Welcome to my blog. I’m Matt Homann, and I share cool ideas that help smart lawyers innovate more, serve their clients better, market more effectively and make more money.  How can I help you?


The Weekender #1

Welcome to the first edition of the NBH Weekender!  I’ve been saving up lots of stuff to share with you this week, so here you go:

Five simple emails you should send every week.

A better brainstorming method from Google that we’ve been playing with for a while. It really works better with introverts and in rooms with high status differentials:  Note and Vote.  Here’s how it works:

Note:  Distribute paper and pens to each person. Set a timer for five minutes to 10 minutes. Everyone writes down as many ideas as they can. Individually. Quietly. This list won’t be shared with the group, so nobody has to worry about writing down dumb ideas.

Self-Edit:  Set the timer for two minutes. Each person reviews his or her own list and picks one or two favorites. Individually. Quietly.

Share and Capture:  One at a time, each person shares his or her top idea(s). No sales pitch. Just say what you wrote and move on. As you go, one person writes everybody’s ideas on the whiteboard.

Vote:  Set the timer for five minutes. Each person chooses a favorite from the ideas on the whiteboard. Individually. Quietly. You must commit your vote to paper.

Share and Capture (2):  One at a time, each person says their vote. A short sales pitch may be permissible, but no changing your vote! Say what you wrote. Write the votes on the whiteboard. Dots work well.

Decide:  Who is the decider? She should make the final call — not the group. She can choose to respect the votes or not. This is less awkward than it sounds: instead of dancing around people’s opinions and feelings, you’ve made the mechanics plain. Everyone’s voice was heard.

Why might this work?  Because in most meetings, three people are doing 70% of the talking.

Hate networking?  Here’s a great way to think about it from Joanna Goddard:

Network up and down. Many people get turned off by the term “networking” (read: a bunch of suited-up people at happy hour) but I just think of it as a fancy word for making friends in your industry. When you email someone about a project, ask about their dog. Tell them about your vacation. Send a card when they have a baby. Be real with them. Help people. Stay in touch. Tell friends about job openings. Meet for breakfast, or send a short note saying you loved their recent article or project.

If it’s not networking that keeps you up at night, but rather just plain old-fashioned insomnia, don’t worry: there’s an app for that.

Overwhelmed when you don’t seem to get to anything on your to-do list?  Try a To-Done List instead:

Dubbed the “Anti-To-Do List” by Buffer’s Joel Gascoigne, this approach reportedly gives you an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and spurs productivity throughout the week. According to Gascoigne, by writing a separate list of tasks you have accomplished, including ones that weren’t originally on your to-do list, you prevent yourself from feeling “knocked down” by the fact that you’re doing something not on your original list.

Speaking of productivity, I really like this productivity tip from Nate Green:

Don’t create and consume at the same time.

You should either be creating something or consuming something. Not both at the same time.

When you’re creating, you’re fully engaged on what you’re doing. There should be no distractions, no “I’ll just check something real quick and then come back to this…”

Focusing on one thing without interruption is how you get meaningful work done.

When you’re consuming, you’re open to anything and everything. You get taken wherever the wind takes you, and it’s all groovy. What’s this article? Who’s that dude? This restaurant seems legit. You think they’re open for dinner? Lemme check Yelp…

Ray Kelvin, founder of the Ted Baker fashion brand, shares some of his tips for success. If you’re meeting with him, never be late:

“I have never, ever met someone really successful who’s late,” Kelvin says. “It is so disrespectful of other peoples’ time.”

Want to get more out of conferences and events? Here’s a great tip:

Before you leave to the conference there’s two things you need to do. One, is schedule a 30 minutes meeting with your team for the very first day when you arrive back in the office. The second is schedule a one hour slot for yourself either on the very first day or the very next day when you get back.

When you return, you already have a meeting scheduled with your team. Is 30 minutes long, so all those emails and fires can wait 30 mins for you to brief the team. That’s right, you’ll use that time to talk to them about the conference, the good, the bad, etc. And you will also show them your notes and give them an overview of what you’ve learned and what’s coming (action items) to each of them. This serves two purposes. First, with the conference still fresh in your mind you can accurately tell your staff what happened at the show and prepare them for what’s going to come their way, and second it helps you solidify what you learned during the show.

When you get to the second meeting you scheduled prior to leaving the office for that conference, you will then stop whatever you are doing and get all your notes out. Since all of them have an “action items” section at the bottom you can quickly go through your list and start identifying what needs to get done, prioritizing the tasks, and assigning them to appropriate team members (or to yourself).

Ever wonder what it would be like to be a judge for the Guinness Book of World Records?

“Like a visiting emperor, I have the power to confirm or destroy dreams with a thumbs up or down,” she says. “I don’t deserve this elevation. It’s my clipboard, suit and the Guinness logo.”

Love Sriracha (or “Rooster”) sauce?  An unknown street artist in Vietnam drew the iconic logo.

Mike Monteiro has eight great tips for working with a designer.  Chief among them (and true for every profession):

A designer should never make you feel stupid for not understanding their craft.

Looking to hire someone for a bold initiative, find someone who’s failed before, because they’re the only ones likely to succeed.

Finally, something to add to your Christmas list:

Transient

See you again soon!

Ask Better Interview Questions

Online retailer Zappos is well known for its commitment to company culture and customer service, going so far as to offer new hires $2000 after their first few weeks on the job to quit if they don’t like their new jobs.  They also share quite a bit about how they hire so well, and have posted their Core Values Interview Assessment Guide (.pdf), which includes the interview questions they ask prospective hires.

Here are a few of their interview questions related to customer service:

  • What does great customer service mean to you?
  • In your last job, how did you know if your customer was satisfied?
  • Give an example of a time you went above and beyond, why did you do it? Any regrets?
  • What’s the best work-related compliment you’ve ever received?
  • What’s something that you did at work that maybe no one else knew about but you are very proud of?
  • Tell me about a time you came up with an innovative solution to a problem.
  • Tell me who you think is the most unconventional person you have worked with. Do you think they were successful? Did they do a good job?

Check out the entire list of questions.  Adding a few of these to your next round of interviews might help you to hire better lawyers and staff.

 

 

When do your biz clients update you?

There’s a web-based serviced called UpdateMyVC, which purports to automate a startup’s communication with its investors. What I really liked is the list of questions that get answered in the monthly update.  Here are a few:

  • What milestones or accomplishments are you most proud of?
  • What are the things you’re most disappointed about?
  • How is the business / product performing?
  • Did you close any notable deals / partnerships?
  • What opportunities are in the pipeline?
  • Were any key employees hired or fired?
  • Any notable press mentions?
  • Where do you need the most help from your investors and advisors?

Several of the questions could comprise a fantastic template to use with your business clients every time you sit down and speak with them about their businesses.  Any you’d add to the list?

Best of NBH: Autopsy Your Dead Files

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.

Best of NBH: Create a Menu for Your Practice

This “Best Of” post comes from 2011 and is about creating a “Menu” for your practice offerings:

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.

30 Second Snapshot

Robin Scott shares a great tip he learned from a successful mentor:

Immediately after every lecture, meeting, or any significant experience, take 30 seconds — no more, no less — to write down the most important points. If you always do just this, said his grandfather, and even if you only do this, with no other revision, you will be okay.

It seems simple, but profoundly powerful.  I’ve taken to writing my meeting notes on the 5×8″ notecards I regularly carry, and have also started to review them at the end of the week.

I’ll let you know how the experiment goes, but I think this would be a great exercise to add to your workflow after every client meeting.  It might make you a better listener — and a better rememberer.

What vs. Any

Claire Lew, CEO of Know Your Company, shares an idea that might make customer conversations more productive:

When you ask “what” instead of “any”, you invite a greater response to a question. For example, when you ask, “Do you have any frustrations?” it’s very easy for the person to default and say “no.” But when you ask, “What could be better in the company?” that question assumes that there are things that could be better. It opens the opportunity for someone to provide a more honest answer.

Everytime you close a conversation with a client, asking if they “have any more questions,” you’re giving them an easy way to answer “no.”  Instead, try asking them “What might I have explained better?” and keep the conversation going.

Stop Doing ________!

I really like the question asked in this post from Inc.com:  What should you stop doing?  

What would make your list?  How about if you asked your staff?  Or your clients?

Best of NBH: Name Your Ten Most Wanted

Here’s another favorite idea from 2012: Identify Your Top Ten “Most Wanted” Clients.  Here’s the post:

A simple idea from Jorge Barba at Game Changer:  Create a 10 Most Wanted Client List.  Who’s on your list, and do they know you want to serve them?

I’ve been doing this for Kendeo and have found it works wonders in focusing your business development and marketing efforts.  Give it a try!

Best of NBH: Quarantine Your Best Ideas

Do you have Shiny Shiny Syndrome?  I do.  Here’s a post from January 2012 about a technique I still use:

Many of the attorneys I work with suffer from the same thing I do: Shiny Shiny Syndrome.  You suffer from S3 when you regularly give in to an overwhelming urge to start working on something new and better, instead of wrapping up your current projects.

Shiny Shiny Syndrome isn’t (usually) fatal, but the cumulative results of constantly starting projects at the expense of finishing others can have a debilitating impact upon your practice and your staff.

To combat my case of Shiny Shiny Syndrome, I’ve begun an Idea Quarantine.  From Wikipedia:

Quarantine is compulsory isolation, typically to contain the spread of something considered dangerous, often but not always disease. The word comes from the Italian (seventeenth century Venetian) quarantena, meaning forty-day period.[1] Quarantine can be applied to humans, but also to animals of various kinds.

Whenever I have a great idea for a project, I capture it so I don’t lose it, but then I wait at least 90 days before I begin working on it.  The “compulsory” waiting period keeps me from starting work on a poorly-formed idea I’ll later lose passion for.  It also gives me time to think about the idea and socialize it with friends and colleagues.  If I’m still enamored with the idea once the 90 days have passed, it goes on my “To Do” list.

If you’d like to begin your own Idea Quarantine, and want a fun template to use, here’s my Idea Quarantine. pdf from above.

Best of NBH: Stop Fixing Your Own Tech

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Here’s a tech-related tip from this post:

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.

Best of NBH: Counting Cards

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I’ve always thought the idea from this post was a powerful way to understand the gift of time and what you can accomplish in a year:

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.


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