“It’s the cases I don’t take that make me money”

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“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials.” -Lin Yutang, writer and translator (1895-1976)

Last night, I spoke at an event. One of the topics I talked about was “The 80/20 principle,” aka, “The Pareto Principle,” the idea that a large percentage of our results come from a small percentage of our activities.

Afterwards, I was chatting with a man who works for a bankruptcy attorney. He liked my talk and was telling me about their practice and how busy they were. He quoted something his employer said, but I wasn’t sure I’d heard him correctly so I asked him to repeat it:

“It’s the cases I don’t take that make me money”.

He explained that the attorney was very selective about the cases he accepts. A lot of business comes knocking on his door, but he turns down a large percentage. He turns down the lower-end of the spectrum of clients, the ones who don’t have enough for a retainer, who need installments, price shoppers, etc., in favor of those who can pay his higher than average fees.

A lot of attorneys will take the lower-end clients, figuring that whatever they pay will contribute to overhead. But this attorney understands that those clients would actually cost him money, and not just in the literal sense of “not paying,” but because they would take up a disproportionate amount of time and energy.

And, he doesn’t have the extra overhead he would have if he accepted the lower end clients.

By eliminating as much as eighty percent of the possible client pool, he is able to run a lean and profitable practice. I’m sure he also makes it home for dinner.

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