Be different or be gone

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Albert Einstein said, “The one who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The one who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever been before.”

Most lawyers don’t want to walk alone. They don’t want to stand out. They do what other lawyers do, read what other lawyers read, and do what other lawyers do. They even look like other lawyers look.

And that’s why the average lawyer is just average.

If you want to be better than average, if you want to earn a bigger income or leave a bigger mark on the world, you can’t do what everyone else does. You have to be different.

You can’t network in all the same places most lawyers network. You can’t write what they write, say what they say, or do what they do. When they zig, you need to zag.

You often hear me say that you need to tell the world (clients, prospects, referral sources, etc.) how you are better than other lawyers, or how you are different. You have to differentiate yourself and give the world a reason to notice you and choose you.

You don’t have to be a radical, or a visionary. Just different.

Speak out about something. Join a group. Or start one.

Change something about how you do your work. Or change your appearance.

Move away from the mainstream and follow your own path.

Do things other lawyers don’t do and you will go places other lawyers don’t go.

Learn how to differentiate yourself

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Getting the right things done

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Venture capitalist Mark Suster has a rule he lives by that helps him be more productive and successful. The rule: “Do Less. More.” It means doing fewer things overall, and getting the right things done. “Success often comes from doing a few things extraordinarily well and noticeably better than the competition,” he says.

Richard Koch, author of The 80/20 Principle, says, “Everyone can achieve something significant. The key is not effort, but finding the right thing to achieve. You are hugely more productive at some things than at others, but dilute the effectiveness of this by doing too many things where your comparative skill is nowhere near as good.”

Koch also says, “Few people take objectives really seriously. They put average effort into too many things, rather than superior thought and effort into a few important things. People who achieve the most are selective as well as determined.”

So, what do you do better than most? What should you focus on? I asked this question in an earlier post:

Look at your practice and tell me what you see.

  • Practice areas: Are you a Jack or Jill of all trades or a master of one? Are you good at many things or outstanding at one or two?
  • Clients: Do you target anyone who needs what you do or a very specifically defined “ideal client” who can hire you more often, pay higher fees, and refer others like themselves who can do the same?
  • Services: Do you offer low fee/low margin services because they contribute something to overhead or do you keep your overhead low and maximize profits?
  • Fees: Do you trade your time for dollars or do you get paid commensurate with the value you deliver?
  • Marketing: Do you do too many things that produce no results, or modest results, or one or two things that bring in the bulk of your new business?
  • Time: Do you do too much yourself, or do you delegate as much as possible and do “only that which only you can do”?
  • Work: Do you do everything from scratch or do you save time, reduce errors, and increase speed by using forms, checklists, and templates?

Leverage is the key to the 80/20 principle. It is the key to getting more done with less effort and to earning more without working more.

Take some time to examine your practice, and yourself. Make a short list of the things you do better than most and focus on them. Eliminate or delegate the rest.

Do Less. More.

This will help with getting the right things done

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The thrill is gone? Here’s how to get it back

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The thrill is gone. You’ve lost the spark you had when you started practicing. You’re spinning your wheels and getting nowhere fast.

You’re doing okay, but you want to move on up, to an east side apartment in the sky.

Or maybe things aren’t so good. You’re struggling and falling behind.

What can you do? How do you get things moving?

You need to start over. Go back to the beginning and be “new” again. Forget what you have and what you know and begin from square one.

Before you can construct, you have to destruct.

I know, starting over might hold some bad memories for you. It does for me. I was scared to death. Everything was riding on my making a go of things and I didn’t have a clue about what to do.

But I was excited. The world was mine for the taking. Anything was possible.

And I was hungry. Determined. Open to anything. I had nothing, so I had nothing to lose.

You too? Good. Go back to those days in your mind. Be hungry again. Be open again. Be excited again.

Pretend you have nothing. No clients, no lists, no website, no ads. Chuck it all and start from scratch. You’ll add them back one at a time. Or maybe you won’t.

Yes, but what do you do? That’s not really important. If your head is on right and you are truly reborn, you’ll figure it out.

You’ll try lots of things, with no expectations. Some will work, most won’t. You want this thing to work and you’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen.

Get out a legal pad and a pen. Time to start building. Start by taking inventory.

Who do you know? Write down the names of people who might be able to help you. Clients, prospects, referral sources, other lawyers who can give you advice, friends and family who can support your dreams.

What do you know? What are you good at? What are your skills (legal, marketing, management, leadership, speaking, writing, etc.)

What do you want? Write down one or two goals for the month. Forget next month for now; you’ve got a rent payment coming due.

Are you excited yet? Scared? Itching to do something? Good. Pick up the phone and call someone on your list.

Call a friend and tell him you’re re-launching your practice today and just wanted to share the good news.

Call a lawyer and tell her you’d like to meet for coffee and talk about how you can work together.

Call a former client and see how they’re doing. They might need you for something, or know someone they can refer.

Call a current client and tell them how much you appreciate them.

Spend the rest of the day talking to people. Tonight, write down some marketing ideas. Tomorrow, get up early and do it again.

Need a marketing plan? Get this

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Relax, don’t do it, when you want to go to it

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Author Raymond Chandler said something about his writing process that resonates with me. He said, “The faster I write the better my output. If I’m going slow, I’m in trouble. It means I’m pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.”

Writing faster allows him to bypass the resistance he feels when he tries to force his way forward through the story. When he lets go, he gets better results.

I’ve found this to be true in my writing. When I write quickly, I write better and more naturally.

This morning, I thought about this idea in the context of marketing and building a law practice. Many lawyers force themselves to do the things they are told they need to do to achieve success. Pushing through their resistance, however, often leads to poor results.

Some things we resist simply need to be done. For these things, the best advice is to be do them quickly. Like pulling off a bandage, get it over with so you can move on to other things.

When I have to make a call I’m not looking forward to making, for example, I don’t think about it or plan it out, I just pick up the phone and punch in the number. Before I know it, the conversation is over.

Much of what we do is discretionary, however. We don’t have to engage in formal networking, for example, but many lawyers who hate it force themselves to do it. Not surprisingly, they get poor results.

Think about the many possible ways to market your services. As you run down the list, ask yourself how you feel about each method. When you find something that creates a “tug” in your gut, something that feels right to you and fraught with possibilities, that’s what you should do.

There may be only one “reaching out” method that feels good to you when you think about it, but that’s enough. You’ll do it with gusto and you will do it well. You’ll get good at it and your results will multiply.

Don’t push through the sludge and force yourself to do things you hate. Let go of things you resist and allow yourself to glide towards success.

What if nothing appeals to you? What if you can’t stand anything that bears the marketing label?

Some of it you can skip. Some of it you can delegate. But if it has to be done and you’re the one who has to do it, don’t think about it, just rip that sucker off.

Do you need a marketing plan. Here you go

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Would you hire you?

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I’ve got a question for you. Something for you to ponder over this weekend. Don’t just answer and move on, give this a bit of thought because it is important.

The question is, “Would you hire you?” Knowing what you know about your skills and experience and what you really bring to the table, if you needed a lawyer who does what you do, would you hire you?

If you would, great. Write down all of the reasons you would do that. In fact, keep a running list of reasons because you can use these in your marketing. Make sure you do this for each of your practice areas and/or services.

If you would not hire you, why not? If you have doubts about some things, what are they?

Be honest. Nobody else is listening.

What could do you better? What skills do you need to improve or acquire? Where are you “just okay,” when you know you should be great?

Since you might not be able to see these things, or admit to them, you might ask others to help you with this. Ask you clients. Do exit surveys. Do anonymous online surveys and let them tell you what you need to improve. Ask your staff, your partners, and your spouse.

Can you see how this information would be helpful?

Good. Because when you’re done with this question, I have another one for you to answer:

Would you buy your practice?

If it was for sale, would you plunk down the cash to buy it? Would it be a good investment? Or would you just be buying yourself a job, and underpaid one at that?

I don’t have the answers. Just the questions. Because that’s my job, and I’m good at it.

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Would you like that in tens and twenties?

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In law school, my torts professor told us that he was able to close his practice (retire) because he settled a particularly big case and banked a big fat fee.

It was close to 40 years ago, but I remember thinking, “Sounds good to me.”

One reason I chose personal injury over other practice areas is because big cases happen. One case could retire you, and that was my plan.

But it didn’t happen. I had some big cases, but not big enough to let me fold up my tent.

I was thinking about this on my walk this morning and I thought I would ask you a question. Here it is:

Would you rather have a big pile of cash (from any source) or enough cash flow coming in (from any source) to accommodate your desired life style?

Five million dollars in cash earning a four percent return, for example, equates to $200,000 in cash flow per year. Would you rather have the five million or $200k in passive income?

When I was in law school, I would have said gimme the cash. With what I know now, I’d take the income.

Aside from the fact that I’ve put on a few years and my priorities are different today, if I had the cash, I’d be afraid of squandering it. I might spend it or make bad investments. I’d have to spend time nurturing my nest egg, time I could spend doing other things.

How about you? Which would you take? I know, you’d take both. Touche, mon frere.

But this isn’t just a fanciful exercise. There is a point to it.

What you want in the future influences the choices you make today. To some extent, your cash or cash flow preference will dictate the direction of your career.

If you prefer cash, you need to consider practice areas that makes that possible. You might target start ups for clients because they might offer you a piece of their company in return for your services.

If cash flow is your thang, in the short term, you’ll want clients who have ongoing work for you. Business clients rather than consumer clients. For the long term, you’ll look at investing in income producing assets.

You could also start a business. That’s what I did. A series of businesses, actually, that provide me with passive income and allowed me to retire from practicing law.

One lesson in all this is that long term plans are often like an oral contract. They’re not worth the paper they’re written on.

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Are you busy? That’s a shame.

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Being busy isn’t necessarily something to brag about. It’s not a virtue. In fact, it may well be a failing if you’re busy doing things that aren’t important.

It’s better to be productive than busy.

Being productive means you’re producing. Creating value for yourself and others. It means you’re not simply in motion, you’ve got to something to show for your efforts.

What do you want to produce? What results do you want to achieve?

Not someday, now. You can have dreams and long term goals but life is lived in the present, so what do you want to do today?

What are your priorities?

You should be able to cite a few things that you are focused on, and only a few. Because if there are more than a few, it can’t be called “focus”. When everything is a priority, nothing is.

“If you have 3 priorities, you have priorities. If you have 25 priorities, you have a mess,” one writer said.

You may have heard it said that you can do anything you want in life, you just can’t do everything; there isn’t enough time. Fill your day producing things that are important to you, your family, and your clients. If you do that, you will have a productive and happy life, even if you’re not that busy.

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If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right

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Do you enjoy practicing law? Do you look forward to going to work every day? If you do, great. If not, we need to talk.

The purpose of life is to experience joy. At least that’s what I believe. We’re not here to suffer or sacrifice endlessly, we’re here to experience our time on earth as the blessing it is meant to be.

Your work, your marriage, your social life, even your faith, should be fun. Or at least gratifying. If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.

I’m not talking about the little things you have to do to keep the wheels spinning. You may have to plunge out a toilet every once in awhile. Marketing may not be your favorite thing, but you have to embrace it to some extent because without it, you won’t be able to do the work you love.

Okay, I said “work you love” but I don’t really mean it. You don’t have to love your work to be successful at it. You just can’t hate it.

For some, work is an expression of their joy and their purpose in life. It defines them and pulls them forward towards a better future. For others, work is a means to an end. They enjoy it, but it’s not who they are.

And that’s fine.

There will always be things you don’t want to do. There will always be parts of your work that you would rather not do.

As long as most of your time is spent doing things you enjoy, you’ll be just fine.

My law practice wasn’t my life’s purpose. There were a lot of things I didn’t enjoy. But I focused on what I did enjoy: helping people (who appreciated it) and making money. That’s what I focused on. That’s what kept me going.

I delegated the things I didn’t like, or put blinders on and accepted them as part of the deal.

Eventually, though, the negatives outweighed the positives and I knew it was time to move on.

Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” Starting my practice was, at the time, a daring adventure. When the thrill was gone, I found a new adventure.

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Are you investing in yourself?

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Among other things, The 80/20 Principle, one of my favorite books on the subject, tells us to “pursue those few things where you are amazingly better than others and that you enjoy most.” Do them to the exclusion of other things you’re not as good at.

Another author puts it this way: “Do very few things, but be awesome at them.”

To do this, you must work on your strengths, not your weaknesses. Figure out what you do best and find ways to do it even better.

I do a lot of writing. It’s one of my strengths. I invest in getting better at it by reading books and blogs about writing, watching videos, listening to podcasts, and making sure I work at it every day.

I also invest in tools that help me write better and faster. I’ve mentioned Scrivener before and told you that I now do all my long-form writing in it.

I got a new chair recently that helps me sit longer. It helps me get more writing done because I don’t need to take as many breaks.

Yesterday, I went out and looked at mechanical keyboards. (They’re in the “gaming” section.) I’ve been reading about these for awhile and I’m about ready to order one. I’m told they help you type faster and with fewer typos. They also last longer than the rubber membrane keyboards found on most laptops and computer desktops. I like the tactile feel of these keyboards, and the clicky sound they make. (You can get ones that don’t make that sound, if you prefer.)

After that, I’ll probably look at external monitors. A bigger screen will allow me to look at two documents at one time, instead of having to switch back and forth. Maybe dual monitors is the thing.

For a long time now, I’ve been using the track pad on my laptop. I might start using a mouse again.

It’s all about getting that edge. Making a good thing even better.

How about you? What do you do best? How are you investing in yourself to get better?

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When to hire your first (or next) employee

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A sole practitioner asks, “How do I know when I can afford to hire my first employee?”

That depends. If you think like a lawyer, you’ll wait until you have so much work piled up you can’t keep up with it. Hiring your first, or your next employee will be a matter of necessity.

But you’re not just a lawyer. You’re also a business owner and if you think like a business owner, you will invest in the future of your business (practice).

You won’t wait until it’s obvious you need help. You will imagine the future of your practice the way you want it to be and make sure you get there ahead of time.

In other words, you’ll hire staff before you absolutely need them.

I did this. I hired people when I didn’t yet have enough work to keep them busy. I expected my practice to grow and I wanted to be ready.

I did the same thing with office space. I got bigger space before I needed it. I was nervous about signing a long term lease, but I filled the space every time.

Don’t dwell on where you, imagine where you want to be. Buy some big boy pants and know that you will grow into them.

I was once in the real estate business with another lawyer who thought even bigger than I did. He wanted us to lease the penthouse suite in a building on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. The rent was gag-inducing. He also wanted us to hire several secretaries and buy new computers, and the business was barely getting started.

We did it. We invested in the future we expected to create and our investment paid off.

Of course we were also motivated by a tremendous fear of loss. We had huge overhead and had to make it work.

We charged higher fees, took out bigger ads, and worked out tails off. In less than a year, we were paying all of our expenses, had leased top of the line Mercedes, and took home six-figure draws, and this was in the 80’s when six-figures meant something.

If you expect your practice to grow, invest in that growth. Take on bigger space before you need it. Hire more people before you have enough work to keep them busy.

Start with employees, because they are scalable. Unlike a lease, if the work doesn’t materialize, you can easily downsize.

If you’re still not sure, start with temps or part time help. If you share space with another attorney, talk to them about sharing a secretary.

Don’t be reckless, of course. But don’t play it safe, either.

If you wait until you’re sure, you’ve probably waited too long.

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