Things successful people don’t say

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Successful people have different philosophies than unsuccessful people. Successful people, for example, generally don’t say, “I don’t know how.” According to this Entrepreneur article, “Instead of automatically shutting down solution-finding, successful people learn what they can in order to succeed in a project or in their career.”

Another phrase you won’t hear successful people say is, “I did everything on my own.” Successful people surround themselves with smart, talented people, the article notes. “Recognize those that have helped you or made an impact and you’ll continue to earn success and recognition yourself.”

Go through the 15 phrases in the article. Do you find yourself saying or thinking any of these things? If you do, you probably won’t change by simply telling yourself to “stop thinking that way. You’ll have better luck replacing the unsuccessful thought with a related thought that is both true and success oriented.

For example, I know many attorneys hold the belief that, “If our competitors don’t have it, then we don’t need it,” number 14 on the list. If you share that belief, you’re limiting your growth. A successful person would think, “We can gain an advantage in our market by doing what our competitors don’t do.” The latter statement is both true and more likely to lead to growth.

The author says, “Copying competitors is one of the many possible deaths for most companies. True innovation comes from the flip side: figuring out what competitors aren’t doing and fill that niche to answer a need in the industry.”

If you have negative or limiting beliefs, turn them around and find a positive version of the idea. Anchor your new thought with ideas and information that support and “prove” your newly adopted philosophy.

To support the statement that you can gain an advantage by doing what your competition doesn’t do, you might read profiles of companies and leaders in industries outside of law who dominated their market by figuring out what their competitors weren’t doing, and doing it.

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Success is not the key to happiness

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Albert Schweitzer said, “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you’ll be a success.”

If you don’t love what you’re doing, are you doomed to fail? What if you don’t love your work but you don’t hate it, either?

The way I see it, if you’re miserable, you probably need to get another gig. If things are okay but you’re not completely happy, you’ve got a couple of choices.

The first is to find some aspect of your work that does make you happy and focus on that. Surely you love some part of your work. (Yes, but don’t call me Shirley.)

I didn’t love practicing law, and after more than twenty years, I moved on. While I was practicing, I focused on the things I enjoyed such as how good it felt when a client said thank you. I liked writing creative demand letters and getting judges, juries, and arbitrators to rule in my favor. I also liked the money and what it allowed me to do.

The rest of my work I found boring, stress-inducing, or otherwise unrewarding. Research (before computers) seemed unending. Discovery was a drag. Dealing with nasty opposing counsel was enervating.

But there were enough things I enjoyed doing and they allowed me to handle the things I didn’t.

If your work doesn’t provide you with enough joy to make up for the things that drag you down, the other thing you can do is find your happiness outside of work.

Time with your family may make your heart sing. You may have a hobby or side project that you are passionate about. Charitable work may give your life meaning. Whatever it is, spend more time doing it, thinking about it, and looking forward to doing it. Let your work support your passion.

I did this, too. For several years prior to my transition out of a law practice and into a publishing and consulting career, I worked on creating the marketing course that was to make that new career possible. I worked on it at lunch, in the evenings, and on weekends. It was hard work and I didn’t know if it would be successful, but I was happy working on this project and thinking about my future.

Your work may not make you happy or successful, but if you have enough happiness in your life outside of work, then you have a happy and successful life.

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Get better results by asking better questions

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Yesterday, I spoke with an attorney who wants to increase his income and is transitioning into a new practice area. It turns out that if he had a choice, there’s something else he’d rather be doing career-wise and it’s not practicing law.

I slammed on the brakes and asked him to write a one page, “ideal life” scenario dated five years from today. I said there were no rules, he didn’t have to follow logic to explain how he got there, “just describe your life as you want it to be five years from today.”

Because you can completely re-make your life in five years.

Write your scenario in the present tense. It’s already happened. You’re living the life you want, doing the things you want, being with people you want.

What does your typical “ideal day” look like?

I’ve given this exercise to many people, and done it myself. I’ve found that people often have trouble being honest with themselves about their ideal day. They don’t believe that what they really want is possible so they choose something different, something they think is possible, or something they think other people in their life would approve of.

When you do this exercise, you must forget possible. Ignore “how” (for now) and simply describe “what”.

The idea is that once you have described your ideal life, you’ve got something to work towards. “Start with the end in mind,” and work backwards to make it so.

Anyway, today I was clicking my way through the Interwebs and found a blog post that asked readers a provocative question I thought was on point:

What would you do with your time if you weren’t allowed in your house from 8am – 7pm, didn’t have to work, and your children were being taken care of?

Answering this question can help you describe your ideal life scenario.

Once you have done that, once you know where you want to go, the next thing you have to do is figure out how to get there. You do that by asking yourself another question.

In the post, the author says

The better questions we ask ourselves, the better the answers will be. . . Your subconscious mind. . . will start working out ways to answer your question.

So, if you constantly ask: ‘Why do I never get what I want in life?’ Your subconscious mind will go to work to help you find the answer and it will always be negative. Whereas if you constantly ask yourself ‘How can I make this possible? your subconscious mind will get to work and start looking for ways to get what you want.

To get better results in life, first ask, “What do I want?” Then ask, “How can I get it?” Your subconscious mind knows the answers.

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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.

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