How much is my case worth?

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I watch a lot of Evernote videos. Even when you know as much as (I think) I know, you can always learn something new.

In one video, a young woman starts out by telling her Evernote story–how she got started in 2013, how she has “so many” notes and how “it takes a lot of effort to keep everything organized”.

I’m closing in on 11,000 notes. I’m always interested in what others do to organize their notes.

Anyway, about midway through the video, the woman says that she has around 240 notes.

For her, that’s “so many”. That’s “a lot to keep organized”.

I got to thinking. I do that sometimes. I thought about how one person’s “so many” is another person’s “so what?”

I thought about how when we’re speaking to a client or witness and they tell us they’re in a lot of pain or they missed a lot of time from work or someone owes them a lot of money, we don’t write down “a lot” on our legal pads, do we?

We ask questions.

We are in the clarity and precision business. We assume nothing, ask lots of questions, and nail things down. Then, just to make sure, we go back and ask the same questions again.

A lot of people think we’re a big pain in the ass.

It’s ironic. Attorneys value clarity and precision and yet are often unclear and imprecise in their marketing and in answering a client’s questions, such as when the work will be done or how much their case is worth.

Because we don’t want to be pinned down.

Hey, we may be a pain in the ass but we’re not stupid.

How to get “a lot” of referrals

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Yoda was wrong

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I heard that the face of Star War’s Yoda character was loosely based on the visage of Albert Einstein. I don’t know if that’s true but I’ve seen photos and there is a resemblance. 

Anyway, like his face-sake, Yoda is a smart guy who said a lot of wise things. But there’s one thing Yoda got wrong. 

“Do or do not,” Yoda said. “There is no try.” 

Nice try, Yoda, but no cigar. (See what I did there?)

Of course, there is “try”. Without trying, there can be no doing. 

You can’t find an idea that works without trying out ideas that don’t. You can’t find a date or a mate if you never play the field. 

In fact, the power is in the trying. Doing is nice but often anticlimactic. And not doing doesn’t deserve its bad rep. Not doing, i.e.,  trying and failing, is how we learn and get good enough to do. 

Didn’t Joseph Campbell, whose work inspired Lucas to create the  Star Wars story, write about the value of The Journey? He didn’t rhapsodize about the value of The Destination.

And didn’t Luke fail a lot before he was finally victorious?

How ’bout them apples, Yoda?

Okay, I’ll probably hear from a Star Wars scholar who will set me straight. Tell me why I should kiss my sister or something.

Until then, I’m going to try to do some more writing. 

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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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I’ve got a legal problem and I need your advice

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A man contacted me with a legal problem. He explained what had happened and asked, “What should I do?”

I said, “You should get our your checkbook and write me a big fat check with lots of zeros in it. In fact, empty your bank account. I’m good at what I do, my advice is extremely valuable, and I don’t work for free. So pay up, bub, or get lost and never darken my doorstep again.”

And then I woke up.

I think it was my subconscious mind reminding me to be nice, explain prospective clients’ options, tell them your policy regarding fees and retainers, and ask them what they wanted to do.

Damn subconscious. What, did it graduate from a seminary? Work for the state bar? Talk to my wife?

I was thinking about this and wondering why I ever bothered to go to law school. I’m not cut out for being nice to people. What was I thinking?

And then I woke up. I realized I wasn’t a lawyer after all, I was having a nightmare about the last few decades and none of it was true.

What a relief. Being a lawyer is hard. You have to talk to people and do things for them and you don’t earn anywhere near what most people think. Law school is a scam!

Can you guess what happened next? Yep, I woke up. Realized it wasn’t a dream, I was an attorney, and I had an email to write and send you. So I got busy and wrote down what you just read.

The point? The point is it’s Friday, most of us didn’t lose our home to a Cat 5 hurricane, we don’t live in Venezuela or North Korea, we have our health, people who love us, work we care about, (and the ability to change anything if we want to), and we all need to lighten up. Have some fun with this thing before it’s over.

My challenge to you: write a semi-silly email (that actually makes a point) and send it to your clients and prospects. Make stuff up. Pretend it’s April Fool’s Day. Write something you would never otherwise write, just to see who’s out there and who’s paying attention.

I promise you, it will be a lot of fun. Especially if you actually send it.

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Can Johnny come out and play?

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Are you up for some fun today? I thought we might take the rest of the day off, catch a movie and grab some pizza.

How does that sound?

You’ve got too much work on your desk? You’ve got appointments and deadlines?

Screw it! The work will be there when you get back. You work hard enough. You need to get out of the office and have some fun! You deserve it, don’t you?

C’mon, you know you want to. And you can. Just tell your staff you’re leaving for the weekend and have them reschedule your appointments.

They won’t understand? You feel guilty? Okay, tell them you’re not feeling well and need to leave early.

That’s true, isn’t it? You don’t feel well thinking about the fact that you can’t be spontaneous and take off a few hours when you feel like it.

So there. Problem solved. I’ll pick you up in ten minutes.

What do you mean you’re not sure? Don’t be a party pooper, let’s go! It’s only a few hours. And I’m buying!

You’ll come. Great! I’m on my way.

By the way, I’m impressed. You really are a good negotiator. Playing me, holding out until I said, “I’m buying”.

Nicely done, my friend.

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If I had a time machine. . .

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One of my favorite themes in science fiction is time travel. Last night, I re-watched an episode of Doctor Who where The Doctor and Amy visit Vincent Van Gogh. It seems that this is a favorite episode for many fans of the show, in particular because of the moving and brilliantly portrayed final scene.

No spoilers from me. It’s Season 5, Episode 10, Vincent and the Doctor (with Matt Smith as The Doctor). It’s on Netflix, but if you must, I think you can find the final scene on YouTube.

If I had access to a time machine, I wouldn’t visit the future. Now now, anyway. I’d be afraid of what I might see.

No, I would visit the past, including my childhood and days as a younger adult. No doubt I’d laugh at my younger world view, ideas, plans, and how I spent my time. I’m sure I would cringe at my feeble attempts at humor.

What would I tell my younger self? In truth, I wouldn’t talk to myself. That’s a time travel no no. Something about a paradox. Okay, revealing my inner nerd.

But I might leave myself a message.

What would I say? I would tell myself to think less and do more. To cherish every day of life and live it to the fullest.

I would tell myself that there will be many times when I will have a decision to make and I will choose to play it safe. Instead, I would counsel myself to take more risks. I would share Helen Keller’s observation that “Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing.”

And then, before I came back to the present, I would leave myself one more note: “1984 Apple. 1997 Amazon. You’re welcome.”

Hey, don’t look down on me. Time machines are expensive!

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All I want for Christmas is YOU

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Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, the day men start shopping for Christmas presents.

You’ll see them in stores, looking like lost puppies, desperate to find something their wives and girlfriends won’t hate. You’ll also see them at the card shop or the card aisle at the grocery store, shoulder to shoulder with other men, hoping to find a card that’s not too soiled or bent and not too mushy or sentimental.

Or is that just me?

I know I’m on your list this year, and I appreciate that. But all I really want for Christmas is you.

Your loyalty, your patronage, and for those of you I know personally, your friendship, are all I need and want. Well, that and an Amazon.com gift card.

So thank you. And please say thank you to your clients for me. Without them supporting you, you wouldn’t be able to support me.

Merry Christmas to you and your family and your clients.

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“Please let me do my job”

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Don’t you love clients who want to micro-manage their case? Don’t you love it when they want you to check with them about every little thing?

You don’t? Maybe you should post a sign in your office like this humorous price list posted by a graphic designer:

Design Services Price List

I design everything… $100

I design, you watch… $200

I design, you advise… $300

I design, you help… $500

You design, I help… $800

You design, I advise… $1,300

You design, I watch… $2,100

You design everything… $3,400

Yes, it is their case. Yes, they are entitled to make the big decisions. But you are the attorney and if a client wants to “help you,” they should pay for the privilege.

 

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Laugh and the whole world laughs with you. . . unless you’re a lawyer

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I used to have an employee who laughed after nearly everything he said. He might have asked me something completely innocuous like, “Should we open a file?” and follow that with an awkward smile and a pinched little laugh.

He was incredibly lacking in self-confidence and this was his way of coping with life.

He could get away with it with clients and others who didn’t listen to him all day long. I tuned it out, mostly, but I have to admit it bothered me. Sometimes, I would ask, “Why are you laughing?” or “Why is that funny?” Yes, I was a prick. And no, it didn’t help.

Maybe you’ve had someone like this work for you. Or maybe you’ve had an office clown. You know, the ones who are always telling jokes and making comments that aren’t in the least funny. And yet they persist, because they think they are God’s gift to humor.

Even if they are funny, too much yucking it up in a law office isn’t a good thing. A little humor is great for lightening the mood. And laughter is contagious. One or two people start laughing, it won’t be long before the entire office is enjoying themselves.

Just make sure there aren’t any clients around. You can’t let them think that what we do is fun and games, or that we’re insensitive to their problems.

But this is probably not a problem in most law offices. Just the opposite. There are too many lawyers who never crack a smile and never find humor in anything.

That’s not good, either.

You need a balance. Not too much humor, not too little.

How much is too much or too little? We must use the reasonable man standard. What is appropriate? What would a reasonable man do in the same or similar circumstances?

Wait, I guess that should be the reasonable person standard. We don’t want to be sexist.

Wait, if we say person, are we not insulting the rest of the animal kingdom? Guess we need to say, “reasonable being” standard.

Hold on, that doesn’t work. What about robots and drones and AI? They may not have feelings, but that doesn’t mean we can insult them. That’s just rude. And unfair. Probably racist, too.

Okay, someone just read this and thinks I’m a jerk for making fun of an out-of-control politically correct narrative. They don’t think this is at all funny.

But hey, calling me a jerk is hate speech. Lawyers have feelings, too. Said no one, ever.

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If The Three Stooges managed your law firm

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“Moe, Larry the Cheese!”

If that puts a smile on your face and brings back memories of your silliness-obsessed youth, welcome to my world. If you don’t get the reference, I’ll meet you in Niagara Falls.

I confess, as a kid, I loved The Three Stooges. What can I say, they made me laugh. They still do. I might just watch me some Stooges on YouTube after I finish this.

My wife doesn’t share this opinion, although she did see the Stooges movie that came out a few years ago and didn’t hate it. I think very few woman like The Stooges, and that’s okay. I’m not crazy about shoes.

Anyway, I’ve written before about what might happen if your Mom managed your law firm, and if my cat was in charge, and a few other critters, and I got to thinking, what would it be like if The Stooges managed your firm.

For starters, you’d have to increase the amount of liability insurance you carry, because God knows something is going to happen to one of your clients who runs late or doesn’t want to pay their bill. You also need a first aid kit in every lawyer’s office.

But despite their penchant for hitting and falling down and putting heads in a vise, you’ve got to admit that The Boys were hard workers. They might not have been very good at hanging wall paper or fixing the plumbing in the upstairs bathroom, but this wasn’t for lack of effort.

They wanted to please the boss. The customer was always right. Service with a smile, yessir.

So if they were in charge of your firm, they would insist that you put your clients first. Unless they were bad. If they are bad, all bets are off. The bad guys always get clobbered.

More than anything, if The Stooges ran your firm, every day would be an adventure. You would never know what might happen, you just know that before the day is out, someone will have their face slapped and their eyes gouged, and someone will be laughing.

And that’s my point.

There isn’t enough laughter in the law business. It’s much too serious.

Yeah, we deal with serious matters, and no, you can’t go telling your clients jokes all the time, but can we all lighten up a bit and have some fun?

You don’t agree? Pick two.

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