You can change your name, but not your stripes

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Jimmy, the protagonist in Better Call Saul, couldn’t do it. Changing his name didn’t change who he was.

That’s true for all of us. How we think, what we do, who we are.

Our beliefs about ourselves and the world are the core of our “operating system”. And while we can change our beliefs, we can’t do it by changing our name.

Our beliefs determine our attitudes towards the choices we make, the things we do and how we do them. Our activities determine the results we get. And our results determine our success and lifestyle.

Look at how this works in the context of marketing and managing a law practice.

(1) Our beliefs determine our attitudes

If you believe that that nothing is achieved in life without hard work, that there are no shortcuts, no such thing as “working smarter,” you will no doubt be skeptical about strategies that suggest otherwise.

You would be reluctant to try these strategies because they are inconsistent with your core beliefs.

If you did try any of these strategies, you might do so with an attitude that says, “Those things never work” and you may seek to prove you’re right.

On the other hand, if you believe that some “working smarter” strategies can work, you’ll be open to learning more and giving some strategies an honest try

(2) Our attitudes affect our activities

If you believe working smarter is possible, that you can increase your income without working more hours (and even by working fewer hours), you’ll be willing and perhaps eager to explore strategies that promise that outcome.

Your attitude will be “let’s see” instead of “no way.” And if you try those strategies, you’ll look for ways to make them work instead of trying to prove they won’t.

You may have always used hourly billing in your practice, for example, but you may be willing to try flat fee billing. If you’ve tried it before, you may be willing to try it again.

You’ll at least be open to getting more information about ways to do it effectively and to see how other lawyers are doing it.

(3) Our activity determines our results

Your activities—what you do, how you do it, how much you do and for how long, determine the results you get.

Do more marketing activities, do them better, and you’ll bring in more clients. Try different billing methods and if you find one that allows you to earn more from the same work, you’ll increase your income without putting in more hours.

Maybe even by working fewer hours.

(4) Our results determine our success and lifestyle

If you are able to increase your income by working smarter instead of working harder, in the case of our example, by successfully implementing flat fee billing, you will earn more without working more.

You’ll be able to do that because you believed it was possible.

Our beliefs guide our attitudes, our attitudes affect our activities, our activities determine our results, and our results are how we measure success.

How does this explain the success of people who lie, cheat, and steal their way through life? Who believe that the way to succeed is to do whatever it takes, even if it’s wrong?

They may get away with it, but only for so long. Eventually, their nature catches up with them.

And changing their name, or the name of their company, won’t stop that.

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Do, then learn

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We went to law school to learn how to practice law. Learning came first, then doing.

Generations ago, it was the other way around. You began by “doing”–working as an apprentice for a practicing lawyer, and getting experience working with real clients and real cases.

Most book learning was done in the context of those cases.

By and large, it was “do, then learn.” Or at least “learn while you do.”

I’m not saying we should go back to that way today. Although more “clinical” work early on might be a good idea.

But with learning other skills, marketing, for example, “Do, then learn” is something every practicing lawyer should consider.

Because the best way to learn almost anything is to do it.

You don’t really need more information. You need to take action.

Run an ad and see what happens. Call someone and introduce yourself. Post something on a blog or on social media, write something, record something, outline something, and as soon as possible, get it out into the world.

Even if it’s not ready.

You’ll learn faster that way. You’ll learn from your mistakes. You’ll get feedback and ask yourself questions and figure out how to answer them, guided by your real-world experiences.

Book learning has its place, of course. It can give you ideas and tips on how to do things properly, how to improve and get better results, but until you go out and do them, it’s all theory.

Many of use learning as an excuse to avoid doing. We tell ourselves we need to read more, take another course, get a coach, or do other preparation, because we’re afraid to get started.

We procrastinate because we’re afraid we might fail. Or because we believe we need “motivation” to get started.

But action precedes motivation, not the other way around.

So do something. Take the first step, or the next step. Start small, see what happens, fix it, make it better, or do something else.

Do, then learn. And let what you learn provide the motivation to continue.

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Why we don’t do things we know we need to do

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We talk about how our clients don’t always listen to us, but there’s someone else who doesn’t listen to us.

Us.

We don’t always do things we know we should do. Things that are good for us, that serve our purpose and help us achieve our goals. Things we’ve told ourselves we need to do.

Marketing is a perfect example.

We know we should allocate time each week to doing things to bring in new business. Too often, we don’t.

We know the benefits of staying in touch with our clients and prospects and professional contacts. We tell ourselves we will, but we don’t do it, or do it enough.

We know we should network, keep our name in front of people in our niche, update our website, create new content, improve our skills. . . but. . . well, you know.

We’re rational. We know we have to bring in new business and that it’s not going to happen on its own. We also know we have the wherewithal to do the things we need to do.

So why don’t we do them?

Because we don’t really believe the story we’ve told ourselves.

In truth, we think we’ll be wasting our time or money doing things that won’t work, or won’t work well enough to justify that time or money.

Or we think we’re not good enough at the things we need to do and it won’t be worth the investment to get good.

It comes down to our beliefs. Because if we believed in the necessity and value of marketing (or whatever the subject) and our ability to do it well enough to get the results we seek. . .

We’d do it.

But we don’t believe it, so we don’t.

And therein lies the solution.

We need to change our beliefs.

How do you do that?

For some, more information is the answer. Learning the specifics of what to do and how to do it might be all they need to see the light.

For others, seeing what others have achieved might inspire them to take the plunge.

But many people won’t change their beliefs until they see their own positive results, which means they have to find a way to get started even though they don’t believe, and stick with it long enough until something positive happens.

What’s best for you?

That’s what you have to figure out.

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Information vs. Implementation

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When I was studying for the bar exam, someone told me (or I figured out on my own) that I needed to not just read and re-read the material, the “input” side of studying and preparing for the exam, I also needed to work on the output.

So I spent a lot of time re-writing my notes and taking practice exams.

Most of my classmates read and re-read the material, seeking to memorize it. I did that too, of course, but I’m convinced that it was working on output that made the biggest difference.

One thing I did that really tested me was to re-write my notes from memory.

I’d take a topic, say “negligence,” and write down everything I knew. As though I was going to teach the subject to a classroom—or the bar examiners.

There’s no better way to see how much you know (or don’t). Try it with a case or contract you’re working on right now, or something you have to write. No notes, just write down everything you know.

Anyway, I thought about my experience this morning when I read that most successful people tend to invest as much time, if not more time, on implementation.

For every hour they spend reading or listening to information, they spend two hours applying what they learned.

If they take a course on marketing, for example, they don’t just sit on what they’ve learned; they use it. They write something, they practice doing something, they improve what they’ve been doing or they do something new.

Or so the theory goes.

But how does a lawyer measure something like this in terms of their practice? How do we know how much time we spend on output?

We write and speak a lot, and we get paid for our advice, but we do more thinking than anything else.

Is “thinking” considered output? Implementation?

If it is, we’re covered. We output all day long.

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The Law of the Lid

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In John C. Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, the first law is “The Law of the Lid”. It says that our effectiveness is determined by our leadership abilities.

This doesn’t mean only our ability to lead others. It means our ability to lead ourselves.

It’s about personal growth. If we want our business or practice to grow, we must grow. We are “the lid” in our practice or business, or life. To achieve more, we have to raise our lid.

I was thinking about this the other day as I thought about a friend of mine who, for lack of a better word, is a know-it-all.

He has an answer for everything and doesn’t listen to anyone.

Including me.

I’m a lot older, more experienced and successful. I know he trusts me. He may even look up to me. But he doesn’t listen to me.

He doesn’t ask my opinion about anything, argues with me when I offer it, and makes it clear that there’s nothing I can tell him.

Because he already knows everything.

He has a lot of good qualities but hasn’t achieved the level of professional and personal success I know he wants, because of his “lid”–his unwillingness to seek out and listen to the advice of people who can help him.

Do you have any friends like this? Any clients?

I tell you about my friend not because I have suggestions about how to deal with a person like this. We can be there for them when they want our counsel, but they have to decide to do that on their own.

No, the reason I tell you about my friend is that you may want to ask yourself, as I often ask myself, “Am I like that?”

Do I listen to the advice of others? Or do I think I don’t need to do that because I already have all the answers?

Listening doesn’t necessarily mean following. It means considering and weighing that advice in the context of our own experience.

Something we can’t do if we’re a know-it-all.

We may not be a know-it all. We might be nothing of the sort. But we all have a lid. A limit to what we can achieve because of what we know, what we believe, and what we do.

No matter what our lid might consist of, we can raise our lid by working on ourselves.

By reading and learning, by practicing, by taking action and measuring our results.

And by listening to the advice of others who know things we need to know.

If you need more clients, take my advice: this is a good place to start

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A different take on Areas of Focus

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Most people who use a task management app or system separate their Areas of Focus (or Areas of Responsibility), so that when they’re working, they only see their list of work-related tasks, and when they’re not working, they see tasks or errands related to their personal life.

Many people use just two top-level categories—work and personal. Others break down their responsibilities into narrower categories.

I have 3 businesses and separate my tasks according to which business they belong to. I have a fourth category for personal matters. This works well for me but I’m always looking for different methods, especially since there is a lot of overlap between the things I do.

The other day, I watched a video by someone who separates her tasks not by job or business or other area of her life, but by the activities she performs.

To illustrate, using her activity-based approach, a practicing lawyer might categorize his or her responsibilities into these 7 areas:

  1. CREATE (blog posts, newsletters articles, podcasts, videos, social media posts, books, ads, presentations, etc.)
  2. CONNECT (interviews, networking, joint ventures, social media)
  3. LEARN (marketing, CLE, productivity, personal development, writing, etc.)
  4. MAINTAIN (admin, risk management, IT, client relations, bill paying, investing, etc.)
  5. ROUTINES (planning, processing, calendaring, training; personal routines and chores–exercise, meditation, journaling, self-care, shopping, etc.
  6. LEISURE/SPIRITUAL (rest, fun, family, miscellaneous interests, charitable, etc.)
  7. WORK (cases, client work)

This got me thinking. I’m not yet committed to changing my top-level Areas, but I am looking at using tags or labels to identify my different activities and responsibilities so I remember to schedule and do them.

I thought I’d pass this along to you in case you’d like to do the same.

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The need for speed

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I’m a simple man with simple needs. I don’t need a powerful computer because I don’t edit videos or images, work with complicated databases, or play games. I work with text and use a handful of simple apps to manage my work. 

I could do that on just about any piece of silicon, and as long as the gear I’ve got is still working, I usually wait until it dies before I replace it.  

The thing is, we don’t know what we don’t know and I didn’t know I was long overdue to replace my laptop, which I finally did after Calvin (yes, named after Calvin and Hobbes) recently bit the dust. 

Today, I’m a new man with a new computer. 

A fast processor, a fast SSD, and a new perspective on the value of upgrading even when you don’t think you need to.

I knew Calvin had slowed with age (he was 7 at time of his passing), but I didn’t realize how bad off he was. I blamed Evernote when I should have blamed Calvin. 

Now, Evernote flies. It launches in seconds, notes open as soon as I click them, and everything works the way it’s supposed to. 

All my apps work that way. I don’t have to wait for anything to launch, pages to load, or functions to engage. 

Who knew?

And, what else don’t I know?

Whether it’s computers, workflows, or the people in our lives, we get used to them and often can’t see their flaws. We don’t realize how much we might improve our situation if we change them. 

We need to train ourselves to periodically stand down from our daily routines and take inventory. Examine where we are and what we’re doing and see how we can improve.

What we’re doing might be working but something else might work better. 

Or faster. 

So that’s my story. I’m a new man with a new computer and I like the new me. 

There’s just one problem. I haven’t decided what to name my new baby. Hey, how about Barry? You know, Barry Allen, aka “The Flash”?

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Learn more, remember more

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The other day I mentioned the value of spaced repetition for learning and retention. You review the ideas you’ve learned and want to remember at a later date, often more than once, to help you better understand and remember the material.

There are other ways to enhance your comprehension and retention, however, and you can use them with or without spaced repetition.

Instead of merely re-reading your notes, use one or more of the following techniques to learn more and remember more:

  1. Add meaning. When you read a book or watch a video presentation, you’re taking in someone else’s ideas. You can enhance your comprehension and retention of those ideas by adding context from your own thoughts or experiences. Add your opinion, your doubts, your questions, or your own examples, to further explain or differentiate the material.
  2. Review other sources. What do others say about the subject? Add their ideas, examples, and stories to your notes. Note how they describe things, where they agree or disagree, and their reasons.
  3. Explain it. Test your understanding by imagining you’re explaining the concepts to a friend. Recite what you got out of the article, book, or video, what you want them to understand and remember.
  4. Use what you learned. Connect the material to one of your goals or projects. If you’re preparing a new presentation, for example, find ways to add some of what you learned to that presentation.
  5. Create an “executive summary”. Re-read your notes, think about them, and write a few sentences or paragraphs representing the most important takeaways.

Instead of just re-reading what someone else wrote or said, or your notes about what they wrote or said, go deeper. Add your own thoughts about the information. Put it in your own words. You’ll understand it better and remember it longer.

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Leave your baggage in the trunk

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If you’ve done a lot of networking, you may have heard the expression. It means “don’t bring your problems into the meeting”.

If you had a bad day, nobody wants to hear about it. They don’t want to see your grumpy face or listen to your complaints.

Your clients and prospects and professional contacts may know, like and trust you, but they have problems of their own and don’t want to hear about yours, any more than you want to hear about theirs. Unless it’s a legal problem and they brought their checkbook, of course.

The same goes for your partners and employees. Nobody wants to work with a Debbie or Dennis Downer.

Leave your baggage in the trunk. If you’re meeting online, put on your happy face before you turn on the camera.

This doesn’t mean you can never display emotions. You don’t have to be like Mr. Spock. Your emotions are part of who you are and you would be wooden and unlikeable without them.

But if you’re in a dark place, filled with anger or sadness or feeling sorry for yourself, don’t ask anyone to join your pity party. Reschedule the meeting or send someone in your place.

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Do you have a re-reading list?

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I read an article the other day I’d read a few months ago. It was as if I was reading it for the first time. I saw things I could have sworn weren’t there the first time I read that article.

That’s why it’s important to re-read good articles and books and reports, re-watch videos, and re-listen to audios.

If you got something out of it the first time, read it again. Highlight your highlights. Take notes on your notes. You learn more and remember more when you do that.

Isn’t that what we did to prepare for exams in school?

If the subject is really important to you, re-read it several times. You’ll get something out of it each time.

But don’t this immediately. Wait a few days or a few weeks or even longer, before you go through the material again. “Spaced repetition” is a key to learning and remembering.

Why? Because as time passes between reads, you forget what you read and what you thought about what you read. On your next read, you notice ideas you didn’t notice before, because you are a different person now than you were when you first read the material.

How so?

With the first read, everything was new to you. On subsequent reads, you’ve had time to use the information, or think about it, or to read other ideas on the subject, all of which provide you with context you didn’t have the first or tenth time you read the material.

Clearly, many things we read or watch aren’t worth a second glance. More than a few aren’t even worth finishing. When you find something exceptional, however, something that opens your eyes to new ideas or new ways to use old ideas, put it on your re-reading list and read it again.

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