Category Archives: Best of the Blog

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: 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.

Best of NBH: Ten Resolutions

I’m going to be re-sharing a few dozen of my favorite posts from this blog over the next several weeks.

This is an excerpt from one of my all-time favorites, written in December 2008 as part of my Resolution series.  It still resonates with me today.  I hope you like it.

1.  Resolve to be better to everyone.  Start with yourself.

2.  Resolve to choose your customers as carefully as friends, knowing that you’ll work best when they’re one in the same.

3.  Resolve to know your business better.  Recognize that being good at what you do is unimportant if you’re not good at being in the business you’re in.

4.  Resolve to stop doing the things your customers don’t pay you to do, unless you love doing them so much, you’d do them for free.  Because you are.

5.  Resolve to value your life by the things you experience instead of the things you possess.

6.  Resolve to eliminate the things in your life that wake you up in the middle of the night — unless you’re married to them, or they need to go outside for a walk.

7.  Resolve to become more useful to your customers.  Stop thinking about what they expect from you, and focus instead on what they don’t expect from you.

8.  Resolve to help the people who work with you (and for you) become better at what they do.  Give them what they need to excel at their jobs, and you’ll find you’re more likely to excel at yours.

9.  Resolve to understand the difference between what you do for clients and how long you take to do it.  They care about the former, and can’t understand why you charge for the latter.

10.  Resolve to do the work you long to do, instead of the work you’ve been doing for too long.  Follow your passions, honor your principles and strive to add value to every relationship you’re in. “Next Year” begins now.  Get started on making it great!

The (Auto)Complete Lawyer

I ran across a funny list of Google Autocomplete “Fails” and thought I’d see how Google would autocomplete a few legal-related queries.

Sadly, the results aren’t very promising for lawyers.  Here are just a few of the results:

My lawyer is …

My lawyer is

 Lawyers are …

Lawyers are

 My Lawyer Won’t …

My Lawyer Won't

Perhaps none of this comes as a surprise to you, but it is important to recognize just how little our clients are prepared to think of us.  It isn’t good enough to do what your peers are doing, you must do more and be better.

And next time you are deciding whether to return that client call tonight or put it off until tomorrow morning, go ahead and read some of the 72,000,000 Google results for “My lawyer won’t return my calls.”  My guess is you’ll be picking up the phone before you head home for dinner.

Your clients still don’t care where you went to law school.

Lawyer Bio Website DiagramThis is an update to this post from a few years ago.

Focus on Quality of Experience

Lots of lawyers claim to be “results-focused.”  Clients want good results, after all, and marketing yourself as one “focused” on delivering them has got to be a lot better  (to clients, anyway) than being “timesheet-focused.”  However, I think  many lawyers who focus only on the result are hurting their clients (and their own practices).  Let me explain:

Most clients get just one “result” in their matter:  it could be a divorce, a home purchase, or a settlement check.  Until that moment — which can take months or years to achieve — they wait.  They get bills.  They attend hearings.  They read letters and go to meetings.  But they don’t know for certain what’s coming in their case until it finally arrives.

So what do clients focus on every day while awaiting their result?  They focus on the quality of their experience:  Does their lawyer return their calls?  Does he validate their parking or give them a hot cup of coffee while they wait in his waiting room?  Does he communicate everything he’s doing on their case and bill them fairly?

And because they don’t have any “results” to share with others, they share their experience instead:

Bill:  ”How’s your case coming?”

Wendy:  ”Not sure.  I’m still hoping to hit the jackpot, but my attorney is an ass and never calls me back.”

So what’s an attorney to do?  Start by focusing on something more than just the quality of your clients’ results.  Focus on their quality of their experience as well.

Here’s how:

1.  Looking at the chart above, realize that for every client, there are two distinct parts of their legal matter:

  • The Quality of their Result (QoR) speaks for itself, and is measured by how satisfied (or unsatisfied) the client is as their matter concludes.  It is the thing most lawyers claim to focus upon, but in certain instances (litigation, for example) is either pre-ordained or out of the control of both attorney and client.
  • The Quality of their Experience (QoE) is the measure of their satisfaction with everything else, including how they feel about their lawyer and the service she provides.

2.  Ask some of your former clients (or pull some old files and do this yourself) to map out on the grid above how they felt about your representation, making certain their “Experience” measure is for everything that came between hiring you and their result.

3.  Unless everything is in the upper right quadrant, get to work.

If you’re a lawyer who delivers a great experience — even with the occasional bad result — you’re likely to see more repeat and referral business from your former clients than some ”results-focused” lawyers who consistently get great results but make their clients miserable in the process.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

Communicating Value and Price

I’ve been a big fan of Merlin Mann for several years now.  As I was checking out his website yesterday, I found his pricing page cheekily titled: Do You Charge Money to Do Things? Here’s how Merlin describes his pricing scheme:

For most all of my speaking, consulting, and advisory work, yes: I do charge a fee, plus expenses. And, candidly, I charge kind of a lot….  I learned a long time ago to only work for or with people with whom you have mutual admiration and respect—and who already think you’re valuable and great at what you do. In my experience, the folks who expect you to make a case for your own value make for terrible clients. They may be good negotiators and nice people, but working for them is a gut-wrenching travesty. And I don’t do travesties.

With all that said, I do a fair amount of (private, unpublicized, non-ribbon-based) work with non-profits and other deserving groups. And, no, I normally do not charge for this work. So, If you’re working for a good cause or represent an organization that’s trying to do something you know I care a lot about, please ask me. No promises, but I’ll do what I can with what I have.

So, yep. “Expensive” or “Free.” It’s a fee schedule that works.

I think it would work well on a firm website, and provides an important reminder every lawyer should have on their desk: “The folks who expect you to make a case for your own value make for terrible clients.”

Your Clients Don’t Care Where You Went to Law School

After my Law Firm Website Venn Diagram got such great feedback, I thought I’d do another highlighting one of my big pet peeves: lawyer bios.  Here you go:

Lawyer Bio Venn Diagram

Is your website for your clients or for your peers?

Inspired by this venn diagram found on Business Pundit,  I thought I’d do one for Law Firm Websites:

What are your Relationship Rituals?

Keith Ferrazzi shares a few simple “Relationship Rituals” that should be on every professional’s weekly checklist:

1.    First thing every day after you turn on your computer, ping one friend and one acquaintance.

2.    Every weekend, invite someone else into an activity that you normally do alone (walks, gym sessions, gardening, shopping trips).

3.    Pick a day for a weekly check-in with a colleague/associate/friend, during which you share a success, a challenge, and make a commitment for the upcoming week.

4.    Every Friday, send a broadcast – status update, blog post, Tweet, etc.

5.    Host a monthly dinner or happy hour.

What are the things you do every week to maintain your client relationships?

 

Resolve to Let Clients Set Your Price

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I’ve been using my “You Decide” fill-in-the-blank invoice, for over a year now.  In that time, I’ve found time and time again that my clients pay me more than I would have charged them.  And, in situations where clients demand a fixed price, I’m quoting them much higher prices (coupled with a money-back guarantee) than I would have before my invoice experiment.

Even though I’ve been doing flat-fee work for almost a decade, I used to (even subconsciously) focus on the time it took me to do something.  Now, everything I do is focused on delivering the biggest “bang” for my clients, knowing that the “bucks” will come.  I don’t track phone calls, preparation time or limit meetings, and I don’t charge for materials, travel, meals or other expenses.  In short, I trust that my clients will take care of me if I take care of them — and they always do.

In 2010, I’d encourage you to resolve to let your clients set your price — at least once.  Ask a trusted client to list all the services they’d like you to provide for them.  Suggest unlimited phone calls, regular meetings, document reviews, etc.  Provide all these services to them for a month’s time.  Then, ask them what they’re willing to pay for all the work you’ve done.

You may find your clients value your services more than you do.

Resolve to Support the Causes Your Clients Do

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If you’ve got a big client, odds are they’ve got a pet project.  Whether it is for a community organization, charity, civic group or volunteer event, supporting the causes your clients do can deepen your relationship with them while benefiting those in need.

That’s why, in 2010 you need to Resolve to Take Care of Clients’ Pet Projects.  For every client, find out what kinds of charitable groups or causes they support (and why).  Armed with this knowledge, here are a few things you can do:

  • Get on the group’s mailing list, so you’ll always know how you can help.
  • Donate money or goods to the cause’s auction in your client’s name.
  • Instead of spending your time entertaining your clients, spend that time volunteering with them in support of their cause.  You’ll get the same one-on-one time with the client, but will be helping out those in need.  As a extra bonus, you’ll probably also get an introduction to several of your client’s peers.
  • Find out what is the most pressing legal issue facing the cause (or its members), and offer to give a seminar to help them understand it better.
  • Donate a percentage of that client’s fees to their cause as your holiday gift the client.

Your clients will not only appreciate your interest in their cause, but you might gain an interest in theirs.  When that happens, everybody wins.

Resolve to Land a Big Fish

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Almost every lawyer has a “big fish” they’d like to land. Whether that fish is an individual client, a corporation, an insurance company or even a great referral source, your big fish isn’t going to catch itself.

And what better place to find advice on catching “big fish” than on a website called TakeMeFishing?  Some fishing wisdom to keep in mind when you’re Resolving to Land a Big Fish:

Fishing techniques:

The cool thing about fishing is that there are hundreds of species of fish to catch.  What’s even cooler is that there are multiple ways to catch a particular kind of fish.

When to fish:

You’ll soon learn that when it’s a bad day for fishing in one location, it could be a good day in another, and the locations may not be far apart.

Finding fish:

You don’t have to travel far or spend a lot of money to find a body of water with fish you can catch.

Landing bigger fish:

Don’t be anxious.  Even if you get the fish close to the boat, that doesn’t mean it’s done fighting.

Setting the hook:

It takes a lot of experience to know when to set the hook.  It also takes a lot of patience.

Some fish will nibble on your bait or lure, causing your line to tick or wiggle.  And some fish will try to swallow the entire bait, hook and rig all at once with one big hit.

Different fish strike differently.  And the same fish will go after your bait differently depending on the time of day or time of year.

Caring for your catch:

Fish spoil quickly if you don’t handle them properly from the moment you land them.

So as you plan on landing one big fish in 2010, make certain you’re prepared: know who they are, where they hang out, what you’ll use to attract them and what you’ll do with them once they’re caught.

Know the answers to each of these questions before you “go fishing” for big fish, or all you will end up catching are small ones you’d rather throw back.

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.

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 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 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

Ten Rules for Presenters

Lately, I’ve been giving lots of presentations, and have six more coming up before the Summer ends. I work pretty hard on my speeches (here are a few examples of my slides) and thought I’d share some of the tips I’ve learned the hard way in this Ten Rules post. Enjoy!

1.  The greatest gift you can give your audience is a passion for your material. If you don’t care for it, they won’t care for you.

2.  Your audience’s attention is a lot like your virginity. You only get to lose it once.

3.  PowerPoint is always optional. A great speech doesn’t improve when accompanied by slides in a dark room.

4.  If PowerPoint makes it easy to do, you probably shouldn’t do it. Avoid bullet points, clip art and cheesy animated transitions at all cost.

5.  The number of words on a slide is inversely proportional to the attention your audience will give it.

6.  Your slides are not your script. The purpose of PowerPoint is to help others understand your material, not to help you remember it.

7.  Never read your slides. When you do, it suggests to your audience you think they’re incapable of doing so themselves.

8.  The average person remembers just three things from your presentation. Great speakers make certain everyone remembers the same three things.

9.  Unless your presentation tells a story, the audience won’t care about the ending — they’ll just pray for it.
 
10.  Never underestimate the impact a great presentation can have on your audience or your career. Being prepared serves both of them well.

If you’d like to see more Ten Rules posts, you can check them all out here.  If you’d like to read thoughts like these as I have them, follow me on Twitter.

100 Tweets: Thinking About Law Practice in 140 Characters or Less.

I really like Twitter.  For those who follow me, you know that I try to share lots of legal-themed tips, thoughts and ideas.  In fact, most of my Ten Rules posts started out on Twitter — where I’ll test 15-25 “rules” to see which ones work best before picking the ten favorites.

However, there’s lots of stuff that lives on Twitter now that used to live here on the blog.  And since I don’t expect everyone reading this to follow me there (or go back and read through my 2000+ Twitter messages), I decided to compile a “Best Of” list of my favorite tweets.

So, here (in .pdf form) is a little e-book I’ve titled:  100 Tweets: Thinking about Law Practice in 140 Characters or Less.  It contains my favorite 100 tweets, in no particular order, and should give you a sense of what I share on Twitter that you don’t always see here.

If you enjoy it, and would like to follow me on Twitter, I’ll see you there.

Ten Rules of Client Service

Quick, name your favorite customer service class from law school.  Can’t do it?  I’m not surprised.  Most lawyers don’t learn much about client service in school, and the only class that touches upon service at all is Legal Ethics — which is kind of like teaching someone to ride a bike by showing them lots of bicycle accidents.

By delivering great service, you can delight your customers, increase their satisfaction (and reduce malpractice exposure), cut your marketing budget and turn your clients into your best salespeople.  And because many of your peers believe something as simple as returning client calls is optional, the bar to delivering the best client service in your community is set pretty low. 

Here then, are 10 simple “rules” to help you remember that it is your customers who keep you in business, and when you work to delight (instead of frustrate) them, you’ll both be successful.

1.  Just because clients don’t expect great service from lawyers doesn’t excuse you from providing it.

2.  Don’t assume you’re great at service because your current clients don’t leave.  Many remain your clients because they fear their new lawyer will treat them just like you do.

3.  It costs less to delight a client than it does to frustrate them.  You pay to delight them once, but you pay for frustrating them forever.

4.  It is also far cheaper to compete on service than it is on price, because there will always be someone far cheaper.

5.  People tell others about service they receive, not competence they expect.  Ever heard someone brag about how clean their dry cleaners get their clothes? 

6.  The time clients care about isn’t yours, it’s theirs.  Build your practice to save them time and they’ll be less reluctant to pay you for yours.

7.  Though you might be measured against your peers in a courtroom, when it comes to service, you’re measured against everyone.  If your clients named the top ten places they get great service, would your business make the list?  It should.

8.  Eighty percent of your time should be spent on satisfying your clients’ expectations and twenty percent should be spent on exceeding them.

9.  You can’t measure how you’re doing when you only ask how you’ve done.  Improving client service begins with learning how to serve your current clients better.

10.  If your clients can go months without hearing from you, they can go forever without recommending you.  To lawyers, indifference and incompetence are two different things.  To clients, they are one in the same.

If you’d like to see some more posts like this one, check out: Ten Rules of RainmakingTen Tweets about TwitterTen Resolutions for the New YearTen Rules for Law Students, Ten Rules for the New Economy, Ten Rules for New Solos, Ten Rules of Legal InnovationTen Rules of Legal Technology, Ten Rules of Hourly Billing and Ten New Rules of Legal Marketing

Also, if you’d like to see hundreds more ideas on creative ways to deliver great client service, check out all of the Client Service posts here on this blog.

Ten Rules of Rainmaking

I often quibble with the term “rainmaker” because I think it too often describes lawyers more interested in getting new clients than in keeping current ones.  However, because “10 Rules for Business Development,” and “10 Rules for Keeping Clients So You Don’t Have to Replace Them” don’t have the same nice ring as “ 10 Rules of Rainmaking,” I’ll use the term here.  Let me know what you think:

1. You’ll never be passionate about rainmaking until you start searching for clients you’ll be passionate about serving.  Remember, a great client is one for whom you’d work for free, but one who’d never ask you to.

2.  The best way to get new clients is to impress old ones.  Measure the happiness of your existing clients with the same diligence you measure your time, so you can work less on developing new business and more on deserving it.

3.  While there are hundreds of “strategies” to get new clients, there’s only one strategy to keep them:  serve them well.

4.  When meeting a potential client, don’t sell your competence, sell your compassion.  They must know you care about them before they’ll care about you.

5.  The single best way to get new clients is to ask your best ones, "How do I get more clients like you?"

6.  A client will never be as surprised by great legal work as they will by by good service.  

7.  Your new client’s definition of a “great” lawyer is probably far different from yours.  You must understand their expectations before you’ll ever be able to meet them.

8.  Recognize that while it is usually easier to ask for new business from prospective clients than it is to ask for more business from current ones, it is rarely more profitable.

9.  If your answer to “What kind of clients are you looking for?” is “Ones who pay,” you’ll get paying clients.  Terrible paying clients.

10.  The best thing you can promise a prospective client is more sleep.  Ask what problems keep them up at night, and build your practice to solve them.

I'd love your input, and feel free to add any of your "Rules" in the comments.  If you enjoyed these, check out my other posts in the series:  Ten Tweets about TwitterTen Resolutions for the New YearTen Rules for Law Students, Ten Rules for the New Economy, Ten Rules for New Solos, Ten Rules of Legal InnovationTen Rules of Legal Technology, Ten Rules of Hourly Billing and Ten New Rules of Legal Marketing

Also, if you'd like to get more ideas like these in real time, follow me on Twitter.

Ten Resolutions for the New Year

As 2008 draws to a close, it is natural to think about New Year’s resolutions.*  We think about our businesses, our clients and ourselves and resolve to do better next year.  If you’d like some help, or just some inspiration, here are Ten Resolutions for the New Year.  Enjoy:

1.  Resolve to be better to everyone.  Start with yourself.

2.  Resolve to choose your customers as carefully as friends, knowing that you’ll work best when they’re one in the same.

3.  Resolve to know your business better.  Recognize that being good at what you do is unimportant if you’re not good at being in the business you’re in.

4.  Resolve to stop doing the things your customers don’t pay you to do, unless you love doing them so much, you’d do them for free.  Because you are.

5.  Resolve to value your life by the things you experience instead of the things you possess.

6.  Resolve to eliminate the things in your life that wake you up in the middle of the night — unless you’re married to them, or they need to go outside for a walk.

7.  Resolve to become more useful to your customers.  Stop thinking about what they expect from you, and focus instead on what they don’t expect from you.

8.  Resolve to help the people who work with you (and for you) become better at what they do.  Give them what they need to excel at their jobs, and you’ll find you’re more likely to excel at yours.

9.  Resolve to understand the difference between what you do for clients and how long you take to do it.  They care about the former, and can’t understand why you charge for the latter.

10.  Resolve to do the work you long to do, instead of the work you’ve been doing for too long.  Follow your passions, honor your principles and strive to add value to every relationship you’re in. “Next Year” begins now.  Get started on making it great!

I’d love your input, and feel free to add your resolutions in the comments.  If you enjoyed these, check out my other posts in the series:  Ten Rules for Law Students, Ten Rules for the New Economy, Ten Rules for New Solos, Ten Rules of Legal InnovationTen Rules of Legal Technology, Ten Rules of Hourly Billing and Ten New Rules of Legal Marketing.

Also, if you’d like to get more ideas like these in real time, follow me on Twitter.

*  Thinking about Resolutions for Lawyers is something I’ve been doing for quite some time.  Here are my 30+ resolutions from 2004, 2005 and 2006.

Ten Rules for Law Students

Over a year ago, I wrote 15 Thoughts for Law Students.  It was one of my first “Rules” posts, though I wasn’t calling them that at the time.  Since then, it has been one of the more popular items on this blog, and was even republished in the Canadian Bar Association magazine

I’ve revised it just a bit, and shortened it to 10 “rules” for the law students out there.  Enjoy.

1.  Law school is a trade school. The only people who don’t believe this to be true are the professors and deans.

2.  Being good at writing makes you a good law student. Being good at understanding makes you a good lawyer.  Being good at arguing makes you an ass.

3.  You can learn more about client service by working at Starbucks for three weeks than you can by going to law school for three years.

4. Law school doesn’t teach you to think like a lawyer.  Law school teaches you to think like a law professor.  There’s a huge difference.

5. The people who will help you the most in your legal career are sitting next to you in class.  Get to know them outside of law school. They are pretty cool people.  They are even cooler when you stop talking about the Rule Against Perpetuities.

6.  Law is a precedent-based profession.  It doesn’t have to be a precedent-based business.  Challenge the status quo.  Somebody has to.

7.  When you bill by the hour, getting your work done in half the time as your peers doesn’t get you rewarded.  It gets you more work.

8.  Your reputation as a lawyer begins now.  People won’t remember your class rank as much as they’ll remember how decent and honest you were.  They’ll really remember if you were a jerk.

9.  There are plenty of things you don’t know.  There are even more things you’ll never know.  Get used to it.  Use your ignorance to your benefit.  The most significant advantage you possess over those who’ve come before you is that you don’t believe what they do.

10. People don’t tell lawyer jokes just because they think they are funny.  They tell lawyer jokes because they think they are true.  Spend your career proving them wrong.

If you enjoyed these, check out my other posts in the series:  Ten Rules for the New Economy, Ten Rules for New Solos, Ten Rules of Legal InnovationTen Rules of Legal Technology, Ten Rules of Hourly Billing and Ten New Rules of Legal Marketing

Also, if you’d like to get more ideas like these in real time, follow me on Twitter.

Ten Rules of Legal Innovation

“Innovative Lawyer” shouldn’t be an oxymoron.  Lawyers — who are constantly applying their creative, problem-solving skills to help clients — too often turn their innovation engines off as soon as their “billable” work ends. 

If you’re a lawyer, and willing to set aside some time to innovate, I am happy to help you.  Until then, I give you my Ten Rules of Legal Innovation.  Enjoy!

1.  The practice of law requires precedents. The business of law does not.  Knowing that other firms aren’t doing what you are isn’t cause for concern, it’s cause for celebration.

2.   There are (at least) ten things your clients wish you’d do differently, and I bet you don’t know what they are.  Innovation begins with conversation.  Engage your clients so they’ll keep engaging you. 

3. If you’re the first lawyer to do something that other businesses have been doing for years, it isn’t innovative, it’s about time.

4.  When you focus on being just like your competitors, the worst thing that can happen is you might succeed.

5.  If you have to tell your clients you’re being innovative, you probably aren’t.

6.  Innovation is just like exercise.  It isn’t particularly hard to do, but you won’t see results if you don’t practice it regularly.  Also, the more you do it, the better you’ll look (to clients).

7.  The best ideas in your firm will come from your staff.  While you’re paying attention to your clients, they’re paying attention to your business.  Ignore them at your peril.

8.  To be a more innovative lawyer, look inside the profession for motivation, but outside the profession for inspiration. 

9.  Your failure to capture your ideas is directly proportional to your failure to implement them.

10.  Remember, though your clients may tolerate your failure to innovate, they’ll never forgive your failure to care.

If you enjoyed these, check out my other posts in the series:  Ten Rules of Legal Technology, Ten Rules of Hourly Billing and Ten New Rules of Legal Marketing

Also, if you’d like to get more ideas like these in real time, follow me on Twitter.

Ten New Rules of Legal Marketing

Legal Marketing has changed.  It used to be enough to keep an ad in the yellow pages and belong to the Rotary Club.  Not anymore.  Times are tough, so I present to you Ten “New” Rules of Legal Marketing.  Let me know what you think.

1.  “My lawyer can beat up your lawyer” isn’t a marketing strategy.  “My lawyer will call me back before yours will” is.

2.  Google tells me there are 337,000 “Full Service Law Firms” out there.  Which one was yours again?

3.  Unless the person who founded your firm 100 years ago is still alive and practicing law, he’s completely irrelevant to every client who’s thinking of hiring you.

4.  Market to a “want” not to a “need.”  By the time your clients realize they “need” you, it’s often too late — for them and for you.

5.  Your “keep great clients happy” budget should exceed your “try to get new clients” budget by at least 3:1.

6.  Thanksgiving cards say you’re thankful for your clients’ business.  Christmas cards say you’re just like everybody else.

7.  Having the scales of justice on your business card says you’re a lawyer — an old, stodgy, unimaginative, do-what-everyone-else-has-done-for-fifty-years lawyer.  Same is true for your yellow pages ad.

8.  Speaking of yellow pages, don’t abdicate your marketing strategy to their salespeople.  They don’t know marketing.  They only know how to sell you a bigger ad each year.

9.  Your future clients have been living their entire lives online and will expect the same from you.  If you’re invisible on the web, you won’t exist to them.

10.  The single best marketing strategy in the world is to find your best clients and ask them, “How do I get more clients like you?”

Look for ten more rules next month.  For hundreds of legal marketing ideas, check out my Marketing Category on this blog.  And if you want to get these in real time, follow me on Twitter.

The Curse of Almost Done

A few days ago, I wrote about how I was suffering from The Curse of Almost Happy. I realized that being “close to” fulfillment in my life and career wasn’t close at all. So, as I’ve spent this past weekend knocking off several things on my “To Do for Too Long” list, it hit me that a cause (companion?) to that Curse is another one: The Curse of Almost Done.

Unless you’re a hyper-productive, always-on-top-of-everything person, you know what I’m talking about. The Curse of Almost Done is evident all around you. It manifests itself the moment you put off completing those last few steps of a project that is “almost done.” It keeps you from picking those projects up and finishing them now because you’ve got more important things to start, and since they are, after all, “Almost done.”

Well, I’ve battled the Curse of Almost Done all weekend. I’m finally happy to unveil the new LexThink.com. It isn’t done, but it is done enough.

Let me know what you think. Still to come: links to my presentations, a client intranet site, some video, my first e-book, and a top-secret project that will launch in two weeks (I promise).

So what’s on your “To Do for Too Long” list? Set aside a day each week where you swear to not start anything new. Use that day just for completing things. “Finish Fridays” anyone?