What do you want, exactly?

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In order to figure out what you want in your practice or any area of your life, it helps to first figure out what you don’t want.

Try this exercise:

Sit down in a quiet place and write, as quickly as you can, a list of everything you don’t want in your professional life. The things that take too much time, the things you hate, the things you don’t hate but would prefer not to do.

Don’t editorialize (or whine), just get it out and write it down.

It might be litigation, divorce, small cases, big cases, employees, partners, working for someone else, going to networking events, business travel, high rent, long hours, billing, collecting fees, unhappy clients, stress, too little income. . .

Don’t hold back. Write it all down. Nobody will see your list but you.

Keep writing until you can’t think of anything else.

Look at your list. It feels good to unload all of your burdens, even if it’s only on a piece of paper.

But you might also feel angry, as you see, in black and white, all of the things you have brought into your life and allowed to continue. Things that cause you anxiety, stress, time, and money.

Acknowledge those feelings and resolve to change the things that are causing you to have them.

You probably can’t eliminate all of the things you don’t like, or even most of them, at least anytime soon. But you can eliminate some of them and make some of them better.

Look at your list and decide what needs to go and what needs to change. Then, take a few minutes and make a new list. A list of things you want, based on your first list.

If you said you don’t want to handle divorce any longer, what do you want to handle instead? If you said you don’t want to chase clients to pay their bills, write down the way you want things to be.

Then, add to your “want” list anything else that comes to mind. Let your imagination soar. Do you want to work a 5-hour day and simultaneously double your income? Write that down. (NB: you can do that, as other lawyers and I can attest).

This is an important exercise because clarity is the first step towards change.

Plan, do, review. Start with this

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What if you don’t like what you do but can’t change that?

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In response to yesterday’s trip down memory lane, attorney RG asked, “What if you don’t like what you do (law but can’t change that). . .”

I love a good challenge and “can’t change that” is about as good as it gets.

Of course you can change that, RG.

It might be difficult, emotionally wrenching, expensive, and take a long time, but it can be done. Many lawyers do it and so can you.

Start by asking yourself questions like, “How can I change my situation? What would I like to do instead? How do I find a way to “like” what I do?”

You can change your situation but first you must give yourself permission to do it. Before you can do that, you must give yourself permission to believe that it’s possible.

Onward.

I don’t know what it is that you don’t like about your work but I peeked at your website and see that (a) you are a sole practitioner who offers an array of services, and (b) you do litigation.

My first suggestion is to look at ways to reconstitute your practice areas.

Choose a practice area you like (or hate less) and focus on that. Take a partner or refer everything else out.

If litigation is a source of stress and long hours and “don’t like,” you can change that too. You can outsource some or all of it. Get an “of counsel” relationship with a firm and let them do the heavy lifting. Hire someone and keep it in house. Or refer it out.

Hold on, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that if you have fewer practice areas and outsource your litigation you’ll lose income and you can’t afford that. Am I right?

Well, what if that didn’t happen? What if you find that specializing allows you to increase your income? And what if the time you free up by outsourcing some or all of your litigation gives you room to bring in more of the work you enjoy and that pays well?

That’s what I found when I did it.

At first, turning away business was scary. But the vacuum i created by doing so was soon filled with work that paid more and required less time. If you’ve read my stuff, you know that I quadrupled my income and reduced my work-week to three days.

I’m sure there are other issues that cause you to want to “get out”. Many of these are fixable, too.

But if you can’t fix them, start working on a plan to get out.

Here’s how I did it:

I got good at marketing and built up a war chest that gave me options.

I started two side businesses The first helped me to replace my practice income. The second provided me with passive income which allowed me to retire and do what I love.

I don’t know who said it but this quote seems to fit: “You should either do what you love, or find something that gives you enough time and money to do what you love.”

How to choose your specialty (and why you should): here

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Faking it

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Do you remember the day you learned that you had passed the bar exam? Sure you do. We all do. We also remember how we felt when we got the news.

Me? I was relieved. Not excited. Okay, maybe a little excited but more relieved than anything else because I knew I would never have to go through that again.

I was also proud of myself. Passing the California Bar, arguably the toughest in the country, first time out–yeah, I was proud of that. All that hard work had paid off.

I boxed up the books and the notes, got sworn in, and got to work.

I had clerked throughout law school so the work was familiar. The moment I opened my own office, however, everything changed.

Having that license meant I was responsible. People depended on me. If I messed up, I had nobody to blame but myself.

Eventually, I got comfortable being in the captain’s chair. Okay, who am I kidding? I was scared to death. I was sure that my clients would see right through me and know I didn’t know what I was doing.

I would be unmasked as a fake. A fraud. A boy in his father’s three-piece suit.

But I did know what I was doing. Enough, at least, to get the job done.

As I gained experience, the work got easier. I became more confident. Case by case, client by client, I grew into the role of a trusted advisor and successful professional.

Building my practice was hard but worth it. I enjoyed the challenge and I enjoyed helping people and when the money was good, it was very good.

My practice eventually led me to other things. Other mountains to climb. I was (mostly) successful there, too, but I often wonder if I would have been happier doing those things instead of going to law school.

I don’t know. All I know is that things have worked out well. Probably the way they were supposed to. And that’s exciting.

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The three stages of a law career

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The way I see it there are three stages to a law career. Some lawyers go through all three stages. Some stay in one stage their entire career.

Stage one is where you love the work you’re doing or the challenge of learning and getting good at something new. Many new lawyers start out in stage one. Some skip over it right into stage two.

If you’re in stage one and you love what you do, congratulations. I wish you a long and happy career.

Stage two is where the work itself is no longer gratifying or challenging, or never was. You do the work because you have to but any joy or fulfillment you feel comes not from the work itself but from what your work allows you do.

You’re happy because your work allows you to get results for your clients, build a successful practice, or make the world a better place.

If you’re in stage two and the work no longer fulfills you, you might take on a new practice area or target a new type of client or market. You might look into teaching CLE classes or writing a book. You might find a charity or cause you care about and through it find new challenges and new ways to use your skills and training.

Stage three is where you don’t enjoy the work and the joy you feel from helping people or from personal success isn’t enough to make up for that, “Is that all there is” feeling that weighs on you.

If you’re in stage three and it’s just not working for you anymore (or it never did), you should probably do something else.

That doesn’t mean you have to leave the law. At least not right away. You can hire people and let them run the day-to-day of your practice while you explore and go find your plan b.

Of course, you may not fit squarely into any one of these stages. You may love some parts of your work and detest others. You may have good days, bad days, and days you feel like running away.

Those darn gray areas. They make your life complicated, don’t they? Hey, nobody said being a lawyer was easy.

You really can earn more and work less

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Do less

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You’re smart. Good at your job. Successful. But you want to be more successful so you do what most people do, you look for ways to do more.

More clients. More projects. More work.

To fit it all in, you look for ways to work faster and get bigger results.

You get busier and busier. You have less time and more stress. You’re frustrated because you’re doing more but not achieving more.

You’ve reached a point of diminishing returns.

It’s time for a different approach.

Instead of doing more, do less.

Take things off your calendar and to-do list. Start fewer projects. Make fewer commitments. Have fewer conversations.

Make room for what’s important and what you do especially well.

You’ll have more time to do more important things and more time to build on your strengths. You’ll have more energy, less stress, and fewer distractions. You’ll make fewer mistakes, waste fewer hours, and make better decisions.

You’ll build stronger relationships with key people. You’ll complete projects that take you to higher levels.

You’ll achieve more by doing less.

Get busy doing less.

Work smarter. Leverage your professional relationships to get more referrals

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It’s not just the money

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You’re looking at two possible new clients. Client A doesn’t have a lot of work for you but you like him and the work. You think his business will grow and that this will lead to more work for you down the road.

Client B has lots of work for you right now. The work is dry and unfulfilling. Plus, the client is an asshat and you’re convinced he’ll be a thorn in your side.

You want the money offered by Client B but if you take him, you won’t have time for Client A. How do you decide what to do?

You consider all of the factors, weigh the pros and cons, and seek advice from people you respect. Then, you get very still and listen to what your gut tells you.

Because your gut is nearly always right.

There I go again, advising big-brained, logic-oriented professionals to get all woo-woo with their feelings. But in the end, that’s what we all must do when we’re faced with a dilemma or we have a big decision to make.

When logic told me not to lease a much bigger office because I didn’t have the income to justify it, I went with my heart, not my head, and in a few months, I was earning enough to not only handle the rent but to hire more staff to fill the new office.

The same thing happened when I switched from a general practice to a specialty practice and turned away business that didn’t fit. I was scared to death, but within a few months, I had plenty of business.

Even when I made mistakes and had to change direction, things eventually worked out, often better than the original plan would have provided.

I once closed my office to pursue a business venture but the business failed. Two years later, I re-opened my law practice and started over from scratch. It was incredibly difficult but it eventually led me to start two new businesses which helped me earn more than I ever did in my practice.

I can point to other situations where logic said “no” but my gut said “go for it” and everything worked out. If you think about your past, I’m sure you can do the same.

I’m not suggesting you ignore reality or dispense with logic. Consider your current situation, your responsibilities, your strengths, and all of the possible outcomes. Consider them, but don’t depend on them. Ask your gut what it has to say. You might be very glad you did.

How to make sure your clients know how to refer

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What are you willing to do to be successful?

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You want to build a successful law practice. You want to make money, help people, and do things that matter. The question is, how bad do you want it?

Are you going through the motions in your work, waiting to see how things turn out? That’s not much, is it?

Are you working as hard as you can, doing your absolute best to achieve the success you desire? That’s good, but what if your “best” isn’t good enough?

Or, are you “all in,” willing to do “whatever it takes” (legally, ethically) to reach the summit? That’s what some lawyers are willing to do. Are you?

Your knowledge, experience, talent, and effort are important. So is a burning desire. But, as Vince Lombardi said, “Most people fail, not because of lack of desire, but because of lack of commitment.”

Are you committed? Are willing to do whatever it takes? If not, why not, and is there another career path that might be better for you?

A successful practice requires successful marketing plan

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Is hard work truly the key to success?

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All our lives we’ve been told that hard work is the key to success. And so all of our lives we’ve worked hard or felt guilty if we didn’t. But is hard work truly the key to success?

What about people who work hard and struggle all their lives? What about people who make it big without breaking a sweat?

It’s true that most successful people appear to work hard. They usually work long hours. They usually take on big challenges. They usually do things others see as difficult and stressful.

But are they really working hard?

If you ask them, I believe most successful people would tell you they love what they do and they don’t consider it hard work at all. They work long hours because they can’t think of anything they’d rather be doing.

When it’s fun, can it really be called hard work? Can it even be called work?

“When you do what you love, and love what you do,” it is said, “you’ll never work a day in your life.”

If you don’t love your work, change it. You don’t have to suffer your way to success. (I’m not even sure that’s possible.)

Get a new job or start a new career. Or give yourself permission to move in that direction. In the meantime, look for ways to make your current work more pleasant by focusing on aspects of it that you do enjoy.

If nothing more, see your work as a means to an end, that is, a way to pay your bills on the road to what’s next.

That’s what I did with my law practice. There were many things I didn’t like about it, which is why I decided to start a new career. But I didn’t dwell on what I didn’t like, I focused on the good things my practice gave me: skills, knowledge, experience, contacts, ideas, and most of all, time to start the next phase of my life.

Life is too short to do things you don’t enjoy. Life is supposed to be fun.

As you plan this year and beyond, make sure you’re planning to do something you love. Even if you don’t achieve the financial trappings of success, you’ll be happy. And that’s the real measure of success.

Get more clients and increase your income. Here’s how

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I’d rather be eating pizza and binge-watching Netflix

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I was out for a morning walk and saw a car with a license plate frame that read, “I’d rather be riding horses”. I thought about the work I had waiting for me at home and it made me think about what I’d rather be doing.

I like my work, but I don’t want to do it 12 hours a day. I don’t live to work. Never have. I’ve always had other things that were important to me and I always made time to do them.

How about you? What would your license plate frame say? What would you rather be doing right now? Not just at this moment but in your work this year and for the rest of your life?

You may be one of the lucky ones who love what you do and can’t imagine doing anything else. Or you might be like many people, reasonably content with your work because you’re good at it and it provides you with a good living but in your heart of hearts, you’d rather be doing something else.

Imagine that you had money out of the way and that you never had to work again. Would you suit up every day and head down to the office or would you put on your sandals and head to the beach?

If you’d rather be doing something else, it’s okay to admit that to yourself. That doesn’t mean you’ll drop everything and start over. But you might start thinking about the next phase in your life and take some steps to prepare for it.

The other day I thought about someone I went to law school with but hadn’t spoken to in over 30 years. I wondered what he was up to these days and searched for him online. Was he still practicing? Was he still doing family law? Was he retired? In another line of work?

I couldn’t find his website, nor any links on social media. I couldn’t find anything about him, which I thought was weird. But I knew him before “the Internet” and shrugged it off, thinking he was just another dinosaur who had refused to evolve.

“Surely he has an email address,” I thought and went to the California bar website to find it. That’s when I learned that my old friend was deceased.

He was my age and now he’s gone. Had he had a successful career, I wondered. A happy life? Did he always love his work? Or would he rather have been riding horses?

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What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

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One of my favorite quotes is from the late Dr. Robert Schuller, who, in his books and in his sermons often asked, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”

Asking yourself this question forces you to think about what you really want instead of what you think you’re supposed to do. It helps you to bypass your doubts and fears and speak the truth. It asks you to temporarily suspend your logical left brain and listen to your creative right side.

When I’ve mentioned this quote in the past, it has always been in the context of the big picture. Major career changes, for example.

If you asked me this question about my work right now, my answer would be completely illogical. It’s something creative, something I’ve never done before and, as far as I know, something I have no innate talent for. But if I knew I could not fail, it’s exactly what I would do.

Unfortunately, I know I could fail. So I’m not going to do it. Not now, anyway. I’ve got too much other stuff on my plate. They say, “trust your gut,” for a reason, and right now, my gut is telling me to wait.

Odd, isn’t it? My gut is telling me what to do if I knew I would not fail and also telling me to wait? I think God likes to mess with us.

Anyway, this morning, I was thinking about this question and I realized that we can also use it to make smaller decisions.

If you are scheduled to deliver a presentation, for example, and you’re not sure which topic to choose, asking the “cannot fail” question might guide you towards choosing the ideal, albeit not obvious (or logical) choice.

When I say ideal, I don’t just mean something you would prefer to do but are allowing other factors to stop you. I mean ideal in the sense that it might lead to superlative results.

One topic might get mild applause. Another topic, the one you would choose if you knew you could not fail, might attract someone in the audience who is so affected by your presentation that they invite you to deliver it again to a bigger and more influential group.

What if you’re wrong? Yes, that might happen. But what if you’re right?

How to get more referrals from other professionals: go here

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