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

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?

Farming for law firms: getting a higher yield from your client relationships

To be productive, a farm needs acres and acres of land. Rich top soil,  seeds planted a few inches under the surface, within reach of the sun’s rays, regular water, and the loving care of the farmer. The farmer knows that each seed can yield only so much, so he plants lots of them. More seeds, bigger harvest.

A farm is “an inch deep and a mile wide.” Unfortunately, so are many law firms. They plant a lot of seeds, going wide instead of deep, collecting fees and moving from new client to new client. But while a seed planted in the Earth can only yield so much, clients can yield far more than the fees they initially pay.

Each client can also:

  • Hire you again
  • Hire you for other services
  • Provide referrals
  • Introduce you to prospects, referral sources
  • Promote you via social media
  • Send traffic to your web site
  • Recommend your newsletter, ezine, blog
  • Distribute information by and about you
  • Invite their colleagues to your seminars
  • Provide information to you about their industry and/or key people
  • Give you testimonials and endorsements
  • Provide feedback about your marketing

The big money in a law practice is not the initial harvest, the fees earned on front end. The big money is earned on the back end. You may earn $10,000 from a client today, but $100,000 over their lifetime.

To bring in his big crop, the farmer must nurture his seedlings. So must you nurture your clients. Communicate with them. Appreciate them. Acknowledge them. Give to them. Build strong relationships with your clients and they will bear much fruit and continue to blossom for many seasons.

A farm is an inch deep and a mile wide; a law firm should be an inch wide and a mile deep.

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.

What I learned in the fourth grade about marketing legal services

After my post, “What to say when someone asks, ‘What do you do?”‘ I read an interesting take on the issue at The Non Billable Hour. In, “The Haiku of What You do,” Matt Homann suggests crafting your answer using Haiku.

As you might recall from fourth grade English, a Haiku is a three line poem consisting of 17 words (or syllables), five on the first line, seven on the second line, and five on the third. Homann suggests structuring your response as follows:

  • Who do I help? (Answer in Five Words)
  • What do I do for them? (Answer in Seven Words)
  • Why do they need me? (Answer in Five Words)

The minimalist nature of Haiku lends itself well to an elevator speech. It forces you to get to the essence of what you do and for whom you do it.

Holmann offers this example for a personal injury attorney:

I help injured accident victims

understand their rights and recover medical expenses

from people who are responsible.

Here’s what I came up with for what I do:

I show attorneys how to

get more clients and increase their income

accomplishing more and working less.

Give it a try and see what you come up with. Post your results in the comments.

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

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.

Do you make these mistakes in marketing your law practice?

There are two mistakes you can make in marketing your law practice and unfortunately, most attorneys are guilty of both.

What are the two mistakes?

  1. Not having a marketing plan, and
  2. Not executing that plan.

As a result, most attorneys don’t do any marketing, at least not with any consistency. Let’s face it, if you don’t have a plan–a list of projects and tasks and a schedule for completing them–any marketing activities you do will be sporadic and isolated. You’ll never generate momentum or sustained growth.

Having a cool web site (or any web site)  may be good for your ego but if you don’t have any traffic to it, that’s all it will be. Traffic doesn’t happen by itself. You need a plan and you need some activity or that traffic will never materialize.

Don’t get down on yourself. The problem isn’t you. It’s not a lack of self-discipline, poor organization, or bad habits. You aren’t lazy and you don’t need to get motivated. What you need is a better plan.

You need a plan that is

  1. Simple (so you can do it), and
  2. A good fit (so you want to do it).

If you want to do something and you believe you can do it, you will do it. You won’t have to force yourself to do things you don’t want to do, you’ll do it because you enjoy it.

In his remarks to the 2005 Stanford graduating class, Steve Jobs said, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” A friend of mine puts it this way: “When you love what you do and do you what you love you’ll never work another day in your life.”

If you don’t enjoy being a lawyer, common sense says to either change careers or find some aspect of practicing law you do enjoy. That might mean a different practice area, different clients, or a job with a different firm. If you don’t, you’ll never be happy and you’ll never do “great work.” The same can be said for marketing.

The good news is that there are lots of ways to market legal services and you only need one or two. You don’t have to be good at networking AND writing AND seminars AND getting web traffic AND social media AND referrals. Pick something that sounds good to you or feels right. For once in your career, put logic aside and listen to your gut.

Maybe nothing feels right or maybe you don’t know enough yet about the different options. That’s okay. Make no decisions, take a step back and simply learn. Read, observe, see what others are doing. Soak it all in and eventually, you’ll find something that’s a good fit.

And then, you need a plan. We’ll talk about that tomorrow.

Steve Jobs’ prescription for success and happiness–in his own words

In 2005, Steve Jobs addressed the graduating class at Stanford University. I’d never heard his remarks before today, but I’m glad I took 15 minutes this morning to watch this video. Jobs tells three stories, taken from his life experience, to communicate a simple but powerful message. It is one of the most insightful and motivating speeches I’ve ever heard. In light of his recent resignation, ostensibly for health reasons, it is also one of the most moving.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

Here is a transcript of his remarks.

What if you really could learn how to practice law in law school?

Two law professors have come up with an admittedly radical proposal, designed to help law students learn real world lawyering skills before they graduate: law schools that operate their own law firm.

The idea is akin to what doctors do by working in teaching hospitals. You get hands-on experience working on real cases for real clients, under the supervision of real attorneys. What’s radical about that?

Clearly, law students need the experience of working with real clients, and maybe I’m missing something, but how is this idea better than working as a law clerk while you’re in school? Instead, why not simply mandate so many hours of clerking experience during law school, and possibly after, as a condition precedent to issuing a license?

Everyone knows that law schools do a poor job of preparing graduates for the actual practice of law. I’m willing to hear more about the law school firm idea but right now, I say let law schools teach theory and law firms teach practice.

A comment to the ABA Journal’s post about this story sums it up best: “For 70 years, law schools have “trained” lawyers how to be not ready-for-prime-time. What makes you think THEY know how to practice law. More ivory tower fantasy.”

What do you think? Is this a good idea?

Why some attorneys shouldn’t blog (and most attorneys never will)

The evidence is clear: content is still king and blogging does work. The more (quality) content you have on your web site, the more traffic and leads and clients you get.

The August issue of Entrepreneur Magazine, reports that, “sites that have 401 to 1000 pages get nine times more visitors than sites with 51 to 100 pages”. Hubspot reports that consistent bloggers saw a 4.2x increase in the number of leads without four months, and reduced their lead costs by 60 percent.

The reasons are equally clear. Search engines like fresh content and so do readers who use those search engines to find that content. When someone has a legal issue, they’re not looking for an attorney’s “about” page, they want information that will help them understand their problem and their options for solving it. The attorney who provides that information is the attorney who gets more traffic, more leads, and more clients.

But it takes time to write good content and doing it consistently is hard work. That’s why so many people who start a blog don’t keep it up. (95 percent of blogs are abandoned, according to Technorati, long before they see an appreciable return on their investment.)

But you’re not like other people, are you?

“If you knew you could earn an extra $20,000 per month by blogging, and it would take you an hour a day, five days a week, would you do it?”

Let me ask a question: “If you knew you could earn an extra $20,000 per month by blogging, and it would take you an hour a day, five days a week, would you do it?”

If the answer is “no,” stop reading.

Of course I don’t know how much you will earn by blogging any more than I know how much the attorney-bloggers in the top 5% earn through their blogs. I’m pretty sure they are happy with their “top 5% results,” however.

And here’s some good news: you don’t have to spend an hour a day on your blog for it to be effective. An hour or two a week will probably be enough. That’s because:

  • You’re already reading in your field; you don’t have to invest a lot of extra time for blogging purposes.
  • You can write. If you can pass the essay portion of a bar exam,  you probably write well enough to write a blog (although you might want to have someone edit out the legalease).
  • You can get help. Your staff can do research, find articles you can incorporate into your blog, write first drafts and even write finished posts. If you don’t have staff, you can outsource.
  • You don’t have to post every day; once or twice a week, done consistently, is enough to put you in the top 5%. Even once or twice a month can bring you more business.

What are you doing now to market your practice? Could you use some of that time for blogging? If you’re not doing anything right now to market your practice, don’t you think you should?

In the past, my blogging has been sporadic. Stretches of consistency followed by stretches of “I’m busy with other projects and I’ll get back to blogging when I can”. Recently, I decided to take my own medicine. Not only have I started posting consistently again, at my wife’s urging I’ve been doing it every day. Even though it’s only been a couple of weeks, I’m already seeing a lot more traffic, subscribers, and new business.

Is blogging for every attorney? No. If you have other ways to build your practice and they are working, you don’t need a blog. It is hard work and it is a commitment. (Actually, the writing really isn’t hard, what’s hard is the commitment.) But if you’re looking for something to bring in more business, if you have more time than money or you’re willing to make the time because you can see why it would be worth it, if you like to write or have someone on staff who does, then blogging is a great way to rise above the competition and get into the top 5%.

What is Google+ (Google Plus) and do I need it?

This is another extremely well done video that instructs while it entertains. I am not an early adopter for most new ideas, especially in the social media world, but I think I need to spend some time getting my “Plus” on.

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