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How to use CLE to get new clients and new referral sources

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When it comes to continuing legal education (the mandatory kind), there are two types of attorneys:

  1. Those who take the classes only because they need the credits (98%), and
  2. Everyone else.

C’mon, be honest. If you weren’t required to do so, would you have signed up for most of the CLE classes you’ve taken over the years? How about if they were free?

Me neither.

But this is not a post about how ridiculous it is to compel professionals to do what the realities of a competitive marketplace already do. No, this is a post about how to make money with CLE.

Want to know how?

Okay, there’s a very simple way to leverage the time you spend taking CLE to grow your law practice. That’s the good news. The bad news is that you have to listen to the presenters and you have to take notes. No playing games while the audio is playing. And no multi-tasking, either. You actually have to pay attention.

Yeah, I know, I’m not doing a very good job of convincing you that this is a good thing, but it is.

So you take notes of the CLE programs you take and when you’re done, you write a one page summary of each class or each segment. Kinda like a brief. Actually, you can put it into any format you want: a summary, FAQ’s, case studies–whatever floats your boat. You can even record an audio if you want.

You with me?

The next thing you do is distribute your summaries to people who might like to see them. You can send them to people you know or you can contact people you don’t know and offer to send them. Or any combination thereof.

To whom do you send them (or offer to send them)?

  • Your competition. You lose nothing by giving this information to other lawyers in your practice area(s). They still have to take the class if they want the credit but your gesture of good will is certain to be appreciated and remembered. They next time you need a favor, some information or advice, you’ll have a ready made list of people willing to help you out. And the next time they have a conflict of interest on a case or otherwise have to refer out a matter, you might just be on their short list.
  • Other non-competitive attorneys. This is where you can really score some points. Take that tax class you just completed and slant your summary for attorneys who don’t practice tax law but need to know something about it. Summarize the changes in SSD for PI lawyers. You get the idea. By delivering value to attorneys in other practice areas, you position yourself as an expert in your area and someone worth knowing. If nothing else, your summaries give you a great excuse to contact potential referral sources and initiate a relationship.
  • Other professionals/referral sources. Financial planners, real estate, insurance, CPA’s–other professionals need to stay informed about the legal issues that affect what they do. Your summaries can spare them the time and trouble of wading through a mountain of information they don’t need and will undoubtedly earn their appreciation.
  • Prospects/clients. Obviously, you need to make the information suitable for lay people and you’ll probably want to avoid mentioning where you got it, but educating your clients and prospects about the legal issues they face and the available solutions (that you can provide, of course) is always a good strategy.

There are other ways to use your CLE notes. You can turn them into articles and blog posts, reports and ebooks, talking points for a speech or seminar, and hey, you can even use it in your actual, honest-to-goodness legal work. Imagine that.

As you can see, with a little creativity you can leverage the time you spend taking CLE classes (and writing summaries thereof) to create some simple tools you can use to grow your practice.

Now, for extra credit, here’s something else you can do: send your summaries to the author or presenter of the CLE class. They may not have any use for it but they will be pleased that someone actually paid attention and took notes. You now have a new contact, a well-regarded attorney who might just know some people you would like to meet and who might be willing to make those introductions.

And hey, they might even give you the hook up so you can submit your own CLE program. If you do, let me know how many credits I can get. I need 36 units and I’m way behind.

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If I were starting my law practice today, here’s what I would do to bring in clients

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If I were opening a law practice today, my “marketing plan” would be very different than it was when I opened my office thirty-plus years ago.

The Internet changes everything.

So. . . here’s what I would do:

I would start by setting up a web site to showcase what I do. It would be my online brochure as well as a mechanism for networking and lead generation. It would be an information hub, the center of all of my marketing activities.

My web site would be a self-hosted WordPress blog so I could update it without depending on anyone else. I would spend less than $10/yr. for a domain, and less than $10/mo. for hosting.

I would keep things simple, with a clean, professional look. I would favor quality content over bells and whistles. The look would say, “competent, confident, accomplished and approachable,” because that’s what I would want if I was looking for an attorney.

I would add articles and other content to the site, to provide value to visitors and generate search engine traffic. I would continue to add content, seeking to make my site the most comprehensive in my practice area. When someone needed an answer, everyone would point them to my site.

I would make it easy for visitors to contact me through the site and I would encourage this. I want people to ask questions. My answers bring me one step closer to an appointment and a new client. Their questions and my answers would also give me fodder for new content.

I would add testminonials and success stories to the site, providing social proof of my capabilities and add a dramatic aspect to otherwise dry material.

I would set up a lead capture system, using an autoresponder to deliver an online newsletter. I would encourage visitors to subscribe so I could stay in touch with them. Over time, I know they will become clients, provide referrals, and generate even more traffic to my site through their social media channels.

Once my hub was set up, my focus would be to drive traffic to the site and grow my list. I would start by leveraging my existing contacts, telling them about my site and the benefits of visiting. I would ask them to spread the word to the people they know.

Every piece of printed collateral, including my business cards, would include a link to my web site. Every email I sent would link to the site. Every article I wrote would include a resource box and a link to my site.

I would become active in forums and on social media. I would do some networking and speaking to meet new contacts and to stay up to date with the news in my target market.

I would look for other professionals who target my market and propose writing for each other’s blogs and newsletters. If they were physically near me, I would meet them for coffee and explore other ways we could help each other.

I would regularly email to my list, notifying them of new content on the site and sending them other content I found that I thought they might like to see. I would stay in touch with them so that I would be “in their minds and their mailboxes” when they needed my services or encountered someone who did.

I would let people know I appreciate their referrals and thank those who have provided them in the past. I would suggest other ways they could help me, i.e., forwarding my emails to their friends and contacts, promoting my seminar or other event, or introducing me to people they know that I should meet.

I would look for ways to provide added value to my list and even more so to my clients. I would give them information and advice, but not necessarily in my practice area or even anything legal.

I would smother my clients with attention, exceeding their expectations in every way possible, because I know the best way to build a law practice is with referrals from satisfied clients and other people who know, like, and trust me.

Wait. . .  the Internet doesn’t change everything. Marketing is the same today as it was thirty years ago. The Internet just makes it easier, quicker, and less expensive.

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How to get fence sitters to pull the trigger

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Yesterday, I talked about using a special offer to get prospects on your list to hire you instead of another attorney. But what if they’re not ready to hire an attorney? How can you persuade them to do so?

Send them to school.

In your blog posts, newsletter, seminars, and private conversations, you must educate people about why they need an attorney, and why it should be you.

If they don’t know they have a problem, they’re certainly not going to do anything to resolve it. If they aren’t aware of the seriousness of the problem and the potential consequences, they still may not do anything. And if they don’t know the options that are available, they may think they don’t have any.

Your job is to continually make them aware of these problems and your solutions. But you can’t simply tell them, you have to show them, by telling them stories

My eighth grade history teacher made history come alive by telling stories about the people who lived it. Hearing about George Washington’s life, his struggles and victories, we not only learned about that period in our nation’s history, we were affected by it. We not only understood what it was like, we felt it.

If your prospects don’t feel something, if you simply deliver a steady stream of facts, they will eventually tune out. The facts are boring. Talk about people.

Pepper your messages with stories about people who are similar to your prospects. Give them a face and a name if possible. Describe their background. Talk about their problem and the pain it caused them. Or about the opportunity you helped them take advantage of. And then, talk about how this relief from pain or pleasure from gain. . . made them FEEL.

Because if you want your reader to do something (i.e., hire you), you have to transfer to them the feelings of other people who were in the same boat.

If you are allowed to use testimonials, do so. But a well told story can achieve almost the same effect.

But wait. You’re not done. In addition to stories of relief from pain or achievement of gain, you need to tell stories about people who didn’t take action, or took the wrong action. They did nothing, and lost. Or they delayed and missed out. Or they hired the wrong lawyer and wound up worse than when they started.

Success stories and tales of disaster. You need both.

And yet they still may do nothing. Why? Because. . . they don’t want to.

In “The Seven Reasons Prospective Clients Don’t Hire an Attorney,” I said that of all the reasons people don’t hire an attorney the most difficult to overcome (and the most frustrating) is, “No Want.”

If they don’t want it, they don’t want it. Why is that? I really don’t know. And as the late Jim Rohn used to say, “I wouldn’t enroll in that class.”

Keep them on your list. Continue to educate them. Keep telling them stories. One day, they may see the light. Maybe when someone they know encounters the very issue you’ve been warning them about. It’s like people who won’t do any exercise or quit smoking until their brother or best friend drops dead of a heart attack. That’s a story they can’t ignore.

In the mean time, don’t worry about it. Focus on the “easy to get” clients.

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How I studied for the Bar exam and how I use those skills today

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The other day I found the outline I used when I studied for the Bar exam over thirty years ago. It was from a Bar review course I had taken, a single “mini-outline” that condensed eight volumes of study material into one paper-bound book.

I remember the process I followed to study for the exam. I went through each of the eight subject volumes, all of my notes, practice exams, and handouts from the review course (and anything I had saved from law school), distilled everything to what I considered essential and re-wrote this in my “mini-outline”.

There was plenty of white space for additional references, notes to myself, case citations, and examples that I wanted to remember. When I was done, I was able to put everything else aside and study just from the mini-outline.

Of course I learned most of what I needed to know not from studying the mini-outline but through the process of creating it. In deciding what to include in the outline, I had to read everything with a critical eye. I couldn’t just read everything as we typically do when we study, I had to think about what I was reading and make decisions about what it meant.

“What is the essence of this idea?” “Is it essential or tangential?” “How does this fit in with what I already know?” “How would I illustrate this?” “What is the opposing or minority view point?”

I didn’t think about it at the time but I was essentially doing research (my study material) for a paper (my mini-outline). I had to read like a writer, not a student.

Next, I went through the mini-outline with a hi-lighter and then again with a red pen. I circled key phrases, drew arrows from printed notes to my hand-written examples, and otherwise marked up my outline so that after several times through it, I had mastered it.

I remember during the exam itself, when I needed to recall something, I was able to see in my mind’s eye the actual page in my mini-outline where the information was written. I could see the yellow hi-lights and red arrows, what was at the top of the page and what was below. I could see and “read” my hand-written notes.

I had spent so much time creating the outline and studying it, I had all but memorized it. It was as if I had the book with me in the exam room.

There was something else I did to prepare for the exam. I knew I needed to have all of this information in my head, but I also needed to be able to “output” that information. We study for exams by reading but exams are taken by writing, so I knew I had to do as much of that as possible.

I took lots of practice exams. This helped me to discover where I might know something but not be able to express it. Or I had memorized something but really didn’t understand it. I could then go back and fill in the blanks and add those notes to my outline.

There was something else I did to prepare for the exam. I created, from memory, a one-page outline for each of the eight subjects. This really showed me what I knew and what I only thought I knew. I then re-wrote my one-page outlines, adding the material I had not been able to write from memory in red ink. When I was done, I had an “outline of my outline” and was able to study from those eight pages.

For good measure, I then wrote a one page outline of those eight pages. It was a summary of everything I had studied, reduced to a single page. There wasn’t room for details, and that was the point. While it didn’t really add anything to my body of knowledge, it was inspiring. “Everything” I needed to know was on one piece of paper.

I felt completely at ease during the exam. It was almost too easy. I was delighted when I got the news that I had passed, but not surprised. I knew the material and I was able to “output” what I knew onto the printed page. All of my preparation had paid off.

Today if I was studying, I would use “mind maps” to create a visual depiction of the information and how it fits together. It’s a better way to outline because it groups things organically, the way your mind sees them, instead of artificially forcing that information into linear order.

The process I used to study for the Bar exam has helped me over the years. I have used it to prepare litigated cases and in marketing. I use it in writing, preparing course material, and in live presentations. I often write first drafts “to see what I know”. I distill large quantities of information into shorter summaries. I outline my outlines.

For your next presentation, brief, report, or trial, when success is predicated on explaining and persuading, take what you know and distill it to its essence. Practice your presentation to see what you know and what you need to improve. Make an outline and re-write that outline until you can recite it from memory.

The job of an advocate, writer or presenter (or test taker) is to make things so clear that the listener or reader cannot possibly misunderstand. You don’t need to be brilliant or a gifted writer or orator to accomplish this. But you do need to know your material.

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How to make people like you

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No, I’m not talking about cloning. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)

Psychologists tell us that the most important ingredient for success in personal and business relationships is “liking”. The more people like you, the more success you will tend to have.

The Law of Association says that people associate how they feel about you with how they feel at the time they meet you. If they are in a good mood when they meet you, they tend to associate those good feelings with you and, as a result, be more inclined to like you.

“If you want to be liked by a person, try talking to him when he is in a good mood or excited about something. These feelings are anchored and associated with you, and this person will then come to have positive feelings toward you,” says David J. Lieberman, Ph.d, author of “Get Anyone To Do Anything.”

Most people meet an attorney under times of stress and difficulty. Your challenge, then, when meeting new clients is to make them feel hopeful and positive about solving their problems and about the future. As early in your first meeting as possible, you need to make them feel that “everything is going to be alright”.

That ties into another psychological principle cited by Dr. Lieberman as being a factor in “liking”: positive attitude. “We all seek, like, and admire those who have a positive, happy outlook and perspective on life. Why? Because that is what we all want,” he says.

Don’t worry. Be happy. Get folks to like you.

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