When is good enough good enough?

Share

When is the document you drafted good enough to file? When is the letter you wrote good enough to mail? When is your case prepared enough to take to trial?

I don’t know but you do.

Maybe not consciously, more like a feeling in your gut. You know something isn’t perfect but you know, somehow, that it’s good enough.

One thing’s for sure, when you have a deadline, the notion of what’s good enough gets hazier. You’ve got to get it done or there will be consequences so you get it done. It is deemed good enough because it has to be.

In a pleasant bit of irony, the pressure of a deadline doesn’t necessarily cause more errors. Instead, it often allows you to cut through the fog and quickly find the right path. When you don’t have time for minutia, it’s easier to zero in on what’s important.

So good enough is a relative term. It means different things under different circumstances. How do you get comfortable with this murkiness? I think it comes down to understanding a few things:

  • Good enough really is good enough. You will get most things right most of the time. Most of what you fear will never happen.
  • While many errors are embarrassing, most aren’t fatal. If you can’t fix something, you’ve got insurance to protect you from the worst case scenario.
  • You can minimize problems with checklists, forms, templates, and boilerplate language, and by having another set of eyes edit or at least look at your work product.
  • You’ll get better over time. Experience will help you minimize errors and improve your ability to make decisions. You’ll also get things done faster because you’ve done the same thing so often.

Ultimately, the best way to find out if something is good enough is to release it into the world. The world (your clients, your opposition, your target market) will tell you if something is good enough. Most of the time, the answer will be in the affirmative.

Are you getting paid for all of your work? This can help

Share

Write your own Yelp reviews

Share

Many lawyers complain about review sites like Yelp. They point out that one bad review can do tremendous damage and that many bad reviews are dishonest and unfair.

You can’t stop the crazies from posting their opinion. All you can do is encourage your happy clients to post positive reviews and drown out the bad ones.

And that’s exactly what you should do.

Whenever a client thanks you or praises you or your staff, they should be asked to post a review. Explain that even a few words can make a difference. Tell them how much you appreciate it and point the way to your “page”.

You should also stimulate more good reviews by conducting surveys at the end of every case or engagement. A few questions will do the trick but make sure to include a field that allows them to add comments. When you see positive comments, ask the client to use those comments to post a review.

There’s something else you can do to get more positive reviews. Write your own.

Hold on, don’t get your panties in a festival. I’m not suggesting anything nefarious or unethical. Just the opposite.

Let me explain.

Go to Yelp or another review site and peruse a bunch of reviews for attorneys. Find some of the good ones, especially of attorneys in your practice area. Copy those reviews into a document. Then, do the same thing for the bad reviews.

Bad reviews? Yes, you’ll want those too.

Next, take the good reviews and pull out phrases and sentences and stories that resonate with you. Imagine that these things were said about you and your practice. Then, use them to write a mock review, saying nice things about yourself from the point of view of an extremely satisfied client.

Grab this faux review and a pile of negative reviews about other lawyers and call a meeting with your staff. Show them the faux review and point out why it so good. Then, let the brainstorming begin.

Ask for suggestions about how you could bring about the kinds of results mentioned in the faux review. What do you need to do or change to earn reviews like this one? Write it down.

What you’re doing is creating a manifesto for your firm. Things to do to make your client’s experiences so incredible they feel compelled to write (real) positive reviews. A standard to live up to from this day forward.

One more thing.

Break out the bad reviews and share them. Have a laugh or two, and thank your lucky stars that these things weren’t written about you. Take those bad reviews and add a bunch of “don’ts” to your manifesto.

Follow your manifesto and you won’t ever worry about reviews again.

Reviews are just one way your clients can help your practice grow

Share

Firing clients out of a cannon

Share

It’s time to do some spring cleaning. Go through your client list and get rid of the clutter.

Start with the ones who owe you money and aren’t paying. You don’t need them. Oh, I know, you care about them. They’re just going through a tough time. They’ll pay you eventually.

Fine, make an arrangement. A payment schedule. Give them more time. But not much. You have a business to run and bills to pay and you can’t be chasing after people to pay you. If they don’t pay, show them the door.

Next up, get rid of the ones who make your life miserable. The complainers. The micro-managers. The trouble makers. Say bye bye to clients who are a nuisance to you and your employees.

What’s that? You need the money? You can’t afford to jettison paying clients no matter how much trouble they cause?

You can’t afford not to.

These clients may fill up your bank account but they are a drain on your psyche. They’re bad for your health and the health of your practice. You can replace them with better clients. If you’re not ready to fire these pain-in-the-ass clients today, make a plan to do it as soon as possible. 90 days at the latest.

(Nature really does abhor a vacuum. When you get rid of some clients, new clients will come your way to fill the void.)

Okay, that’s bad clients. Next, take a look at your “wrong” clients. The ones who have matters outside your primary practice areas. The ones with cases that are too small or who take up too much of your time relative to the fees you charge them. The ones with work you don’t enjoy. The ones who can’t or won’t pay top dollar to have you as their attorney.

Yep, fire them too.

Move them out and make room for more clients like your ideal client. They’re out there and they will come.

Clients owe you money? Here’s how to Get the Check

Share

The $20 rule

Share

Years ago, I established a spending rule for myself. If there was something I wanted and it cost under $20, I bought it.

No research. No sleeping on it. No guilt.

C’mon, it’s just $20. My time is worth a lot more than that. So why spend any of it second-guessing or worrying about spending too much on things I might not need or use?

Capiche?

I shake my head in amazement reading app reviews or book reviews by people complaining about wasting $3 on something they didn’t like or didn’t use. I know, it’s their $3 and they have the right to say what they please. But seriously? If you don’t like it, throw it away. Move on. Stop embarrassing yourself.

And next time, read the damn product description before you click the buy button.

Anyway, I buy a lot of books using this rule, because, well, books. I don’t read all of them and I don’t get a lot out of all of the ones I do read, but I have another rule for that: if I get one tip or idea from a book, it was worth it.

Now, my rule only applies to one-time purchases. If something is $20 per month, that’s a different story. I’m much more careful. Thrifty, even. I take my time. I do my homework. I read reviews and think about whether I really need the item before I make a decision.

Because one-time purchases, even relatively big ones, usually don’t do as much damage as ongoing expenses.

Maybe you spent too much furnishing your office. I’ve done that. At a time when I could ill afford it, I spent thousands more than I needed to. (Keeping up appearances, and all that).

It wasn’t smart but it was a one-time purchase. One and done.

Overhead is another animal.

A hundred dollars a month here, $50 dollars there, before you know it, you might be wasting thousands of dollars a month.

And that could make a big different to your bottom line.

In sum:

One time purchases, especially small ones? Live a little.

Ongoing expense? Get your Scrooge on.

Here’s the formula for building a profitable law practice

Share

It’s not how much you spend, it’s how much you earn

Share

In Oscar Wilde’s “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” Lord Darlington defined a cynic as “a man who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing”.

Not all lawyers are cynics, of course, but many lawyers focus too much on the cost of building their practice and too little on the potential return.

They pinch pennies that might earn a nice profit. They avoid “spending” billable hours executing strategies that might earn them a fortune.

They don’t want to lose money or waste time and their aversion to these risks clouds their vision and stifles their growth.

I know. When I finally started making money in my practice, I lost thousands of dollars to some people I thought I could trust. Having been broke for so long, the loss rattled me and I was afraid to take a chance on losing more.

I shared what happened with a doctor I knew who pointed out that the losses were simply a cost of doing business, that I should accept them and move on. “At the end of the year, if you made more money than you spent or lost, that’s what counts,” he said.

And he was right. Most of what I was doing was working. My practice was profitable and growing, despite the losses and expenses.

It was an important lesson for me, and maybe for you, too. In building a practice, our task isn’t to avoid all risk but to intelligently manage those risks and maximize our return.

If you are too focused on the costs of building your practice, if the idea of losing money or wasting time is an anathema to you, I encourage you to find a way let go of your fear and get comfortable taking more risk.

Because without risk there is no reward. And because it’s not how much you spend, it’s how much you earn.

Referrals provide an excellent return on investment. Here’s how to get more

Share

Walk a mile in the other guy’s pants

Share

Whenever I set up IKEA furniture, the first thing I do is take everything out of the box, spread it out on the floor, and examine and count all of the parts. I make sure I have everything I’m supposed to have before I begin.

Then, I turn to the first page of the instructions and start with step one.

This helps me work quickly and ensures that I don’t leave anything out.

I followed a similar process in my law practice, using forms and checklists to open and close files, manage documents and correspondence and the calendar, and otherwise make sure I didn’t forget anything. (No computers, then. Fun times.)

I’ve seen more than a few attorneys who don’t do use forms or checklists. When they interview a new client, they grab a legal pad and start asking questions.

When I have a writing project, anything longer than a few pages, I organize my ideas and notes and write a simple outline before I begin. Some writers prepare highly detailed outlines, while others prefer to start with nothing more than an idea.

Some are plotters. Some are pantsers—writing by the seat of their pants.

The point is that everyone has their own way of doing things. Do what works for you.

But. . . do yourself a favor. Make a point of looking at the methods used by other people and try some of them.

If you usually fly by the seat of your pants in your work flow, give checklists a try. If you’re organized to a fault, try winging some things. If you follow a specific task management system or have a preferred writing app, try some others every once in awhile.

Your way may work for you. But you might find something that works even better.

Share

Only you can prevent forest fires

Share

We all have problems. Most problems are small and easy to fix. Some problems are potentially crippling and need to be addressed immediately.

An audit, a state bar complaint, a lawsuit, or an unhappy client threatening to leave, for example, are problems that should be at the top of our list of priorities because there’s so much at stake. Even if they have a happy ending, they are distracting and worrisome.

You need to fix these problems, or at least get them under control, sooner rather than later.

Okay, you get this. And you do it. You don’t ignore serious problems, you deal with them. When you see fire, you grab the extinguisher and put it out.

The question is, what are you doing to prevent those fires?

Do you have procedures in place to evaluate vulnerabilities in your practice? Do you use checklists to open and close files? Do you have redundant systems for calendaring critical dates and backing up client data?

Do you schedule time to update your software, library, and forms?

Do you regularly review all of your systems and procedures to make sure they still work?

Just because you haven’t had any major problems recently doesn’t mean you won’t. You need to prepare for every contingency and vigilantly keep watch.

You probably do a good job of doing this on behalf of your clients, but if you’re like many lawyers, you may be a little sloppy when it comes to your own interests. It might make sense to get another set of eyes on your operation to help you stay on track.

Have your accountant and insurance agents do an annual review. Ask an attorney friend to review your office procedure manual in return for your reviewing theirs. Hire a practice management consultant to look at your operation and give you a report.

Because the easiest fires to put out are the ones that never start.

When was the last time you reviewed your marketing plan?

Share

Did your daddy take your T-bird away?

Share

When was the last time you had some fun in your practice? If you can’t remember, you should probably do something about that.

Your employees need to have some fun. Your clients, too. And God knows you need some. Perhaps now more than ever. No matter how serious your work is, there’s always room for Jello.

How, you ask? Maybe there should be a CLE class on the subject. Something like, “The last laugh: humor and the death penalty”. Okay, maybe not.

C’mon, you can do this. Summon your inner child and let him or her, zie or zer, help you to remember what it was like when fun wasn’t a four letter word.

You might come up with things like:

  • Adult coloring books in your waiting room
  • Weekly pizza parties in the conference room
  • Picnics and barbecues for clients and staff
  • Christmas and Halloween parties
  • Casual dress day and themed dress days
  • Bobble heads on your desk
  • Recipes, quotes, puzzles, and humor in your newsletter
  • Take your employees to the baseball park on opening day
  • Contests and drawings with silly prizes
  • An espresso machine in the lunch room

Surprises are fun. Send clients a bill with an unannounced discount. Give them a small gift. Invite them to dinner, just because.

It doesn’t take much to lighten the mood in your practice, help your clients forget their troubles for a few minutes and make your practice a fun place to work.

Referrals are fun. Here’s how to get more 

Share

If Felix Ungar ran your law practice

Share

The Odd Couple’s  Felix Ungar was a neurotic perfectionist neat freak who fussed and bothered about everything. His roommate Oscar was a slob. The two loved each other (friends) but drove each other crazy.

If Felix ran your practice, some good things would happen. Every document would be checked and rechecked before it was filed or mailed. Every document would be backed up (“in triplicate”). Every piece of software and equipment would be up to date. Your desktop would be tidy and dusted, and so would the desktop on your computer.

Your firm would operate efficiently. But eventually, Felix would drive you and your staff crazy, not just with the fussing and tidying but with continual changes in management, operations, and marketing.

Continually changing your forms or procedures, for example, requires continual re-training. There would be daily memos and weekly meetings where the latest micro changes were rolled out.

The employee handbook doesn’t need to be updated every week. The bookcases don’t need to be dusted every day.

Continual changes to your website layout, checklists, forms, intake and file-closing procedures can confuse and frustrate your staff and clients.

You don’t want your practice run by Oscar Madison, of course. He would tolerate too much clutter and disorder. Software would be updated “whenever”. Too many things would slip through the cracks.

You need to try new things and keep old things in working order. But just as the law looks to the reasonable man standard, so should you in the management of your practice.

Felix and Oscar were both well-meaning but neither could have been considered reasonable.

Share

Why you shouldn’t hire a marketing manager for your firm

Share

Wouldn’t it be nice to turn over all of your marketing to someone else? Put a marketing manager in charge of your marketing? Let them take care of bringing in the business so you can concentrate on the legal work?

That may sound good but it would be a mistake. Marketing professional services cannot be delegated. Clients may write their checks to your firm but it is you they are hiring.

Nobody can build relationships with clients and prospects and referral sources like you can. Nobody can speak or network for you. Nobody can make the case for hiring you like you can.

So forget the idea of hiring others to do your marketing.

On the other hand, you can (and should) delegate many marketing support activities.

Have others do most of the leg work, organizing, research, editing, website updating, confirmation emails and phone calls, event planning, slide-making, and other activities that support your marketing.

Under your guidance and supervision.

You need to be involved and make the big decisions. You need to put your imprimatur on every ad, every article, and every email. You need to be in charge of your marketing.

Because clients hire you, not your firm.

Marketing assistants can help. Outside consultants and agencies can help. But you are the marketing manager for your practice.

Marketing starts with the right strategies. Start here

Share