You should read this

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Some people think we shouldn’t tell people what to do. We should give them the options and let them decide.

Tell them what they “could” do, not what they “should” do.

I understand the sentiment but when someone looks to you for advice, they want you to tell them what to do.

When a client hires you to advise him, you can (and should) present different ways to do it, but then, tell him which option is best. They’re paying for your experience and judgment. They want to know what you recommend.

When you tell them, you’re telling them what they “should” do.

Tell your clients what they should do.

(Yes, I’m telling you what you should do. Not what you might do. You can choose to follow my advice or reject it. But at least you know what I recommend.)

You should also tell your newsletter and blog readers and presentation attendees what to do. With less specificity, of course, because you don’t know the specifics of their situation. But if you have recommendations about what someone should do in a given situation, tell them what to do.

I saw an article this morning about this subject in the context of employers and employees. The article said we should tell our staff what they “could” do, not what they “should” do.

Yes, you want to empower your staff to think for themselves and not come to you with every little issue, but if you want your secretary to call someone or email someone or bring you something, telling them what they could do or might do is just silly.

You’re not going to say, “I’m running late for my 2 O’clock with Mr. Jones. You could call him to re-schedule.”

You’re going to tell your secretary to call.

Be nice about it. Say please and thank you. But tell her.

That’s what you should do.

Questions about what to write in a newsletter? Here are the answers

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Working hard or hardly working?

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Many lawyers complain (brag) about having too much work to do. Other lawyers don’t have enough work (clients, cases, billable hours) and want more.

How about you?

Are you earning as much as you want? Working as much as you want? Are you working too hard or are you ready for more?

Hold on. It’s not as simple as getting more clients or working fewer hours. There’s another option.

You could bring in “better” clients and “bigger” cases.

Instead of clients who pay $5,000 or $10,000, what if you brought in clients who pay $25,000 or $50,000?

Instead billing $300 per hour, what if you could get clients who pay $800 per hour?

Instead of handling tort cases with $20,000 contingency fees, what if you could attract the ones with six- and seven-figure potential?

They’re out there. Someone is getting these cases and clients. Why not you?

I’ll tell you why not. Perhaps, deep down, you don’t want them. You know you’d have to do too much to get them, and if you did get them, you’d have to do more work or take on more overhead or deal with more pressure than you want.

And that’s fair.

For most of my career, I handled small to medium cases and clients, for those very reasons. And made a good living doing it.

So, if that’s what appeals to you, I’m on your side.

Right now, we’re hearing a lot about a four-hour work-week. Some companies who’ve tried it are reporting more productive and happier employees and no loss of revenue. Some companies say they’re earning more.

In my practice, I cut my work-week down to three days and saw my income soar.

Anything’s possible.

You can earn more and work less. You can build the practice and lifestyle you want.

Some advice:

This year, instead of waiting to see what happens, decide what you want to happen and find ways to make it so.

This can help

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Get more clients by making it easier to get more clients

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‘Twas a big year in Amazon land. One big reason is that they make it so damn easy to buy from them.

It’s something we all need to do.

In the new year, I encourage you to make it easier for people to hire you and refer clients to you.

On your website, make it easy to find information about the law, your services, and you. Make it easy to find your contact information and the sign-up form for your newsletter.

Make it easy for clients to hire you by offering different services or “packages” for different budgets, and different payment options.

Make it easy to say “yes” to you by offering more social proof–reviews, testimonials, success stories, endorsements, awards.

Make it easy for people to send you referrals by describing your target market and ideal client, and explaining the best (and easiest) ways to make referrals.

Make it easy to stay in touch with clients and prospects and referral sources by instituting a routine process for updating your files with their latest contact information.

For more ways to get more clients and increase your income, get my latest: The Encyclopedia of Attorney Marketing book series.

Amazon has made this easier by posting pages for the entire 5-volume series:

Print version

Ebook version (with “easy” one-click buy button).

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Do two things every day

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The practice of law is complex. Lots of people to please, things to do, rules to follow. If you want to succeed, you have to get a lot of things right.

But clearly, some things are more important than others.

Some cases are bigger. Some clients are more valuable.

Make sure that every day, you work on your biggest case or you do something for your most valuable client.

Make this your priority. Do it first, if possible, and no matter what else occurs the rest of the day, your day will be a success.

Your practice is also a business, however, and you need to work on that, too.

Your business continually needs new clients. New people learning what you do and how you can help them or their friends or readers or clients.

So, every day, you should do your most important business-building activity.

That’s the plan. Do two things every day, one for your clients, one for your practice.

And yes, you need both. Because a professional practice doesn’t build itself.

In his Masterclass, David Mamet tells aspiring screenwriters, “You’ve got to do one thing for your art every day, and you’ve got to do one thing for your business every day.”

What “one thing” will you do today to build your business?

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The ‘Trader Joe’s’ of law firms

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An article in Forbes is about what makes the ‘Trader Joe’s’ grocery chain so successful. It talks about how they provide good value, keep things simple, and give customers an enjoyable experience.

As a regular shopper myself, I have to agree.

But one point in the article, in particular, caught my eye. The way they value and support their employees.

TJ’s, as all the cool kids call it, understands that it is their employees that make everything work. Their employees are well-paid, respected, and empowered to provide customers with outstanding service.

Happy employees make happy customers.

And they do a good job of it. When I ask for something I can’t find, they don’t just tell me which aisle it’s on, they walk me to the item. They always smile and laugh at my jokes in the checkout line.

The people who work at TJ’s are friendly and happy and have a personality.

So, when I read this article, naturally I thought about you and your employees.

Okay, I thought about me and my (former) employees. Did I treat my staff as well as TJ’s treats theirs?

I think most of my employees liked working for me (most of the time). I paid them reasonably well, I didn’t micromanage them or chastise them when they messed up, and since the clients seemed to like them, I think I did okay.

Not up to TJ’s standards, I’m sure. But then TJ’s came in at number 23 on Glassdoor’s list of best places to work.

Truth be told, we could “get away” with a lot more back then. Many people were glad to have a job, even if it meant putting up with a boss who didn’t treat them well.

Today? Not so much.

Okay, over to you. How do you do with your employees?

Do you pay them well? Value their work and their contributions to your success?

Do you empower them to provide extraordinary service to your clients?

Do you go out of your way to keep them happy?

It used to be that the client was always right. If a client didn’t get along with one of your employees, for example, you usually took the side of the client.

Today, not so fast.

Employers have come to realize that the client isn’t always right and when they’re wrong, we need to stand up for our employees.

I’m pretty sure that’s how TJ’s does it.

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Thinking small pays big

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I’ve written before about the wisdom of regularly examining your expenses and ruthlessly cutting them. All those $5 or $25 per month charges may seem insignificant but they add up.

When you cut them, you not only reduce your overhead and increase your net income, you increase the overall value of your practice because one of the most important elements in the value of your practice is your cash flow.

Cutting $20 per day off your expenses will increase in net income of $600 per month. That may increase the sales value or borrowing power of your practice by five or ten times that amount.

It also frees up cash you can invest in marketing.

The same dynamic applies to increasing your income. Adding a few hundred dollars per month to your (net) income via additional fees will similarly improve your bottom line.

So, what if in addition to targeting bigger cases and clients you also paid attention to bringing in some smaller ones? All those $1000 fees also add up.

A few new small clients per month might allow you to hire more staff or buy more ads which could bring in many times what they cost. And, don’t forget that smaller clients and cases can lead to bigger ones.

You should also regularly consider your options regarding increasing your fees. A five or ten percent increase in your billing rates or fees could have a profound effect on your net income.

Don’t obsess over any of this but if you want to increase your net income, don’t ignore the little things.

Because every dollar counts.

How to increase your fees without losing clients

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Calculation fatigue

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That’s the title of an article in this month’s Chess Life magazine. The sub-title is, “The dangers of delving too deeply into one particular variation”.

The article is an examination of a botched game by a strong player, a game that might have been awarded a brilliancy prize but for the player’s errors occasioned by following one idea too far and losing the central theme of the game.

What does this have to do with practicing law? Everything.

Because lawyers (and other very smart people) often do what this Grandmaster did. They focus too much on the details, the minutia of a case or an issue, and sometimes lose a won game.

I’ve done it. I’m sure you can think of times when you’ve done it, getting lost in researching an issue to the nth degree, perhaps, making a big deal about a small point.

You see it during oral argument when the judge or jurors eyes glaze over and you know they’re didn’t follow your last point, or no longer care.

You see it in marketing. You get bogged down in choosing better keywords or creating better funnels, months go by and thousands of dollars have been spent and you find you could have gotten better results with something simpler.

You see it in a lot of websites. A would-be client visits, hoping to learn something about his problem and what you can do to help him and is confronted by a library of information. There’s too much to read, he doesn’t know where to start, so he leaves.

(NB: keep the library but hide it and link to it for those who want more information.)

We see it in presentations where we try to make too many points and leave no stone unturned and we simply confuse the audience (and a confused mind says no).

What should we do? We should periodically stand down from business as usual, put aside all the small stuff and focus on the big picture.

The strategy, not the technique. The main argument, not the “Hail Mary” we throw in just in case.

You started practicing with a few simple ideas and you did okay. If you’ve found yourself getting off track lately, a return to fundamentals might be just what you need to reset and revitalize your practice.

It might even earn you the brilliancy prize.

The Attorney Marketing Formula can help you get back on track

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Here’s your plan

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What if there was a law firm that provided top-notch, added-value legal services instead of the “me-too” services most lawyers offer?

What if there was a law firm that understood what their target market and prospective clients wanted–not just their legal needs but also ways to improve their business or personal life–and worked diligently to provide this?

What if there was a law firm that dedicated time each week to improving their workflow, systems, tools, and other processes?

What if there was a law firm that had highly effective marketing strategies in place that consistently brought them traffic, leads, subscribers, and new clients?

What if there as a law firm that worked hard at making every client feel appreciated so their clients never left them and went out of their way to send them referrals?

Now, what if a law firm like that moved into your area and targeted your clients and future clients?

Don’t let this happen to you.

Don’t wait for other lawyers or firms to pose a threat to your livelihood.

Do something now, to make sure YOU are the one to beat.

Commit (or re-commit) to creating and continually improving superlative marketing and management systems.

And get busy.

Because you never know how many other lawyers or firms are doing this right now. Or reading this right now and are about to get started.

This will help you create a simple but effective marketing plan

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Breaking in new clients

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I saw a post recently praising Scrivener, my favorite long-form writing app. The poster said, “The best tools get out of the craftsman’s way and make the job easier.”

True.

What’s also true is that the best clients get out of their lawyer’s way, making their job easier.

But not all clients do that.

As you undoubtedly know, a big source of friction between client and lawyer are disagreements about how the matter should be handled. Especially with a client who wants to micromanage their case.

Is there anything you can do to help your clients get out of your way and let you do your job?

Sure.

Have a heart-to-heart talk with new clients before you do the work.

Explain that they will make the big decisions but you need to be able to handle the day-to-day strategy and other things lawyers do. Explain why this is important and in their best interest. You might give them an example or two of previous engagements to illustrate.

While you’re at it, explain your policies about other things that tend to cause friction, like fees and billing and updates.

Tell them when updates will be provided, how billing is handled, how long things should take, and what to do when they have questions.

Get them to tell you they understand and agree.

Put these “agreements” in writing–in your retainer agreement or in a separate document that both of you date and sign. You can use a standard checklist and leave room to write in things specific to the case or client.

This won’t eliminate all points of friction but it should go a long way towards reducing them. And, if there’s a problem, you’ll have something in your file that can help resolve it.

Managing your (new) client’s expectations this way will also help you deliver a better experience for them.

If they’re expecting monthly updates, for example, and you provide them more often, or if they expect to be billed for something and you absorb the cost, you’ll have some happy campers.

Happy campers who get out of your way and make your job easier.

How to prepare an invoice that gets paid on time

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What could possibly go wrong?

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Last week, I reminded you to do something you already know you need to do: anticipate problems and nip them in the bud.

A checklist can help.

Make a list of all of the “points of interaction” your clients have with your office. This would include things like

  • What they see when they visit the home page of your website
  • What happens when they fill out a form
  • What happens when they call your office for the first time, e.g., what are they asked, what are they told
  • What happens at their first appointment, e.g., parking, in the waiting room, being shown to your office, questions asked, information supplied, forms to fill out, etc.
  • Emails, letters, and documents they get from you (and anything that accompanies it)
  • What happens when they call your office for an update or to ask a question
  • The process for delivering work product/final appointment
  • Follow-up calls and letters from you, e.g., reminders re updates, requests (referrals, reviews, Likes and Shares, etc.)

And so on.

Chart these and then, for each interaction, look for

  1. Things that could go wrong, and how you can fix them, and
  2. Ways to improve the client experience

You don’t have to go crazy with every detail; look for big things–the kinds of things that usually win hearts and minds or, conversely, result in complaints.

Things like

  • How long they have to wait (on hold, at an appointment, to receive something you promised
  • Being kept informed
  • How they are treated, e.g., you know their name/their case, they are shown respect and patience, etc.
  • What to expect, e.g., outcomes, fees/billing

Don’t rely on your own observations and sensibilities. Ask your employees to weigh in, and also ask your clients, through exit surveys and by continually asking for feedback.

What could possibly go wrong? Find out and nip it in the bud.

Good client relations brings repeat business and referrals

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