Monthly Archives: December 2009

Resolve to Count Cards

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As 2009 draws to a close, we all find ourselves with lots of stuff on our "to do" lists for the next year.  Whether your thinking about finding time to meet your deadlines, accomplish your goals or even follow your resolutions, there never seems to be enough time to do it all.

As you begin 2010, Resolve to Count Cards, using this this incredibly powerful exercise I first ran across in 2006.  From an article in the now-defunct Worthwhile Magazine (by creativity guru Eric Maisel) comes this gem:

Get seven decks of cards with similar backs. Lay out all seven decks on your living room rug, backs showing. This is a year of days (give or take). Let the magnitude of a year sink in. Experience this wonderful availability of time. (This is a powerful exercise.)

Carefully count the number of days between two widely-separated holidays, for instance New Year's Day and the Fourth of July. Envision starting a large project on that first holiday (today!) and completing it by the second.

It also works great with clients!  Give it a try.

Social Media Primer — Comic Book Style

Telestra (an Australian Telco) is training its 40,000 employees on the do's and don'ts of social media.  To do so, it has created an interactive comic book

I really like their focus on the "Three R's" of social media: Responsibility, Respect and Representation.  Lots of companies (and employees) could learn from this.  Here's the introductory video:

(via BrandFlakes for Breakfast)

Resolve to Apologize Better

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Everyone makes mistakes.  Even lawyers.  That's why, in 2010, you should Resolve to Apologize Better.  

Why apologize?  Apologies increase client loyalty and reduce malpractice exposure.  But how do you apologize better?  Practice! 

Here's a great guide from Psychology Today (about apologizing to women) that sets out the six mandatory elements a good apology:

1. Acknowledge the Wrongful Act

2. Acknowledge that You Have [Caused Harm].

3. Express Your Remorse

4. State Your Intention Not to Repeat

5. Offer to Make Amends

6. Seek Forgiveness

Read the entire article for examples of language you should and shouldn't use, and practice apologizing.  You may find a well-timed apologize helps you as much as it helps your relationship with your client.

Resolve to Keep Your Promises

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Most of us don't break our promises on purpose.  But as anyone with a seven-year old can attest ("But daddy, you promised!"), promises are in the mind of the beholder. Too often, we fail to realize someone else believed our vague pronouncement committed us to a concrete course of action. 

Since keeping your promises begins with knowing whether you've made one or not, in 2010 resolve to know (and keep) your promises better.  Never end a client conversation without asking them these two questions:

  1. What have I agreed to do, and when do you expect me to do it?
  2. What have I have promised (or predicted) will happen, and when do you expect it to?

Hearing their answers to these questions will help you know if they are hearing what you think you're saying.  Most importantly, you'll stop making (unintentional) promises you can't keep.  Now, if it would only work with seven-year old little girls….

Resolve To Fix Your Technology Less

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This resolution is for nearly every solo and small firm lawyer out there (including those with computer science degrees): Resolve to Fix Your Technology Less.

How many times has a quick technology fix turned into a day of un-billable time?  Trust me on this one, no matter how much (or little) work you have, your time is better spent building your business and serving your clients than it is crawling around on the floor underneath your desk repairing your computers or troubleshooting your network.

Need help remembering this resolution?  Try this simple trick:

Everywhere in your office where you have technology (on the copier, on the network switch or router, and on every computer) tape a label that has the following information on it:

  1. Your hourly rate
  2. The hourly rate of your tech-support person
  3. Their phone number

Now every time you’re tempted to “fix” something yourself, call in the experts instead.  You’ll find that you (and your technology) will be happier and more productive when you spend your time doing your job instead of doing someone else’s.

Resolve to De-Confuse Clients

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What confuses your clients?  What are the things that your clients never seem to really understand?  Is it the directions to your office, your retainer agreement or their monthly bill?

No matter how much you deserve it, undivided attention from clients is a rarity today.  Whether it is because of their email pinging, cell phones ringing or children screaming, you’re getting less attention from clients now then ever before — and a distracted client is far more likely to be a confused one.

That’s why, in 2010, you should resolve to make every communication you have with clients (both in person and via mail/email) less confusing.

Start by asking every client in every meeting if there is something you could have made clearer and easier to understand, and pay attention to the things you explain over and over again.  Next, pick one of those things each month to “de-confuse” for your clients.

Whether you use photographs more, rewrite your retainer agreement so a sixth-grader can understand it or complete a “Frequently Asked Questions” handout, by the end of 2010, you’ll find your less-confused clients are easier to serve and more satisfied with you.

Resolve to See Yourself as Others Do

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How do your customers see you?  When they arrive for a meeting, what do they experience?  What do they see?  How do they feel? 

Do you work in a deadline-driven practice area, yet always show up late for appointments?  Is your office strewn with other clients' files?  Are there piles of unread letters in you in-box?  Do your secretaries and staff regularly discuss confidential matters on the phone that people in your waiting room can hear?

Do you have magazines that your clients want to read?  Do you have complementary wi-fi for them to use while they wait for you?  Do you offer them more to drink than just coffee?

Don't think your clients pay attention to these things?  You're wrong.  And they're not just comparing their experience to the ones they've had with other lawyers — they're comparing it to the experiences they've had with everyone. 

So, in 2010, Resolve to See Yourself as Others Do.  Start by asking a friend your staff doesn't know to sit in your waiting room for an hour while you're "busy."  Ask them to pay attention to what they see, hear, smell and feel, while recording the things they'd improve.  Once you've gotten their list of things to fix — and there will be things on the list you've never noticed — work with your staff to fix them.

Resolve to Juggle Less

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This is one for the general practitioners out there: Resolve to Juggle Less. Remember, your clients don't have "general" problems, they have specific ones — and if you're the lawyer who will do "anything for anyone" they are far less likely to hire you do that "one thing" for them. 

So, how do you know if you're doing too many things?  Here's an exercise that just might help:

  1. Take a pad of Post-It notes, and on each one, write a type of matter you handle.  Err on the side of inclusiveness (write "Divorce," "Child Custody," "Legal Separations," etc. on separate notes instead of just "Family Law"). 
  2. Put all the Post-Its up on a wall.
  3. Ask your staff to add the kinds of things you do to the wall as well.
  4. Group the post-its in logical categories.
  5. Step back and look at the wall.

If there are more than 3 groups of Post-Its in front of you, you're probably doing too many different things.

In 2010, work hard to focus on the one or two categories that are most profitable, most challenging and most fun.  You'll have a much easier time finding clients, and a much better time serving them.

Resolve to Ask Current Clients More

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If you’re a lawyer who only surveys your clients once the engagement’s over, you’re leaving a lot of information on the table — information that will not only help you serve future clients, but your current ones as well.

That’s why, in 2010, you should Resolve To Ask Current Clients More.  Institute a regular, ongoing client survey process that reaches out to your current clients at least quarterly.

But what kinds of questions should you ask?  I’ve put together the LexThink Model Client Survey (pdf) that contains four short questions for your current clients.

The questions are:

1. On a scale of 1 – 10 (with 10 being best), how well are you being served by this firm, our lawyers and staff.

How could we earn a higher score from you?

2. On a scale of 1 – 10 (with 10 being most likely), how likely you are to recommend us to your peers?

When you describe us to your peers (if you do), what are some of the words you use?

3. What one change could we make to our firm to earn more business from you?

4. What is your most pressing challenge (business, legal or otherwise) you’d like to overcome in the upcoming year?

LexThink Model Client Survey

Resolve to Do One Big Thing

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If you asked your clients identify the biggest change you've made in your business in 2009, what would their answer be?  Would they be able to name anything (besides your rate) that you've done differently in the past 12 months? Would you?

For 2010, I challenge you to resolve to make a change in your business your clients can't help noticing.  Not sure what to change?  Ask them. 

Send each client a letter the first week of 2010 that says:

Dear client,

As the New Year arrives, we are grateful for the opportunity to continue to serve you.  For 2010, we're resolving to serve you better.  That's why we're asking all our clients the following question:

If you could make one change in our business, what would it be?

Nothing's off the table.  If you think we need to charge differently, stay open longer, use different technology, or even answer the phone faster, let us know.  We're committed to making our business better for your business.

We'll collect the answers, and post them in our office for everyone to see.  On January 31, we'll choose (at least) one to implement in 2010.  Of course, we'll keep you up to date on our progress, and may ask you for some help in getting everything "just right."

Thanks again for being our client — and for helping us to become the law firm you deserve!

Once all the responses are in, consider hosting a "Resolution Party" to sort through and prioritize the responses with your clients.  And don't forget to ask them for their resolutions for their own businesses — you may just find a few things you can help them with, too.

Resolve to Let Your Clients Grade You

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Once you've asked your clients what they expect from you, let them grade you on it.  Here's how:

  1. Make a list of 3-5 non-negotiable "Client Commitments" that you and your firm promise to keep in every matter with every client.
  2. Share those Commitments on your website and in every engagement agreement.
  3. With every bill (or at least quarterly), send your clients an old-fashioned "Report Card" that asks them to give you a grade on each of your Client Commitments.
  4. Follow up with the client each time you get a B or below to find out about specific ways you can improve.  
  5. At least yearly, schedule a "parent-teacher" conference to review your performance with the client.
  6. Consider refunding part of your fees every time a client gives you a C or D — and think seriously about giving a client's entire fee back (and helping them find another lawyer) when they've "failed" you, because you've probably failed them

Resolve to Measure What Your Clients Treasure

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I doubt that if you asked your clients what they buy from you that they'd answer, "Time."  Yet because (many of) you sell time to them, it is often the only thing that you measure with any rigor.

In 2010, Resolve to Measure What Your Clients Treasure.  Start by asking every client this question:

"How will you measure your satisfaction with us as we serve you?" 

Don't settle for an answer that depends completely on the end result.  Instead, press for answers like "By always keeping me up to date," and "Returning my phone calls promptly."

Once you've identified at least two things most of your clients want from you, begin to measure how well you're doing them.  Your clients already are.

Resolve to Know Your Best Clients Better

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Now that you've identified your worst clients, fired them, and stopped taking more like them, you can now focus your time and energy on building your practice doing the kinds of things you like to do for clients that you enjoy serving.

And the first step to take is to get to know your best clients better.  Identify your seven favorite clients, past or present.  Take them to lunch or dinner in person (or over the phone) and get to know them. 

Make your time together about them. Tell them they're one of your favorite all-time clients and you wanted to catch up.  Learn about their plans for the new year and the challenges they're facing.  Talk about their family and hobbies.  Find out about the charities they care about and the professional organizations they belong to. 

But don't stop there.  The more you know about your clients, the better you'll be able to serve them.  A great list of things to could/should know about your clients is the "Mackay 66" (pdf download here).

And at the end of each conversation, don't forget to ask:

How do I find more clients like you?

Client Worthiness Index

Client Intake Worthiness Scale

In my last Resolution (on trusting your gut), I mentioned the new LexThink Client Worthiness Index (CWI).  I only included a link to the pdf version of it in that post.  Here’s a pic of what it looks like, if you’re interested.

Resolve to Trust Your Gut

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Every time you interview a potential client, you have a "gut" feeling on whether they will be a good client or a bad one.  Unfortunately, too many lawyers ignore our gut, and end up paying for it in the end.

Today's resolution is to Trust Your Gut.  Don't ignore those uneasy feelings you (or your staff) have about potential clients.  Instead, pay attention to them, and trust yourself to differentiate good clients from bad.

To help you trust your gut better, I've created a LexThink Client Worthiness Index Worksheet (links to .pdf) for you to use every time you interview a potential client.  Fill in the blanks (and ask your staff to help) after your meeting, and you'll come up with a "Client Worthiness" number between 1-100.  Do your best to take clients scoring 75 or better, and you'll weed out the bad ones before it is too late.

Resolve to Fire Better

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In yesterday's resolution I encouraged you to understand what makes your bad clients bad, and avoid taking any more like them.  But what do you do with the terrible clients that are already on your books?  Fire them!

Sounds easy, but the reason so many lawyers continue to serve clients they shouldn't is that it is uncomfortable/awkward/difficult/etc. to let those bad clients go — especially early in the relationship when we know the client is a difficult one, but promise ourselves they'll improve.  Sound familiar?

So today's resolution is an easy one:  Resolve to Fire Better.  Start by reviewing the ethics rules in your jurisdiction regarding termination of the attorney-client relationship, and then:

  1. Add a "Client Expectations" section to your retainer agreement that sets out the kinds of things you expect from your clients and the things they're prohibited from doing (like belittling your staff, constantly canceling appointments, etc.).
  2. Draft three form letters (first warning, stern reminder, and "You're Fired!") that you can pull out on a moment's notice and use with minimal modification when clients deserve one.
  3. Write a script of the what you'll say when you tell the client they're fired.
  4. Practice your script!  Difficult conversations become less so when you're accustomed to having them.

Once you've cleaned out your waiting room, you'll be able to start focusing on the clients you love to serve, and on building your practice to serve them better.  More on that in tomorrow's resolution.

(Thanks to Julie A. Fleming, who's comment on yesterday's post contained some great advice on firing clients.)

Resolve to Understand Your Worst Clients

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Admit it, you have clients you hate.  Whether they're not paying you, always coming up with excuses for not following your advice, or belittling your staff, your worst clients don't deserve your best work and probably aren't getting it anyway.  Their work is the last you do, and their calls are the last you return.  You wake up worried about their file, but then find a myriad of excuses to avoid touching it all day.  Your worst clients sap your energy and take the fun out of practicing law.

So, in 2010, I challenge you to resolve to understand your worst clients better.  This isn't about liking them, but about avoiding more like them.  Here's how:

1.  Identify your 10 worst clients (past and present).

2.  List at least three things they all share in common — things like the warning signals you ignored when they hired you, the kind of problems they asked you to solve, or even the type of lawyer on the other side of the case.

3.  Title the list: "Types of Clients and Cases I'll Never Take Again."

4.  Review the list before every potential client interview, and think twice before taking on another "worst" client.

Once you've resolved to understand the kinds of clients you hate to serve, you can start building your practice around serving the clients you love.

Resolve to Stop Being a Sheep

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Lawyers are creatures of precedent.  We're told from the first day of law school that everything we do, every argument we make and every brief we file must be based upon something that's happened before.  Unfortunately, we use our reliance on precedent to justify why our offices, our rates and even our business cards look just like those of our competitor down the street.

I'm challenging you resolve in 2010 to ignore your peers when it comes to changing your practice.  Don't worry about what they're doing, and don't ask for their advice.

Hugh MacLeod, in his tremendous book Ignore Everybody, explains, "The more original your idea is, the less good advice other people will be able to give you."  He continues:

[A] big idea will change you.  Your friends may love you, but they may not want you to change.  If you change, then their dynamic with you also changes….  With business colleagues it's even worse.  They're used to dealing with you in a certain way….  If your idea is so good that it changes your dynamic enough to where you need them less or, God forbid, the market needs them less, then they're going to resist your idea every chance they can.

So, in 2010 resolve to stop being a sheep.  Do something different.  Surprise your clients with tremendous service.  Dump the billable hour.  Offer a guarantee.  Just don't expect your peers to understand why you're challenging their status quo.  And remember, while the practice of law requires precedents, the business of law does not.  Knowing that your competitors aren't doing what you are isn't cause for concern, it's cause for celebration.

Resolutions are Back!

In the first few years of this blog, every December, I'd share one "resolution" each day of the month (here are the ones from 2004, 2005 and 2006).  The purpose of the posts was to give my readers a handful of things they could implement in the coming year to make their practices better.  I skipped 2007, and did a single Ten Resolutions for Lawyers post last year.

Since one of my resolutions for 2010 is to write more, I figured this was a good time to get the series running again.  Between today and the end of the year, look for 31 "Resolutions" focused on identifying your best clients and serving them better.  Some you've seen before on this blog, and some are new.  I hope you enjoy them all.