When to hire your first (or next) employee

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A sole practitioner asks, “How do I know when I can afford to hire my first employee?”

That depends. If you think like a lawyer, you’ll wait until you have so much work piled up you can’t keep up with it. Hiring your first, or your next employee will be a matter of necessity.

But you’re not just a lawyer. You’re also a business owner and if you think like a business owner, you will invest in the future of your business (practice).

You won’t wait until it’s obvious you need help. You will imagine the future of your practice the way you want it to be and make sure you get there ahead of time.

In other words, you’ll hire staff before you absolutely need them.

I did this. I hired people when I didn’t yet have enough work to keep them busy. I expected my practice to grow and I wanted to be ready.

I did the same thing with office space. I got bigger space before I needed it. I was nervous about signing a long term lease, but I filled the space every time.

Don’t dwell on where you, imagine where you want to be. Buy some big boy pants and know that you will grow into them.

I was once in the real estate business with another lawyer who thought even bigger than I did. He wanted us to lease the penthouse suite in a building on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. The rent was gag-inducing. He also wanted us to hire several secretaries and buy new computers, and the business was barely getting started.

We did it. We invested in the future we expected to create and our investment paid off.

Of course we were also motivated by a tremendous fear of loss. We had huge overhead and had to make it work.

We charged higher fees, took out bigger ads, and worked out tails off. In less than a year, we were paying all of our expenses, had leased top of the line Mercedes, and took home six-figure draws, and this was in the 80’s when six-figures meant something.

If you expect your practice to grow, invest in that growth. Take on bigger space before you need it. Hire more people before you have enough work to keep them busy.

Start with employees, because they are scalable. Unlike a lease, if the work doesn’t materialize, you can easily downsize.

If you’re still not sure, start with temps or part time help. If you share space with another attorney, talk to them about sharing a secretary.

Don’t be reckless, of course. But don’t play it safe, either.

If you wait until you’re sure, you’ve probably waited too long.

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How to beat procrastination without really trying

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There are hundreds of tips and strategies on how to beat procrastination floating around. That’s too many, if you ask me.

Instead of giving you a laundry list of ideas I want to share with you just three.

(1) DON’T DO IT

Not everything on your task list needs to be done. Many tasks aren’t that important, at least in comparison to other things on your list. After all, being productive isn’t about getting everything done it’s about getting the most important things done.

So ask yourself, “Do I really need to do this?” and if the answer is anything but an unqualified yes, either cross it off the list or put it on a “someday/maybe” list and look at it at some future date.

If a task does need to be done, ask yourself, “Who else could do this?” If you can delegate the task to someone else, you should.

(2) CREATE A DEADLINE

If something needs to be done (by you), and you don’t already have a deadline, give yourself one. Pick a date when the task will be done, or when a significant portion of the project will be done, and put this on your calendar.

You may be inclined to give yourself ample time but it’s usually better to do just the opposite. Shorter deadlines make it more likely that you will complete the task.

If you give yourself three weeks to complete something, you might not get started until a few days before the deadline. Or, as you see the deadline approaching you will extend it. So instead of three weeks, give yourself three days to complete the task, or even three hours.

Once you have a deadline, tell someone about it–your client, spouse, partner, or a workout buddy–and ask them to hold you accountable. When I tell my wife I will have the first draft of something done by a certain date, I am much more likely to do it.

(3) START

The most important part of any task is getting started. The first step in doing anything puts you one step closer to the second step.

Start with something small and easy. Make a list of everything you need to do, for example, or re-write the list you already wrote.

Tell yourself you’ll work on it for just five minutes. No matter how unpleasant the task might be you can do it for five minutes. The odds are that once you get started, you’ll feel compelled to continue.

These three strategies should help you beat procrastination most of the time. If you still find yourself procrastinating, however, ask yourself why you are resisting doing things you know you need to do.

The solution might be simple. If you don’t know how to do something, for example, schedule time to learn. If you’re afraid of doing a poor job, get some advice or ask someone with more experience to help you.

There is always a reason why you are procrastinating. Instead of ignoring that reason, embrace it. Your subconscious mind knows what you need and if you listen carefully, you will hear the solution.

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Delegate and grow rich

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Okay, you (finally) agree that you can’t do it all and that if you want to earn more and not work yourself to death you need to delegate (more).

Where do you start?

You start with the philosophy that you should delegate everything, except “that which only you can do”.

That’s not as much as you might think.

If you have attorneys working for you, start there. Give them as much work as possible.This is clearly a “20% activity that yields 80% of your results”. It’s why the big firms are the big firms. It’s where you can take giant leaps in increasing your income.

If you have business clients, you can still be the “account representative”. You meet with the clients, hold their hands, take them to lunch, and keep them happy. Let your staff attorneys do the grunt work. Okay, you can show up for trial, but only if you must.

If you have a consumer oriented practice, you can meet with the clients on their first appointment and at their last appointment. Let your attorneys and other staff do the rest.

So, job one: if you don’t have attorneys working for you, get some.

If you don’t have enough work to justify that, set this as a goal. Get enough new business coming in to justify hiring your first attorney.

If you don’t want the hassle of hiring and supervising attorneys, set another goal–to bring in enough new business to justify hiring attorneys AND someone to hire and supervise them.

If you have other staff (secretaries, assistants, office managers, HR, IT, bookkeeper, etc.), they’re next. Make sure they are tasked with all other tasks, except two:

(1) Signing checks.

Call me paranoid, or call me a lawyer, but I always made sure that I saw and signed every check issued in my office. Today, with everything digital, you have to be even more careful.

(2) Marketing.

Marketing professionals services is about building relationships and you can’t delegate that. You’ve got to talk to people. Don’t relinquish responsibility for this. It’s the most important thing you do in building a practice, even more important than the legal work.

However. . .

There are many aspects of marketing that can be delegated. Too many to mention here. So get as much help as possible but make sure you have a hand in all of it.

If you don’t have any staff, or enough staff, hire people or outsource. Immediately, if not sooner.

Don’t let the absence of delegatees stop you from delegating.

If you want to get better at delegating, get this

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How to select more profitable cases and clients

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A subscriber asked for my thoughts on how to select, “more meritorious and profitable cases and eliminate smaller cases or “junk” that takes far too much time in proportion to profit potential.”

I thought he was talking about contingency fee cases but when I went to his website I saw that he handles everything but. It’s a general practice, handling everything from divorce to banking to foreclosure, construction law, even appellate work, but no personal injury or anything tort related that I can see.

Unless I’m missing something, as long as they get a retainer fee, they get paid. Even if the case isn’t that good.

So my oh-so-glib answer to the original question is, “Pick a number. Decide, in advance, that you won’t accept anything that won’t provide you with a minimum fee of X dollars.”

That’s easier to do when you charge flat fees instead of hourly, and that might be part of his challenge. If that’s so, and he wants to continue charging hourly, he might consider having a minimum fee, if this is ethically permitted. So, $400 per hour for that divorce case, with a minimum of $5000. Or whatever.

Okay, I realize it’s not always that simple. But I don’t know what else to say. Meet with your partners, pull out the spreadsheets, and see where you’re making money. Draw a line or two to demarcate the kinds of cases or clients you will focus on and the ones you will think twice about accepting or eliminate completely.

Before you make any final decisions, however, there’s something else to think about. It’s something I did in my practice and I recommend that you consider it in yours.

Think clients, not cases.

Essentially, that means you take the small stuff, even if it’s not terribly profitable, because you are serving the client who will have other matters for you, stick with your firm long term, send you referrals, and otherwise help your practice grow.

The lifetime value of those clients, and the collective fees earned from them, is many times what you might (or might not) earn on one particular matter.

If you don’t have those kinds of clients, or enough of them, start weaning the firm away from clients with “one time” cases and focus on clients with lots of repeat work.

Think clients, not cases.

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The Real Housewives of Orange County

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I get a fair amount of direct mail from lawyers and other professionals inviting me to a free dinner at a nice restaurant. Basically, they buy you steak or seafood and you listen to a presentation, followed by a pitch to make an appointment.

If the professional gets all the bits and pieces right, this can be an effective strategy for marketing high ticket items like legal services, securities, and insurance products.

The other day, I got one such mailing from one of my neighbors, a financial adviser who is conducting a retirement planning dinner. My wife saw it and recognized the name of the host as one of the stars of “The Real Housewives of Orange County”.

Yep, she’s one of our neighbors.

The mailing doesn’t mention her “Housewives,” connection, however. I’m sure this was intentional. Aside from the fact that she may be contractually precluded from leveraging the show by name, no doubt she wants real prospects to attend, not just star struck folks who want to meet a celebrity.

The mailing contained a brochure, the invitation, and two tickets. Fairly typical and reasonably well done.

There is something on the invitation that’s not that common, however.

The invitation says,

Would you prefer a face-to-face meeting?

If you would rather discuss your retirement questions in a private setting, you can schedule a consultation with [her name] in the comfort and privacy of our office. As a sincere “thank you” for your time, you will be presented with a $50 gift card after completing your consultation appointment. No purchase is required. Call xxx to schedule your appointment.

If you are using free dinner (or lunch) presentations to market your services, you might consider adding this option. You’ll get in front of people who can’t make the event or who prefer privacy. If you’re willing to buy them dinner to hear your presentation, why not make the same offer if they come to see you privately?

Actually, you might want to do this even if you don’t use dinners as a marketing tool.

Am I suggesting that you pay people to come see you for a free consultation?

Yes. It will increase response.

If there are no legal or ethical restrictions, and your numbers work, i.e., you close enough prospects to make it worthwhile, why wouldn’t you?

You don’t have to offer this to everyone. You could use it for special occasions, a holiday promotion for example. You could offer it in some ads or mailings and not others. Or with certain joint venture partners.

For example, if you’re working with a CPA, have him email his clients and tell them about your consultation or seminar, etc. When his clients come to see you and mention the CPA’s name, they get a gift card or other freebie.

If you don’t want to offer a gift card or other cash equivalent, offer a “planning kit,” a copy of your book, a resource guide, or a presentation on CD.

Whatever you call it, bribes work. Even if you’re not a real housewife.

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The perfect system for marketing legal services

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Thank you for your suggestions for topics you would like me to write about. I’ve noted many ideas for future blog posts. Keep ’em coming. I’m always open to ideas, although I can’t promise I will use any of them.

I want to address a matter that came up with a couple of subscribers with whom I exchanged emails.

The first is from an immigration attorney who is setting up joint ventures with other lawyers and wants to know how to determine “who does what” in the arrangement, and what to do when one party turns out to do more than the other.

My answer to him was probably less than satisfying. In essence, I said that each deal is different and that all you can do is talk to your would-be JV partner and write down what each party is expected to do. If there are any issues about one side doing more than the other, you discuss it. If you can’t work it out, you move on to someone else.

There is no cookie cutter. You negotiate it. Talk it out and write it down. If things go sideways, don’t worry about it. One deal with a great outcome can more than make up for 20 deals that fizzle out.

A second subscriber, an engineer, says he struggles with marketing and wants me to point him to the “optimal marketing system”.

It seems that both subscribers want some kind of push-button system they can use in their practice. But there is no perfect system. Not even close.

We’re in the people business, and there is no one size fits all. People are flawed and emotional and mercurial. They don’t always know what they want.

Marketing legal services is messy. It’s more art than science. In fact, I told the engineer to stop thinking like an engineer and start thinking like an artist.

An engineer or a lawyer tends to look at what’s in front of him and what he can do with it. An artist, on the other hand, sees what’s not there and figures out a way to create it.

This is why I say that a marketing plan is only a place to start. It gives you direction, not a blueprint. Things change constantly and we have to be flexible enough to change with them.

I suggested to the engineer that rather than wrestle with all of the options available, he should choose something (anything) and do it. Then, he should see where he is and choose something else.

He told me about a great outcome he had in a case recently and about the nice things the client said about his work. I suggested he write down what was said and ask the client for permission to use it as a testimonial.

A place to start.

You need to know where you want to go with your practice, and then take action to move in that direction. Along the way, the variables may confound and confuse you, but as long as you know where you want to go and you keep moving in that direction, you will get to the next stop.

Of course once you do, you will check your heading and set sail once again.

The Formula helps you create a simple marketing plan. Get it here

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Would you do me a favor?

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Years ago, I read The Aladdin Factor by Jack Canfield. It’s about getting what you want through the power of asking. The book is filled with inspiring stories of real people asking for, and getting, just about anything you can imagine, even from complete strangers.

It’s also about getting better at asking.

It seems we humans have trouble asking for help and there are many reasons, including the fear of rejection and the fear of appearing weak or needy. The book offers strategies to overcome these challenges and strengthen your “asking muscles”.

One thing we can do to get better at asking is to start small. Ask someone for a favor, for example, that’s easy for them to do and won’t take a lot of time.

For example, you might ask the next client you see to take five copies of your brochure or report and “pass them out to people you know”. That’s easy to do because you’re not asking for proof that they actually did it.

Keep asking for favors, and do it frequently, to build the habit and to gird yourself for asking for bigger favors.

Soon, you might knock on the door of a professional in your building whom you don’t know, introduce yourself, and ask if it’s okay if you put a stack of brochures in their waiting room.

Make a point to ask for one small favor each day. In time, as your asking muscle gets stronger, you might find yourself asking for big favors.

Start making a list of favors you can ask, even if you’re not now ready to ask them. Include big and small favors.

For your practice, this might include asking for referrals, sending traffic to your blog, subscribing to your newsletter, signing up for your webinar, giving you testimonials, introducing you to centers of influence you would like to meet, and so on.

You’ll get more people saying yes if you tell them why you are asking them for help. Even something as simple as, “I know you know a lot of people,” for example, will increase response.

Let’s try this out, shall we?

Would you do me a favor? Please post a comment on the blog (or hit reply if you are reading this in your email) and tell me what you would like me to write about next. This will help me do a better job for you, so please let me hear from you.

See, easy to ask, and easy for you to comply. It’s not like I’m asking you to buy me a car. Not yet, anyway.

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And the award goes to. . .

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I won! I am the best blogger in the legal marketing arena. A NYC law firm just said so. They posted it on their blog, wrote about it in their newsletter, and sent out a press release telling the legal media why they think my blog is la creme de la creme.

Woo hoo! What an honor! I’m going to tell everyone I know!

Okay that didn’t happen. But if it did, I would certainly tell everyone I knew about it and give them a link to the firm’s website where they announced that I had won.

Wouldn’t you?

So, how could you use this idea for marketing purposes? Hmmm, let’s see. . .

What if once a month you announced your “client of the month” and featured one of your business clients on your blog or in your newsletter?

What if you announced an award to a local business or professional practice that isn’t a client but gave you or someone you know great service?

What if you let your clients or subscribers nominate local businesses and then vote on the winner?

Find people or businesses (or charities, community groups, etc.) who are doing something right and honor them with an award. Give them a certificate or a plaque, feature them on social media, interview the owner, and send out a press release.

You’ll get someone who is grateful for the attention and will probably send their customers, clients, or friends to your website to see what you said about them. You’ll get some new subscribers and followers, links to your website, and maybe some new clients.

And you’ll feel good knowing you called attention to someone who deserves it.

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Career day for fourth graders

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Did you attend your child’s third or fourth grade class for career day? Do you remember explaining what a lawyer does and making it as interesting as possible? Tough to do when you’re competing with Joey’s dad who is a professional magician, but you did it.

You explained what you did, who you helped, and why it is important. You helped some future lawyers see that being a lawyer is cool.

If you had to do it again (or for the first time), what would you say?

Think it through and write it down, or record it. This is a valuable exercise, even if you don’t have any kids.

It can help you explain what you do to prospective clients and referral sources. It can also help you create content for your website, articles, and presentations.

You don’t necessarily have to write at a fourth grade level, but keep it simple enough that your ideal clients can follow.

Here are some ideas to prime your mental pump:

  • What kinds of clients do you represent? What kinds of problems do you handle? Give some examples of real clients you have helped.
  • What’s the first thing you do when a new client comes to you? What do you do after that?
  • Do you charge by the hour? Flat fees? Why? How is this better for your clients?
  • Why did you become a lawyer? What do you want to accomplish in your career? Do you have any role models?
  • What’s the best way to find a good lawyer in your field? What questions should someone ask?
  • What’s the hardest part of your job? What’s the worst case or client you have had?
  • What are you most proud of about your work? What do you like best about what you do?
  • How is your practice different from others in your field? What do you do that other lawyers don’t do, or what do you do better?
  • Who would make a good referral for you? If someone knows someone like that, what should they do to refer them?
  • What questions do prospective clients and new clients typically ask you? How do you answer them?

Take one of these and write a few paragraphs. It won’t take you more than a few minutes and you can start using it immediately. And, if you run into a fourth grade class and are asked to speak, you’ll be ready.

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If your mom managed your law practice

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If your mom managed your law practice I have no doubt she would make you eat a good breakfast before you show up for work. She would tell you that you can’t watch TV until you do get all your work done and cleaned up your desk.

No work, no play. That’s how mom rolls.

If your mom managed your law practice, she would also tell you that if you won your case, she would take you out for ice cream or make you your favorite dinner.

Reward and punishment. Carrot and stick.

Mom would offer the employees extra incentives for getting their work done on time. She would put a little extra spending money in their pay envelopes when they come up with a money-saving idea. And make them employee of the month when a client gives them a five star review.

You could take a lesson from mom. Figure out what you want your staff to do and offer them bribes for doing it.

While you’re at it, do the same thing for yourself.

Look at your list of tasks and goals–for the day, for the month, for the year–and promise yourself a reward for getting them done. Empty your email inbox today and you get to take off at noon on Friday. Bring in a new client this week and you get to buy the tablet you’ve had your eye on.

Isn’t this kind of bribery cheap and manipulative? Sure. But mom knew it worked and who are we to argue?

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