Is it okay to tell a client, “I don’t know”?

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When we prep a client for a statement or depo we tell them it’s okay to say, “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember”. It’s safe. A way to keep them from guessing or lying and getting caught.

If you don’t know, you don’t know, so that’s what you should say.

But what if it’s something they should know? Won’t they look bad if they say they don’t?

Sometimes they will.

If the question is, “Where were you seated in the vehicle?” yes. They will look bad if they say they don’t know.

You sign ’em up and you take yo chances.

But what about us? Lawyers who have clients (and spouses) who ask us questions we should be able to answer. Is it okay to tell them you don’t know?

Sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s not.

When a client asks, “How much is my case worth?” you better not give them an answer that doesn’t include the words “it depends.” On the other hand, if your spouse asks, “Do you love me” you damn well better have a different answer. And, for the record, if your spouses asks, “How much did you have to drink?” you probably don’t want to say you don’t recall.

But those are easy. What about difficult questions?

When a client asks you about the law, is it okay to say you don’t know? Should you offer an ambiguous “it depends” type of answer, tell them you’re not sure, or admit you don’t have a clue?

If you admit you don’t know something you should know, doesn’t that show weakness?

It’s certainly a good way to show the client you respect them and aren’t trying to bluff your way through an answer. It’s refreshing to hear an attorney provide a straight answer for a change, isn’t it?

Yeah, I know, it depends.

If you don’t know the answer, and you don’t know if you should admit that, I’d suggest going with, “I need to do more research.”

On the other hand, speaking from experience, I can tell you that’s not a good answer when your wife asks you (anything).

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Do your clients know how smart you are?

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My accountant and I recently started using a shared Dropbox folder to exchange documents. I spoke to him the other day about a bunch of things and when we were done, I asked if he wants me to keep everything in that folder, or could I remove them.

Some things I want to put elsewhere. Some things I want to trash.

He said I could do anything I wanted with those documents, they’re all copies.

One reason I asked is that every year he sends me an inch-thick booklet of “literature” to read, information about changes in tax law, recommended record-keeping practices, and various strategies for reducing taxes.

It’s a lot to read and I’m sure it’s very good but I usually don’t read it.

I always assumed it was canned material, purchased from a service that sells research and recommendations to CPAs to send to their clients. Something he and a thousand other CPAs stick in the envelope (or dropbox folder) they send to clients each year.

Boilerplate. Generic. Boring.

But I was wrong. He told me he writes all of it.

I was impressed (and told him so) and embarrassed that, at best, I only skimmed his good work.

My fault for assuming. His fault for not letting me know he wrote it.

Had I known that, I would have read (some of) it and probably found something I could use. At the very least, I would have been even more impressed at how smart he is and how hard he works for his clients.

So that’s my message to you. If you write or record something, send it to your clients and prospects, even if it’s not completely applicable to their case or situation. And make sure they know you wrote it.

You want them to know that you’re smart, good at your job, and work hard for your clients. You want them to feel good about choosing you as their attorney.

Pretty sure you want that too.

How to write a newsletter that brings in more business

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My lawyer is a poophead

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Ah, the joy of getting a bad review. And by joy, I mean blood-boiling anger and massive regret that you ever met, let alone helped that ingrate of a client.

You worked your assimus maximus off for them and they tell the world you’re mean or incompetent or didn’t deliver what you promised.

Hold my beer. 

A negative review isn’t always the kiss of death, but it’s clearly not good for business.

Do you ignore it? Post an apology? Call the client and try to make amends?

Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do. Your only hope is that the one stinker gets buried on the page by a legion of positive reviews. (So make sure you encourage your happy clients to post a review).

But often, there is something you can do about a bad review and it pays to consider your options.

How to Effectively Address Client Reviews offers advice on handling critical reviews, and what to do with good ones.

My advice? Whatever you do, cool your jets before you write or say anything. And that beer you asked someone to hold for you? Drink it after you respond, not before.

For lawyers: The Quantum Leap Marketing System

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Trust me, I’m a lawyer

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If people don’t trust you, they won’t hire you. At first, they may give you the benefit of the doubt, especially if you were referred to them, but that trust can be lost in a heartbeat.

My wife used a referral service she likes to have some roofers come out for an inspection. First one, great. On time, friendly, plain spoken. He showed her photos of some minor issues that need work and gave her an estimate. She liked what he said and he’s in the running.

Yesterday, the second one showed up (from the same referral service), but there was a problem. He couldn’t get up on the roof.

It seems he had a short, fold-up ladder, which he transported in the trunk of his car, and it wouldn’t reach. When my wife asked why he didn’t bring a longer ladder, he explained that he would need to drive a truck and the gas would be too expensive.

Yikes.

He said he could send someone with the truck later in the week. Right, after experiencing this guy’s bewildering lack of preparedness, we’ll sit around waiting for one of his guys to show up.

Needless to say, he didn’t get the job.

If you’re in a competitive field, where clients talk to more than one lawyer before making their choice, consider that prospective clients aren’t looking for a reason to hire you so much as a reason to disqualify you.

It doesn’t take much for them to do that.

If you are unprepared, if you squawk about your costs of doing business, if you say or do anything that says “unprofessional,” that’s it. You’re off the list.

And anything can knock you off that list.

Someone doesn’t like your photo on your website because you look mean, or there is no photo so they can’t look at your eyes, or you didn’t call them back right away, or you yawned on the phone and sounded like you didn’t care.

Anything.

Am I saying you have to meet certain minimum standards to even be in the running? Yes. Getting the basics right only gets you in the game. If you want to get the job, you have to do even more.

Yes, it’s hard. You have to be ever vigilant and pay attention to detail. When you are in a service business or a profession, it’s not just the quality of your work or the results you deliver that count, it’s the entire client experience.

Which begins with trust.

Want more referrals? Do a 30-Day Referral Blitz

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I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. Demille

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“Zoom Gloom” is causing a dramatic rise in plastic surgery. People are getting face lifts, Botox treatments, and other procedures, because they don’t like the way they look on camera.

“Noses and wrinkles seem to be the most common complaints generated by this phenomenon, which the experts have dubbed ‘Zoom Dysmorphia'”

Hey, I’m not crazy about seeing myself on camera, but aren’t there other things we can do besides surgery?

Many articles and videos show how to position our camera and adjust our lighting for a more flattering look. The right lighting can hide wrinkles and blemishes and even out skin tones.

A better camera might help.

More ideas:

  • Makeup that suits your skin tones, especially under harsh light
  • A different hair cut, style, or color
  • A tan
  • Teeth whitening
  • Losing weight (or gaining it) as appropriate
  • Different eye glass frames
  • Different clothing (style, color)
  • Drinking more water (just not before you go live!)

For many of us, just getting more sleep can make a big difference.

We all want to look our best. These are some thoughts about how to do that without going under the knife or needle.

By the way, if you haven’t seen Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, here’s the infamous scene. If you’d like a good laugh, check out one of Carol Burnett’s Nora Desmond parodies.

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3 ways to position yourself as an expert

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If you want to stand out in your field and attract more and better clients, being an attorney isn’t enough.

There are too many of us and we all look alike.

The good news is that it isn’t especially difficult to help the world see you as an expert in your field or niche.

Here are 3 ways to do that:

  1. Specialize.

Prospective clients and the people who refer them prefer lawyers who specialize. They see specialists as having more knowledge and experience, greater capabilities. They see less risk in hiring you or referring clients to you versus other attorneys. And, specialists can charge more than attorneys who don’t specialize.

You can specialize in your practice area and in the types of clients or cases you represent.

  1. Educate the market.

Make sure your website provides lots of information about your field–issues, problems, risks, time lines, and available solutions, especially the ones you provide.

Write about your target market’s world–news about their industry or local market, prominent people in that market, and other matters that would interest the people in your niche.

Tell people why you’re different or better than other attorneys in your field.

Continue to educate the market via articles you publish on authority sites, in your presentations, in interviews, and in your newsletter.

  1. Social proof.

Your bio should confirm your authority status. It should cite articles by or about you, note your speaking engagements, describe awards you’ve received, and detail other distinctions–e.g., Judge Pro Tem, Arbitrator, clerkships, CLE classes, former industry jobs, etc.

Other forms of social proof include testimonials, client reviews, and endorsements by influential people.

It also helps to network with other authorities.

Finally, if you wrote a book, mention this–everywhere. Authors are, by definition, authorities. And if you haven’t written a book, start. Not only can it build your authority, it can also attract a lot of prospective clients to your door.

For more ways to assert your authority and build your reputation, see The Attorney Marketing Formula.

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Haters gonna hate

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Surprise: not everyone loves you. Truth be told, many people don’t like you at all.

Because you’re a lawyer.

And they don’t like lawyers. Never have, never will.

They think we’re corrupt. We lie, cheat, and steal as a matter of course. We’re greedy. We think we’re better than them.

Lawyers are evil. End of story.

And then there our clients. The ones who think we failed them or overcharged them or were mean to them. The ones who leave bad reviews, file complaints against us, and tell everyone they know to avoid us.

Yes, we’re in a tough business. Clients with stressful legal situations, a society that needs a scapegoat to blame for its ills, and, let’s face it–we’re not cheap.

So it’s easy to blame us and be jealous of us.

We shouldn’t be surprised when people talk bad about us or about our profession.

Because that’s never going to stop.

What can we do? We can ignore the haters. Don’t let their vitriol seep into your psyche.

Ignore them and focus on the people who appreciate you.

Many of your clients love you. They know you care about them and work hard for them. They trust you and will come back to you when they need you. They will tell their friends good things about you.

Focus on them.

And remember, when the haters need you, when their liberty or dignity or bank account is on the line, they’re going to call you and pay what you ask.

Because they need you.

Also remember that the best clients don’t begrudge what you earn. The best clients know you’re worth every penny.

You solve problems for them and help them achieve their goals and they gladly pay you to do that.

The best clients want their lawyers to be well-paid.

If you’d like to get more of those types of clients, then check out my video course on using leverage to grow your practice.

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Are you an authority? You could be.

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Are you better than other attorneys in your practice area or market?

Better than some? Better than most? Does it matter?

Yes, it matters. Better clients prefer to hire better attorneys and they’re generally willing to pay more to get them.

But how do they know you’re better?

If you have 20 years experience, clients usually see you as better than attorneys with only two years experience. If you’ve won some big verdicts or have an office on “attorney row,” clients tend to see you as the better choice.

When you look successful, people see you as an expert, an authority in your field. They tend to trust you and value you more.

Brain scans confirm that people process information coming from authorities differently than from other sources. That’s why success breeds success.

What if you don’t have a long track record or a big office? What can you do to get prospective clients (and the people who refer them) to see you as an authority?

Positive reviews help. So do testimonials and endorsements from influential people in your niche.

Get ’em and feature them on your website and your marketing materials.

Public speaking helps, probably because so many people fear it. Do what you can to get in front of a room a few times and add this to your bio.

Finally, one of the best ways to be perceived as an authority is to publish a book. Authors are author-ites, so get to scribbling.

Give people reasons to see you as an authority and more people will see you as the better choice.

Want help writing and publishing a book? Contact me

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Why am I not surprised?

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I just saw an infographic depicting “America’s Most & Least Trusted Professions”. Lawyers ranked near the bottom, just above business executives, car salespeople, and swamp-creatures, aka, members of Congress.

I’ve noted before that lawyers are an easy target. We do everyone’s dirty work and tend to make a lot of enemies, after all. And who doesn’t like a good lawyer joke?

But that doesn’t mean we should accept the world’s collective opprobrium. Neither should we single-handedly attempt to repair the reputation of an entire profession. 

Instead, we should take steps to differentiate ourselves. To show the world that we’re one of the good ones. 

We can do that, we must do that, by going out of our way to foster trust in the eyes of our prospects, clients, and professional contacts. 

This covers a lot of territory, everything from treating people better than they expect (or deserve) to be treated, to displaying the accolades and endorsements of others who vouch for us, to doing charitable work usually associated with good people, and everything in between. 

We should, of course, also refrain from the types of practices we know client’s dislike. Failing to keep clients informed about their case and charging for every little expense and every nanosecond of time are common examples.  

Another way to earn trust is to exceed our clients’ expectations. Giving them extra services, delivering better results, and showering them with the highest level of “customer service” not only goes a long way towards earning trust, but it can also stimulate a heap of positive word of mouth about you. 

In our marketing, we can build trust by showing our market how we are different or better than our competition. This can be as simple as providing more information than most attorneys do, or doing so in an interesting or entertaining matter. 

Finally, one thing we shouldn’t do is deny the fact that lawyers tend to rank low on the trust totem pole. Instead, we should acknowledge this fact and help people understand what to do about it. 

Educate your market about the standard of care, so prospective clients will know what to expect and demand. Teach them what to do when a lawyer doesn’t deliver.

And teach them what to look for when they are looking for a lawyer in your practice area. Give them the questions to ask and the answers they should get.  

Do this, and you will take a big step towards showing the market that you are indeed one of the good ones.

How to build trust and get more repeat business and referrals

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Posture

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Yesterday, I talked about how some lawyers are afraid of their clients. They bend over backward to give them whatever they want, even if they don’t deserve it, because they’re afraid of losing the client or having them say bad things about them.

They try to please everyone, thinking they’ll attract more clients, but all they do is drive clients away.

When you’re too eager to please, too available, or too generous, you project an image of neediness. Clients can sense it.

When clients see you as needy, they get nervous. It’s like pulling up to a restaurant at 6 pm and seeing an empty parking lot. Nobody wants to eat where nobody else is eating.

People want to hire attorneys who don’t need their business. True or not, that’s what you want them to think.

Don’t be so quick to give them what they want. Make them wait a day or a week to book an appointment. Have them speak to someone on your staff or fill out a form on your website before they get to speak to you.

To pull this off, you have to believe that they need you more than you need them. If you don’t believe this, you need to work on that. For starters, make your services different and better than what other lawyers offer, or at least package and present them that way.

It’s called posture and the most successful attorneys have it in spades.

Have you seen attorneys who accept new clients “by referral only”? That’s posture.

You want to attract clients, not chase them. You want them to see you as the best choice, not just another pretty face in the crowd.

On the other hand, don’t do what some attorneys do. Don’t overplay your hand. Some attorneys come off as cocky, expensive, and too unavailable. Hey, if a client wanted that they’d hire a doctor, not a lawyer.

How to get clients to see you as the one they want

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