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.
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:
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.
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.
You don’t have to travel far or spend a lot of money to find a body of water with fish you can catch.
Don’t be anxious. Even if you get the fish close to the boat, that doesn’t mean it’s done fighting.
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.
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.
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 Innovation, 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.
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