3 things you need for success in private practice


What does it take to make it? A lot of things can help. Cash, for one. Because if you can put it to work wisely, you can get things off to a good start or more easily move to the next level. But cash isn’t one of the 3 things you need. 

How about mental toughness? Also good. But also not essential. Even for litigators. 

Knowing a lot of influential people? Excellent. But not on the list of must-haves.  

Charm? Good looks? Being smarter than the average bear? 


So, what then? What are the 3 things you need for success? 

At the top of the list, far above the other two, is desire. You’ve got to want it. So let’s call it, “burning desire”. 

But not necessarily the desire to be a successful lawyer. The desire to be, do, or have something that being a successful lawyer makes possible.

Something that’s important enough to you to get you out of bed in the morning and do things you might not feel like doing. 

For some, that might mean being able to move their family to a safer neighborhood or helping their older parents (finally) retire. For others, it might mean helping to save humanity. 

Something you are passionate about. Something you might be brought to tears when you think about not getting it. 

That kind of desire. Not ego-driven desire. 

Desire is at the top of the list because that’s what will see you through the tough times, disappointment, and sacrifice that often go hand-in-hand with building a successful practice. Desire is the key to everything else.

What’s number 2? Willingness to learn. But not just legal knowledge or your core legal skills. 

There’s a lot to learn about marketing, hiring and keeping good people, budgeting, productive work habits, and all the paperwork. 

Most of all, there’s a lot to learn about yourself. Your personal and interpersonal skills. Because success means becoming the kind of person who is successful. 

As Jim Rohn put it, you need to work on yourself more than your business. 

Which leads to number 3. Willingness to do the work

You may have the desire and be willing to learn, but if you’re not willing to show up every day and do the work, and keep doing it, you’re not going to get to the promised land. 

I’m not saying you have to continually burn the midnight oil, never take breaks, or do things you hate doing. You needn’t work till you drop. You can (and should) look for shortcuts, and create systems and habits that make things easier and better.

You can have a life while you’re building your business. 

You can also go quickly or slowly and take the path that’s right for you. But you have to do the work and that means you have to keep moving.

Because there’s a lot to learn and even more to do. 

The Quantum Leap Marketing System (if you’re ready)


Revenue generating activity


Business advisors of all stripes talk about the primacy of revenue generating activity for sustaining and growing a business. They tell you to should spend most of your time doing this because it is the only thing that brings in income.

“Everything else is an expense.”

Literally, that’s true. If you spend most of your time and resources on creating value for your clients, your business will be profitable and grow.

So, how do we define revenue generating activities? 

For lawyers in private practice, anything you do that allows you to bill a client clearly qualifies. Admin tasks might be necessary for managing the people and processes for creating and collecting that revenue, but don’t qualify as revenue generating by themselves.

Okay, so you want to spend most of your time doing billable work. But how much?

If you spend 80% of your time doing billable work, is that enough? Is spending 20% of your gross income (and time) on admin too much? 

Ultimately, this is the debate we have with ourselves, our partners and advisors.

But it doesn’t only come down to doing the work vs. the cost of getting it done. There are other activities that come into play.

Continuing education, personal development, and business development, for example. 

These aren’t revenue generating in the classical sense, but they can create significant revenue, arguably with significantly less effort than it takes to do the billable work. 

It’s true. 

When you improve your marketing skills, you can get more leads and prospective clients, attract bigger cases and better clients, expand into additional markets, and increase profits by being able to hire more help and/or open more offices.  

When you improve your personal skills, e.g., sales, networking, speaking, writing, productivity, etc., you can attract even more prospects and close a higher percentage of them, get more repeat business, streamline your workflows, and build deeper relationships with other professionals who can lead you to additional opportunities to develop your practice and career. 

And when you improve your core legal skills and knowledge, you can increase your value to your clients, allowing you to bill higher rates. 

Revenue generating activities, to be sure.

I can’t tell you how much time to spend on these activities, only that if you want to grow, you should consider spending more. 

When you’re ready to take a quantum leap in your practice, here’s what to do


Slow down to speed up


Yesterday, I talked about the advantages of following a non-linear workflow, that is, working when and how your body and brain tell you is right instead of slavishly following the calendar. 

Among other things, this means taking breaks when you feel you need them, and not feeling guilty because you’re doing that “too often”. 

Taking breaks also gives you the opportunity to evaluate what you’re doing, and how you’re doing it, and make improvements. You’ll be able to see things you might not have seen because you’ve been too busy doing the work. 

If you continually run from one project or case to the next one, your practice or business is running you instead of the other way around. 

You want to go faster and grow bigger, but you can’t do that if you’re constantly running. You need breaks so you can evaluate what you’re doing, make improvements, or change course. 

Maybe you need to do something different on that project, or put it aside in favor of another. Maybe you need to let go of doing everything yourself and get some help so you can free up some time and energy for projects that are more in line with your goals and purpose. 

Periodically slow down (or stop). Go through your projects, your cases, your client list, and your plans. Stand down for a day or a week and figure out what you can do better or instead.  

When you get back to work, you’ll be able to go faster.

Success isn’t just about doing the work to the best of your ability. It’s also about doing the work that best serves your future. Sometimes, you need to back away and figure out what that means.


Start with what, not how


I’m guilty of this myself. Trying to figure out how to do something or improve something when that’s the wrong question to start with.

The right question is, “What do I want?“

Because when you know what you want (to be, do, or have), you can almost always figure out how.

Asking “how“ before you know “what“, often leads to wasting time on less important projects or goals.

Finding solutions without a problem.

Example? You’re trying to figure out how to set up a new website. All your energy is dedicated to looking for ways to do that, or finding people who can do it for you.

If you had first asked, “What do I want?” you might have realized that you want more opt-ins to your email list, and while a new and improved website might help, there are other things you can do to get what you want that don’t require a new website.

“What” is more important than “how”.

If you’re not sure of what you want, or even if you are, a good follow-up question to ask yourself is “why?” Why do I want that? Why is it important to me?

The answer to that question will confirm that what you said you want is indeed important and valuable to you, (or it isn’t), and provide you with the motivation to move forward.

Why do you want more opt-ins? Because this is a simple way to get what I want: more clients from the visitors to my website.

First, figure out WHAT you want (and why). Then, figure out HOW to get it.

Email marketing for attorneys


Simply the best


You are the best in your field. The most talented, the most successful, the most dedicated to your clients. 

That’s why your clients hire you; that’s why prospective clients should do the same. 

Unfortunately, you can’t go around saying you’re the best. Even if it’s true. 

You want others to say this about you. Which is why you should do everything you can to obtain testimonials, positive reviews, and praiseworthy survey responses from your clients, and endorsements from prominent people (especially other lawyers).

It’s also why you should get yourself invited to be interviewed by centers of influence in your niche and be seen in their company. 

If you say you’re the best, people will doubt you. Maybe laugh at you. If your clients and others say you’re the best, it must be true. 

Not only does third party praise help you bring in more business, these kinds of comments give your clients a warm and fuzzy feeling knowing that they made a wise decision to hire you.

It also means you’ll attract higher-paying clients and a lot more referrals, because you’re not just competent, you’re the best. 

Don’t be shy about asking your clients for reviews and testimonials. If they’re happy campers, they should be happy to provide them. But you have to ask because they may not know how important this is to you.

And, while you’re collecting these, you can create the same effect by liberally adding client success stories to your articles, posts, presentations, and other content. That’s where you describe a client’s case or situation before they came to you and how you rescued them and made everything better. 

Set up a file to collect emails and quotes from people who say something nice about you. Thank them, tell them how much it means to you, and ask, “May I quote you?”

Happy clients are the foundation of a successful practice


Lawyer advertising is expensive. Or is it?


“How much are the ads?” is the wrong question. The right question is “how much can I profit after I pay the cost of the ads?“

Because if you spend $30,000 per month on ads but take in $150,000 in fees, that $30k ad budget looks like a pretty good deal.

The cost of ads is relative. It doesn’t matter how much you invest, what matters is how much your investment earns. Your net profit after the cost of the ads and your overhead.

Is it really that simple? Yes, and no.

Yes, because it’s just math. No, it’s not that simple because you have to consider the risks.

The risk that you won’t take in enough revenue to cover the cost of the ads (and overhead). The risk that the ads that work today won’t continue to work tomorrow. The risk that you’ll get complacent and mess up something, or you’ll let your guard down and some charlatan will take you to the cleaners.

I’ve lost a lot of money on advertising. I’ve run ads that bombed, been cheated, and spent more than it tuned out I need to spend. But I’ve also made a lot. More than enough to cover my costs and turn a handsome profit.

But if you’re considering advertising, there’s something else you need to know. You can still make a profit on ads that break even or even show a loss.

How can you lose money and still make money?

On the backend.

Your front end is the business (and revenue) you get directly from your ads. The backend is the business and revenue you get from repeat business and referrals.

If your ads bring in a client who has a lot of legal work, you might break even on the first case they hire you to handle, but get a steady stream of repeat business (and referrals) for years to come.

And all that backend profit is net profit, since you already paid the advertising costs to bring in the client.

Many attorneys lose money on every one of their ads, but make a fortune on the backend.

So, that’s the big picture. Advertising could be the best thing you ever do for your practice, but if you’re not careful, it could leave a big red stain on your books.

Fortunately, you can minimize your risks and simultaneously maximize your profits.

You minimize risk by learning all you can about advertising and not blindly turning everything over to someone else.

You minimize risk by starting small and testing. See what works on a small scale before rolling out on a bigger scale. You don’t invest $5000 on an ad until you see that the $750 version is doing okay.

I started out with classified ads. Then 1/4 page. Then 1/3 page. Then 1/2 page. And eventually, full page.

Start small and if you see a profit, continue running the ads and, eventually, expand into more ads, bigger ads, more publications or sites, and more keywords.

If profits decline, you fix things, or scale back.

You minimize risk and increase profits by continually testing other ad copy, headlines, keywords, and offers.

You can also minimize risk by targeting smaller markets and niches where there is less competition and the cost to advertise is lower. These can be as profitable as bigger markets, and are often more profitable.

Another way to minimize risk is through multi-step marketing. Instead of expecting to make the sale on your frontend ads, you capture leads and stay in touch with prospects, some of whom will “buy” weeks, months, or years down the road.

And you minimize risk by avoiding the same kinds of ads other attorneys run and making yours different or better.

Risk is part of advertising. But so is opening an office, hiring help, going to court, and everything else you do to build a law practice. That’s business.

But in business, success doesn’t require the elimination of all risk (even if that was possible). It requires intelligently managing your risks.

Same as everything in life.

How to get more repeat business and referrals


3 ways clients can help you


Would you like an expert to help you build a bigger and better practice? Someone who knows, likes, and trusts you, wants to help you, and is willing to do that without being paid?

Yep, we’re talking about your clients who are experts at being your client. Here are three ways they can help you.

Find out what’s working

You can talk to your clients, in a post-case interview, for example, and that might be a good idea, but sending surveys is easier and can be responded to anonymously, which will probably generate more candid feedback.

Either way, you can ask

  • What they liked about the work you did for them (outcomes, how they were treated, fees, keeping them informed, seeing them “on time”)
  • What needs improving?
  • Would they recommend you to others? What would they say?
  • Where did they hear about you (friend, another professional, saw your article or ad?)
  • Did they read any reviews? Where? What did they like best?
  • What keywords did they use in their online search?
  • Before hiring you, did they read any of your blog articles? Sign up for your newsletter? Attend your seminar?
  • Why did they choose you instead of other attorneys?
  • Do they know about your other services?
  • And a lot more

Improve your marketing

Clients can also help you improve your marketing and advertising. Show them two ads or headlines or images, for example, and ask which one they prefer. Give them a variety of topics (for your blog or newsletter or presentation) and have them choose the ones that interest them.

Ask which format(s) they prefer for consuming your content, if they like long articles or short, and how often they would like to receive it.

Ask them to tell you about their industry or market, about their work, the publications they read, leaders they follow, and organizations they belong to.

Lead gen

Ask your clients to share your content, tell others about your upcoming events, hand out your handouts, or invite friends to schedule a free consultation.

Ask them to provide a testimonial and a review.

Ask for referrals and introductions.

Will your clients help you? Not only are most (satisfied) clients willing to do that, they are flattered that you asked.

So, ask.

Marketing is simple when you know The Formula


Onboarding new clients


No doubt you give new clients information about what will happen with their case or matter—a general timeline, a list of steps, what to send you, what to expect, when you will update them, how to reach you in an emergency, and other do’s and don’ts.

This is good because

  • It helps you do a better job of protecting and serving them
  • You’ll have fewer issues because of misunderstandings
  • You can better manage clients’ expectations about what will happen, and when
  • Your clients will be impressed by your thoroughness and professionalism, and thus more likely to trust you and follow your instructions
  • Your clients will feel well taken care of, and thus more likely to stick with you, refer you, and say good things about you

One benefit you might not have considered is that you’ll get more referrals doing this because the information you provide shows that referrals are a common and makes the process easy and non-threatening. (See Maximum Referrals for more.)

As I say, I’m sure you do this. But you should do it more.

More means providing this information in more formats:

  • Handouts you give them or mail them
  • Email autoresponder sequence (break it up into smaller pieces, sent over time)
  • FAQs on your website
  • A dedicated ‘new client’ section of your website
  • Videos, webinars, audios

More also means

  • Sending the information every few weeks or months, to make sure they have it, haven’t misplaced it, remind them to read or listen, and to see if they have questions
  • Talking to them about parts of the instructions when they are in the office or on the phone
  • Sharing success stories about how your clients are benefitting from this information
  • Giving them forms and checklists in addition to written instructions

This is important because people

  • Lose things
  • Don’t read everything
  • Don’t understand everything
  • Need to be reminded to read things and do things
  • Process information differently (all at once vs. drip, read vs. video)
  • Are often distracted by life, especially when they are occupied by a legal issue
  • Might not realize how serious you are and need to hear it again and again
  • Might have trouble explaining what you want them to know or do to people who need to know and/or assist them; (tell them to share your information and let you explain it)

The more you do this, the better your clients’ experience will be with you and your staff. Which is good for them and good for you.

It means extra work, but you’ll be glad you did.

How to talk to clients about referrals


Getting unstuck


It happens. You’re spinning your wheels or losing ground. What’s worked for you before no longer seems to. You’re bleeding money or exhausted out of your mind, scared or frustrated or angry, or all of the above.

You’re stuck and don’t know what to do about it.

The answer is to do something. Change something. Try something and keep trying until you get your mojo back.

Because you can. Nothing has to stay the same. Trust me. I’ve been there. And lived to tell about it.

I have some suggestions for you. To get you thinking. Maybe you’ve tried some of these already, or thought about trying them. Maybe you need to hear them again before you’re willing to try them, or try them again.

Quickly read through this list of strategies and note anything that catches your eye. Come back to it, meditate or journal on it, or talk to someone about it.

And then try it.

  • Fix a health issue. You can’t move forward if you’re not feeling well or don’t have enough energy. Maybe you need a new eyeglass prescription. Maybe you need to get off some meds. Maybe you have an addiction you need to free yourself from. Maybe you need to eat better or sleep better.
  • Fix a relationship issue with your spouse, child, law partner, employee, or friend.
  • Change your marketing. Try a new strategy, eliminate something, expand something. Learn more, get help, change your process. Your troubles might all go away when you’re able to get some new clients or better clients.
  • Hire someone: an office manager, a virtual assistant, a business coach, a consultant. Maybe you need a new accountant or financial advisor. Bringing some new ideas and/or personalities into your life might be just what the doctor ordered.
  • Fire someone. Someone who is making things worse, not better.
  • Change your practice area or target market. Something more lucrative or a better fit for you.
  • Delegate more. The source of your “stuckness” might simply be that you’re trying to do too much yourself. My philosophy: Only do those things that only you can do; delegate everything else.
  • Find an accountability partner to keep you on track.
  • Cut overhead. What can you eliminate? What can you reduce? Could you renegotiate your lease or move to another building? Find cheaper alternatives for anything? Every dollar you save allows you to do something else.
  • And/or. . . spend more on things that are working.
  • Farm out unprofitable cases; refer out troublesome clients.
  • Simplify (everything).
  • Make your workspace more pleasant to work in. Change the lighting or the furniture; get rid of the clutter. Buy some plants.
  • Track your time. You might find a lot of waste.
  • Reduce your work hours. Take more breaks. Take a vacation. Get more sleep.

Okay, one more. Try a side-hustle.

No, really. A business project unrelated to your current career or practice. Not as a way to supplement or replace your income, although that might happen, mostly as a way to shake the cobwebs off of you by doing something completely different.

You’ll learn new ideas, meet new people, discover different ways to market your services or build your career.

You might also have some fun, which might be the very thing that’s missing in your life.

Yes, this means diverting time and money away from your core business. But doing something else part time might be just what you need to jumpstart your core business.

If this isn’t in the cards for you right now, at least study other business models. I learned how to market my legal services, in part, by looking at what other professionals and business owners do.

The answer to getting unstuck is to do something different. Find something and run with it.

Quantum Leap Marketing System for Attorneys


Taking inventory


I watched a video about tasks, tools, and processes for creatives and thought the information was helpful for lawyers. Helpful because it provides a framework for thinking about your work and how you can do it more efficiently and with better results.

We’re told that tasks fall into 4 types of categories, Administrative, Consumption, Documentation, and Creative, and as I thought about what I do in my work in this context, I starting thinking about what I could eliminate, delegate, automate, speed up, or otherwise improve. You might do the same.


Administrative tasks include calendaring, conflict management, bookkeeping, client communication, website updates, file management, HR, individual task management, and so much more.

We spend a significant percentage of our day doing or managing these tasks; they are the most obvious category to delegate or automate.


Cases, articles, books, blogs, courses, podcasts, newsletters, videos, seminars—it’s a long list.

You can streamline this category by cutting out some sources of material you regularly turn to, subscribing to services or newsletters that curate this information for you, more audio and less text, and by assigning the “first pass” for some of this content to someone who works for you.


This includes taking notes on client matters, and notes on the other material you consume, recording ideas, storing documents, and the software and systems you use to retrieve this information.


This is your output—how you get paid. It includes your legal work—drafting, negotiating, writing, speaking—and everything you do for marketing.

You might not want to delegate all of this, but you can get help with research, investigation, first drafts, editing, and follow-ups.

As you consider these categories, think about your situation and what you want to improve. Go through a typical week or month and document what you do.

  1. Tasks. Brainstorm every function performed by you and the people who work for you (or outsources).
  2. Tools. Note the software and hardware you use on the computer, browser extensions, phone apps, paper and folders, etc. It also includes forms, templates, checklists, reminders, and more.
  3. Processes. How you do what you do. This will take the most time to document, but is likely to deliver the most benefits.

If you don’t want to do all this right now, at least use this as a checklist to think about how you use your time and what you could do to use it better.