Lawyer networking and the 80/20 rule

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Lawyer networking–is it a good use of your time?

Some say that formal networking (the way most people do it) is a low yield activity. They say that the people you meet at chamber of commerce and other formal networking events are unlikely to have much business to give you. They are networking because they need business. The ones who have plenty of business, and thus plenty of referrals to give you, are not at the events, they’re at the office helping their clients.

I’m not sure I’m willing to accept this as a universal truth, but let’s say it was true. If you’re thinking about networking as a means to grow your practice, does this mean you should reconsider?

No. It means you need to approach networking with a different agenda.

One way to do this is to forgo meeting most of the attendees at these events and instead focus on meeting the organizers and speakers. These people know the people at the events, and many more who aren’t. They can steer you towards prospective clients and other professionals who might be a good match.

Meeting these centers of influence allows you to leverage your time. You will have to work just as hard to build a relationship with them as you would with anyone else, but if you are successful, that relationship could yield far more results than a relationship with someone who is just starting out.

On the other hand, networking with people on their way up can also be a good thing. They may not have much business to give you right now, but if you stick with them while they grow and become successful, they could become good clients or referral sources.

Spend 80% of your networking time courting high-value connectors and centers of influence. Note that these people are probably sought after by others who want to know them and may also have attorneys to whom they are already committed. These people may be a tougher nut to crack, but if you are successful, they could open many doors for you.

Spend 20% of your networking time building relationships with people who can’t do much for you now, but might someday. They may be small potatoes, but in a few years, they may be so busy, you’ll never have a chance to meet them.

The Attorney Marketing Formula helps you create a plan for marketing your practice

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Hack away at the unessential

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I just heard about a hoarder who had 30 years of newspapers and magazines stacked floor to ceiling in nearly every room of his house. Yeah, he had a lot of issues.

(Rim shot.)

So last weekend, I cleaned out my closet and armoire and got rid of a lot of old clothes. There’s empty space now, and it feels good. Next stop, my office.

Once a year, I get the bug to de-clutter. I like to, “Hack away at the unessential,” as Bruce Lee said. Getting rid of things I don’t use, simplifying my life.

It’s not just about possessions. I try to do the same in my digital word. Eliminating (or at least filing away in a place I won’t see them) forms, emails, notes, and assorted paperwork. I pare down the apps on my iPhone, too.

I like looking at an empty email inbox and a slimmed down “My documents”. It gives me a sense of peace and control over my world. Fewer things to look at, think about, or update.

Bruce Lee talked about getting rid of the unessential to better focus on the few things that mattered most. He concentrated his work outs, his energy, and his focus on a few things. It made him more efficient, quicker and more powerful. He may never have described it as such, but he appears to have embraced the Pareto Principle, eliminating the “trivial many” so he could focus on the “precious few”.

In a law practice, that might be achieved by getting rid of (or filing away) eighty percent of your forms (letters, checklists), so you can focus on the twenty percent you use the most. You’ll have time to make them even better.

You could do something similar with client intake. Identify the most important parts of the process and spend more time on them. Do you really need to know all of the facts or review all of the documents at the first meeting or might some of this be done later? Freeing up some time at the first meeting would allow you to get to know the client better and he, you.

It could also mean paring down your client list, getting rid of marginal clients who pay the least or give you the most trouble, so you can focus on your best clients.

Bruce Lee believed that simpler is better. When you hack away at the unessential, you aren’t mired in complexity or distracted by minutia. Fewer moving parts makes you more agile. You get better at the most important things.

How can you hack away at the unessential in your law practice?

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How to make next year better

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If you want to make next year better than this year, start by taking a look back at your practice over the last 12 months. Look at every new case or client and figure out where they came from.

Who referred them? How did they get on your list? What did you do to get them to call?

Do the same thing for repeat clients.

Also look at the quality of those clients. Some clients are better than others. They hire you more often, pay higher fees, and provide more referrals. Which of your new and repeat clients fall into the category of “better”? Where did they come from?

Grab your calendar, your bank statements, your website statistics, your notes and records, and take a mile high look at what you did last year and your results.

Look at your networking, speaking, writing, and blogging. Look at your keywords, your content, your offers.

What worked for you? What worked better? What worked best?

Look at your professional relationships. Who provided referrals or other help? Who referred more or better clients? Who provided you with important intangibles–support, ideas, friendship?

(Note to self: “Make sure to keep better records next year so the next time I do this analysis I’ll have everything in front of me.”)

You can see that some things you did this year worked great, many didn’t work at all, and most fell somewhere in the middle. The same with your relationships.

If you look hard enough, you will see that although a lot of things produced a lot of results (clients, money, subscribers), a few things produced the majority of your results. You may find that

  • Eighty percent of your results came from just twenty percent of your activities
  • Eighty percent of your referrals came from twenty percent of your clients and professional contacts
  • Eighty percent of your income came from twenty percent of your cases
  • Eighty percent of your new subscribers came from twenty percent of your posts, keywords, speaking gigs, ads, (etc.)

Or not. It doesn’t have to be eighty percent and twenty percent. But it is almost certain that a big percentage of your results came from a small percentage of efforts or sources.

Identify the activities that produced most of your results so you can do more of them. Identify the handful of referral sources that sent you most of your referrals or your best referrals, so you can strengthen your relationship with them and leverage those relationships to meet their counterparts.

If you want next year to be better than this year, you need to find what worked best and do more of it. To find the time and resources to do that, cut down on or eliminate things that didn’t work, or that didn’t work as well.

For me, one thing worked better than any other. My twenty percent activity was writing. The books, courses, and blog posts I produced brought me more traffic, subscribers, and revenue than anything else I did. Knowing this means I can make next year a better year by being more prolific.

I know where to focus. I know my priorities. I know where to spend my time.

How about you? What will you do more of next year? What can you cut down on or eliminate? How will you make next year better?

The Attorney Marketing Formula comes with a simple marketing plan that works. Check it out here.

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5 simple steps for improving productivity

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I’m going to give you a simple checklist for improving productivity. To use it, first make a list of everything you do in your work day. Do this over the course of a week so you don’t leave anything out.

Include everything: seeing clients, paperwork, calls, meetings, administrative. Include your commute and errands. Also include things you do during work hours that aren’t work related (e.g., playing games on your phone, coffee breaks, watching videos, etc.)

Once you have your list, go through every item. Look at the checklist and make notes. For best results, go through the list several times.

CHECKLIST FOR IMPROVING PRODUCTIVITY

1. Eliminate. Ruthlessly purge anything that is unnecessary or does not contribute enough value to continue doing. Peter Drucker wisely said, “There is nothing less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.”

2. Delegate. Just because something must be done doesn’t mean you are the one who must do it. Assign these tasks someone in house or outsource them, so that you can do, “only those things that only you can do.”

3. Do it less. What could you do less frequently? If you do something daily, could you do it once a week? Once a month? What can you consolidate with other tasks? For example, can you do some of your reading or dictation during your commute?

4. Do it faster. What could you do in shorter chunks of time? If you routinely take an hour to do something, find ways to do it in 30 or 45 minutes. How? Eliminate or delegate parts, use forms and checklists, improve your skills, or get help (i.e., do it with a partner).

5. Do it later. Are you doing anything during prime time you could do after hours? What can you do when your energy is lower? Which tasks are routine or low priority and don’t require your full attention?

Improving productivity means improving effectiveness (doing the right things) and efficiency (doing things right). 80% of your improvement will come from steps 1 and 2 which focus on effectiveness. Eliminating and delegating things that don’t need to be done or could be done by someone else frees you up to do more high value tasks. The remaining steps will help you become more efficient at everything else.

The Attorney Marketing Formula shows you how to earn more by working smarter, not harder.

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The smartest way to grow your law practice

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the smartest way to grow your law practiceSo, what’s your plan for growing your practice next year?

Before you take on anything new, there’s something you should do first.

The first thing you should do is make a list of everything you have tried in the past. Go through your calendar, your notes, ask your staff, and write down everything you did that could be called “marketing”.

What meetings did you go to? Whom did you meet for the first time? What did you write? Where did you speak? What did you mail?

Put everything that worked on your list, and everything that didn’t.

It’s easy to identify what worked. If you track where new clients come from (referrals, ads, seminars, web site, social media, etc.), all you have to do is look at your stats. If you don’t track this, go through your new client list and see if you can reconstruct what you were doing just prior to being hired. (And make a note to start tracking every new client from now on.)

It’s not as easy to identify what has not worked, but it’s just as important. Do the best you can with this and in the future, keep a marketing diary and make an entry every day about anything you did that day that could be construed as marketing.

Don’t forget repeat clients. Keeping your clients happy, keeping them informed about the progress of their case, communicating and building a relationship with them, all have marketing implications.

And don’t forget referral sources. Those coffees and lunches, thank you letters and Christmas gifts are also part of your marketing mix.

Also, check your web site stats. Where is your traffic coming from? Which key words are bringing not just clicks but clients.

Making these two lists–what’s worked and what hasn’t–is one of the smartest things you can do in marketing (or anything else you want to improve) and you should do this before you even think about doing anything new.

The reason? The 80/20 principle, which tells us that the best way to achieve more is to, “do more of what worked in the past and less of what didn’t”.

Now that you have your two lists, you can identify the things that have worked for you and do more of them. You’ll find the time for this by cutting down on or eliminating those things that have not worked or haven’t worked as well.

You may find that eliminating things that aren’t working is difficult, especially if you’ve been doing them for awhile. This is common for all of us. Our fears prevent us from letting go or we tell ourselves we just need to get better or do it longer and the results will kick in. If we spent money on something, it’s even harder to let go because we get attached to earning back our investment.

Trust the numbers. Let go of what’s not working, no matter how much time or money you’ve invested.

Yes, sometimes you will let go of something too soon that could have been a big winner for you had you kept going. But what makes more sense, hanging on to things that might work or cutting them out in favor of doing more of what you know works?

If social media hasn’t brought in new business, for example, it could be because you’re doing it wrong and with some training and experience, you’ll get better and you will get lots of news clients, just as many attorneys now do. But our time is limited and if it’s not working for you right now, I’d rather see you put social media aside and do more of what your numbers tell you, unequivocally, has brought in most of your new business last year.

You can go back later and try social media marketing (or whatever) again. I’ve let go of things that weren’t working for me and been successful when I tried them again. But right now, when you’re looking at your plans for the new year, start by doing more of what you know works.

It’s the smartest way to grow your practice.

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“It’s the cases I don’t take that make me money”

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“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials.” -Lin Yutang, writer and translator (1895-1976)

Last night, I spoke at an event. One of the topics I talked about was “The 80/20 principle,” aka, “The Pareto Principle,” the idea that a large percentage of our results come from a small percentage of our activities.

Afterwards, I was chatting with a man who works for a bankruptcy attorney. He liked my talk and was telling me about their practice and how busy they were. He quoted something his employer said, but I wasn’t sure I’d heard him correctly so I asked him to repeat it:

“It’s the cases I don’t take that make me money”.

He explained that the attorney was very selective about the cases he accepts. A lot of business comes knocking on his door, but he turns down a large percentage. He turns down the lower-end of the spectrum of clients, the ones who don’t have enough for a retainer, who need installments, price shoppers, etc., in favor of those who can pay his higher than average fees.

A lot of attorneys will take the lower-end clients, figuring that whatever they pay will contribute to overhead. But this attorney understands that those clients would actually cost him money, and not just in the literal sense of “not paying,” but because they would take up a disproportionate amount of time and energy.

And, he doesn’t have the extra overhead he would have if he accepted the lower end clients.

By eliminating as much as eighty percent of the possible client pool, he is able to run a lean and profitable practice. I’m sure he also makes it home for dinner.

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Every law firm must manage only these three things

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John Jantsch’s post today is about the three things every business must manage: Purpose, Projects, and Process:

  • Purpose: create and tell the story about why the business does what it does.
  • Projects: create actions steps and assemble resources to fulfill the business purpose.
  • Process: implement the action steps.

These three functions obviously apply to every attorney and law firm. However, while we all need to manage purpose, projects, and process, we’re not all in the same business (practice area).

A few years ago, I wrote a post, “The Three Things That Matter Most,” about finding and focusing on the essence of what you do. The three things that matter most for you are the “twenty percent” activities that deliver eighty percent of your (desired) results. When you focus on these three things, you can eliminate (delegate) or curtail everything else, freeing you to do more of your “twenty percent” activities, getting more results.

If you want to earn more and work less, you must focus on the things that matter most. Therefore, once you know and are prepared to articulate your purpose, take the time to reflect on what matters most in your practice before you create any projects or engage in the process of fulfilling that purpose.

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The best way to deal with things you don’t want to do

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In “6 Ways to Tackle Boring or Irritating Tasks,” the author presents common sense tips for handling unpleasant tasks. I use several of these tips myself. For example, when I have to make a call I don’t want to make, instead of thinking about it or putting it off (and thinking about it) I simply grab the phone and dial the number. By doing it as soon as possible I avoid unnecessary anxiety and I get the job done.

It’s like jumping into a cold swimming pool; the more you think about it, the more anxious you become. Dipping your toes in, trying to acclimate yourself to the change in temperature, often makes things worse (and makes you look like a sissy). Jump in and your anxiety and discomfort will soon be behind you (and you’ll look like a stud).

But while these tips are effective, I’ve found that often, the best way to deal with things you don’t want to do is to not do them at all.

You may disagree. You may believe that life is a series of unpleasant tasks and ignoring them means shirking responsibility, self-sabotage, or squandering opportunity. I’ll admit that this is sometimes true, but most of the time, it isn’t. Here’s why:

  • Not everything must be done. I find that not doing things rarely leads to permanent and serious harm or the loss of significant opportunity. The 80/20 principle tells us that “most things don’t matter” (the “trivial many”) and by not doing them, we free ourselves to focus on the “precious few” that do.Ask yourself, “what’s the worst that could happen if this doesn’t get done?” Most of the time the answer will be “not that much” and you can safely cross it off your list.
  • Not everything that must be done must be done by you. Just because something needs to be done doesn’t mean you are the one who must do it. Have an employee do it. Or an outside contractor. Or your partner. Whenever possible, do what you are best at and want to do and delegate everything else.
  • If it must be done and it must be done by you, it doesn’t always have to be done immediately. How many times have you put something on your task list only to find that out later that it no longer needs to be done? The problem worked itself out, someone else took care of it, or it really wasn’t as important as you previously thought. I find that happening to me all the time. Therefore, by not doing some things immediately, by intentionally procrastinating on things I don’t want to do, I safely eliminate many unpleasant tasks.
  • Not everything that must be done, by you, and immediately, must be done completely. The 80/20 principle also tells us that 80 percent of the value of a project, for example, comes from 20% of the tasks that comprise it. Therefore, when you have to do something you don’t want to do, look for ways to curtail it. Do only what is essential and of high value and avoid the rest.

There will always be unpleasant tasks in our lives we must do. A eulogy for a loved one, confronting a child who is going down the wrong path, or creating a household budget to drastically reduce expenses come to mind. But most tasks don’t fall into that category and can be avoided, delegated, deferred or reduced in scope.

The negative feeling you get when facing an unpleasant task are there for a reason. Your aversion to doing something is your subconscious mind (higher self, God, instincts, etc.) trying to protect you.

If you’re staring down a lion and facing death, don’t ignore your fear, run. Do it immediately and as completely as you can. But if you have a call to make, perhaps to a client who is behind in payment, and you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to “feel the fear and do it anyway”. Feel the fear and have your secretary do it.

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How to read more and get more out of what you read

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Attorneys read a lot. Still, there’s always more we want to read, if only we had the time.

I was reading an article, yesterday, “7  Tips for becoming well-read,” and it has some good tips for reading more, things like starting small (e.g., 15 minutes during lunch) and minimizing distractions. But I didn’t think the tips went far enough so I came up with my own:

  • Be ruthless in what you select to read. Spend a few minutes with a book candidate and decide whether or not it is worth your time. Read reviews, the book’s cover, excerpts, and ask the person who recommended it. A few minutes spent in this process could save you hours of wasted time.
  • Skim. You don’t have to read the entire book, cover to cover. The 80/20 principle tells us that 80% of the value of a book is contained in 20% of its content so look for that.
  • You don’t have to finish it. If you don’t like it, stop reading it. Don’t waste time on books that don’t resonate with you.
  • Learn to speed read. Why spend five hours reading something you could read in 30 minutes?
  • Subscribe to book summaries services. Their editors summarize the books for you. For most books, that’s all you’ll need but if you like what you see in the summary, you can put that book on your list to read in its entirety.
  • Delegate. An employee can read for you, present a summary, and/or bring to your attention those books or articles he thinks you would want to read.

This will allow you to read more by eliminating a lot of marginal choices. You’ll have more time to read the “best of the best”. When you do, here’s how to get more out of what read:

  • If a book is truly high value, you may want to read it more than once. When I was in high school, I read, “How to Read a Book,” by Mortimer Adler. He presents a process for reading a book several times, each time with a different purpose. I don’t think every book qualifies for several readings but when you find one that does, a second or third reading could have immeasurable value.
  • Highlight. If you think you might read the book again, highlighting passages will make the second reading faster because you can, if you choose, read only the highlighted passages. (If you don’t think you will read the book again, or use it as a reference, there’s not much point in highlighting). For the record, I use a yellow highlighter on my first read and, usually, a red or blue pen on the second read.
  • Take notes. You’ll learn more about what you’re reading if you think about the words while you are reading them. Put the ideas in context, ask yourself questions, speculate on the options, and write it all down. It takes longer but you’ll get more value out of what you read. You’ll remember it better, too.
  • Read (and take notes) as though you had to teach the subject tomorrow. This will force you to zero in on the essence of the material, and master it.

So those are my tips for reading more and getting more out of what you read. By the way, none of this applies to fiction. We read fiction to escape, to learn about exotic places, to solve a mystery, to feel emotions, to have fun, or to learn about the human condition. Not something you want to speed up or delegate.

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The three things that matter most

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What are the three most important things you do in your career? Sure, you do a lot of things, but chances are, three of them are more important than the rest. We’ve talked about the 80/20 Principle before. These three things are the twenty-percent activities that deliver eighty percent of your results. They are worth identifying. If you can identity them, you can do more of them (and less of those things that aren’t of the three).

What’s more, if there are only three things, you can remember them. You don’t need a list. “These are the three areas I focus on,” you’ll say. “This is where I focus eighty percent of my time.” So what are they? If you could only do three things all day long, what would they be? Don’t think too much about this; you already know the answer.

When I was practicing (personal injury), I would have said that these are my three things:

  1. Marketing
  2. Settling Cases
  3. Managing staff

For me, litigation was not one of the three things that matter(ed) most. We did it, but the practice was a high-volume of smaller cases and litigation was not our primary focus. So, it was these three things that mattered most to my practice. If I was doing one of these three things, I was doing “twenty-percent activity”. Anything else was “eighty-percent activity” (which brings in only twenty percent of the results).

Let’s take things a step further, shall we? Once you have identified your “three things that matter most,” what about identifying the three things that matter most about each of those three things? This allows you to get more specific about how you are spending your time and how you are focusing your energy. You will perform “on purpose” instead of reacting to whatever presents itself. And, if you can recall the three things that matter most, you should also be able to recall the three things about each of those things, too. If they are truly important and you are doing them, they will be second nature to you.

In my case, I would have identified the three things about my three things, like this:

MARKETING

  • Ads in yellow pages
  • Network with referral sources
  • Client referral strategies

SETTLE CASES

  • Client interviews/evidence collection
  • Demand package
  • Negotiation

MANAGE STAFF

  • Interview/hire
  • Monitor work flow
  • Recognize and incentivize

What are your three things? And what are the three things about each of those three? Take the time to identity these crucial items and then focus eighty percent of your time and attention on them. You’ll get more done in less time and you’ll get more results. You’ll earn more and work less.

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