How long does it take to build a successful law practice?

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How long does it take to build a successful law practice? It takes as long as it takes. That’s my smug, lawyer-like answer, a variant on “it depends”.

In lay terms, I would say, “I don’t have a clue”. Because everyone is different.

What is your practice area? What’s your target market? How much experience do you have with marketing? And a slew of other questions that are a part of the equation.

Actually, there is one question that should be at the top of the list. In 80/20 parlance, it’s one of the “precious few,” a 20% factor that can determine 80% of your results.

How big is your list?

How many prospective clients do you know? How many prospective referral sources do you know? And, if you’re not starting from scratch, how many former clients and existing referral sources do you know?

Why is this more important than things like skills, experience, reputation, or work ethic? Because the shortest path to success is through other people. That’s true for any business, and even more so for a professional practice.

If you know lots of people who can hire you, for example, it only makes sense that the odds of your getting hired are better than the lawyer who knows very few. The same is true of referral sources.

You may not (yet) be very good at inspiring them to hire you or refer, but knowing more people (and staying in touch with them) can give you a big edge.

So, how big is your list?

Now, by list, I mean any kind of list–paper, digital, or even the list in your brain (note to self: write down the list in my brain so I don’t forget it).

In years gone by, we would talk about the size of your Rolodex. (Please, no selfies of your massive Rolodex.) Quality was important, but all things being equal, the bigger your Rolodex, the better.

Today, your list is predominantly digital. Quality is still important. And size still matters.

But today, there is another factor that can make a big difference.

If you’re doing it right, you have everyone’s email address and permission to use it. Which means you can increase the speed and frequency of communication. Which means you can achieve more results (i.e., bring in more clients) faster than you could if you only had their phone number and address.

No, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t call and talk to people. Talking (and meeting in person) allows you to build deeper relationships. Email will never supplant that. But with a couple of clicks, email allows you to tell hundreds of people or thousands of people about your upcoming seminar, updated web page, or special offer.

Can’t you do that on social media? Maybe. You don’t have any control over who sees what. It’s also less personal and thus, less effective.

Okay, you have a big list. I still can’t tell you how long it will take to build a big practice. But I can tell you that it will be quicker for you than for most other lawyers.

How to build an email list, and how to use it: go here

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Putting practice into the practice of law

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I saw a video recently by a woman who decided to take up the violin and wanted to record her progress. As you might expect, her first efforts sounded like a cat being tortured.

She chronicled her journey with additional videos and it was amazing to see her improvement. Within a few months, she was playing decently. Within six months, she was a good amateur. At the two-year mark, when the video ended, she had made remarkable progress and was able to play reasonably sophisticated pieces.

Even though she started as an adult, which is said to be more difficult, with regular practice, she was able to acquire a new skill. She’s taking lessons now and who knows how far she might go.

Earl Nightingale said, “One extra hour of study per day and you’ll be a national expert in five years or less.” Bill Gates said, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”

What new skills do you want to acquire? What do you want to get better at? With enough practice, you might be amazed at what you can do.

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The number one thing your clients want to know

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If you handle consumer or small business matters, it’s a safe bet that most of your clients are nervous when they come to see you. They’re apprehensive about the outcome of their case or matter, concerned about how much time it will take, and worried about the cost.

You need to be honest with them, but that doesn’t mean you need to be blunt. If you’re smart, your words and body language will tell them that they shouldn’t worry, that everything will be okay.

Because that’s what they want to hear.

Instead of saying, “X [bad thing] will probably happen,” you might say, “X [bad thing] might happen”.

I went to the doctor the other day for a minor issue. At the end of the appointment, I said, “Do I need to see you again?” The doctor said, “Not unless X [a mildly bad thing] happens.”

That sounded good. I was encouraged. I took it mean that while “it” might happen, it wasn’t likely.

Yay.

The next day, my wife called the doctor’s office to ask a question. She spoke to the nurse who answered the question and then said, “He’ll probably need to come back.”

Nobody wants to hear that, even if it’s true. Tell me it might happen, okay. Tell me it probably will happen and instead of focusing on getting better, I’m imagining the worst.

Bedside manner is an important part of a patient’s recovery. Doctors need to be hopeful and positive, because the patient wants to know that, “everything is going to be okay.” Even if the patient is terminal, there’s always hope.

Lawyers are in the same boat. Instead of telling the client that the insurance company will probably force the case to trial, why not say, “If we can’t settle this and have to go to trial. . .”?

Because your clients want to know that everything is going to be okay.

Get more referrals from other lawyers and other professionals. Here’s how

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Feel the fear and DON’T do it

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Many say that the way to overcome fear is to face it head on. Do what you fear long enough, they tell us, and you will eventually conquer that fear.

There are others who say otherwise.

One group of philosophers say that instead of making ourselves do something that makes us uncomfortable, we should heed the feeling. “Never move forward in fear,” they say.

Who’s right?

Should we brace ourselves in the face of fear and soldier on? We know this works. If you fear public speaking, for example, but force yourself to do it enough, you often overcome the fear and are better for it.

But facing your fears can also make you miserable. For every one time we think, “I’m glad I stuck with it,” there might be three times when we think, “I never want to do that again!” Isn’t there a way to accomplish the deed without the pain?

The folks who say, “Never move forward in fear,” say there is. They say we can (and should) eliminate the fear first, or at least dilute it enough so that we aren’t bothered by it, and then take action. They also say that doing it this way will allow you to do the task more easily and get better results. You can speak without trembling knees and sweat dripping down your face.

Sounds good to me. But how? How do we dissipate the fear?

Therapy? Hypnosis? A stiff drink or two?

The philosophers who recommend this path suggest that you guide how you feel about the activity by changing your thoughts about it. “Reach for a thought that feels better,” they say. Keep doing that until the fear is all but gone.

So maybe you think, “I’m not going to have a heart attack and die on stage”. Marginally better thought, yes?

Then you think, “It’s only twenty minutes. I can get through this.” Relaxing a little. Feeling a little better.

“I have something worthwhile to say.” Yes, you do. And the audience wants to hear it.

“Actually, it’s a friendly crowd.” Feeling better and better.

“Once I get past the first few words, I’ll be okay”. That’s the ticket.

And so on. Little by little, thought by thought, you think your way to feeling better and better until the fear is all but gone.

I’ve done this before and it works. It takes a little practice, but it’s not difficult.

Anyway, you don’t have to feel the fear and do it anyway, you can remove the fear and feel good about it.

Try it. Find something you know would be good for you but you’ve been putting off because of fear. Change your thoughts about it, little by little, until the fear is gone or at least completely under control. And then do it.

Your mind is powerful. It created your fears and it can be used to eliminate them.

Afraid to ask for referrals? This shows you how to get them without asking

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Keeping the main thing the main thing

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Yesterday, I talked about investing for a future when you might not be able to work or you may want to retire. I mentioned the option of starting a side business that has the potential to create passive income and pointed out that this is what I did.

I should have added a proviso about being careful about remembering your priorities, lest your Plan B tempt you to put more time and energy into it, to the detriment of your Plan A.

It’s difficult to build two businesses at the same time. Some say that at best you’ll have mediocre results in both and never achieve excellence in either. Speaking about the risks of diversification, Mark Twain said, “Put all of your eggs in one basket and WATCH THAT BASKET.”

But I think that if you’re careful, you can be successful in both your main business and your Plan B.

First, choose a Plan B that harmonizes with your Plan A. Choose something that allows you to leverage your knowledge and reputation and contacts to help you build your side business. Choose something that, when your clients and contacts find out about it, they say, “That sounds like a good investment,” instead of, “It sounds like he’s giving up his practice.”

Second, be mindful about timing. Put most of your time and effort into building your practice or primary business, until you get to the point where you can safely peel off some time and money to invest in something new.

If you’re smart about it, you can have the best of both of both worlds. Your practice will provide you with cash flow to raise your kids and have a good life, and your Plan B will provide you with passive income to fund retirement or the next phase of your life.

Since there are only so many hours in a day, and you only have so many years to live, you’ve got to keep the main thing the main thing. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only thing you can ever do.

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How much do you earn when you’re not working?

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I have to visit the doctor today. It’s nothing serious but it made me think, “What if it was?” “What if I was truly ill and had to stop working?”

Fortunately, I don’t have to work. I have enough passive income coming in to take care of the essentials.

How about you?

What would you do if you got sick and had to stop working? What if you want to retire?

Most lawyers trade their time for dollars. Even if they don’t bill by the hour, their income is tied to the amount of work they do.

More work (more time) means more income. No work means no income.

Even if you’re a partner or you have staff that does most of the work, you still have to show up, make decisions, and supervise.

You may be extraordinarily well paid, but how much will you earn if you don’t work?

If you’ve been good about saving and investing and have assets that provide passive income (interest, dividends, rents, royalties, etc.), or you own a business with partners or a management team in place and it doesn’t require your active participation, you may be good. If you don’t, what will you do?

I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but you have to admit that this is something you have to think about.

Start a savings plan. Study investing. Find a side business that doesn’t require a lot of time. (That’s what I did.)

But don’t put it off.

“The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago,” says the Chinese proverb. “The second best time is now.”

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Making the case for doing what you feel like doing

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Grab your task management system, your calendar, and whatever else you use to manage your lists.

Next, put aside anything that has a due date or deadline or is associated with an upcoming appointment.

What you’re left with should be a large quantity of optional tasks and possible projects. Your “somedays” and “maybes” and ideas.

If you’re like me, you’ve got a boatload. Good ideas, dumb ideas, things you’ve already done, and things that make you wonder, “What was I thinking when I wrote this?”

Now, maybe you’re a good boy or girl and do weekly reviews and regularly clean up and prioritize your lists, in which case you have already decided which tasks to do next and which ones you’ll do after that.

Forget all that. Lump everything together (temporarily) into one big pile. We’re going to take a different approach and see if we like it better. C’mon, it’ll be fun.

Remember, if there’s a deadline or due date, put it aside. This is for everything else.

Alrighty. You have a big list of tasks and projects. What do you do with it?

Break up your list into groups of 25 to 35 items. Take one group and read through the list quickly, then come back to the beginning and read it again slowly, thinking about each item on the list. Put a mark next to any item that stands out to you and that you feel ready to do today.

Don’t try to prioritize them based solely on what you think you “should” do. Let your intuition guide you. Then go through the next group of 25 to 35 items and do the same thing.

When you’re done, you should have a short list of tasks you are ready to do today. They may not be things you previously thought you would do next, but they will be important and they will be things you will actually do because unlike other things on your list, you’re ready to do them.

If you are familiar with Mark Forster’s Autofocus system (aka, “The Final Version”) you will recognize this process. I’ve been reading about it and there are aspects of it that appeal to me.

The essence of his system is balancing the rational and intuitive parts of our brain. Forster says, “It’s very difficult to focus on what is important with one’s rational mind alone, because what your conscious mind thinks is important may not be what your subconscious mind thinks is important.”

There’s a lot more to the system but one thing to note is that it doesn’t rely on elaborate tagging or detailed prioritization methods. It’s based on repeatedly reading through your list and doing what you feel ready to do.

The result, says Forster, is a greatly increased volume of work getting done, and done faster. “This seems to be mainly due to the fact that there is very little friction in the way of resistance or procrastination.”

Have you used the Autofocus system? Does it sound like something you’d like to know more about? If you tried it, how did it work for you?

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Why clients don’t follow advice (and what to do about it)

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Ever wonder why clients pay good money for your advice and then don’t follow it? Yeah, me too. It’s one of the mysteries of life.

But you shouldn’t lose sleep over it. You did your job. It’s not your fault if they don’t listen.

Or is it?

Did you do everything you could to convince them to do what you told them to do? Did you explain everything as thoroughly and completely as possible? Was there anything else you could have said or done?

You should use checklists and form letters so that nothing is left unsaid or undone. Ask them to sign off on your instructions. Tell them horror stories about clients who didn’t listen. Look them in the eye and ask them to pinky swear that they will follow your advice.

Do these things because you have an ethical duty to do them. Because if they don’t follow your advice and things go south, they may blame you. And because it will help you grow your practice.

You’re not going to get repeat business or referrals from a client who goes out of business, even when it’s not your fault.

Protect your little darlings. Keep them safe and help them prosper. Make sure they are happy and well fed and remember that what’s good for them is good for you.

Now, will you follow my advice? Pinky swear?

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Reviews are starting to come in

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The first review for my new book, The Easy Way to Write a Book is in and it’s a humdinger.

It points out the value of the “real world examples” in the book and says, “Anyone should be able to use this guide to whip out a book in a week or two. Delivers exactly what it promises.”

Nice.

And very much appreciated. Not just by me but by book buyers who are looking for a way to write a book quickly, but aren’t sure if my book delivers.

Reviews help sell books, just as testimonials help sell legal services. I’m not shy about asking for reviews and you shouldn’t be shy about asking your clients to provide a few words about their experience with you.

How do you ask? You just do. You tell them you would appreciate them for leaving a review on XYZ website, or filling out a survey form you provide. Or you wait until they say something nice about you and you ask them if you can post their kind words on your website.

But ask.

Your clients are willing to tell the world what they think about you, but they are busy and need a little prompting.

So prompt.

Anyway, here’s my prompt:

If you picked up a copy of “The Easy Way to Write a Book,” and you liked it, please leave a review. Even one sentence can help someone who is on the fence make a decision.

Here’s the link.

Okay, maybe you don’t want to write a book. No problem. Remember, you can use the ideas in the book to interview professionals you know (or want to know) for your blog or newsletter or podcast. Interviews aren’t just a great way to create content, they are the consummate networking tool.

Maybe you want to write a book but you don’t want to interview anyone, you want to tell your own story. Okay. I heard from a lawyer who is using the ideas in the book to do exactly that. He tells me his book is coming along nicely and he will post a review as soon as he’s done.

So there.

The Easy Way to Write a Book is still just .99 cents, but I will bump up the price soon. (You can read it free if you have Kindle Unlimited).

And if you’re still not sure, you can read the first chapter online here.

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How to never run out of ideas to write about

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Think about your target market and answer me a few questions:

  • What is the market’s biggest problem right now? The one that keeps people up at night?
  • What’s the latest news in that market? What are people talking about?
  • Name three websites, podcasts, or newsletters that focus on this market.
  • Who is the top lawyer, CPA, insurance or real estate professional in that market?
  • Name two organizations dedicated to that market that have networking functions in your area.
  • Name three profitable keywords for blog posts, books, or ads for that market.

Okay, that’s enough to make my point, which is that if you can’t answer these questions, you probably don’t know your target market well enough.

Or you don’t have one.

Which is why, when you set out to write an email or article, you “don’t know what to write about”. Which is why you aren’t writing, or if you are, your writing is too general and doesn’t stand out.

If your last blog post or article or email is written to appeal to “anyone,” there’s a good chance it appeals to “no one”.

When you know your target market well, which you must if you want to dominate it, you won’t have that problem. You’ll have plenty of things to write about, specific to that market. In fact, you’ll have so many ideas, your biggest problem will be deciding which one to write about.

Which is a nice problem to have, don’t you think?

Need help choosing a target market? Use this

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