Screening new clients before you take their money

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It’s one thing to “drop” a client who hasn’t paid or who has been a pain in your gluteus maximus. It’s something else to not let them sign up in the first place.

What do you do to eliminate problem clients in advance?

Do you talk to them on the phone before they’re allowed to make an appointment?

Do you do a background check? Ask for references? Do you accept new clients “by referral only”?

What do you ask at the initial interview? What red flags do you look for?

If you suspect they might be trouble, do you ask for a bigger retainer or require full payment in advance?

Do you do this yourself or do you have them talk to someone else first, e.g., your administrator?

And what, if anything, do you say or do in your marketing to filter out the bad apples?

Every practice is different. Criminal defense lawyers, we feel your pain.

Every lawyer is also different. You might be more relaxed than the firm down the street, or more careful if you’ve been burned before.

But one thing is certain.

You should think about this subject and create a plan, before the next prospective client calls.

Get the Check: Stress-Free Legal Billing and Collection

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Where I keep things I’m afraid to throw away

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I just started doing something with my digital files and notes I wish I’d done a long time ago. I designated a place to put everything I don’t need now but might need or want someday.

I’ve set up folders and notebooks in my various apps and labeled them “Archives”.

My archives now hold:

  • Closed files
  • Inactive projects (not started, aborted, finished)
  • Notes/docs/audios/videos from old business ventures
  • Old tax, banking, and insurance docs
  • Backups of old blog posts
  • Other backups
  • Old docs/notes that could be mined for useful materials
  • Personal mementos
  • Articles, notes, pdfs that might be useful some day
  • Things I should probably throw out but don’t have time to read to make sure

The kind of stuff we used to put in storage or in the basement or attic. The kind of stuff we are unlikely to ever need but hang on to “just in case” (or because it’s required by law).

One blogger refers to his archives as “Things I’m afraid to throw away”.

Yeah, that stuff.

I used to keep most of this intermingled with everything else. After all, it’s just electrons, right? They don’t take up space?

But they do.

When we search or browse through current project materials, all of our old stuff is mixed in, distracting us and creating mental and visual clutter.

When you put them in archives, they don’t.

I moved more than 4000 Evernote notes into an archive “stack”. In G Drive, I’ve moved many gigabytes of documents, audios and videos into an archive folder. And I’m not done.

Everything is out of sight, but available. Which means all of my current materials are more accessible, easier to organize and use.

Now, about all those old photos. . .

Evernote for Lawyers ebook: get it here

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What do your clients want from you?

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You know your clients want you to treat them well, charge reasonable fees, and keep them informed about the progress of their case.

But do you have this in writing?

I’m talking about a “pledge” or a “Client’s Bill of Rights”–something to show clients and prospects, and for you and your staff to commit to and follow.

Start by writing internal guidelines and objectives, for you and your staff. For example, you want your clients to feel welcome and appreciated and to know you are committed to doing your best to help them.

Then, write down things you know your clients want. Here are few ideas to get you started:

  • To know in advance how much they be charged
  • To be assured that everything they tell you is confidential
  • To get copies of everything that comes in or goes out (without being charged extra)
  • To be told what they can do to help you do a better job for them
  • What you will do first
  • To receive an estimate of how long things will take and an explanation of the factors that influence them
  • To not get billed for a quick call to you or from you
  • What happens if. . .
  • What happens when. . .
  • How often they will receive a bill
  • Retainer agreements and other documents that are easy to read and understand
  • Where to get additional information

As you flesh out your list, consider:

  • What prospective clients will see on your website, how they will be treated when they contact your office and when they speak with you.
  • What new clients will be told, what they will get, and how they will be treated.
  • What clients will be told at the end of their case, what you will give them, and what they should do if they have additional questions, need updates or additional services, and how to make a referral.

Make sure to customize your list to your specific practice areas, niche markets, and ideal clients.

Start your list by writing down whatever comes to mind. Ask your staff to contribute ideas. Talk to or survey your clients.

And, once you have a list, put it on your website.

Doing this will keep you focused on serving your clients and treating them the way they want to be treated. It will keep you from forgetting to do what you know you should do, and stimulate you to continually do better.

It will also help you build your practice with happy clients who tell everyone how great you are.

Marketing is easier when you know The Formula

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When was the last time you took inventory?

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Of all the things you do, in your practice and personal life, some things contribute more value than others. By taking inventory of everything you do, you can identify your most valuable activities, so you can do more of them.

You’ll have the time to do that, of course, by curtailing activities that contribute little or no value.

Taking inventory starts with choosing an area of your life where you’d like to be more productive or successful. Let’s say that’s your practice.

The first step is to write a list of everything you do in that area–all of your tasks, projects, habits, and routines. For your practice, include the different kinds of client work you do, all of the admin, and all of your marketing.

Add a number to each activity on your list. If there are 50 activities, number them 1-50, so you can identify each one separately.

Next, make a second list. Write down all of your successes in this area of your life. In this case, your practice.

These successes might include things like winning one or more big cases, getting a lot of traffic from a profile of you that appeared in a prominent publication, meeting a well-connected professional who helped you get a spot on a speaking panel, a successful ad campaign, or things you did to reduce your overhead without hurting your bottom line.

These could be one-time wins or things that bring you ongoing benefits.

When your “success” list is done, go through it again and next to each item, add the number of each “activity” (on your first list) that contributed to it.

For example, you might connect “reading blogs in your target market’s industry” and “writing articles for your target market’s publications” with the positive result of being introduced to a major center of influence in your client’s niche, which led to several new clients.

By connecting activities with results, you can see where the things you’re doing are working.

Whatever is left–activities you can’t connect to significant results–should either be eliminated, minimized, systematized, or delegated.

Finally, look at your success list and identify things you didn’t connect with an activity. Ask yourself what you could do to make results like these happen more often.

For example, maybe you met someone accidentally who hired you for a lot of legal work. Ask, “What can I do to meet their colleagues or counterparts?”

When you take the time to link your activities with your results, you’ll be able to see where you should spend more time and resources, and what you should do less of, or not at all.

How to meet and get referrals from other professionals

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Clean up on aisle nine

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I’m cleaning up my filing system. Why? Because I’ve got too many digital files (and duplicates thereof), in too many folders, on too many hard drives and in too many cloud accounts.

It’s a mess and I’m in the process of cleaning it up.

The first step is to move everything into one digital pile, to eliminate duplicates and see what I’ve got.

(I still have some paper docs which I’ll scan and upload later.)

I’m using Google Drive but you can use any cloud service, a local drive, or both (i.e., to back up your backups).

My new system reflects the different roles or areas of focus in my life and consists of these top-level folders:

Personal, Business One, Business Two, and Miscellaneous. I also have an Inbox.

Each of the top level folders has sub-folders related to different areas of my work or personal life, or different steps in my workflow.

There are many ways to organize sub-folders:

  • Category
  • Date
  • People (Clients, Partners, Family, etc.)
  • Cases
  • Steps/stages
  • Type of media
  • Projects
  • Subject/topic

I’ll use different organizational structures for different areas of my life and for different projects.

As for file-naming, I plan to be specific but not too specific because it would take too much time to maintain this and because each file will enjoy the context of the folder(s) that house it, meaning I’ll have clues as to what something is by where it is filed.

When I’m done, I plan to add shortcuts to “frequently accessed files” on my desktop (Quick Access menu), and/or by adding a star in Google Drive.

And then, I’m going to re-organize my notes (in Evernote, etc.) with a similar setup.

This is a work in progress and I’m open to ideas. What does your file system look like?

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Do you have a Zoom headache?

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I heard from a friend who has been on one too many Zoom “conference calls” lately and is feeling overwhelmed.

These calls or chats take up a lot of time, time she could use to build her business.

And, she didn’t mention this, but I suspect there are times when she would rather not have to dress up or “put on her face” to get on a call.

I’m sure she’s not alone.

The worst part, however, is that these calls are so impersonal.

Many people thrive on meeting people in person, one-on-one and in groups. This was the norm for my friend before and I know that not being able to do this now makes here a bit. . . sad.

For a lot of people, this new way of doing business has become tiresome and they would like things to go back to “normal”.

What can we do?

For now, if you’ve taken to conducting video conferences to communicate with your team or your clients or colleagues, consider standing down a bit and communicating the old-fashioned way: email, text, or regular mail.

Let folks see the information on their own schedule.

If you don’t have to see each other or talk to each other, let it go.

And, if you do need to talk to each other, consider using the phone.

You can do group calls on the phone and nobody has to dress up. And you can do one-on-one calls, talk to each other and have a real conversation, without anybody focusing on how anyone else looks.

If you’re being asked to get on one too many video conferences and you’re finding it a bit much, talk to the organizer and let them know.

This new age of video conferencing is amazing and tremendously useful. But like any “shiny new object,” perhaps we’ve all taken things too far.

Hey, want to know a secret? I wrote this without combing my increasingly unruly hair. How about them apples?

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How to choose your priorities

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Someone once said, “You can be, do, or have anything, just not everything, because there isn’t enough time.”

So, what will it be?

What’s most important to you? What are your highest values? Your biggest goals?

Yes, we’re talking about your priorities.

With so many options available, how do you choose?

The best way to do that is to look at all of your options and compare them to each other.

We don’t make decisions in a vacuum. We look at everything in the context of everything else.

At one point in your life, you could have chosen medical school or law school or some other career path. In making your choice, no doubt you looked at your other options and compared them.

You may have fallen into your practice area or areas, but at some point, you examined your other options and compared them to what you were already doing.

You have followed a similar process with other aspects of your work and personal life.

You didn’t choose your spouse randomly, did you? When you met them, you compared them to other people you had met or dated. You may have loved other people, but the odds are you loved the one you chose even more.

Prioritizing is about making choices. This instead of that, these things more than those things.

Sometimes, your priority is clear. Sometimes, you like a lot of things and have difficulty choosing.

This article suggests a way to make choosing easier. It describes an exercise for groups or teams but there’s no reason you can’t do it yourself.

The basic idea is to examine each option and compare it to another option. You may like both options but decide you prefer one “even over” the other.

For example, you might like getting clients via referrals and via search, but decide you like referred clients “even over” clients who find you via search.

Knowing your priority will inform your marketing decisions–what you do, what you don’t do, how you allocate your time and resources.

Sure, you can use both marketing methods, and others. But knowing your priorities gives your clarity and allows you to focus on doing things that matter most.

Ready to take a quantum leap in your marketing?

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How to get great testimonials from your clients

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There’s nothing better than getting a letter or email from a satisfied client, telling you how happy they are with what you’ve done for them, praising you and thanking you for your help.

It really makes your day, doesn’t it?

Testimonials also make your marketing much more effective.

The trouble is, you don’t get them very often.

Your clients may be happy, and willing to provide a testimonial or a positive review. They just don’t take the time to do it.

One solution is to send all of your clients a survey at the end of each case. The feedback you get can be turned into testimonials.

How? Provide a check box at the end of the survey where the client authorizes you to use their words (with or without their full name) on your website or elsewhere in your marketing.

When you receive the completed survey, contact the client, thank them, and send them an edited version you’d like to use. Don’t change their thoughts, just the presentation, and tell them to feel free to add or change anything.

Another option, when you speak to a client at the end of the matter, ask them if they’re happy with the way things worked out. If they are, write down what they tell you and ask them if you can use what they’ve said in your marketing.

Simple, huh?

The best testimonials address 3 subjects:

1) Before they hired you.

What was going on in their life that prompted them to seek you out. Problems, frustrations, results they wanted but weren’t getting.

2) During the case.

What was it like working with you? Did you explain everything? Keep them informed? Make them feel appreciated? Protected? Did you bill fairly and promptly?

3) After the case.

What changed about their situation? Was the problem resolved? Did they get the results they sought? Would they hire you again and/or refer others to you?

Your survey should prompt them to talk about these things, and ask them to be as specific as possible. You can also delve deeper when you speak to them.

But, if they only address one of these areas–if they’re thrilled with the way you kept them informed, for example–take the win. And then go get some more.

When a client is happy, they want you (and others) to know it. They’re willing to provide you with a testimonial. They just need a little nudge.

Ready to take a Quantum Leap in your marketing?

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Hate your law practice? Here are 7 ways to fix that

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Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to love what you do to be successful. You just can’t hate it.

If you hate what you do, every day is a burden. Not only does your work suffer, so does every other aspect of your life because our work is a big part of who we are.

If you’ve got the law practice blues, you don’t have to sit and suffer. You do have options:

(1) Increase your income

Yesterday’s post was about this very subject. No, money isn’t everything, but when you have enough of it, things tend to look a lot brighter.

When I started practicing, every month was a struggle to pay rent. I was in survival mode and really didn’t like what I was doing.

Everything changed when I finally started earning a good income and could focus on growth instead of survival.

(2) Reduce your work hours

Once I had money coming in regularly, I started looking for ways to work smarter, not harder. Eventually, I went from working 6 days a week to 3 days a week (about 5 hours per day).

I had a lot more time and energy to focus on marketing and growing my practice, and time for family and fun.

One thing I did was to document every aspect of my work process and create forms and checklists for everything. This allowed me to work more quickly and efficiently.

I also hired more help and delegated as much of the work as possible.

Other options: taking a partner, outsourcing, or associating with a firm.

(3) Change your practice areas

I started with a general practice but couldn’t keep up with everything. The day I decided to specialize and eliminate everything that wasn’t in my wheelhouse, was the day I was liberated.

I enjoyed the work I was doing and referred out everything else. Specializing attracted more clients and allowed me to get “good” in my field.

(4) Change your clients

You may like the work itself but if you don’t like your clients, “fire” them and replace them.

Choose a different target market. Re-define your ideal client. And get some people you enjoy working with. It can make a world of difference.

(5) Change your business model

Practicing law and running a law practice can be overwhelming. If you can’t keep up with everything, consider remodeling your practice.

Join a firm or merge with another firm. Hire more people or hire fewer. Go out on your own or go in-house.

There are other ways to use that sheepskin.

(6) Do something on the side

Start a side business. Invest. Write, paint, play music.

Do something you love and let your practice finance it.

When you find fulfillment after hours, you might see your practice in a more favorable light.

(7) Get out

If you’re still not happy, change your career. Start a business. Get a sales job. Write, consult, teach.

I know, you invested years building your legal career. Being a lawyer is part of your identity.

It may be hard to give that up, but if hate practicing, do yourself a favor and move on.

If you’d like to talk to someone who has done most of the above, hit me up and let’s talk.

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Ready to reinvent yourself?

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According to a 2013 Harvard study, 80% of businesses are using a business model that is at least partially obsolete. They continue to use it because that’s what they’re used to.

How about you?

Have you followed the same methods and models for building and running your practice since day one? More importantly, will you continue to do so as we come out of our caves and get back to a regular schedule?

Will it be business as usual or will you make any changes?

To some extent, change is inevitable. We live in a different world today than we did a few months ago. Clients have different expectations and priorities. We have to at least be willing to meet them halfway.

But this is more than putting hand sanitizer in your waiting room. Maybe a lot more.

It might be about letting go of some practice areas, or taking on new ones. You might target new markets, change how you go about marketing, or dramatically reduce your overhead.

You might create strategic alliances with other lawyers or firms, take on new partners, or split up and going your own way.

And you might change your fee structure and billing practices.

That doesn’t mean “going small” necessarily. It might mean “going big”. You might raise your fees and let go of small cases and low-end clients.

I don’t know what’s right for you and your practice. I just know you have to consider all of your options.

And be prepared to get out of your comfort zone.

On the other hand, you may decide not to make any significant changes. You may reinvent yourself into the same person you always were.

Which is okay, too.

Just remember that while you may look the same and offer the same services from the same office, in some respects you will be a different person.

As will we all.

Whatever you do, take your clients and their referrals with you

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