Monthly Archives: February 2004

The one question you should be asking your customers.

In this post at Brand Autopsy, John Moore reviews a Harvard Business Review article, “The One Number You Need to Grow,” penned by Frederick Reichheld.

Reichheld’s research indicates that there is a strong correlation between a company’s growth rate and the percentage of it’s customers who are willing to recommend the company to a friend.

Moore quotes Reichheld, “You only have to ask your customers one question: How likely is it that you would recommend [company x] to a friend or a colleague.” Do you ask you clients that question?

See my other posts on building customer relationships here, here, here, and here.

Quote of the Week.

An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.” Mae West. Thanks to Tom Asacker at Rebel with a Cause.

Making Donuts, Part II

Getting a lot more traffic from the search engines lately, and found out why. Google “how to make donuts” and this site is number two. If you change the search string to “time to make the donuts,” this weblog moves to number one. All because of this post. I know that blogging is a way to drive search engine traffic to your site, but this is ridiculous.

According to Rick Bruner, President of Executive Summary Consulting, “Blog” should stand for “Better Listings On Google.” (Thanks to Kevin O’Keefe for the Bruner quote.)

How “Unique” is your law firm?

Jeremy Blachman, a 2L at Harvard Law School, in Jeremy’s Weblog compiles this list of “unique” statements from law firm web sites. Jeremy has removed the law firm names and shortened sentences, but assures his readers that these are accurate:

The nature of our practice and our unique firm culture sets us apart from the rest.

What makes our firm unique are its fantastic people.

Our attorneys and staff have created a unique firm culture which nurtures mentoring and the exchange of ideas.

We possess a unique combination of experienced lawyers with backgrounds in various legal fields.

Our clients appreciate our unique combination of specialized expertise and broad experience.

Our firm’s culture is a unique blend of the conservative and entrepreneurial.

Our exciting practice and unique collegial ambiance distinguish us from other law firms.

We have a unique ability to offer our attorneys unlimited opportunity for personal, professional and financial growth.

We have a unique Pro Bono Policy that demonstrates the Firm’s support for pro bono.

There is a unique spirit at work here, a collective “can do” attitude that empowers every member of our Firm.

At our firm, your first reward is the unique opportunity to explore your interests and build your practice.

Our attorneys and staff have a passion for justice and a unique commitment to the needs of our clients.

We don’t think you will find another law firm anywhere that has such a unique combination of excellent lawyers, challenging and diverse practice opportunities, decent people, and a genuine sense of community.

One of the things that makes us unique — and uniquely effective for our clients — is that our people live in the real world, not inside dusty law books.

A law student or graduate should be wary of a firm that is one-sided and does not present a balanced mix of quality legal work, people, and lifestyle. We believe we have succeeded in achieving such a balance, which makes us unique in today’s legal community.

If the unique firm we have described here is one that appeals to you, we encourage you to contact us about career opportunities.

What is your strategy?

Thanks to Paul Williams at Brand Autopsy for this post about a marketing agency satire website. I think their strategy could have been written for lawyers:

Our main strategy is to convince people that we do stuff they can’t do themselves, and that we deserve lots of money for it. The best way to do this is to always look good, and always sound like we know something you don’t. If you’re still not convinced, we’ll show you lots of market research and cost analysis and global positioning strategy reports to confuse you and hopefully convince you that we’re so knowledgeable you couldn’t possibly succeed without us. Because you can’t. So don’t even try.

I personally like their take on solutions:

When we deliver your new business strategies to you, they’ll be in really snazzy binders that look nice sitting on big, round meeting tables, so you’ll know you got your money’s worth. When your project has been completed, we’ll give you several follow-up phone calls to give the appearance that we even remember who you are or what we sold you.

And client satisfaction:

Our clients are always satisfied with our service. If you knew who any of them were, you could confirm this for yourself, but, since you don’t, you’ll just have to take our word on this one too. Client satisfaction is always our first priority. Well…actually…maybe something like third or fourth. But we really do take care of our clients. More or less, anyway.

Techshow Registration

I just registered for Techshow yesterday. As Jeff Beard points out in LawTech Guru today, February 26 is the last day for “early bird” registration and the $100 discount that comes with it. However, if you miss the deadline, try calling (800)888-8300, extension 5909, and mention priority code TS100 to get the “early bird” discount until March 12. I got this info in a flyer from the ABA yesterday, so this should work. ABA Law Practice Management members get an additioanl $100 bucks off, for a total conference cost of $595.00.

Also, if you are going, don’t use the Sheraton downtown to stay. Get on Hotwire and search for Chicago hotels in the North Michigan Avenue/Water Tower Place or Magnificant Mile/Wacker Drive areas and your hotel will be no more than a $4.00 cab ride from the conference site. I got the 4.5 star Swissotel across from the Sheraton for $103 per night. At last check, ABA’s “discounted” hotel rates for the Sheraton were $177 per night!

UPDATE: Just got this tip: Go here and enter your arrival and departure dates and you should get the Sheraton for $129.00 per night. Thanks, Patricia Joyce.

New York Times Link Generator

David at ethicalEsq. gave me this great tip today. When linking to a New York Times article, run the original URL for the story through the New York Times Link Generator to get a weblog-safe link with no subscription issues. David credits Howard Bashman for this pointer.

More non-legal stuff.

I was surfing last night and came across a few more weird things. On Retrocrush, a site that bills itself as, “The World’s Finest Pop Culture Website,” I found this list (with photos) of the Fifty Coolest Apes of All Time. I can’t believe Mon-ChiChi beat out Chim Chim.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Need more ideas?

Not sure if this goes under humor or not, but this site is a fascinating daily read. A new idea every day. Take a look at the archives and top ten. My favorite:

Allow voters in political elections to cast a vote against a candidate. Voters would still have only one vote each but each “against” vote would nullify a “for” vote. This system would give voters who are disenchanted with party politics, and perhaps unlikely to vote at all, at least the chance to express their feelings about a party they really do not want to be in power.

Only a few ideas have a political bent. Most are just interesting, or just plain weird. The one about a gun-shaped remote control you could aim at the TV to change channels by pulling the trigger was just like the idea I had in law school twelve years ago — just ask my roommate.

The New York Times on Business Lawyers:

This article in today’s New York Times (registration required) talks about the sometimes rocky relationship small businesses can have with big firm lawyers. According to the article, “There is a yawning gap between [small companies’] practical requirements and the legal culture. Small companies must watch costs and focus on cash flow, while law firms can lose sight of the cost effectiveness of their work and may be driven by the perverse incentives inherent in hourly billing.” Small business owners were quoted about their relationships with lawyers:

“Lawyers for small companies take on a patronizing role.”

“They (lawyers) will consume as much time as they possibly can and will assume as great a role in a transaction as they can.”

“You find that the whole deal is negotiated, and you haven’t even seen it.”

“An attorney, to me, is like an expensive pen. It’s a tool. You should negotiate the business points yourself. They should document what you’ve negotiated.”

“They (lawyers) tend to fascinate themselves with all of sorts of trivial things,”

“They (the law firm) did a great job, but I knew when I walked into a gleaming conference room with Dean & DeLuca pastries that there would be problems.”

At hourly rates exceeding $500, “it can cost $20,000 or $30,000 to have a question answered and a couple of letters written.”

“You don’t want to hit a flea with a sledgehammer.”

The article also gives some tips small businesses should follow when hiring a lawyer:

• Ask for a flat fee. If the lawyer will bill only by the hour, get a cap. Request frequent updates on how much time has accrued.

• Insist on approving all staffing. Require the lawyer you hired, rather than a green associate, to do the important work; a busy, but experienced lawyer will generally be cheaper than an underused young lawyer, even at a higher hourly rate.

• Do not allow more than one lawyer to attend a hearing or deposition. Do not pay for travel time or for ordinary overhead like photocopies and phone calls.

• If the bill contains the names of lawyers and paralegals you have never met, work you did not ask for or fees out of proportion to the problem the lawyer was hired to solve, do not be afraid to question it.

In general, Ms. Lodenkamper said, small-business owners should stay away from larger law firms.”You want either a sole practitioner or a small firm,” she said. “If you get into a large law firm, you’re going to get a lot of theory and 70-page contracts.”

The article is right on, and should be required reading for all business lawyers.

I’ll have what he’s having.

This might not be the best reason to start your own business. Warning, may induce laughter.

Words matter

You would think that lawyers (above all other professionals) value language and realize the effect our words can have on our clients. This article discusses how certain words can limit a salesperson’s liklihood of closing a deal. The lessons are helpful for lawyers as well — if for no other reason than to remind us of the significance our clients place on the language we use. The words:

1.Contract. Even though salespeople generally have good associations with this word because it implies a sale, most customers have a negative view of it. To most, it means something binding, lawyers, maybe even court — yuck! Replace it with the word “agreement.”

2. Sign. This is unsettling for the same reasons as “contract.” Many people are warned by their parents not to sign anything — they might be signing their life away. Replace “sign” with “approval.” “I just need your approval here,” you say, while pointing to the appropriate spot on the agreement, “and we’re all set.”

3. Buy. Buying something is the painful part of the shopping process. It’s where we part with our money. Owning, even enjoying, is what consumers want and what smart salespeople talk about.

4. No! I was taught a long time ago to avoid saying no to a prospective customer because it puts a speed bump into the sales process. Fair enough, but there are times where you have to say no to prospects. For example, let’s say a prospect tells you that your product is the same as all the others, and your product is actually different, even superior. Not disagreeing is essentially agreeing with him and could be damaging to the sale, especially if your product is priced higher. “Actually” is a respectful alternative.

5. Quote, estimate or bid. These words should be avoided, especially if your product is superior and higher-priced than others. These words suggest the purchaser is going to shop around, get multiple quotes and probably choose the lowest price.

6. Cheap. Cheap implies poor quality. Just yesterday, a TV show was discussing consumer trends. A lucky retailer was chosen for an in-store interview (you can’t buy advertising better than this) and was asked by the reporter what people were buying. His answer: “They seem to be buying the cheap stuff.”

Via the FreshInc. weblog.

Another post on the same topic comes from Joyce Wycoff in her Good Morning Thinkers weblog. Good stuff.

Business insight from drug dealers?

Fascinating series of posts here and here at Brand Autopsy about what drug dealers can teach us about marketing and business.

Before you automatically dismiss this as outlandish and ridiculous – think for a second. Drug dealers must design their business in the same ways that legitimate businesses do. From procurement of product to making strategic real estate (location) decisions to acquiring customers … the parallels between street corner selling and running a legitimate business are endless.

Lessons come from the book Dealing Crack — at popular booksellers (and street corners) near you.

Maybe the billable hour isn’t so bad after all.

David at ethicalEsq notes that competition is coming to Chicago law firms.

The Daily NewsWire says that major competition over lawyer fees is coming soon to Chicago, as Detroit’s largest firm, Dykema Gossett, is acquiring a 78-lawyer Chicago firm (bringing its total to over 400 lawyers) — and, “says it plans to keep average partner rates near $300 an hour — about half of big firm rates” in Chicago.

Tongue planted firmly in cheek, David says, “This warms my antitruster-consumer-advocate heart. Any chance of trickle-down competition for the masses?”

Gee, if I could get $300 per hour and convince my clients that it was a good deal, this hourly billing thing wouldn’t seem so bad. On the other hand, if we were in India, then that $300 buys the whole day (and maybe even the week), at least according to this article on outsourcing legal research to India attorneys. (Thanks to Carolyn at for the India story).

Motivating Legal Employees II

This post from The Nub relates how the managers of a BMW Mini Plant in England have saved nearly twenty million dollars in the last two years by listening to their employees:

Every employee has a target of implementing three ideas a year to improve the business. 11,064 ideas were put into practice from a total of 14,333 submitted in 2003, an 80% implementation rate.

When is the last time you asked your employees for an idea to improve your practice?

Motivating Legal Employees

I think I am a pretty good boss. I have one full-time employee, and my mother works for me on Fridays. My secretary is great at what she does, but she doesn’t have the time to do all of my legal-related work and pay the bills, deal with vendors, etc. Therefore, in the next two months I will be hiring at least two more part-timers, including a business manager to help me run my firm, and a customer-relations/marketing manager to help me keep my clients happy. I do not want to hire any more full-time staff only because I can attract a higher-caliber person if I am able to be flexible with work hours and scheduling. I told this to my secretary (who has become a close friend) last week. Though she seemed OK with the idea, I worry that she will feel a bit shoved aside when I delegate some of the tasks she is presently performing to someone better suited to do them.

Here are some tips on motivating employees that I ran across in an article on Training Zone (registration may be required).

Step 1: Set achievable targets. Targets must be realistic, fair and relevant to the individuals’ job responsibilities. If a significant uplift in performance is required, it must be justified. The best way of setting targets is often to ask individuals to set their own. This frequently results in figures greater than originally specified by the director. This approach means that commitment to achieving the target is greater because the figures are ‘mine’ not ‘yours’. They actually become ‘ours’.

Step 2: Have lots of winners. Nothing succeeds like success. Being able to recognise and reward all those who have succeeded provides a more positive environment than one with lots of losers

Step 3: Make rewards frequently. Make awards frequently throughout the programme. If the campaign is for a year, shorten the payout horizon to monthly or quarterly. The award values need not be huge, but the motivation value is. This keeps interest levels high.

Step 4: Have a ‘most improved’ award. A participant who has a poor performance in a month or a quarter, can be re-vitalised by the opportunity to qualify for an award in the next period, based on improvement. This method encourages participants to keep trying,

Step 5: Have an employee of the month. In a sales environment, it might be for the most orders taken or new accounts opened. This allows Mr/Mrs Average to compete more fairly.

Step 6: Encourage sustained effort. Nothing de-motivates Mr/Mrs Average more than to see Mr High-Flyer streaking ahead from the start, leaving all in his wake. However, if everyone starts afresh each quarter, or each month, with plusses and minuses wiped out, everyone has a chance to compete on equal terms.

Step 7: Present the awards with style. Do not under-estimate the power of public presentation. Mr/Mrs Average will value the experience of being recognised by you and his peers.

I hope that I can keep everyone happy. One thing that I will be doing is letting my secretary sit in on the interviews. I will solicit her feedback before making a hire. Thanks to The Nub for the link.

Quote of the Week

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. – Aristotle

Trading Up

Ran across the Business Evolutionist Blog today and found this post on Trading Up, the book by Michael Silverstein and Neil Fiske. John Strande highly recommends the book and has gotten me to order it. I’ll let you read his post, but one of Strande’s readers suggests that the lessons in the book seem equally applicable to selling both goods and services. I’ll post my thoughts on the book (and applying its ideas to legal practice) once I finish it.

Managing Client Expectations

Another great example from Priceless: Turning Ordinary Products into Extraordinary Experiences is Xerox. Xerox was receiving numerous complaints from its customers that repairs weren’t happening fast enough, so they revamped their service-delivery process.

Under the new approach, each time the customer called in she was allowed to identify her need on a scale from routine to critical. Service personnel would then arrive faster for a critical call than a less urgent one. By involving the customer in the service delivery process Xerox not only increased customer satisfaction but surprisingly found fewer service personnel were needed. Rather than take advantage of the situation and define every call as critical, the customer was more interested in having a choice than instantaneous response.

As a lawyer, I find that my clients are willing to give me extra time to complete a task when I tell them I am swamped — but they are most understanding when I tell them when the assignment begins, and not when it is due. If I am able to get the project done before I promised, they are doubly happy. David at ethicalEsq knows all about Underpromising and Overdelivering.

My reason for living.

DSCF0070.JPGIn a comment to my recent post, Evan at Notes from the (Legal) Underground wanted a picture of my daughter. Well this one is from several months ago. I’ll upload a few more to a Typepad photo album soon.

Putting Customers First

In Priceless: Turning Ordinary Products into Extraordinary Experiences, authors Diana LaSalle and Terry A. Britton look at how businesses can create value-adding experiences around any product or service. One of the companies they highlight is Deerpath Medical Associates in suburban Chicago

Every morning, Monday througth Saturday, its offices open at 7:00 A.M. For the next forty-five minutes, any patient can walk in and sign up to see a doctor that morning. . . . To handle the load, two or three doctors from the group are assigned each morning to see patients. . . . Because patients can easily access a physician six days a week, they are less likely to self-doctor or wait until a minor ailment becomes a serious illness. They are also less likely to jump ship for a group that doesn’t offer such convenience.

In a later chapter, the authors cite Frederick F. Reichheld’s book The Loyalty Effect, and his statistic that, “an increase in customer loyalty of just 5 percent can increase profitability 35 to 95 percent.” Certainly a staggering statistic, and I’ve not read the book to know if Reichheld argues that the reverse is also true — that is, does a 5 percent decrease in customer loyalty have as significant an impact upon profitability?

What lessons can lawyers take from Deerpath? How can we increase customer loyalty? Step one would be to return those telephone calls.

Put a smile on your face.

My daughter is 14 months old, and when I can’t be at home playing with her, I check out this link — which puts a smile on my face every time.

Naming Law Firms (Again)

I have spent a lot of time talking about naming law firms because I am still struggling to find that perfect name for my perfect firm. I have posted here and here about naming strategies. In this article, Jeff Wuorio adds his naming suggestions. His seven tips:

Don’t make up a name. “It’s good to be creative when considering names for your business. But don’t bend the English language to a point where you’re cooking up a purely ersatz title. Verizon and other big companies can get away with it because they have the muscle of name recognition. But calling your coin-operated laundry Cleanacopia, Sudsadelphia or some other like concoction is not merely confusing, but it also conveys nothing to a customer with sacks of muddy clothes and jingling quarters at the ready.”
Avoid forced alliteration. “If your name is Smith and you sell highly seasoned breakfast foods, then Smith’s Spicy Sausages may be a perfectly appropriate name. But, it’s generally a good idea to avoid alliteration for the sake of alliteration. Again, unless it occurs naturally, you may confuse prospective customers about what it is you do.”
Never say “aaaaaa,” or even “aaa.”“We’ve all seen this at the very front of the phone book — business after business naming itself AAA, Aaaabracadabra or something like it in hopes of elbowing its way to No. 1 in the listings. Sure, it’s fine to be first but, once again, a hollow name that sacrifices information and persuasion for numerical order is likely to be a loser.”
Wuorios need not apply. The author makes the point that having a name that is difficult to spell or pronounce (like his) is rarely a good thing.
Keep it short. “Unless you’re a law firm with a dozen partners, it’s rarely a good idea to have an unduly long name. Keeping things short and to the point makes your name easier to remember, easier to look up if need be and visually less obtrusive on everything from signs to business cards.” (Author’s note: I think that these rules should apply especially if you are a law firm with a dozen partners.)
Don’t limit growth. “Surprisingly enough, a poorly chosen name can actually hinder your business’s development. For instance, Jim’s Stereo Repair might seem like a perfectly suitable name. But the trouble comes when Jimbo wants to move into televisions as well. So make sure that your name is sufficiently broad to encompass whatever direction your business may take.”
Make sure it’s for the taking. “Once you’ve settled on a name, check to make certain you can, in fact, use it.”

Saw this on the Viral Marketing Blog about a New York restaurant offering a $2,500 prize to the person who submits the best name for the new venture. Would that work with a law firm? I’ll see if I can come up with an extra $500 or so and maybe do the same thing. Look for details next week.

Customer-centricity for Law Firms

Can law firms be more customer-centric? My first exposure to that term comes from this post on Chris Lawer’s Creating Positive Context weblog. Chris says:

[By] thinking broadly about the challenges people face, rather than narrowly about what firms can sell them, new ways to make their lives easier and their decisions simpler can almost always be found. Individual-centric customer innovating businesses understand this and aim to overcome these challenges. They focus on creating a more positive brand, marketing and customer context; one that reconfigures mostly intangible (and hitherto unrecognised) aspects of people’s needs and problems into new forms of social, relational and brand capital. These intangible value dimensions include new drivers such as time, attention, knowledge, uncertainty, trust, privacy, personal productivity and simplicity.

Though a bit heavy on business-speak, Chris’ ideas dovetail with my thoughts on value billing that I’ve been trying to articulate in this weblog. By focusing on those “intangible value dimensions” important to my customers (trust, certainty, security), I am hoping to build a lasting legal relationship with them that isn’t tied to the time I spend working on their individual matters, but rather the value they get from me. Chris continues:

By viewing markets from an explicit individual value perspective . . . customer innovating organisations are able to locate and address the new intangible forms of customer value. … [B]y shifting from a world view of an assembler or value-added player in part of a supply- (or demand) -chain to one of becoming a nodal or partner player in an enhanced interactive positive context customer value network, the opportunity to identify, define and unlock new forms of holistic customer and business value are simply, huge.

I think Chris is right on. We lawyers need to concentrate on the value of our services to our customers. Finding the “price” of that value is never going to be easy (I’ll post more later on my efforts to “zero-in” on the price I’ll charge for certain legal services), but begin by asking a potential or existing client, “What do you think X would be worth to you?” And remember, “X” is not a contract, will, or deed, but rather peace of mind, security, or some other intengible benefit tied to the specific legal service you’ll be providing.

How not to treat one billion potential clients.

The Nub reports about how law firm Dewey Ballantine is “fast gaining infamy among Asian-Americans.” It seems that an e-mail sent by a partner in the firm’s London office, responding to a note about a puppy up for adoption, suggested: “Don’t let them go to a Chinese restaurant.” This comes after a racially-insensitive poem got the firm in hot water last year.

Word having got out, Asian-American legal representative bodies are distinctly unimpressed. They are treating the e-mail as ‘a racial incident’ and want answers from Dewey Ballantine leaders as to how they intend to respond. The firm has apologised and plans a fresh round of sensitivity training for employees.

Read the entire article here.

Quote of the Week

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Meaningful Marketing

Every once in a while I find a book I can’t put down. I don’t know if I have gotten lucky with the last two books I’ve read, but after reading The Brand Gap, I picked up Meaningful Marketing by Doug Hall, and realized that I’d just gone two-for-two! The author is the founder of Eureka! Ranch, a well-known business idea thinktank. Hall, with his co-author Jeffrey Stamp, looked at over 2,000 business studies and distilled the results into 100+ “Data Proven Truths” set out in the book. Each “Truth” is accompanied by two to four practical ways to apply the truth to your business.

When I read books, I fold down the corner of the pages that contain pasages I want to review later. Looking at my copy of the book, I am certain that more pages have folded-down corners than pages that don’t! To be sure, many of the studies upon which the book is based relate to the retail industry, but I gleaned dozens of great ideas. For example:

Do one thing right. Meaningful Marketing is about building a trust between customers and your brand. Trust is built on the belief that you and your company have a higher-than-normal level of expertise in a specific area. This trust results in greater customer loyalty and less price sensitivity. A customer’s trust in yor expertise is dramatically enhanced when you focus on doing one thing better than anyone else. Analysis of over 901 new products found that when the marketing message was highly focused on one benefit, the brand was 60 percent more likely to succeed in the marketplace than when the message was unfocused. . . . Think hard aobut your offering. What is the one element that, above all others, defines why someone should become your customer? What is the one Meaningful difference that is most Meaningful to your customers?

Doug Hall has this to say about naming your business:

Your brand name defines who and what you are. The more your sales and marketing message offers a Meaningful difference that aligns with the suggestive nature of your brand name, the more likely customers will recall and remember it. . . . Your brand name is a clear and overt declaration of what you offer. The more related and synergistic your name is whith your message, the more effective your marketing will be. A[n] analysis of some 901 new products found that the odds of long-term marketplace survival were 34 percent greater when the new product’s brand name evoked the benefit instead of being an absract or unrelated name.

My favorite idea comes from the section titled, “Keep it Simple, Stupid,” where the authors cite a study that found that brands with messages written at or below a fifth-grade reading level were 25% more likely to survive than those with more complex messages. The authors suggest explaining your sales and marketing story to a fifth-grader, and asking him to repeat what he just heard — and correcting the difference between what you said and what he said.

The book comes with an audio CD that I haven’t yet listened to, but it is going in my car’s changer tomorrow.

Life Balance

I have been playing around today with a new kind of time management tool called Life Balance. Life Balance is a kind of goal setting/to-do management/calendaring program that purports to help you strike the appropriate balance between your personal and professional life. A great review can be found here. I’ll post an update next week after I’ve had some time to work with it. It seems pretty promising so far.

Time to make the donuts.

Found a new weblog today — Cracked Cauldron Spillings — which is kind of an on-line diary from a mother/daughter tandem who are opening a bakery in Oklahoma. In this post, the bakers hit upon a fundamental business truth:

Having discovered the most wonderful donuts in town, we will not provide donuts in our bakery. It seems – redundant – to try to make donuts when someone else makes really really good donuts. Especially since they are located just down the street from the locations we’ve been investigating. . . . Like any other sensible people, we will buy our donuts from The Best Donuts Shop. . . . So, it will work out well. Their donuts are soooo good. Yes, we could probably make donuts every bit as good (or better), but why? It’s not part of our menu, equipment purchase plans, or business plans. I don’t think there is any point at which we will be offering donuts.

As a general practitioner, I still find it very difficult to stop trying to help everyone who comes through the door, and instead focus on that small segment of legal consumers I can help most (and best). However, I have reluctantly come to recognize that other lawyers in my area can do many things better and more efficiently than I can. I now know that offering a novel way to deliver legal services to my core customer is the way that I will achieve my goal of becoming a more satisfied (and more successful) lawyer. I just wish that I would have realized five years ago that I didn’t have to make donuts when my competition was already making great donuts.

Multiple Monitors for Lawyers

I have had an old 17 inch Dell CRT monitor sitting around the office. My computer has a Radeon 9700 video card which supports multiple video outputs. After looking around a bit for the approprite adapter cable, I hooked up the second monitor to my computer. Very, very cool. Now I can keep my PCLaw timesheet (I know, I haven’t abandoned them totally yet) open on one monitor and my e-mail and web browser open on the other. I just need to upgrade to LCD’s to reclaim some of my desk real estate.

Not sure if two monitors are for you? Take a look at this article: Multiple Monitors Increase Productivity.

Quote of the Day

There’s as much risk in doing nothing as in doing something. — Trammell Crow

My First Week

OK, it has been a bit longer than one week since I wrote my first post here at “the [non]billable hour” and I want to thank everyone who has been so kind to read my musings, comment on them, and even link to my stuff. Special thanks go out this first week to:

David at ethicalEsq who has driven a lot of traffic here and engaged me in spirited debate on the ethical issues of value billing.

Evan at Notes from the Legal Underground encouraged me to start this weblog. Evan is a friend and fellow Madison County Illinois lawyer who has a really unique take on this “judicial hellhole” we call home.

Carolyn at MyShingle for giving me a kind plug and setting a great example of how solo lawyers can blog for fun and recognition.

Thanks again. Matt

Resolutions vs. “Ideal Scenes”

David St. Lawrence left this comment about my focus on business planning:

I’m glad to see that you include business plans as part of your overall strategy. You may already have done this, but you can gain an entirely different perspective by writing up the ideal scene for your business and your personal life before going much further. An ideal scene can give you a view of your future from the 10,000 foot level.

David pointed me to his post on how creating an ideal scene in you mind can be far more effective than making a traditional “resolution.” His tips:

1. Write with all the certainty that you can muster. If you feel that this is a useless exercise, don’t bother wasting your time. Go back to watching TV. Do not write anything that you have doubts about. This is not a wish list. This is a description of things that need to happen and you are willing to make happen.

2. Write as though it is happening and write those things you know you can do: For example, “I network until I find a new job.” “We work out a plan to home school our children.” “I find extra work to pay off my loan.”

3. Do not allow anyone to belittle your ideal scene. If this is a scene that others in the family must share, you must let everyone contribute to the description of this future state that we call an ideal scene. If you can’t get agreement, then you will have to work out an ideal scene for yourself.

4. Be aware that achievement of your ideal scene depends on the intentions of those involved. An ideal scene that involves getting your spouse to give up smoking, or your boss to act more decent, is unlikely to occur unless they participate in the process.

5. Take a look at how your ideal scene will affect others. You may wish to rewrite it so that others will not be negatively impacted when your ideal scene occurs. Otherwise, you may feel guilty which will produce intense counter-intention to your predicted future and can prevent it from happening.

6. If there are known barriers, try not to use conditional statements about overcoming them. Rather than, “We move to Vermont, if we can find a good home for Lassie, or Grandfather,” write something like, “We work out a way that Lassie, or Grandfather, gets to live where he wants and then we move to Vermont.”

David’s suggestions are very timely for me. In my innaugural post, I set forth my resolutions. I’ll try to recast them, as David suggests, as my “ideal scenes” this weekend.

Market your law firm like Harley does.

In this article, Sean D’Souza looks at how Harley-Davidson’s Harley Owner’s Group (HOG) has energized the brand. The community of Harley riders that is probably Harley’s best salesforce cost Harley next to nothing.

In 1997, Harley Davidson spent just $1 million on advertising. Before you say, “Oh, I don’t have a million,” look at Harley’s advertising budget for 1996, 1995, 1994, 1993, 1992… all the way to 1984. Zero. A big fat zero. All their money, squillions of dollars, went into creating an absolutely top-notch product. And then creating a community that would buy into the brand.

You don’t have to be a big company to build a community of your customers. The article gives the following example many law firms could implement:

Katrina runs a little dress store in a town that boasts of less than 15,000 residents. Business can be cutthroat, especially with the big mega-stores within small business gobbling distance. Yet, Katrina’s done a “Harley.” Every month, Katrina heads out for coffee. And she’s not alone. In the quaint little cafe down the road, there’s a hubbub of excitement. Katrina’s customers are having a whale of a time. They’re laughing, chatting and tucking into cheesecake—while Katrina picks up the tab month after month. Do you see the word advertising anywhere? Printing of glossy brochures? Hundreds of dollars spent on publicity? All it costs is $2.50 for a coffee. Per customer. Per month. That’s all it takes. And Katrina’s community builds one customer at a time. Customers bring friends, friends bring friends and the dresses fly out of Katrina’s dress store.

If you are going to build a customer community, you don’t have to spend a lot of money, but you will have to spend some time. Institutionalize the event. Make it like Southwest Airline’s chili cookoff. I am planning my new firm’s first customer appreciation event — an outing to a Minor League Baseball Game. My cost is about $10.00 per person, which will include transportation and tickets. My dad and I will BBQ before the game in my office parking lot and we’ll all take a bus to the game. I will invite fifty or so clients (and ask them to bring their family members, friends, and business associates) and one will be able to throw out the first pitch. For the cost of one yellow pages ad, I hope to have 100+ people talking about what a fun time they had because of my firm. What is your firm’s signature event?

Speaking of Southwest Airlines, David has this post up on ethicalEsq about a law firm with Southwest Airlines-like focus on employee hapiness.

A Perfect Life/A Perfect Job

It is often easy to separate in our minds our home life and work life, but they are two sides of the same coin. In this article an entrepreneur works with a coach to develop her “life plan” and finds that changing her life started with changing her business. The questions she answered are ones we all should think about:

Core values What’s most important to us?
Dreams What do we dream about? What do we want to splurge on?
Family Is the business allowing us time with our children?
Employees Are we helping them accomplish their personal goals?
Exit plan Do we want to retire? If so, what do we want the business to look like when we are ready to leave it? Who will run it? Or do we just want to reduce our hours, and if so, when?
Financial How much money do we want to make? Can the business support our income goals? How much do we need to expand the business? How much do we need to save for our later years?
Friendships Are we spending enough time with people who are important to us?
Fun Are we still having fun at work?
Interests Do we have the time and the resources to entertain and travel? What places do we want to visit in the next two to three years?
Location Where do we want to live?
Physical Health How can we maintain our health?
Relationship with each other Are we continually developing and improving our relationship?
Society Are we giving back to our community?

I’ve been thinking a lot about life/work balance lately. I am convinced that making my working environment better will make me a better lawyer, husband, and father — though hopefully not in that order. I hope to post a snapshot of my business plan tomorrow. Until then, how can you improve your work to improve your life?

Top Ten Business Ideas, 2003

In his How to Save the World Blog, Dave Pollard sets out his list of 2003’s Ten Most Important Business Ideas. Dave’s weblog is always an interesting read, and this is some of the best business writing I’ve seen on the net in a while. Very cool.

Quote of the Day

“Swim upstream. Go the other way. Ignore the conventional wisdom.” Sam Walton

FedEx gets it.

In another Information Week article, FedEx chairman, president, and CEO Fred Smith talks about his company’s business strategy for the next decade. Instead of tackling big project after big project, Smith says,

the one thing FedEx won’t do is pursue its goals in what he calls “dim-the-lights” projects, big undertakings that suck up lots of resources. “There have been a lot of enormous screw-ups trying to do that,” he says. “We try to do a lot of work on the front end, divide things into bite-size pieces, do things in a more evolutionary way.”

The article continues:

The end-game is to make FedEx so valuable to customers that they keep coming back for more services. “What I can do is make the services and systems I offer so easy to use that I’m going to get a real sticky relationship with you,” [Smith] says. “We want to give you end-to-end visibility and [let you take] cost out of your business.”

Shouldn’t a business law firm have a similar goal? How many law firms focus on “taking the cost out of” their clients’ businesses?

An Employee’s Perfect Law Firm

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to the question, “What is the perfect law firm?” As I work to change my practice, I admit that I have been looking at the firm from my perspective as the lawyer, and not from the perspective as a firm employee. In this article in Information Week the authors point out ways to motivate employees in uncertain times:

Focus on satisfying fundamental needs first, such as workload relief and compensation, then move on to higher-level motivators such as empowerment, creative work, and advancement opportunities.

The authors also suggest eleven factors to take into consideration when designing a job:

1. Direct feedback that is prompt, objective, constructive and actionable
2. New learning and skills that are valued by the employee for his growth or security
3. Efficient work processes and scheduling to alleviate deadline pressures
4. Control over scarce resources, i.e., mini-budgets
5. Open communications to counter the rumor mill
6. Accountability
7. Elimination of unnecessary threats and punishments
8. Tasks and group missions that are related to both personal and organizational goals, and that pay off in results
9. High levels of trust, respect, and encouragement
10. Recognition of accomplishments and
11. Re-matching people to jobs based on the new vision and direction

I am going to be hiring at least two new employees in the next twelve months. I am already planning on offering flexible part-time schedules and competitive pay, but these factors will be good for me to keep in mind when preparing the job descriptions and interviewing the candidates. However, the factors strike me as something all reasonably competent bosses/managers should do already — then I remembered big law firm life.

How not to treat clients.

True story. A friend’s brother called her this morning and asks her to accompany him to a doctor’s appointment. The doctor’s nurse had called a few minutes earlier and told her brother, “The doctor need to see you right away, I can’t tell you on the phone why, and — by the way — bring a family member.” The doctor’s office calls back about fifteen minutes later and says, “The doctor can’t see you until 3:30 this afternoon.” Now, I don’t know much about what is up with my friend’s brother, but what a horrible way to treat your customers.

Branding vs. Naming Part III.

In my previous post, I discussed Marty Neumeier’s advice on “branding” a business from his book “The Brand Gap.” The author also sets out seven criteria for a good name:

1. Distinctiveness. Does it stand out from the crowd, especially from other names in its class? Does it separate well from ordinary text and speech? The best brand names have the “presence” of a proper noun.

2. Brevity. Is it short tenough to be easily recalled and used? Will it resist being reduced to a nickname? Long multi-word names will be quickly shortened to non-communicating initials.

3. Appropriateness. Is there a reasonable fit with the business purpose of the entity? If it would work just as well — or better — for another entity, keep looking.

4. Easy Spelling and Pronunciation. Will most people be able to spell the name after hearing it spoken? Will they be able to pronounce it after seeing it written? A name shouldn’t turn into a spelling test or make people feel ignorant.

5. Likability. Will people enjoy using it? Names that are intellectually stimulating, or provide a good “mouth feel,” have a headstart overt those that don’t.

6. Extendability. Does it have “legs”? Does it suggest a visual interpretatiuon or lend itself to a number of creative executioins? Great names provide endless opportunities for brandplay.

7. Protectability. Can it be trademarked? Is it available for web use? While many names can be trademarked, some names are more defensible than others, making them safer and more valuable in the long run.

As I discussed in this previous post I have been thinking seriously about renaming my new firm. My present name: Homann Law and Mediation fails criteria 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 set forth above. Wow, what a stupid name that was.

What are your favorite law firm names? Mine is Competition Law Group.

Branding vs. Naming, Part II.

Just finished Marty Neumeier’s “The Brand Gap” this weekend. It is a wonderful (and really short) book on branding. Neumeier defines a “brand” as

a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or company. … When enough individuals arrive at the same gut feeling, a company can be said to have a brand. In other worrds, a brand is not what you say it is. It is what THEY say it is.

The author suggests every company should be able to instantly and unambiguously answer these three questions:

1. Who are you?
2. What do you do?
3. Why does it matter?

This is a really hard exercise for lawyers. Go ahead, try it. I admit I get hung up on the second question before I even get to the third. I am (and have been for nearly 8 years) a “general practitioner” — that kind of small-town lawyer who tries to be everything to everyone. In the past week, I’ve worked on a divorce, filed three evictions, drafted five deeds, and prepared two contracts for a client selling his business. Neumeier argues that “focus, focus, focus” are the three most important words in branding. He says that it is often better to be number one in a small category than to be number three in a large one. And if you can’t be number one (or even number two)? Redefine your category. Being a general practitioner runs counter to Neumeier’s advice to focus one’s business. As I build my new law practice, I clearly have some work to do.