Burned out and loving it

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You’ve got way too much to do and you’re overwhelmed. You’re stressed out, perpetually tired, making mistakes, and alienating clients or staff, or you’re bored out of your mind and wondering why you’re still doing this.

It’s called a sign. A signal that something’s not right and you need to do something about it.

The good news is that when you do, there’s a very good chance you will come out the other end much better off. Productive, happy, centered, and far more successful.

So, when you get that signal, what should you do?

I don’t know. But you do. Or rather, your body and mind do and they will guide you. But whatever it is they want you to do, don’t do immediately, reflexively, impulsively.

Don’t be rash.

Write it down and see what you think and how you feel about it. Talk to people who care about you, or a pastor or therapist. Tell them what’s going on with you and let them help you work through it.

And then explore your options.

At various times of my career, most of the following have helped me get unstuck and go on to bigger and better things, and I’ll bet they can help you do the same:

  1. Exercise, get more sleep, eat better, take some time off; you will feel better and be able to think more clearly and that might be all you need to reset.
  2. Delegate more. If you’re like most lawyers, you do too much yourself. Give more work to others so you can focus on what you do best and enjoy.
  3. Get help. Hire a business coach to help you sort things out, focus on what’s important, let go of what isn’t, and hold you accountable. Or team up with another professional to share ideas, progress, encouragement, and accountability.
  4. Get a hobby. Or a girlfriend. Or a side business. Something else you can focus on that makes you happy and gives you something to look forward to.
  5. Follow the plan. After you get some rest, sort out your goals and your process, developed some new habits or jettisoned some bad ones, get back to work. Action is almost always the cure for what ails you.

But if nothing you do seems to work despite your best efforts, start looking for the next chapter in your life. I did that, too, and I’m very glad I did.

If you need someone to talk to, let me know

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Pick two?

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I don’t know who first said it, but people are still saying it today. “You can get the work done quickly, you can get it done well, or you can get it done cheaply.” “Pick two,“ they say. “Because you can’t have all three”.

We’ve heard that said about all manner of products and services and undertakings. We may even say it ourselves.

But is it true?

Who says we can’t have all three?

In our world, the practice of law has three areas:

  1. Core legal skills: research, writing, presenting, strategizing, negotiation, etc.,
  2. Managing: hiring, budgeting, supervising, productivity, etc., and
  3. Marketing: bringing in the business, client relations, etc.

Who says they can’t be good at all three?

Clearly, they can. Many lawyers are excellent at all three.

But there are also many successful lawyers who are good at only one of the above.

They may be good at lawyering, all thumbs when it comes to running a practice, and clueless about marketing.

They may be good at running their practice (and making the most of what they have), but only “okay” in the other two areas.

They may be good at marketing but only adequate or reasonably competent at doing the work and running the practice.

So, I’m calling BS on the adage that you can only pick two. I say you can be good at all three. I also say you can be successful when you’re good at only one.

Now, something else they say. They say that we should focus on our strengths and not worry about getting good at everything. They say we can hire our weaknesses. They say we can be good enough at what we’re good at that we can succeed despite our weaknesses.

And to that, I’m going to agree.

Don’t ignore your weaknesses. But don’t spend a lot of time improving them (unless you want to). Get better at what you already do well, and everything else will take care of itself.

The Attorney Marketing Formula

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Better today than yesterday

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A legal career is a long journey. You start out as a new puppy, trying to find your legs and learn about the world. Everything is exciting and new, and nothing is easy.

I remember those days. Figuring out the forms, learning how to talk to clients, negotiate, write documents, litigate, and do all manner of important things for the first time.

It was difficult, but I only had a few clients and plenty of time to figure things out. I was young and hungry and scared, but I enjoyed the newness of it all.

If you’re at this stage, cherish this time for what you are learning and who you are becoming.

As I got busier, I entered another phase, with bigger problems to solve, more clients to juggle, and much longer hours. I was busy, but I wasn’t making much money. I still had a lot to learn, especially the business of practicing law.

I got serious about marketing, made changes, and brought in more clients and bigger cases. I was able to hire more help and while I was busier than before, I no longer “lived” at the office.

If you’re at this stage, appreciate all that you’ve done to get here and the many discoveries and adventures that lie ahead.

One day, I realized things were just working. I had money, lots of work and lots of help, and I knew what I was doing. I was busy but not busier than I wanted to be, and I was happy that I could continue doing it without the struggles of days gone by.

If you’re at this stage, congratulations. You made it to the top. Your career is in high gear and you have options. You can continue to grow and take things to an even higher level or you can re-direct some (or all) of your resources into other things—business, investments, philanthropy, writing or speaking, or fun.

Wherever you are right now, whatever phase of your journey, you are precisely where you’re supposed to be. Appreciate where you are and where you’ve been, and get excited about where you’re going.

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Your core work

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Yes, you perform legal services that deliver solutions and benefits to your clients. That’s your core work. That’s what you’re paid to do.

But that’s not the whole picture.

You can’t deliver those solutions if you don’t have clients who are willing and able to hire you.

So your work necessarily includes marketing.

Even if you aren’t required to do any “outside” marketing, you are responsible for keeping your clients happy so they will return and refer. You must invest time and other resources to do that. And while you can delegate some of it, you can’t (shouldn’t) delegate all of it.

You also have other responsibilities. You may not have to do the billing, bookkeeping, compliance, and other admin work, but you have to know what needs to be done so you can supervise the ones who do.

Here’s the truth some lawyers don’t want to admit: the practice of law isn’t just a profession, it’s a business.

Unless you work for someone else, or have partners that take care of the business side of the equation, you can’t practice your profession without building and maintaining the structure and systems that make the business run.

Your “areas of responsibility” include other things besides your core work.

As you sit down to plan the remainder of this year and the beginning of next, I urge you set goals for each of your areas of responsibility, choose appropriate projects that will help you achieve those goals, and schedule tasks you are committed to doing to move those projects forward.

Spending a little time thinking and planning will help you focus and do the work that matters most.

You’ll be able to run your business, so you can practice your profession, maximize your income, effectively use your time, and enjoy peace of mind, knowing you’re on top of everything.

How to create a simple marketing plan that really works

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Does your life need to go on a diet?

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It was just yesterday that you started practicing. Or so it may seem. The days whiz by, don’t they? Another day, another week, another month, another year, come and gone.

Where will you find the time to do everything?

The answer is to let go of things you don’t need to do or want to do but continue to do out of habit.

A good place to start is by reducing physical and digital clutter. Clean out closets and drawers, delete apps, and cut down on subscriptions.

To do your work, you need a calendar, a place for notes, a list of tasks and projects, a tool for writing, and a system for managing and storing documents.

You probably don’t need much more.

If you do, be judicious about what you add to the mix.

You want to reduce the noise around you and simplify your workflow. You want to focus on the “precious few” instead of the “trivial many”.

The goal is to be effective, with as little friction as possible.

To do that, you need to keep things as simple as possible.

The same goes for the information you consume. Be selective about what you read. Buy fewer books and courses, re-read and study the best ones.

You don’t need every idea; you need a few good ones.

Improve your note-taking skills and habits, so you can better use the information you consume.

How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and How to Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens will show you what to do.

Read broadly but focus on your core skills: your practice area, marketing, writing, speaking, leadership, and productivity.

One thing you should add to your workflow if you’re not already doing it, or doing it consistently, is time for planning.

Spend ten minutes every afternoon planning the following day. Spend an hour each weekend planning the following week.

This habit will help you get the most value out of your limited time.

One more thing.

When you do your planning, make sure you schedule time to enjoy the life you’re building.

Because no matter what you do, the days and weeks will continue to whiz by and you don’t want to look back someday and wonder if it was all worth it.

The only course you need on email marketing

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If they say it, it must be true

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Clients pay for your advice but often don’t want to hear it.

They don’t want to hear bad news, expensive or painful solutions, or what they did wrong.

But hear it they must.

So, you have a choice. You can tell them what they need to hear or you can get them to tell themselves.

Because if you say it, they can doubt it and fight you or blame you; if they say it, it must be true.

So, you present the facts, the whys and wherefores, the options and risks, the process and costs, but hold back on telling them what to do.

Let them figure that out for themselves and tell you what they want to do.

Spanish philosopher Baltasar Gracian said, “When you counsel someone, you should appear to be reminding him of something he had forgotten, not of the light he was unable to see.”

Remind them what they told you they wanted (or didn’t want) and ask questions. Lots of questions.

Questions about what’s important to them, about what they would think or do if something happened (or didn’t), about what they would think and how they would feel.

Ask questions and repeat their answers back to them, so they can hear what they’ve said and how it sounds.

“What you’re saying is. . . is that right?” Keep doing that until they decide. Guide them, but don’t decide for them.

If they ask what you recommend, go over what they’ve told you they want/prefer/want to avoid, and let them respond.

Sometimes, they’ll ask, “What would you do in my situation?” or “What do you recommend?”

What should you do when they ask that?

What do you think you should do?

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No, I don’t want more clients

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Last week, I pontificated about the value of limiting the number of clients an attorney takes on to 10, because it allows them to earn more and work less.

I also said most attorneys won’t do it.

Some attorneys do, however. Appellate attorney Steve Emmert is one of them.

In response to my email, Steve wrote:

(Heh, heh!) I currently have fewer than ten files open. Most of them have seven-digit deltas, of course, so I can still make a living. But you’re absolutely right about this.

This week I took a call from an ad guy at SuperLawyers, in which I’ve been listed for several years, though I’ve never advertised with them. He asked if I’d like to have an extra three or four clients a month. I’m probably the only guy who’s ever told him, “No” in response to that question. I told him that I start getting nervous when I have more than about 12 files open, and three or four more a month would drown me. He really didn’t know what to say.

Who wouldn’t like to be able to tell a sales rep they don’t want any more business?

Steve also shared a story that illustrates the same idea in a different way:

Years ago I attended a brilliant presentation by a guy named Mark Powers, of the legal-consulting firm Atticus. He described his trip to a big firm for an in-house presentation. As soon as the introductions were complete, Powers said, “Now, the first thing I want each of you to do is double your hourly rates.” The ensuing uproar subsided just long enough for one of the partners to stammer, “But, but if we do that, we’ll lose half our clients!”

“Exactly!” a triumphant Powers replied with a smile. He explained to them that if they got the same amount of money for doing half the work, they’d have a better quality of life.

Point, set and match.

I’ve had discussions about raising fees with many attorneys over the years. When I do, I can almost always hear the wheels turning in their head as they wrestle with idea. Sadly, their desire usually loses out to their fear.

Not my friend Steve, however, who figured this out on his own.

I know this because I interviewed him and published a book based on that interview. In it, he shares the secrets to his success, or, as he might describe them, the methods to his madness.

How to Build a Successful Appellate Practice contains valuable practice-building and career-building advice for attorneys in any practice area.

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What if you could only have 10 clients?

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What would happen if you allowed yourself to have no more than 10 clients or 10 active cases at a time? Everyone else gets referred out or turned away. Or told they have to wait until you have an opening.

Because you only take 10 clients at a time.

I’ll tell you what would happen.

You would have more time to serve your clients, which would help you attract better clients and bigger cases. You would be able to charge more, have lower overhead, spend less time on admin and marketing, have more focus, less stress, and enjoy what you do.

In short, you’d earn more and work less.

That’s the theory, anyway. Is this practical? For most attorneys, no. Not without making a lot of changes they aren’t willing to make. So I’m not recommending this way of doing business to all attorneys.

I am recommending that all attorneys think about it, however, because this is the kind of thinking that can lead to some great ideas.

Ideas that can help you earn more and work less.

So. . .

What would you change about your practice if you adopted this rule? Which clients would you eliminate to make room for your 10?

What types of cases would you turn down? What would you change about your fees and retainers and billing? What expenses would you be able to eliminate or reduce?

What would you change about your work process? How would you make things easier, quicker, or more effective?

Let your mind run with this idea. Imagine what your practice (and personal life) would be like if you fully embraced the “no more than 10” rule.

You might get some ideas you can use immediately, or start working towards. Or gain valuable insights about what you’re doing well and what you need to improve.

After this exercise, you probably won’t go “all in” on the “no more than 10” rule. But you might.

Would you like to build a “100% referral” practice? Here’s how

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Lawyers usually don’t get punched in the face

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The other night I watched an old favorite, Hard Times, starring Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Strother Martin, and Jill Ireland. It takes place in Depression-era New Orleans when a stranger comes to town to earn some money with his fists.

There are some great fight scenes in the movie and if you’ve never seen it, or want to see it again, you can rent it on Amazon Prime.

I tried to find some parallels between the world of street-fighting and the world of lawyering, but I had to tap out.

We may have long hours and a lot of stress, we may lose a case or a client from time to time, but no matter how difficult things might get in our world, no matter how much we get “beat up,” we (usually) don’t get punched in the face.

We talk, we write, we argue, and we get paid. Usually, even if we lose.

In the fight world, you either win or you’re a bum. And no matter how good you are, no matter how many fights you win, someone eventually comes along who’s better and you’re back to being a bum.

Lawyers don’t have to be the best. Frankly, we don’t even have to be that good. We can have a nice career even if we’re just average.

How about marketing? Piece of cake. I never once had to deal with gangsters or loan sharks or had my life threatened in order to keep my doors open. How about you?

Nah, we’ve got it good. Let’s raise our glasses to making a fine career choice, shall we?

No matter how bad things get, after our fight, we can dance in the ring, grab the microphone from Mr. Cosell, recite a poem, and tell the world, “I’m still pretty”.

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Hard work is for suckers

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As kids, how many times did we hear about the value of hard work and self-discipline? How many times did we hear stories about parents or grandparents who sacrificed to make a better future for their family? How many times were we told that hard work is the path to a successful and virtuous life?

A lot.

We hear it a lot today, too.

Leaders, authors, speakers, clergy, and everyone else, it seems, who has something to say about our human condition, talks about the sin of laziness and the virtue of hard work.

But is it all true?

Yes, many people have achieved great things by putting their nose to the proverbial grindstone. But just as many seem to accomplish as much without breaking a sweat.

We all know people who are successful without working hard or forcing themselves to do things they hate doing.

Could it be as simple as choosing the right career or job or business? Our grandparents may have had limited career choices, but do we?

If we choose work we love, we don’t need self-discipline. We do what we do because we love doing it.

But it’s not always possible, is it? Surely the sanitation worker doesn’t love his or her job?

Maybe they do. Or maybe they love that they perform a function society depends on, they are (relatively) well-paid, and they don’t have to put in the hours their entrepreneurial neighbors do.

Hard work is okay, if you want to work hard. But doing things that come easily to us, that don’t require self-discipline or sacrifice, is okay, too.

And, if we can’t find work we love, perhaps we can find ways to do our work that don’t cause us stress or strain.

As attorneys, we might not love all our clients or all of the work we are asked to do. But we can always find something about what we do that we enjoy.

Even if it is the satisfaction of helping people solve difficult problems and earning a good living doing it.

Working smarter means you don’t have to work harder. Here’s how

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