An attorney who gets it


I may not use the word “posture” but that’s what I mean when I recommend charging top dollar for your services, refusing to discount or match another lawyer’s fees, and being confident enough to tell prospective clients to talk to other lawyers, as I did in yesterday’s post. Virginia appellate attorney Steve Emmert gets it.

After reading yesterday’s post, he emailed me the following:

Hi, David –

I read this entry, and it suggested a related topic. You may recall that I’m an appellate lawyer. Because my state’s appellate bar is small, we all know each other and we’re all pals. I therefore have a ready database of available alternate counsel.

My “related topic” is my fees. I have intentionally set my fees at the upper end of the range for appellate lawyers here. When someone – either a prospective client or one of my “customers,” a trial lawyer – calls and asks about my fee, I tell them up-front that I’m one of the most expensive appellate lawyers in the state. I then quote them a fee based on that premise.

As you might imagine, my fees dissuade many customers and clients from hiring me. I’m never upset when they can’t afford me; I tell them I can find them another capable appellate lawyer who can do it for less money. That makes everybody happy – my pal gets a new case that he would never have seen otherwise, and the client/customer gets to experience the unthinkable – an attorney telling him or her, “Don’t give me your money.” That usually floors them, and I have received more than one message, a year or two later, thanking me for my honesty and for the referral.

Finally, the real point of this overlong note:

Some customers or clients ask me to reduce my fee. My stock reply harks back to the previous paragraph: “No, but if you want, I can find you a capable” etc. This usually generates one of two responses. The first is, “Yes, please, I’d like to save some money.” I give those folks a name or two and then go about my life with a clean conscience. People who want to economize on a lawyer are not high on my target list of incoming business.

The other possible answer, which often comes after a day or two, is “I’ve thought about it, and while I appreciate the offer of a less-expensive lawyer, I’ve decided that I really want you to represent me. I’ll pay your quoted fee.” Imagine what that feels like; these are the kind of customers that you really go the extra mile for.

As you might surmise, Steve loves what he does. He gets to pick and choose the cases he accepts and because he charges top dollar, he doesn’t need lots of business to enjoy a very comfortable income.

Hold on, you say? That’s fine for someone with his years of experience and stellar reputation. One look at his website and you know that this is the guy you want to hire. Most attorneys can’t be that choosy. Most attorneys can’t get away with being “one of the most expensive” in their field.

And you are right. Most attorneys can’t. But far more could do so than even make the attempt.

Look, you’ve got to be good at what you do and you’ve got to be able to prove it. You have to have the chops. You can’t be the new kid on the block and expect to charge what lawyers with thirty year’s experience charge.

But you can charge more than you think.

Most attorneys play it safe. They “price match” what other attorneys charge, or they undercut them. They’re afraid of the competition. They expect that all clients choose their attorney based on price (they don’t) and believe they have to be competitive to get their “share” of the work that’s available.

They operate in fear, not confidence.

Who’s to say you can’t charge more than you do? Who’s to say you’re not as good as other lawyers who charge more, if not better?

I don’t know if you have what it takes to be “one of the most expensive” attorneys in your market, but I have long advocated setting fees that are at least in the upper one-third of the market. Obviously, most attorneys don’t.

If you’re not good enough yet, do what you have to do to get there. But if you are, don’t let a lack of confidence or a fear of losing business to other (cheaper) lawyers stop you from getting what you’re worth.


Get better results by asking better questions


Yesterday, I spoke with an attorney who wants to increase his income and is transitioning into a new practice area. It turns out that if he had a choice, there’s something else he’d rather be doing career-wise and it’s not practicing law.

I slammed on the brakes and asked him to write a one page, “ideal life” scenario dated five years from today. I said there were no rules, he didn’t have to follow logic to explain how he got there, “just describe your life as you want it to be five years from today.”

Because you can completely re-make your life in five years.

Write your scenario in the present tense. It’s already happened. You’re living the life you want, doing the things you want, being with people you want.

What does your typical “ideal day” look like?

I’ve given this exercise to many people, and done it myself. I’ve found that people often have trouble being honest with themselves about their ideal day. They don’t believe that what they really want is possible so they choose something different, something they think is possible, or something they think other people in their life would approve of.

When you do this exercise, you must forget possible. Ignore “how” (for now) and simply describe “what”.

The idea is that once you have described your ideal life, you’ve got something to work towards. “Start with the end in mind,” and work backwards to make it so.

Anyway, today I was clicking my way through the Interwebs and found a blog post that asked readers a provocative question I thought was on point:

What would you do with your time if you weren’t allowed in your house from 8am – 7pm, didn’t have to work, and your children were being taken care of?

Answering this question can help you describe your ideal life scenario.

Once you have done that, once you know where you want to go, the next thing you have to do is figure out how to get there. You do that by asking yourself another question.

In the post, the author says

The better questions we ask ourselves, the better the answers will be. . . Your subconscious mind. . . will start working out ways to answer your question.

So, if you constantly ask: ‘Why do I never get what I want in life?’ Your subconscious mind will go to work to help you find the answer and it will always be negative. Whereas if you constantly ask yourself ‘How can I make this possible? your subconscious mind will get to work and start looking for ways to get what you want.

To get better results in life, first ask, “What do I want?” Then ask, “How can I get it?” Your subconscious mind knows the answers.


Hard work: what is it and why is it important?


Everyone and their brother says that hard work is a key to success. But can someone tell me what hard work means and why it is important?

Is hard work defined by effort or number of hours worked? If you aren’t exhausted at the end of the day, does that mean you can’t be successful? If you are successful anyway, does this mean you don’t deserve it?

Does hard work mean doing things you don’t like or aren’t good at? What if certain things come easily to you? What if you love your work? Do those not count?

Does hard work mean persistence? Does it mean continuing to do things that aren’t working? So we can never admit defeat and try something else? We can’t get help?

Hard work, eh? Does it mean taking work home with you every night? Missing your kid’s soccer games or piano recitals and feeling bad about it? Does hard work mean pain, regret, and sacrifice?

I don’t know what it means. Or why it’s important.

What’s wrong with working smart instead of working hard? What’s wrong with getting lucky, having the right connections, or even marrying the right person?

Wait, I get it. Hard work is for those who aren’t naturally skilled, don’t know how to work smart, and never seem to have any luck. It’s a fail safe. When nothing else works, work hard.

Whatever that means.


Striking a balance between accessibility and availability


At one extreme are lawyers who are always available. They give out their cell phone number to everyone, answer their own phone, and respond almost immediately to email. There is no buffer between them and the world.

At the other extreme are lawyers who are hard to reach and hardly ever available. Clients and prospects speak to intermediaries. If they want to speak with the lawyer, they make an appointment and it might be days or weeks before that takes place.

Always being available is neither good posture, nor a good way to value and manage your time. If you are always reachable, people will start to expect it. You don’t make your schedule, others do.  It doesn’t allow you to focus on the most important people and tasks in front of you. And, if people can’t reach you when they want to, as they have come to expect, you will have disappointed them.

Some lawyers can (and do) successfully maintain the other extreme. They are very difficult to reach and are thus seen as successful and desirable. Not everyone can pick up the phone and speak to Donald Trump whenever they want to. You have to pass through the gauntlet before you get an audience with The Donald.

It takes the right practice area and clientele to pull this off, however, as well as a high degree of confidence. If you are inclined towards this position, do you establish these guidelines first, before you are busy and successful, or do you evolve into this persona when you’ve got the chops to prove it? Tough call.

For most lawyers, it’s probably best to strike a balance between availability and accessibility. Be reasonably accessible but not always available. Don’t give out your cell phone number to everyone, reserve that for your inner circle or perhaps also for your best clients. Don’t make people wait weeks to see you, but don’t tell them they can see you “any time this week”. (Give them a couple of open time slots later in the week.) Don’t ignore messages or turn everything over to intermediaries. Return messages in a reasonably timely manner.

Show people that you are accessible but that you value your time and are busy doing important work. Unless it is an emergency, they need to accommodate your schedule, and they may need to speak to someone else before they can speak to you.


Would you advise your kid to go to law school?


Would you advise your kid to go to law school today? I wouldn’t. Not unless they were passionate about it and could think of nothing else they wanted to do. And then I’d make sure they did it with open eyes.

You know the drill. You’ve seen the articles about the lack of jobs for newly minted lawyers, $200,000 student loans, and the huge number of lawyers afflicted with depression and substance abuse. Lawyers are leaving the profession in record numbers, either because they can’t find a job or because they hate their job.

If you’re making it as a lawyer, if you’re earning a living and not ready to slash your wrists, if you’re reasonably successful and happy, thank your lucky stars. There’s nothing better than helping people and being well paid to do it.

Isn’t that why we went to law school? To help people and make money? That’s why I went. And I’m proud to say I accomplished both of those objectives.

So why did I retire? I practiced for over twenty years, but I was still young. I could have gone for another twenty. Why didn’t I?

There were other things I wanted to do. My priorities changed. I got bored.

Yes, the profession changed, too. There were things I liked about those changes, but many more things I didn’t like. Let’s just say that for me, the thrill was gone. It was time to move on.

How about you? You may be successful and happy, but is there something else that might lead to even greater success and happiness? Perhaps something you toyed with once but rejected because you didn’t have the time, contacts, experience, capital, or nerve?

No, I’m not going to suggest you pull up stakes and start something new. Unless. . . you want to. If you want to do something else, do it. No matter what you lack in resources, no matter what the risks. Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing.”

If you don’t want to completely change course, look for ways to dip your toe in the water. Spend a little time each week dabbling with your secret interest. Read about it, meet some people who do it, and imagine what it would be like if you could do it all the time.

Two things might happen. One, you’ll find that you’re not as interested in the subject as you thought. It’s a passing fancy. This happened to me with real estate investing.

The other thing that might happen is that you discover something that excites you more than you ever imagined. It stirs your creative juices. It makes you feel like a kid again. It makes your heart beat faster just thinking about it.

From this, you might discover a new hobby. Something you enjoy doing on the weekends and in your spare time. It doesn’t take anything away from your law career. In fact, it might add to it. It might allow you to meet new people or develop new skills.

On other hand, you might discover a new calling and you’ll be on your way to a new career.

Has your life thus far been a daring adventure? If not, don’t wait another twenty years. Jump in. The water is warm and it’s time to play.


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Contingency plans


What would you do if you suddenly discovered you could no longer practice law? Don’t scoff. Many physicians are leaving medicine right now and many others are reconsidering their future.

You have to have contingency plans.

You might get sick or injured and find that you can no longer practice. What will you do?

You might find that market forces have made your practice area unprofitable. (You can now purchase legal services at Walmart in Ontario, Canada. What’s next?)

You might get laid off tomorrow and not be able to find another job at the same pay level.

You might find that you are no longer passionate about practicing law and need to find something else.

What will you do?

Last weekend, the service provider that delivers my emails was shut down by a major DDOS attack. It looks like they’re back online and you should now be caught up with Monday’s and Tuesday’s posts (I took yesterday off).

But what if they went down for good?

It would be a big inconvenience, but it wouldn’t put me out of business. I have contingency plans. My income doesn’t depend solely on my attorney marketing business. If I lose one source of income, I have others.

How about you? What do you do, or what could you do, to bring in other sources of income? Start a business? Write? Consult?

And then there’s the subject of retirement. I started another business because I knew that I was not putting away enough income for retirement. My business now provides me with passive income and I could retire at any time.

I didn’t do this because I’m super smart or responsible. I did it because I was scared. The thought of being too old to work, or not wanting to work but having to do it to pay the bills, scared the hell out of me.

Take some time to think about your future. Create a Plan B and maybe even a Plan C.

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Imagine there’s no clients


Imagine there’s no clients. It’s easy if you try. Yes, I have the Beatles on my mind.

But I really do want you to imagine that you have no clients. (Don’t panic. You’ll get them back in a minute. If you want to. . .).

I want you to think about what you would do if you were starting your practice today. Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?

Would you choose a different practice area? Would you target different clients? Would you have partners? Employees?

Where would you office? Would you use a different billing system?

What would you do to bring in new clients? What would you NOT do?

You may want to partner up with another lawyer or a friend and do this exercise. Tell each other what you would change about your practice, knowing what you know now.

So, what do you think? What would you do differently if you were starting over?

Here’s the thing. Whatever it is you said, no matter how weird or frightening it might seem, you should do it now. Make those changes, or at least start in that direction.

You don’t have to turn your practice completely upside down or do anything reckless. You don’t have to tell all your clients to get lost. But you know things today you didn’t know before–about the market, about the day-to-day activities of a practicing lawyer, and about yourself–and you should use what you know.

In fact, knowing what you know now, taking it step by step, you could completely remake your practice in just a year or two. You could be in a completely different (and happier) place in less time than you spent in law school. If you start now.

What if you told yourself you wouldn’t go into private practice, you’d do something else? If imaging there’s no clients made you smile, don’t ignore the feeling. It may take a bit longer, but you should probably think about doing something else. Find something you would love to do and start working towards it. Three or four years from now, you could be there.

And, if you discovered that you wouldn’t change much of anything, that’s good, too. You’ve done a “level three diagnostic” and been cleared for your continuing mission.

Hellen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing.” I agree. You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one.


Opening a second law office


Every four to six weeks I pop over to a small barber shop near my home. Snip snip, buzz buzz, and I’m done.  Its quick, they do good work, and it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than the fancy places I used to go.

On my last visit, I learned that the owner had opened a second location about ten miles away. Good for him. Entrepreneurship rocks.

He’s got more overhead, responsibilities, and risk, but he’s got the system down and I’m sure the second store will be running smoothly in no time.

He opened the second location, I’m sure, because he understands that there is only so much upside in a barber shop. Men don’t buy a lot of hair care products, we don’t get our nails done or our hair colored (usually), and in a small local shop, if all of the chairs are busy, there’s only so much the owner can do to increase his bottom line.

When I was practicing law, at one time I had three offices. I earned more, but frankly, it wasn’t worth the extra time and headaches. What I should have done, and what you should probably do if you’re considering opening a second (or third) office, is to work on increasing the profits in the first office.

There are lots of ways to increase profit in a law office. You can get bigger cases and better clients. You can get your former clients to hire you again, or hire you for different kinds of work. You can get more new business, from referrals or advertising or through the Internet, and short of needing a bigger office to accommodate additional staff, you can do all of this from one location.

On the other hand, clients will only travel so far to see a lawyer. Opening a second office is tempting. Does it ever make sense?

Theoretically, yes. In southern California, for example, if your office is in Los Angeles, you might want a second office in Orange County, and another in San Diego. Three different markets, with enough population to make the investment worthwhile.

But the investment in a second office encompasses far more than rent and employee expenses. You must hire, train, and supervise the new staff, which is difficult enough when you are present. There are additional liability and ethical risks, not to mention the risk to your reputation if something goes wrong.

If you’re thinking about opening a second law office, consider yourself warned. It’s not for the faint of heart.

If you have the resources and the thick skin, a second office is a viable way to increase your income. But don’t rush into it. A good place to start is to get a shared office arrangements where you can use a conference room to see clients. This will allow you to test both the market and your capacity for operating a satellite office, before you commit to something bigger and more permanent.

Proceed cautiously, limit your downside risk, and if things don’t go the way you had hoped, you won’t have to. . . forgive me. . . take a haircut.

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Are you managing your law practice or is it managing you?


See the client. Review the document. Write the letter. See the next client. Document the file. Mail the letter. Read. Read some more. Email. Email some more. Prepare the complaint. Prepare the motion. Make the calls. Go to the meeting. Check your email. Check your calendar. Oops, late for court. Out the door. Fight traffic. Wait to be called. Back to the office. Record notes. Send the email. Look at the time. Oops, late for dinner. Fight traffic. Kiss the wife. Eat, read, news, sleep, get up, eat, dress, fight traffic, see the client. . .

Another day. Another week. Another month. Another year.

Who has time for marketing? Thinking about the future? Planning?

You want to, there’s just no time. Too much to do and it never gets done. At the end of the day you’re tired and want to go home.

You aren’t managing your law practice. It’s managing you.

Believe me, I understand.

It’s time for you to take control. Tell your practice who is in charge. Decide what kinds of clients and cases you want instead of taking what shows up. Decide how much you want to earn this year and do what you need to do to earn it.

But to do that, you have stand down from the daily grind, clear your mind, and make some decisions.

What do you have to decide? Start with the end in mind. What do you want your future to be like? What is your long term vision?

What do you want your life to be like five or ten years from today? Imagine things the way you would like them to be. What are you doing? Where are you living? How much are you earning? What is a typical day like?

Write a “vision statement” describing your life, in the present tense, five years in the future. One page is all you need. The only rule is there are no rules. Describe the life you want, not the life you think you might have.

Your vision statement is where you want to go. From this point forward, you can make choices that are consistent with your vision. You’ll do things that move you towards your vision. You’ll reject activities that don’t.

Instead of being pushed through life by circumstance, you’ll be pulled forward by your vision.

Once you have a vision statement, the next step is yearly goals. What do you want to happen in the next 12 months that is consistent with your long term vision?

You can set one big goal or a handful of goals in different areas of your life. Goals should be specific and measurable. At the end of the year you should be able to say that yes, you did reach the goal, or no you did not.

Goals should be bold and exciting. They should require you to stretch and grow, but not be so far out of reach that you don’t have a chance of achieving them.

Once you have yearly goals, the next step is to write monthly plans. What will you focus on this month? What projects will you work on? When will you start? When will you be done? What will you do after that?

Schedule your monthly plans in your calendar. Set up files to collect information and track your progress.

While you’ve got your calendar handy, also schedule a recurring weekly review. Once a week, take an hour or two to review what you have done during the week and what you will do the following week. This keeps you focused and accountable. This is you managing your practice instead of it managing you.

Finally, from you yearly goals, monthly plans, and weekly review, you choose your daily activities. What will you do today to move you forward? Choose a few things but make sure they are important.

It’s best to write down your daily activities the night before. “Plan your day before your day begins,” one of my mentors taught me.

A well-lived life is a well-planned life. If your law practice is managing you, it’s time to show it who’s boss.

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The truth about goal setting


“You can’t handle the truth!” Okay, yes you can. I just wanted to yell and sound like Jack.

The truth about goal setting is that it is what you want it to be. Don’t want to set formal written goals? You don’t have to. Many successful people don’t. You want lots of goals or just one or two? Whatever floats your boat.

But whether or not you go through a formal goal setting process, it is important to know what you want. Someone once said, “you can have anything you want, just not everything.” You have to choose. You only have so much time and energy and resources.

So, what do you want?

Choose something you really want, not something you think you’re supposed to have or do.

How do you know the difference? When you think about it, it should feel good. Both the doing and the having. Because if it feels good thinking about it, you’ll be inspired to do it, you’ll enjoy the process, and you’ll get what you want with far less effort.

Over the years, I’ve written many articles dealing with setting goals. Here is a sample to help you:

The surprising truth about written goals

Why goal setting works

What’s the one thing you most want to accomplish this year?

Goal setting and the law of attraction

Instead of setting goals this year. . .

Once you’ve decided what you want, the plan for achieving it should come more easily. That’s because when you know what you want, you also know what you don’t want so you can eliminate certain things from you plan.

For marketing, here’s some help for creating that plan:

Marketing plan for lawyers: getting ready for the new year

Have a safe New Year’s celebration.

The Attorney Marketing Center’s products can help you earn more and work less.