What if you don’t like what you do but can’t change that?

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In response to yesterday’s trip down memory lane, attorney RG asked, “What if you don’t like what you do (law but can’t change that). . .”

I love a good challenge and “can’t change that” is about as good as it gets.

Of course you can change that, RG.

It might be difficult, emotionally wrenching, expensive, and take a long time, but it can be done. Many lawyers do it and so can you.

Start by asking yourself questions like, “How can I change my situation? What would I like to do instead? How do I find a way to “like” what I do?”

You can change your situation but first you must give yourself permission to do it. Before you can do that, you must give yourself permission to believe that it’s possible.

Onward.

I don’t know what it is that you don’t like about your work but I peeked at your website and see that (a) you are a sole practitioner who offers an array of services, and (b) you do litigation.

My first suggestion is to look at ways to reconstitute your practice areas.

Choose a practice area you like (or hate less) and focus on that. Take a partner or refer everything else out.

If litigation is a source of stress and long hours and “don’t like,” you can change that too. You can outsource some or all of it. Get an “of counsel” relationship with a firm and let them do the heavy lifting. Hire someone and keep it in house. Or refer it out.

Hold on, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that if you have fewer practice areas and outsource your litigation you’ll lose income and you can’t afford that. Am I right?

Well, what if that didn’t happen? What if you find that specializing allows you to increase your income? And what if the time you free up by outsourcing some or all of your litigation gives you room to bring in more of the work you enjoy and that pays well?

That’s what I found when I did it.

At first, turning away business was scary. But the vacuum i created by doing so was soon filled with work that paid more and required less time. If you’ve read my stuff, you know that I quadrupled my income and reduced my work-week to three days.

I’m sure there are other issues that cause you to want to “get out”. Many of these are fixable, too.

But if you can’t fix them, start working on a plan to get out.

Here’s how I did it:

I got good at marketing and built up a war chest that gave me options.

I started two side businesses The first helped me to replace my practice income. The second provided me with passive income which allowed me to retire and do what I love.

I don’t know who said it but this quote seems to fit: “You should either do what you love, or find something that gives you enough time and money to do what you love.”

How to choose your specialty (and why you should): here

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Lawyers as clients

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They say that lawyers make the worst clients in the same way that physicians make the worst patients. They know too much and have their own ways of doing things. They second guess everything and often don’t follow your advice. And when something goes wrong, guess who they blame?

It’s all ego, and if you’ve ever had a lawyer for a client, there’s a good chance you swore you would never do that again.

As someone who consults with lawyers, I feel your pain. So why do I continue to target them (you)?

  • Because there’s a huge need, given that so many lawyers aren’t good at marketing but realize they need to do it
  • Because lawyers have money and can afford to hire me and buy my stuff
  • Because marketing to lawyers is easier, more effective, and less expensive/time-consuming than it would be if I offered my products and services to everyone who wants to get more clients or customers and increase their income.

For those reasons and others, I suggest you consider targeting lawyers in your marketing.

Think about it:

  • Lawyers have stressful lives. According to Bar studies, they have a higher incidence of problems with drugs and alcohol. I don’t know if that means they are statistically more likely to get charged with DUI (et. al.), file for divorce, or break up with their partners, but if they do, they have the money to hire you and much more at stake if they don’t.
  • In tort matters, a lawyer’s loss-of-earning claim and disability claim tends to be bigger.
  • Lawyers buy real estate and invest and understand the need for legal advice and representation in matters outside their area of competence.
  • They have clients they can refer to you. And what a powerful referral it is when a lawyer can tell their clients that they have hired you themselves.
  • They know other lawyers they can introduce to you.
  • They are influential in their target markets and communities, which means they can open doors for you, endorse you, and otherwise help your practice grow.
  • Marketing is easier because when they need a lawyer, a lawyer usually prefers to hire someone like you who is not only a lawyer yourself but specializes in representing lawyers.
  • Marketing is more effective because you don’t have to network everywhere, write for everyone, or advertise to every type of prospective client, you can focus your efforts on attracting lawyers.
  • Marketing is also more effective because your marketing message can be tailored to your specific target market. Testimonials, endorsements, are reviews from other lawyers are more compelling.

If you handle “delicate” matters, e.g., criminal, bankruptcy, legal ethics violations, etc., lawyers probably don’t want the world to know they have hired you themselves. But that’s where having lawyers for clients is a decided advantage for you over having non-lawyers as clients.

Think about it. Your lawyer-clients have a built-in excuse for “knowing” you. You’re a colleague. They don’t have to tell anyone they hired you themselves, and they know you are constrained by law not to let that particular cat out of the bag.

How to choose your ideal client and target market

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If I could save time in a bottle

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If I could save time in a bottle. . . I’d sell it. I mean, who wouldn’t want to buy more time? More time with your family. More time for hobbies or worthy causes, more time get more work done.

How much would like to buy?

Unfortunately, I can’t sell you any time. But I can show you how to get it for yourself.

The first way to get more time is to steal it. Steal it from what you’re currently doing by taking on fewer tasks and projects or fewer cases and clients, and focusing on a smaller number of more valuable matters. Delegate less valuable work to others.

The second way to get more time is to get your work done more quickly. You can do that by improving your skills and knowledge, learning new skills and methods, using better tools, and developing better habits and workflows. Delegating work to others will also help.

The third way to get more time is to specialize in your practice areas and in the clients you target. This will allow you to charge higher fees and attract more clients (and better clients) who prefer attorneys who specialize.

The fourth way to steal time is through marketing, which will allow you to bring in bigger cases and clients, and allow you to hire more help.

Even better, instead of “one and done” marketing activities, do things that can bring in new business with little or no additional effort. Instead of only doing live presentations or seminars, for example, record them so they can go to work for you 24/7. Instead of networking to find clients, network to find more referral sources.

All of these will give you more time and more income. I know, because this is what I did to build my practice when I was struggling.

Work on fewer more valuable things, become more efficient, specialize, and get better at marketing. That’s how I was able to earn more and work less, and that’s how you can, too.

How I did it: the formula

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Lawyers, what’s wrong with this picture?

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A business owner’s truck was in front of me in traffic the other day. I knew it belonged to a business owner because there was a decal on the back window of the cab that advertised the owner’s business. Actually, it advertised the owner’s two businesses.

Behold:

“[Owner’s last name] Professional Auto Detail & Landscape [phone number]”

Okay, what’s wrong with this picture?

If you’re looking for a landscaper for your yard, are you going to choose one that also does auto detail or will you keep looking and hire a specialist?

Correct.

It’s okay to own more than one business. But you have to be careful about how you market them.

If you’re a lawyer and a licensed as a real estate broker, for example, stifle the urge to mention both in the same breath. Or ad. Or car decal.

In fact, consider not telling anyone you’re also a broker. You’ll scare away prospective clients who want to hire someone who is dedicated to practicing law and successful enough at it that they don’t have to do anything else. Mentioning you’re also a broker will also scare away prospective real estate broker referral sources who see you as a competitor.

You know where I’m going with this. If you have more than one practice area, be careful how you promote yourself.

Clients prefer to hire a lawyer who specializes. If they’re looking for a divorce lawyer, for example, the fact that you also handle criminal defense doesn’t help, it hurts. Clients think you might not be as good as a lawyer who only handles family law. (Some clients may stay away because, “ew, she has criminals in her waiting room. . .”)

Does that mean you should have separate websites, brochures, ads, presentations, and other marketing collateral for each practice area? Unless your practice areas are a natural fit, you should consider it. Personal injury, workers’ compensation, and med mal, go together. Small business transactional and litigation are fine. Estate planning and elder law work. Other mixes, perhaps not so much.

Think about it, okay? Especially when you order your next truck decal.

Make sure you don’t send out a mixed marketing message. This will help

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Thinking is hard but it pays well

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If you have multiple practice areas or offer a variety of different services, which one or ones do you promote?

Your best sellers? Your weakest? Your most profitable?

Do you lead with a low priced “entry level” service, seeking to create a new client, and then offer additional services through upsells and on the back end? Or do you lay out all of your wares up front and let the client choose?

If you advertise, which service(s) do you feature? Or do you offer information to build your list and talk about specific services only after they subscribe or inquire?

What do you highlight on your website? When you speak or write, what examples do you use? When someone asks you about your work, what do you say?

If you are a family law attorney, handling divorce and adoptions, but you’re not getting much adoption work, do you double your efforts and promote that or do you continue to advertise and promote divorce? Or do you do both?

Even if you have one practice area and offer one service such as plaintiff’s personal injury, you still need to decide where you will focus. Do you list a variety of different injuries, types of torts, or causes of action, or just one?

These are things you need to think about because they are fundamental to your “brand” and to how you conduct your marketing activities and spend your marketing dollars.

They are, of course, also an argument in favor of specializing. It’s a lot easier to make decisions about where to advertise or network or speak when you offer fewer services to a smaller segment of the market.

But I’m not going to bust your chops about that today. I’m just going to remind you to spend some time pondering these things and making some decisions.

You thought I was going to give you the answers? Sorry. No can do. It’s too complicated. There are too many variables. You have to answer these questions yourself.

All I can do is ask the questions and encourage you to explore your options.

I can also point out that the ultimate way to answer these questions is to test and measure your results.

Run ads for two different practice areas or services and see which one brings in the most inquiries or leads, which one converts to the most dollars on the front end, and which one results in more profits long term.

So you advertise your divorce services and your adoption services and see.

Testing allows you to make a decision based on hard evidence. That’s the “science” of marketing.

Of course marketing is also an art. Don’t ignore your instincts or your heart. If you think your market is ready to learn more about adoption, or you’re passionate about the subject, go for it. Even if the numbers don’t add up.

For help sorting things out, get this

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Two lawyers walked into a bar. . .

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Okay it’s not a bar, it’s a networking event, but a bar is funnier. Oh, and guess what? You’re one of the lawyers. I’m there too, but I’m not me, I’m the owner of a small chain of restaurants and I’m looking for a new lawyer (who does what you do).

We meet and I ask “What do you do?” You tell me you’re a small business lawyer (work with me here or my story won’t make sense) and you tell me a little bit about yourself. I’m impressed. I can see that you have a lot of experience and think you must be good at what you do. You’re a nice guy, too.

I meet another lawyer and have a similar conversation. Her name is Alice and she also represents small businesses. She also has an impressive background.

During my conversation with Alice, she asks me if I know Joe Martin. Joe is the president of our local restaurant owner’s association and I know him well. Alice has handed several legal matters for Joe personally and he’s just invited her to speak at our next monthly meeting.

Then Alice asks me if I know Karen Collins, co-owner of a popular restaurant in town. I don’t know Karen, but I’ve had several friends tell me about her restaurant and I tell Alice that I plan to go. Alice tells me I will love the food. “Tell Karen I said hello; she’ll take good care of you.”

Yes, Karen is Alice’s client. In fact, Alice represents quite a few restaurant owners.

Before the conversation ends, Alice asked me if I am familiar with a tax proposal the national chapter of our association is supporting. When I tell her I don’t much about it, she asks for my email address so she can send me an article she wrote about the bill for our association’s newsletter.

Can you see where this is going?

Yeah, sorry. Better luck next time.

It helps to know people in your prospect’s niche market. It helps to be able to say you represent many of their colleagues or neighbors. It’s even better when your prospect knows them and can ask them about you.

How does this happen? It happens when you target a niche market and build your reputation in that market by writing, speaking, and networking. It happens when you focus on that market, learn all about it, and meet the top people in it. It happens when you focus your time and resources on that market and eventually dominate it.

You can do that in business niches and consumer niches. You can do that by targeting prospective clients or people who can refer them (or both).

Gotta go. I’ve got a reservation for lunch at Karen’s restaurant. Alice sent me.

How to choose the right niche market: The Attorney Marketing Formula

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Another “fee raising” success story

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I spoke to another attorney yesterday who told me that, at my urging, he increased his fees approximately 40% and has received no resistance. His fees were low to begin with, he said, but this has emboldened him to increase his fees even further.

He said the top of the market is still 70% higher than his new fee, and we talked about what he would need to do to justify another increase.

You don’t have to be the top of the market, I told him, but you should at least be in the top one-third to 20%.

But don’t be so quick to dismisss “top of the market” fees. Why couldn’t you be the most expensive guy in town?

You could. The question is how.

Much of marketing is about perception. To some extent, you’re worth more because you say you are. Who’s to say any different?

Your lower-priced competitors, you say? See, that’s where you’re missing the boat. There is no competition at the top of the market. It’s at the lower 80% of the market where everyone does pretty much the same thing and competes on price and good looks.

If you’re mucking about in steerage, you’ll never maximize your potential.

But there is a limit to how much more you can charge simply because you want to charge more. You’ve got to find something you do better or different than other lawyers, and make that a point of differentiation.

One way to do that is to specialize not only in the services you offer but the clients for whom you perform those services. Choose a niche market to target, focus on it, and groom yourself to become the “go to” lawyer in that niche.

There are big advantages to this strategy. Besides being able to charge higher fees, marketing is easier and more effective. Instead of networking with or advertising to “anyone” who might need your services or be able to refer clients, for example, you can concentrate your efforts on marketing exclusively to prospective clients and referral sources in your niche market.

That’s what this attorney said he will do.

He’ll save time, spend less on advertising (if not eliminate it completely), and develop a name for himself in his niche.

Word of mouth travels fast in niche markets. By next year at this time, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he has indeed become the “go to” lawyer in his market.

Learn more about niche marketing, with this

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Don’t stop to pick up pennies or you’ll miss out on the dollars

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At one point in my legal career, another lawyer and I were flipping real estate. The market was hotter than Hades and we were making a boatload of money.

I thought, “Why not get a broker’s license and get a piece of the commissions, too?”

Bad idea.

Many brokers didn’t want to work with me. Others were willing to do so but brought their best deals to other investors first.

If you compete with people who bring you deals, you get fewer deals.

I got rid of my broker’s license.

I also realized that if I wanted brokers to bring me the best deals, I had to make it clear that I would never try to cut their commissions, as many investors do. But I took it a step further. I told them that if I made money on the deal, I would cut them in on the profit. In addition, when it came time to put the property back on the market, I assured them that they would get the listing.

Guess who they brought their deals to?

If you want insurance agents and financial advisers to send you referrals, get rid of your insurance and securities licenses. If you handle divorces and you want referrals from business lawyers, think twice before you include business law on your list of practice areas. If you have bar licenses in other jurisdictions where you don’t actively practice, consider retiring those licenses.

When you compete with people who send you referrals, you get fewer referrals.

Think about where you earn most of your money, or want to, and focus on that. Don’t stop to pick up pennies or you might miss out on the dollars.

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If Bruce Lee had practiced law

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If Bruce Lee had practiced law he would have specialized in one practice area. Maybe a subset of one area.

Lee believed in being the best and never settled for good enough. And he knew that being the best requires focus, discipline, and a lot of hard work.

Lee said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

I did a consultation with an attorney recently. He doesn’t have a general practice, but he doesn’t specialize either. We talked about the benefits of specializing. I ran down the list:

  • More clients (because clients prefer to hire specialists)
  • Higher fees (because clients are willing to pay specialists higher fees)
  • More referrals (because other lawyers who won’t see you as a competitor)
  • More effective marketing (because your message is more focused)
  • Less work and overhead (because you only have to stay up to date in your practice area)

He said he’d like to specialize but he lives in a small town and there’s not enough work there for any one of the things he does.

“How far is the closest city?” I asked. “Thirty miles,” he said.

“How about opening a satellite office in the city?” I said. He should be able to find more than enough work in the practice area of his choosing.

He’d never thought of that.

Start slowly if you want. Find an attorney with a different practice area with a conference room or extra office you can use one or two days week to see clients. Let him use your office as a satellite for his practice.

If you’re not where you want to be in your career, take a step back and look at your situation with fresh eyes. You may see the answer, right there in front of you. If not, come talk to me.

Marketing is easier when you know The Formula

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Being a sole practitioner doesn’t mean doing everything yourself

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In response to yesterday’s post about taking the day off, a subscriber asked, “So how does a sole practitioner disconnect on vacation and turn off the phone? I haven’t had a real vacation in 15 years”.

Of course the short answer is you just do it. You have someone else answer the phone, something you should always do, and you have some else talk to clients and prospective clients and take care of the office.

In other words, you have people.

Being a sole practitioner means not having partners. It does not mean doing everything yourself. You have employees or virtual employees or assistants and outside lawyers who handle appearances and other things only lawyers can do.

Yes, this does add a layer of complexity to your practice. You have to supervise your people, or supervise people who supervise your people, and you have to be comfortable with delegating work. But this complexity gives you something even better in return. It gives you freedom. You can take vacations. You can sleep late. You can go to the movies in the middle of the day.

Having people also allows you to earn more money. If you do things right, you earn enough additional income to pay your people and have more net income after you do.

But there are a couple of additional things you need to do to make this work.

First, you need to specialize. You can’t expect to be good at “everything”. Nor can you make a compelling case to prospective clients as to why they should hire you instead of someone who specializes in what they need.

The email I received asking the question at the top of this post ends with a list of the attorney’s practice areas, to wit:

REAL ESTATE

** Residential Closings
** Commercial Closings
** Short Sales
** Loan Modifications
** Reverse Mortgages
** Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure
** 1031 Exchange
** Escrow services
** Property Tax Appeals
** Foreclosure Defense
** Motions to vacate foreclosure sales
** Mortgage Reinstatements
** Landlord Tenant

COMMERCIAL LAW

** Civil Suits
** Business Incorporations
** Debt Settlement

FAMILY LAW

** Divorce
** Child Support
** Modification of Settlement Agreements
** Mediation

CRIMINAL LAW

** Federal/State Defense
** Felony
** Misdemeanor
** Traffic Tickets
** License Suspension

It’s too much. No wonder she hasn’t taken a vacation.

Pick one practice area. Clients prefer to hire lawyers who specializes. They’re also willing to pay them higher fees because lawyers who specialize are perceived as being better, and they usually are. When you do lots of one thing, you tend to get better at it.

You also find it easier to keep up with changes in the law, new forms, and best practices. You spend less time (and money) on “compliance,” which gives you more time (and money) to invest in doing things that lead to more profits and growth.

Yes, you have to give up work that isn’t in your specialty. But you can refer that to other lawyers who send you business that’s outside of their specialty.

In addition, marketing is easier and more effective for lawyers who specialize. Which leads me to the last point. If you want to be able to take vacations, earn more and work less, you have to get good at marketing. Not great, necessarily. Good enough is good enough, as long as you do something on a regular basis.

Specialize, delegate as much as possible, and get good at marketing. Those were the three things that allowed me to go from being overworked and overwhelmed to quadrupling my income and reducing my work week to three days. You can do the same thing.

Learn more: The Attorney Marketing Formula

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