Go to law school and join the Billionaire Boys Club

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I read an article about the top five industries in which the world’s self-made billionaires made their fortunes. Financing and investments were at the top of the list with a little over 19%. Surprisingly, technology wasn’t one of the top five.

Not surprisingly, the legal industry wasn’t on the list. In fact, I can’t name any lawyer who became a billionaire practicing law. I do, however, know of more than a few billionaires who have a law degree under their belt.

Practicing law may not be a direct path to earning ten figures, but it clearly is an indirect path. Your law practice can introduce you to entrepreneurs and others who are on their way to joining The Billionaire Boys Club, and if you play your cards right, you can come along for the ride.

When you know the right people, you can use those contacts as a stepping stone to wealth. Even if they are not your clients, being a lawyer can give you access to people, information, advice, and the opportunity to invest in other people’s ideas or go to work for their companies.

My father pointed this out to me when I was in high school. He wanted me to go to law school, something I was pretty sure I did not want to do. He told me I didn’t necessarily have to practice law, my law degree could open doors for me and prepare me for anything else I might want to do.

I did practice law, for more than twenty years, and it seems he was right. I made a lot of money in my law practice, but I’ve made a lot more doing other things.

How about you? Is being a lawyer your end game or do you see it as a stepping stone to something else? Do you want to join the billionaire club or would you be happy with tens of millions?

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Maybe we’re not using our calendars enough

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Most people use their calendar to record appointments and deadlines and little else. Followers of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology see the calendar as a place to record the “hard landscape” of their life, meaning only those things that need to get done on specific days and times.

We might want to start using our calendars more liberally.

In an interview, Stanford professor, Jennifer Aaker, author of The Dragonfly Effect, said that, “people who spend more time on projects that energize them and with people who energize them tend to be happier. However, what is interesting is that there is often a gap between where people say they want to spend their time and how they actually spend their time.”

Those gaps, she says, occur primarily because we don’t write down those activities. Adding them to a to do list is good; scheduling them on a calendar is even better:

“When you put something on a calendar, you’re more likely to actually do that activity–partly because you’re less likely to have to make an active decision whether you should do it — because it’s already on your calendar.”

If you want to get in shape, for example, instead of merely planning to exercise after work, put it on your calendar.

I have long recommended scheduling marketing time (even 15 minutes a day) on your calendar as an appointment. If you do this, you know it makes it much more likely that you will do it. Of course you have to treat it like a real appointment, a “must do,” and not a “would be nice to do”.

In a nutshell, using our calendars to schedule time for people and projects that energize us and are consistent with our goals can make us happier and more productive.

What might you add to your calendar?

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The key trait Steve Jobs had that most lawyers don’t

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In a recent talk, author Malcolm Gladwell said that there was one trait that distinguished Steve Jobs more than any other. It wasn’t intelligence, creativity, or resources. It was a sense of urgency.

Gladwell told about the time Jobs saw the prototype for the first computer mouse and was told it was still in the very early stages of development. Jobs got excited and demanded his team build a mouse and graphical user interface, even though they told him it couldn’t be done. They did the impossible and the result was the Macintosh computer.

His sense of urgency made Jobs nearly impossible to work for, but heralded his monumental success. He approached life like a little kid, demanding what he wanted, when he wanted it, no matter the cost or risk.

His refusal to settle for anything less changed the world.

Lawyers are often demanding of themselves and others but I don’t think you could say we have a well-developed sense of urgency. We’re too caught up in the risks, the costs, and the illogical nature of doing the impossible. And yet each of us is capable of summoning this sense of urgency when we need it.

Look at what we’re able to accomplish in the days and hours leading up to a vacation. Weeks of work gets done, our desk tops are finally clean, and we’re able to delegate a mountain of tasks and responsibilities we were previously convinced nobody else could do.

Can a sense of urgency be developed? I think it can, but only if we are willing to re-evaluate our priorities. As long as “avoidance of risk” is job one, we’re never going to find out what we’re capable of. As long as “thoroughness” trumps immediacy, we’ll always find ourselves one step behind.

To develop our sense of urgency, we have to be willing to let go of our beliefs about what’s possible. Start with little things. If you believe something will take two weeks to complete, for example, set a deadline of one week and get it done. Once you believe in the impossible, your team will start believing.

Of course Jobs didn’t merely demand urgency, he also demanded near perfection. More often than not, he got it.

Was it because he believed that what he wanted was possible? Did he just declare what he wanted, hoping his team would figure out how to make it happen? Did he have a gift for seeing abilities in others they could not see in themselves? Did his team do the impossible because they didn’t want to suffer his wrath?

I don’t know. All I know is, life is short and without a sense of urgency, we will never truly know what’s possible.

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An easy way to write a blog post

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When I don’t know what to write about, sometimes I find ideas by looking at famous quotations. Today, I thought I would show you how easy it is to write a blog post starting with nothing more than a random quote.

I did a search for “success quotes” and clicked on the first site in the list. I looked through the first few quotes displayed on the page and this one caught my eye:

“Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it. –Bruce Lee

Don’t try to be someone else, Lee says. You are unique and valuable and need nothing else. Success isn’t a function of mimicry, it is a function of being true to who you are. Not only is this the best path to success, it is the only path.

This is encouraging, isn’t it? To be told by one of the most successful martial arts practitioners in our lifetime that we have what it takes to be or do whatever we want?

On the other hand, haven’t we always been told to better ourselves by associating with successful people in our field and following in their footsteps? Aren’t we encouraged to study history and read biographies of successful people so we can learn from their stories and avoid their mistakes?

I don’t think these messages are inconsistent. We can and should learn from others, not to copy them but to improve ourselves.

Lee had great teachers and sparring partners. He spent many years training and perfecting his technique and eventually created his own style of martial arts. He learned from many others, but when he stepped onto the mat to fight an opponent, he didn’t try to emulate them. He made his mark on the world by showing us who he was.

So. . . there you go. A blog post, from scratch. From a quote. I could add some observations about how this might apply to marketing a law practice, but it’s not necessary. The lesson touches on a universal theme.

When you write a blog post or article for your list, you don’t have to talk about the law. In fact, you probably shouldn’t talk about the law most of the time, even if you’re writing for other lawyers. Write about things that resonate with you and you’ll find an audience of people who want to hear what you say.

Be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself.

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It’s better to own a law practice than to run one

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An article in our local newsletter featured a neighbor who recently changed careers. I don’t know what they did before but a couple of years ago, they bought a fast food franchise and they recently opened a pizza restaurant in the food court of our local mall.

The couple have two young children and my wife commented that running two restaurants sounds like a lot of work. I pointed out that running a restaurant isn’t the same thing as owning one.

As the owner, you have employees who run the day to day operations. You may check in once a day, once a week, or once in awhile, but as long as you have good people working for you, and good people supervising those people, there isn’t lot for the owner to do. And, if you get big enough, you could structure things so that you don’t have to do anything at all.

Many restaurant chains are owned by investment groups. The owner-investors are not involved in the daily operations.

Most small businesses, and that includes most small law practices, aren’t there, however. The owner, or the partners, are still very much involved in running the business, and running a business is a lot of work.

Would that it could be otherwise.

What if you didn’t have to go to the office today, or for the next six months? What if the practice ran without you?

That would be nice, wouldn’t it? Scary, but you could get used to it, right?

Granted, a law firm isn’t a restaurant. Lawyers have more rules to follow with respect to supervising employees and such, and great penalties if they don’t, so you might never be able to go home and be a passive investor.  But you can come close.

And you should.

Because then, you could use your time any way you want to, to do anything you want to. You could even go to work if you want to, but because you want to, not because you must.

I encourage you to work towards this ideal. Work towards the point where other people do most of what needs to be done. You can (eventually) hire all the lawyers and legal assistants and other employees you need, and people to supervise them.

Seriously, put this on your list of goals. Because it’s better to own a law practice than run one.

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When the yogurt hits the fan

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You might lose a huge case. Or have your best client fire you. It might be an injury or illness, a financial disaster, or a drug or alcohol problem.

I don’t know what it might be, but whatever it is, it doesn’t have to destroy you. There are two other possibilities:

1. You will survive. You will come back,bigger and better than before. You’ll learn from the experience and be stronger person because of it.

Or. . .

2. You’ll start over. If the worst case scenario rears it’s ugly head, as long as it’s not fatal, you will start a new chapter in your life.

You may lose your license, but you won’t lose your knowledge and abilities. You’ll do something else for work. Maybe something better. Maybe something you’ve always wanted to do but didn’t have the courage or the time. Now you do.

Life goes on.

It’s not the bad things that happen to us, it’s what we do about them. We can let them hobble us, or we can see them as lessons and opportunities. We can wallow in self-pity or we can suck it up and get back in the game.

Alexander Graham Bell had many failures in his career. But he didn’t let those failures define him or decide his fate. He didn’t dwell on the past, he kept moving forward, and he encouraged others to do the same:

“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”

If you have something bad going on in your life right now, figure out what you can do about it and do it. If there’s nothing you can do, move on. Start again. Or do something else.

Yes, you might fail again. Things can get worse. But they can get better, too. F.W. Dupee said, “Progress always involves risk; you can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.”

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Yes, it is your fault

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We all know people who live a life of blame. When bad things happen, it’s someone else’s fault. It’s the economy. It’s the government.

I got screwed by the judge. The other side’s attorney is an [expletive]. My client didn’t listen.

But as long as you blame someone or something else for what ails you, you can’t improve anything. Stuff happens and it’s not your fault.

But it is your fault. And that’s good because it means you can change things.

Jack Canfield says, “If you want to be successful, you have to take 100% responsibility for everything you experience in your life.”

If you don’t take responsibility, you relinquish your power. You become a victim. You go through life letting things happen to you because, of course, there’s nothing you can do about it.

But we all have a choice. We can choose to say, “oh well, that’s just the way it is,” or we can choose to accept responsibility and reclaim our power.

Sure, bad things happen. There is evil in the world. Sometimes the bird of happiness craps on your head. But you don’t have to accept any of it.

Canfield says, “If something doesn’t turn out as planned. . . ask yourself, “How did I create that? What was I thinking? What were my beliefs? What did I say or not say? What did I do or not do to create that result? How did I get the other person to act that way? What do I need to do differently next time to get the result I want?”

Okay, so people are out of work and can’t afford to hire you. Those are the circumstances. You can’t change them. But you can change what you do about it.

You can do things to attract clients who are working and have money. You can change your practice area. You can get set up to accept credit cards. You can do a better job of marketing than other lawyers in your market.

There are many things you can do, but only if you first accept responsibility.

Better billing and collection practices: go here

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Hard work: what is it and why is it important?

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Everyone and their brother says that hard work is a key to success. But can someone tell me what hard work means and why it is important?

Is hard work defined by effort or number of hours worked? If you aren’t exhausted at the end of the day, does that mean you can’t be successful? If you are successful anyway, does this mean you don’t deserve it?

Does hard work mean doing things you don’t like or aren’t good at? What if certain things come easily to you? What if you love your work? Do those not count?

Does hard work mean persistence? Does it mean continuing to do things that aren’t working? So we can never admit defeat and try something else? We can’t get help?

Hard work, eh? Does it mean taking work home with you every night? Missing your kid’s soccer games or piano recitals and feeling bad about it? Does hard work mean pain, regret, and sacrifice?

I don’t know what it means. Or why it’s important.

What’s wrong with working smart instead of working hard? What’s wrong with getting lucky, having the right connections, or even marrying the right person?

Wait, I get it. Hard work is for those who aren’t naturally skilled, don’t know how to work smart, and never seem to have any luck. It’s a fail safe. When nothing else works, work hard.

Whatever that means.

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If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough

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I was watching auditions for The X Factor. One of the thousands of people who showed up for a chance to become a star was asked what she thought about the seemingly impossible odds of winning the competition. In response, she said, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.”

I immediately wrote that down. And then I thought about it. I thought about how most people play it safe. They give up on their childhood dreams and reconcile themselves to the pursuit of sensible goals.

What fun is that? How likely are we to achieve greatness when we settle for so little?

I have a dream. Something I’ve wanted to do since I was a wee pup. (No, not sing.) But I decided a long time ago that my dream was not possible, that even trying would have to wait.

I talked myself out of following my dream because the whole idea was frightening. What if I fail? If I don’t try, I can’t fail, so it’s better that I don’t even start.

The fear we feel when we contemplate our dreams tells us our dreams are important. If we didn’t care deeply about the dream, there would be no fear. We would shrug it off as a passing fancy.

What dreams are you afraid to pursue because you are afraid or because they seem impossible?

Chicago architect Daniel Burnham famously said, “Make no small plans for they have no power to stir men’s blood”.

Make no small plans. Thing big and take big chances. Get excited and get busy, because even if you are a spectacular failure, you’re still spectacular.

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Successful attorneys do what unsuccessful attorneys aren’t willing to do

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In an interview, billionaire John Paul DeJoria (Paul Michell hair products, Patron tequila) was asked about the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people. He said something you may have heard before: “Successful people do all the things that unsuccessful people don’t want to do.”

When DeJoria was a young man working in a dry cleaning shop, this meant doing things he was not hired to do like sweeping floors or cleaning shelves. His employer noticed his initiative and gave him a raise.

What about attorneys? What is it that unsuccessful attorneys are unwilling to do?

Or, putting it another way, what is it that successful attorneys are more willing to do, or do more often?

Of course the answer is different for everyone. You may do things in your practice that other attorneys would never consider. You may look at something the attorney down the hall does and shake your head.

We each become successful in our own way. But we must ask ourselves what we might accomplish if we were willing to do things we have not been willing to do before.

Like what? You tell me.

Make a list of things you don’t or won’t do. You can add the reasons if you want. Here are some suggestions:

  • Advertise (I might lose money, it is undignified, it is unethical, it is not permitted)
  • Go out at night/take time away from my family (networking)
  • Do any marketing/sell (I shouldn’t have to, it’s not professional, I don’t have time)
  • Hire employees (Cost, compliance, risk, headaches)
  • Delegate (Risk, easier to do it myself, nobody can do it as well)
  • Take work home with me
  • Adopt new technology (Time, I’m old fashioned, the cloud is risky, cost)
  • Engage on social media (Many reasons)
  • Start a new practice area (I shouldn’t have to, learning curve, competition)
  • Open an office (Cost, I like working from home)
  • Work from home (I like to be around people, clients need to see me in an office)
  • Open a second office (Cost, risk, time)
  • Commute more than thirty minutes (Time, cost, stress, health concerns)
  • Move to another city
  • Work longer hours
  • Read outside of my field (Time, not interested, not needed)
  • Take a certain type of case or client
  • Operate in an ethical gray area

Next, go through your list and look for things you might be willing to re-consider. Think about some attorneys you admire. Are they doing any of these things? Perhaps you could ask them how they manage it. Did they have to force themselves to start? Do they do it today even though they dislike it? How has doing this helped them reach a new level in their practice?

You might find something you’re willing to do that you previously rejected. You might find yourself excited about something you have only done halfheartedly before. And yes, you might find that your unwillingness to do something is justified; you’re now convinced you won’t do it.

At least now you know.

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