Plan 9 From Mars


For some reason, when I thought about the idea of planning (for next year), I thought of the title of what many consider the worst science fiction movie of all time. 

I only watched a few minutes, many years ago, but I think it was about Martians invading Earth. 

I’m pretty sure their plan failed, but I commend those Martians for thinking big, which is the point I want to make today.

If you’re going to plan (something), for next year, or any year, make it big. 

Don’t spend a lot of time planning how to redecorate your office when you can plan a new marketing strategy that might allow you to buy a new office building. Or three. 

Big plans force us to be creative and do things we’ve never done before. They force us to focus.

Even if your big plans don’t materialize, thinking big helps you sort out what’s important and make that your priority, instead of getting bogged down with a multitude of small ideas which, even if successful, won’t amount to a hill of beans (I’ve got movies on the brain).

Big plans give you a chance to win big. 

The Pareto Principle says 80% of our results come from 20% of our efforts (plans, ideas, activities, projects…). Figure out a handful of big ideas that can deliver big results, and then narrow down your list to just one or two. 

One or two big ideas that could transform your business or life.

In the book, The One Thing, author Gary Keller puts it this way: 

“What is the one thing you can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary”.

Your big plan might fail (and you’ll have to return to Mars) but if you’re going to work on anything next year, work on something big, so big it could take care of almost everything else.

No pressure. But I need your answer on my desk first thing tomorrow. My ship leaves at 9.


Adapt or die 


In marketing, nothing works forever. At least you shouldn’t count on it. 

Laws change, rules change, trends and interests change, and you need to be prepared to respond when they do. 

If your advertising used to work like gangbusters but it’s a different story today, your ad copy, keywords, or offers might be the culprit and need an update. If you do seminars and response is down (attendees, percentage of client conversions), it might be because of an increase in competition, or the economy has thrown a monkey wrench into your marketing machine. 

Or it might be something else

No matter what the reason, you need to adapt. That might mean:

  • Reducing your overall ad budget or eliminating marginal campaigns
  • Increasing your ad budget but changing your copy or offers
  • Starting a new practice area or eliminating one that’s draining your resources
  • Changing the markets and clients you target
  • Reducing overhead and riding out the storm
  • Spending more time on X and less time on Y
  • Hiring different staff or advisors
  • Changing your fee structure and billing practices
  • Adopting marketing strategies you’ve never used before or resurrecting strategies you no longer use
  • Focusing more on evergreen strategies, e.g., referrals, and less on the flavor of the day
  • Improving marketing and sales training for you and your staff

But you need to do something. 

But don’t wait for response to drop or your profits to languish. Be nimble and get ahead of things at the first sign of things going in the wrong direction.

Because you’re in a business and what worked yesterday might not work tomorrow.


If your clients wrote your marketing plan


Your clients know what they want (and don’t want) from you and can give you insights into what you can do to attract more clients like them.

Which is why you should survey your clients and find out what they want, what they like, and what you can do to get more clients and increase your income. 

You can use surveys to learn about

  • Your image in the marketplace
  • Your services, fees, offers, and benefits
  • Your “client relations”
  • Your content—what they like, what they want more of, what they want you to do differently
  • Your marketing, advertising and social media—did they notice your ad? What did they like about what you said? Why did they choose you instead of other attorneys?

You can learn a lot by asking questions. 

But surveys aren’t the only want to find out what your clients (and prospects) think about what you’re doing. You can also do interviews, going more in depth and asking follow-up questions, and find out what they “really” think. 

Another way to do “market intelligence” is by tracking metrics—opens, clicks, downloads, sign-ups, how long a visitor stays on a page, etc. 

Finally, you can find out what clients think by listening. Nothing formal, just listen to what they talk about, what they ask you, how they feel about their situation, and what they complain about regarding your competition (and about you). 

It can be a lot of work, but if you have the numbers, it could be worth the effort. If you don’t have the numbers, or don’t want to invest the time or money, stick with surveys. 

At the least, survey every new client, to find out what they want and why they chose you, and survey every exiting client (at the end of their case or engagement), to find out if they got what they wanted. 

Surveys are easy to do and can tell you what you’re doing right and what you need to improve. 


A simple marketing and management checklist


There are a lot of things you can do to increase the gross and net income in your practice. This checklist can help you identify strategies that might be a good fit for you to use or improve: 


  • Client relations
  • Referrals
  • Following-up/Staying in touch
  • Networking
  • Advertising/Lead Generation
  • Public Speaking/Seminars
  • Public Relations
  • Content Marketing (Blogs, Articles, Books, Audios, Videos, Podcasts)
  • Event Marketing
  • Social Media Marketing


  • Stay in touch (clients, prospects, business contacts)
  • Repeat Services/Updates/Maintenance
  • Other services (Yours, Partners’, JVs)


  • Higher Rates
  • Bigger Cases/Clients
  • Upsells
  • Addons
  • Bundling/Packaging
  • Sell Value, Not Time


  • Better Employees/Vendors
  • Better Training
  • Outsourcing
  • Parnters/JVs
  • Systems
  • Personal/Professional Development
  • New Skills
  • Better Tools/Equipment

Which of these strategies do you currently use? Which need improving or expanding? Which should you let go of or downsize to make room for something else? Which seems like a good fit for you and is worth starting or exploring?


Keeping your powder dry


What do you do when someone won’t call you back? I had an adjuster write to me on a case and ask me to contact him to set up a time to talk, ostensibly about settlement. 

I called. I emailed. Called and emailed again. No response. 

The statute was coming up soon but this was a small case, not worth filing on unless there is no other choice.

What do you do?

You could keep trying. More calls and letters and emails, increasingly urgent and sterner, maybe threatening, or maybe using some humor. That’s what most lawyers do most of the time, and it works most of the time. 

Another option is to go around the adjuster. 

Call their supervisor and ask if the claim has been re-assigned, “because I can’t seem to get ahold of him and I’m going to have to file soon”. 

The supervisor looks at the file, see’s it’s ripe for settlement, rattles the adjuster’s cage, and you get a call. 

That woks. But sometimes it pisses off the adjuster (and his supervisors) and since you will have to deal with one or both of them on other cases, maybe it’s better to use the “idea” of talking to the supervisor to wake up the adjuster. 

Leave another message for the adjuster and ask if they’re still handling the claim. Tell them you’re concerned they might not be getting your messages, or they’re ill, (and you’ll have to file soon).

And then you say if you don’t hear from them, you’ll contact their supervisor to find out. 

Not in a threatening way but in a way that suggests, “this is a problem for both of us, let’s work together to resolve it”.

You know they don’t want you to call their supervisor. It makes them look bad. They also don’t want to force you to file because it makes more work for them (and they look bad). So they call. 

By positioning the issue as a mutual problem, you increase the odds of getting a mutual solution.

You can always play hardball. But maybe it’s best to save that for another case.


Yes, it is all about you


People connect with people, not businesses or law firms. Your clients may like your partners or employees and think highly of your firm’s reputation, but they hire and refer you. 

That’s true of consumer and business clients alike. 

When they have a friend or business contact with a legal situation or question, your clients tell them about YOU, not your firm. 

They hand them your card. Tell them about their experience with you, the lawyer they know, like, and trust, and say, “Call my lawyer” — not, “Call me firm”. 

They promote your brand. You should too.  

Tweet (or whatever it’s called today) in your name, or at least create a handle that includes a version of your name, NOT your firm. 

Promote your speaking events, even if your firm is conducting the event. Write articles and keep a blog with your byline, not the faceless entity you call your employer (even if it’s your firm). 

When you are introduced, people should hear about you, your capabilities and your accomplishments. And hear something personal about you.

Because you are the one people will talk to, connect with, hire and refer.

It’s all about you, you stud. 

You may work for the biggest and best firm in town, and that’s worth mentioning. But you are the main attraction, no matter how wet behind the ears you may be. 

It’s your career. Your name and reputation. They are your clients. And you are their attorney. 


It’s an investment, not an expense


Yesterday, I talked about following up with prospects and clients before, during, and after the case or engagement. Most lawyers get it. But many lawyers don’t do it because it takes a lot of time. 

I say it’s worth the time because it helps you get new business, keep clients from leaving, and generate positive reviews that can multiply that effect.  

But (surprise) lawyers are busy. Even if they want to do it, it’s too easy to let it slide. 

I mentioned having an assistant do it. Have them make the calls, send the emails, and otherwise manage follow up and other marketing activities for you. Yes, there is a cost, just as there is a cost to you if you handle this function yourself. If you take an employee away from their other work, that work might fall through cracks and cause problems. 

I say it’s worth the risk because the benefits outweigh that cost. Especially if you have a reasonable volume of cases or clients. 

Think about it. Do the math. If you hire someone part time and pay them $4000 per month, and they’re able to save one case or client per month or get one client to return, your costs would be covered, wouldn’t they? And if that assistant is able to stimulate clients to provide more reviews and more referrals, and this generates two additional cases (or saves) per month, you would double your investment. 

Over time, these numbers would compound.

You know I’m a big proponent of making referrals a primary marketing method for most attorneys. If you’ve read me for a while, you also know that you can stimulate referrals without explicitly talking to clients about the subject. But, let’s face it, talking to clients about referrals is a powerful way to get more of them. A lot more. 

If that’s not something you want to do, have your marketing assistant do it for you. 

I built my practice primarily with referral marketing. A key to making that happen was delegating as much as possible to assistants. 

It was an investment, not an expense. And it paid off in spades.

How to talk to clients about referrals




It’s not easy to define, but you know it when you see it. 

007 had it. He was unflappable. And unstoppable. You always knew that in the end, he would beat the bad guys and save the world, and no matter what happened, you’d never see him sweat. 

Your clients want that in you. 

Calm, cool, collected. Strong and confident, ready to save the day.

How can you convey that? 

Say less. Tell them how you can help them, but don’t try so hard. Let your deeds (and reviews) do most of the talking for you. 

Be willing to admit you don’t know everything, and don’t do everything yourself. You have top quality people who work for you or with you. You count on them and so can your clients. 

Don’t push, don’t convince, let the facts do that. 

Don’t react, respond. Your manner should display a relaxed intensity. Calm, cool, collected, remember? 

Don’t be a slob. 007 was always impeccably dressed. If he had a desk and an office, you know it would have been immaculate. 

Don’t talk about how busy you are. It makes you look needy. Instead, let them see a busy waiting room. And don’t always be available whenever they want to talk to you.

Don’t cut your fees. You’re the best and deserve to be paid accordingly. 

Don’t chase. You’re 007. Let ’em chase you. 


It’s your client’s birthday. What do you send them?


A birthday card is nice. Especially when it is handwritten and signed by you personally. It shows you took the time to acknowledge them on their day, and you did it yourself instead of having your assistant stick something in the mail your firm sends to everyone. 

What about a gift? 

That’s nice, too. Everyone enjoys getting gifts. But gift giving can be more complicated, and expensive, so maybe a personal gift for only your “best” clients. A gift certificate to a local restaurant is a good choice. 

On the other hand, there is something you could send to every client (and business contact), that isn’t expensive but can make a lasting impression. 

I’m talking about giving a book. Especially one you liked and recommend. 

Add a note: “This is one of my favorite books” or “I got a lot out of this book and thought you might like it, too”.

Even if they don’t read the book, or like it, they will appreciate you for thinking of them. I know I would, wouldn’t you? 


Screening calls


People call with a question, about your services or about their case. Or they call to sell you something. Everyone wants to speak to you immediately, and if they leave a message, they want you to call them back the same day. 

But you can’t talk to everyone immediately, or call back everyone the same day. At least you shouldn’t. You need to a gatekeeper to screen calls for you.

If a client calls with a question about their case or another legal matter, your gatekeeper needs to know what to do. Your clients need to know what will happen when they call. Who will they speak to? Where can they get additional information? What to do in an emergency?

Clients should be told all of this the day they become a client, so they can get the help they need in a timely manner, and not panic if you’re not available. 

What about prospective clients? They might expect to speak to you when they call, or at least speak to someone. If they cannot, they need to be told (by the gatekeeper, voicemail, website) what to expect so they don’t call someone else. 

People with something to sell? You don’t have to take their call, return their call, or reply to their email. And you probably shouldn’t.

Okay, the basics. But you might want to refine the basics to make things run more smoothly. 

One way to do that is to have different policies for different types of calls and emails:

  • Prospective clients with a certain type of case 
  • New clients
  • Long-time clients 
  • Business clients
  • Consumer clients
  • Referred clients
  • Emails (who gets a form reply, who gets a personal reply, who gets called)
  • Inquires from old/dormant clients
  • Calls/emails from other lawyers (non-case related)

What to do, what to tell them, and when (or if) you will follow up.

You might create a list of clients your screener should always put through to you, and another list of clients you don’t want to speak to. A list of clients to call back immediately and a list of those who should be called back within 48 hours. 

Lists like these can make life easier for your clients and prospects, and more profitable for you.