrap up. One of the challenges is people have asked me have you read XYZ’s book on legal innovation? And for some reason, I’m not drawn towards them. And in fact, I want to stay away from them because I don’t want to dilute the vision that I can see as well. And I recognize myself as a giver as well as a receiver. I’m trying to lean in on the giver’s side. But in terms of books or something to read, I’m assuming your listeners are not all lawyers or interested in law per se.
I’ll tell you what I love Seth’s blog. I have it on my email. It comes every night and more often than not, he is speaking to me in terms of my own technical direct work with the legal industry and the things that we need to be trying to do. So that’s a great read. I don’t know if the majority of your listeners already have his blog, but sign up to that blog. I think he’s also tapping into something which he may not directly say himself but he’s being very holistic and I think that’s where we need to be heading.
I’m doing the same thing with my own newsletter. I do have that. I could encourage people to read that. You’d be pleasantly surprised. It’s not as technical about the law; it’s very much holistic.
In terms of a book, I can’t remember the last book I read. I think I’ve started reading Zero to One from Peter Thiel. I think actually to be fair, part of it is because so much of the way that I learned is actually now watching YouTube videos. So instead of perhaps reading his book, I’ll watch interviews of him. And I think it’s because of my ability to be observant and see what people are saying and why they’re saying in the context of the conversation. I get a lot from listening to Peter Thiel talk to someone else about a very riveting subject perhaps than books. Maybe. I’m trying to figure that out myself.
Damianne: [45:33] I asked this question often and even I was talking to my sister recently and she does the same thing with YouTube. And it’s interesting because I think it’s a generational thing because I am the generation before and I don’t spend as much time on YouTube, but I also find that a lot of nonfiction books or personal development books are extremely repetitive so I could see how distilling it down into a Ted Talk,a YouTube video could be very beneficial.
Thank you so much for chatting with me today. People can find all of your social media links by going to futurelab.legal. I will also that have that link and the other links we mentioned in the show notes.
Quddus: [46:16] I’m on LinkedIn most so you can find me on LinkedIn. It’s easy.
How can you marry a clear vision that you may have to the people that would need to hear that and be inspired by it to change?Tweet
Things are just patterns that repeat over and over and very transferable to other situations.Tweet