Yearly Archives: 2011

Give Clients More Certainty

Clients crave predictability.  They find comfort in knowing what to expect — especially in stressful situations like the ones you handle for them everyday.

But how can you deliver more certainty to your clients?  After all, outcomes are impossible to predict and matters ebb and flow from beginning to end.  You keep your clients “in the know,” writing them when something’s going on, calling or meeting with them when there’s something to discuss and billing them (almost) every month.

If you want to understand how predictable you are to clients, begin by looking at each file as they do.

While a file may remain “active” to you, your clients may feel otherwise.  Their only cues to the activity on their case come from you, in the form of correspondence, calls, meetings or bills .  When they’re not receiving regular, predictable updates on what’s happening, they become uncomfortable and stressed.

Want to better understand how your clients perceive your handling of their matter?  Using the diagram below as a guide, take a few active files and a blank calendar, and map out  for each the days you write the client, call them, meet them or bill them.  What do you see?

If you asked your clients to name the next thing they expect from you (and when they’ll get it) would they have a answer?

If your client interactions look as unpredictable and scattered as the ones below, that’s probably how your clients are feeling about the work you’re doing for them.  By giving them a measure of certainty about the things you can control, you’ll have much calmer clients, who are much happier with the work you do.

 

Words from the Wise

If you’d like some regular inspiration from founders (past and present) of some of the world’s most innovative companies, check out Startup Quote.  Each day, you’ll get a short bit of wisdom on entrepreneurship, design, innovation and management, presented in a picture like the one above.  Well worth a regular read or a follow on Twitter.

Books for Better Thinking

One of my favorite places for a daily dose of inspiration is Brain Pickings, an amazing collection of thought-provoking book reviews, videos and big ideas.  The editors have started a new blog called Book Pickings, which is a virtual bookshelf of all the books they’ve recommended, along with links back to their original Brain Pickings reviews.

If you’re looking for some books that will get you thinking differently about design, science, psychology or even your children, it is well worth some of your time.  Enjoy!

Perform a File Autopsy

Remember the television show Quincy?  Jack Klugman played a Los Angeles medical examiner, and in every episode, his autopsy would reveal that the decedent (who’d seemingly died of “natural” causes) was a victim of foul play.  Using the clues he’d gained from his examinations, Quincy would convince the police a homicide had occurred, and then manage to singlehandedly finger the killer.  In a pre-CSI world, it was pretty compelling stuff.

So why all this talk about an obscure 70′s crime-drama?  Because if you’re really interested in identifying the work you love to do and learning how to serve your clients better, you may want to spend some time each week playing Quincy.  Instead of investigating foul play, however, you should closely examine those things you’ve given up for dead in your office:  your closed files.

Perform a File Autopsy.  Here’s how:

1.  Grab at least five old files that have been closed for at least a year.  Though you can choose files randomly, it works better if you’ve take some you liked and others you’d rather never touch again.

2.  For each file, complete the LexThink File Autopsy (pdf) form.  Be brutally honest with yourself as you answer questions, which include:

About the file:

  • In hindsight, should I have taken this file?
  • Were there any “red flags” I should have noticed?
  • What lessons did I learn from handling this file?
About the work:
  • Did I like the work?
  • Was I good at it?  How could I have been better?
  • If I didn’t like the work, how could I do less of it?
About the client:
  • Does this client have any other legal work I could be doing?
  • How would this client describe me to their peers?
  • How could I have served this client better?

About the money:

  • Was this a profitable matter for me to handle?
  • Did the client feel my fees were fair?
  • How could I have priced this matter differently?

3.  Every week, grab a few more files and repeat the exercise.  If you have staff, ask for their input as well.

4.  If you’re seeing common themes (either positive or negative) throughout the files, make sure to note them as well.

5.  Once you’ve performed 20-50 “autopsies,” you’ll have a better sense of the kinds of work you like to do, clients you enjoy serving and alternative ways to price your services.  Perhaps most importantly, you’ll understand the kinds of work you don’t want to do and learn to avoid taking matters and clients better passed on to your competition.

Remember Your Love/Hate Relationships

Building your perfect practice begins with identifying and getting to know the clients you want to serve.

Here’s a quick exercise to get you started:

1.  Grab a legal pad and identify the first seven or so great clients (past and present) that come to mind, along with the reason(s) you liked to serve them.  Be specific, and try to come up with at least three reasons for each client.

2.  Do the same thing for your terrible clients, and as you answer the “because…” question, think about how many you should have seen coming.

3.  Once you’ve completed the exercise, ask the people who regularly work with you to do the same.  You can even ask your spouse or partner .

We’ll talk more tomorrow about what you can learn from your answers, and I’ll give you several questions to ask about each client (good and bad) who made the lists.

Remember Your Why

Remember Your Why. 

 

Remember a time, before you began practicing, when you were regularly asked the simple question, “Why do you want to be a lawyer?”  Whether you were taking the LSAT, applying to law school or interviewing for your first legal job, you were asked (and answered) the question countless times.

I bet you’re not asked that often now.  Once we choose a profession — and possess the diploma and school debt to prove it — we’re rarely asked by others to justify the “why” of what we do.  But though we’re no longer called upon to publicly defend our chosen profession to others, we must still justify it to ourselves.  Everyday.

So, why do you want to be a lawyer?  For those who love the profession, the answer comes easy:  it’s about serving their clients and doing great work.  If you’re one of them, consider yourself fortunate.  You’ve found your “why.”

For others who struggle to respond, it isn’t so easy.  The practice has changed.  The business is different.  Shit has happened.  They remain lawyers because they, literally, can’t imagine doing anything else.

How about you?  What’s your answer?  Need some help?

If so, join me as we spend the next few weeks thinking together about how to do the work you love for clients you respect.  We’ll identify key strategies you can use to build a better practice — from client selection and service, to pricing your work and billing for your work — distilled from the nearly 2000 posts in this blog, so you can make 2012 the year you remembered why you (still) want to be a lawyer.

I hope you’ll enjoy the journey.

 

Serve Yourself First

Serve yourself first. 

Lots of lawyers I know are great at what they do.  They are liked by clients, respected by peers and active in their communities.

They also hate practicing law.

When asked why, they’ll blame the long hours, the financial strain of running a small business or the emotional drain of serving clients in crisis — all while complaining about the crappy economy, their antagonistic opponents, or (gasp!) the internet.  “The profession has become a business,” they’ll say.  “I just want to serve my clients.”

And that’s the problem.  They’ve stopped wanting to serve themselves.  They’ve stopped dreaming about their future business because they’re too busy working in their present one.  They’ve confused the purpose of their profession (to serve clients)  with the purpose of their practice (to provide for themselves and their families), and have ended up miserable in the process.

So how can lawyers return to work that ignites their curiosity and stimulates their creativity?  How can they break out of the cycle where unfulfilling work begets more of the same — until it not only becomes the only work they do, but the only work they can get?

It begins with selfishness.  Not the two-year-old kind, but the kind of selfishness where it is OK to ask, “What kind of work do I love to do?” at the same time as “What kind of work do my clients need me to do?”  Answering the latter without addressing the former hurts both lawyer and client, as the unhappy lawyer rarely gives clients their best work.

So be selfish.  Serve yourself first.  Know the work you love to do and find go some more of it.  List the things you hate doing and find a way to stop doing them.  Identify the clients you can’t stand and fire them.  Take time to imagine a practice you’d love, and begin to build it.

In my essay Monday, we’ll get started.

 

Love Two of What You Do

 

 

 

Resolve to Rethink Client Service

This year, instead of sharing a resolution each day of December (like I have before), I’m going to try something new and share a piece of a new “manifesto” I’m writing.  I’ll have a new installment up every day.  I hope you’ll enjoy them and let me know what you think.

 

Becoming a Trusted Advisor

The best part of writing this blog has been the amazing people I’ve gotten to meet along the way.  Two of those amazing people are Charles Green (Blog/Twitter) and Andrea Howe (Blog/Twitter), who’ve just co-authored the sequel to one of the best books for professional service providers of all times, The Trusted Advisor.

In their new book, The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust, they provide actionable tools, exercises and resources that will teach lawyers to consistently earn trust from their clients.  I highly recommend it.

When Andrea asked if I’d be interested in doing a Q &A with her and Charlie on Trust, I jumped at the chance.  Here it is:

Q:  You’ve both written and spoken about Trust for years.  In this down economy, where clients seem more focused on price, does Trust matter more or less than before?

This is a great question, Matt, and there is a clear answer: trust matters more in down times. It’s in bad times that more people are tempted to behave in untrustworthy ways—to cut corners, to cut price, to over-promise, to jump for the bird in the hand rather than wait for the delayed gratification of long-term relationships.

In down times, people are tempted to react more from fear.  That means short-termism, zero-sum game behavior, and a tendency to isolate rather than collaborate. 

In such times, the people who stay with the high road are even more distinguished by comparison.  Someone who plays for the long run, who stays focused on client needs, and who sticks to relationships and to principles, really stands out. 

Another way to put that is: the times when it’s hardest to stay trustworthy are the times when you can gain the biggest competitive advantage from being trustworthy. 

Q:  Speaking of price, you both know that I’m not a fan of the billable hour, which often pits the clients best interests against their lawyers’.  Can you discuss ways lawyers can leverage Trust to embrace more collaborative pricing models, where risks and rewards are shared between client and lawyer?

Absolutely. We’re firm believers in leading from the four trust principles: transparency, collaboration, long-term focus, and other-orientation—all of which, when practiced, serve both parties’ best interests.  Of those principles, one of the most important when it comes to pricing and fees is transparency.

Consider an alternative to what are often veiled or vague (and usually postponed) conversations about pricing: a frank, honest, sincere discussion that emphasizes candor. The lawyer in the scenario could say words to the effect of, “Let’s see if we can both agree on some basic principles when it comes to our working relationship.  We’ll both be more successful if we agree to be in this together, for the long haul, with pretty much no secrets between us. That includes being jointly committed to a billing approach that maximizes the benefit to both of us. I am not interested in making a nickel if it comes solely at your expense and I hope you’d be equally disinterested in saving a nickel at my expense. Let’s work together to define fee levels and practices that are utterly fair to both of us and help our respective financial health over the long term.” 

A conversation like that not only sets the stage for trust, but for the kind of collaboration and creativity that makes room for lots of pricing alternatives beyond the traditional billable hour.

Q:  In the book, you suggest several ways professionals can handle their difficult clients (I believe you call them “jerks” in the book).  If I’m a lawyer with a difficult client, what should I do?  Isn’t it just easier to fire them?

Ha ha, well that’s certainly the temptation!  The thing about our clients who are “jerks” is, it seems to be catching.  Notice you’ve got one jerk for a client, and pretty soon others start popping up. Next thing you know you’re firing half your clients!

One thing we point out is that the “jerk” of a client probably has a spouse, a child, a dog, a friend—at least someone in her life— who thinks she’s pretty great. The problem statement, “My client is a jerk,” is problematic in-and-of-itself: it’s highly subjective, it’s unverifiable, and the object of the statements—your client—is not likely to agree.

What we see as bad behavior usually (usually) comes from decent people who are stressed out, anxious, or fearful. (Which is why we put the word “jerk” in quotations in the book.)

If your client behaves in ways that seem unproductive, ineffective, uncooperative, or untrustworthy, it is easy to dismiss her as a “jerk.” Freedom from difficult clients lies in taking responsibility for fixing the relationship. Lead with curiosity instead to look at what may be behind the behavioral issue—for her and for you. Have a conversation. Find out what’s going on. Name it and claim it.

And what about the real, true evil clients? Yes, there are a few.  Those are the ones you refer to your competitors.

Q:  When should law firms start teaching Trust?  Is this new associate 101 stuff, or only relevant once lawyers begin to build significant relationships with clients?  Or is this something that should be covered in law schools — once schools start embracing practical skills education?

It’s never too early to start—trust is a life skill, after all. And like a martial art, it takes a lifetime to practice. There is nothing about being trustworthy or working effective relationships that is or should be restricted to higher levels in a firm.  Everyone has chances to operate from the basic principles, and to demonstrate the virtues of trustworthiness: telling the truth, behaving dependably, keeping confidences, and being mindful of the needs of others. And even though what it takes to be trustworthy is actually remarkably simple, it often isn’t easy—for anyone.

That said, it’s the senior partners in the firm who are the most effective teachers, for good or ill. Whatever they do is what junior people will mirror. We’d suggest a firm should be wary of teaching Trust 101 to the junior folks when the senior people aren’t willing to walk the talk.

Q:  A lot of readers of this blog are solo and small firm practitioners to whom the economy has not been kind.  What specific advice do you have for someone with a general practice who feels compelled to take nearly every client who walks in the door?

First, stop hoping your revenues will recover, and firmly address your practice areas, pricing, and means of finding clients. This recession is not going away anytime soon, and there are secular problems in the supply of lawyers on top of it.

Once you’ve done that, take the clients you know you can do good work for and help the others find another lawyer. For the ones you keep, do really good work. Resist the temptation to resent them, or to treat them as a short-term means to an end. Give them your best. Going back to your first question, it’s in times like these that people’s true character is revealed. Every downturn has an upturn, and those who do right by others will be remembered for who they are in the upturn.  

Q:  You both have been making the rounds promoting this book.  What questions were you expecting and haven’t yet been asked?  How would you answer them?

Charlie Green:  Here’s a question we haven’t yet been asked: Why don’t people trust lawyers?  And is it a bum rap? My answer is no, unfortunately, it’s not a bum rap; people distrust lawyers more than most other professions. There are many reasons for this, including:  

  • In most professions, there is a such thing as “the truth,” whereas in law, there is only evidence.  
  • The nature of the law, at least in the US, is adversarial—it’s all about winning, and the other side losing.  Not a great attitude to take into divorce, contract disputes, or agreements drafting. 
  • The law is taught relentlessly as meritocratic—he who knows the most first wins.  Unfortunately, in life, that attitude pegs you as a know-it-all wiseass. 

The good news is, it is possible—very possible—for lawyers to treat their clients as true partners. And when they do, they stand clearly apart from the pack.

Andrea Howe:  We haven’t been asked what one chapter would we advise people to read, if they could only read one chapter—which is a tough question because the book strives to provide a wealth of practical guidance for a whole slew of situations. But if I had to zero in on just one chapter, my pick would be Chapter 2: Fundamental Attitudes. It’s a short one—only six pages—and yet it’s pivotal because being trustworthy means getting right the underlying attitudes, mindsets, outlooks, and ways of thinking. To jump ahead to skills, tips, and tricks, is to work the hard way. Get the attitudes right, and the rest will naturally follow.

Thanks to Andrea and Charlie for taking some time to answer my questions.  If you’d like to pick up the book, it is available here.

New on the Law Firm Retreat Blog

Here is what’s new on my LexThink Law Firm Retreat Blog:

Check them out, and if I can assist your firm (large or small) with a retreat, practice group meeting or strategy session, let me know, I’m happy to help!

What Aggravates Your Clients?

Here’s a simple question to ask your clients sometime:

When working with us, what aggravates you the most?

It is an easy question to answer and should elicit honest responses, though you’re likely to get some surprising answers — including things that are easy to fix, and others that may require big changes to your firm’s documents, policies, website or staff.

 

Thank Your Clients This Year

You have just enough time to send out Thanksgiving cards to your clients this year.  Why Thanksgiving cards instead of other holiday cards?  Here are a few reasons from this 2008 post:

  1. Thanksgiving is a holiday about giving thanks.  Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity to offer your clients a genuine “Thank you for being our client” greeting from the entire firm.  The holiday itself reinforces the message to your clients.  A win-win.
  2. Thanksgiving cards are uncommon.  How many Thanksgiving cards did you get last year?  That’s what I thought.  Your clients don’t get them either.  That’s why yours will stand out.  It is also why yours will be talked about.
  3. Thanksgiving cards have a long shelf life.  Literally.  What do people do with holiday cards?  They display them.  If you send a Thanksgiving card, it will be likely be the first one up on the mantle, and will probably stay there, alone at first, until Christmas card season is done.
  4. Thanksgiving isn’t Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanza.  Hate the minefield of picking the right not-too-religious “Happy Holiday” card?  Avoid it all together with a Thanksgiving card.
  5. At Thanksgiving, there’s still time for your clients to do end-of-year work. This is perhaps the least-recognized, yet best reason to send Thanksgiving cards:  they’ll generate more end-of-year business for you.  When you send a Christmas card, it is already too late for most clients to get more legal work done before the new year.  By the time the holiday rush is over, they’ve forgotten what they wanted you to do, and wait probably wait another year.  A Thanksgiving card can give them that subtle prompt when there’s at least a month left before the rest of the holiday’s hit, allowing you to close the year on a high note.

 

Experience Matters

Most of the time your clients get one result — and it comes at the end of their time with you.  Until then, they’re focused on how you treat them before the result occurs.

What experience are your clients having right now — even those certain to get a great result at the end of their matter?  Are they confused?  Are they waiting for a call?  Are they trying to understand (and maybe even afford) your last bill?  Are they worried about an upcoming deposition or hearing?

Don’t lose sight of giving your clients a great result, but never stop asking yourself what you can do to make the experience they’re having right now better?  Serving clients well doesn’t begin at the end of their case.

 

Rethinking Your Firm’s Bills

If your clients designed your bills, what would they look like?  Would they be easier to understand?  Contain useful case status information?  How about upcoming dates or milestones?  Would your bills include information about the people who worked on the case that month?  How about a report card seeking monthly feedback about how you’re serving your clients?

 

I decided to take a crack at designing a new kind of legal bill.

The bill begins with a “Case Update” that includes a brief summary of the month’s work, upcoming dates and milestones, as well as things the lawyers are waiting on from others — including the client.

There’s a page with pictures, names and contact information for all the lawyers and staff who’ve worked on the client’s matter that month:

There’s also, of course, a list of the work done that month, along with the price owed:

Finally, there’s a survey form attached at the end, with a list of client commitments and a place for the client to give the firm a grade:

The entire version is here.  Let me know what you think.

 

 

Wanting Creativity is Easier than Doing Creativity

From the Freakonomics Blog comes news of a Cornell study titled, “The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas.”  Here’s an abstract of the study:

People often reject creative ideas even when espousing creativity as a desired goal. To explain this paradox, we propose that people can hold a bias against creativity that is not necessarily overt, and which is activated when people experience a motivation to reduce uncertainty. In two studies, we measure and manipulate uncertainty using different methods including: discrete uncertainty feelings, and an uncertainty reduction prime. The results of both studies demonstrated a negative bias toward creativity (relative to practicality) when participants experienced uncertainty. Furthermore, the bias against creativity interfered with participants’ ability to recognize a creative idea. These results reveal a concealed barrier that creative actors may face as they attempt to gain acceptance for their novel ideas.

The authors of the study propose that we should worry less about generating creative ideas and more about helping institutions to recognize and accept creativity.  For many working in law firms — especially the marketing and business development folks — this will ring true.

In my work, I’ve found it isn’t enough to give people “creative” ideas.  Too often, a great idea is met with a “We can’t do that here,” or “That will never work,” instead of a “Let’s try it!”  It is far better to help people be creative as they develop relevant, innovative ideas on their own, and then giving them a framework and timeline for implementing them.

What’s been your firm’s experience with creative ideas?   Do you see the same bias that the researchers discuss?

Meet Your Future Connected Clients

 

A peek at your future clients, from OnlineSchools.org:

 

 

 

Create a Menu for Your Practice

Do you know all the kinds of things your firm does?  Perhaps you should take a page (literally) from the restaurant industry and create a “menu” of your services.  Though you may not decide to use it with clients, merely deciding what goes on the menu — and what gets left off — makes you think a bit differently about your practice and the kinds of matters you regularly should say “yes” to.

And if you’re looking for some menu inspiration, I highly recommend the blog Art of the Menu.  It has dozens of creative menus from around the country, and is sure to give you some ideas if you decide to make your “menu” a regular part of your practice.

I just created a  Menu for LexThink (.pdf) that I’m going to print up on heavy card-stock like an actual restaurant menu .  It is still in early draft stage, so I’d love to know what you think.

Hello, Law Office …

This may fall into the “completely obvious” category, but when’s the last time you or your staff have thought about telephone etiquette?

Here are four phone etiquette rules you and your staff should keep in mind before answering the telephone:

  1. Use formal greetings. When answering calls always use a formal greeting. It is considered best practice to use sir or ma’am to address customers if names are unknown.
  2. Speak clearly. Take the time to speak clearly and in a positive, professional tone. Doing so will put the caller at ease and diffuse an upset customer.
  3. Listen & learn. Train your representatives to listen carefully to customers. Always allow customers time to finish his/her thoughts without interruption and ask questions that clarify information. Be sure to confirm understanding with the caller before moving forward.
  4. No food or beverages. This may seem like common sense, -but stress the importance of this one. Representatives must refrain from consuming food or drink while taking a call. Customers do not want to hear gulping and chewing.
I’d also add:  never answer the phone when you don’t have time to answer the phone.  Picking up your cell phone — only to tell the caller you don’t have time to speak with them (or that you thought they were someone else) is rude.  Let their call go to voicemail and call them back when they can get your undivided attention.

 

Time to Change Your Clients

I ran across a juicy bit of wisdom today in an article helping sales managers to identify the best time to fire their salespeople for underperformance:

If you can’t change your people, change your people.”

Needless to say, the same is true for your clients. If you have a client who continually refuses to take your advice, show up on time, complete the tasks they’ve been assigned or (gasp) pay you, you’ve clearly not been able to change them.

So change them. Replace them with a better client.

They don’t deserve your best work — and probably aren’t getting it anyway.

Do Your Clients Know You Care?

Here’s a great article, titled “Taking a Customer from Like to Love”, that shares a nearly-unbelieveable stat from a Rockefeller Corporation study:  nearly 70% of customers leave a company because they believe the company doesn’t care about them.

Ask yourself, “How do my customers know I care about their business?”  Just because you care about your customers doesn’t mean they know you do.

Pick up the phone and call a few customers every week and tell them  you were thinking about them and value their business.  Ask them to give you one way to improve your service, and then commit to doing it.

 

BigLaw Associate Economics

From the ever-perceptive Jessica Hagy:

Poster-ize Your Firm’sTwitter Policy

Here are some great social media “Propaganda” Posters with messages that reflect more than a few firms’ “official” social media policies.

 

 

 

The iPad Office

Mashable shares some creative ways small businesses are using the iPad.  Here’s what an owner of a yoga studio says about using the iPad as a customer-intake device:

First order of business? Ditching the front counter and bar code scanner you see at a lot of yoga studios and gyms. “When people walk in the door, we hand them the iPad, and they sit on the couch — it’s a lot more casual, and we can bring them tea or water,” Foster says. Instead of standing awkwardly at the counter and filling out waivers and liability forms on a clipboard, the iPad makes people feel comfortable and also makes data entry a breeze for goodyoga. The studio uses a Google form, so the staff doesn’t have to worry about decoding a patron’s chicken scratch and the team saves times since the client info goes into the database automatically.

Who’s Your “Ideal Average” Client

Whenever I work with attorneys and ask them to picture their “ideal” client, I always get a few chuckles from my audience as they collectively imagine a client that can’t possibly exist:  the one who walks into their lawyers office with a huge retainer, a bottomless checkbook, uncomplicated work  an unlimited amount of time to get it done.  Because, for most lawyers, their “ideal” client doesn’t exist even in their own imaginations, I’ve begun to ask them to picture a different animal:  their Ideal Average Client.

The Ideal Average Client is described thusly:

a person (or business) who exists in the real world you could realistically build a practice around.  Put another way, if you built a fantastic practice doing the things you love to do (and that you’ve gotten really good at doing), your Ideal Average Client would be the person you’d no longer be surprised walked through your door.

I’ll share an exercise here soon, based in part on my Haiku Elevator Pitch exercise, that will help you to identify and understand your Ideal Average Client.

Until then, think about who (or what) is your Ideal Average Client, and what are you doing to build your practice to attract and serve them?

Involve Your Clients Before Impacting Them

Before you make a big decision that would impact your clients, try this simple client-relationship tip from Thrilling Your “Front-Row” Fans:

Pick up the phone and get their opinion on a decision that would impact them.

Simple, cheap and easy.  Next time you’re thinking about making a change in your business, reach out to a handful of your best clients and see what they think about it.  Explain the challenge you’re trying to solve and solicit any additional ideas they have.

By seeking their advice on major business decisions, you’ll show them how you value their insight and soften the blow of any changes that adversely affect them (like a fee  increase).   You might be surprised at how willing they are to help you make your business better.

Commit to a Minimum Client Experience

Ryan Singer writes on the Signal vs. Noise blog about the importance of delivering a consistently great experience to customers, regardless of the complexity (or simplicity) of the thing you do for them.  Though he’s talking about software, his basic idea is an important one for all service providers to remember:

Features can be different sizes with more or less complexity, but quality of experience should be constant across all features. That constant quality of experience is what gives your customers trust. It demonstrates to them that whatever you build, you build well….

I want a base level of quality execution across all features. Whenever I commit to building or expanding a feature, I’m committing to a baseline of effort on the user experience. That way feature complexity — scope — is always the cost multiplier, not user experience. There aren’t debates about experience or how far to take it. The user experience simply has to be up to base standard in order to ship, no matter how trimmed down the feature is.

How is this relevant to lawyers?  Instead of letting the amount (or types) of work you can do guide your firm’s strategy, focus first on the minimum experience you commit to giving all your clients.  Then, take on only the additional work that you can competently handle without compromising your client’s minimum experience.

On the LexThink Law Firm Retreat Blog

I’ve been sharing some of my best ideas on how to design and facilitate law firm retreats and practice group meetings over on my new Law Firm Retreat Blog.

Here are some of my recent posts from the last two weeks:

The Ritz-Carlton of Law Firms?

What would happen if a major law firm appointed a managing partner with no legal experience?  Couldn’t happen, you say?  At the Henry Ford Health System in Michigan, CEO Nancy Schlichting named an executive from The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company (and expert in service excellence) as the president of one of the health system’s hospitals.

Why hire someone outside of healthcare to run a major hospital?  How about to jettison any preconceived notions while creating a “Hospital of the Future” that differentiates itself from the competition by:

  • Has prototype rooms for planning and community input.
  • Incorporates green features in the architecture and construction.
  • Consists of all private patient rooms, including in the emergency department.
  • Emphasizes wellness and healthy living.
  • Combines traditional clinical care with complementary therapies.
  • Creates a unique brand and inspiring staff to think differently.
  • Includes family space in each patient room, including intensive care.
  • Implements a new kind of food culture in health care.
  • Putts a focus on the special concerns of the elderly.
And the results?  Judge for yourself on the hospital’s website – a patient-focused portal that every major law firm should replicate.
I’d love to see a law firm take such an innovative approach.  Perhaps if there aren’t any former Ritz executives in the marketplace, the firm could at least send its management committee to one of the Ritz’s Executive Education Sessions.

The Poetic Lawyer

Jordan Furlong has a great post (inspired by me, he claims) on the Attorney at Work Blog site encouraging lawyers to write “legal” poetry, which he defines as “a single poetic expression of legal information.”  Jordan suggests collecting the poems and then publishing them to give to your clients, which I think is a tremendous idea.

Here are a few of his examples:

It can be iambic pentameter:

“Class actions can’t proceed,” the high court found,
“Without an issue common to the class.”
They couldn’t find a unifying ground
Of bias, so they gave Wal-Mart a pass.

It can be a limerick:

A clever young Briton named Max
Thought he lived in a haven for tax.
But some new legislation
Brought much aggravation;
Our update here has all the facts.

It can be a haiku:

The breeze may be free
But you still need a license
For your wind turbine.

And it can be schoolyard doggerel:

If your will don’t have a witness
It’ll fail the test for fitness.

Give it a try.  There’s tremendous value in stretching your creative writing muscles and learning to write in different ways.  It will also give you something fun to share with your clients.

And if you don’t think poetry is worth your time, try this Haiku Elevator Pitch exercise instead.

What’s In Your Firm’s Garage?

 

Looking for a place to foster creative side projects and innovation, Microsoft has launched a incubation space for their employees called the Garage.  According to this CNET article, the “Garage” is a workshop-type place that gives employees access to tools, a place to experiment and the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues who share similar interests and skills.  It also is a place where some fun creativity can happen:

 In addition to getting the new space, the Garage also hosts “science fairs,” where employees put together poster-board presentations to show off their creations. Judges, wearing white lab coats, select winners, who get to ignite a homemade volcano dubbed Mount St. Awesome as their reward.  Microsoft has also begun holding “Garage weeks,” where business units stop working on Microsoft products. Instead, employees focus on pet projects. Sometimes, their creations have nothing to do with Microsoft’s business whatsoever. One employee spent a week working on a self-leveling skateboard, something of a Segway for the skate crowd. Sometimes, they’re only peripherally related, such as an immunization tracker application for Windows Phones to help parents keep tabs on the different vaccines their children had received.

This is a fascinating idea that has a place in almost any industry — including law.  Imagine if a law firm set up a “Garage” for lawyers (along with invited clients) to think together on ways to bill differently, serve clients better and explore new practice areas.

If you had an opportunity to build your firm’s garage, what would go in it?  What kinds of things could you accomplish if you and your colleagues had the time and place (and permission) to innovate and think differently about your business.

“Gameify” Your Monthly Bills

 

Mashable shares Seven Wining Examples of Game Mechanics in Action.  The article talks about “Gameification,” which is defined as:

the use of game thinking and game mechanics to engage audiences and solve problems. In other words, it means taking the best lessons from games like FarmVille, World of Warcraft and Angry Birds, and using them in business.

My favorite example in the article was this way game thinking can be applied to common problems, like getting drivers to slow down on the roadways:

[The] innovative Speed Camera Lottery idea rewards those drivers who obey the posted limit by entering them into a lottery. The compliant drivers then split the proceeds generated from speeders. Richardson used gamification concepts to turn an negative reinforcement system into a positive, incremental experience.  When tested at a checkpoint in Stockholm, average driver speed was reduced by 20%. If the plan were scaled across the U.S., the results could mean thousands fewer injuries, millions of dollars worth of reduced costs and substantial environmental benefits.

Could you use a similar theory with your monthly bills?  Instead of just offering the traditional discount on bills paid within 30 days, offer much larger discounts to the first handful of your customers who pay.  For instance, give the first customer to pay their bill a 20% discount, offer a 19% discount to the second customer to pay, and so on.

Instead of hounding customers to pay, you may instead be faced with judging which of your clients paid first — a tremendous problem to have!

On the LexThink Law Firm Retreat Blog

I’ve been sharing some of my best ideas on how to design and facilitate law firm retreats and practice group meetings over on my new Law Firm Retreat Blog.

Here are some of my recent posts:

See, Think, Feel and Wonder About Client Feedback

Giving feedback is hard,  Whether you’re trying to give actionable one-on-one suggestions, or delivering an annual performance reviews, there’s a deceptively easy and powerful framework you can use to deliver meaningful, actionable feedback in a consistent way.

Based upon a conversation framework for children developed by Harvard’s Project Zero, See/Think/Feel/Wonder is an elegant, easy-to-remember way to give better feedback by completing just four basic sentences:

  1. I see ____________________ (Something about the object, person or behavior you can see with your eyes).
  2. I think ____________________ (What you think about what you see).
  3. I feel ____________________ (An emotion you experience because of what you see or think).
  4. I wonder ____________________ (Something you’re curious about or a question you have).

By prompting people to begin their feedback with an objective observation (I See), followed by critical analysis (I Think), an emotional response (I Feel) and a follow up question (I Wonder), it untangles the distinct components of criticism, and makes it more likely that the person receiving the feedback will understand it and respond appropriately.

Here’s an example on ways an attorney could use the framework to give feedback to a tardy client:

  1. I see that you’ve arrived late again for our court hearing.
  2. I think that you’re not taking this matter very seriously.
  3. I feel like you’re disrespecting me and the judge.
  4. I wonder if you’d like to continue with this lawsuit.

Here’s another way a client could use the framework to share their reactions to their latest bill:

  1. I see that you’ve charged me for three stamps this month.
  2. I think that you can afford to pay for stamps out of the thousands of dollars of legal fees I’ve paid you.
  3. I feel disrespected because you are nickel-and-dime me every month.
  4. I wonder if I should find another attorney.

When practiced and used regularly, See, Think, Feel, Wonder can change the culture of an organization and provide more actionable ways to drive individual and organizational improvement.

Here’s a Worksheet (pdf) that you can use in your organization to practice See, Think, Feel, Wonder everyday.

 

Improve Your Firm’s Website with the 50/100/150 Rule

This Smashing Magazine article by Brad Shorr identifies five fatal copywriting erros that can ruin your firm’s website.  His first cardinal sin?  Making your firm’s site all about the firm:

Problem is, the rest of the world isn’t interested in your story. Customers don’t have time to admire your greatness. They’re too busy searching for ways to make life better for themselves. A high-level Web page answers one question of the reader above all: What’s in it for me? To illustrate, we’ll stick with products, although this applies to other types of pages as well.  It’s not about you. A well-written category-level product page talks a bit about features, a little more about benefits and a great deal more about the experience.

The author suggests you create a “Word Budget” that limits the number of words you can use to describe the features, benefits and experience your product or service offers.  Given 200 words on your firm’s home page, here’s how you should “budget” them:

  • 50 words on the features
  • 100 words on the benefits
  • 150 words on the experience

Here’s why:

  1. Setting a “word budget” forces discipline. Not only that, it relieves the anxiety over having to determine how to approach each individual product page, thus eliminating one of the biggest causes of delay in Web development projects.
  2. Focusing on the experience forces you to think about the target audience of the page in question. The experience I described speaks to an operations person. If my audience is made up of C-level executives or purchasing agents, then I would need to describe a completely different experience. If I’m writing for all three audiences, I may have to rethink my word budget. In any event, having an audience in mind prevents a Web page from devolving into that cursed, watered-down, “everything for everyone” messaging that says absolutely nothing.
  3. The purpose of a high-level page is to get people interested in the product. Once they’re interested, they may crave more information about features and benefits. Perfect. Tell the long version of your story on a detail-heavy product sub-page. Companies need not neglect features and benefits; they just need to suppress the urge to hit visitors over the head with them the minute they walk through the door.

Here’s how:

 

  • Before you start writing, collect feedback from customers and prospects. Ask them why they buy from you, why they don’t, and how doing business with you has affected them.
  • Start with an outline. Associate every feature with a benefit and every benefit with an experience.
  • Have a customer read a draft and then explain to you why they would want to buy the product. If the customer “gets it,” you’re a star.
  • Do the same thing with a person who knows nothing about your product and industry. If that person gets it, you’re a rock star.

The entire article is worth a read, and after you check it out, head on over to your firm’s website.  My guess is that it makes at least three of the five mistakes Brad identifies.

And if you don’t have the ability to make meaningful changes to your firm’s website, at least start with your bio, and use Brad’s 50/100/150 rule to make it better.

Apologies Necessary

I’ve written before about the value of an apology and how an authentic “I’m sorry,” can strengthen the attorney-client relationship after a mistake or slip up.  However, if a phone call or face-to-face meeting is too hard, consider sending one of these instead:

(from Hugh MacLeod’s new series of “Business Greeting Cards“)

Thinking Unthinkable Thoughts

Kevin Kelly thinks about thinking the unthinkable:

The futurist Herman Khan introduced the idea of “thinking the unthinkable” as a way to loosen up the imagination in trying to forecast the future. Most time we are unable to guess the future because we are inhibited by conventional wisdom – something that everyone knows is true. For instance everyone (including me) knew that an encyclopedia written by amateurs that could be changed by anyone at anytime was simply a silly, impossible idea. That prevented anyone from forecasting wikipedia. Herman Khan stressed that we should assume what we know is wrong and begin to imagine how the unthinkable might happen.

Looking back even ten years, who would have predicted the legal present we’re experiencing now?  Services like Facebook, LinkedIn, Avvo, LegalZoom weren’t around, and the biggest technology decisions most lawyers had to make was between Wordperfect and Word.

Looking forward to 2020, what is “unthinkable” for law practice?  What things are we absolutely certain won’t happen in the next nine years?  Here are a few of mine:

  • There will be no “medium-sized” law firms any longer.  All lawyers will either practice in firms of less than 10 attorneys or more than 1000.
  • The court system, as a venue for dispute resolution of any kind, will cease to exist.  Every dispute will either be settled in mediation or through submission to a computerized, artificial intelligence system, and parties will be bound by its decision.
  • Thompson/Reuters/West and Lexis/Nexis will merge.  Nobody will notice.
  • Law schools will merge with business schools to actually teach students both to “think like a lawyer” and to run a profitable business.
  • Facebook will introduce a feature that automatically recommends to divorcing couples how they should separate their friends and property.

Leave your unthinkable 2020 predictions in the comments, or tag them on twitter with #2020Unthinkables.  I’d love to hear what you think won’t happen in 2020, too.

Packaging for Your Practice

If you’re looking for some creative design inspiration for your practice, check out The Dieline, a website that showcases the most innovative  packaging design for the kinds of things you’d find on your grocer’s shelf.

Why packaging?  Because packaging professionals take generic, non-differentiated products (like milk or motor oil) and convince picky consumers — solely through packaging — to pay a premium for the items that are identical in every way to other products on the shelf.

Sounds a bit like the legal marketing business, doesn’t it?

 

Ask Your Clients Better Questions

In A Manager’s Primer on Asking Better Questions, Marty Baker at Creativity Central shares several dozen open-ended questions designed for various situations like Anticipation, Assessment and Clarification that serve as a valuable reminder that “yes” or “no” questions don’t always get you the information you need.

Here’s the suggested questions on “Exploration” from the post:

Exploration

May we explore that some more?

Can we take a closer look at that?

What other angles can you think of that?

What are some more possibilities?

What’s another way of looking at it?

While many seem quite obvious, making a conscious effort to ask your clients questions differently may just prompt them to give better answers.

Explain the “Why” to Your Clients

Smashing Magazine has published a tremendous guide to designing an easy to understand e-commerce checkout process for web sites.  If you take credit cards on your site, it is a must-read.

However, even if you don't charge people on the web, you should check out the article anyway, because it explains something about collecting sensitive information from people that we all need to understand: it isn't just the "what," but the "why" that matters:

Even unambiguous fields, such as “Email address,” are great opportunities to explain what you’ll use the data for. “Email address” may be a sufficient description, but most people would want to know how you’ll use their email address. Why do you need it?

In your client intake forms, do you explain why you need all the information you are asking for?  Perhaps you should.

Respect Your Clients

I think it is fair to say that this goes for clients, too.

Respect for Audience
From This is Indexed.

Watch Your Time Like Your Clients Do

Next time you’re chit-chatting with a client over the phone, head on over to Lawyer Clock and watch how fast your “burning” your client’s cash — they certainly are.

Lawyer Clock


The Haiku of What You Do

I’m a fan of Haiku, and have been doing an exercise based upon it for several years now at conferences and law firm retreats.  Instead of the 5-7-5 syllable format, I ask my audiences to answer three questions, using just five words for the first question, seven for the second and five again for the third.

Though I’ll use different questions depending upon the event, I recently spoke to the New York City Bar about in-person networking and gave these three questions as a way to quickly develop an “elevator speech” that responds to the “What do you do?” question we get all the time.

The three questions, which must be answered with the specified number of words, are:

  • 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)

An example response to these questions from a business lawyer could be:

I help small business owners

incorporate their businesses and protect their assets

so they can sleep better.

Another example for a personal injury lawyer may be:

I help injured accident victims

understand their rights and recover medical expenses

from people who are responsible.

Give it a try.  It isn’t an easy exercise, but it will help you answer that all-to-common networking question with something other than, “I’m a lawyer.”

 

Update: Thanks to Gina Roers for the new title for the post.

Ignite Law 2011 Speakers Named

The official speaker roster for Ignite Law 2011 is set. The event, produced by LexThink CEO Matt Homann and InsideLegal's CEO JoAnna Forshee, will feature 12 speakers sharing their view on the future of law practice and law technology, delivered via 6 minute rapid-fire presentations. Presenters were chosen based on online voting results and include a ‘who’s who’ of legal technology spanning attorneys, legal software executives, legal technologists, consultants and industry bloggers. Ignite Law 2011 takes place on April 10 at the Chicago Hilton, the eve of ABA TECHSHOW.

A total of 25 speaking topics were submitted and based on 1000s of online votes cast, 12 candidates were selected (including 8 'first-timers') to share their 6-minute Ignite presentations. The final Ignite Law 2011 speaker’s list includes:

Jim Calloway – “A Failure to Communicate”

Kevin Chern – “Creating the Perfect Future: Strategic Planning for Your Law Firm and Your Life”

Eric Cooperstein – “(Lack of) Privacy 2.0: Law in the Age of Transparency”

Will Hornsby – “And the survey says…”

Dennis Kennedy – “The Freemium Practice of Law”

Stephanie Kimbro – “Call of Duty: Legal Ops: Serving DIY Clients”

Marc Lauritsen – “Apps for Justice – Code to the Rescue”

Victor Medina – “Bespoke Legal Services in an Off-The-Rack Culture”

Tom Mighell – “Preparing for the Post-PC Law Practice”

Kevin O'Keefe – “Facebook: Can it be really be used by lawyers and law firms for professional and business development? How so?”

Dan Schwartz – “The Elephant in the Room”

Jay Shepherd – “Quantum Leap: How You Will Practice Law in 2019”

 

Free tickets for the event are still available and can be secured here.

Don’t Complain

A great Venn diagram from Indexed:  

Ignite Law Details

Small Ignite Logo 

Head on over to the Ignite Law site to submit a proposed talk, check out the submissions we've already received or pick up your free tickets for the event. 

We're looking forward to seeing you in Chicago!

Ignite Law is Back

Small Ignite Logo
I'm very excited to announce that Ignite Law is back at ABA TECHSHOW this year!  We'll have all the details up on the Ignite Law site Monday, including how to reserve your ticket (we sold out last year) and how to submit a speaking proposal. 

In the meantime, check out some of last year's Ignite videos.  We can't wait to see you in Chicago!