Going out on your own: solo or partners?

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An attorney is thinking about going solo but he’s considering the value of taking partners. He says,

“My friend told me that he has long fought the perception that his firm is too small for many clients who are looking for more horsepower. He recommended partners with one or two other lawyers as a way to combat that perception.”

He wants my take on the subject.

Behold:

His friend is right–many clients are more comfortable with a bigger firm than a solo. But many clients prefer a solo. And there are plenty of them. Small companies that want a close relationship with a lawyer. Clients who don’t want to (or are unable to) pay higher fees for a bigger firm and all of their associated overhead.

If you are inclined to go solo, target clients who don’t want a big firm. Sell the benefits of working with you and ignore everyone else.

If you want to target bigger companies with bigger budgets and lots of legal work, sure, partner up. It’s a different model, more competitive, but so what? If that’s what you want and you’re prepared to work hard and fight for market share, go for it.

But don’t be too quick to choose.

Smaller companies have a lot of growing to do, and will have a lot of legal work along the way. Big companies usually start out as small ones and if you get in with small companies before they get big you can grow with them. Marketing is easier when you target smaller clients. There’s a shorter time frame, too.

There’s a third choice. You could start out with an office sharing arrangement with other attorneys. You can look bigger and cut costs this way until you decide on a formal partnership or you rule that out.

Speaking of partnerships, have you heard the stories? Or should I say the nightmares? Partners who steal. Partners who don’t do their fair share. Partners who drink. Partners who cost you some of your best employees.

So yeah, there are pros and cons for every business model.

Best thing to do is to have a talk with some solos and some small-firm partners. Ask them what they like and don’t like. Get a sense for what you’re up against before you make a decision.

If you’re still not sure, start out as a solo. You can always ramp up in a year or two if you feel compelled to do so. That’s a lot easier than the hassle of getting out of a bad partnership. It will also give you time to find the right partners if you decide that’s where you want to go.

Whichever way you go, make sure you have a marketing plan

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You can if you think you can

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The other day I listened to a podcast interview of an author about how to use a certain piece of software. Podcast subscribers and members of the host’s Facebook group had posted questions to be asked of the author.

The questions seemed to fall into two groups.

The first group were straightforward questions: How do I do this, What should I do if this happens, How can I get better results, and so on.

The second group were more complaints than questions: I tried it before and it didn’t work, I didn’t like it, It doesn’t fit with the way I work, etc.

The first group was looking for information and advice. The second group had already made up their mind that the software wouldn’t work for them and wanted to whine about it. (One even challenged the author to prove them wrong.)

Many people have had challenges using the software. Only some people believe they can overcome those challenges and are willing to stick with it until they do.

The author told the latter group to give it time, they can definitely make it work. I thought, “It doesn’t sound like they want to make it work. It sounds like they want to prove that it won’t”.

Many people have had challenges with the software. The ones who overcome them were the ones who wanted to do it and were willing to make the effort.

It’s all about mindset. If you want to do something and believe you can, you’ll figure it out. If you don’t, you won’t.

As Henry Ford put it, “If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right”.

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I love the smell of electrons in the morning

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I can’t remember the last time I printed anything. My work and personal life are now almost completely digital.

And I like it that way.

If you’re like me and your practice is nearly all-digital, there is a time when I encourage you to go retro: When you’re signing up new clients, give them some papers to read, fill out and sign.

There are two reasons.

First, it gives them something to do, which helps to relieve some of the natural tension they experience by being in a lawyer’s office and contemplating their legal situation, not to mention the money they are about to spend to deal with it.

Busying themselves with reading and writing helps distract them from their concerns. There’s something familiar and relaxing about the process of filling out paperwork.

You can do this even if you’re not paperless.

If you or your staff ordinarily do all of the information gathering and paper filling-out for new clients, consider amending that habit somewhat and having your clients do some of it.

The second reason you want the client to fill out at least some of the paperwork is that in doing so, they take a step towards becoming a client. The physical act of filling out paperwork is a subconscious signal that they’re doing so.

Psychologists tell us this makes it more likely that they will act congruently, that is, do whatever else they are asked to do to actually hire you.

Asking them to fill out and sign some paperwork is a form of a “trial close”. It’s like asking during the consultation, “Where would you like us to send copies of your final documents?” If they tell you the address they want to use, they are one step closer to becoming your client.

If you mail prospective clients forms to fill out before their first appointment (or put them on your website), you’re using the same strategy.

Ask prospective clients to do things that are consistent with them hiring you and you’ll get more people hiring you.

Use your website to pre-sell prospective clients. Here’s how

 

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Thinking like a lawyer? Fine. Just don’t write like one

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Stop. Really, just stop. Stop writing like a lawyer when you communicate with your clients and prospects. You cannot bore anyone into hiring you or sending you referrals.

And let’s face it, most legal writing is boring, even to other lawyers.

Write the way you must in your briefs, motions, and memoranda. Shovel in the prophylactic latinate phrases and legal terms of art in your contracts, leases, and trusts. Write the way lawyers write when you’re being a lawyer.

Just don’t do it in your emails or newsletter.

I know it can be difficult to switch roles. But if you want to attract business, you have to know when to put the law dictionary back on the shelf.

It takes practice. It takes a fair amount of re-writing. Having someone edit your early drafts is a good idea.

But you can do it.

Actually, it’s easier than you think.

You already know what to do. “Write like you talk” and “Imagine you’re speaking to a client sitting in the office” will get you most of the way there.

The hard part? Letting go. Unclenching your sphincter muscles because your brain is telling you that writing naturally and informally isn’t professional.

The solution? A stiff drink.

Hemmingway said, “Write drunk, edit sober”. You probably shouldn’t follow that advice literally, but you can do the next best thing by giving yourself permission to write a crappy first draft.

Write quickly. Pour it out. Let your fingers fly. Get it down on paper any way it wants to come out and don’t give it another thought because nobody is going to see your first draft.

The first draft is just for you.

Write every day. You will get better, and quicker. Eventually, you’ll be able to flip a mental switch and instantly turn off the legal draftsman and turn on the communicator.

You need both, of course. You need the lawyer to do the work, of course. But you need the communicator to bring in the work.

How to use your communication skills to get more referrals

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Winning is great but so is losing

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Everyone loves a big win. Settling a big case, being named “Lawyer of the Year,” tripling the number of new clients this year over last.

Break out the champagne. There’s nothing better than the sweet taste of success.

If you want to win big, however, you have to do something you may not want to do. You have to take more risks and thus accept more losses.

Babe Ruth set records for hitting the most home runs. He also set records for the most strikeouts. He hit more home runs, he said, because nearly every time he was at bat, he swung for a home run.

If you want to have more success this year than last, you have to take more chances this year. Do more things that might fail. And bigger things that might fail big.

This year, take some cases that are big risk/big reward. Open that second office you’ve been thinking about. Double your advertising budget.

Do something that might turn out to be a big, fat, embarrassing loss but might also turn out to be a colossal win.

If you don’t do things you’ve never done before, you’ll never grow. You’ll stay in your comfort zone where very little changes.

This year, go for more home runs. Yes, you’ll strike out more. But who knows, you might just win “Lawyer of the Year”.

Take a chance on getting (a lot) more referrals

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Change is exciting, unless it isn’t

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New ideas. New methods. New technology. It all sounds good, doesn’t it? We want our law practice to be on the cutting edge of change, leading the charge in the face of a changing world.

The problem is our clients don’t. They don’t necessarily want their lawyer to change what they do or how they do it because change is scary.

Every time you bring something new into the mix, something your clients see as deviating from tradition, they wonder “What else might change?” or “What was wrong with the old way?” and they get nervous.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t keep up with times. You should. You must. But you don’t need to be an early adopter of everything that comes down the pike, nor do you need to fix things that aren’t broken.

Like everything, you have to find the balance between modern and old fashioned. Enough, but not too much. Or too fast.

When you make a change, don’t do it abruptly or indiscriminately. Changes should be thought out, measured, and introduced smoothly.

Don’t avoid change. Don’t be the proverbial dinosaur. You don’t have to hang onto your aol email address because you’ve had it since the beginning of time. Actually, that would be one change you should make because “never changing” can be just as frightening to clients.

Change for change’s sake isn’t a virtue. If you find ways to deliver your services faster, cheaper, or better, you should do it. But do it cautiously and explain to your clients what you are doing and why.

Whether you’re introducing a new practice area, unveiling a new website, or moving to a new office, understand that while you may be excited about these changes, your clients might need a little hand holding.

Because change is exciting, unless it isn’t.

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Once is not enough

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I read a lot. I know you do, too. I take courses, watch videos, and learn as much as I can about subjects that interest me or that I can use in my work.

Some of the content I consume is excellent. Some is adequate. (If I get one idea from a book or course, I consider it worthwhile since one idea could be worth a small fortune.) Much of what I read, however, is duplicative, derivative or otherwise less than stellar.

When I read something good, especially if it seminal, I do my best to read it again.

I suggest you do the same.

Re-reading or re-watching a high-quality book or course will often be far more valuable to you than reading or watching something new. You have to keep up with what’s new, but not at the expense of something of proven value.

I’ve been known to read high-quality material again and again and I almost always get value out of it. Even if I’ve taken copious notes the first time, there are always points or nuances I’ve missed.

The first time through the material, I might have been thinking about the previous point being made, or taking notes, or been distracted with other things on my mind. This is especially true of a video or live course where the information comes at you quickly. The next time through the material, my mind is in a different place and I routinely see things I didn’t see (or understand) before.

In addition, no matter how much I gleaned on the first read or listen, I confess I often don’t “know” the information until I’ve actually used it.

When you go through one of my courses and learn how to talk to a client about referrals, for example, it’s theoretical. It may make sense to you, you may be able to see yourself doing it, but until you actually do it yourself, it remains abstract and, perhaps, a bit out of focus.

Once you have used an idea you have learned, when you come back to the source material, you understand what you read on a deeper and more personal level. You see it more clearly because of the context of having done it.

Of course, repetition is the mother of all learning, so even if you’ve consumed information several times, consuming it again, especially after the passage of time, will do wonders to reinforce your knowledge and understanding.

When you find a book or course that resonates with you, own it. Digest it, think about it, use it, and come back to it again and again.

How to talk to clients about referrals

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You may be boring but your message shouldn’t be

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Yesterday, I said that being boring isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a lawyer. Having a sober and level-headed countenance suggests that you know what you’re doing and are confident in your ability to help people.

But while you might be boring, there’s no excuse for having a boring message.

If your articles, blog posts, and presentations are boring, people aren’t going to read or listen, and if they don’t do that, they’re not going to act on them. From your headline or title all the way to call to action, your content must grab the reader by the collar and keep them engaged. It doesn’t necessarily have to be exciting but it can never be dull.

There are many ways to put life and energy into your writing and presentations. One of the simplest is to put people in your content.

Your written and spoken content should include stories about your clients and cases. Illustrate your points by talking about people you have observed or heard about. Provide quotes from experts and other people who have something interesting to say.

In a way, your content should resemble an appellate opinion. Present the facts and the outcome, of course, but drape the facts on the shoulders of real people.

Write a blog post about your client’s business or cause. Interview a colleague about their work or their life. Tell success stories about clients who had problems, hired you, and had a successful outcome.

It is often said that, “facts tell, but stories sell,” and it’s true. Stories sell because they have people in them.

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In praise of boring lawyers

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If you’re a bit reserved and boring, you are exactly what most clients want in their attorney.

They don’t want their attorney to be flamboyant or silly. They aren’t looking for you to be charming and colorful. They’re not looking for a buddy, they want their attorney to be the adult.

So if you’re somewhat introverted, quiet, or lacking in personality, that’s okay. In a tumultuous, frightening world, being calm, cool, and collected is a tremendous asset in an attorney.

Clients want to know that you’ll take care of things. Help them get through the ordeal. Make sure that the paperwork is right, the details are under control, and you’re ready for anything. If they see this in you, you’ve got the job.

Because more than anything, clients want their attorney to make them feel safe.

If you’re boring, own your boringness. Don’t fight it. Don’t try to be something you’re not.

Calm, cool, and collected, but when called into action, ready to get the job done.

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Is hard work truly the key to success?

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All our lives we’ve been told that hard work is the key to success. And so all of our lives we’ve worked hard or felt guilty if we didn’t. But is hard work truly the key to success?

What about people who work hard and struggle all their lives? What about people who make it big without breaking a sweat?

It’s true that most successful people appear to work hard. They usually work long hours. They usually take on big challenges. They usually do things others see as difficult and stressful.

But are they really working hard?

If you ask them, I believe most successful people would tell you they love what they do and they don’t consider it hard work at all. They work long hours because they can’t think of anything they’d rather be doing.

When it’s fun, can it really be called hard work? Can it even be called work?

“When you do what you love, and love what you do,” it is said, “you’ll never work a day in your life.”

If you don’t love your work, change it. You don’t have to suffer your way to success. (I’m not even sure that’s possible.)

Get a new job or start a new career. Or give yourself permission to move in that direction. In the meantime, look for ways to make your current work more pleasant by focusing on aspects of it that you do enjoy.

If nothing more, see your work as a means to an end, that is, a way to pay your bills on the road to what’s next.

That’s what I did with my law practice. There were many things I didn’t like about it, which is why I decided to start a new career. But I didn’t dwell on what I didn’t like, I focused on the good things my practice gave me: skills, knowledge, experience, contacts, ideas, and most of all, time to start the next phase of my life.

Life is too short to do things you don’t enjoy. Life is supposed to be fun.

As you plan this year and beyond, make sure you’re planning to do something you love. Even if you don’t achieve the financial trappings of success, you’ll be happy. And that’s the real measure of success.

Get more clients and increase your income. Here’s how

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