If Bruce Lee had practiced law

Share

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

Share

Being a sole practitioner doesn’t mean doing everything yourself

Share

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

Share

Lawyers: the world’s second oldest profession

Share

We’re mouthpieces. Clients pay us to advocate their position. We don’t have to believe in what our client wants, or like them personally, we do their bidding. Kinda like the world’s oldest profession.

Now, now, don’t get your panties in a festival. I’m being real here. We don’t care if our client is ugly or smells bad, we only care if the check clears. We do our jobs. If we don’t, we’re out of business. Besides, if we don’t do it, some other shyster will, so all our righteous indignation and standing on principle is for naught.

At least that’s what some people think.

The truth is, we can decide who we will and won’t represent. We don’t have to represent anyone who shakes a bag of money in our face. We can refuse to take cases and causes we don’t believe in or represent any client who needs our help. And we can make a fine living doing it.

But I don’t want to talk about policy or the image of the profession. I want to talk about marketing.

At some point, you should have written a description of your ideal client. (If you have not and you need help doing so, get The Attorney Marketing Formula.)

Once you have decided on your ideal client. . . Don’t keep it a secret.

Tell people what kinds of clients you want to work with. Publish this on your website. Let everyone know.

Practice areas are easy: here’s what I do, here’s what I don’t do. (But I know a lot of other lawyers, so if you have X problem, give me a holler and I’ll introduce you to a lawyer who can help.)

What’s more challenging is describing clients by industry or demographics.

You represent only men or only women, only landlords or only tenants. You represent clients in certain industries or of a certain size or market sector.

“Yeah, but if I declare to the world that I represent clients in the automotive industry, I won’t get hired by clients who manufacture appliances.”

What you have to realize is that this is a good thing.

You may not get appliance manufacturers, but you’ll get more from the auto industry. They will be attracted to you because they see you are dedicated to serving them. They’ll see that you understand their needs and speak their language. You have helped others like them, so it’s obvious that you can help them, too.

We may be the world’s second oldest profession, but this doesn’t mean we have to represent everyone who can pay.

Specialize in the clients you represent. And don’t be afraid to announce it.

Choose a target market. If you don’t know who to choose, choose anyone. Jim Rohn said, “It doesn’t matter which side of the fence you get off on sometimes. What matters most is getting off. You cannot make progress without making decisions.”

On the great road of life (or business), some choose the left side, some choose the right side, and both can do well. The ones who stay in the middle of the road are the ones who usually get run over.

This will help you choose your ideal client and target market. 

Share

How to get better clients

Share

A lawyer emailed wanting to know how  to get better clients. He said he is in a slump. “People come see me but they don’t have the money to retain our services. It’s been a tough month. What can I do?”

Are there any lawyers in your market who do what you do and have clients who can afford to pay their fees? If not, you need to change practice areas or move. If the business isn’t there, it isn’t there.

On the other hand, if other lawyers in your field are getting paying clients, then it’s not the market. The work is there. You just have to get those better paying clients to come to you instead of those other lawyers.

Start by looking at what those other lawyers are doing. Study them, as I mentioned yesterday. What are they doing that you’re not doing? What are they doing better than you are doing? What are you doing that they don’t?

Do they specialize? Specialists generally earn more than general practitioners. One reason is that clients prefer to hire specialists. They are also willing to pay higher fees to a specialist. If these other lawyers specialize and you don’t, you have to consider doing so, or at least disguising the fact that you don’t. One way to do that is to have separate websites for each practice area.

How much do they charge? More than you, less, about the same? Most attorneys compete for the bottom eighty percent of the marketplace. The most successful attorneys target the upper ten or twenty percent, which obviously includes people with money.

How do they bill? Hourly? Flat fees? Blended? How big of a retainer do they get? What do they do to make it easier for their clients to pay?

Look at their website. What elements do they have that you don’t? Can you do something similar? How can you improve on what they have done? What are you doing on your website that they don’t do that might be hurting instead of helping you?

Valuable information, yes?

Also look at what you are doing. Look at the better clients you have attracted over the last year or two (the ones who have money). Where did they come from? If they came from referrals from your other clients, for example, figure out what you did that precipitated those referrals and do more of it.

In addition, look at what your better clients have in common. Industry, occupation, ethnicity? Where can you find more like them?

Also look at the people who are contacting you who can’t afford you. Where are they coming from? Whatever it is that you are doing to attract them, stop doing that. And screen them out before they come to see you. For example, you might quote your minimum fee package on the phone or on your website. This way, if they can’t afford this, they won’t call or come to see you.

I don’t know what you’re doing now to market your services but whatever it is, there are always other things you can try. It might be helpful to get out a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle, and on the left side of the page, write down everything you are doing that could be considered marketing. On the right side, write down things you aren’t doing, including things you used to do but abandoned. Keep adding to the list on the right and try some new things. Create a simple marketing plan.

In addition, look for ways to improve what you are doing. If you are networking, for example, consider finding a different group and/or working on your follow-up.

Finally, seek some perspective on your current situation. You say you’re having a bad month but everyone has bad months. Next month could be great. If it is, don’t rest on your laurels. The best time to ramp up your marketing is when you’re busy, not when you’re in a slump.

If things continue to be bad, don’t panic. It’s nothing five new (paying) clients can’t fix. You can turn things around quickly. Cut overhead to give yourself some breathing room and get busy with marketing. You have the time for it, right? That’s one of the advantages of a slump–less work means more time for marketing.

Think about getting some help. Get a workout partner. Hire someone to point you in the right direction and/or coach you.

Whatever you do, don’t dwell on the bad. Think about where you are going, not where you have been.

If you need help with your marketing, contact me and let’s talk. 

Share

The 80/20 Principle and your law practice

Share

One of my favorite books is The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch. In it, Koch makes the case first articulated as The Pareto Principle, that “a minority of causes, inputs, or effort usually lead to a majority of the results, outputs, or rewards”.

The idea is that as much as 80% of your results may come from 20% of your effort. In the context of practicing law, that might mean that 20% of your clients produce 80% of your income. The actual numbers, however, aren’t necessarily 80/20. They might be 90/30, 60/20, or 55/5. The point is that some things we do bring results that are disproportionate to our effort and that it behooves us to look for those things and do more of them.

Koch says, “Few people take objectives really seriously. They put average effort into too many things, rather than superior thought and effort into a few important things. People who achieve the most are selective as well as determined.”

We’re talking about focus. About doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t. About using leverage to earn more without working more.

Look at your practice and tell me what you see.

  • Practice areas: Are you a Jack or Jill of all trades or a master of one? Are you good at many things or outstanding at one or two?
  • Clients: Do you target anyone who needs what you do or a very specifically defined “ideal client” who can hire you more often, pay higher fees, and refer others like themselves who can do the same?
  • Services: Do you offer low fee/low margin services because they contribute something to overhead or do you keep your overhead low and maximize profits?
  • Fees: Do you trade your time for dollars or do you get paid commensurate with the value you deliver?
  • Marketing: Do you do too many things that produce no results, or modest results, or one or two things that bring in the bulk of your new business?
  • Time: Do you do too much yourself, or do you delegate as much as possible and do “only that which only you can do”?
  • Work: Do you do everything from scratch or do you save time, reduce errors, and increase speed by using forms, checklists, and templates?

Leverage is the key to the 80/20 principle. It is the key to getting more done with less effort and to earning more without working more.

Take inventory of where you are today. If you’re not on track to meeting your goals, if you are working too hard and earning too little, the answer may be to do less of most things, the “trivial many,” as Koch defines them, so you can do more of the “precious few”.

My course, The Attorney Marketing Formula, can help you.

Share

How to get more business clients

Share

An article in Entrepreneur, “Hiring a Lawyer: Five Mistakes to Avoid,” tells startups what to do to save money and avoid getting hurt when hiring a lawyer. If you want to get more business clients, you might want to know what kind of advice they are listening to.

Here are the “five mistakes,” followed by my thoughts on how you can use this information:

1. Hiring a lawyer too soon.

Summary: Some startups hire a lawyer before they know what they want and need. See if there is a pro bono legal clinic at a law school where you can learn about the issues and process. Consider “hiring” them to do some basic work.

DW: What can you do? How about offering free information that does the same thing? Educate your target market about the issues, process, risks, and options. How about holding your own “clinic” where startups and young companies can come and learn (and network) and maybe even get some basic work done free?

You might get endorsed by a business school or community organization, perhaps the chamber of commerce, and get some publicity for your good work in helping the community.

2. Hiring the wrong lawyer.

Summary: Avoid hiring someone who does not specialize in what you need. Get referrals and interview several attorneys before you choose.

DW: Clients prefer specialists (and articles recommend them). Specialists earn more, too. So if you don’t specialize, maybe you should. If you do specialize, start promoting the fact that you do and educate your market about why this is important to them.

3. Hiring a big firm when you don’t need to.

Summary: You will pay more and you may not need to. Many smaller firms have great lawyers, some of whom came from big firms.

DW: Educate your market about the advantages of hiring a smaller firm. Not just lower fees. Smaller firms usually give more personalized attention. Make sure clients know why this is a benefit to them.

4. Not haggling on fees.

Summary: Negotiate fees. Offer equity in partial payment.

DW: Never negotiate fees. You can be flexible about retainers, payment options, and offer alternatives to hourly billing, but never negotiate (reduce) your fees. If you do offer alternative fees, promote the heck out of it. Clients like them.

Take equity if you want to. You could hit a winner. But since most startups fail, don’t go “all in”.

5. Seeing a lawyer as just a lawyer.

Summary: If offering equity, you’re taking on a business partner. Make sure your lawyers have expertise in your field and can do other things for you, e.g., lead you to investors.

DW: Every business lawyer has a stake in it’s client’s business, even if they don’t own any stock. As the client grows, they have more legal work. There are more opportunities for referrals from partner companies, vendors and suppliers. You can grow with them, so help them grow.

Use your contacts and knowledge to help your clients get investors, better financing, new customers, and better suppliers. Look for opportunities for them. Make introductions. Send articles about their industry, marketing, and management. And make sure your prospective clients know that you provide this kind of help.

If you don’t have these connections and knowledge, start developing them. Because the world doesn’t need more lawyers who merely deliver competent legal work. It doesn’t need more lawyers who merely “protect and advise”. It needs more lawyers who can help their clients prosper.

Marketing is not difficult, when you know The Formula.

Share

How to stand out from the crowd

Share

“There are so many attorneys who do what I do. How do I stand out from the crowd?”

I was thinking about this the other day as I was browsing through the app store. There are thousands of apps for writing, note taking, outlining, and task management. I love checking out new productivity apps, but they are all so similar, more and more I find myself not even bothering to look.

Attorneys have the same challenge. If you do what all the other attorneys do, why should anyone choose you? How do you even get them to look?

App developers and attorneys have three ways to differentiate themselves.

THE FIRST WAY TO STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD

If your services (or app) are extraordinary, meaning so much better than what everyone else offers, you will eventually be noticed. The cream will rise to the top.

I have my favorite note taking app. I consider it the best in it’s class. I even wrote a book about it. However, if I ever found something demonstrably better, I would be open to switching. It wouldn’t be easy to convince me, but it could be done.

Attorneys can stand out from the crowd by working hard to serve them in every way possible. Since many attorneys don’t “get” this, however, this is not as difficult as it may appear. You don’t necessarily have to be the best, just better than the crowd.

THE SECOND WAY TO STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD

Jerry Garcia once said, “It’s not enough to be the best at what you do; you must be perceived as the only one who does what you do.” You may not be any better than other attorneys, but you can stand out from the crowd by being different.

Are you the only one who does what you do? Do you have a “unique selling proposition” (USP)?

The key word is “perceived”. You don’t really have to be unique. Jerry Garcia wasn’t the best musician and he certainly wasn’t the only musician. But he definitely did stand out from the crowd.

THE THIRD WAY TO STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD

The easiest way to stand out from the crowd is by defining what you do in terms of for whom you do it. By marketing to well defined niche markets instead of the mass market, you can clearly differentiate yourself from other attorneys.

In addition, through your knowledge of and experience in your niche market, you will be able to provide better service and more value than other attorneys who don’t have that knowledge and experience, so you will be perceived as better as well as different.

How do you stand out from the crowd? By being seen as better, unique, or by serving a particular niche market. Any one will get the job done. Get all three right and you may find clients describing you as “the only one who does what you do”.

The Attorney Marketing Formula shows you how to craft your USP. Get it here.

 

Share

Is it time to put your practice on a diet?

Share

Yesterday, I did a strategy session with an attorney who was thinking about getting out of practicing law. After several decades of practicing, he said, “I don’t have the enthusiasm for my practice I once felt. I’ve had difficulties staying focused on my practice and delivering my work product in a timely fashion.”

In other words, the thrill was gone.

He does tax and estate planning, trust and estate administration, and tax compliance. Much of his malaise was centered on a feeling of being bogged down in administrative minutia. As a sole practitioner, there was simply too much to do and too much to keep up with and he was overwhelmed.

I asked him if there was any part of what he does that he liked. He said he enjoyed working with individuals and helping them with estate planning. I said, “If you could have a successful practice doing nothing but that and none of the other things you’re currently doing, how would that be?” “That would be great,” he said.

Problem solved.

He didn’t need to get out of practicing. He needed to put his practice on a diet.

By getting rid of practice areas (and clients) that weighed him down, he could have a leaner, more robust practice doing what he enjoyed doing. I told him there was more than enough business available for the kind of estate planning he liked and that he didn’t have to do anything else.

Many attorneys suffer from “practice bloat,” a term I just made up but which seems to accurately describe what happens over a period of years. You start out lean and mean, excited, and enjoying the process of building your practice. At some point, you take on additional practice areas because the work falls into your lap or because you want to have another profit center or something to fall back on. In time, your practice no longer resembles the one you started. You have too much to do, too much to keep up with, and you start falling behind. At this point, many attorneys start thinking the law is not their calling and they start looking for something else.

Some attorneys start out doing too much. I did. I took anything that showed up. I thought I had to because I needed the money. Soon, I was overwhelmed and frustrated, convinced I’d made a mistake in becoming a lawyer.

In both cases, the answer is to put the practice on a diet.

Get rid of practice areas you don’t enjoy. Get rid of clients who drive you crazy. Get rid of work you’re not good at but continue to do because “it’s part of the job”.

The vacuum you create by getting rid of things that do not serve you will soon be filled with work that you love and are good at. You’ll breathe life into a moribund practice, attract new clients, and increase your income. Most importantly, you’ll look forward to going to work every day.

There are more than enough clients available who want and need what you love to do. If your practice is bloated and the thrill is gone, it may be time to put your practice on a diet.

Does your practice need fixing? A new focus? Do you have marketing questions? I can help.

Share

The problem with multiple streams of income

Share

Smart people often counsel us to diversify our investments. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” they say. From an investment standpoint they’re probably right. If all your money is in gold or oil futures or a single stock and the market turns south, your losses could be catastrophic. But diversification has a dangerous side.

If you are building a law practice, buying a restaurant or another business that requires your time and mental energy is usually not a good idea. Buy (or start) another business only after your practice is at a point where you can devote some time to the business. Donald Trump made several fortunes in real estate before he branched out into other businesses. Donald Sterling made a bundle as a personal injury attorney before he turned to real estate and only years later to buying sports franchises.

Most people who try to build two businesses simultaneously usually fail to achieve great success in either. Perhaps that’s why Mark Twain said, “Put all of your eggs in one basket and then watch that basket.”

Yes, I started my attorney marketing business while I was still practicing. It was the kind of business that only required a few hours a week at first, to see if I could make a go of it. Once I did, I began shutting down my practice as I ramped up the new business. After a couple of years, the marketing business was running smoothly. I had competent staff who were taking care of the day-to-day operations and the demands on my time were minimal. At that point, I started another business. Again, just a few hours a week at first.

Today, I own two successful businesses. I would never have been successful in my practice or businesses had I tried to build them at the same time.

Okay, you get this. You wouldn’t lose focus and try to build two businesses simultaneously. But a lot of attorneys do exactly that and they don’t even know it.

When you try to build a family law practice, for example, and you also handle personal injury, you’re building two businesses simultaneously. Each practice area is different. Each has it’s own rhythm and culture. Referral sources are different. The judges are different. Marketing is different.

Some practice areas compliment each other. Many don’t. Put all your eggs in one basket and let the world know that you have the finest eggs available.

If you want help in choosing the right basket, get The Attorney Marketing Formula.

Share

If Charles Darwin managed your law firm

Share

Some cynics contend that lawyers aren’t human. They say we are a different species who kill and eat our young and should not be allowed to mate and reproduce.

If Charles Darwin were around, he might point out that the traits that make us good at our jobs, i.e., skepticism, competitiveness, toughness, argumentativeness, etc., allow us to survive and thrive as a species. If that wasn’t true, we would have died out a long time ago.

So there.

There are parallels between Darwin’s theories and the management of a law practice. Darwin concluded that the species that fights for survival, or is adept at avoiding it, is the species that has the best chance of survival. In the food chain, there are those who eat and those who are eaten.

Lawyers aren’t allowed to flee. We have to stay and fight for our clients. By helping them survive, our practice survives. Our clients have more work for us. Other clients are attracted to the strongest lawyers.

Does that mean lawyers must be cutthroat? In the big firm world, I think it does. There are too few clients and too much jungle to cut through. For solos and small firms, there are more options, particularly for those lawyers who embrace Darwin’s other hypotheses.

Darwin said that the species with the best chance of survival are the species that have learned to specialize. There is less competition when you’re the only one with a long snout that can find ants buried deep in the ground. If Darwin were managing your firm, he would tell you to differentiate yourself from other lawyers and look for gaps in the market that you can exploit and dominate.

Sound advice, but advice few lawyers follow. Most lawyers follow the herd and thus, earn average incomes. Skepticism and risk adverseness may make a lawyer good, but it doesn’t make a lawyer wealthy.

Darwin’s theory of adaptation is another area where lawyers are weak. The theory says that to survive in a world of changing demands and conditions requires a species to adapt to those changes and evolve. Lawyers are famously not comfortable with change, however, and often find themselves playing catch up.

Change doesn’t mean recklessness. It means staying informed, being open minded, and willing to try. Lawyers who don’t have a robust Internet presence, for example, are clearly falling behind.

Darwin told us it is, “the survival of the fittest.” If he was managing your firm, he might say that while you may be ready for the competition, if you don’t specialize and you don’t adapt, you may still find yourself on the endangered species list.

If you want to learn how to differentiate yourself from the competition and not get eaten alive, get The Attorney Marketing Formula today.

Share