Imagine there’s no clients

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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.

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Opening a second law office

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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.

Get more referrals. Quickly. Here’s how.

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

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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.

The Attorney Marketing Formula will help you plan your future. Click here for details.

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The truth about goal setting

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“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.

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You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone

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I don’t know if Joni Mitchell’s The Big Yellow Taxi was the first song to use the lyric, but it’s the one I remember: “Don’t it always seem to go/That you don’t know what you’ve got/Till it’s gone”.

And it’s true. We don’t know how good we have it until we have it no more.

Our health is probably the best example. Most people take it for granted. You don’t realize how well off you are because you’re never sick or injured. One day, something happens. That’s when you appreciate what you had. It’s the same when a loved one dies or a relationship breaks up. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

It also works the other way. We don’t always know what we’re missing until we get it.

My new laptop arrived yesterday. The old one was slow and noisy and I figured it was on it’s way out. But I never realized how bad it was until I started using the new one. It’s almost silent. It’s quick. The screen is much brighter. What have I been doing to my eyesight? I never realized how bad the old unit was. I didn’t know what I was missing.

Another Thanksgiving holiday has come and gone. We dutifully gave thanks for the good things in our lives. We shared our appreciation with people we love and care about. And then we were done. Okay, check that off the list. Back to work. See ya next holiday.

We need to give thanks every day. For the big things and the small things. For our health and our relationships, for indoor plumbing, for our baby’s smile, and for new laptops.

And we need to stop complaining about what we don’t have.

The new computer keyboard is different. The delete key is in a different place from what I’m used to. The down arrow is smaller than I like. Some people will see these as problems and focus on them. I see them as differences and I will adjust. Some people say Windows 8 is bad. I say it’s just different and I will get used to it.

Think about what you have and be grateful. You’ll get more of it. Because we get what we think about.

Thank you for being a part of my life. We may have never spoken, but I know you are there and I appreciate you.

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“The best thing I did was to stop trying to build my practice”

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Attorney marketing colleague, Stephen Fairley, had an an interesting comment on one of his recent Facebook posts. I want to share the comment, by attorney Jules Cherie, along with my thoughts on the subject.

Here’s the comment:

“I know that many people will disagree with me, but the best thing I did was to stop trying to build my practice.

I find that just taking four or five personal injury cases per year is the best way to live both professionally and personally. You have more time for your clients and you have more time for yourself. You are always ahead of the defense and they can’t keep up with you. You also have less overhead. The more cases you take the more staff you need to manage them. This creates a mini-bureaucracy and then there is less personal contact with the clients. I like it when the phone DOESN’T ring.

I would also recommend that everybody read The King of Torts by John Grisham and take note of a character in that book by the name of Mooneyham. Contrast his practice to that of the protagonist.”

Here are my thoughts.

MARKETING

I assume Cherie’s new cases are coming in via referrals. If these are from clients, he gets them because he has built a career of serving those clients and earning their trust and gratitude. If they are from attorneys and other non-clients, they are the result of years of building his skills and reputation and relationships with those referral sources.

He isn’t building his practice today (marketing) because he doesn’t need to. He did it over many years. He planted seeds and is now reaping the harvest. Good for him.

BUSINESS MODEL

Knowing what you want, e.g., big(ger) personal injury cases, helps you to know what you don’t want (e.g., everything else). This is good. Specializing is good. Low overhead is good. Having little or no staff to manage and pay is good.

On the other hand, there is no leverage in a business model like this. It’s all about you and what you do. You don’t earn income off of other people’s efforts. If you get sick or want to slow down or retire, your income stops.

PRACTICE AREA

Four or five big(ger) personal injury cases can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in income. The same is usually not true for divorce or estate planning and many other practice areas. If you earn ten thousand dollars per case or client, you’re going to have a lot of clients or cases to earn six- or multiple six-figures. This may or may not require more overhead and more “marketing”.

You can get big(ger) personal injury cases through advertising and other means, but the biggest and best cases usually come from referrals. To get those referrals you need to be very good at what you do, and many attorneys are not, or if they are, don’t yet have the reputation or connections (pipeline) built to get those referrals.

Although I’m sure Cherie is extremely selective about the cases he takes, he still has risks. Losing even one case, or a judgment or settlement well below expectations, could have a significant impact on his income. He also risks losing whatever costs he might invest in building the case.

On the other side of the risk equation is the fact that one very good case could bring in millions of dollars in fees, more than enough to make up for any loses he might sustain. In addition, there is arguably less risk in handling bigger cases with significant exposure for the defendants and their carriers, and thus potentially greater settlement value, than small(er) cases which are often not worth litigating.

CONCLUSION

Cherie’s practice has many positive aspects. It allows him to focus on doing quality work without the many distractions and burdens associated with running a higher volume practice. As someone who ran a high volume PI practice, I clearly see the appeal. But this business model isn’t for everyone and those who would like to adopt it need to remember that it’s not something that can be accomplished overnight. It takes a long time to build your skills and reputation and make the connections needed to enjoy a small volume referral-only practice. There are no shortcuts.

When I was practicing, I didn’t have time to read fiction. Now that I do, I’ll have to pick up a copy of The King of Torts and learn more about what I was missing.

Leverage is the key to earning more without working more. That’s what The Formula is all about.

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What’s your I.Q.?

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What’s your I.Q.? If something doesn’t work out for you, how quickly do you say “I quit”?

I’m sure you’ve hired someone who didn’t work out. You’ve tried software systems or apps that you ultimately rejected. You’ve tried new marketing methods and didn’t stick with them.

How much are you willing to put up with before you say “no mas” and move on?

Of course this is a rhetorical question. Everything is different. It depends on the cost (time and money), the potential return, the complexity, and market conditions. And it depends on you–your knowledge and skills, your finances, your goals, your work ethic.

And so there is no right or wrong answer. But clearly, we have all tried many things we have abandoned that might have produced the desired result had we given them enough time. As Thomas Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

Successful people have a long term perspective. They are willing to invest today for a return that might be a long time in coming. Unsuccessful people want instant gratification. And yet nobody wants to do something that’s not working and not likely to do so. When should you continue and when should you admit defeat and try something else?

One thing you can do to answer this is to find someone who has successfully done what you are contemplating and do what they did. In other words, find models and model them.

Because if they did it, there’s a very good chance that you can do it, too. Just knowing that will keep you going when you otherwise might quit.

Don’t necessarily compare yourself to others. When they started, they may have had more skills than you do, or a bigger network. It may take you longer to accomplish what they accomplished. It may be harder.

I’ve found this to be true in my life, and I am okay with this. If what I am attempting promises benefits that I truly want, it’s okay if it takes me longer. What I care about is knowing that I can do it. If I know that it’s possible, based on what others have done, I’ll keep going. In this case, I have a very high I.Q.

I admit, this is not always true. Sometimes, along the way, I discover something about myself or about the journey and change my mind about what I want or what I’m willing to do. But having that model at the beginning allows me to get started and keep going long enough to make that discovery. As a result, I’ve done more than I ever would have done had I waited for the right time or conditions.

What about innovation? Highly overrated. Most inventors will tell you that what they do is look at something that already exists and see it doing something different. Or, combining two things into something new. Entrepreneurs do the same thing.

If you want a successful law practice, find successful lawyers in your field and study them. Find out what they did to become successful and do that. It may take you longer and you may have a bumpier journey than they had. But at least you know that if you follow the same road map, there’s a very good chance that you will get to the same destination.

Want referrals? Quickly? Try The 30 Day Referral Blitz.

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Thinking outside the box: what it means and why we need to do it

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Human beings live inside a box, the walls of which are comprised of our beliefs and habits. (For the record, lawyers live inside two boxes. In case one breaks.)

Our beliefs and habits protect us from harm. They help us avoid dangerous situations and make decisions that mitigate risk. They also make our lives more productive and less chaotic. Once we have found the love of our life, for example, our belief in monogamy keeps us from looking elsewhere. (Okay, we may look but we don’t touch.)

Our beliefs and habits our foundational to how we govern our lives and by and large, they serve us well. But if they are too rigid, they keep us from growing. In the context of marketing legal services, for example, our old beliefs can cause us to fall behind our younger, less constrained competition.

The world is constantly changing. We must be aware of, and responsive to, those changes. We must be prepared to try new things and learn new skills, and update the old ones.

But how? How do we get outside of our comfort zone?

With some things, we just do it. We pick up the phone and make the call. We show up at the meeting. We write the report.

With other things, we need some preparation. So we read about them and talk to people who are doing them. We make notes and jot down ideas. And then, we try something.

We start with something small and easy. We dip our toes into the cold water. Once we get used to it, we jump in. Or, if it’s harder than we imagined, we wade in. Eventually, what was once scary and difficult is familiar and easy. What was once firmly outside of our comfort zone is now comfortably inside.

But there are some things that are so far outside of the box we can’t imagine ourselves doing them. They are too difficult, too risky, or too far away. What then?

The first rule of change is having the desire to change. If you’re happy where you are and don’t want to try anything new, despite the possible rewards, then be okay with not trying. You can’t change if you don’t want to change. But if want something better, admit that you do.

Second, you must be willing to do the work associated with that change. That means being willing to invest time, physical effort, and money, in new things. Of course that means you will probably have to re-allocate resources from things you’re currently doing. There are only so many hours in a day and you only have so much energy.

Finally, and most importantly, you have to be willing to undergo the emotional transformation that takes place by thinking and doing things that challenge your existing habits and beliefs. That’s the hardest part of thinking outside the box, and why most people don’t do it.

Change is emotionally difficult. Giving up old beliefs and ingrained habits, learning new philosophies and methodologies, are the very essence of personal growth. This is the hardest part of the journey. And it takes place outside of the box.

Do your clients pay you on time and in full? If not, you should learn how to Get the Check.

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The wave of the future for attorney marketing

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In the 1967 film, The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman’s character was at a party, wondering about his future career, when he was taken aside and offered some advice. “Plastics. There’s a great future in plastics,” he was told.

Plastics were the next big thing in 1967. Today? Who knows.

The thing is, when it comes to attorney marketing, there is no next big thing. It’s still all about information and people. Always was. Always will be.

Technology changes. Fundamentals don’t.

Educate your market place about the law, about problems and solutions, and about the process. Stay in touch with your clients and prospects. Treat people the way you would like to be treated. That’s all attorneys have ever had to do to build a successful practice and it still is.

Don’t get hung up on what “everyone” else is doing or feel left behind if you aren’t following the latest trend. But don’t stick your head in the sand, either. Technology does make things easier, quicker, and cheaper.

Put content on a website or blog because it makes it easier to educate your market and communicate with clients and prospects, not because someone said you must. Use social media to find and engage people because it expands your reach (and you enjoy it), not because all the cool lawyers do it.

The wave of the future for attorney marketing is information and people, same as always. Slicker and more fun with an iPad, but still the same.

Starting or expanding your website or blog? Start here.

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Creating an operations manual for your law practice

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Early in my career I rented space from an attorney who had a very lucrative high volume personal injury practice.

He had half a dozen employees, including one attorney, and everything ran very smoothly. The office was busy but quiet. Everything was orderly. They never seemed to miss deadlines or suffer a major crisis.

One reason why the office was so successful was that the attorney had prepared an operations manual. Every aspect of the practice was documented. Every employee knew what they were supposed to do.

He created the manual, I was told, so that if someone quit or went on maternity leave or got sick, the new hire or temp would be able to quickly get up to speed.

The manual explained how to open a new file, how to close a file, and everything in between. There were forms and checklists for every stage of the case, and fill-in-the-blank form letters, too. The calendaring procedure was spelled out in detail.

As a result, nothing fell through the cracks. The cases got worked and settled or tried. Things moved quickly. Mistakes were rare.

I never saw the actual manual but hearing about it inspired me to create my own. I started by making extra copies of every letter I wrote and putting them in a separate file. I created checklists for repetitive tasks. I asked other attorneys I knew for copies of their forms and form letters and re-wrote them to suit my style and work flow.

I was also able to build a sizable practice with a relatively small staff, in part, because of my manual.

One of the benefits of going through this process is that it forces you to think about everything you do, allowing you to find ways to do them better. You find holes in your procedures, places where mistakes can happen, and you can patch them. You find wasteful tasks and can eliminate them. You see opportunities for doing things faster.

You also find ways to improve client relations. For example, you may discover gaps in communicating progress to clients about their case, or find ways to make their experience less stressful. Repeat business and referrals will increase because you always send welcome letters and thank you letters and remember clients’ birthdays.

The bottom line is that creating an operations manual for your law practice will save time, save money, help you avoid errors (and malpractice claims), and make your practice run more smoothly and more profitably.

If you don’t have an operations manual for your practice, I encourage you to start one. If you have staff, enlist their aid. If you do have a manual, make a note to review it periodically, so you can update it with changes in the law, new forms, and new ideas.

You’ll thank me later.

For more on creating an operations manual, see The Attorney Marketing Formula

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