My Wish for You in 2012: A Plan for Building Your Law Practice


business development plan for attorney lawyerAre you hoping things will get better in 2012? A lot of people are, but unfortunately, “hope is not a strategy“.

If you want things to get better, you need to make them better. But how?

Don’t start with technique, start with strategy–a plan. What do you want to happen, and why? What will do you do to make it happen? Is this really something you want to do?

Too often, people grab hold of a technique they hear about and run with it. They spend time and money doing the requisite activities, without considering why they are doing it. They install an expensive motor on their row boat hoping it will get them to their destination faster, but they never look at a map.

Techniques are important. Using the right tools for the job, execution, timing–can make a big difference in your results. But without the right strategy, the latest techniques won’t help you to get where you want to go.

What are you good at and enjoy? Writing? Speaking? Networking? Technology? Make it the core of your business building strategy.

Your strategy doesn’t have to be elaborate. In fact, the simpler it is the better. But simple is not synonymous with small. Your plan should inspire you to accomplish big things. After all, the goal isn’t merely to survive, it is to thrive, and you cannot do that by dabbling.

I’ve seen great practices built by using only one or two techniques. Once you know where you want to go and you have a plan to get there, you don’t need dozens of techniques.

Without the right strategy, no technique is good enough, no matter how much it costs or how hard you work at it. With the right strategy, almost any technique will do.


How to get more clients from cases you don’t handle


shield laws for bloggersI’m sure you read the story about the blogger in a defamation case who got hit with a $2.5 million judgment because, the judge said, she is not a journalist and was not protected by the state’s shield laws.

Interesting story. Important subject.

You read the story but did you make any money with it?

Attorneys can easily leverage a story like this to get more media attention, more traffic to their web site, more prospects, more referral sources, and more clients. And I’m not talking about the attorneys who handled the case itself, I’m talking about you.

Interested? Here’s all you have to do.

First, write a two or three page report summarizing defamation laws in your jurisdiction. You don’t have to practice in this area to do this, Uncle Google will help you, or you can ask an attorney friend who does (and tell him about this idea so he can do it, too).

In your report, mention the case about the blogger. Offer your opinion. Include a few citations, maybe a few resources.

Now, go back to Uncle Google and ask him to give you a list of bloggers in your target market(s) who are in your state or province.

Next, contact these bloggers (a personal email will do) and tell them you wrote a report for bloggers about how they can protect themselves against lawsuits like the one in the news. Offer to send it to them, free of charge. Tell them they are welcome to send it other bloggers they know and care about. (If you know the blogger, you could just send them the report in your first email).

In one day, you can get your report into the hands of dozens of people who every day write and influence the people you are targeting for your services. You have provided value to the blogger on a personal level, and asked nothing in return.

Where can this lead? Interviews, hosted webinars for their readers, guest posts, referrals, introductions, you name it.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t practice tort law. If you do, that’s an added benefit, but the point of this effort isn’t to show these bloggers you can help them in this particular area of the law, it’s to meet them.

Now, what else could you do with your report? Here are a few ideas:

  • Send it to local media with a cover letter letting them know you are available for interviews.
  • Call or email your clients and contacts: Who do you know in (your area) who writes a blog? Tell them you have a report that can help them.
  • Offer it through social media; post a video on youtube, opining on the story and linking to your report; offer it via forums, chat groups, listserves, and other areas where bloggers and people who know bloggers congregate.
  • Contact local blogger groups, business groups (anyone who has a blog), and offer a lunch talk.
  • Write about it on your blog or in your newsletter.
  • Take out ads and offer the report, as a “public service”.
  • Send it to lawyers in your practice area in states or provinces where you don’t practice. Tell them what you’re doing with the report in your area, invite them to do the same in theirs. (If you have to ask how this could help you, forget about this idea.)
  • Do a presentation at your bar group’s next function on how you used a news story to market your services.

You get the idea.

Oh, and you don’t need a news story to do this, you can write about anything that affects people in your target market or they people who influence them.

It’s about providing value in a leveraged way. It’s simple and it works. And if your report goes viral, it could help you take a quantum leap in the growth of your practice.


Why don’t people trust lawyers and does it really matter?


why don't people trust lawyers?I just read an interview of the authors of a new book, “The Trusted Advisor’s Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust.” In this sequel to, “The Trusted Advisor,” Charles Green and Andrea Howe present tools and exercises for helping lawyers earn the trust of their clients.

Clearly, this is an important subject. After all, clients hire attorneys they “know, like, and trust” and if your clients don’t trust you, or don’t trust you enough, there will either be a strain on your relationship or no relationship at all.

Matt Homman, who conducted the interview, asked the authors, “What questions were you expecting [in interviews] and haven’t yet been asked? How would you answer them?” Green said a question they haven’t been asked is, “Why don’t people trust lawyers? And is it a bum rap?”

Green said it’s not a bum rap, people generally don’t trust lawyers.

I agree. But then I started thinking about this issue of trust and wondered how important it really is. People don’t trust lawyers and yet they hire lawyers every day.

And then I thought that not trusting lawyers may actually be a good thing. For clients, lawyers, and everyone else.

For lawyers, living in a world where people generally don’t trust you gives you an opportunity to stand out from the crowd. You can show why you can be trusted and you don’t need to do a lot to accomplish this.

We need to show clients:

  1. We know what we’re doing,
  2. We’re not going to rip them off, and
  3. We’ll do our best to help them.

This is not difficult. Share some stories, look them in the eye, patiently answer all their questions, and you’re half way there. And if you were referred to the client, you’ve rounded third base and are headed for home.

Once you’re hired, show clients you know what you’re doing by doing it, don’t rip them off, and do your best to help them. Oh, and return their calls.

Be a mensch. People will trust you (and your mother will be proud).

Okay, this is overly simplified, but the truth is that earning trust isn’t extremely difficult, and it is actually made easier because of the pervasiveness of distrust. A little effort on your part will go a long way.

A general distrust of lawyers is also a good thing for clients. If people innately distrust lawyers, won’t they be inclined to ask more questions before hiring one?

It’s when people are too trusting that they get hurt. It’s when they don’t ask enough questions or seek enough assurances that they get into trouble. (I don’t think Bernie Madoff had a law degree but you get the point.)

And let’s not forget “the other guy’s” lawyer. Not trusting the other side’s counsel is almost always a good thing.

Okay, people don’t trust lawyers, this is a good thing for clients, and lawyers can stand out from the crowd and earn their clients’ trust without a lot of effort.

So, what’s the problem?

Now, if we can only do something about those damned lawyer jokes.


Save time by not filing email; study proves search is quicker


Filing emails in folders, or adding labels to them, doesn’t make them quicker to find. According to a study by IBM Research, it’s quicker to find them by searches.

“Finding emails by searches took on average 17 seconds, versus 58 seconds finding the emails by folder,” the researchers concluded. “The likelihood of success – that is, finding the intended email – was no greater when it had been filed in a folder.”

The time spent filing email, in addition to the added time spent retrieving it, can add 20 minutes a day to your workload, the study concluded. A comment to the article questions whether this is true under real world conditions:

In the majority of scenarios, searching is more efficient, however if you forget. . . the metadata [key words]. . . related to the email, then your search efforts are going to be quite difficult. On the other hand, if you remember that you simply filed the email under the “important” folder, then odds are you may only be a few clicks away. In a black and white world, yes searching is more efficient, however there are still valid purposes to using folders.

My plan to achieve email inbox zero calls for me to get rid of all but one label and rely on Gmail’s search capability. I’m pretty sure I won’t miss having more labels since I don’t use the 50 I currently have. But my view is colored by my use of Evernote to file important emails and to manage tasks and projects.

In Evernote, I tag everything (and sometimes also add key words to the body of the note). The difference though is that I don’t “file” all my email this way, just the actionable or otherwise important ones which constitute less than 5%.

I found most interesting the researchers conclusion that most people don’t file emails in folders to make it easier to find them so much as to remove from view the overwhelming volume of email. They pare down the inbox so that they can use it for task management, which the study implied was not efficient.

If they used Evernote like I do, they wouldn’t have to spend as much time filing all of their email in the right folders, they could simply send the important ones to Evernote and archive the rest.


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


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.


The one thing you need to know about success


When I’m asked to recommend good books on business or personal development I usually include Marcus Buckingham’s “The One Thing You Need to Know. . . About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success.” Based on his empirical studies, Buckingham reveals the “secret” to success: “Discover what you don’t like doing and stop doing it.”

In doing so, you make room for doing what you do like doing:

“The most successful people sculpt their jobs so that they spend a disproportionate amount of time doing what they love. . . . The secret to sustained success lies in knowing which [activities] engage your strengths and which do not and in having the self-discipline to reject the latter.”

Another book, based on a groundbreaking study by famous psychologist, Walter Mischel, presents a different perspective and an actual way to predict success. “Don’t Eat The Marshmallow Yet,” describes a study of a group of four year olds who were presented with a marshmallow. They were told if they could wait 20 minutes before eating it, they would get a second marshmallow, but if they eat it now, it would be the only marshmallow they get.

Some kids were able to wait, others couldn’t resist.

The researchers studied the kids for many years after the initial experiment and found that the kids who were able to delay their gratification and wait 20 minutes to get a second marshmallow were much more successful in all areas of their life.

The differences in results as the kids grew older were startling. The ones who could delay gratification had better social lives, were more intellectual, better off financially, and happier.

The co-author, Joachim De Posada, describes the experiment (and shows us some adorable “test subjects”) in this video:

So if success comes from doing what you want (and avoiding what you don’t) and what you want is to eat the marshmallow now (and not wait 20 minutes), don’t these two conclusions contradict each other?

I don’t think so.

I define success in terms of happiness; the happier you are, the more successful you are. When you know you are on the right path, doing what you enjoy, going where you want to go, you are happy, even though you are not yet experiencing all of the fruits of your labor. In fact, I would argue that delaying gratification actually enhances your joy because success isn’t in the destination, it’s in the journey.

When you imagine what your life will be like a few years from now and the picture in your mind is pleasurable, you can be just as happy now imagining your future as you will be when that future arrives.

So they are both right. In doing what you want to do you enjoy the present and you are also excited about the future. You don’t mind waiting for that future to come because you know it’s coming (and you enjoy thinking about that) and, more importantly, you’re having fun right now.


Free writing makes attorneys sound less professional and be more successful


“Writing is thinking on paper,” said William Zinsser. As someone who does a lot of thinking and a lot of writing, I have to agree.

Years ago, I read an ode to writers and would-be writers, “Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within,” by Natalie Goldberg. If you love writing–or want to–this book can help you overcome doubt and unshackle your hidden talent.

It was in this book I first learned about “free writing,” a technique for writing quickly, without editing or a hint of self-consciousness. Free writing is raw and uninhibited, allowing you to find out what you think, and what you feel. Goldberg describes it as “writing practice,” a warm up before getting down to “serious” writing and a way to create raw material that can be cultivated into finished work.

For some, free writing is a cure for “writers’ block”; for others, it is a form of therapeutic journaling, unlocking hidden memories, imagining a better future, or reconciling a troubled past. For me, it was the key to becoming a better writer and a better attorney.

As a young attorney, I wrote in a way that could only be described as “constipated”. My writing was clear, my points well thought out, my letters and pleadings effective, but I still wrote “like a lawyer”–stiff and constrained. Free writing helped me stop trying to sound “professional” and start sounding like myself. My writing came alive and in a way, so did I.

Free writing helped me not only to write better but to get clear on what I wanted and what I could do. It helped brainstorm ideas and simultaneously see what I thought about those ideas. It helped me weigh pros and cons and make better decisions. In short, it helped me to think better.

I’ve just read, “Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content”, by Mark Levy, a writer and business consultant who teaches free writing to his business clients to help them, “. . .spot opportunities and options, solve problems, create ideas, and make decisions.”

As Goldberg does in “Bones,” Levy uses a series of writing exercises that stimulate thought, but more importantly, action–the action of writing. In free writing, quantity produces quality and writing exercises get the hand moving and keep it moving long enough to bypass the critical mind and produce meaningful results.

I like Levy’s ideas and recommend his book; his exercises are suited to writers and professionals alike. And yet, as I read Levy’s exercises, I couldn’t help feeling, “this is something I should do,” whereas when I read “Bones,” I felt, “this is something I want to do.”

It may be because I was at a different place in my life when I read “Bones”. I haven’t read it in years but I still remember how it made me feel. Goldberg’s voice was comforting, warm and empowering. And, she got my hand moving. Her exercises were simple and unstructured and I did them all. I wrote and wrote and wrote and I felt good about it. I never once looked over my shoulder to make sure I was doing it right and that, of course, is the point of free writing: letting it happen rather than making it happen.

Levy references several books about free writing (I’ve read most of them); curiously, he never mentions, “Writing Down the Bones,” the book that introduced me to free writing and helped me discover my “accidental genius”. In my view, “Bones” is a seminal work, one I’m sure he’s familiar with, and I was surprised by its omission.

Perhaps I’m just being nostalgic and if I read “Bones” today, as the person I am today, I would see it as more suited for writers than professionals and look for something else. Nah, I’d probably be too busy writing to give it any thought.