Mind your own bees wax, bub

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I emailed an author to tell him I enjoyed his books. I told him a bit about myself so he could see that we have some common interests and experiences.

We went back and forth a couple of times and then I did it. I gave him a suggestion about how he might change his work flow to improve his productivity. I offered this in a sincere effort to help, but as soon as I sent it, I regretted it.

He was clearly successful doing things his way and he hadn’t asked for my advice. He really didn’t know me. “Who am I to tell him what to do?”

I thought he would brush me off and I wouldn’t hear from him again. Instead, to his credit, he replied and explained why he does things the way he does them and moved on to another topic.

All is well. But the experience reminded me of the danger of providing unsolicited advice.

If someone doesn’t ask for our advice, we need to think twice before giving it. We think someone will appreciate our ideas or suggestions but too often we alienate them or insult them with our “superior” knowledge.

I’m not saying you can’t share ideas or suggestions with people. Just be careful about how you do it.

Instead of telling them they “should” do something, you might turn it into a question. “Have ever thought about. . ?” Or put the advice in the mouth of others: “I hear a lot of people are having success with. . .”

Don’t tell, ask. Don’t push, mention.

You can also get into trouble providing advice when people ask for it. Just because a friend asks for your opinion, it doesn’t mean you have carte blanche. Some people really don’t want your opinion. They’ve already made up their mind and they want you to confirm that they’re right.

With clients, you’re not going to win hearts or minds by pointing out that they made a bad decision or that they should have listened to you the first time. If they messed up, the odds are they know that and are expecting you to give them a hard time.

Don’t do it. Don’t lecture them or try to make them feel bad. Find a way to let them save face or just talk about what to do next to fix the problem.

Calm, cool, collected. The voice of reason.

There are times when you need to let that go and put some fire into what you say. If you see the client about to go off a cliff, it’s your duty to do whatever you can to wake them up and get them to listen.

Raise your voice if you have to and tell them the facts of life. Go over your reasoning again. Put a CYA letter in front of them and ask them to sign it, to protect yourself, of course, but also for dramatic effect, to let them know that they are about to make a serious mistake and to get them to reconsider.

Sometimes, you have to take the risk of alienating a client and losing them. Let’s face it, if they don’t listen and they get hurt, they’ll probably blame you anyway.

Who would make a good referral for you?

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Don’t fall for this email scam!

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AT & T is my wireless carrier. Last night they sent me an email asking me to take a survey. I usually decline these things because I’ve been burned before by survey requests that promised to take only a few minutes but went on endlessly, but in a moment of weakness, I clicked and answered the first (easy) question.

Things quickly got real.

If you get the same email, don’t open it.

It’s a trap.

They’ll ensnare you in a bottomless pit of questions, asking you to decide between a four and a five, a six or a seven, and you’ll wind up clicking anything just to get to the next question, and you’ll swear you’ve already answered that question twice, but no, they’ll ask it a third time, and after what seems like twenty minutes, you’ll either give up and close your browser or berate yourself for getting suckered yet again.

They’ll tempt you to play their insidious game. They’ll tell you they depend on you, they’ll offer to enter you in a drawing, they’ll make you curious about what they might reveal.

Resist. Start another Netflix episode. Or close up shop and go to bed.

I can’t imagine that the companies that conduct these surveys get much useful information out of them. I suspect that most people who start them never finish, and the ones who go all the way do so because they’re not crazy about the company and want to vent.

They do these surveys, I suspect, because they think it will make them look good to shareholders.

There’s nothing wrong with surveys, per se. They can provide valuable feedback and you might put one together for your clients. If you do, remember that a survey is as much an opportunity to engage with your clients as it is a way to guide your next move. So if you do it, don’t alienate them with one of these monstrosities, make your survey short and sweet.

Promise it will only take 30 seconds, a minute or two. And keep that promise.

Ask a few questions, not every question you can think of.

Make it easy for them to choose by asking things like, “Of these two options, which one do you prefer?”

And when the survey is done and you tally up the results, share those results with your clients and subscribers. Let them see that you really do value their feedback and appreciate them for taking the time to help. They’ll feel good about responding and be more likely to do it again the next time you ask.

Because a survey is as much an opportunity to engage with your clients as it is a way to guide your next move.

Where is your next referral coming from?

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The most valuable skill in a lawyer’s tool chest

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You may not be the best writer or speaker. Your trial skills may not win any awards (or big verdicts). You might be just okay at managing your team or your money. But you can be amazingly successful in your practice if you master this skill.

Actually, it is a set of skills, usually referred to as “client relations”. Which encompasses a lot of things, big and small, but boils down to the ability to make people like you.

Think about it, a prospective client comes to see you. They have a problem. They’re nervous about their case and nervous about you. Can you help them? Are you honest? Will you charge a reasonable fee? Will you be nice and friendly or mean and scary?

All these doubts and fears swirling in their head, making them even more nervous as they open up and tell you about their situation.

Within minutes, they feel better. Relieved. Encouraged. They like you. And trust you. And feel confident that you can help them.

And they hire you on the spot.

Or they don’t. Because you don’t have this skill. In which case, all of your core legal skills, experience, and reputation don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

Once the client hires you, they see that you are attentive and work hard to serve them. They see that you appreciate them. They come back to you. And tell others about you.

Or they don’t. Because you didn’t continue to earn their trust or make them feel appreciated.

We’re in the people business and client relations is a set of skills that can make or break your practice. Like any skills, they can be learned.

You can learn how to make people like and trust you. You can learn how to inspire loyalty. And if you’re already good at these things, you can learn to get better.

And you should. Because if you want to build a successful practice, no other skills are as valuable.

Learn how to make people like and trust you

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Satisfied clients are a dime a dozen

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Do you have satisfied clients? That’s a shame. You could do so much better.

You don’t want clients to be merely satisfied. You want them to have a big smile on their face and be excited (or relieved) they found you. You want them enthusiastically singing your praises to anyone who will listen.

You don’t want satisfied clients. You want fans.

A satisfied client will recommend you to friends and neighbors if they are asked for a recommendation. A fan will go out of their way to talk you up and pass out your cards.

In building your practice, one of your primary objectives should be to make your clients fall in love with you and your firm. One way to do this is to surprise and delight them by giving them more value and service than they expect.

Clients expect competent work, good customer service, and reasonable fees. If this is what you deliver, you’re probably not getting as many referrals as you could.

We just had some minor repairs done on the exterior of our house. Cracks patched, trim painted, a new side door, and so on. Although I know we got a good deal on the work, I couldn’t believe how much we had to spend for “minor” repairs.

When the job was done, the workers showed us some “extras” they had done at no additional charge, things we had originally passed on because they weren’t absolutely necessary and because we were already spending more than we had intended.

The dollar value of these extras couldn’t have been more than a few hundred dollars, but the gesture made a huge impression on us.

We got more than we expected. We felt better about how much we had spent and we were eager to tell others about the company.

Sure enough, as we were taking another look at the work, our neighbor from across the street came over. He said he needed to get his house painted and wanted to know if we were happy with this company’s work.

What do you think we said?

We said they did a GREAT job and we would DEFINITELY recommend them.

He asked for the contractor’s card.

We would no doubt have recommended them without the extra “surprises” they provided. But we went a step further and “sold” our neighbor on “our guy”.

If anyone else asks us for a recommendation, we’ll recommend them. But we’ll do more than that. When we hear that someone needs work on their house, we won’t wait for them to ask if we know anyone, we’ll make sure to tell them about our guy.

That’s the difference between a satisfied client and a fan.

Now, here’s what I want to know. I want to know if the contractor instructs his employees to “find” extras that need doing and do them, gratis. Is this his standard policy, because he knows the value of giving clients more than they expect?

If it is, that might explain why our guy has hundreds of five-star reviews and his competitors have so few.

Here’s how attorneys can get more five-star reviews and more referrals

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Some clients are more valuable than others

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Have you ever considered starting a loyalty program for your practice? That’s where you reward certain clients with a discount, a free service, or some other benefit, to thank them for their loyalty and to give them an incentive to continue.

This won’t work for every practice area. But you could use it for PI, real estate closings, and for many business matters. Don’t immigration lawyers offer a “family discount”? Don’t estate planners offer a better deal on A/B trusts?

But you have to be careful. You don’t want to position yourself as a “discount lawyer” or be seen promoting a “frequent suer club,” after all.

One way to handle this is to only tell clients after the fact. At the end of a case or matter, tell the client about your policy so they know if they hire you again, (perhaps within the next six or 12 months), they’ll get some kind of a benefit. Or, wait until they come back with a second matter and tell them then.

You can also surprise them when you send your bill. The client expects to pay $3000 and gets a bill for $2500, for example, with a footnote or a handwritten note in the margin explaining why.

The point is that some clients have more business to give you and it makes sense to court them. A loyalty program is one way to do that.

How to use your invoice as a marketing tool

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A simple way to improve your marketing

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Marketing has been defined as “everything you do to get and keep good clients”. Or something like that. They operative word is “everything”.

Everything you say, everything you do, but also everything you don’t say or do.

When you speak to a client on the phone, even if all you’re doing is talking about their case, that’s marketing because when the call is done, you will leave them with an impression of you. That impression will either be favorable or unfavorable. It either increases trust and likeability or it does not.

If that impression is neutral–no change from their previous impression–it has to be considered negative because it was a missed opportunity to enhance their previous impression.

I’m not suggesting that you manically parse every word and overthink every deed. But it does make sense to think about what you say and how you say it.

One way to get better at building trust and likeability in your client conversations is to use a checklist or script. They will help you to remember what to say and give you the ability to polish your delivery.

Examples? How about a checklist for answering FAQs, especially with new clients? No doubt your clients will be impressed with the clarity and completeness of your answers.

How about a checklist for small talk–asking about family or work? Each time you use it with a client, take notes and put them in their file so you will remember to ask follow-up questions the next time you speak.

You might consider a script for delivering bad news, convincing the client to “take the offer,” or explaining “what happens next”.

Much of the value of these documents comes from the process of creating them. Writing them forces you to think about what’s important to your clients, what you want them to know, and how you want to be perceived.

To get started, over the next week or so, write some notes to yourself after each conversation. What did you do well? What could you improve? What did you leave out?

Remember, to your clients, you are more than the sum of your legal knowledge and abilities. You are the person who makes them feel more confident about their future.

Marketing legal services starts with a plan

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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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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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The client from heck

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We’ve all had them. Clients who blame you for things that aren’t your fault. They make a fuss over silly stuff and ignore all the good you do for them. They’re usually not bad enough to tell them to take a walk, they’re just incredibly annoying.

I was thinking about this while browsing through the app store this morning. I was looking at the reviews for an app I had purchased and love, smiling at all the five-star reviews, reading comments from users pointing out their favorite features and use cases. “This has changed my life,” “Worth every penny,” “Best app on my phone.”

A bit of mindless distraction while I waited for the coffee to kick in.

And then I saw a two-star review. The reviewer complained about a feature that didn’t work for him. He said the app was, “not ready for prime time”.

Tens of thousands of people have no problem with that feature. Hundreds of five-star reviews. But no, he’s right and everyone else is wrong.

Did he stop to think that maybe he was doing something wrong? Did he contact support and ask for help?

Nah, Mr. “I’m right” didn’t do that. He just posted his “review”.

What’s up with people? Why do they never consider that THEY are the problem?

I don’t know. I just know that people like this exist and they buy apps and hire lawyers.

What do you do about clients who are like this? Usually, you grin and bear it. Business is business and paying clients get the benefit of the doubt, even when they’re clearly a doofus. If they get bad enough, you ask them to find another lawyer; otherwise, you deal with it.

Or you do like I often did: turn them over to an employee who is “nicer” than you and let them deal with them.

It’s good to be King.

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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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