Instead of setting goals this year. . .

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goal settingDo you like setting goals? I never have, although I’ve set plenty of them. I been a goal-setter for most of my life. I’ve studied goal setting, trained and written articles on goal setting, and know quite about the right and wrong ways to go about it.

After all, goal setting is a key to success, isn’t it? “If you don’t know where you’re going, how will know when you get there?”–that sort of thing. So every year, I set aside time to write my goals for the coming year.

But I never liked it.

I never liked the chore of crafting the right goal. Too many variables.

I never liked the deadlines for reaching those goals. Too much pressure.

And I never liked not reaching my goals. Too much disappointment.

Looking back at decades of goal setting, I can honestly say that formal goal setting has not helped me achieve more, or made my life any better. It’s only made me anxious.

That’s not to say I don’t have goals, I do. I know what I want and I like thinking about it and working towards it. I like achieving those goals and setting new ones. No, goals are a good thing and I’m not giving up on them. What I am questioning is the efficacy of the formal goal setting process.

I know many people who have been successful using a formal process. Maybe they’re built differently. Maybe they thrive when the pressure is on and the days are counting down. Me? Not so much.

So instead of setting formal goals this coming year, with specific details and deadlines and metrics and such, I’m going to be much more relaxed about everything. I know what I want to do this year, or at least the direction I want to go, and I’m going to put one foot in front of the other and keep walking in that direction.

How will I know when I get there? I don’t know, I might not, and that’s just fine. Because the goal really isn’t the point. What’s important is being happy, and as long as there is a smile on my face, I know I’m doing  just fine.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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Steve Jobs’ greatest marketing lesson for lawyers

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No doubt Steve Jobs’ career will long be studied in business schools. His vision and iconoclastic style changed everything in the world of technology and business. Jobs urged the world to “Think Different” and his accomplishments proved this to be good advice.

His career also provided several lessons in marketing for lawyers, as Larry Bodine ably points out. I believe Jobs’ greatest lesson, however, was in the way he lived his life.

Well before illness reminded him of his mortality, Jobs’ philosophy for living drove him to take risks. In his address to the 2005 Stanford graduating class, he described it this way:

“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Of course this is not, per se, a marketing lesson, nor is it confined to lawyers. But I believe that more than anyone, lawyers need to hear this message.

Lawyers are among the most risk adverse creatures on Earth. Protecting our clients from risk is one of our strengths. Paradoxically, it is also one of our weaknesses.

In the world of business, lawyers are known as “deal breakers”. To protect our clients, (and ourselves), we often overstate the likelihood and potential consequences of perceived risks, often to the detriment of our clients’ business interests. A deal not struck cannot result in loss but neither can it result in gain.

In marketing their services, many lawyers are also deal breakers. They don’t want to appear weak or unprofessional or make a mistake that embarrasses them or gets flagged as an ethics violation, and so too often, they do nothing. Or they do something that is so watered down, so colorless, the results aren’t even worth mentioning.

Steve Jobs was successful because he took chances. He defied convention. He stuck his neck out and challenged the world to a duel. He had many defeats and many detractors but he accomplished great things because he didn’t worry about what others thought.

Most lawyers don’t like marketing, not because they feel it is beneath them, although that sentiment also exists, but because they are afraid to fail. They can sell their ideas to a jury, risking everything on behalf of their client, and when they lose, shrug it off and bounce right back. But when it comes to selling themselves, many lawyers freeze in their tracks.

Learning how to market ones services helps to reduce the fear, but in the end, lawyers need to just go for it. As Los Angeles Dodgers great Maury Wills, who stole 104 bases in one season once said, “You can’t steal second base while keeping one foot on first base.”

While many baseball fans know about Wills’ record setting base stealing, they may not know that he also set a record for being thrown out while attempting to steal a base–31 times during the 1965 season.

Nobody ever achieved great success by playing it safe. All great achievements have come from taking great risks. Steve Jobs took risks every day and lived every day like it was his last. He had many losses and many wins but, I am sure, few regrets.

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Attorneys: Will you be sending holiday greeting cards again this year? (Read this before you do)

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‘Tis the season. . .

Yep, the holidays are right around the corner. Will you be sending cards this year?

If you are, this excellent 13-step holiday greeting card guide for law firms will help you create a plan and a timetable.

You don’t want to wait until the last minute. Not with so many decisions to make. Remember last year? You spent way too much time looking through catalogs to find just the right card (mustn’t offend anyone) and then spent way too much money because you didn’t want your clients to think you couldn’t afford a nicer card. . .

I’d like to propose an alternative to this annual ritual of pain.

Don’t misunderstand me, I do recommend communicating with your clients and professional contacts and the holidays are an especially good time to do that. Communication is the sine qua non of relationship building, after all. What I don’t recommend is sending the same commercial greeting cards everyone else sends.

Why? Because a mass market, commercial greeting card that your client reads for three seconds before placing on the fireplace mantle sends an unwritten message:

We’re sending this to you because it is expected of us and we didn’t want to take a chance that you would notice if we didn’t. We couldn’t be bothered to put any thought into it, so we spent some money instead. We want to remind you that we still exist and we hope you will remember us if you need an attorney or know someone who does.”

Commercial holiday cards, the same cards sent by every insurance agent and dentist, are nothing more than advertising, and everyone knows it.

Look, you know these people and you do appreciate them, and they you. You helped them through a tough time or you helped them achieve something important. You met their family or their employees. You really do care about them as individuals, but your holiday card says they are just names on a mailing list.

So, what do I advise instead?

A letter. Send a personal letter to your clients that says what you really want to say.

Tell them what you would tell them if you were sitting with them in person.

Tell them that you appreciate knowing them and you are proud that you have been able to help them. Share news about what happened this year in your practice and personal life and your thoughts about next year. Share a story about a remarkable case, a client who opened a new business, or a new hire in your firm.

Write about the economy and offer solace and advice. Write about books that changed your thinking, and quotes that inspired you. And, because it’s a personal letter, you can write about your kids, your hobbies, or your vacation. Whatever you write about, make sure you tell your clients how grateful you are to know them and have them as clients.

When your clients receive these annual missives, they will read every word. They will tell their friends and families about their attorney’s letter. And because they know you didn’t have to do it, they will call you and send you emails thanking you for taking the time to write a personal message.

My wife and I have friends who send out a family newsletter every year. It’s written by the husband and reads like a newspaper, with headlines, photos with captions, and “news” stories. Very funny news stories. Humor is not easy to pull off, but my friend does it like a pro. My wife and I read it cover to cover, laughing all the way. Our friends moved to the Midwest a few years ago, so we don’t see them much (they visited recently) but their newsletter keeps us informed about what’s going on in their lives and makes us feel like we are still a part of it.

Send your clients and others you care about a year-end personal letter. If not a complete letter, at least add a note inside the card. If you really want to make an impact, add a personal, hand written P.S., something that lets your client know you know who they are.

You don’t need much, just something personal. “Tell Michael I wished him good luck in his soccer tournament!” will be appreciated and long remembered, and so will you.

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The Big Idea: Taking a Quantum Leap in the Growth of Your Law Practice

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Donny Deutsch’s cable program, “The Big Idea,” features interviews with entrepreneurs who scored big (or are trying to) in the world of business. The guests discuss their “big idea,” the one that makes their company or product different from all the rest.

In the crowded, competitive world of business, a big idea can propel a company from the depths of obscurity to the heights of financial success. But the big idea isn’t necessarily a new invention or a revolutionary concept. More often, it is a new spin on an old idea that capitalizes on a current trend (e.g., “fast food” restaurants that serve nothing but breakfast cereal).

Allstate Insurance company is running ads that promise to pay cash rebates for every six months of good driving. That’s nothing more than a new way of offering a good driver discount but in my view, it qualifies as a big idea because instead of a discount, the customer gets paid. Getting a check from your insurance company every six months re-sells you on staying with that company because you don’t want to lose “your” check. (It also reminds you to drive safely.)

Amazon’s latest big idea is low priced tablets. They don’t do everything an iPad does but they will probably appeal to a big segment of the market that will pay $200 (or less) but not $500 (or more).

How could you create a big idea in your practice? It might be as simple as taking something every attorney in your market does (e.g., house calls), and re-positioning it (e.g., “We’ll send a limo to pick you up”). It might be something few attorneys do, like the radio spot I just heard by an estate planning firm that prepares living trusts. Their big idea: “free lifetime updates”.

Take some time to brainstorm ideas with your employees or mastermind group. What do you do that everyone else does that you could promote as “your big idea”? Or, what do you do (or could you do) that nobody else does that could be an even bigger big idea?

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Five ways lawyers can leverage a win or other successful outcome to get more clients

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Most lawyers go from case to case, client to client, never stopping to use the successful outcomes they create as marketing leverage for bringing in more clients. That’s because they’re thinking like a lawyer, not a rainmaker.

Instead of rushing from one case to the next, take a few minutes to think about how you can use the successful outcome (verdict, settlement, closing the deal, estate plan, etc.) to get the story told to the people who can bring you more business.

Here are five ways you could do that.

  1. Your client. The best time to talk to clients about referrals is right after a successful outcome. When you hand them a check, sign papers, or otherwise bring things to a climax, it’s prime time to ask for referrals, for a testimonial, or for other help.

    Ask consumer clients to refer you to their friends and family or to other professionals they know. Ask your business clients to introduce you to their vendors or distributors, to write about the case in their newsletter or blog, or submit an article to their local paper. (You can write the article for them).

    The favor you ask your client doesn’t have to be related to their case. They’re happy and willing to help, so ask them to distribute your new report, “like” your new blog post, or invite their friends to your upcoming seminar. And ask them to ask their friends to do the same.

  2. Your other clients and prospects. Write about your successful outcome in your blog and newsletter. Post it on your web site. Do a little bragging on social media channels. Take advantage of the win to let others see you doing what you do, helping others “just like them” achieve the same benefits they seek.
  3. Other parties/witnesses. Send a quick note to the other parties and/or their counsel, thanking them for their professionalism. Send a thank you note to experts and other witnesses, for a job well done. It’s not uncommon to see the losing side hiring the winning attorney or sending referrals or opposing counsel referring clients when they have a conflict. By the way, do the same thing when you lose a case or settle for less than hoped.
  4. Your colleagues. Tell other lawyers you know about your case. Send a letter, speak about it at Bar functions, write an article, point them to your blog post. Tell the story and share the legal nuances, give them tips about the judge or arbitrator or experts. Help them do better on their next case and they will appreciate you, reciprocate with good information on their next case, and send business your way when they have a conflict.
  5. The media. Find something newsworthy or otherwise interesting about the case, your clients or their company and issue a press release or write an article for publication in their trade journal or home town paper. The media are starved for good stories; don’t assume there’s no news value to preparing a living trust for your blue collar client. In the hands of a good writer, there’s always a story to be told.

Leverage means getting more results from the same effort. From now on, leverage your successful outcomes to get more publicity, more speaking engagements, more traffic to your web site, and more new clients.

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How to stay focused when you need to get things done

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You’ve got work to do, deadlines to meet, things that must get done, and you know you need to focus but it’s difficult because there are so many interruptions.

How do you cope?

“6 Ways to Minimize Interruptions When You Need to Focus,” offers some ideas:

  1. Close the door while you’re working
  2. Wear headphones to prevent colleagues chatting
  3. Say, “Could you come back in ten minutes?”
  4. Let your phone go to voice-mail
  5. Turn off Skype, Email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. . .
  6. Get into the office early

In short, these tips remind us to, “avoid outside stimuli”. That’s why we went to the library to study for exams, isn’t it?

Interruptions by others are easy to fix, if you want to. But do you really want to? I think we enjoy interruptions–we like the respite they provide from the tedium of our work.

I’ve found that when I really do need to shut off outside stimuli, because of a deadline, for example, I do it. The fear of loss of the looming deadline motivates me to do what we need to do–and I do it.

The greater challenge is not with outside stimuli or interruptions by others, it is with interruptions we impose on ourselves.

When we’re working, we’re also thinking about other things we have to do. Our neurons are firing, reminding us of promises unkept, other tasks that must get done, thinking about the game tonight, and imagining what will happen if we don’t meet our deadline. It is this internal chatter that is so hard to turn off.

So, how do you focus when your brain keeps interrupting you?

One way to do that is by removing all of those tasks and reminders from your brain and putting them into a “trusted system” to be processed and done at a later time. The term “trusted system” comes from the Getting Things Done™ (GTD) system which I’ve written about before.

Another technique for increasing focus is to give yourself short segments of time during which you are committed to working on the task at hand. Twenty-five minutes, fifteen, ten, or two, whatever you can handle. No matter how busy your brain may be, it can focus for two minutes. Once those two minutes are up, you are allowed to do something else or think about something else for, say, another two minutes. And then, you return to the work you were doing in the first segment, or onto something else.

It’s called, “The Pomodoro Technique.”

The most common implementation is a twenty-five minute block of time, followed by a five minute break. A timer is set, and when the bell sounds, you take your break. Kinda like prize-fighting. After the break, you return for the next round.

The technique was originally promoted via the use of a kitchen timer resembling a tomato (“pomodoro is Italian for tomato”) , like the one depicted above. I use something a bit more high tech.

On my PC’s desktop is an icon to launch an app that takes the place of a kitchen timer. There are many apps that do the same thing. The one I use is called, “Focus Booster,” and it’s available for free for Mac and PC.

Give it a try. Start with a twenty-five minute pomodoro. When you’re done and you’ve taken a break, go for another. If you can’t stay focused for twenty-five minutes, start with ten. Or one.

Have you tried the Pomodoro Technique? How has it worked for you? Do you have a favorite app or do you use a kitchen timer?

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How to be rich and happy

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Please don’t make the mistake I made.

When I was young, I wanted to be a writer. That was my dream. I loved reading and the feel and smell of books. I haunted libraries and bookstores, imagining my own books in the windows and on the shelves.

I was a voracious reader. Non-fiction and fiction. Business, marketing, biographies, history; mysteries, thrillers, detective novels, science fiction. And books on writing.

But while I have written extensively throughout my career, early on, I somehow convinced myself that writers don’t make much money and I needed to do something more remunerative. Make money first, then I can retire and write all I want.

I now know this is folly.

To deny your passions, no matter the financial ramifications, is to deny the truth of who you really are. Working to make money so you can then do something else is simply bad advice.

But what if what you are passionate about is a one way ticket to financial mediocrity? At some point, you have to ask yourself, “What’s more important, money or happiness?” Yes, money is important and having more of it gives you more options. But having money does not guarantee happiness. Legions of unhappy wealthy people attest to that.

How about asking a different question: “What if what you are passionate about can lead to wealth and happiness?” It can, you know. In fact, I believe that following your passion is a much better road map to prosperity than working for money.

I’ve accomplished a lot in my career. I’ve done well financially.  And now, decades after my childhood passion first stirred in me, I am writing. This blog is just the tip of the iceberg.

How does it feel? It feels. . . right. I can’t describe what I feel as excitement, it’s more a feeling of serenity, of “this is who I am and where I belong”.

But I also have flashes of regret.

What if I had listened to my inner child, the one who wanted to be a writer? What if I had ignored the voice of “logic” that told me to do something else? Where might I be today?

I don’t know if I’d be rich, but I know I’d be happy.

If I’d read the story of “The Rich Fisherman,” I might be in a different place today:

There was once a businessman who was sitting by the beach in a small Brazilian village. As he sat, he saw a Brazilian fisherman rowing a small boat towards the shore having caught quite few big fish. The businessman was impressed and asked the fisherman, “How long does it take you to catch so many fish?”

The fisherman replied, “Oh, just a short while.”

“Then why don’t you stay longer at sea and catch even more?” The businessman was astonished.

“This is enough to feed my whole family,” the fisherman said.

The businessman then asked, “So, what do you do for the rest of the day?”

The fisherman replied, “Well, I usually wake up early in the morning, go out to sea and catch a few fish, then go back and play with my kids. In the afternoon, I take a nap with my wife, and evening comes, I join my buddies in the village for a drink — we play guitar, sing and dance throughout the night.”

The businessman offered a suggestion to the fisherman. “I am a PhD in business management. I could help you to become a more successful person. From now on, you should spend more time at sea and try to catch as many fish as possible. When you have saved enough money, you could buy a bigger boat and catch even more fish. Soon you will be able to afford to buy more boats, set up your own company, your own production plant for canned food and distribution network. By then, you will have moved out of this village and to Sao Paulo, where you can set up HQ to manage your other branches.”

The fisherman continued, “And after that?”

The businessman laughed heartily, “After that, you can live like a king in your own house, and when the time is right, you can go public and float your shares in the Stock Exchange, and you will be rich.”

The fisherman asked, “And after that?”

The businessman said, “After that, you can finally retire, you can move to a house by the fishing village, wake up early in the morning, catch a few fish, then return home to play with kids, have a nice afternoon nap with your wife, and when evening comes, you can join your buddies for a drink, play the guitar, and sing and dance throughout the night!”

The fisherman was puzzled, “Isn’t that what I am doing now?”

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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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