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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How to save time without looking like a jerk

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If you spend a lot of (non-billable) time on the phone and find that all that chatting is keeping you from doing other work, I have a suggestion. Okay, two suggestions.

First, whenever you’re on the phone keep a clock or timer in front of you. Being aware of how much time you spend on each call will help you reduce that time.

If you can cut the average call from 15 minutes to 10, for example, and you are on ten calls each day, at the end of the day, you’ll reclaim 50 minutes.

The second suggestion will allow you to cut calls short without appearing rude.

All you have to do is to make a point of announcing at the start of the call that you “only have five minutes” or that you have an appointment coming up and you “have to make this quick” or something along those lines.

By telling them in advance that you have limited time, and giving them the reason (e.g., an appointment, a client waiting, another call you have to make, etc.), you have the excuse you need to cut the call short without making the other party feel slighted.

Do this at the start of every call. Every meeting, too. Always be in a hurry. Always have something else you need to do. Not only will this save you time, it has the added benefit of enhancing your posture and perceived value.

Successful people are busy. They have places to go and things to do. They have other clients, other appointments, and other people who want their attention. They are truly “in demand” and when clients and others perceive this about you, they will be more likely to see you as worth more than others.

That means you can charge more. It means you will be more likely to get referrals. It means you will be asked to speak at events. And it means that you will be less likely to be asked for free advice.

Being busy will increase the demand for your services and allow you to charge more for those services.

So, what are you waiting for? Don’t you have something else to do?

How to earn more and work less

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Finding your badassery

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If you’re ready to take your practice to a much higher level, you might have to make a few changes.

Changes in your attitude and your policies. Changes in how to present yourself to prospective clients.

First up: accessibility. You shouldn’t be available to everyone who calls. You’re busy. Highly sought after. Important. And your time is valuable. When someone calls for the first time, they don’t get to speak to you. Maybe not the second time, either. Maybe not until their first appointment. And maybe not even then.

The same goes for email and social media. You shouldn’t reply to every email or every comment on your blog. In fact, you should consider turning off comments altogether.

You can’t be seen spending hours on social media. Nobody wants to hire a lawyer who has time to play games, post pictures of their dinner, and share every detail of their life. Yes, they want you to be “real” but if you’re too real, you’ll scare them off.

Next up: money. You need to charge top dollar and you need to get most or all of it up front. No explanations, no exceptions, if they want to hire you, this is how it works. How can you expect anyone to see you as the best of the best if you do otherwise?

On that note, prospective clients shouldn’t be made to think that hiring you is a given. You are selective. You don’t work with everyone. There is a waiting list and you turn down more clients than you accept. Prospective clients need to fill out a questionnaire and convince you to accept them as a client.

You don’t go to see clients, they come to see you. You don’t use an “away” message in your email because it’s nobody’s business whether you are or aren’t in the office. You don’t explain when or if you will respond to them. You have people they can talk to, but not you.

You’re a rockstar. Everyone wants you, but not everyone can have you.

Rockstars have lots of people who want to hire them and are willing to pay more for the privilege. When you’re a rockstar, clients respect you and your time. They won’t pester you with silly questions or ask for freebies. They’re thankful they can work with someone of your caliber. They don’t want to hear you say, “No soup for you!”

They’ll tell their friends about you but let them know that you are very selective. They might have to wait in line, and even then, you might not accept them as a client.

Of course, you have to deliver. You have to offer services (and service) that are different and better than what everyone else offers. And you have to specialize because people won’t believe that you’re “the best” at everything.

Okay, you get the idea.

Can anyone pull this off? Probably not. You would have to have a little badassery in you to begin with. But maybe you can adapt parts of this approach, and add parts later.

The point is that people want what they can’t have. They don’t want any attorney, they want the best. They want expensive things that not everyone can have. They want to be an insider, a groupie, someone with a backstage pass.

If it’s too easy to have it, they don’t want it as much. So don’t make it easy.

Because if it’s too easy, they might conclude that you need them more than they need you.

The keys to building a successful law practice can be found here

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Is your wicked past hurting your career?

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Last night my wife and I watched the 1955 version of “To Catch a Thief” starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It’s an enjoyable diversion, even if just for the scenic French landscapes and beaches.

Grant is a reformed jewel thief, John Robie, who was in his day known as “The Cat”. He has paid for his crimes and is trying to live a quiet retirement but when a series of high-profile jewel heists occur, the police and the townspeople believe that “The Cat” is up to his old tricks.

Grant seeks to prove his innocence and redeem his name by using his skills and knowledge to catch the real thief in the act.

The central theme of the film is the fragility of reputation. It’s hard to build, easy to lose, and next to impossible to regain.

Our reputations are what people know about us, or think they know, and what they say or do as a result. Jeff Bezos was speaking about reputation when he said, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

What, pray tell, are your clients saying about you?

You have spent years building your reputation. It is your most valuable asset. I hope you have been equally diligent about protecting it.

We must all watch what we say and what we do. We must continually listen to what the town’s people are saying about us. I think you know that. Lawyers are by nature cautious and closed mouth about things that don’t need to be said. I think this is one reason why so many lawyers are loathe to use social media.

That doesn’t mean we can merely let our work speak for us. Clients hire lawyers they know, like, and trust, and you have to make some effort to get them to do this.

So yeah, there are risks and we have to take them. Fortunately, building your reputation doesn’t require the elimination of all risks, only the intelligent management of them.

So be smart. Don’t don’t steal any jewels. Or piss off the wrong people.

And remember what the watch commander on the police drama, “Hill Street Blues,” always said at the end of each briefing: “Let’s be careful out there”.

Get clients to know, like, and trust you. Here’s the formula

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Being the best at what you do isn’t good enough

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Being good at what you do isn’t good enough. Even being “the best” isn’t good enough, according to the late Jerry Garcia who once said, “You don’t merely want to be considered the best at what you do. You want to be perceived as the only one who does what you do”.

The only one who does what you do. That’s your mission.

Tough assignment? Not really. The key word is “perceived”. It’s how the world sees you, not necessarily how you really are. It’s marketing, plain and simple. Packaging. Positioning.

On the other hand, maybe it’s not so difficult to literally be “the only one who does what you do”. You are a unique human being, after all. Others may have a similar set of skills. They may offer the same services and deliver the same benefits.

But they aren’t you.

Your task, then, is to take what you do and express it through the prism of your persona. Incorporate the unique essence of who you are into what you do.

Remember, clients buy “you” before they buy your services. Show them who you are and you will have no competition because there is no one like you.

The formula for creating your “unique selling proposition”

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7 out of 10 lawyers agree

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Remember that toothpaste commercial from years ago claiming that, “7 out of 10 dentists agree. . .”? What if I told you the real number was “8 out of 10”? Why on earth would they low-ball it?

Actually, I don’t know what the real numbers were. They might have been “8 out of 10,” “9 out of 10,” or nearly “10 out of 10,” but they would have been smart to use a lower number.

Because “7 out of 10” is more believable than “9 out of 10”.

“7 out of 10” has verisimilitude. The appearance of truth. Which is a critical element in sales and persuasion. Because if your prospective client, reader, judge or jury, doesn’t believe your assertion or promise, it doesn’t matter that it is true.

As long as there are no legal or ethical reasons why you shouldn’t do it, it’s better to understate the truth.

I guess you could call this “reverse exaggeration”.

Anyway, remember this for your presentations, negotiations, advertising, motions, and anything else where you want to persuade someone to do something. If the real numbers or facts stretch credulity, lie (in a positive way) to tell them something they will believe.

Add qualifiers if you must. Say, “More than. . .” or “Better than. . .” before your statement, to cover your behind and let your conscious be clear. But as long as what you say is true, it doesn’t matter that it’s not completely accurate.

Okay? Make sense? Good stuff.

Now before I let you go, you’re probably wondering what it is that 7 out of 10 lawyers agree on?

You probably think I’m going to say “nothing”. Lawyers are a bunch of cantankerous, argumentative, pugnacious souls, genetically incapable of agreeing on anything.

But this isn’t true. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

Most lawyers, more than 7 out of 10 I am sure, agree about nearly everything. No, not when it comes to arguing a client’s case or negotiating their lease. We do the job we’re paid to do. I’m talking about things like marketing and image, the things that allow us to stand out from other lawyers so that clients will choose us instead of them.

When it comes to marketing, most lawyers look the same.

You could take their ads, marketing documents, presentations, and the like, put another lawyer’s name on it, and no one would be the wiser.

The reasons aren’t important. What’s important is that because 7 out of 10 (or is it 8 out of 10?) lawyers conform and follow the same (narrow) practice-building and career-building path, most lawyers never get past “average”.

Average activities, average results, average income, average lifestyle.

If you want to stand out from other lawyers and have more clients choose you, if you want to have a better than average lifestyle, you need to be one of the 3 who isn’t like the other 7.

Let everyone else do what everyone else does. You be one of the few who doesn’t.

To be different, start here

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Who are you? Who who who who?

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I used to talk about how clients use the yellow pages to choose an attorney. I said it was often a matter of chance because the client would open the book and see page after page of listings, most of which looked and said the same thing.

In fact, most of the ads were interchangeable. Take the name and contact information from one attorney’s page and swap it for another attorney’s page and nobody would be the wiser.

And that’s true today when it comes to websites. Or TV ads, brochures, articles and blog posts, and everything else most attorneys put out into the world.

It’s all the same. Most attorneys in a given practice area offer the same services and make the same promises and nobody stands out. Clients might as well close their eyes and point to the first page or listing or article they see. At least that’s how they feel about it because there are scant reasons provided for choosing one attorney over the others.

You need to give people those reasons.

Tell them why you’re different and better and why they should choose you instead of your competition.

But there’s something else you should do. If you want to stand out you need to show people not just what you do but who you are.

People want to know if you’re someone they will like and trust. They want to know what it would be like to work with you.

Because people buy YOU before they buy your services.

So talk about yourself. On your website, blog, newsletter, in interviews and ads, talk about your background, family, and hobbies. Show them what you look like and sound like. Mention your favorite sports team, and your favorite type of restaurant.

Share your views on popular topics in your niche market or community. Tell them your philosophies for building your practice, your exercise habits, or your favorite productivity apps.

Talk about what you did for a living before law school, or what you studied in school. Do you play a sport? Are you a big Star Wars fan or do you prefer Star Trek?

Don’t firehose them. A photo or two, a paragraph or three, is all you need.

Show them who you are because who you are is unique, even if what you do is not.

More on how to stand out–here and here

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You’ve got to be a little abnormal

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In Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein asks Igor whose brain he gave him, which brain he had just transplanted into a very large and very agitated Gorilla.

Dr. Frankenstein: Whose brain was it?
Igor: Abby someone
Dr. Frankenstein: Abby someone. Abby who?
Igor: Abby. . . Normal

I’ll bet that’s how some people think lawyers are created.

Okay, no. Most lawyers are normal. Ridiculously normal. Bland and boring normal. And generally, that’s a good thing.

Society doesn’t want weird lawyers or crazy lawyers. We don’t want overly flamboyant lawyers or lawyers who say or do things that make us want to run and hide.

We may embrace the crazy in our celebrities, but not in our professionals.

And yet, a little bit of Abby Normal is a good thing in a lawyer.

It’s true.

If you don’t have something that makes you stand out, well then, you won’t stand out. And standing out is critical because if you don’t stand out, you don’t get chosen.

George Bernard Shaw said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

(Maybe we need to re-think this “reasonable man” thingy.)

Anyway, if you want to stand out, be unreasonable about some things. Not big things. Little things, like wearing bow ties, taking up an unusual hobby, or publicly advocating a controversial cause.

Find something that makes people see you as different. And then make the world adapt to you.

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What word or phrase defines you?

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The US Navy says its core values are “Honor. Courage. Commitment”. It is what they stand for, their ethical compass. It is also a promise, to themselves and to the country they protect.

What’s yours?

What is the one word or short phrase that defines you in the context of your career or practice?

What’s your thing?

Mine is “referrals”. When an attorney wants to know my core marketing philosophy, it is that every law practice should be built on a foundation of referrals.

When you hear my name, I want you to think “referrals”. That’s how I built my practice and if I could only teach you one marketing method, referrals would be it.

How about you? When I hear your name, what do you want me to think? What is the word or phrase that defines you and your core beliefs?

It might have something to do with your practice area, target market, or your reputation. It might relate to your biggest passion, a personality trait, your mission or long term goal.

Picture your word or phrase as a banner above the front door to your office or at the top of your website. What does it say? Write down the first thing you thought of.

Whatever it is, you don’t need to make it public. You may at some point, but this isn’t an exercise in creating an advertising slogan or marketing message. It is a way for you to go inside yourself and find your core.

Later, you might use it to create a slogan or commercial message. For now, emblazon it only on the insides of your eye lids–for your eyes only.

Look at it often and ask yourself how it makes you feel? Does it make you proud? Content? Excited? Does it feel like the right choice for you?

If it feels good, live with it for awhile. Eventually, but only if you want to, you can use it to fashion something for your clients and prospects.

My website banner says, “Earn More. Work Less.” That’s my promise. The benefits I offer.

It’s the “what”. Referrals are the “how”.

When you’re ready, this will help you create your marketing message

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