Hate your law practice? Here are 7 ways to fix that

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Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to love what you do to be successful. You just can’t hate it.

If you hate what you do, every day is a burden. Not only does your work suffer, so does every other aspect of your life because our work is a big part of who we are.

If you’ve got the law practice blues, you don’t have to sit and suffer. You do have options:

(1) Increase your income

Yesterday’s post was about this very subject. No, money isn’t everything, but when you have enough of it, things tend to look a lot brighter.

When I started practicing, every month was a struggle to pay rent. I was in survival mode and really didn’t like what I was doing.

Everything changed when I finally started earning a good income and could focus on growth instead of survival.

(2) Reduce your work hours

Once I had money coming in regularly, I started looking for ways to work smarter, not harder. Eventually, I went from working 6 days a week to 3 days a week (about 5 hours per day).

I had a lot more time and energy to focus on marketing and growing my practice, and time for family and fun.

One thing I did was to document every aspect of my work process and create forms and checklists for everything. This allowed me to work more quickly and efficiently.

I also hired more help and delegated as much of the work as possible.

Other options: taking a partner, outsourcing, or associating with a firm.

(3) Change your practice areas

I started with a general practice but couldn’t keep up with everything. The day I decided to specialize and eliminate everything that wasn’t in my wheelhouse, was the day I was liberated.

I enjoyed the work I was doing and referred out everything else. Specializing attracted more clients and allowed me to get “good” in my field.

(4) Change your clients

You may like the work itself but if you don’t like your clients, “fire” them and replace them.

Choose a different target market. Re-define your ideal client. And get some people you enjoy working with. It can make a world of difference.

(5) Change your business model

Practicing law and running a law practice can be overwhelming. If you can’t keep up with everything, consider remodeling your practice.

Join a firm or merge with another firm. Hire more people or hire fewer. Go out on your own or go in-house.

There are other ways to use that sheepskin.

(6) Do something on the side

Start a side business. Invest. Write, paint, play music.

Do something you love and let your practice finance it.

When you find fulfillment after hours, you might see your practice in a more favorable light.

(7) Get out

If you’re still not happy, change your career. Start a business. Get a sales job. Write, consult, teach.

I know, you invested years building your legal career. Being a lawyer is part of your identity.

It may be hard to give that up, but if hate practicing, do yourself a favor and move on.

If you’d like to talk to someone who has done most of the above, hit me up and let’s talk.

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The first rule of productivity

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Productivity isn’t about how much you do, or how fast your do it. It’s about the quality of your work.

But it’s difficult to deliver the kind of quality your clients want and expect when your plate is overflowing.

The first rule of productivity is to eliminate most of what you could do, to free up resources to do your most valuable work.

High achievers say “no” to almost everything. You must, too. You might call this the ‘prime directive’ in the achievement universe.

Cut out most of the tasks and projects on your lists. Say no to most of the requests from others. Do less than you think you could do, so you’ll have time and energy to excel at the few things that matter most.

When you do less, you can do more of what you do best. You’ll have more time to improve your most valuable skills, develop key relationships, and work on your most promising projects.

Eliminate practice areas that don’t excite you. Let go of marginal clients and cases. Stop marketing to “everyone”.

When you do less, your days are less crowded. You may not crank out as much work or close as many cases, but you’ll earn more because the quality of your work will attract better clients and bigger cases.

Years ago, when I decided to do less, it was hard to let go. I thought I could do it gradually, but that didn’t work. What worked was doing it all at once.

I eliminated practice areas and stopped taking certain clients. For awhile, I had much less work to do.

It was frightening, but liberating. I was free to build the kind of practice I wanted. And I did, faster than I thought was possible.

My income multiplied, I had more time for other areas of my life, and I was happier.

If you want to be more productive and more successful, do less.

This will help you focus

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Ready to reinvent yourself?

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According to a 2013 Harvard study, 80% of businesses are using a business model that is at least partially obsolete. They continue to use it because that’s what they’re used to.

How about you?

Have you followed the same methods and models for building and running your practice since day one? More importantly, will you continue to do so as we come out of our caves and get back to a regular schedule?

Will it be business as usual or will you make any changes?

To some extent, change is inevitable. We live in a different world today than we did a few months ago. Clients have different expectations and priorities. We have to at least be willing to meet them halfway.

But this is more than putting hand sanitizer in your waiting room. Maybe a lot more.

It might be about letting go of some practice areas, or taking on new ones. You might target new markets, change how you go about marketing, or dramatically reduce your overhead.

You might create strategic alliances with other lawyers or firms, take on new partners, or split up and going your own way.

And you might change your fee structure and billing practices.

That doesn’t mean “going small” necessarily. It might mean “going big”. You might raise your fees and let go of small cases and low-end clients.

I don’t know what’s right for you and your practice. I just know you have to consider all of your options.

And be prepared to get out of your comfort zone.

On the other hand, you may decide not to make any significant changes. You may reinvent yourself into the same person you always were.

Which is okay, too.

Just remember that while you may look the same and offer the same services from the same office, in some respects you will be a different person.

As will we all.

Whatever you do, take your clients and their referrals with you

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Hit pause and take inventory

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Many people are feeling lost right now, uncertain about their future and what to do about it. Out of desperation, some are considering major career changes, thinking they have no choice but to start over.

If you know someone in that position, you might suggest that they stay put. Remind them that no matter where they are right now, they’re probably in a better position than they’d be in if they started from scratch.

They’ve got skills, experience, contacts, and a reputation. They’ve worked hard to get where they are.

Instead of jumping ship and working on a new career, they might be better off working on themselves.

That’s what Sue Hawkes, founder and CEO of a consulting firm, did when she had hit bottom.

“My life was in a deep, dark hole at age 42. I was living in a friend’s second home, I was working through my divorce, the economy and my businesses were in a shambles. It was 2008 and all areas of my life were challenged. I made a resolution to mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and financially intentionally improve myself by the time I was 50 by making long term, consistent and incremental improvements. I learned to say no to anything misaligned with my plan which included: learning to delegate without guilt, prioritizing my time and sticking to it, journaling my gratitude for a positive attitude, surrounding myself with supportive people who are champions of possibility, finding clarity in my purpose and personal values, and giving back to others. Over time, adding these small changes and practicing them changed my focus and my life.”

Sometimes, changing careers is the right decision. Before anyone takes that leap, they consider building on what they already have.

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Choosing the right clients

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When I was ten years old I went to summer camp for two weeks. Sleeping in cabins, swimming and fishing in the lake, archery practice, softball, campfire songs.

I loved every minute of it.

Our counselor was cool. He didn’t talk down to us or boss us around. He was like an older brother and we could talk to him about anything.

I had so much fun I went back the next year.

But the second year was different.

Same woods and lake, same games and activities, different counselor. And I didn’t get along with him at all.

The details aren’t important. What’s important is that as much as I loved my first year at camp, that’s how much I hated my second year.

Because of the counselor.

The people in our lives make a difference.

If you know people you don’t like, don’t associate with them. Spend time with people who make you feel good.

That includes your clients.

Spend time with clients who appreciate you and support you. Clients you like to be around.

Those clients tend to know people like themselves and can refer them to you. You’ll probably like them, too.

You can’t choose your camp counselor but you can choose your clients. And you should.

How to get more referrals from your clients

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What’s the hardest part of practicing law that nobody talks about?

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I don’t know about you but for this lawyer, the hardest part of practicing law is the enervating weight of responsibility we carry.

We take on all our client’s problems so they don’t have to. We feel for them, work unendingly to make things better for them, and take bullets for them, because that’s what we do.

And that’s on top of our own burdens.

We have employees who depend on us. Overhead to meet. The bar association and the tax man constantly looking over our shoulder.

There are so many balls we have to keep in the air. So many ways things can go wrong.

And so much at stake.

One mistake could cause the client to lose everything. It could do the same for us.

We learn the law. We learn how to build a practice. Over time, we get better at doing the job. The hardest part, the part that never gets easier, the part that nobody talks about, is the feeling that the weight of the world is on our shoulders.

But that’s a good thing. Because the day we stop feeling that burden is the day we stop caring, and the day we know it’s time to do something else.

I had that day, once. I was conducting an arbitration, listening to my client testify, listening to her complain, thinking I would do my best for her but I really didn’t care how much she was awarded, I was tired and wanted to go home.

That’s when I knew it was time to get out. A few months later, I did.

Looking back, I realize that I was probably just going through a tough time (and an insufferable client) and that I still cared about helping people. After a year doing something else, I started practicing again and continued for another ten years.

So yeah, practicing law is hard. Caring is hard. But that’s what we do.

It’s easier when you get the money out of the way

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You’re a fraud (unless you’re not)

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Most of what you do in your practice is routine. You’ve seen it before, done it before, and you know what to do. If you’re not sure, you know how to find out. 

And yet, there are times when you don’t. 

You are presented with a new (and difficult) issue. A case of first impression (and a lot at stake). A big decision and nary a clue about which way to go. 

When this happens, you talk to someone with more experience, take a course, associate with another lawyer, hire an expert, or otherwise bridge the gap in your knowledge or experience. 

Yes?

But what if this happens all the time? What if you continually feel like you’re in over your head or can’t handle the job?

What if you feel like an impostor?

Relax. You’re probably not. 

Wikipedia defines impostor syndrome as a “psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments, and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”‘.

I’m guessing that’s not you. 

You’re not a fraud, you just need more time on the job. 

That’s the good news. 

The bad news is that what you’re feeling–the doubts, the questions about your choice of career, and all the rest–mean you’re not happy doing what you’re doing. 

You need to fix that. Or find something else to do. 

Need a plan? Here

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I feel good. I knew that I would, now

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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 will be successful.”

Actually, science says he’s right. By mapping the brain to identify dopamine production they found that pleasure results in greater productivity.

When you feel good about what you’re doing, you give it more energy. You work harder and get better results.

Are there exceptions? Sure. In the short term, you can make a lot of money doing something you detest. But it catches up with you in terms of poor health, failed relationships, and other negative consequences. So you wind up with money but you’re still not happy.

Why not start with happy and have both?

Stop looking at happiness as the end result or an added bonus and start seeing it as the pathway to success.

Most lawyers who aren’t happy suck it up and continue working until they have enough money, contacts, and ideas to retire or go with plan B.

Some make it. Some don’t.

How about this: If you don’t love what you’re doing, change something–your practice area, partner, job, or methods. Find different clients. Adopt different marketing strategies. Compartmentalize your work so can focus on the parts of your practice you enjoy and delegate or automate the rest.

Because success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.

Get more referrals so you can hire more help and let them do the things you don’t like

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Give your life a tune-up

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You’re busy. Taking care of business, living the life you’ve created, traveling forward in time towards whatever comes next.

Are you going where you want to go? Are you doing what you want to do?

If you’re not sure (or, even if you are ), I encourage you to make a list (yes, another list) and find out.

Make a list of everything you do you wouldn’t do if you didn’t have to.

If you didn’t have to have an office, for example, would you? If you didn’t have to write articles, record videos, network, or advertise, would you?

Include big things and small things and everything in between.

Would you practice law if you didn’t have to? Would you do trial work, stay with your practice area, maintain certain expenses (e.g., employees, software, etc.) or take the same types of clients?

Do the same thing with your personal life. Relationships, activities, hobbies, investments, expenses.

Write it all down. And make no assumptions about whether you really do have to do what you’re doing. We all do things on autopilot, because we’ve always done them or because we don’t think we have a choice.

Set aside the list for a while. Come back to it with fresh eyes. And then eliminate, delegate, or modify the things on your list that don’t serve you.

Or, consciously accept them (for now) if you believe there is no alternative or that the price you’re paying is worth it.

This exercise will allow you to make better decisions about what you’re doing. It will help you gain clarity about your goals, priorities, and responsibilities, pare down or eliminate activities you don’t enjoy, and improve both your effectiveness and efficiency.

It will help you become more productive and more prosperous and improve the quality of your life.

So, what’s on your list?

Getting more referrals gives you more options

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If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right

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Dale Carnegie said,”People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they’re doing”. Was he right? Can you be successful doing work you hate? Or work that bores you to tears?

In the short term, sure. We’ve all done it. But in the long term, if you don’t enjoy what you do, you’ll never accomplish as much as you could.

But here’s the thing. You don’t have to enjoy every part of it.

When I was practicing, I loved helping my clients–watching them smile when I told them the great result I’d obtained for them, hearing them say thank you, getting cards and gifts, and having them refer lots of friends and family.

That was fun.

I also had fun going to the bank and making deposits. That never gets old.

Everything else? Being papered to death by deep pocket defense firms, Los Angeles traffic, calendar calls, the lack of conviviality with some of my opposition, the bar’s arrogance and heavy hand, clients who tried to micromanage their case?

Not so much.

But, on balance, it was fun. Until it no longer was. That’s when I started looking for my next adventure.

How about you? Are you having fun? If not, what needs to change?

More money? Shorter hours? A better crop of clients?

A partner? No partner? More employees? No employees?

A shorter commute? Less trial work? Less paperwork?

What?

Whatever it is, you can have it. I promise. Figure out what you need and go get it. Because no matter how well you’re doing right now, you’ll do better and be happier when you’re having fun.

Referrals are fun!

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