Reba McEntire: “To succeed in life, you need three things. . .”


In the “I wish I said it” category comes this quote from singer, song writer, and actress, Reba McEntire:

“To succeed in life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone, and a funny bone.”

Good advice for everyone, but especially lawyers.

We need to dream big to make it big. You can’t “play” at this profession, you have to go for it. Make big plans and take bold action. Another quote, author unknown, sums it up: “Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting, ‘Holy shit… what a ride!’”

We need a backbone to survive and thrive. Competition is tough, clients are demanding, and the ponderous rules we swore to abide by often make us want to bitch slap someone. Practicing law may be worth all the blood, sweat, and tears, but only if you can hang in there long enough to reap the rewards.

Most of all, we need to lighten up. If you don’t have a sense of humor, if you can’t laugh at the world and have some fun on this journey, you’re doomed. Bob Newhart said, “Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.” Robert Frost said, “If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.” Groucho Marx said, “Anyone who says he can see through women is missing a lot.” C’mon now, that’s funny!


Would you advise your kid to go to law school?


Would you advise your kid to go to law school today? I wouldn’t. Not unless they were passionate about it and could think of nothing else they wanted to do. And then I’d make sure they did it with open eyes.

You know the drill. You’ve seen the articles about the lack of jobs for newly minted lawyers, $200,000 student loans, and the huge number of lawyers afflicted with depression and substance abuse. Lawyers are leaving the profession in record numbers, either because they can’t find a job or because they hate their job.

If you’re making it as a lawyer, if you’re earning a living and not ready to slash your wrists, if you’re reasonably successful and happy, thank your lucky stars. There’s nothing better than helping people and being well paid to do it.

Isn’t that why we went to law school? To help people and make money? That’s why I went. And I’m proud to say I accomplished both of those objectives.

So why did I retire? I practiced for over twenty years, but I was still young. I could have gone for another twenty. Why didn’t I?

There were other things I wanted to do. My priorities changed. I got bored.

Yes, the profession changed, too. There were things I liked about those changes, but many more things I didn’t like. Let’s just say that for me, the thrill was gone. It was time to move on.

How about you? You may be successful and happy, but is there something else that might lead to even greater success and happiness? Perhaps something you toyed with once but rejected because you didn’t have the time, contacts, experience, capital, or nerve?

No, I’m not going to suggest you pull up stakes and start something new. Unless. . . you want to. If you want to do something else, do it. No matter what you lack in resources, no matter what the risks. Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing.”

If you don’t want to completely change course, look for ways to dip your toe in the water. Spend a little time each week dabbling with your secret interest. Read about it, meet some people who do it, and imagine what it would be like if you could do it all the time.

Two things might happen. One, you’ll find that you’re not as interested in the subject as you thought. It’s a passing fancy. This happened to me with real estate investing.

The other thing that might happen is that you discover something that excites you more than you ever imagined. It stirs your creative juices. It makes you feel like a kid again. It makes your heart beat faster just thinking about it.

From this, you might discover a new hobby. Something you enjoy doing on the weekends and in your spare time. It doesn’t take anything away from your law career. In fact, it might add to it. It might allow you to meet new people or develop new skills.

On other hand, you might discover a new calling and you’ll be on your way to a new career.

Has your life thus far been a daring adventure? If not, don’t wait another twenty years. Jump in. The water is warm and it’s time to play.


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Why lawyers should make their beds every morning


I have tremendous respect for our military. What they do to protect us in an increasingly dangerous world is awe inspiring. If you have every served, I sincerely thank you.

Military training is about a lot of things, the most important of which, I believe, is learning to be a leader. Leadership starts with self-discipline, courage, commitment, and honor. It is nurtured by compassion, good habits, and a hell of lot of hard work.

You can’t lead others, however, until you learn how to lead yourself. That’s the lesson I got from the commencement address delivered by former Navy SEAL, Admiral William H. McRaven, to the UT Austin class of 2014. It was brilliant. I hope those who had the honor of hearing this 20 minute talk got as much out of it as I did.

I was directed to this page after reading elsewhere one of Admiral McRaven’s lessons about the importance of making your bed every morning:

If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.

By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.

If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.

And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.

Navy SEALS candidates are challenged to do things few people will ever be asked to do. Their physical training is astonishingly rigorous. But their training does far more than mold their bodies and prepare them for service, it molds their minds and their character and prepares them for life.

Broadly defined, leadership means showing people a better future and then helping them get there. As lawyers, we need to remember that we are more than warriors or scribes, we are leaders. Our clients and our community depend on us to guide them to a better future.

We don’t need military training to learn how to lead, but the military has no doubt turned out more leaders than any other institution. Listening to Admiral McRaven’s stories about some of the lessons he learned in basic SEAL training and his advice to the class of 2014 show us why.


Grow your law practice by training your creative muscles


If you’re like me, you don’t finish every project you start. Not even close.

On your hard drive or in a box in your closet lie countless half-written articles, outlines for seminars that have never seen the light of day, and volumes of clippings related to things you thought you might do someday.

It’s okay. You don’t have to do everything you think of, or finish everything you start.

At some point, though, you have to finish something. Not just because it might be useful to you in your work or another aspect of your life, but because finishing things is the cutting edge of growth.

I know you finish things every day. You settle cases, you draft documents, you produce. But most of what you do in your work is routine and unlikely to lead to anything more than incremental growth.

If we want to take a quantum gigantic leap in our personal and professional life, we need to do things we’ve never done before. We need to create.

Creating strengthens your creative muscles. The more you do, the more you will be able to do. In time, you’ll be able to take on bigger projects, the kind that can create fortunes.

You will also train your subconscious mind to find new ideas to tackle. The more you say “yes” to the ideas your mind serves up, the more ideas it will bring you.

Eventually, you will have an abundance of big ideas, and the capacity to bring them to life.

Go through your electronic notes and physical repositories and find something you can finish. Start with something small, something you can finish today. Then, do something bigger.

It doesn’t matter if what you create is any good, or even whether you use it. What’s important is that you get in the habit of taking on new creative tasks and finishing them.

If you want to grow your law practice, start by growing yourself.


Contingency plans


What would you do if you suddenly discovered you could no longer practice law? Don’t scoff. Many physicians are leaving medicine right now and many others are reconsidering their future.

You have to have contingency plans.

You might get sick or injured and find that you can no longer practice. What will you do?

You might find that market forces have made your practice area unprofitable. (You can now purchase legal services at Walmart in Ontario, Canada. What’s next?)

You might get laid off tomorrow and not be able to find another job at the same pay level.

You might find that you are no longer passionate about practicing law and need to find something else.

What will you do?

Last weekend, the service provider that delivers my emails was shut down by a major DDOS attack. It looks like they’re back online and you should now be caught up with Monday’s and Tuesday’s posts (I took yesterday off).

But what if they went down for good?

It would be a big inconvenience, but it wouldn’t put me out of business. I have contingency plans. My income doesn’t depend solely on my attorney marketing business. If I lose one source of income, I have others.

How about you? What do you do, or what could you do, to bring in other sources of income? Start a business? Write? Consult?

And then there’s the subject of retirement. I started another business because I knew that I was not putting away enough income for retirement. My business now provides me with passive income and I could retire at any time.

I didn’t do this because I’m super smart or responsible. I did it because I was scared. The thought of being too old to work, or not wanting to work but having to do it to pay the bills, scared the hell out of me.

Take some time to think about your future. Create a Plan B and maybe even a Plan C.

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Being good isn’t good enough. Or is it?


Being good isn’t good enough is a stunningly beautiful song about determination and greatness, a personal anthem for anyone who has ever wanted to be the best at something, like the athletes in the forthcoming Olympic games.

For most of us, however, the lyric, “I’ll be the best or nothing at all,” is inspiring, but hardly practical. Who is the best singer, football player, or lawyer?

Besides, we don’t have to be “the best” at what we do to be happy or successful. In fact, we don’t even have to be good.

We can hire people (or take on partners) who are good at things we don’t do well or don’t enjoy. You don’t like research? You’re not good at networking? It doesn’t matter. You’re good at something and that’s what you should focus on.

Speaking of focus, I was reading a review of Daniel Goleman’s book, Focus, about what it takes to achieve excellence. It’s not as simple as “10,000 hours of practice” or intelligence. There are a lot of factors, one of the most important of which is determination or grit.

Think about the successful people you know, especially the ones who aren’t particularly gifted, disciplined, or hard working. How did they make it big when so many others in their field did not? Often, the answer is simply that they wanted it more, and believed they could have it. Their desire, and refusal to settle for anything less, made the difference.

You don’t have to be the best at what you do. You just need to know what you want and keep going until you get it.

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What’s your I.Q.?


What’s your I.Q.? If something doesn’t work out for you, how quickly do you say “I quit”?

I’m sure you’ve hired someone who didn’t work out. You’ve tried software systems or apps that you ultimately rejected. You’ve tried new marketing methods and didn’t stick with them.

How much are you willing to put up with before you say “no mas” and move on?

Of course this is a rhetorical question. Everything is different. It depends on the cost (time and money), the potential return, the complexity, and market conditions. And it depends on you–your knowledge and skills, your finances, your goals, your work ethic.

And so there is no right or wrong answer. But clearly, we have all tried many things we have abandoned that might have produced the desired result had we given them enough time. As Thomas Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

Successful people have a long term perspective. They are willing to invest today for a return that might be a long time in coming. Unsuccessful people want instant gratification. And yet nobody wants to do something that’s not working and not likely to do so. When should you continue and when should you admit defeat and try something else?

One thing you can do to answer this is to find someone who has successfully done what you are contemplating and do what they did. In other words, find models and model them.

Because if they did it, there’s a very good chance that you can do it, too. Just knowing that will keep you going when you otherwise might quit.

Don’t necessarily compare yourself to others. When they started, they may have had more skills than you do, or a bigger network. It may take you longer to accomplish what they accomplished. It may be harder.

I’ve found this to be true in my life, and I am okay with this. If what I am attempting promises benefits that I truly want, it’s okay if it takes me longer. What I care about is knowing that I can do it. If I know that it’s possible, based on what others have done, I’ll keep going. In this case, I have a very high I.Q.

I admit, this is not always true. Sometimes, along the way, I discover something about myself or about the journey and change my mind about what I want or what I’m willing to do. But having that model at the beginning allows me to get started and keep going long enough to make that discovery. As a result, I’ve done more than I ever would have done had I waited for the right time or conditions.

What about innovation? Highly overrated. Most inventors will tell you that what they do is look at something that already exists and see it doing something different. Or, combining two things into something new. Entrepreneurs do the same thing.

If you want a successful law practice, find successful lawyers in your field and study them. Find out what they did to become successful and do that. It may take you longer and you may have a bumpier journey than they had. But at least you know that if you follow the same road map, there’s a very good chance that you will get to the same destination.

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The 80/20 Principle and your law practice


One of my favorite books is The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch. In it, Koch makes the case first articulated as The Pareto Principle, that “a minority of causes, inputs, or effort usually lead to a majority of the results, outputs, or rewards”.

The idea is that as much as 80% of your results may come from 20% of your effort. In the context of practicing law, that might mean that 20% of your clients produce 80% of your income. The actual numbers, however, aren’t necessarily 80/20. They might be 90/30, 60/20, or 55/5. The point is that some things we do bring results that are disproportionate to our effort and that it behooves us to look for those things and do more of them.

Koch 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.”

We’re talking about focus. About doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t. About using leverage to earn more without working more.

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 inventory of where you are today. If you’re not on track to meeting your goals, if you are working too hard and earning too little, the answer may be to do less of most things, the “trivial many,” as Koch defines them, so you can do more of the “precious few”.

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What does “hard work” mean to you?


One day early in my career I was looking for new office space. I found myself looking at a nice space in Beverly Hills that had been recently leased by some young turks (small “t”). They had taken a bit more space than they needed and were looking for a sub-tenant to take over one of the offices.

As he was taking me on a tour, the turk explained to me how he and his partners conducted business. He said, “we work hard and we play hard”. Even though I was going to be a tenant, not a partner or employee, I got the feeling he wanted to see if I was a good fit.

He didn’t elaborate but something told me I wasn’t a good fit. I don’t know what “playing hard” meant to them but I’m pretty sure it didn’t mean they played a lot of chess. Don’t laugh. I like playing chess. A lot.

Anyway, this morning, when I was in the rain room, I recalled this exchange and thought I would ask what you think about this whole work vs. play business.

Here’s my take on it.

To me, work means doing things you don’t want to do. Play means the opposite. My entire method of operation is to try to do as much of what I want to do and as little of everything else.

In other words, my ideal would be no work and all play.

That doesn’t mean goofing off. It doesn’t mean the absence of accomplishment.

It means eliminating or doing less of the things I don’t like or am not good at. I do that by delegating those tasks to someone else or finding creative ways to run my business and personal affairs so as to avoid or minimize them.

We weren’t put here to endure, we were put here to enjoy. There is no virtue in hard work for hard work’s sake.

Anyway, what do you think? How do you define work and play? And do you work hard and play hard or, like me, do your best to enjoy the journey? Let me know in the comments.

By the way, when I called back the next day to ask if I could take another look at the office, the turk told me they had rented it. I was pretty sure that was not true. I think they discriminated against me because I wasn’t cool. I don’t know what gave me away. It couldn’t have been my fez because fezzes are cool.


One year ago I. . . and today. . .


Let’s try a little exercise. I want you to think back to one year ago. Look at your calendar to remind yourself where you were and what you were doing. Sort your notes by date. Read your diary.

What did you do or change one year ago that has positively affected your life today? It doesn’t have to be exactly one year ago. Close enough is close enough.

Write it down.

“One year ago, I. . .” and then describe how your law practice or personal life has improved as a result. Something like this:

One year ago. . .

“. . .I started. . . and today, I. . .”.

“. . .I improved. . . and today, I. . .”.

“. . .I changed. . . and today, I. . .”.

“. . .I updated. . . and today, I. . .”.

“. . .I stopped. . . and today, I . . .”.

You might find it easier to work backwards, that is, to think about something positive in your life right now and see if you can relate it back to something you did last year. For example, if you are seeing an increase in new clients today, you might realize that last year at this time, you began reading my blog or you purchased one of my courses. (Smiley face with big grin goes here.)

Anyway, if you can find something you did last year that has benefited you this year, it should be noted and reflected upon. How did you come to make that change? What precipitated it? What has been the best part? What might you have done differently or better?

Now, think about the future. How can you amplify what you did last year to make it even better this year? What should you continue doing and what should you consider changing? What should you do more of and what might you cut back on?

By now, you have probably figured out that the point of this exercise isn’t really to get you to look back so much as it is to get you to look forward.

What could you do today so that one year from now, you can look back at this date and see how you effected a positive outcome?

Go on, give it some thought and write down your answers. What could you start, improve, change, update, or stop doing today?

Send me an email next year and let me know how it worked out.

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