Greased lightning

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I woke up with the words “low friction” in my head. To me, this means reducing complexities and removing bottlenecks in what I do, so I can get things done more quickly and with less effort.

I guess I’m thinking about this because I’m on (another) simplification binge.

I look at what I’m doing and ask, “How can I make this (app, process, tool) simpler or work better?”

Sometimes, the answer is to use one app to do a job instead of two. The second app might be better at what it does, but I have to weigh that against what I gain by not having to learn it, update it, and use it.

Sometimes, it means getting back to basics.

As you may know, I use a version of Getting Things Done to manage my tasks and projects. I’ve gotten sloppy about a few things, leading to a mind like mud rather than a mind like water.

Instead of doing things the way they’re supposed to be done, I fell into shortcutting the process and wound up complicating my life.

To fix things, I’ve gotten back to writing “next actions” the way they’re supposed to be–the single next action I can do to achieve the desired result or advance the project.

It only takes a few seconds to write down the task in “verb plus noun” format, and this really helps. Before, when I scanned my “Next Actions” list, I wasn’t sure what to do next.

Frankly, I didn’t want to look at my list at all.

When I look at my list now, instead of feeling resistance and confusion, I feel drawn to do things.

I’m also taking a little more time to flesh out projects by asking, “What’s the desired outcome?” and “What’s the next step?”

Doing this has helped me realize that some of the projects on my list shouldn’t be there. By moving them to the someday/maybe list, I have less stress (friction) and more time to focus on a shorter list of things I’m committed to doing.

Finally, I’m getting back to doing a weekly review. Now that I’m more intentional about next actions and projects, the weekly review is no longer the big mess it had become. It’s actually enjoyable.

No matter what apps or systems you use, if you find yourself lacking clarity, feeling resistance, or failing to get things done, I encourage you to simplify what you’re doing and how you do it.

Slow down (and assess what you’re doing) so you can speed up.

And if you don’t know what to do, go back to the basics.

The fundamentals of effective attorney marketing

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Who knows what danger lurks in your legal marketing?

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In the 1960s, Los Angeles based Adee plumbing began running TV ads featuring an actor who asked, “Who knows what danger lurks in your plumbing?” It was a play on the 1930s radio show, The Shadow, that opened with an announcer asking, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?”

In the TV commercial, the answer was “Adee do”. That ad, and others using the same concept and catch phrase, ran well into the 1980s.

Two things.

First, in your marketing, look for ways to piggyback on ideas and themes that are already in your market’s consciousness. It’s a simple and effective way to help your message be understood and remembered.

DUI defense lawyer Myles L. Berman does this in his long-running commercials that use the tag, “Because ‘Friends don’t let friends plead guilty(TM),” playing off the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) slogan, “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk”.

There’s an added bonus here because of the obvious tie-in with drinking and driving, but you could use this idea no matter what your practice area.

A family law attorney, for example, could use, “Because friends don’t let friends get married without a prenup.” Okay, maybe not the best, but you get the idea.

Second point: when you have something that’s working–a tag, a commercial, a presentation, or any kind of marketing message, resist the urge to change it.

Yes, even after thirty years.

You may be tired of hearing or seeing the same thing, but that doesn’t mean your market is tired of it. It makes no sense to throw away something that’s been working well for a long time.

Test other messages or ideas, headlines, and offers against it, to see if something else works better, but make sure it does before you change it.

Who knows what danger lurks in your legal marketing? That would be me.

The Attorney Marketing Formula

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The market is boss

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It doesn’t matter how good your services are, how much value you deliver to clients, or how good you are at marketing. . . if there’s no demand for your services, you’re not going to sell any.

The good news is that the converse is also true.

If you offer services your market wants and is willing to pay for, you don’t need to do a lot of selling. You just need to get your message in front of the right people.

In One More Customer, football great turned mega-entrepreneur Fran Tarkenton said, “Look, if your big idea needs super-salesmanship. . . it’s not so big after all. Steven Jobs didn’t sell the iPad; he announced it. If you’ve got a truly great idea, you’ll only have to announce it and inform people about it.”

When you offer legal services people want and need, your job is to identify the people who need those services (or know people who do) and keep your name and message in front of them.

As a business partner of mine used to put it, “You don’t have to be good, you just need to be busy”.

Tell prospective clients how you can help them. Give them ways to learn more, e.g., information, seminars, consultations, etc. And stay in touch with them.

That doesn’t mean you don’t need to improve your skills, your “customer service,” and your marketing. You do, because your competition is doing all of the above and you need to stay out ahead of them.

You will always need to work on personal and professional development. But if you offer something people want, you don’t need to obsess about it.

The easiest way to stay in touch is with email

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I’m up!

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I really don’t like “push” reminders. When I’m in the middle of doing something and I get a text or a pop-up from my calendar or an app (or both), reminding me that I should be doing something else. . .

Kinda annoying.

Like your dad reminding you to get up and get dressed for school. Or you’re watching your favorite show and your mom barges in and reminds you to finish your homework.

Yeah, that kind of annoying.

I still use reminders, but I’m thinking about turning them off for everything except appointments (and maybe for those, too.)

What’s the alternative? To do what I do every day for all of my tasks:

In the morning (or the night before if I remember to do it–hmmm, maybe I need a reminder for this. . .), I go through my calendar and task list and my projects and decide what I’m going to work on that day, and put this on a “Today” list.

I usually have 3 to 5 items on the list. Today, I have 7 tasks on the list. Some days, I have only one or two.

Once I have my “Today” list, I close up everything else and keep that one list in front of me. Keeping it visible is the only reminder I need. If I go out, I have that list available to me on my phone.

If I finish my list and I want to do more, my “next” list is always nearby, but not in front of me.

One list, no distractions or interruptions.

It’s a digital version of what I used to do in my law practice with file folders. I’d make a stack of what I needed to work on that day, start at the top and work my way through it.

I also had a desk calendar to see the day’s appointments.

No annoying reminders.

Yes, my secretary would remind me if I forgot something, but only if I forgot something (which I usually didn’t).

As I write this, I think I’ve convinced myself to turn off reminders.

And with that, I’m off for another cup of coffee. No reminder necessary.

Evernote for Lawyers ebook

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Organizing books and files

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I have no life. That’s what some people would say if they saw me reading an article about the different ways to organize your bookshelves.

Behold a few of the ways:

  • Alphabetical, By Title
  • Alphabetical, By Author
  • By Genre
  • Chronologically
  • By Publication Date
  • By Why You Read them
  • By How Much You Like Them
  • By Color
  • By Size

What’s missing? Right, no mention of the Dewey Decimal System. Who are these whipper snappers?

Okay, I don’t use the Dewey Decimal System. I very loosely group books by topic. But since I’ve reduced my physical book collection from thousands of books down to one bookcase, it really doesn’t matter.

I do have thousands of digital files (and Kindle books) and for those, I rely primarily on search and tags.

I also organize digital reference files alphabetically. That way, I can browse through categories. That helps when I don’t know what I have (so I don’t know what to search for) or I’m looking for ideas.

In my law office, I filed client files alphabetically. I tried other systems but alphabetical (client last name, client first name; for litigation, client name vs. (or adv.) opposing party) was simple and effective.

I also set up a file number system–two digits for the year, followed by a hyphen, and then a four digit sequential number, starting with 1001.

The 25th file opened this year would have this file number 19-1025. I’m not sure how I came up with this but it gave me another way to track “come ups” (ticklers) and statutes in a paper calendar.

I know, fascinating.

Actually, it is. I think most people are interested in how others organize things.

So, what do you do?

How do you organize your client files and reference files (paper and/or digital)?

Okay, I’ll bite: how do you organize your books?

I’ll bet more people organize their books by color than by The Dewey Decimal System, but you never know. Steve?

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If you want to make everyone happy, sell ice cream

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John C. Maxwell said, “Leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less.” By that definition, you are a leader.

People listen to you, not necessarily because of your title, skills, or experience, but because of your character, compassion, and strength.

People look up to leaders. They want to associate with them, learn from them, follow them. As a leader, you set the destination and the pace of the journey.

“This is where I’m going,” you say. “I hope you’ll join me.”

You show the world the path to a better future and some people choose to follow.

As a lawyer, you may be able to persuade them to follow. As a leader, you let them persuade themselves.

That’s influence.

Others will choose not to follow. You have to let them go. You can’t change the destination or compromise your values because of the whims of a few. You can’t slow down for the stragglers, they need to keep up with you.

You’ll disappoint people. You’ll face criticism. Your willingness to accept this is part of your strength, part of what makes others want to follow.

You can’t be an effective leader if you try to please everyone. You have to stay the course and be willing to accept the casualties.

As Steve Jobs said, “If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader. Sell ice cream.”

Leaders build their influence through regular communication

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Are you sure about that?

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“I don’t know. I can’t recall. I’d be guessing.”

We like to hear things like this (sometimes) when our client is testifying but what about when we hear ourselves saying them?

They make us sound weak, don’t they?

No. They make us sound smart.

According to Jeff Bezos, “The smartest people are constantly revising their understanding, reconsidering a problem they thought they’d already solved. They’re open to new points of view, new information, new ideas, contradictions, and challenges to their own way of thinking.”

Just when we think we’ve got this “law practice” thing working smoothly. . . that’s when we need to stop and re-assess.

What if we don’t know? What if we’re wrong? What if there’s a better way?

But do we do that?

Unfortunately, we often think we know better. We think we’re good at what we do and that’s enough. “If it ain’t broke. . .” we tell ourselves.

Sure, we take CLE, we read the journals, we keep up with the latest in our field. But all that knowledge can’t help us if we’re afraid to be wrong.

It takes courage to admit you’re not as good as should be, and courage to do something about it.

How do you develop that courage? A good place to start is to surround ourselves with people who challenge us and are willing to be honest with us and being willing to listen to them.

Early in my practice, I had people working for me who knew more than I knew and were better at their job than I was at mine. I got better at my job because I was willing to admit I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Today, I’d like to think I would be willing to do the same.

Would I? Would you?

If we’re as smart as we think we are, the right answer is “I don’t know”.

Is your email marketing as good as it could be?

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Write or get off the “can”

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Once a year my CPA sends me an inch-thick stack of forms and instructions and important tax information. I’m sure it is very good information but I’ve never read it.

It’s too much. It’s fine print. And it’s about as dry as unbuttered toast.

Maybe your CPA sends something like this to you. Maybe they send you the identical package of information, purchased from the same service (I’m sure) my CPA buys it from.

Maybe your dentist, insurance agent, or financial planner sends you an outsourced or “canned” newsletter. Maybe you send something like this to your clients.

It’s better than not sending anything to clients, but let’s face it, most people don’t read it.

There’s a better way. Send your clients something you wrote and put some of “you” into it.

Share an idea and tell them what you think about it. Tell them about one of your clients who used that idea and benefited from it. Put some personality into your message and you’ll get more people to read it.

Why is that important? Because when people read what you send them, they are reminded that you’re still around, still helping clients, still available to help them or someone they know.

And when they read your message, they learn something that can benefit them. They appreciate you for that and look forward to your next message.

Be brief. A few paragraphs in an email is enough. You’re not in the “information delivery business,” after all.

Don’t buy it from a service. And don’t send it once a year.

An email newsletter is one of the easiest ways to provide value to your clients and one of the best ways to build your practice.

You can learn everything you need to know in my new Email Marketing for Attorneys course.

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Who you know or ‘who knows you’?

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Who you know is important. But just as important is who knows you.

How many people (in your niche or market) know your name?

Or, more pointedly, how many people know someone who knows you?

Your network isn’t limited to people you know. It encompasses the people THEY know. If you know 250 people and each of them knows 250 people, you can potentially reach 62,500 people.

Whatever the size of your network, one thing is certain.

Your network is only as good as your ability to communicate with it.

If you want to notify your list of 250 people about your upcoming seminar or a new document you’ve added to your website, if you want to remind clients and prospects that you can help them (or someone they know) with their legal matter, how do you do that?

You can’t call everyone. Regular mail gets expensive. Social media limits who sees your messages.

The best way to connect with your list is email.

You own the list. You control the messages that get sent to it.

One click and your message goes to their mailbox. From there, your network can act on that message and share it with their network.

Email allows you to stay “in the minds and mailboxes” of the people who know you, until they’re ready to hire you (or hire you again) or send you a referral.

My new course, Email Marketing for Attorneys shows you how to use email to build your law practice.

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Getting nine women pregnant

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How long does it take to build a successful law practice?

It takes as long as it takes and you can’t rush it.

As Warren Buffett said, “No matter how great the talent or efforts, some things just take time. You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.”

It also takes focus.

You may have heard this Buffett story:

One day, Buffett’s long-time pilot asked him for career advice. Buffett suggested he make two lists.

First, make a list of your top 25 career goals, Buffett told him. Once he’d done that, Buffett told him to circle his top 5 goals.

His pilot then had two lists and told Buffett that he would begin working on his top 5 goals. Buffett asked him about the other list, the 20 items he didn’t circle.

The pilot said those goals were also important to him and he would work on them intermittently, as and when he could.

Buffett told him that was a mistake. “Everything you didn’t circle just became your Avoid-At-All-Cost list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.”

Buffett knows a thing or two about focus. In his long career, he has achieved extraordinary investment returns investing in a handful of companies at a time.

“Diversification is a protection against ignorance,” Buffett said.
“It makes very little sense for those who know what they’re doing.”

So, if you know what you’re doing as an attorney, if what you’re doing is working, even though it may not be working as quickly as you’d like, stay the course.

Be patient. Stay focused. Your baby will be here when he gets here.

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