Are you a finicky lawyer?

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I told you about a program I saw profiling a 20-year-old woman with a strange and dangerous addiction to sugar. She drinks 30 cans of cola a day and is on the fast track to a major illness.

The program is called “Finicky Eaters”. My wife found replays on YouTube. We’ve since seen episodes about a guy who has eaten nothing but cheeseburgers for the last 25 years (yep, three meals a day), the gal who eats nothing but french fries, and another about a man who likes to eat raw meat and little else.

As far as I’m concerned, this is more than finicky eating, it’s a sickness. Had these folks not received professional help, they would no doubt be looking at debilitating illness or death.

I was thinking about these poor souls on my walk this morning. It made me think about how many lawyers also have unhealthy habits with respect to their practices. Although usually not fatal, these habits prevent them from reaching their potential.

Many lawyers steadfastly refuse to delegate, for example. Doing all the work themselves can add stress and lead to burnout. It also limits their income. (I know, there’s a trade-off. If you’re not careful, delegating can lead to other problems. Note to self: delegate, but be careful.)

When it comes to marketing, many lawyers also have bad habits. They get set in their ways, refusing to try new strategies, or update old ones, and find themselves falling behind the competition.

How about you? Do you have any bad habits about how you manage your practice? Things you do that you shouldn’t, or things you should do but don’t?

Do you continue doing something a certain way because that’s how you’ve always done it, or because that’s how everyone else does it?

Do you stay in a bad partnership out of habit or fear that the alternative might be worse?

Do you continue paying for products or services you no longer need or could replace with lower-cost or better alternatives?

Start a new habit today of regularly examining what you do and how you do it. Pay attention to your habits, routines, and go-to strategies and consider what you might change or improve.

If you decide that you’re doing fine and no changes are necessary, I have one last suggestion for you: get someone else to take a look. Ask a friend, or hire a professional, to examine your ways and tell you what they see.

Because most of those finicky eaters didn’t realize they had a problem until someone else pointed it out to them.

Are you getting all of the referrals you want? 

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How smart lawyers get better reviews

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I heard from a couple of smart lawyers who shared what they do to get better online reviews.

Sharon said, “I only ask clients for a review if I’m confident they were happy with my services. If they don’t get around to it, I do not repeat the request–I don’t wish to annoy people.”

Joshua said, “One thing we do at our office to control or screen for good reviews is that we do an in-office review first before asking for an online review. If someone had a great experience then we will ask for an online review and follow up with them a few times.”

A few takeaways and suggestions:

(1) Make sure the client is happy before you ask for an online review. 

If the designer I talked about yesterday had done that, she would have known not to ask me to post a review.

At the end of the case or matter, interview the client about their experience with your firm or ask them to fill out a form. Get their feedback and comments. Find out if they would recommend you to others.

If they’re happy, ask them to post their comments online.

If possible, while the client is still in the office, call up the review site of your liking on your computer. Help them register and post their review, or at least show them how to do it (and give them a copy of their in-house review), so they can do it when they get home or back to work.

(2) If the interview or in-house review reveals issues, fix them. And learn from them.

If you fix the problem quickly and completely, or the problem wasn’t your fault and you can make the client see that, it might be okay to ask for an online review. Do another in-office review first, however, before you decide to do that.

(3) It’s okay to remind clients to leave an online review. Remind but don’t push.

At the time they complete the in-office review or interview and agree to post an online review, ask for permission to remind them. “I know you’re busy, I’ll have my secretary send an email reminder, okay?”

Thank them again for their positive review and point out that posting that review online is important. It will help other people who are looking for an attorney, and it will help you.

If you want to get more reviews, and better reviews, this is how you do it.

Earn more without working more. Here’s how 

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When is good enough good enough?

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When is the document you drafted good enough to file? When is the letter you wrote good enough to mail? When is your case prepared enough to take to trial?

I don’t know but you do.

Maybe not consciously, more like a feeling in your gut. You know something isn’t perfect but you know, somehow, that it’s good enough.

One thing’s for sure, when you have a deadline, the notion of what’s good enough gets hazier. You’ve got to get it done or there will be consequences so you get it done. It is deemed good enough because it has to be.

In a pleasant bit of irony, the pressure of a deadline doesn’t necessarily cause more errors. Instead, it often allows you to cut through the fog and quickly find the right path. When you don’t have time for minutia, it’s easier to zero in on what’s important.

So good enough is a relative term. It means different things under different circumstances. How do you get comfortable with this murkiness? I think it comes down to understanding a few things:

  • Good enough really is good enough. You will get most things right most of the time. Most of what you fear will never happen.
  • While many errors are embarrassing, most aren’t fatal. If you can’t fix something, you’ve got insurance to protect you from the worst case scenario.
  • You can minimize problems with checklists, forms, templates, and boilerplate language, and by having another set of eyes edit or at least look at your work product.
  • You’ll get better over time. Experience will help you minimize errors and improve your ability to make decisions. You’ll also get things done faster because you’ve done the same thing so often.

Ultimately, the best way to find out if something is good enough is to release it into the world. The world (your clients, your opposition, your target market) will tell you if something is good enough. Most of the time, the answer will be in the affirmative.

Are you getting paid for all of your work? This can help

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Write your own Yelp reviews

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Many lawyers complain about review sites like Yelp. They point out that one bad review can do tremendous damage and that many bad reviews are dishonest and unfair.

You can’t stop the crazies from posting their opinion. All you can do is encourage your happy clients to post positive reviews and drown out the bad ones.

And that’s exactly what you should do.

Whenever a client thanks you or praises you or your staff, they should be asked to post a review. Explain that even a few words can make a difference. Tell them how much you appreciate it and point the way to your “page”.

You should also stimulate more good reviews by conducting surveys at the end of every case or engagement. A few questions will do the trick but make sure to include a field that allows them to add comments. When you see positive comments, ask the client to use those comments to post a review.

There’s something else you can do to get more positive reviews. Write your own.

Hold on, don’t get your panties in a festival. I’m not suggesting anything nefarious or unethical. Just the opposite.

Let me explain.

Go to Yelp or another review site and peruse a bunch of reviews for attorneys. Find some of the good ones, especially of attorneys in your practice area. Copy those reviews into a document. Then, do the same thing for the bad reviews.

Bad reviews? Yes, you’ll want those too.

Next, take the good reviews and pull out phrases and sentences and stories that resonate with you. Imagine that these things were said about you and your practice. Then, use them to write a mock review, saying nice things about yourself from the point of view of an extremely satisfied client.

Grab this faux review and a pile of negative reviews about other lawyers and call a meeting with your staff. Show them the faux review and point out why it so good. Then, let the brainstorming begin.

Ask for suggestions about how you could bring about the kinds of results mentioned in the faux review. What do you need to do or change to earn reviews like this one? Write it down.

What you’re doing is creating a manifesto for your firm. Things to do to make your client’s experiences so incredible they feel compelled to write (real) positive reviews. A standard to live up to from this day forward.

One more thing.

Break out the bad reviews and share them. Have a laugh or two, and thank your lucky stars that these things weren’t written about you. Take those bad reviews and add a bunch of “don’ts” to your manifesto.

Follow your manifesto and you won’t ever worry about reviews again.

Reviews are just one way your clients can help your practice grow

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Firing clients out of a cannon

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It’s time to do some spring cleaning. Go through your client list and get rid of the clutter.

Start with the ones who owe you money and aren’t paying. You don’t need them. Oh, I know, you care about them. They’re just going through a tough time. They’ll pay you eventually.

Fine, make an arrangement. A payment schedule. Give them more time. But not much. You have a business to run and bills to pay and you can’t be chasing after people to pay you. If they don’t pay, show them the door.

Next up, get rid of the ones who make your life miserable. The complainers. The micro-managers. The trouble makers. Say bye bye to clients who are a nuisance to you and your employees.

What’s that? You need the money? You can’t afford to jettison paying clients no matter how much trouble they cause?

You can’t afford not to.

These clients may fill up your bank account but they are a drain on your psyche. They’re bad for your health and the health of your practice. You can replace them with better clients. If you’re not ready to fire these pain-in-the-ass clients today, make a plan to do it as soon as possible. 90 days at the latest.

(Nature really does abhor a vacuum. When you get rid of some clients, new clients will come your way to fill the void.)

Okay, that’s bad clients. Next, take a look at your “wrong” clients. The ones who have matters outside your primary practice areas. The ones with cases that are too small or who take up too much of your time relative to the fees you charge them. The ones with work you don’t enjoy. The ones who can’t or won’t pay top dollar to have you as their attorney.

Yep, fire them too.

Move them out and make room for more clients like your ideal client. They’re out there and they will come.

Clients owe you money? Here’s how to Get the Check

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The $20 rule

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Years ago, I established a spending rule for myself. If there was something I wanted and it cost under $20, I bought it.

No research. No sleeping on it. No guilt.

C’mon, it’s just $20. My time is worth a lot more than that. So why spend any of it second-guessing or worrying about spending too much on things I might not need or use?

Capiche?

I shake my head in amazement reading app reviews or book reviews by people complaining about wasting $3 on something they didn’t like or didn’t use. I know, it’s their $3 and they have the right to say what they please. But seriously? If you don’t like it, throw it away. Move on. Stop embarrassing yourself.

And next time, read the damn product description before you click the buy button.

Anyway, I buy a lot of books using this rule, because, well, books. I don’t read all of them and I don’t get a lot out of all of the ones I do read, but I have another rule for that: if I get one tip or idea from a book, it was worth it.

Now, my rule only applies to one-time purchases. If something is $20 per month, that’s a different story. I’m much more careful. Thrifty, even. I take my time. I do my homework. I read reviews and think about whether I really need the item before I make a decision.

Because one-time purchases, even relatively big ones, usually don’t do as much damage as ongoing expenses.

Maybe you spent too much furnishing your office. I’ve done that. At a time when I could ill afford it, I spent thousands more than I needed to. (Keeping up appearances, and all that).

It wasn’t smart but it was a one-time purchase. One and done.

Overhead is another animal.

A hundred dollars a month here, $50 dollars there, before you know it, you might be wasting thousands of dollars a month.

And that could make a big different to your bottom line.

In sum:

One time purchases, especially small ones? Live a little.

Ongoing expense? Get your Scrooge on.

Here’s the formula for building a profitable law practice

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It’s not how much you spend, it’s how much you earn

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In Oscar Wilde’s “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” Lord Darlington defined a cynic as “a man who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing”.

Not all lawyers are cynics, of course, but many lawyers focus too much on the cost of building their practice and too little on the potential return.

They pinch pennies that might earn a nice profit. They avoid “spending” billable hours executing strategies that might earn them a fortune.

They don’t want to lose money or waste time and their aversion to these risks clouds their vision and stifles their growth.

I know. When I finally started making money in my practice, I lost thousands of dollars to some people I thought I could trust. Having been broke for so long, the loss rattled me and I was afraid to take a chance on losing more.

I shared what happened with a doctor I knew who pointed out that the losses were simply a cost of doing business, that I should accept them and move on. “At the end of the year, if you made more money than you spent or lost, that’s what counts,” he said.

And he was right. Most of what I was doing was working. My practice was profitable and growing, despite the losses and expenses.

It was an important lesson for me, and maybe for you, too. In building a practice, our task isn’t to avoid all risk but to intelligently manage those risks and maximize our return.

If you are too focused on the costs of building your practice, if the idea of losing money or wasting time is an anathema to you, I encourage you to find a way let go of your fear and get comfortable taking more risk.

Because without risk there is no reward. And because it’s not how much you spend, it’s how much you earn.

Referrals provide an excellent return on investment. Here’s how to get more

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Walk a mile in the other guy’s pants

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Whenever I set up IKEA furniture, the first thing I do is take everything out of the box, spread it out on the floor, and examine and count all of the parts. I make sure I have everything I’m supposed to have before I begin.

Then, I turn to the first page of the instructions and start with step one.

This helps me work quickly and ensures that I don’t leave anything out.

I followed a similar process in my law practice, using forms and checklists to open and close files, manage documents and correspondence and the calendar, and otherwise make sure I didn’t forget anything. (No computers, then. Fun times.)

I’ve seen more than a few attorneys who don’t do use forms or checklists. When they interview a new client, they grab a legal pad and start asking questions.

When I have a writing project, anything longer than a few pages, I organize my ideas and notes and write a simple outline before I begin. Some writers prepare highly detailed outlines, while others prefer to start with nothing more than an idea.

Some are plotters. Some are pantsers—writing by the seat of their pants.

The point is that everyone has their own way of doing things. Do what works for you.

But. . . do yourself a favor. Make a point of looking at the methods used by other people and try some of them.

If you usually fly by the seat of your pants in your work flow, give checklists a try. If you’re organized to a fault, try winging some things. If you follow a specific task management system or have a preferred writing app, try some others every once in awhile.

Your way may work for you. But you might find something that works even better.

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Only you can prevent forest fires

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We all have problems. Most problems are small and easy to fix. Some problems are potentially crippling and need to be addressed immediately.

An audit, a state bar complaint, a lawsuit, or an unhappy client threatening to leave, for example, are problems that should be at the top of our list of priorities because there’s so much at stake. Even if they have a happy ending, they are distracting and worrisome.

You need to fix these problems, or at least get them under control, sooner rather than later.

Okay, you get this. And you do it. You don’t ignore serious problems, you deal with them. When you see fire, you grab the extinguisher and put it out.

The question is, what are you doing to prevent those fires?

Do you have procedures in place to evaluate vulnerabilities in your practice? Do you use checklists to open and close files? Do you have redundant systems for calendaring critical dates and backing up client data?

Do you schedule time to update your software, library, and forms?

Do you regularly review all of your systems and procedures to make sure they still work?

Just because you haven’t had any major problems recently doesn’t mean you won’t. You need to prepare for every contingency and vigilantly keep watch.

You probably do a good job of doing this on behalf of your clients, but if you’re like many lawyers, you may be a little sloppy when it comes to your own interests. It might make sense to get another set of eyes on your operation to help you stay on track.

Have your accountant and insurance agents do an annual review. Ask an attorney friend to review your office procedure manual in return for your reviewing theirs. Hire a practice management consultant to look at your operation and give you a report.

Because the easiest fires to put out are the ones that never start.

When was the last time you reviewed your marketing plan?

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Did your daddy take your T-bird away?

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When was the last time you had some fun in your practice? If you can’t remember, you should probably do something about that.

Your employees need to have some fun. Your clients, too. And God knows you need some. Perhaps now more than ever. No matter how serious your work is, there’s always room for Jello.

How, you ask? Maybe there should be a CLE class on the subject. Something like, “The last laugh: humor and the death penalty”. Okay, maybe not.

C’mon, you can do this. Summon your inner child and let him or her, zie or zer, help you to remember what it was like when fun wasn’t a four letter word.

You might come up with things like:

  • Adult coloring books in your waiting room
  • Weekly pizza parties in the conference room
  • Picnics and barbecues for clients and staff
  • Christmas and Halloween parties
  • Casual dress day and themed dress days
  • Bobble heads on your desk
  • Recipes, quotes, puzzles, and humor in your newsletter
  • Take your employees to the baseball park on opening day
  • Contests and drawings with silly prizes
  • An espresso machine in the lunch room

Surprises are fun. Send clients a bill with an unannounced discount. Give them a small gift. Invite them to dinner, just because.

It doesn’t take much to lighten the mood in your practice, help your clients forget their troubles for a few minutes and make your practice a fun place to work.

Referrals are fun. Here’s how to get more 

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