You know the answer, you just need someone else to say it

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I heard from an attorney who has been practicing for 15 years and is thinking of leaving his job with a law firm where he feels like he’ll always be the low man on the totem pole.

“I want to start out on my own. My wife [an attorney] is against this; we have 4 kids and a mortgage and she makes considerably less than I do.” He’d read my blog post about the costs of opening your own office but wanted to know more about actual costs. “I need a business license, insurance, an office, and a decent computer system. What’s your estimate for starting up?”

Here’s what I said:

“Okay, setting up the office is the easy part and it’s not expensive. You can get a furnished executive suite or take a spare office from another attorney in return for appearances or overflow. If you have a laptop computer that does what you need, you’re in business. If you don’t, you can finance one for next to nothing from Dell.

Insurance can wait. (That’s not legal advice). So can a lot of other things. One nice thing about low overhead is that it doesn’t take much to stay afloat.

The hard part is the family. You have to work that out. Your wife is scared and perhaps she has a right to be, but most people don’t understand “the itch” and aren’t willing to scratch it. So you have to have a long talk. Or a series of talks. And if you can’t get her on board and you still want to do this, you may have to do it without her permission. And then work your butt off to bring in lots of business.

Sometimes, when I’ve taken big scary leaps in my career, I first asked myself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Will I die? End up in prison? Lose my house? Lose my wife? End up homeless, penniless, on drugs and wanting to die?

When you think about the worst case scenario in all it’s overly dramatic splendor, you realize that most of this is highly unlikely, and whatever does happen is probably something you can survive. Bad things may happen, but you probably won’t die, and as they say, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.

Whatever you decide, don’t second guess yourself. Stay or go, but don’t look back.”

He wrote back and said he’s going to talk to his wife and will keep me posted.

But here’s the thing. He’s a smart guy and surely knew I couldn’t give him an estimate of how much he would need to open his own office. But that’s not the real reason he contacted me. He was reaching out because he’s nervous about the whole idea and wanted to hear a friendly voice who had been there and done that.

Here’s the other thing. I’m sure he also knew the part about making the leap with or without his wife on board. He knew it but needed me to say it.

We all know more than we realize we know, don’t we? But we don’t always trust what we know.

Sometimes we use logic to guide us to the right decision. Sometimes we throw logic out the window and let our gut get us past the fear so we can do what we want to do.

When you face big a decision like this, it’s good to talk to someone who’s been down that path. They can provide information and encouragement and ask you questions that allow you to sort things out. You could also pray on it, write in a journal, talk to experts, and do a lot of research.

But while these might be the mature way of handling things, sometimes you just have to jump and see what happens. As Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing.”

I’ve made many leaps in my legal career and with businesses I’ve started. Things didn’t always work out but I never wound up homeless and I always learned something about myself and about the world I was able to use down the road.

So am I saying you should do what you want to do even when there are lots of reasons why you shouldn’t?

No. I’m not saying that. You are.

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How much cash should you have before you open your own office?

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I just heard from a lawyer who works for a firm and is thinking of going out on his own. He wants to know how much he should have in savings before making the leap.

Well, you need some cash–but a lot less than you might think.

You don’t have to invest in inventory. You don’t need to hire anyone until you have clients. You can get into an office with a couple months rent.  And if you plan to advertise, you don’t have to buy TV time or billboards, you can start with a small budget and scale up.

In other words, you don’t need a big pile of money to open your own practice. What you need is some cash on hand to pay your bills until the practice is producing enough income on its own.

But how much?

Six months? A year? Two years?

I don’t know. I don’t have a formula. But I can tell you this: it’s better to have “too little” than “too much”.

A big pile of money in the bank takes the pressure off of you. You can take your time. Be selective. Relax and do things “right”.

And that’s the problem. If you don’t have to hustle, you probably won’t.

When I opened my first office, I had almost no money in the bank. I sold my childhood coin collection to buy some (cheap) furniture and pay the first month’s rent on a small office. I bought an IBM Selectric typewriter with nothing down and payments of $43.43 per month. I bought some stationery, cards, pleading paper, legal pads, file folders, and pens. I had enough left over to cover a couple of months rent and basic expenses.

I was open for business, but I didn’t have any. No clients.

I took out a cheap classified ad in the local bar journal, seeking overflow work and appearances. And I hustled my rear end off to bring in some clients of my own. At first, I took anything, including work I hated and was barely qualified to handle. Most of my clients paid me next to nothing because that’s all they could afford and I took it because I needed whatever they could pay.

Every month was a struggle to cover my bills. It took five years before I figured things out, but I made it.

I made it because if I didn’t bring in business, I didn’t eat.

Looking back, I don’t know what would have happened if I had had lots of money at the start. Yeah, I do. I probably would have gone through it, thinking I had lots of time, and only then would I have had enough pressure to make things happen.

Your situation is different. You have more experience as a lawyer than I did. You know more about marketing than I did. And you have the Internet, which allows you to ramp things up more quickly. But you also have more competition than I did.

The bottom line on making the decision to open your own practice has little to do with how much money you have at the start, and everything to do with your drive and determination.

How bad do you want it?

If you’ve got lots of energy and you’re willing to work harder than you’ve every worked before, if you’re prepared to do whatever it takes to make it, you’ll make it.

Or you won’t. There are no guarantees. No paycheck, no benefits. Nothing. You have to build it all.

It’s called risk, but risk is the path to reward.

Make sure you have a marketing plan before you open your own practice

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The real formula for success

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Jerome Howard once shared the formula for success. He said, “If at first you don’t succeed, keep on sucking until you do suck seed.”

But that’s not really true. Continuing to do what you’ve always done, expecting different results, isn’t a formula for success. The real formula for success, if there is one, is to figure out what the masses are doing and do the opposite.

Most lawyers earn average incomes and have average practices. If you do what they do, you are unlikely to achieve more than average results. It’s the same for most endeavors. In the investing world, for example, when everyone is buying you should probably be selling.

Most lawyers either don’t have their own website, or if they do, it is severely lacking in (a) valuable content, and (b) personality. Their website is banal, devoid of anything that might attract a prospective client, let alone persuade them to hire the attorney.

Okay, there are degrees of banality, but you get my point: most lawyers don’t get much bang for their website buck.

So, do the opposite of what they do. Make your website a compendium of articles, posts, videos, reports, and other content that shows prospective clients how you can help them, answers their basic questions, and persuades them to call.

Put lots of “you” into your site. Share your opinions, tell your story, and talk about what drives you. Where most lawyers perfunctorily present “just the facts,” make your website an extension of yourself so that someone who visits can get a sense of what it will be like to work with you.

In addition, talk about your clients. Tell their stories. Show how bad off they were before you helped turn things around. Use their comments (testimonials, reviews) to shine a spotlight on your greatness, so you don’t have to do it yourself.

Look at your competition–other attorneys in your practice area and market–and look for ways you can do the opposite of what they do.

Obviously, you won’t always be able to do the literal opposite of what they do. But you can easily distinguish yourself by doing things differently.

If most attorneys see clients five days per week, between 8 to 5, for example, you might stand out in a meaningful way by opening your office for a few hours on Saturday, or by opening early or staying late once or twice a week.

If most attorneys have their staff meet with clients most of the time, you might not have the time to see them all yourself, but if you’re in the office, you could make a point of greeting them when they arrive or wishing them well at the end of the appointment.

Most lawyers do what most lawyers do. Top lawyers do things differently. Study what the top lawyers do. and learn from them. Examine their process, tools, and messaging. Find out how they get new clients, and how they work with them. Talk to them and seek their advice.

But if you have limited access to the best of the best, you can probably figure out what they’re doing by looking at what the masses do and doing the opposite.

How to get your website to make the phone ring

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Why you should always assume the sale

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Whether you’re talking to a prospective client, speaking to a jury, or negotiating any kind of deal, you should always assume that you will get what you want.

Assume that you’ll win the case or get the best deal. Assume that the prospect will sign up, and not just for your entry level offering but for your “full package”.

Always assume the best possible outcome because assuming the sale will help you close it.

Aren’t you setting yourself (and your client) for disappointment? I didn’t say you should tell the client what you expect. In fact, you should do just the opposite. Do your best to lower their expectations, so that (a) if you get what you want, you will exceed their expectations and made them very happy, and (b) if you don’t get what you want, they won’t think that you blew it.

Okay. But shouldn’t you also lower your expectations? Don’t you need to be realistic?

No.

Assume the sale. Assume great things will happen. Assume you will win. Because when you do, you’ll “act as if,” meaning you’ll act the way you would if you knew you would be successful, and that makes it more likely that you will be.

When you act as if you expect to win, you’ll have more confidence. You’ll say things that would be said by someone who expected to win. Your decisions, timing, and body language will be consistent with closing the deal.

Your believe in a successful outcome will help you create that outcome.

Your confidence will influence the parties with whom you are dealing. Even the most hardened negotiator or judge will perceive the spring in your step and the gleam in your eye, no matter how subtle those cues might be, and they can’t help but be affected by it.

Consider the alternative. Consider what a judge might think if you come into his courtroom with body language that bespeaks a lack of confidence in your argument.

Am I saying you should lie to yourself, tell yourself things are going to work out a certain way, even if the facts and logic tell you otherwise?

Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Because assuming the sale helps you close it.

Don’t be reckless. You have to have contingency plans in place and be prepared to respond to other outcomes. But once you’ve done that, put on a happy face and go out and conquer the world.

Always assume your clients will give you more referrals. Here’s how to get them

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Owning your future without breaking any laws

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I met a law student once who told people she was a lawyer. I explained to her that she could get herself into trouble that way, that it’s illegal to tell people you’re a lawyer when you’re not. Why she didn’t know that is beyond me.

I don’t think she had any nefarious intent. I think she was trying to own her future, to motivate herself and take a step closer to making her dream come true.

I see other people who go too far in the other direction. I read an article this morning by someone who described herself as an “aspiring writer”. I’ve got news for her, she wrote the article I was reading, ergo she is a writer.

She may not be getting paid for her writing but she’s still a writer and she should own that.Telling her subconscious mind she is an aspiring writer might keep her “aspiring” and make it less likely she will get paid.

How about you? Do you aspire to fame and fortune or do see yourself already on that path? If you aspire to it, you might not be owning that future. If you already see yourself as the person you are working to become, you’re closer to making your dream become your reality.

Or are you?

You’ve heard people say that we should envision our desired future, in detail. See yourself with lots of zeros in your bank account and lots of clients in your waiting room, if that’s what you want. But if you believe that there is some truth to the Law of Attraction, as I do, telling yourself you’re something you’re not might help you create a future that’s just the opposite of what you want.

Why? Because when you think about yourself raking in the dough, or whatever, or you use affirmations to tell yourself that you are rich and successful and you’re not, your current reality intrudes and tells you otherwise. You start thinking about all of the reasons why you’re not the success you envision, the obstacles in your way, and so on, and your focus is then on “not having” and you attract more of that.

It comes down to the fact that deep down, you don’t (yet) believe that you can achieve that dream.

Since our beliefs create our reality, you’re better off envisioning something you can believe.

Instead of thinking about the results you want (e.g., new clients, money, fame, etc.) think about doing the activities that will bring about those results. See yourself in court, for example, delivering a closing argument. See yourself talking to prospective clients and telling them how you can help them.

If you believe you can do those things, you will attract cases that require you to go to court, and prospective clients who want to know how you can help them. And that’s how you will create your successful future.

Own your future. Just make sure you don’t break any laws along the way.

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You’re good, but not at everything

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You’re smart. And good at what you do. But other people are better at some things and if you’re not hiring them or networking with them or letting them inform you through their books and presentations, you’re working too hard and limiting your growth.

I’m guilty of this myself. I do things I know are not my strengths, because I think I’m “good enough” or out of false economy (“I don’t need to pay someone to do that”). Or I fall into the trap of thinking, “It’s quicker if I do it myself.”

Even if that’s true, speed is not always paramount. Not for the long term, anyway.

There’s an old African saying on point. It says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Some say that TEAM (T.E.A.M.) is an acronym for “Together Everyone Achieves More”. No matter how good an individual is, no matter how much he or she can produce on their own, a team can produce more.

As Aristotle put it, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

What’s more, a team is more efficient because each individual doesn’t have to do their job and everyone else’s. You won’t have as much time or energy to try cases if you also do your own bookkeeping.

Whether you run your own practice or work for a firm or a company, you have a team. They may not be an employee, they may never have worked for you, in fact, but they’re out there, just a phone call away.

Think about all of the tasks that go into doing your job or running your practice. Some tasks should only be done by you. Many tasks, however, are best done by someone else.

Go find them and hire them. Or learn what they can teach you.

Earn more, work less: The Formula

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What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

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One of my favorite quotes is from the late Dr. Robert Schuller, who, in his books and in his sermons often asked, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”

Asking yourself this question forces you to think about what you really want instead of what you think you’re supposed to do. It helps you to bypass your doubts and fears and speak the truth. It asks you to temporarily suspend your logical left brain and listen to your creative right side.

When I’ve mentioned this quote in the past, it has always been in the context of the big picture. Major career changes, for example.

If you asked me this question about my work right now, my answer would be completely illogical. It’s something creative, something I’ve never done before and, as far as I know, something I have no innate talent for. But if I knew I could not fail, it’s exactly what I would do.

Unfortunately, I know I could fail. So I’m not going to do it. Not now, anyway. I’ve got too much other stuff on my plate. They say, “trust your gut,” for a reason, and right now, my gut is telling me to wait.

Odd, isn’t it? My gut is telling me what to do if I knew I would not fail and also telling me to wait? I think God likes to mess with us.

Anyway, this morning, I was thinking about this question and I realized that we can also use it to make smaller decisions.

If you are scheduled to deliver a presentation, for example, and you’re not sure which topic to choose, asking the “cannot fail” question might guide you towards choosing the ideal, albeit not obvious (or logical) choice.

When I say ideal, I don’t just mean something you would prefer to do but are allowing other factors to stop you. I mean ideal in the sense that it might lead to superlative results.

One topic might get mild applause. Another topic, the one you would choose if you knew you could not fail, might attract someone in the audience who is so affected by your presentation that they invite you to deliver it again to a bigger and more influential group.

What if you’re wrong? Yes, that might happen. But what if you’re right?

How to get more referrals from other professionals: go here

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Time is money. Unless it’s not.

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If you bill by the hour, time literally is money. You get paid based on how many hours you work. If you offer flat fees, contingency fees, or anything other than hourly billing, however, time isn’t money. It’s just time.

When you bill by the hour, there are only four ways you can increase your income. You can raise your hourly fee. You can work more hours. You can lower your overhead. Or you can hire people to do some of the work and pay them less per hour than you bill your client.

Unless you use one or more of these methods, you can’t increase your income. Bringing in more clients won’t do it because there are only so many hours you can bill in a day.

If you want to earn more, instead of selling your time, you should be selling your advice or your problem-solving solutions. Not only will you earn more per client, the more clients you bring in, the more you will earn.

If you charge $400 per hour and bill out $2000 per day, you’re earning $10,000 per week, which is nothing to sneeze at. But you’ll never earn $30,000 per week.

I know it’s “hard” to come up with an alternative to hourly billing that protects you when you estimate too low or when contingencies occur, but it’s not impossible.

First, you need to stop thinking like a lawyer and start thinking like an entrepreneur. Instead of trying to eliminate risk, you will intelligently manage risk and use the law of averages to your advantage

If you take on twenty hourly-billed clients who each pay you $5000 to $20,000, or an average of $10,000, you take in $200,000 in gross fees. If you charge flat fees, however, and twenty clients each pay you $15,000, you gross $300,000. Now, if one or two of those twenty clients or cases wind up costing you more than you expected, even double what you expected, you’re still way ahead of the game.

I know I’ve said this many times before but I thought it was time for a reminder. Because time isn’t money. Unless it is.

How to earn more per client: here 

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How much time do you spend on income producing activities?

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What percentage of your day is spent on income producing activities? Before you answer, I must point out that it’s not just work product or billable hours that produce income.

Income producing activities include time spent on personal development. Better skills, better habits, increased productivity, and the like, can do far more to increase your value to your clients than hard work or longer hours.

Take writing for example. Spending 30 minutes a day to improve your writing skills can make you a more effective advocate. It could bring you more victories, bigger settlements, and better deals.

Improved writing skills can also bring you more clients. Your articles, blog posts, newsletters, and other content can do a better job of demonstrating your knowledge, abilities, and experience. It can also give prospective clients and the people who refer them a better sense of who you are and what it would be like to work with you.

Becoming a better writer can also lead to more effective seminars, videos, and presentations. More people will be persuaded by your message and more people will become your client.

You’ll also get faster at writing and be able to produce more content. More content means more traffic to your website and more readers for your articles, reports and books.

Obviously, marketing is also an income producing activity. Get better at networking, for example, and you can bring in more clients and better clients, and open doors to other opportunities to build your practice.

Investing 30 minutes a day to improve your writing or marketing skills may “cost” you $150 per day that you might earn from client work but, over time, your return on that investment could be huge.

Chaw on this for awhile before you answer, “How much time do you spend on income producing activities?”

And remember, the highest paid attorneys work hard for their clients but they also work hard on themselves.

Marketing is easier when you have a plan

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Marketing legal services when you don’t want to

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Real estate investor and business expert Barbara Corcoran said in an interview that chasing unfamiliar new markets is a fast track to failure.

“I’ve watched so many people much smarter than me loses much money as I’ve made. You know what they forgot? They forgot to invest in their own backyard-what they knew. They heard [another] market was phenomenal and off they went, and lost their shirts”.

When it comes to marketing and building your law practice, are you investing in your backyard? Are you doing what you know and understand? Or are you taking on initiatives you know nothing about?

Many attorneys are so inexperienced and timid about marketing that just about everything is unfamiliar. That’s how they get hoodwinked into writing big checks to companies that promise to deliver a steady stream of clients. That’s how they wind up getting poor results from marketing techniques they dabble with and abandon.

Most attorneys who are successful at marketing use only a handful of techniques to find and reach out to prospective clients and referral sources. Ultimately, you’ll probably find that this is true for you. But specific techniques, like getting a more effective website, networking, advertising, and the like, are less important than the strategies behind them, and this is what you have to get your head around first.

It does you little good to commission a new website if you haven’t first bought into the strategy of creating valuable content for people who are searching for it. Networking with other lawyers who might send you referrals is a waste of time if you aren’t committed to helping them.

When I consult with an attorney, I ask about what they are doing presently to market their practice. I want to know which techniques they are using but I’m really listening to find out if they embrace the strategies behind them. If they don’t, I know we have a lot of work to do.

To my dismay, I often find that the attorneys I’m speaking to haven’t accepted the need to do any marketing.

Yeah, that’s a problem.

If marketing is unfamiliar territory for you, before you take the plunge and possibly lose your shirt, you must examine your beliefs about marketing. If you believe you can build a successful practice without it, if your ego makes you say things like, “I shouldn’t have to do any of this,” you’re not going to get very good results no matter which strategies or techniques you use.

On the other hand, if you believe that marketing is essential and you are open to learning what to do and getting better at doing it, your attitude will make all the difference.

You can conquer unfamiliar territory by becoming familiar with it. But you won’t do that unless you want to.

New to marketing legal services? Start here

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