Why you must only do work you love

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My first five years of practice I was unhappy and broke. I took any legal work I could find and wound up doing a lot of work I hated. Most of it paid very poorly and every day was a struggle to stay afloat.

One day, I was so miserable, I made a bold decision. I started turning down work I didn’t love.

When I was done cleaning house, I had only a few clients left and lots of free time to think about what I had done. I was scared, but something told me I had done the right thing.

It’s funny how things work. The vacuum in my practice quickly started to fill. I began attracting the kinds of clients I wanted and soon my practice was busy. I was making good money (for the first time in my life) and I was happy.

I know, it’s hard to say no to someone who wants to pay you. But if you’re taking on work you don’t love, it’s actually costing you money.

Turning down work you don’t love makes room for more of the cases and clients you enjoy, and creates a cycle of increasing prosperity and joy.

When you do work you love you are excited to do the work. Because you are excited by your work, you get better outcomes and finish faster. As you get better outcomes, you attract bigger cases and higher paying clients. Because you finish faster, you have more time to accept more good clients and your income increases further. As your income increases, you are more excited and attract more work you love, earning even more income.

Now, what happens when you take work you don’t love? You aren’t excited by the work. When you aren’t excited by the work, you get poorer outcomes and take longer to finish. As you get poorer outcomes, you attract poorer cases and clients and your income decreases. Because you take longer to do the work, you have less time for good clients and your income decreases further. As your income decreases, you are unhappier and attract more work you don’t love and earn even less income.

Prosperity starts by drawing a line in the sand and saying no to work that you don’t love.

Learn more about how I turned around my practice. Click here.

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If your five year old was managing your law practice

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It’s been a long time since I had a five year old in house but not so long that I can’t remember what kids are like. Hey, I can even remember what I was like.

So, what if kids ran the world? More to the point, what if your five year old was managing your law practice? What changes might they make? What would they tell you to do?

1. Have fun. Find ways to put some fun into what you do. Because if you don’t, you’ll burn out. Or get sick. Or ruin your marriage.

That might mean you need to delegate more tasks. Eliminate others. And loosen up. Find some light in the darkness. Find something to smile about and laugh about every day. Put some play into your day. Because if your practice isn’t fun, at least some of the time, you probably need to do something else.

2. Learn stuff. Kids love to learn. It’s keeps them young. If you’ve stopped learning, you need to rekindle your innate thirst for knowledge and learn something. Legal stuff doesn’t count.

Read and listen to things outside your normal areas of interest. You can use those nuggets in your blog posts, articles, speeches, and conversations.

Schedule weekly learning time and study marketing, writing, speaking, leadership, management, and productivity. Read history. Read profiles about business leaders and creative people. Go to museums and art galleries.

3. Tell me a story. Kids love to read stories and have you read them stories. You do, too. You just forgot. So, read some fiction now and then. All facts make Jack a dull boy.

And tell stories to your clients and prospects. Stories are the best way to show people what you do and how you can help them. They are interesting because they have people in them and because something happens to them. Put stories about clients and cases in your marketing materials.

Visuals can tell stories, too. Put photos on your website. Use charts and diagrams to deliver information (but only if they are simple and interesting).

Oh yeah, make sure you have some coloring books and crayons in the office so your client’s kids have something to do.

4. Could I have a dollar? Kids like to have their own money to spend so we pay them for chores or give them an allowance. If they ran your practice, they wouldn’t understand it if you did work but didn’t get paid. Get rid of clients who don’t pay. Ask people who owe you money to pay you (but don’t cry or throw your toys if they don’t).

5. Nap time. Stop running all day. Take breaks. Get some rest. Have a snack. And make sure you get a good night’s sleep because tomorrow is going to be a busy day.

If your five year old were managing your law practice, your law practice would be pretty cool place.

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How to stop other lawyers from stealing your ideas

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I got an email from a lawyer who says other lawyers are copying her firm’s marketing. Some are lawyers who left her firm and opened a competing practice. “I know this is supposed to be the highest form of flattery, but it drives me nuts. Why can’t people come up with their own ideas?”

Wow, a lawyer with marketing ideas worth copying. You don’t see that every day.

Anyway, let me address the issue of what to do about people who are stealing your ideas.

You might be expecting me to say something about non-compete and non-disclosure agreements, copyrights and trademarks, but I have to assume she has that covered. She knows what to do to protect herself legally. She wants to know if there’s anything she can do to make it harder to copy her ideas in the first place.

Yes, there is something you can do.

First, whatever it is you are doing, don’t be quiet about it. Don’t try to sneak in under the radar, do it big. Do it loud enough so that everyone knows you are doing it.

True, your competitors will also notice, but they are going to find out anyway. You can’t stop them. And you can’t stop them from using your ideas. But you can make enough noise so that when they do copy you, the market will see what they’re doing and realize that they are copycats and you are the original.

If I were to start a computer company today and tried to copy Apple’s marketing, I would be laughed at (and sued). Everyone would know that I was a wannabe and that Apple was the original. My marketing would remind everyone that Apple was the first and the best and I would wind up selling more Apple products than my own.

If you are the Apple of law firms in your practice area and market, nobody will be able to touch you.

The other thing you should do is infuse into your marketing as much of your personality and style as possible. Don’t make it about “the idea,” make it about YOU. Because you are unique. You can’t be copied.

Use your name and photo in all of your marketing collateral. Tell personal stories that nobody else can tell. Record audios and videos and do webinars and interviews that feature you as the face of your firm.

Your ideas will still be copied but you will always be the original, and the best.

One more thing. The fact that other lawyers stealing your ideas “drives you nuts” will only serve to perpetuate your frustration. It’s the Law of Attraction. What you focus on, you get more of.

You have to let it go.

There have been many times in my life when I was frustrated about something. As long as I continued to think about what I didn’t want, I continued to get more of what I didn’t want. When I was (finally) able to let go of my emotional attachment to what I didn’t want, that’s when I got what I did want.

I know, kind of airy-fairy. But true.

Think about the reality of people stealing your ideas. Not a good feeling, right? Now, think about some aspect of this that feels better. Maybe that even though they are stealing your ideas, your firm is still doing well. Or that you realize that ideas are a dime a dozen and that it’s the implementation that counts. Or maybe that the idea of becoming the Apple of law firms in your market challenges and excites you.

Let go of your frustration and continue to think thoughts that feel good when you think them. Get excited about all of the goodness that lies ahead for you. When you do, you will be at a place that is so far ahead of other lawyers, they won’t ever be able to catch you.

Need marketing ideas? Try this or this.

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What do you do when you have too much to do?

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I’ve got lists. Lots of tasks and projects. Things I’m working on and things I plan to work on. Everything is organized in Evernote. I follow my own version of GTD. Every task or project has at least one tag to identify it as something I plan to do Now, Next, or Someday.

But while everything is organized and tagged, I still have too much to do. It’s overwhelming. So I find myself avoiding my lists and doing what is nagging at my brain, which defeats the entire purpose of having a task management system.

Currently I have 54 Now tasks, 531 tagged for Next. I’m supposed to look at everything during my weekly review, but with that many tasks on my list, I find myself procrastinating.

What do you do when you have too much to do and your weekly review isn’t working?

You declare task bankruptcy.

You get rid of everything and start over. A fresh start with your tasks.

While I had never heard the term “task bankruptcy” before, I’ve done it before. I did it to achieve inbox zero with my email. I did it when I stopped using one online task management app and started using another and there was no way to export/import my tasks. I can attest to how good it feels to wipe the slate clean and start over.

Starting over doesn’t mean throwing out everything. I will refer to my lists in the process of creating new ones. But every task will be scrutinized and will have to earn it’s way back onto my lists.

First, I will move all of my tasks and projects into a temporary notebook. My main notebook, where I keep all of my tasks and projects will then be empty.

(NB: In Evernote, I use one notebook for all of my notes. I use tags to identify when I will do something (Now, Next, etc.) and for reference purposes. Multiple notebooks leads to confusion–Which notebook should I file this note in? Which notebook DID I file that note in?)

Next, I will go through all of my tasks and projects in the temporary notebook. Anything I know I want to do (or have to do) will get moved back into my main notebook. Anything I’m not sure of, that doesn’t call out to me and inspire me, will go.

The objective is to have a lean and mean Now and Next list. I will still have my Someday/Maybe list, but I will be ruthless in paring this as well.

I guess you could describe this as a periodic review. You go through everything and make decisions about whether you still want to do something and if so, when. That’s what should be done during the weekly review. But when the whole system gets bloated, it makes sense to periodically re-boot.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by everything you have to do, if you find yourself procrastinating on your weekly review, you might want to declare task bankruptcy and get a fresh start.

But be careful. Once you have zeroed out your task obligations and created new lists, those tasks might start accumulating again. Fortunately, you won’t have to wait seven years before declaring task bankruptcy again. You can do it any time you want.

If you want to see how I organize everything, check out my Evernote for Lawyers ebook.

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The virtue of wasting time

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“Quit goofing off and get back to work!” Have you ever said that to your kids or your employees? I know you’ve said it to yourself.

We seemed to be obsessed with the idea that wasting time is a bad thing. I know, “wasting” implies “no value,” but is that really true?

Me thinks not.

Playing video games, checking in or posting on social media, watching football, or whatever you like to do when you’re not doing what you think you’re supposed to do, is not wasting time. I can think of several reasons why it is good for you. And if its good for you, then its good for your work and other aspects of your life.

  • It helps you relax. Stress is a major health risk. Goofing off helps us forget our troubles and lower our blood pressure. Laughing has been proven to improve mental and physical health.
  • It helps you think. When our conscious minds are distracted, our subconscious minds come up with ideas, solve problems, and help us make decisions.
  • It improves skills. Gaming can improve hand-eye coordination and sharpen critical thinking. Watching sports can teach you about leadership, strategy, and team effort. Social media can help you learn about pop culture, which can be used in conversation and writing.
  • It helps you meet new people. With many hobbies and personal interests, you get to meet new people–at the game or the sports bar, online, at the concert, or the convention. New people bring new ideas, new contacts, new business.
  • It affirms life. The purpose of life is joy, not work.

Is there such a thing as spending too much time “wasting time”? Our bosses, parents, and spouses may think so, especially if they’ve seen us spending an hour or two on a site like this one. But it’s really the wrong question.

Better to ask, “Are you getting your work done?”, “Are you making a contribution to the world,” and “Are you happy?”

If you can answer those questions in the affirmative, I don’t think the amount of time you spend conquering pretend kingdoms or contemplating your navel really matters.

Earn more so you can goof off more. Here’s how.

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Is it time to put your practice on a diet?

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Yesterday, I did a strategy session with an attorney who was thinking about getting out of practicing law. After several decades of practicing, he said, “I don’t have the enthusiasm for my practice I once felt. I’ve had difficulties staying focused on my practice and delivering my work product in a timely fashion.”

In other words, the thrill was gone.

He does tax and estate planning, trust and estate administration, and tax compliance. Much of his malaise was centered on a feeling of being bogged down in administrative minutia. As a sole practitioner, there was simply too much to do and too much to keep up with and he was overwhelmed.

I asked him if there was any part of what he does that he liked. He said he enjoyed working with individuals and helping them with estate planning. I said, “If you could have a successful practice doing nothing but that and none of the other things you’re currently doing, how would that be?” “That would be great,” he said.

Problem solved.

He didn’t need to get out of practicing. He needed to put his practice on a diet.

By getting rid of practice areas (and clients) that weighed him down, he could have a leaner, more robust practice doing what he enjoyed doing. I told him there was more than enough business available for the kind of estate planning he liked and that he didn’t have to do anything else.

Many attorneys suffer from “practice bloat,” a term I just made up but which seems to accurately describe what happens over a period of years. You start out lean and mean, excited, and enjoying the process of building your practice. At some point, you take on additional practice areas because the work falls into your lap or because you want to have another profit center or something to fall back on. In time, your practice no longer resembles the one you started. You have too much to do, too much to keep up with, and you start falling behind. At this point, many attorneys start thinking the law is not their calling and they start looking for something else.

Some attorneys start out doing too much. I did. I took anything that showed up. I thought I had to because I needed the money. Soon, I was overwhelmed and frustrated, convinced I’d made a mistake in becoming a lawyer.

In both cases, the answer is to put the practice on a diet.

Get rid of practice areas you don’t enjoy. Get rid of clients who drive you crazy. Get rid of work you’re not good at but continue to do because “it’s part of the job”.

The vacuum you create by getting rid of things that do not serve you will soon be filled with work that you love and are good at. You’ll breathe life into a moribund practice, attract new clients, and increase your income. Most importantly, you’ll look forward to going to work every day.

There are more than enough clients available who want and need what you love to do. If your practice is bloated and the thrill is gone, it may be time to put your practice on a diet.

Does your practice need fixing? A new focus? Do you have marketing questions? I can help.

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Don’t Worry, Be Happy

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In 1988, Don’t Worry, Be Happy reached number one on the Billboard music charts, a position it held for two weeks. Bobby McFerrin’s a cappella hit had us singing (or whistling) along, buoyed by it’s upbeat message. Right now, there’s a whole lot of worrying going on in the world and it might do us all some good to listen once again.

“In every life we have some trouble. When you worry you make it double. Don’t worry, be happy……” (lyrics)

A long time ago, I eliminated the word “worry” from my lexicon. Worry is not a helpful word, or emotion. All it does is make you anxious. Today, I might be “concerned” about something, but never worried. I find I can deal more clearly with things when I’m not caught up in the emotions surrounding them.

Worrying about a problem will never fix it. Creative thinking, asking for help, taking action–these can fix a problem, but not worry. So stop it. Stop worrying about your problems. Get yourself a big box and put all your worries in it. Set that box on fire. Burn it up. You don’t need what’s in it, so get rid of it. (At least put it in storage. You can come back later if you really miss your problems.)

“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” –Mark Twain

While you’re at it, throw into your box all of the things you worry about that aren’t problems. Stuff that never happened and probably never will. That includes all of the “missed opportunities” that nag at you. All of the shoulda’s, coulda’s, and woulda’s.

What good is it to worry about your web site and all of the search engine traffic you’re NOT getting, for example? Let it go. Stop thinking about it. In fact, what if you never had to think about SEO again? How would that feel? You wouldn’t have to think about it or read about it or spend money on it.

Release it. Let it go.

There are other ways to get traffic (and clients) that have nothing to do with search engines. Sure, it’s nice when you get them through search but wouldn’t it be nice to know you don’t have to depend on it?

Relax. Everything will be fine. Don’t worry. Be happy.

“Here is a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note
Don’t worry be happy

Now that you’re feeling better and you have more free time, you can explore SEO if you want to. But only if you want to, not because you have to. No worries, no “have to’s,” just an opportunity. Do it or don’t do it.

Make a list of things you’re thinking about right now. Projects, ideas, things you have to do. Make sure you add anything that you’re worried about. Get them off your desk and out of your head. That alone feels good, doesn’t it?

Then ask yourself, “How many of these things could I cross off my list?” If you can’t cross them off, label or tag them with “someday/maybe” and file them away, out of sight.

Spend your time thinking about things that are important, and things that feel good when you think about them. No, you can’t ignore your responsibilities or pretend you don’t have any problems. But you don’t have to worry about them, either.

Need clients? Don’t worry. Get The Attorney Marketing Formula and be happy.

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How self-employed attorneys can avoid burn out and increase their income

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One of my Facebook friends posted today: “Totally. Burned. Out. In desperate need of a day off, but then the work won’t get done. Ugh.”

He’s an attorney and works for a firm. I assume he is salaried. I assume he cannot give the work to someone else to do. He has to do it because the work is assigned to him or nobody else is capable of doing it.

Either way, he’s stuck. That’s the way it is with most jobs.

But most self-employed people say the same thing. They either don’t have any employees or partners to whom they can give the work or nobody else is capable of doing it.

Either way, they’re stuck, too.

The employee understands the trade off. They exchange their time for dollars and don’t have to deal with the administrative and marketing demands of being self-employed. They give up some of their freedom in exchange for “security” (or so they think; there are no secure jobs). The self-employed person values freedom above all and is willing to take on the additional responsibilities and longer hours, in order to “be their own boss.”

For most of my career, I have been self-employed. I worked for my father for a year out of law school and I didn’t like it. I wanted to “do my own thing” (that’s how we described it in the ’70’s). I was willing to take on the additional responsibilities and long hours and give up the “security” of a job to get it.

But only to a point.

After a few years, I got Totally. Burned. Out. I wanted to take time off, but the work wouldn’t get done. I was stuck, and that’s when I made a decision to change what I was doing.

I realized that “if the work won’t get done unless I do it,” I didn’t own a business (practice), it owned me. I worked hard but if freedom was my goal, and it was, and I couldn’t take a day off when I wanted to, or six months when I wanted to, I might as well get a job.

I decided that I would hire more people and delegate to them as much of the work as possible. I supervised them and did the legal work that nobody else could do. I soon found out that there wasn’t much legal work that nobody else could do and while that may not have been good for my ego, it was very good for my well-being and my bank account. It meant I could concentrate on marketing and building the practice, and that’s what I did.

And then, I was able to take lots of time off because I owned a business (practice) and it no longer owned me.

If you are self-employed and “the work won’t get done unless you do it,” you should consider making similar changes. Hire more people, outsource, associate with other attorneys. Do what you have to do to lesson the need for you to do the work.

Not only will you avoid burn out and increase your income, you will have more time to post on Facebook.

Your time is precious. Learn how to leverage it to earn more and work less in The Attorney Marketing Formula.

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Put your contact list on a diet

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I’ve written before about the value of creating a “Focus 30” list–a list of your most important clients, best referral sources, and other people to whom you want to give your time and attention.

Keeping that list in front of you will remind you to call, write, and engage with the people who contribute most to your success.

I didn’t say so then, but I should mention that you can include on your Focus 30 list people who are important to you outside of your professional life. Friends, spiritual leaders, and others you influence you in positive ways also deserve your attention.

If your Focus 30 list is the cream of the crop, the tip of the top, there are undoubtedly people in your life who are just the opposite.

You know the ones I mean.

  • People you don’t like
  • People who waste your time
  • People who are abusive to you and others
  • Takers/users

You get the idea.

Your relationship with these people does not serve you. You should take steps to either reduce the amount of time you spend with them or completely eliminate them from your life.

Of course some people (i.e., clients, close relatives) you may have to put up with to some extent. But this should be a conscious choice you make, not something you do merely out of habit or a sense of duty.

The easiest way to put your contact list on a diet is to go through the list, one name at a time, and rate each person. If you don’t recognize a name, or you don’t communicate with that person often enough to matter, you can skip them. For everyone else, assign a number based on how you feel about them:

1 = Positive
2 = Neutral
3 = Negative

That’s a lot quicker and eaiser than trying to figure out why you don’t like someone. Trust your gut.

If you’re not sure about someone, give them a 2.

Anyway, don’t agonize over anyone and don’t spend a lot of time on this.

When you’re done, go back through the list. 1’s and 2’s are okay. (You may see some 1’s you want to add to your Focus 30 list).

You need to do something about the 3’s.

Some you’ll stop seeing and taking their calls. Cross them off your list. Eliminate them completely from your life.

Others, you’ll reduce the amount of time you give them. If they are a client worth keeping, give the task of dealing with them to someone who works for you. Get away from them as much as possible. If that won’t work, you’ll need to decide if the negative feelings you get from being around these people are worth the money they pay you.

Or, look at it this way: How much more would you earn by getting rid of your negative, anxiety-causing, slow-paying, trouble-making, pain-in-the-ass clients?

Now, as for your relatives. . .

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Build a more profitable law practice by relaxing and doing less

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Yesterday, I spoke with an attorney who is on the verge of burnout. I could hear it in his voice. After thirty years of practice, he’s struggling to attract clients, he’s stressed out and he doesn’t know what to do.

He tells me he’s competent and people like him when they meet him. “Put me in front of someone and they’ll sign up,” he said. He doesn’t do a lot of networking and admits he doesn’t get in front of enough people.

He has a web site and a blog for each of his five practice areas. He’s spent considerable time and money creating content for his blogs and optimizing them for search engines. Unfortunately, the clients who have contacted him through his site have had little money or were looking for free advice.

Within a couple of minutes, I could see his problem and told him what I thought. I could do that because his “ailment” is so common. Like many attorneys, he’s spread too thin and trying to do too much.

I told him he needed to slow down and get focused. Choose one practice area, the one he likes and is best at, and stick with it. His background is in business law. He doesn’t like doing divorces but that’s the kinds of clients his web site seems to be attracting so he added that to his repertoire. While you can’t ignore what the market wants, you are never a slave to it.

I also told him to specialize in the kinds of clients he represents. Some clients are better than others. They have more money and more legal work, the kind you enjoy doing, and you should concentrate on attracting them. Choose an industry or market niche where you have some knowledge and experience and own it. Everything is easier when you do.

His blogs have a lot of content but I suspect it is content created for search engines more than for real people. When you write for SEO purposes you often wind up with content that is mechanically correct but lifeless. When your content is organic, coming from your experiences with real clients, you attract similar clients who resonate with your message.

The process I recommended was one of subtraction: getting rid of most of what he was doing and starting over with a clean slate. Most of his good clients had come through referrals and that’s where they will continue to come from, once he stops trying so hard.

Marketing professional services should be a natural outgrowth of who you are. It starts with knowing what you want and giving yourself permission to have it, choosing your clients instead of letting them choose you.

Relax, do less, but do what you are, not what an SEO expert says you should be.

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