What?

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In college, I had a professor who mumbled. I sat in the front row and could usually figure out what he was saying but sometimes he also spoke at a low level and I couldn’t understand him at all.

One time, I raised my hand and said, “Could you mumble a little louder?” Everyone laughed, including my professor. (All was okay. He later wrote me a recommendation letter to law school).

Now, as you probably know, I get a lot of emails from lawyers. To my chagrin, many of these professional communicators (that’s who we are, after all), are just as difficult to understand as my mumbling professor.

Frankly, they can’t write their way out of a paper bag.

It’s one thing to send an informal email to someone you know. You don’t always have to format properly or use the King’s English. But you can’t send emails that make people think, “What the hell did they just say?”

Clarity is right up there at the top of the effective communication mountain. If people don’t understand you, you can’t expect to persuade them of anything. They’re not going to learn what you want them to learn. They’re not going to get your jokes.

If your legal documents are muddled, if your closing arguments are a mishmash of thoughts, if your marketing documents and presentations are as mushy and boring as a bowl of oatmeal, you’ve got some work to do.

How do you improve? Read more. Find models of clear writing and study them. Write more. Write something every day and re-write it as often as necessary. You can ask someone to read and critique your writing, and maybe edit it. You might take classes or read books about writing.

You don’t ever want someone to wonder what you just said. As Robert Louis Stevenson put it, “Don’t Write merely to be understood. Write so that you cannot possibly be misunderstood.”

Clear instructions on marketing your practice

 

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Nobody says, “Call my law firm”

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When one of your clients gives your business card to a friend or colleague who might need your services, they don’t say “Call my law firm,” they say, “Call my lawyer”.

They have a relationship with you and it is you they are recommending. They may know and work with other lawyers in your firm, they may think highly of the firm as a whole, but you are their lawyer and you are the person they want their friend or colleague to speak to.

When I see letters or emails signed, “For the firm,” I shake my head in amazement at the lack of personalization. Why put distance between yourself and your client? You wouldn’t call a client and say, “This is Jones and Smith calling,” would you? You’d say your name. You would use theirs. It should be no different in writing.

Professional services are personal. Even if the client is part of a big company, you should nurture your relationship with them as an individual. It’s okay to send out a “Welcome” letter from the firm but that letter should be in addition to a personal letter from you. The client chose you as their lawyer, or if they were assigned to you by a partner, you should conduct yourself as if they did.

A law firm can advertise and build a brand, but when it comes to working with clients, the personal relationship is paramount. Don’t sign letters “for the firm” and don’t have a secretary or assistant sign for you. Personalize everything. Show the client that you are fully invested in your relationship with them. If you do, when someone they know needs a lawyer, your client will hand them your card and say, “Here, call my lawyer”.

Are you getting all of the referrals you want? Here’s how to get more

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Um, could you be more specific?

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I got an email today that had a link to an article with this headline: “Don’t make these 5 common legal mistakes”.

Not bad. It makes the reader want to know what those mistakes are so they can see if they’re making them. It appeals to curiosity and promises a benefit. It also invokes fear because if these are common mistakes, there’s a good chance, the reader thinks, that they’re making one of them, and because these are legal mistakes, they could cause serious grief and financial loss.

But while this is a good headline, it’s not good enough. Not today, anyway.

Most consumer and general business publications have this type of article and your reader has lots of other pressing things on his or her mind.

So no click.

The headline isn’t good enough because it’s not specific enough.

Let’s say I’m a good prospect for your practice and you wrote this article. If your headline promised to show me, “5 common mistakes made by California homeowners,” I might lean towards clicking because I am a California homeowner. Your article might earn my attention because it is obviously targeted to me, rather than “everyone”.

But it could be even more specific, and thus almost irresistible. If it promised to reveal “5 common mistakes made by California homeowners when filing their tax returns,” since that’s on my mind right now, I would almost have to read your article.

My point is that most headlines (email subjects, etc.) aren’t specific enough to cut through the morass of messages that come across everyone’s field of vision on a daily basis. Specifics will almost always get you more clicks and eyeballs.

It’s true that the more specific you are, the more you will appeal to a smaller number of possible readers, but that’s the point. The readers you do appeal to will be more likely to respond.

I’d rather have ten people read my article than 100 who thought about it but didn’t. I’d rather have five people who would make a good client for my practice read my article than 50 people who wouldn’t.

So, with all things marketing, as with all things legal, your challenge is to find the sweet spot so you can maximize your results.

You don’t need (or want) to appeal to “everyone”. You want to appeal to your ideal client, and you want him or her to immediately understand that that’s exactly what you’re doing. To do that, you have to be willing to give up everyone else.

This will help you identify your ideal client

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Are you smarter than a fifth grader?

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If you’re smarter than a fifth grader, your intelligence, and more specifically your vocabulary, might be holding you back.

How’s that?

If your write and speak at a post-graduate level and your audience is comprised of people with little or no college, your audience won’t follow everything you say, nor do what you ask them to do.

Does that mean you should dumb down your writing and speaking? Indubitably.

There, someone reading this might not know that I just said yes. They might deduce that from the context of my other words, but it might take a few seconds, and whether you’re selling ideas or legal services, a few seconds could cost you the sale.

When you use simpler words, however, all of your readers and listeners will understand you, including those with a bigger vocabulary or a higher education. In addition, simpler words make it more likely that your thoughts will be perceived more quickly and understood at a deeper level.

As Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Don’t write merely to be understood. Write so that you cannot possibly be misunderstood.”

By anyone.

Whether you’re writing an article for your website, an email to your clients, or an appellate brief, unless you have a good reason to do otherwise, it’s best to use plain language. Some experts recommend writing at a seventh grade level. Others claim fourth grade is the cut off. I say, use common sense and when in doubt, err on the side of simple.

Now I just used the world err. According to an app I just discovered, Simple Writer, err isn’t on the list of the 1000 most common words in the English language. But to my chagrin, neither is the word error or the word mistake.

The Simple Writer app tells you if the words you type are on the list, and if not, it suggests that you consider replacing them.

That doesn’t mean you have to.

When I typed, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” into the app, it told me that “fox” and “lazy” aren’t on the list of most common words but to avoid using them would clearly be absurd for any audience. The point is to be more aware of what you’re writing and continually seek to make it simpler.

Because everyone understands simple.

There are nine keys to an effective website. Does yours make the cut?

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Why can’t lawyers answer a simple question?

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My wife wants to know what I want for lunch. A simple question, right? So why can’t I give her a simple answer? Why do I say, “I don’t know?”

Because I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it. I need to consider my options.

What did I have for breakfast? What time is dinner? Do we have any cool leftovers? What sounds good to me?

You’re a lawyer. You know the routine.

Oh, I’ll have an answer eventually. It’s just lunch, after all. But my wife is busy and can’t wait for me to go through my decision making process. “How about a turkey sandwich?” she’ll say, or even better, “Would you like turkey or roast beef?”

Smart girl I married.

She knows I think like a lawyer. Lawyers say things like “I don’t know,” “I need to think about it,” and “it depends”. And, just when you think we’ve finally answered your question, we go and spoil it by saying, “on the other hand. . .”

If you ask my wife about this subject, I think she would tell you that the most frustrating thing I do is answer questions with a question.

Why do I do that? I don’t know, why do you ask?

Holy crap, I must be annoying.

Okay, here’s the thing. If the people who love us find our lawyer ways difficult, what must our clients think? They hire us to answer questions and provide solutions. Hearing us say, “I don’t know” must be a little off putting.

What we need to do is school our clients and prospects so that they understand how our minds work. We need to educate them that when we don’t have an immediate answer, when we go back and forth with on the one hand and on the other, we’re going through a natural process of weighing the possibilities and reasoning our way to a conclusion.

We’ll have an answer for them. It just might take awhile.

It might be easier to keep all of this to ourselves and answer their questions after we’ve done our brain voodoo. Maybe send them a letter. But do we really want to make it look like our job is easy? They ask, we answer, done?

I don’t think so. For one thing, it’s not easy. Thinking is hard work. And there are lots of issue to consider. And we want our clients to know that. We want them to see that even though it might not look like it, we’re working hard for them.

But we should explain that we’re not avoiding their questions or trying to give them a hard time. We’re doing our job.

Someone once said that we shouldn’t let our clients see us sweat, and that’s true. But we also don’t want them to think that our job is easy. We want them to know that we put a lot of effort into what we do, because in addition to results, effort is what they’re paying for.

Got referrals? Here’s how to get more

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It’s a blog about nothing

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Remember the Seinfeld episode where George and Jerry pitch a show to a studio head? “What’s it about?” the boss asks. With a smirk and dramatic pause, George says, “Nothing. It’s a show about nothing!”

No they didn’t sell the show. That wouldn’t have been funny. Better we should laugh at our pals and their madness.

But we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the value of “nothing”.

In keeping with my assertion that you can write a blog post or email about anything, or nothing, I’m going to give it a shot. I’m going to take a random idea and see if I can fill the page with something interesting and useful.

First thing that pops into my head: shopping. Here goes.

I’m not a shopper. If I go to the mall with my wife, you won’t find me trying on clothes. In the past, you’d find me at a bookstore. Today, I’ll hit a computer store, but only for a few minutes. Mostly, I find a comfy chair, read and watch people.

Basically, I do nothing.

But that’s okay. What I like to do at a mall and what my wife likes to do are different. We’re different people. One person’s gourmet meal is her husband’s poison.

We need to remember this in selling our services.

Not everyone will see the need or the value of what you offer. Some will say yes, some will say no, and some will say, “Ah, get me out of here, there’s an attorney talking!”

We must also remember that the ones who say no do it for different reasons.

One prospect may say no to your estate planning services because she thinks you charge too much. Another might say no because she doesn’t see the need or the urgency.

I spoke to a young woman recently who had a baby eight months ago. I asked if she and her husband had updated their will (knowing they probably didn’t have one at all). She told me they were going to wait until after they had a second child before doing that.

Yep, that’s what she said.

If you are an estate planner, what would you have said in response?

The point is that you need to know the different reasons prospective clients say no to your proposition and be prepared to address them. You can handle an “objection” by presenting the information as part of the pitch or on your website, etc., or you can address it when they vocalize it. (NB: it’s better to handle an objection before it comes up.)

The point is that people are different and so are their reasons for saying no. If you want to sell more of your services, you need to figure out those reasons and do something about them.

So there you go, a post that started out about nothing and turned into something. Sweet! I’m calling my buddy Art Vandelay and letting him know.

What to put on your website

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Get better at writing by invoking your inner couch potato

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One reason I’m able to turn out emails so quickly is that I’m lazy. I get ideas from lots of sources but I primarily write what’s in my head.

I don’t slow down to do research, or spend time looking for graphics. I don’t stop to ask myself if I’ve addressed the subject before or worry about contradicting myself. I don’t spend time hunting down every typo.

I just write. Fast. You can, too.

It doesn’t matter if you said something before. This time, you’ll say it differently. But even if you don’t, no worries. Repetition is the mother of learning. Your readers might not have absorbed your message the first time, or the 31st time. Maybe this time, they will.

Your readership is constantly changing, too. Every day, new people come to your website or blog and subscribe to your list and they’re hearing your words for the first time.

Marketing isn’t solely about delivering information. That’s part of it, but an even bigger part is that you are regularly touching the lives of the people on your list. You know, the people who can hire you or send you referrals. Yeah, those people.

Write a few paragraphs and tell people what you’re thinking or how you feel. Share an idea or comment on someone else’s. Ask subscribers questions, ask them to do something, or just say hello.

Stay in their minds, and their mailboxes and they will hire you (again) and send you referrals and traffic and promote your events.

Write a lot, and write quickly. It will make you a better writer. Writing quickly allows you to bypass the filters in your brain that tell you what you should and shouldn’t do, or that tell you you’re not good enough.

Just write, okay? Don’t worry about what comes out. Emails aren’t briefs or white papers or reports. Nobody is expecting you to be scholarly or brilliant. Besides, you know more than your readers do and they won’t know if you left something out or got something wrong.

Stop trying so hard. Get lazy and write something.

Want ideas for blog posts and emails? This is what you need

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Have you pissed someone off today?

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Yesterday’s email was about the seemingly uncontroversial topic of dressing like a lawyer. I heard from several lawyers who shared their thoughts.

Some cheered my message and deplored the way some lawyers dress today. An entertainment lawyer friend had mixed feelings about the subject. One lawyer told me he wears a pony tail and does just fine.

Another said, “Perhaps you should set aside your fatuous fashion jihad for a moment and review the fundamentals of grammar, to wit: The plural of “client” is “clients,” not “client’s.”

Fatuous fashion jihad? Hmmm. . . Something tells me he’s upset about something. Call it a hunch.

And does he really think I don’t know how to pluralize “client”? Me thinks not. That’s his anger talking.

Apparently, he strongly disagrees with my opinion that lawyers should “wear the uniform” and “look like a lawyer”. He didn’t say why. He didn’t share his preferred sartorial style, nor offer any reasons why everyone else should accept it.

But I like that he spoke up. I like that he disagrees with my old fashioned take on the subject. In fact, I wish I heard from more people who were pissed off at me.

Look, if you’re not not upsetting some people, if everyone agrees with everything you write, you’re going to put people to sleep. Lawyers tend to be especially boring and bland in their writing.

We need to stir things up.

Conflict keeps people watching TV shows and it keeps people reading your writing. So court some controversy. Push the envelope. Say things that make people go “huh?”

You’ll stand out, be read and remembered, and build a following of people who like your style. They’ll share your content, buy your products and services, and recommend you to their friends.

Of course you will also get people who think you’re an ass-hat, say you’ve gone too far or you’re too vulgar for their taste, and they will un-subscribe.

Good. You don’t want them. They’re not your fans and will probably never hire you or recommend you. They need to go. Give up their seat so you can fill it with others who like what you say, or at least like that you’re not afraid to say it.

For more on email and marketing online, go here

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Apparently, I don’t know when to shut up

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I’d rather be sitting on the sofa all day, listening to the Eagles and thinking about the 70’s. But with so many music legends leaving us lately, I am reminded that I’m not getting any younger and I need to be grateful for every day I wake up and I’m still alive.

So instead, I’ll tell you about a conference call I did last night where I was interviewed about reaching a big milestone in my network marketing business.

As usual for these kinds of things, the host first asked about how I got started. And as usual with these kinds of things, before long I turned the call into a training.

My Spidey sense, and the fact that I’ve done a lot of these kind of calls before, told me a few things you might want to note for when you do an interview or presentation.

  • Although there were hundreds of people on the call, most were only half-listening. Trust me on this. Even though I am the most fascinating person I know and deliver many nuggets of gold, people get on these calls while they are doing other things, making dinner, putting the kids to bed, and probably also watching TV, and they don’t pay a lot of attention. On top of that. . .
  • Most people don’t care about me and my success. They may be inspired by my story, but only for a few seconds. They want to know how they can do what I did, and that’s what I told them, however. . .
  • Most people don’t take notes. Despite having been repeatedly told that a “short pencil is more valuable than a long memory” or however that goes, they don’t write anything down. Fascinating. On top of that. . .
  • Most people don’t want to hear about things like “hard work” and “long term”. They want shortcuts and immediate results, and they’re not going to have it any other way. That’s why some people are successful and others play the lottery. But. . .
  • Some people will take my advice and run with it. That’s cool. That makes it all worthwhile. Most won’t, some will, and that’s okay because I was only talking to the few. Finally. . .
  • Hells, bells I sure can talk up a storm. I had no idea how long I had been speaking until the host told me we were already over the scheduled time. Note to self: learn how to STFU.

Okay, well I hope that helps. Not so much? Not even the last point? C’mon, you’re a lawyer. You flap your lips for a living, just like me. And just like me, I’m guessing you have never been accused of not saying enough.

Yes or yes?

Now if we can just figure out a way to get paid by the word.

I take notes in Evernote, how about you?

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Bad clients are the result of bad marketing

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Bad clients are the result of bad marketing.

What do I mean by bad clients? Hmm, let’s see. . . how about. . .

Malcontents who blame you for things that aren’t your fault and then post bad reviews and ratings about you.

Price shopping clients, penny pinching clients, slow paying clients, and no paying clients.

Clients who don’t follow your advice, don’t show up for appointments, and don’t remember anything you told them.

You get my drift?

Every lawyer gets the occasional lemon, but if you get more than your share, bad marketing is usually the culprit.

So what do I mean by bad marketing?

I mean targeting the wrong market, or, more commonly, no market, so you wind up with whatever shows up at the door.

I mean relying too much on Internet and advertising, which attract price shoppers and harder to please clients, instead of focusing on repeat business and referrals.

I mean failing to educate prospective clients about the law and procedure, their risks and their options, or much of anything without the meter running. Low information clients are like low information voters. They don’t understand, they don’t appreciate, and they don’t always make good decisions.

Bad marketing means talking only about features (what you do–practice areas, services, office hours, etc.) instead of benefits (what the client gets–solutions, outcomes, peace of mind, security).

Bad marketing means failing to differentiate yourself from other lawyers in a meaningful and memorable way.

It means failing to surprise and delight your clients with amazing “customer service,” and failing to stay in touch before, during, and after engagements.

Bad marketing also means taking on clients you know you probably shouldn’t, and failing to “fire” clients who prove themselves to be more trouble than they are worth.

Oh yeah, bad marketing also means doing all the right things but simply not doing them enough.

So yeah, bad clients are the result of bad marketing, but this is good news because bad marketing can be fixed and bad clients can be replaced with good ones.

Good marketing starts here

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