Category Archives: Books

Some New Reading from Jordan Furlong

I’m a big fan (and friend) of Jordan Furlong, the author of the Law21 blog and a consultant with Edge International and Stem Legal.  When Jordan writes about something, I read it, think about it and then try to pass off his ideas and insights as my own (mostly kidding).
He’s got a new e-book out on the future of law practice that I’ve had the pleasure of reading.  I say “pleasure” because I’m no longer practicing law.  If I were still in practice, I might not have enjoyed reading what he has to say about where the legal industry is heading and the bumpy road ahead.  Nevertheless, it is a necessary read for lawyers who expect to practice beyond 2017, and I highly recommend it.
Here are the details from Jordan:
Evolutionary Road: A Strategic Guide to Your Law Firm’s Future (published by Attorney At Work). It’s a 40-page e-book that provides lawyers and law firms with a strategic guide to the future of the legal market and where they fit into that future. I set out five stages of current and future developments in the marketplace, through the year 2020 and beyond, and supplement those forecasts with tools and recommendations with which firms can build strategic plans and embark upon retreats to chart their own course forward. It retails for $US19.
Read it and be prepared to think differently about the future of this profession.

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!

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.

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.

Selling Through a Slump E-Book

I had the privilege of contributing the legal chapter in the new Selling Through a Slump:  An Industry by Industry Playbook

Oracle and The Customer Collective co-sponsored the guide, which contains great advice for selling in multiple verticals, including accounting and consulting, retail, the public sector, health care, insurance, telecommunications, services, technology, media and manufacturing.  The author list reads like a who’s who of industry experts, and I’m honored to be in such great company.

Check it out here.  Registration is required, but the download is free.

BlawgWorld 2007

I am honored to be one of the bloggers featured in BlawgWorld 2007, the one-of-a-kind e-book from my friends at Technolawyer that collects the best posts from the best writers in the legal blogosphere. If you’d like to download your own copy for free, you can do so here (pdf).  Enjoy!

Extreme Outsourcing

I just happened across Timothy Ferriss’ site (blog) and saw this article on “Outsourcing Life” that I’d like to share.  If you are experimenting with outsourcing work in your firm, check out some of the extreme suggestions on outsourcing a few other things.  Timothy has a book coming out.  I’ve asked for a review copy and will share my thoughts if it comes my way.

Things I Like

I’m playing around with Amazon’s new “AStore” product.  It allows me to build a virtual storefront with products I choose.  I’m going to change it every month with new and cool books, magazines, and gear that I personally recommend.  Check it out and let me know what you think.

Management by Baseball – Book Review

A few weeks ago, Jeff Angus, the author of the phenomenal Management by Baseball blog, contacted me and asked me to read his new book, also titled Management by Baseball.  In the book, Jeff breaks down management into four discrete “bases” (get it?) that one must reach in order to become a Hall of Fame manager.  The four bases (from the book’s website):

Managing the Mechanics  Every day of the baseball season, skippers skillfully juggle complex decisions from choosing a lineup to calling for a steal. In the dugout, they handle abstract concepts like time management and training techniques. In the office, they pore over research reports and apply them to the problems at hand. Learn from the masters the methods of successful operational management (and lessons in what to avoid from baseball’s biggest bunglers).

Managing Talent  Great baseball managers know how to get the most out of a team over a long season by understanding how to evaluate and motivate players, and when and how to hire and fire them. Learn how to apply their models and get the most out of your team.

Managing Yourself  The most successful managers in and out of baseball learn enough about their own habits, biases, and strengths to overcome preconceived notions. Boost your own skills through examples of how baseball’s best and worst came to grips with intellectual and emotional blind spots that undermined their effectiveness.

Managing Change–and Driving It  The best baseball managers know how to adapt to significant changes in the game. So should anyone who works outside a ballpark. Lessons from baseball will improve your ability to thrive in times of change and actively drive changes to your company’s advantage — and your own.

There is a lot to like about the book, and I’ll share some of the insights I gleaned from it in a few posts later this week. For now, the Box Score:

 HITS: 

  • Great baseball anecdotes told in a way even non-baseball nuts will understand and appreciate.
  • Insightful management tips and tricks I’d not seen before.
  • Good set of baseball-like “Rules” throughout the book.

RUNS:

  • In depth economic analysis of business decisions told in a way that makes difficult concepts easily understandable.  Jeff’s explanation of “The Book” in baseball, stochastic decision making, and the Law of Problem Evolution in Chapter Four was really, really great.
  • Jeff’s introduction (to me, at least) of the diseconomies of scale, has changed my thinking on the advantages of large organizations.

ERRORS:

  • Not enough baseball.  Jeff is a top-flight consultant, but too often he digresses from baseball to share a lesson he learned in consulting.  If he is going to rely upon the baseball metaphor, he should do it completely. 
  • The format of the book makes for difficult reading.  There are too many sidebars that break up the flow of the narrative.
  • Jeff’s “Rules” should be collected at the end of the book, either as an appendix or as a separate, pull-out supplement.

Admittedly, I am a big baseball fan and expected to like the book, which I did.  I do think, however, that even a casual observer of the game will find valuable lessons.  One caveat, the book is not an easy read.  It isn’t that it is difficult to understand, or that the words are too big, it just didn’t “flow” like I’d hoped.  Several times, I set aside an hour or two to focus on reading it, but would stop after a chapter or two.  I started to get more from the book when I would limit myself to reading a chapter at a time.  It may have been just me, but I needed time to process the information in small chunks.  I think this is because Jeff packs so much complex business and economic analysis into a such a small book.

With that caveat, I heartily recommend Management by Baseball.  Jeff has found a unique way of looking at (and explaining) business behavior that worked for me.  If you like baseball at all, it will work for you too.

Be the Same and Be Second

Found this summary of the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing on Mike Vance’s absolutely fantastic MineZone Wiki, where there are dozens of business book summaries.  Here is one great nugget:

If you’re shooting for second place, your strategy is determined by the market leader.

  • “You must discover the essence of the leader and then present the prospect with the opposite. (In other words, don’t try to be better, try to be different.”

MegaTrends in Professional Services

Ross Dawson e-mailed me a link to a new White Paper he’s written, titled The Seven MegaTrends of Professional Services.  You can read the paper online (one trend at a time) or download it from Ross’ blog.  I’m through Trend Two, and find it pretty interesting reading so far.

In case you are wondering, Ross’ Seven MegaTrends are:

  • Client Sophistication
  • Governance
  • Connectivity
  • Transparency
  • Modularization
  • Globalization
  • Commoditization

Ross is sending me a copy of his new book, the Second Edition of Developing Knowledge-Based Client Relationships and I’ll let you know what I think.  I own the first edition, and am looking forward to reading the second.

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Legal Writing Tips from Elmore Leonard

Well, not exactly tips on legal writing, but pretty solid advice from my favorite author.  The best of the bunch?

Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.  The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.

Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” . . .   he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs.”

Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.  A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.

Imagine if Law Review writers followed the last tip.  No more footnotes!

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Don’t Knock it Until You Buy it.

The worst thing about reading all the blogs I do is that I have hundreds of people constantly telling me about the things they think are really cool.  As a result, I spend money buying things they recommend. ;-)

One of the things that just made it on to my list is the book Knock the Hustle.  According to my friend David Burn at AdPulp:

What’s really great is that Knock The Hustle isn’t just a rant about minorities in advertising or a personal memoir. It’s a transparent account of how the ad business operates—from creative concepting to client billing, new business presentations to office politics. And Hadji has plenty of concrete ideas on how the ad industry could change its practices, where most people in the business just give lip service to the notion of progress. Actually, there’s a good amount of wisdom that nearly any business in any industry can apply. If that weren’t enough, many parts of this book are funny as hell.

Sounds right up my alley. 

 

 

This one time, in Brand Camp …

I’m linking to this book because I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to use the title of this post.

Great Excerpts from Business Books

I love reading business books. I find they often give me great ideas I can incorporate into my practice. The people over at 800-CEO-READ have started an Excerpt Blog with — you guessed it — excerpts from some books they sell. It has an RSS feed too! Check it out.

Great Stuff from The Nub

The guys over at The Nub picked up my post the other day about Value Billing, and added their thoughts:

One can take the question further and ask: How much have we helped our clients succeed? And get the client to determine this. Then build in some sort of payment that is dependent on how much the solution helps the client achieve success. For example, I’ve been paid the final 25% of my fee upon hitting performance targets. Other times I’ve received an extra % upon my client’s satisfaction.

The Nub also has a pointer to a great excerpt from the John C. Maxwell book Today Matters.

Death by Meeting

Good review of Patrick Lencioni’s book Death by Meeting at Jon Pocaro’s mktg@msft blog. The book details the four types of meetings your organization/firm should be having. They are: The Daily Check-In (no more than 5-10 minutes); The Weekly Tactical (45-90 minutes); The Monthly Strategic; and The Quarterly Off-site Review. Read Jon’s post for more details.

Meaningful Marketing

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

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

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

Doug Hall has this to say about naming your business:

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

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

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

Creating Client Evangelists

I just finished the book Creating Customer Evangelists by Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba and found dozens of great ideas to build my ideal firm. In the book, the authors profile several companies that have created amazing “buzz” from extremely satisfied “customer evangelists.” The companies profiled included Krispy-Kreme, Build-a-Bear Workshops, and Southwest Airlines. Each company was held out by the authors as an example of a good business made great through fervent customer support and word-of-mouth advertising. A singular focus on the customer experience (and not on stock price, shareholder value, or even profits) differentiated these companies from their competitors.

Th first step in creating avid customers is to learn what those customers want. Huba and McConnell set out ten golden rules for learning — and valuing — customer feedback:

1. Believe that customers possess good ideas. 2. Gather customer feedback at every opportunity. 3. Focus on continual improvement. 4. Actively solicit good and bad feedback. 5. Don’t spend vast sums of money doing it. 6. Seek real-time feedback. 7. Make it easy for customers to provide their feedback. 8. Leverage technology to aid your efforts. 9. Share customer feedback throughout the organization. 10. Use input to make changes — and communicate changes back to customers.

I’ve been meeting individually with my best clients for the past month to learn what I can do to make my services more appealing to them. Now I have to identify and meet with my unhappy clients and learn how I screwed up my relationship with them (and how to keep it from happening again). I’m also beginning a Customer Advisory Board (another of the authors’ great ideas) by asking my best clients to serve on a sort of “board of directors” for my firm and to help me learn to become indispensible to them.

Visit McConnell’s and Huba’s weblog Church of the Customer for a daily dose of their wisdom and insight.