Perfect

To some extent, perfectionism is a valuable attribute in an attorney. Exacting standards and an almost obsessive attention to detail help you to do a good job for your clients, keeping them and yourself out of trouble.

I say “to some extent,” however, because research shows that perfectionism can lead to burnout, anxiety, and even depression.

You can argue that there’s too much at stake and, therefore, no room for error. You can’t take any risks with your work. But, as I’ve said before, life (and the practice of law) isn’t about the complete elimination of risk, it’s about the intelligent management of risk.

There are things you can do to maintain your wellbeing while staying faithful to your high standards. Like checklists, that tell you when you’ve done the work that needs to be done, and self-imposed deadlines that force you to “turn in your homework” even though you might want more time.

Mistakes happen. But most of the time, most of what you do is “good enough” and good enough is usually good enough. Err on the side of “overly cautious” or “painstakingly thorough,” but do what you have to do to let things go.

Repeat after me: “Done is better than perfect”.

One area where you cannot afford to be a perfectionist, however, is in managing your practice.

You can’t wait for the perfect marketing solution, you have to run with things and see how they work. Marketing is messy. Somethings work, some don’t. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you lose your shirt.

Similarly, you can’t refuse to delegate work because “nobody can do better” or because someone might make a costly mistake. If you insist on doing everything yourself, you will never grow.

You will work more than you have to and achieve less than you could. And you’ll also go home exhausted.

Earn more, work less. Here’s how

What should I have my virtual assistant do for me?

I got an e-mail from attorney who uses a virtual assistant “to write and edit letters to prospective clients”. He asked me what else he could have her do.

Great question.

To answer it, I’ll share a (slightly edited) email I received in response to a post I did about justifying the cost of hiring outside assistants:

I have a full-time VA in the Philippines. She costs me about $75 per WEEK (full time). I gladly pay this even though I often don’t have 40 hours’ worth of stuff for her to do. I don’t let her handle much for my law practice. Her English grammar is a bit off sometimes, but she updates websites, edits video, does show notes for my podcast, handles blog posting, social media promotion of my stuff, etc. She’s been invaluable in getting my courses and info products created and published. This frees up some time for marketing, client service, and for ME… I get to have dinner with my kids almost every night.

Letting go of control is my big challenge, but I’m working on it, and Managing a VA is a skill set that needs to be developed, too… the time/distance and cultural differences require some finesse… But I’m glad to have Joanna on my team. I encourage everyone to find a VA to help out with things.

So, here’s what I would do.

Make a list of every task that is performed in your practice, by you or anyone on your behalf. Write down everything, from opening the mail, opening and closing files, meeting with clients, writing articles, and everything in between.

Then, look at that list and put a check mark next to every task that can only be done by YOU.

You probably do a lot of things that someone else could do. They may not do it as well, but as long as they can do it at an acceptable level, you should let them do it.

Make sure break down the tasks that only you can do into sub-tasks that others can do.  You may be the one who conducts the trial, but you can have others assemble documents and write (the first draft) of motions.

Now, what about the tasks that nobody is doing? What could you have a VA or employee do to help you with marketing, for example? That depends on your objectives and what you’re willing to do to accomplish them.

If you want to do Facebook advertising, you can have an assistant find keywords, create the ad graphics and copy (or co-ordinate with freelancers), and manage the campaigns.

If you have my new course on getting referrals from lawyers, you would have your assistant find other lawyers that you can contact to discuss referrals and joint ventures. The VA can compile details about what they do, make the initial contact on your behalf, and follow-up with those who respond affirmatively.

Do only those things that only you can do and delegate everything else. But first you have to figure out what needs to be done.

Get more referrals from other lawyers: click here

How to find the time to grow your law practice

On my walk yesterday, I listened to an interview with Michael Hyatt on The Smart Passive Income podcast (episode 163). One thing he talked about was how he hired his first outside assistant after he had resisted doing so for a long time.

He told a story about an entrepreneur he knows who had also resisted hiring help. A friend showed him the light.

First, his friend asked how much his time was worth. He estimated $250 an hour. Then the friend asked him to name a task he did in his business that he wasn’t particularly good at. “Updating my website,” he said. The friend asked, “If you did hire someone to update your website for you, would you pay them $250 an hour?”

The entrepreneur said no, of course not. “But that’s exactly what you’re paying now,” his friend said.

Hyatt said that when he realized that a virtual assistant  could free up his time to do the work that he does best, he decided to give it a try. He started slowly and hired someone for just five hours a week.

He quickly realized how much more high-value work this allowed him to do and increased it to ten hours a week. Because he was doing more of what he does best, his business really took off. He now has a stable of employees and virtual assistants who do the work that they do best, allowing him to focus on his strengths.

I thought about that and realized that all of us could find enough tasks in our week to keep a virtual assistant busy for five hours. If the assistant costs $10 an hour, that’s only $50 a week.

Who wouldn’t pay $50 to free up five hours?

What if that allowed you to bill an additional five hours a week? What if you used that time to bring in more clients?

If you want to grow your law practice, this is a place to start. Make a list of things you do that you’re not good at or don’t enjoy and find an assistant who can do them for you.

What will you do with all that extra time?

Learn more ways to leverage your time. Click here

Delegate and grow rich

Okay, you (finally) agree that you can’t do it all and that if you want to earn more and not work yourself to death you need to delegate (more).

Where do you start?

You start with the philosophy that you should delegate everything, except “that which only you can do”.

That’s not as much as you might think.

If you have attorneys working for you, start there. Give them as much work as possible.This is clearly a “20% activity that yields 80% of your results”. It’s why the big firms are the big firms. It’s where you can take giant leaps in increasing your income.

If you have business clients, you can still be the “account representative”. You meet with the clients, hold their hands, take them to lunch, and keep them happy. Let your staff attorneys do the grunt work. Okay, you can show up for trial, but only if you must.

If you have a consumer oriented practice, you can meet with the clients on their first appointment and at their last appointment. Let your attorneys and other staff do the rest.

So, job one: if you don’t have attorneys working for you, get some.

If you don’t have enough work to justify that, set this as a goal. Get enough new business coming in to justify hiring your first attorney.

If you don’t want the hassle of hiring and supervising attorneys, set another goal–to bring in enough new business to justify hiring attorneys AND someone to hire and supervise them.

If you have other staff (secretaries, assistants, office managers, HR, IT, bookkeeper, etc.), they’re next. Make sure they are tasked with all other tasks, except two:

(1) Signing checks.

Call me paranoid, or call me a lawyer, but I always made sure that I saw and signed every check issued in my office. Today, with everything digital, you have to be even more careful.

(2) Marketing.

Marketing professionals services is about building relationships and you can’t delegate that. You’ve got to talk to people. Don’t relinquish responsibility for this. It’s the most important thing you do in building a practice, even more important than the legal work.

However. . .

There are many aspects of marketing that can be delegated. Too many to mention here. So get as much help as possible but make sure you have a hand in all of it.

If you don’t have any staff, or enough staff, hire people or outsource. Immediately, if not sooner.

Don’t let the absence of delegatees stop you from delegating.

If you want to get better at delegating, get this

Working smart doesn’t mean sacrificing quality or personal attention

I got an email from an attorney who read my story about the changes I made in my practice that increased my cash flow. (If you’re on my newsletter list, you have or will get the email, promoting my Cash Flow for Attorneys program). One of the things I did was delegate as much of my work as possible, eventually getting to the point where I did “only those things that only I could do.”

In reply, this attorney said,

“The lesson may be that sacrificing quality and personal attention to the clients can raise your bottom line. The moral should be: what client would pick that savvy business owner over the harder working practitioner?”

I understand how one might think that delegating as much as possible and running your practice like a business would lead to a lower level of quality or personal attention. In reality, it is just the opposite.

My clients got a higher level of service and more personal attention because I wasn’t trying to do everything myself. Think about it: attorneys works long hours and are stretched so thin they often don’t have time for lunch. They have less time for clients because they’ve got too many other things to do.

When you delegate work, it frees you up to do the things that really matter. You have time to greet new clients and introduce them to the staff who will take care of the mundane work. You have time and energy to oversee the important legal work, and to perform the work that “only you can do”. And you have time for marketing, so you can bring in more good clients, allowing you to hire more staff to better serve your growing practice.

If you’re trying to do too much yourself, you must find a way to delegate as much as possible. Continue to supervise your employees, to make sure the work is getting done and the clients are getting served, but let go of the notion that just because nobody can do it better than you means nobody but you should do it.

Do the math: you’re worth at least $300 an hour and, arguably, much more. If you continue to do $25 an hour clerical work, you’re working for your practice, not the other way around.

A law practice is first, a business. That business hires you, the professional. As the owner of that practice, you earn for what you do as a professional and you earn a profit on what your business takes in from paying clients. If your business doesn’t bring in clients, you won’t have anyone for whom to practice your profession.

I was a sole practitioner for my entire legal career, and I worked hard. Damn hard. Early on, I worked long hours and was always on the brink of exhaustion. I did my best to serve my clients but my best was limited to what I was able to give them with the limited time and energy at my disposal. It wasn’t until I starting working smart and delegated as much as possible that I was able to achieve the levels of financial success and time freedom I ultimately enjoyed. And because I was “selfish” enough to make that leap, my clients got better service than they ever got when I was doing almost everything myself.

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.

Seven steps to better delegating for overworked attorneys

Attorneys, especially sole practitioners, are often poor at delegating. “Nobody can do it as well as I can,” they say, and that’s not ego talking, it’s usually true.

There is risk in giving a task to someone who might not do it as well as you or might not get it done on time, but delegating is essential to the growth of a law practice. Delegating gives you leverage and leverage helps you to earn more and work less.

To get better results when you delegate, follow these seven steps:

  1. Give specific instructions. Describe what you want done in sufficient detail, in writing if possible. If instructions are given orally, ask them to be repeated back to you. Tell them to ask questions if they don’t understand.
  2. Give objectives, not procedures. Tell them what you want done, not how. If you’ve chosen the right person for the job, trust them to get the job done. Guide them, don’t micro-manage them.
  3. Tell them why. They’ll do a better job when they are invested in the outcome instead of just carrying out orders so explain why the task is important. And, if you give them more than one task at a time, tell them the relative importance of each.
  4. Give a due date (and time). Due dates help them to know what is expected and allow them to prioritize their work flow.
  5. Equip and empower them. Make sure they have what they need to get the job done–tools, a budget, assistance–and the authority to decide what to do. Don’t make them come back to you with every little decision.
  6. Offer incentives. If you have an especially valuable project, you might want to offer something for getting it done early or with a better outcome. A day off, dinner for two for them and their spouse, a cash bonus, all work well.
  7. Give praise. When they do a good job, thank them (even though they were doing their job) and praise them. Let them know you are pleased and they’ll want to do a good job for you next time.

The cure for the overworked and overwhelmed attorney–part two

So it’s a new year and you’re ready to get back to work. If you’re like most attorneys, you’re excited about all of the plans you’ve made for the future but feeling overwhelmed with everything you have to do. You’ve got “too many”.

  • Too many articles and blog posts to read (not to mention the books piled up on your shelf (or floor) and in your Kindle or iPad
  • Too many people to call, letters to write, lunches to attend
  • Too many projects you’ve been putting off but promised yourself (spouse, partner) you will (finally) do
  • Too many continuing education seminars you don’t have time for but must do because your compliance group is “due” (guilty)
  • Too many commitments you’ve made that you know you can’t possibly keep

And let’s not forget your legal work. You know, the stuff that actually gets you paid.

In a previous post, I wrote about how I dramatically cut my work hours (and stress) by delegating. If you’ve ever emptied a closet or a desk drawer, all that empty space feels good but you know it won’t last. It’s only a matter of time before that closet or drawer is once again filled to overflowing. Once you get good at delegating as much as possible and have more time available, it’s the same thing: you find more and more things to fill your time and before you know it, once again, you’re overwhelmed.

I’ve still got “too many”. I have a backlog of hundreds of articles I need to read and I’ve bookmarked so many web sites to visit my head is spinning. I glance at the updates in my Twitter stream and wonder how I could possibly read even a fraction of the tweets that go past me, let alone follow up on the relevant ones, let alone connect with the people who sent them.

I think it’s safe to say we all have “too many”. So how do we avoid being overwhelmed?

First, take a deep breath. Exhale. Once more. Now, repeat after me, “I can’t do it all, I will never get everything done, and that’s okay.”

None of us will ever get it all done. We’ll never read all those articles or complete all those projects. There’s too much and there will always be more and the first thing we need to do is acknowledge that we’ll never get it all done AND THAT’S OKAY.

So relax.

The key to success and a well-lived life  isn’t doing everything, it’s doing the most important things. It is the 80/20 principle: a few things matter, most everything else doesn’t; the ones that matter are the ones that produce most of your results. Focus on doing a few important things, and don’t worry about the rest.

Success comes from achievement, not from being busy.

About a year ago, I started working with David Byrd, an executive coach, who helped me get clear about what I wanted to accomplish. He taught me the value of being driven by vision–my vision of the future I want to create–instead of being driven by circumstances. The idea is to start with the end in mind and then set goals that are consistent with that vision. In doing so, we cut through the clutter of “too many” possibilities and focus on the most important ones. The system gives me a place to come back to whenever I find myself wandering. WhenI feel overwhelmed or losing clarity about what to do next, I revisit my vision and my goals and I’m back on track.

David Byrd also taught me a system for achieving my goals. I plan each month so that my activities (projects, actions, etc.) move me forward towards my goals. I also plan each day. As a result, I always know what I need to do.

In short, the system helps me put one foot in front of the other and continually move forward towards my destination. I don’t get distracted by all of the side roads or billboards.

So, as we begin a new year, have you chosen your most important goals? Have you put them on paper? And do you have a plan for achieving them?

If you are driven by vision, have goals that support that vision and a plan for achieving them, you’ll have clarity about what to do and what you can let go of. You’ll be empowered, not overwhelmed. And you’ll be excited because you know where you’re going and you have a map that will get you there.

On January 19, Mr. Byrd will be conducting a free goal-setting webinar for my subscribers. Please join us. Register here for this free webinar and make 2011 your best year ever.

The cure for the overworked and overwhelmed attorney

I don’t know a single attorney who wants to work more. Oh they want more work, they just don’t want to work longer hours.

Unfortunately, we have been trained to believe in an absolute correlation between our income and the amount of work we do, but that correlation simply does not exist.

As a young lawyer starting my career, I had very little work and an income to match. When I finally learned marketing and starting bringing in more clients, naturally, my income and work hours increased. Eventually, I had lots of clients and incredibly long hours, obviously proving there is a correlation, right? Well, that depends.

I realized that I wasn’t happy working so much but I wasn’t willing to cut back my schedule if it meant cutting back my income. I struggled with this for a long time and, thankfully, I figured out how to do it. I was able to significantly reduce my work week without reducing my income. In fact, when I got things fully underway, my income took a dramatic leap.

There were a few things I did to make that happen. One of those was to get comfortable with delegating.

Attorneys are famously bad at delegating. There are a number of reasons, ranging from fear that the person to whom the work is delegated will screw up, to ego, the notion that, “nobody can do it as well as I can.” I had a little bit of both going on in my head; it took some effort to come to terms with these beliefs, but I did.

On the “screw up” issue, I realized that I would still be supervising my employees, I was the failsafe. I also realized that happiness (or a successful law practice) doesn’t require the complete absence of risk. Risk can be managed. That’s why God created “E & O” policies, after all.

As for the idea that I was the best one for the job, I simply had to accept the premise that if I was ever going to have relief from eighty hour weeks, “good enough” would have to be good enough.

Once I crossed the threshold of acceptance,  I began to see that there were many functions in our office I could let go of and, in fact, there were many functions where I really wasn’t the best person for the job. Once I started the process of handing over responsibilities to others and saw that the sky did not fall and, in fact, good things were happening, I embarked on a quest to delegate as much as possible. Eventually, my philosophy was to only do that which only I could do, and this was a major turning point in my career.

If you are overworked because of reluctance to delegate (or delegate as much as possible), I urge you to do as I did. Change your philosophy and learn some techniques. Your kids will be glad you did.