If you’re not growing quickly enough, this may be why

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If your practice isn’t growing as quickly as you want it to, or you seem to be going in the wrong direction, it might be because of what you’re not doing.

For example:

You’re not keeping things simple

The simpler your system and process, the faster you can grow. There are fewer moving parts, fewer decisions to make, fewer parties to involve, and fewer things to do to go from point A to point B.

If your system is complex, everything is more difficult and takes longer, and there are too many things that can go wrong

You’re not spending your time on the things that matter most

To get you where you want to go, you have options. Different projects to start, different goals to focus on, different methods to implement, but not all options are created equal.

Some things are more important than others. 20% activities that deliver 80% of your results.

Figure out what they are and focus on them.

You’re not tolerating enough risk

To grow, you have to try new ideas, work with new people, and otherwise put yourself at risk.

If you’re not doing that enough, you may put limits on how far you can go or how fast.

In any business or professional practice, we are called upon to intelligently manage risk, not eliminate it.

To do that, you may need to loosen up.

So, there are three reasons you might be limiting your growth, and what to do about them. .

One more thing you might not be doing: giving things enough time.

You need enough time to fail so you know for certain what doesn’t work and you can correct course, and enough time for the things that do work to compound.

We all overestimate how much we can accomplish in a few months, and underestimate how much we can accomplish in a few years.

A bit of a dichotomy, yes? You want to grow faster, but to do that, you probably need to give things more time.

This marketing system can help you get bigger, faster

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Why do lawyers go out of business so infrequently?

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According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70% of business owners fail by their 10th year in business. In some industries, the failure rate is much higher.

So why do lawyers and law firms fail much less often?

Lawyers close shop because they don’t like the work or they find something else they’d like to do, but not so many leave because they couldn’t make it. Even with plenty of competition and tough times, lawyers can hang in there if they want to.

But why?

Many people start a business who have never run a business before. They may be good at making widgets or installing water heaters, but as Michael Gerber points out in The E-Myth, those skills don’t necessarily qualify someone to start and run a business.

But isn’t that also true for lawyers?

Just because we know how to prepare a lease or take a deposition doesn’t mean we’re qualified to run a law practice.

In addition, lawyers are far more risk adverse and often lack “people skills” that are the driving force of many businesses.

So why do we have better numbers?

Overhead and margin.

Lawyers have no inventory, lower rent, lower debt service, and a lower cost of doing business. It takes a lot less income to keep the doors of a law office open compared to many other businesses.

In addition, most businesses have smaller margins compared to a law practice. A business might markup their products by a few percentage points, requiring a lot of sales to make a profit, whereas a lawyer might need only one or two cases or clients a month to do the same thing.

The bottom line, therefore, is the bottom line. Lawyers don’t go out of business as often because they have staying power.

Lower expenses and higher margins give us time to learn how to build and manage a practice. We can survive lean times and growing pains and stick around long enough to become successful.

But don’t take anything for granted.

There are still lean times. Competition that wants to eat our lunch. A lot to learn and a lot to do.

If you’re like a lot of lawyers I know, you wouldn’t have it any other way.

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A simple business development productivity system

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You want to bring in new clients and build your practice. You have a list of projects that will help you do that.

You might want to work on your website or start a newsletter, update your social media profiles, consolidate your contact lists, or watch videos about a new note-taking app you’ve heard so much about.

But you’re not doing them.

You scheduled time to work on X this week but when you sit down to do it, you realize you don’t have enough time, you need to do more research, or you just don’t feel like doing it.

So you do nothing.

“I’ll work on that next week,” you tell yourself, but do you?

There’s a simple solution.

Instead of scheduling to do X (today, this week, next), schedule time to work on business development (marketing, operations, systems, etc.), and keep of menu of projects to choose from during that time.

So when you don’t feel like working on X, you can work on Y or Z.

Here’s how you might set this up.

  1. Make a list of 5-10 projects or tasks you are committed to working on soon.
  2. Choose a day of the week to work on “Business Development” for one hour. A Wednesday afternoon, a Saturday morning, or whatever.
  3. Set up a weekly recurring task in your task management system, calendar, or reminder app, or use a free email service like FollowUpThen.com, so that every week you are prompted to work on business development for one hour.
  4. Add your list of 5-10 tasks or projects as sub-tasks, or a link to your list.
  5. Each week, when your system prompts you to work on business development, look at your list and choose something you want to do.

This week, you might write an email or two. Next week, you might outline a new presentation. The following week, you might modify your new client intake form.

You always have several options and it doesn’t matter which one you choose. Each week, you do something related to business development, and that’s better than doing nothing.

Ready to work on a newsletter? Here’s all you need

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Build a simple system first and improve it over time

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Your marketing plan, or any plan for that matter, should be as simple as possible. So simple it can be written on the back of a napkin. So simple you (and your team) can easily understand it, remember it, and follow it.

If your plan is simple, you’ll be more likely to follow it. If it is both simple and well thought out, it will (eventually) allow you to build an empire.

Josh Kaufman, author of The Personal MBA tells us:

“Gall’s Law states that all complex systems that work evolved from simpler systems that worked. If you want to build a complex system that works, build a simpler system first, and then improve it over time.”

A law practice has many systems—marketing, HR, continuing education, training, compliance, client onboarding, risk management, and on and on. For the practice to succeed, each of these systems must be successful and you need a plan for each system.

Start with marketing. Because if you don’t get and keep good clients, you won’t have a practice to manage. And because marketing drives revenue and revenue will help you build the other systems.

Your plan won’t be perfect, just something you can do and you want to do. A flawed plan relentlessly and enthusiastically implemented will always beat a complicated plan that sits on your hard drive and never sees the light of day.

And you can improve your plan over time.

What’s in a (simple) marketing plan?

  1. The services and benefits you offer
  2. Your target market and ideal client
  3. How you will help prospective clients find you
  4. What you will say and do to persuade them to hire you
  5. What you will do to keep them and get them to send you referrals

Answer these questions and you’ll have your plan. Execute that plan and you’ll be on your way to building your empire.

How to write a simple marketing plan

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If it’s important enough, you’ll find the time

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You want to improve your marketing, but you don’t have the time.

You want to start a side project, but you don’t have the time.

You want to write a book, learn how to invest in precious metals, or take an exercise class, but you don’t have the time.

But is that really true?

You have as much time as anyone else on the planet, and you get to decide how to spend it.

If something is important to you, you’ll find a way to do it. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse.

You have time to eat, don’t you? Because staying alive is a top priority. What else do you do that’s important to you?

That’s what you need to figure out.

Make a list of everything you do in the course of a day or a week, and a list of everything you would like to do but don’t (because you don’t think you have the time).

Then, go through your lists and add a flag or tag or label next to each activity, to designate its level of importance.

Which are your top priorities? Which aren’t?

If you have trouble deciding, slowly think about each task, make no assumptions about its importance, and ask yourself why you do it (or want to). What’s the value? How do you benefit? What would you give up if you didn’t do it?

Write this down next to each task or activity.

In fact, you might get into the habit of doing that each time you add a new task to your list or schedule. Write “Because. . .” or “So that. . .” next to each task, to remind yourself why it’s important.

You can’t do everything. You have to make choices. Not everything has the same priority.

By consciously reviewing how you currently spend your time, you might discover you have more time than you thought. Or find some low-priority activities you can cut down or eliminate, to make room for others.

If something is important enough, you’ll find the time to do it.

The best way to improve your marketing is to get better at getting referrals

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Meh

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I watched the Windows 11 “reveal” video and was underwhelmed.

Some nice updates, but nothing special. Nothing game changing.

I like the new aesthetics. I like that the OS runs faster. I like the new “snap” feature. But I didn’t see anything that had the wow factor.

I wanted a killer feature. Something so big and exciting it would persuade Mac folks to consider switching to Windows.

Mac folks, you can stop laughing now.

Alas, Windows 11 doesn’t do anything I can’t already do. It won’t bring me coffee in the morning or tuck me into bed at night.

No killer feature.

What’s your killer feature? In your law practice, I mean.

What’s one thing you do that makes you stand out from other lawyers? Something that differentiates you and helps people remember you?

I’ll give you a minute to think about it.

I don’t expect it to be amazing. Just different.

It could be as simple as always having a plate of fresh-baked cookies in your waiting room.

No, that probably won’t persuade anyone to choose you as their attorney. Then again, billions of people are going to upgrade to Windows 11, including me, and their cookies aren’t even fresh.

How to differentiate yourself from other lawyers

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Turning down clients for fun and profit

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When you’re a new attorney trying to pay the bills, you take any work that comes your way. At least that’s what I did.

If someone needed help and had a few bucks, I was your guy.

If I didn’t know what to do, I figured it out. It wasn’t as though I was taking time away from other better-paying work. In the early days, there wasn’t any.

So I did what I had to do and (eventually) built a successful practice.

If you’re just starting out, this might be a good plan for you. If you’re not starting out, however, this is not a good plan.

You can’t take “anything”. You have to be selective.

That means turning down work that doesn’t pay well. The small cases and clients, the work that doesn’t align with your vision and goals.

You can’t afford to take the small stuff because it takes time away from the big stuff.

Ah, but what if you’re not that busy? What if your dance card isn’t currently filled with high-paying clients and life-changing cases?

You have two options.

Option one is to take the small case, not for the money necessarily but as a marketing strategy. Help someone with a small case today, tomorrow they may bring you a big case. Help the start-up get going and they may one day have a steady stream of business for you.

The “low-paying” work you do for these clients is an investment in the growth of your practice. You earn less today so you can earn (a lot) more tomorrow.

I’ve done this. I’ve taken small cases that paid little or nothing and was rewarded with some fat, juicy cases down the road.

If you consider this option, the idea is to think in terms of clients, not cases. The case isn’t important, the client is. If it is a client who knows a lot of people, for example, they could send you a lot of business, even if their own case isn’t much to write home about.

Capiche?

Option two is to stick to your guns. Turn down (or refer out) the small stuff or the work that’s not in your primary practice area. When you do that, you can use the time this gives you to focus on marketing and bringing in the types of clients and cases you really want.

I’ve done this too. It was key to my going from “just getting by” to building a big practice.

So, both options work.

What also works is to do a little of both. Turn down most of the “wrong” work but take some of it when it makes sense to do that.

I know, it’s complicated.

Which option is best for you? You might find the answer by looking at a spreadsheet or your bank account. Or by trying it one way and then the other and seeing what works best.

If that sounds even more complicated, you might do what I did.

Stop counting beans and start trusting your gut.

This can help

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The most dangerous number in business

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In business, the most dangerous number is the number one.

If you have one client and they leave or go out of business, you’re in trouble. You want more than one client.

If you have one “price point” or package of services, you have nothing to offer the prospective client who wants something different.

If you have one marketing method and it stops working for you, if you have one target market and it becomes too competitive, what will you do to keep your pipeline full?

You don’t want your entire livelihood to depend on the number one.

Which means, as soon as you have something that’s working for you, start adding the next thing. A second market, marketing strategy, or offer.

But not another practice area. Not unless you’re in a small market.

The bigger the market, the more competition you have, the more you need to specialize, because you can’t compete with everyone on everything.

When you specialize, marketing is easier, cheaper, and more effective. You can stand out from the crowd and become known for what you do best.

Specializing allows you to become the top dog in your field.

That doesn’t mean you must turn away work that’s not your specialty. Take the work if you want to and can handle it. But don’t promote this, promote the “one thing” you do best and want to be known for.

Because when you specialize, one isn’t a dangerous number, it is your friend.

How to choose your specialty

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Every lawyer needs one of these

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I’ve had a lot of legal secretaries and assistants over the years. Some were good at their job, some were very good, and some were worth their weight in gold.

The most valuable assistants were the ones with the guts to tell me what I needed to hear when I wasn’t ready to hear it.

The ones who pushed me to do something I didn’t want to do (but needed to). The ones who didn’t put up with my stubborn ways or my “because I’m the boss” attitude. The ones who respected me but weren’t afraid of me.

They helped me see what I couldn’t see and do what I didn’t want to do. They helped me grow as a person and a professional.

If you have people like that in your life, be grateful. And listen to them. They won’t always be right, but they will be right more often than they are wrong.

I heard from an attorney who is fortunate to have an assistant like that in her life, and fortunate that she listened to her.

The subject: increasing her fees, which I wrote about recently.

She wrote:

This blog really resonated with me.  I got busier during the pandemic than I had ever been before, so my assistant convinced me to raise my fees by way more than I was comfortable with.  I raised my immigration consultation fee by 15%, the flat fee for my most popular service by 33%, and my hourly rate by 40%.  I’m still just as busy as ever and my assistant is going to get a big bonus this year. 🙂

Why do we often refuse to do things we know we should do, even things we want to do?

Fear. What if we’re wrong, What if we mess up, What if there are unforeseen consequences?

We’re smart but we’re human.

So why do we then listen to someone else when they tell us to do that very thing?

Because, through them, we hear the voice of our inner wisdom speaking truth. Because the voice we hear is our own voice, giving ourselves permission to do what we want to do.

Make sure you have someone in your life who cares about you enough to tell you what you need to hear.

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No, I don’t want more clients

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Last week, I pontificated about the value of limiting the number of clients an attorney takes on to 10, because it allows them to earn more and work less.

I also said most attorneys won’t do it.

Some attorneys do, however. Appellate attorney Steve Emmert is one of them.

In response to my email, Steve wrote:

(Heh, heh!) I currently have fewer than ten files open. Most of them have seven-digit deltas, of course, so I can still make a living. But you’re absolutely right about this.

This week I took a call from an ad guy at SuperLawyers, in which I’ve been listed for several years, though I’ve never advertised with them. He asked if I’d like to have an extra three or four clients a month. I’m probably the only guy who’s ever told him, “No” in response to that question. I told him that I start getting nervous when I have more than about 12 files open, and three or four more a month would drown me. He really didn’t know what to say.

Who wouldn’t like to be able to tell a sales rep they don’t want any more business?

Steve also shared a story that illustrates the same idea in a different way:

Years ago I attended a brilliant presentation by a guy named Mark Powers, of the legal-consulting firm Atticus. He described his trip to a big firm for an in-house presentation. As soon as the introductions were complete, Powers said, “Now, the first thing I want each of you to do is double your hourly rates.” The ensuing uproar subsided just long enough for one of the partners to stammer, “But, but if we do that, we’ll lose half our clients!”

“Exactly!” a triumphant Powers replied with a smile. He explained to them that if they got the same amount of money for doing half the work, they’d have a better quality of life.

Point, set and match.

I’ve had discussions about raising fees with many attorneys over the years. When I do, I can almost always hear the wheels turning in their head as they wrestle with idea. Sadly, their desire usually loses out to their fear.

Not my friend Steve, however, who figured this out on his own.

I know this because I interviewed him and published a book based on that interview. In it, he shares the secrets to his success, or, as he might describe them, the methods to his madness.

How to Build a Successful Appellate Practice contains valuable practice-building and career-building advice for attorneys in any practice area.

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