Category Archives: Resolutions

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!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everybody!  If you’re like me, you’ll be ringing in the year’s first Monday looking out the window at Snowpocalypse 2014.  Be safe!

via This Is Life, Charlie Brown

Nine Years of Blogging

Today begins my tenth year of blogging here on the [non]billable hour, and what a ride it has been.  My first post, titled “I Hate Billing by the Hour,” started me on an amazing journey — both personally and professionally — that I wouldn’t trade for anything.  Thanks for reading along!

Thank Your Co-Inspirators

Who inspires you?  Do they know it?  Those who inspire me soon will.  I’ve created this notecard that I’ll be sending out this year to friends, speakers and writers who’ve inspired me.

What could you do to thank those who’ve inspired you?

Resolve to Rethink Client Service

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

 

Until 2011…

I'm working on a major blog overhaul for early 2011.  Until then, please check out all of my Resolution Posts.  They are some of my favorites.

 

Thanks.  See you next year!

Resolve to Let Clients Set Your Price

IMG_4828

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

IMGP3575

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

IMG_2381

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.

Resolutions, Revisited.

Last year, I posted Ten Resolutions for the New Year on this blog.  Reading it again, I realized it is one of my all-time favorite posts — and mirrors my own personal resolutions for 2010 and beyond. 

I wanted to share it with you again this year.  I hope you enjoy 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!

Resolve to Count Cards

IMGP9025

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

IMGP9009

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 Keep Your Promises

IMGP8103

Most of us don't break our promises on purpose.  But as anyone with a seven-year old can attest ("But daddy, you promised!"), promises are in the mind of the beholder. Too often, we fail to realize someone else believed our vague pronouncement committed us to a concrete course of action. 

Since keeping your promises begins with knowing whether you've made one or not, in 2010 resolve to know (and keep) your promises better.  Never end a client conversation without asking them these two questions:

  1. What have I agreed to do, and when do you expect me to do it?
  2. What have I have promised (or predicted) will happen, and when do you expect it to?

Hearing their answers to these questions will help you know if they are hearing what you think you're saying.  Most importantly, you'll stop making (unintentional) promises you can't keep.  Now, if it would only work with seven-year old little girls….

Resolve To Fix Your Technology Less

IMGP7100

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

IMG_4743

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 See Yourself as Others Do

IMG_0771

How do your customers see you?  When they arrive for a meeting, what do they experience?  What do they see?  How do they feel? 

Do you work in a deadline-driven practice area, yet always show up late for appointments?  Is your office strewn with other clients' files?  Are there piles of unread letters in you in-box?  Do your secretaries and staff regularly discuss confidential matters on the phone that people in your waiting room can hear?

Do you have magazines that your clients want to read?  Do you have complementary wi-fi for them to use while they wait for you?  Do you offer them more to drink than just coffee?

Don't think your clients pay attention to these things?  You're wrong.  And they're not just comparing their experience to the ones they've had with other lawyers — they're comparing it to the experiences they've had with everyone. 

So, in 2010, Resolve to See Yourself as Others Do.  Start by asking a friend your staff doesn't know to sit in your waiting room for an hour while you're "busy."  Ask them to pay attention to what they see, hear, smell and feel, while recording the things they'd improve.  Once you've gotten their list of things to fix — and there will be things on the list you've never noticed — work with your staff to fix them.

Resolve to Juggle Less

IMGP5512

This is one for the general practitioners out there: Resolve to Juggle Less. Remember, your clients don't have "general" problems, they have specific ones — and if you're the lawyer who will do "anything for anyone" they are far less likely to hire you do that "one thing" for them. 

So, how do you know if you're doing too many things?  Here's an exercise that just might help:

  1. Take a pad of Post-It notes, and on each one, write a type of matter you handle.  Err on the side of inclusiveness (write "Divorce," "Child Custody," "Legal Separations," etc. on separate notes instead of just "Family Law"). 
  2. Put all the Post-Its up on a wall.
  3. Ask your staff to add the kinds of things you do to the wall as well.
  4. Group the post-its in logical categories.
  5. Step back and look at the wall.

If there are more than 3 groups of Post-Its in front of you, you're probably doing too many different things.

In 2010, work hard to focus on the one or two categories that are most profitable, most challenging and most fun.  You'll have a much easier time finding clients, and a much better time serving them.

Resolve to Ask Current Clients More

IMGP3286

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

Resolve to Do One Big Thing

IMGP7197

If you asked your clients identify the biggest change you've made in your business in 2009, what would their answer be?  Would they be able to name anything (besides your rate) that you've done differently in the past 12 months? Would you?

For 2010, I challenge you to resolve to make a change in your business your clients can't help noticing.  Not sure what to change?  Ask them. 

Send each client a letter the first week of 2010 that says:

Dear client,

As the New Year arrives, we are grateful for the opportunity to continue to serve you.  For 2010, we're resolving to serve you better.  That's why we're asking all our clients the following question:

If you could make one change in our business, what would it be?

Nothing's off the table.  If you think we need to charge differently, stay open longer, use different technology, or even answer the phone faster, let us know.  We're committed to making our business better for your business.

We'll collect the answers, and post them in our office for everyone to see.  On January 31, we'll choose (at least) one to implement in 2010.  Of course, we'll keep you up to date on our progress, and may ask you for some help in getting everything "just right."

Thanks again for being our client — and for helping us to become the law firm you deserve!

Once all the responses are in, consider hosting a "Resolution Party" to sort through and prioritize the responses with your clients.  And don't forget to ask them for their resolutions for their own businesses — you may just find a few things you can help them with, too.

Resolve to Let Your Clients Grade You

Report card

Once you've asked your clients what they expect from you, let them grade you on it.  Here's how:

  1. Make a list of 3-5 non-negotiable "Client Commitments" that you and your firm promise to keep in every matter with every client.
  2. Share those Commitments on your website and in every engagement agreement.
  3. With every bill (or at least quarterly), send your clients an old-fashioned "Report Card" that asks them to give you a grade on each of your Client Commitments.
  4. Follow up with the client each time you get a B or below to find out about specific ways you can improve.  
  5. At least yearly, schedule a "parent-teacher" conference to review your performance with the client.
  6. Consider refunding part of your fees every time a client gives you a C or D — and think seriously about giving a client's entire fee back (and helping them find another lawyer) when they've "failed" you, because you've probably failed them

Resolve to Measure What Your Clients Treasure

IMG_3568

I doubt that if you asked your clients what they buy from you that they'd answer, "Time."  Yet because (many of) you sell time to them, it is often the only thing that you measure with any rigor.

In 2010, Resolve to Measure What Your Clients Treasure.  Start by asking every client this question:

"How will you measure your satisfaction with us as we serve you?" 

Don't settle for an answer that depends completely on the end result.  Instead, press for answers like "By always keeping me up to date," and "Returning my phone calls promptly."

Once you've identified at least two things most of your clients want from you, begin to measure how well you're doing them.  Your clients already are.

Resolve to Know Your Best Clients Better

IMG_2705
Now that you've identified your worst clients, fired them, and stopped taking more like them, you can now focus your time and energy on building your practice doing the kinds of things you like to do for clients that you enjoy serving.

And the first step to take is to get to know your best clients better.  Identify your seven favorite clients, past or present.  Take them to lunch or dinner in person (or over the phone) and get to know them. 

Make your time together about them. Tell them they're one of your favorite all-time clients and you wanted to catch up.  Learn about their plans for the new year and the challenges they're facing.  Talk about their family and hobbies.  Find out about the charities they care about and the professional organizations they belong to. 

But don't stop there.  The more you know about your clients, the better you'll be able to serve them.  A great list of things to could/should know about your clients is the "Mackay 66" (pdf download here).

And at the end of each conversation, don't forget to ask:

How do I find more clients like you?

Resolve to Trust Your Gut

IMGP5118

Every time you interview a potential client, you have a "gut" feeling on whether they will be a good client or a bad one.  Unfortunately, too many lawyers ignore our gut, and end up paying for it in the end.

Today's resolution is to Trust Your Gut.  Don't ignore those uneasy feelings you (or your staff) have about potential clients.  Instead, pay attention to them, and trust yourself to differentiate good clients from bad.

To help you trust your gut better, I've created a LexThink Client Worthiness Index Worksheet (links to .pdf) for you to use every time you interview a potential client.  Fill in the blanks (and ask your staff to help) after your meeting, and you'll come up with a "Client Worthiness" number between 1-100.  Do your best to take clients scoring 75 or better, and you'll weed out the bad ones before it is too late.

Resolve to Fire Better

IMGP5572 

In yesterday's resolution I encouraged you to understand what makes your bad clients bad, and avoid taking any more like them.  But what do you do with the terrible clients that are already on your books?  Fire them!

Sounds easy, but the reason so many lawyers continue to serve clients they shouldn't is that it is uncomfortable/awkward/difficult/etc. to let those bad clients go — especially early in the relationship when we know the client is a difficult one, but promise ourselves they'll improve.  Sound familiar?

So today's resolution is an easy one:  Resolve to Fire Better.  Start by reviewing the ethics rules in your jurisdiction regarding termination of the attorney-client relationship, and then:

  1. Add a "Client Expectations" section to your retainer agreement that sets out the kinds of things you expect from your clients and the things they're prohibited from doing (like belittling your staff, constantly canceling appointments, etc.).
  2. Draft three form letters (first warning, stern reminder, and "You're Fired!") that you can pull out on a moment's notice and use with minimal modification when clients deserve one.
  3. Write a script of the what you'll say when you tell the client they're fired.
  4. Practice your script!  Difficult conversations become less so when you're accustomed to having them.

Once you've cleaned out your waiting room, you'll be able to start focusing on the clients you love to serve, and on building your practice to serve them better.  More on that in tomorrow's resolution.

(Thanks to Julie A. Fleming, who's comment on yesterday's post contained some great advice on firing clients.)

Resolve to Understand Your Worst Clients

IMGP4825
Admit it, you have clients you hate.  Whether they're not paying you, always coming up with excuses for not following your advice, or belittling your staff, your worst clients don't deserve your best work and probably aren't getting it anyway.  Their work is the last you do, and their calls are the last you return.  You wake up worried about their file, but then find a myriad of excuses to avoid touching it all day.  Your worst clients sap your energy and take the fun out of practicing law.

So, in 2010, I challenge you to resolve to understand your worst clients better.  This isn't about liking them, but about avoiding more like them.  Here's how:

1.  Identify your 10 worst clients (past and present).

2.  List at least three things they all share in common — things like the warning signals you ignored when they hired you, the kind of problems they asked you to solve, or even the type of lawyer on the other side of the case.

3.  Title the list: "Types of Clients and Cases I'll Never Take Again."

4.  Review the list before every potential client interview, and think twice before taking on another "worst" client.

Once you've resolved to understand the kinds of clients you hate to serve, you can start building your practice around serving the clients you love.

Resolutions are Back!

In the first few years of this blog, every December, I'd share one "resolution" each day of the month (here are the ones from 2004, 2005 and 2006).  The purpose of the posts was to give my readers a handful of things they could implement in the coming year to make their practices better.  I skipped 2007, and did a single Ten Resolutions for Lawyers post last year.

Since one of my resolutions for 2010 is to write more, I figured this was a good time to get the series running again.  Between today and the end of the year, look for 31 "Resolutions" focused on identifying your best clients and serving them better.  Some you've seen before on this blog, and some are new.  I hope you enjoy them all.

Your Firm, R.I.P.

Patti Digh talks about Living an Irresistible Obituary, and just started a site she’s dedicated to sharing “living obits” sent in by readers. Patti challenges us to live a life that, when recounted in the inevitable obituary, makes people say “wow!” As an exercise, she suggests writing an obituary for yourself of the life you hope to lead before you die. This can be a powerful exercise for us individually, to be sure, but I’m quite certain it would pay some really significant dividends for law firms as well.

If you had to write your firm’s “obituary” today, would it be about a firm you’re proud to have served? Would your firm be mourned by its clients and employees? Would your local legal community miss the firm’s contributions? Would former clients even notice the firm had gone?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” what can you do to turn your firm into one that matters? Perhaps writing an “irrestible obituary” would be a good start.

Happy Father’s Day!

Happy Father’s Day, everyone.  Here’s a presentation full of “Lessons Learned” that uses pictures I’ve taken of my daughter, Gracie.  Enjoy!

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 About Hourly Billing

After the great response I got to yesterday’s Ten New Rules of Legal Marketing post, I’ve decided to share a few more “Rules” of Hourly Billing I’ve culled from my blog and my speeches.  Enjoy!

1.  Ask your clients what they buy from you.  If it isn’t time, stop selling it!

2.  Imagine a world where your clients know each month how much your bill will be so they could plan for it.  They do.

3.  If you don’t agree on fees at the beginning of a case, you’ll be begging for them at the end of it.

4.  Sophisticated clients who insist on hourly billing do so because they’re smarter than you are, not because they want you to be paid fairly.

5.  When you bill by the hour, your once-in-a-lifetime flash of brilliant insight that saves your client millions of dollars has the same contribution to your bottom line as the six minutes you just spent opening the mail.

6.  Businesses succeed when their people work better.  Law firms succeed when their people work longer.  Your clients understand this — and resent you for it.

7.  Every time your clients jokingly ask you, “Are you going to charge me for this?” they aren’t joking — and they’ll check next month’s bill to be sure.

8.  The hardest thing to measure is talent.  The easiest thing to measure is time.  The two have absolutely no relationship to one another.  Your law firm measures talent, right?

9.  Would you shop at a store where the cost of your purchase isn’t set until after you’ve agreed to buy it? You ask your clients to.

10.  There are 1440 minutes each day.  How many did you make matter?  How many did you bill for?  Were they the same minutes?  Didn’t think so.

If you’d like to get more ideas like 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?

Lessons learned. Mostly the hard way.

Just entered a presentation to SlideShare’s World’s Best Presentation Contest that I’ve been noodling around with for a while.  It uses pictures of my daughter, and is titled, "If I’d only known then ….  Lessons learned.  Mostly the hard way."  Check it out, and give it a vote if you like it.

Re-XPLANE-ing XPLANE

In my last post, I promised renewed posting and big news. Well, the news I have is big all right, but it isn’t what I was expecting to share. Last week, I was laid off from XPLANE, along with six others. Though I’ll continue my relationship with XPLANE as a contractor — doing about the same amount of work as before — I’m now free to, ahem…as they say, “Explore new opportunities.”

Apart from my continued work for XPLANE, which I love, here’s what else is on my plate for the next 30 days:

1. Relaunching LexThink! with a “future of law practice” event in Chicago this fall. Look for more here next week.

2. Rebuilding my legal speaking and retreat facilitation business. I’ve always been a pseudo-regular on the legal speaking circuit, but I’ve recently been focusing on big-picture legal innovation topics. I just returned from a retreat I designed, facilitated and keynoted for a practice group of a major international firm and will expand and formalize my offerings (under the LexThink brand) before the end of the month. If you want an “Innovational Speaker” for your event, give me a ring.

3. Reviving the blog. I’m going to re-focus my energies on the [non]billable hour, and finally put together all those long-promised posts that have been living in my Moleskine or my head for the last year. Look for several dozen posts in June, as well as my oft-promised e-book on August 1.

4. Reconnecting with you. I’ve met so many amazing people through this blog, and I’m sorry for losing touch. Forgive me. It is good to be back.

Need a Vacation?

Brad Feld has a great recap of the ways he takes time off to recharge, including a quarterly, week-long vacation and semi-regular weekend getaway:

Go Dark Weekend: When I find myself feeling burned out, I do a go dark weekend. I turn off my computer and cell phone at 6pm on Friday night and don’t turn it back on until 5am Monday morning. I cancel anything that is scheduled for the weekend and just do whatever I feel like doing. This is usually a once a quarter event; occasionally more frequently depending on how busy I am. I’m considering doing this around each of my marathon weekends also.

Anyone reading this feeling burned out? How about “going dark” this weekend and reconnecting with your kids?

Notice What’s Right Before Fixing What’s Wrong

So often, we focus (obsess?) on fixing what’s wrong with our selves, our families or our businesses.  For a week, try to focus instead on what’s right.  Make a list of the three things that are the "right-est."  Take your three things and do just one thing this week to make them even better.  Challenge your family, friends, staff and even clients to do the same.  You can always go back to worrying next week.

(How) Do You Take Credit?

Here’s a great idea for ways to remember the folks who’ve helped you along the way, from this post on How to Take Credit:

So when the time comes to take the stage, remember that you didn’t get here alone: go ahead, grab the microphone and acknowledge your team. Do it before a crowd and in e-mail. Say it with bonuses and baked goods — but be sure to say it. No one likes to be left out. By sharing the credit the right way, you won’t diminish your own accomplishments, you’ll add to them by building a reputation as the kind of person people want to work for and for your focus on developing others.

Not sure whom to credit? In their book, Becoming a Resonant Leader, Annie McKee, Richard Boyatzis and Frances Johnston suggest keeping running lists of peers who have helped you along your route to success — along with notes about what you actually learned from them. Keeping such a list will likely help ensure that you don’t forget them in your acceptance speech.

I really like the idea of keeping a running list of people who’ve helped you along with a note or two about how they’ve helped.  This is a pretty powerful way to not only remember how you’ve gotten to where you are, but to also remind you to give help to others who seek it from you.  More on this in the next post.

Six Word Memoirs

If you liked my PowerPoint Haiku exercise, you’ve got to check out this Six-Word Memoir video (thanks, Magda).  Can you write your memoir in six words? 

My first shot:   Stopped lawyering. Having way more fun.

Kill Your Projects, Not Your Clients

Here’s an interesting idea from Scott Young that may just help with your growing to-do list:  Set up a Project Kill Day. In short, you schedule a distraction-free, off-site day to “kill” off one of your projects.  Check out the entire post for his step-by-step guide.

Not sure which projects you have that merit an entire day?  Try writing down the first client-related task you think of in the morning and the last one you think about before bed.  If it is the same one for more than a day or two, kill it before it kills you!

Need More “Work” to Do?

Hugh MacLeod has a great idea for juicing your creativity:

Add 25% to amount of hours you work every week, and fill them with fun, interesting, useful stuff. Google allows its employees 20% of their work time to devote to their own personal projects. If your employer won’t allow you to do this, you should unilaterally make the time for yourself, either at the office or at home, hence the extra 25%. Your peers in the office may think you weird at first, but after a while it’ll start paying off.

I’ve been trying to do this for a while now, and it is starting to pay off.  I’m finishing up the e-book and stretching myself to be creative in different ways.  Give it a try!                 

Tags: , ,

Spending My Vacation on You

Now that I’m at XPLANE, I’ve got some real, honest-to-goodness vacation time to use.  So, during the next two weeks, instead of catching up on my usual resolution series, I’m going to be putting together an e-book that will capture “The Best Of” this blog.  I’ve been working on it for a while, and I’m really excited about how it is coming along.  I’ll be sharing it with you right after the New Year.  Happy Holidays!

Ideate for the Holidays

Church Marketing Sucks continues a great series on Lessons in Not Sucking with this post on Building an Ideation Team.  There are some absolutely great tips in the post, including: “Invite People You Don’t Like,” and “Invite People with Unusual Professions.”  Read the post, and then think about ways to do a firm-wide ideation session at your holiday party this year.  That’s right, gather up some of your people and your clients and spend a bit of time thinking of ways to get better as a firm — perhaps by focusing on what your top-ten firm resolutions for 2008 should be.  You might be surprised at the result.

15 Thoughts for Law Students: A Mini-Manifesto

I’ve written a few mini-manifestos for clients and lawyers before and remain quite enamored with the format.  Here’s one for law students with some random (semi-related) thoughts on law school and the legal profession.  Let me know what you think, and feel free to add your own in the comments.

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

2.  Want to piss off your professors?  Ask them if they’ve ever run a successful law practice.

3.  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.

4.  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.

5.  Law school doesn’t teach you to think like a lawyer.  Law school teaches you to think like a law professor.  Believe me, there’s a huge difference.

6.  You can get through law school without understanding anything about what it is like to be a lawyer.  That is a terrible shame.

7.  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.

8.  Your reputation as a lawyer begins now.  Don’t screw it up (and quit bragging on Facebook about how drunk you got last night).

9.  Law is a precedent-based profession.  It doesn’t have to be a precedent-based business.  Be prepared to challenge the prevailing business model.  Somebody has to.

10. Experienced lawyers work with clients.  Young lawyers work with paper.  You like working with paper, right?

11. You are about to enter a world where getting your work done in half the time as your peers doesn’t get you rewarded.  It gets you more work.

12. Except for prosecutors and public defenders, nobody tries cases anymore.  Especially not second year associates.

13. You have a choice:  You can help people and make a decent living, or you can help corporations and make a killing.  Choose wisely.

14. There are plenty of things you don’t know, and 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.

15. 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.

Personal Technology Challenge: 10 Things

I really liked this post in Zen Habits titled The 100 Things Challenge.  The essence is that you cut your personal possessions down to 100 things.  Things that are shared, non-personal stuff, books, and tools don’t count.  It got me wondering about our personal technology burden.  How many different programs, web applications, tools, toys and gadgets do we accumulate?  How many of those do we use everyday? 

I’m going to cut my tech burden down to ten items for the next 30 days.  This includes hardware, software and web apps.  Here’s my initial list:

  1. MacBook Pro
  2. iPod
  3. Treo
  4. Google Reader
  5. GMail
  6. Google Notebook
  7. Entourage
  8. MindManager
  9. Keynote/Pages
  10. ScanR

What’s on yours?

An Unreasonable Request

I am a big fan of making Unreasonable Requests — requests that I don’t expect a “Yes” answer to, but that I make nonetheless.

I’m going to be sharing several on this blog over the following months.  Here’s the first:

I need someone to redesign my blog.  I’ve got quite a few projects I’m working on, and need to incorporate them in a new, non-template based site.  I know what I want, but don’t have the HTML and CSS chops to do it myself.  In exchange (in addition to ample credit) I will work with you to make your business better — and I promise you’ll find the trade more than fair.

Resolutions III: December 31

Take Lisa Hanneberg’s advice.  Choose one resolution, and each day:

- Tell two people about it.
- Take two actions that support it.
- Make two requests that support it (no matter how unreasonable).

Resolutions III: December 30

Resolve to be your clients’ creative guru. 

You don’t just want to be your clients’ problem solver (though that is better than ‘problem resolver’), you want to be the person they go to when they need to think about ways to grow their business, tackle new challenges, make more money, and be happier. 

Here is an amazing list of almost 200 different creativity techniques that you can use with your clients to help them be more creative.  Who knows, you may just learn to be more creative yourself.

Resolutions III: December 29

Resolve to understand what you sell.  This is pretty straightforward.  Ask your clients what they are buying from you.  If they answer “time,” then by all means continue to sell it.  If they answer something else (and it will be something else), learn to sell that instead.

Just to get you started, here’s one of my favorite posts of 2006:

Having a difficult time “selling” your value as an advisor instead of a tecnician?  Here’s an easy-to-understand way to communicate the differences between Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom, from the Across the Sound podcast (via Howard Kaplan):

Data is "the sun rises at 5:12 AM"

Information is "the sun rises from the East, at 5:12 AM"

Knowledge is "If you’re lost in the woods without a compass, follow the direction of the sun to find your direction"

Finally, wisdom is "Don’t get lost in the woods"

Resolutions III: December 28

Resolve to rethink your business cards.  In August of 2005, I wrote about my new index card-sized business cards.  Here are the cards I’m using now for realBIGthinking:

Picture of RBT Card

I rarely get a negative comment when I hand the card to someone, and the cards almost always begin an interesting conversation.  And isn’t that what a business card is supposed to do?

Lawyers Appreciate …

Last week Gerry Riskin asked me to write a post that  begins with the words “Lawyers Appreciate”  (the idea was originally conceived here).  Here’s mine:

Lawyers Appreciate Gifts.  Here are three things I’d like to (belatedly) give all my lawyer friends for the holidays:

1.  A family who loves them.

2.  A community who respects them.

3.  Great clients who pay them. 

And if I didn’t spend all my budget on those three things, I’d add four more:

4.  One hour each day to dream about how they’d make their business better.

5.  The courage to try the things they’ve thought up. 

6.  The wisdom to ignore those who say those things can’t be done.

7.  Friends like Gerry to cheer them on.

Resolutions III: December 27

Another favorite tip:  When your clients come to see you, resolve to help them see you.

Ever have clients come by your office who need to read documents?  Get a load of this tip (for waiters and waitresses) from Tricks of the Trade:

Keep a pair of reading glasses at hand. At least once every few days you’ll get a customer who forgot their glasses and are unable to read the menu. Produce your spare pair and a good tip is secure.

Reading glasses are cheap at Wal-Mart, Target, etc.  Grab a few pairs and your clients will “see” what a great lawyer you are. 

Resolutions III: December 26

Here is a really simple one.  If you want to get more done (and you don’t dictate everything), resolve to type better.  In fact, I’d be hard pressed to think of a cheaper and better way to improve office-wide productivity, than to get everyone typing faster. 

Of course, if partners responding to their e-mails could get the response off in a “.10” instead of a “.20” clients would benefit as well.

Resolutions III: December 25

Resolve to tell your family and friends how much you love them.

Resolutions III: December 24

Resolve to become aware of news affecting your cients before they do.*

1.  Using Google Blog Search or Google Alerts set up several searches for each of your clients.  Use their names, industry, competitors’ names, products, etc.

2.  Subscribe to the RSS feed for each search.

3.  Notify your clients whenever you see something relevant to them or their industry.

Extra Credit:

4.  If you use Google Reader as your RSS Aggregator, create a “tag” for each of your clients.

5.  For each tag, Google Reader allows you to create a unique URL for that tag that you can share with your clients.

6.  Give each of your clients their tag’s unique URL and everytime they open it in their browser, they’ll see everything you’ve “marked” for them to read.

*  This post will be expanded into a longer how-to in January.

Resolutions III: December 22

Resolve to get less business. 

Step One:  Go through your client list and place a check next to every client who:

  • you hate
  • treats your staff poorly
  • never pays on time
  • always complains about everything – including your service
  • is never happy with anything
  • etc.

Step Two:  Figure out how much of your income comes from these clients.  Fire them.  If too much income comes from clients you hate serving, find a different practice area or a different job.

Step Three:  While you are at it, look at your calendar for the last year.  How many things (like family outings, vacations, and your children’s activities) didn’t you get to do because you had to work?  Add up the amount of money you made by missing these events.

Step Four:  Add the amounts from Steps Two and Three.  Increase your hourly rate (unless you already use value pricing) to make up for the business you are letting go.

Step Five:  Explain your rate increase to clients by telling them you decided to work for fewer clients to deliver the remaining ones better service (and to remain sane). 

Step Six:  Deliver that better service to your remaining clients.  Spend more time with your family.  Be happier. 

Resolutions III: December 21

Resolve to help your clients help each other.

Step One:  In addition to your normal engagement agreement, develop a “Client Promotion Agreement” that your clients sign that permits you to discuss with others what they do (in a most generic sense) and allows you to introduce them to others who can help them/buy from them/sell to them/etc.*

Step Two:  When asking them to sign the Client Promotion Agreement, explain to them that you take their privacy very seriously, but also believe in helping them and their business in any way that you can, and that you have many clients whom they might benefit from being introduced to.

Step Three:  Get to know as much as you can about your clients’ non-legal needs.  Try not to charge for these conversations (and do it at their place of business, if you can).  Ask them questions like these:

 What are the most common problems your customers have that you aren’t able to help them with?

What one thing could you do this year with someone’s help that would have the greatest impact on your business?

Step Four:  Introduce them to others who can help them.

 

* Though you may not ethically need this agreement (or you could cover it in your engagement agreement) it is a good way to reinforce how much you care about them and a nice way to begin the rest of the conversation about how to help them.

Resolutions III: December 20

Resolve to ease the technology burden on your employees.  Here’s how:

1.  Ask everyone in your office to keep track of every computer application and web-based tool they use each week.

2.  Have everyone rate each application/tool on “ease of use” on a scale of 1–5, with 5 being easiest.

3.  Either get rid of the applications that scored a 1, 2 or 3, or invest in training to teach everyone how to use them.

17 Lawyer Tips: A Mini Manifesto

After writing 15 Client Tips: A Mini Manifesto, I figured that turnabout is fair play.  Here are 17 for Lawyers:

1.  Whenever your clients don’t understand what you are doing for them, they think about what you are doing to them.

2.  Many of your clients remain your clients because it is a pain in the ass to find another laywer – not because they love you.

3.  Every time your clients get your bill, they think about how beautiful your office is and about the nice car you drive.  And they wonder if you are worth it. 

4.  If your office is a dump and you drive a wreck, they wonder about that too.

5.  If your client doesn’t pay you, fire them.  Don’t ignore them.

6.  At least once a year, tell a client, “It’s on the house.”

7.  Taking a client to play golf doesn’t show how good a lawyer you are.  It shows how good a golfer you are.

8.  Quit being a pompous, demanding jerk around the office.  If you can’t keep good staff, you don’t deserve good clients.

9.  Your clients will always know their business better than you do.  They may even know the law better than you.  Make sure to seek their advice before giving yours.

10.  A lawyer charging extra for stamps and copies is like a car wash charging extra for water.  Stop it now.

11.  Your clients have wants.  Your clients have needs.  They often don’t know the difference.

12.  Whenever you interrupt a client meeting to take an “important” call, your client thinks about hiring another lawyer.

13.  Imagine a world where your clients knew each month how much their bill from you will be so they could plan for it.  They do.

14.  If you hate being a lawyer, be something else.  You are smart.  You’ll figure it out.

15.  A bill is not communication.  At least not the good kind.

16.  When is the last time you called a client just to thank them for being your client?  That’s what I thought.

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

Resolutions III: December 19

Today’s resolution is to do this exercise every week:

Write down your priorities.  Now look at your calendar.  Do the things you spend your time on mirror the things you think you should be doing?  Probably not – and it could be the primary reason you are dissatisfied with what you do.

Either your priorities will change to match your daily routine, or vice versa. 

I think this would be even more powerful if done office-wide, with this additional wrinkle: 

In addition to comparing everyone’s priorities with their calendars, ask everyone in a supervisory role to list the priorities of those they supervise.  Ask the supervised employees to list the priorities they think they are supposed to have.  Compare and discuss. 

Resolutions III: December 18

Distribute a monthly Postcard-Sized Newsletter from your firm.

Resolutions III: December 17

Here’s one of my favorite ideas from 2006:  Have a Trade Your Headache Day in your office:

Unless you are among the small percentage of hyper-motivated and totally focused people out there in the world, you know you have at least one “headache” sitting in a pile on your desk or on your to-do list.  It may be that project you keep putting off, that client you hate dealing with, or that phone call you just don’t want to make.  No matter what it is, imagine how happy you’d be tomorrow if it weren’t your responsibility any longer.

Well, odds are your co-workers have similar “headaches” they face every day too.  Here is a way to cope: 

Every week (or month) get together with your co-workers and bring your number one headache with you.  Identify it, and then trade it with one that someone else brought.  Think of it like kind of a regular white elephant gift exchange.  Just make sure the same headache doesn’t get traded over and over again.

Resolutions III: December 16

The first week of 2007, go buy seven decks of cards. (via Eric Maisel, and this post on Worthwhile):

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.

Resolutions III: December 15

Read “The Yes Man” by Danny Wallace – a book about what happens when a guy says “yes” to literally everything for a year.  Scott Ginsberg suggested I read this book about six months ago.  I did, and since then I’ve recommended this book to more people than any other book I’ve ever read.  It can be a real life changer.

Resolutions III: December 14

Here’s a simple resolution for you:

Each week, identify one client and send them a hand-written card thanking them for being your client.

Resolutions III: December 13

Has your accountant told you that you need to spend some money on office things before the end of the year?  Try this:

Let’s say you have $20,000 and ten employees.  Tell everyone that you have $10,000 to spend to make the office better.  Ask each employee what one thing (costing from $1–10K) they’d buy the office to make it a better place to work for everyone.  Put the suggestions up on the wall and let everyone discuss and vote for the winner.  Then buy it.

Now, take the remaining $10,000 and divide it equally among your employees (including yourself).  Don’t pay it to them.  Instead, ask each how they’d spend their $1000 to make the office work better for them.  Then buy it.

I think you’ll be amazed at what a morale booster this will be for your office.  The amount doesn’t have to be $20k either.  Your employees will be happy to know that you not only value their input on making your office a better place to work, you act upon it.

Resolutions III: December 12

Yesterday, I posted about a way to have more ideas by taking a walk with a small camera.  Here’s how to get your entire organization into the habit:

Step One:  Get your office a camera (even better, get everyone in your office a camera).

Step Two:  Take turns choosing a particular object, thing, or shape of the week. 

Step Three:  Ask everyone to take pictures of the subject of the week. 

Step Four:  Upload all of the photos taken to a common location (like Flickr).

Step Five:  Discuss the best photos at a weekly staff meeting. 

Step Six.  Pick the best photos each week, print them out, make the photographers “sign” them, and then frame them. 

Step Seven:  Throw out your store-bought “art” and hang up your new original artwork.

INNOVATION BONUS:  Instead of choosing an object, thing, or shape, identify a challenge your office is facing.  Ask your budding photographers to take pictures like before, but suggest they make each picture relate to the challenge (or its solution) in some way – no matter how tenuous the connection.  At you weekly meeting, have everyone explain how/why their photos relate to either the challenge or the solution.

 

 

Resolutions III: December 11

My favorite quote I found in 2006 is from French philosopher Emile Chartier, who said, “Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one you have.”  Following this advice, today’s resolution is to be less dangerous by having more ideas.  Here’s one of my favorite ways:

Step One:  Buy a (small) camera.  This is the one I love.

Step Two:  Go for a walk (don’t forget the camera).

Step Three:  Take lots of pictures, focusing (pun intended) on a particular object, thing, or shape.

Step Four:  Upload them to Picassa, Flickr, iPhoto, etc.

Step Five:  After your walk, spend no more than 10 minutes writing down any random ideas rumbling around inside your head.  For extra credit, write the ideas on the label or note section of your photo-organizing tool.

Step Six:  Repeat daily.

Resolutions III: December 10

Do you use Linked In?  More and more of your current and prospective clients do.  If you use it, here’s a LinkedIn-flavored resolution for you:

1.  Update your profile.

2.  Connect with your contacts (the Outlook Plug-In works great!).

3.  Ask trusted contacts to endorse your work.

Taking a bit of my own medicine here, I’m asking anyone who’s in my network already (or who’d like to join) to endorse me.  Check out my LinkedIn profile in a month to see if I’ve been successful.

Resolutions III: December 9

Didn’t get your Christmas cards out on time?  No worries.  While I’m not sure if this is exactly a resolution or not, there is a tremendous opportunity to use your firm resolutions as a marketing tool. 

Once you’ve settled on five or so firm-wide, client-facing resolutions (not things like deploy a new SQL server, or charge more for copies and postage), send a New Year’s card to each client that reads something like this:

Happy New Year from ABC Firm.   While each New Year brings the promise of wealth and happiness, we know how quickly business resolutions made in January can fade by March.  We’d like to help you keep your 2007 business resolutions … and we’d like you to help us keep ours.

In 2007, we resolve to (add your 1–5 resolutions here):

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

How about you?  What do you resolve to do in 2007 to make your business more profitable, more successful and more fun?  Let us know on the card attached and drop it in the mail.  We will set up a time to meet with you (at no charge) and identify things we can do to help you keep your resolutions and grow your business in the next twelve months.  

One last thing:  We are serious about our resolutions and want you to help us keep them.  If you catch us failing to live up to any of ours, or if you see anything we haven’t resolved to do that you think we should, let us know.  We want to make your 2007 – and ours – the best year ever!

Resolutions III: December 8

Here’s an easy one.  Tomorrow, for an hour:

1.  Unplug your office from the internet.

2.  Send your phones to voicemail (and make sure the ringer is off, too).

3.  Have everyone in your office make a list of something, but don’t have them sign it.  Thinks like:

  • The things I need most to make my job easier/better/more fun.
  • The thing(s) our competitors do WAY better than we do.
  • The thing(s) we do WAY better than our competitors.
  • Our favorite clients.
  • Our least favorite clients.
  • The things that I’d change around here, if only I were boss.
  • If given $1000, I’d buy ______ for the office.
  • My/Our biggest challenge is …

4.  Every 10 minutes, put all the lists in a pile on a table, and have everyone pick another one. 

5.  After the end of the hour, share the lists with everyone.  Leave them somewhere they can be added to.

6.  At your staff meetings, discuss one list each week.

Now, go check your voicemail.

Resolutions III: December 7

Is one of your resolutions to get more business?  Here are some ways to do just that:

1.  Make a list of the one industry you serve best (or that you’d like to serve better). 

2.  Ask someone familiar with the industry what periodicals everyone reads. 

3.  Subscribe to (and read) those magazines.

4.  Leave them in your waiting room when you’re done.   

Extra Credit:

1.  Submit articles to the magazine(s) that demonstrate your legal expertise.

2.  Attend trade shows advertised in the magazines.  Make sure everyone you meet knows the only reason you are there is to learn more about the industry you serve.

3.  Host a quarterly or twice-yearly event highlighting industry trends for local industry members.  If there is some sort of continuing education requirment in the industry, get your event certified.

Extra, Extra Credit:

1.  Compile all of the important materials, books, magazines, etc. for the industry in your office.

2.  Call this an “Industry Lending Library” or something similar.

3.  Make sure everyone in the industry knows they can stop by and borrow what they need (and not have to subscribe to/buy the materials themselves).

4.  Write a “Best Of” Report for each conference you attend.  Mail it to each industry member in your community.  Or blog it.

Extra, Extra, Extra Credit:

1.  Send me $5,000 as soon as someone identifies you as an “Industry Expert.”  ;-) 

Resolutions III: December 6

Resolve to be the place your clients turn to for innovative ideas.  Here’s just one way:

First, go to each of your business clients in the next 90 days and ask them this question (taken from this post by Kathy Sierra):  "What is the one thing that you are most afraid of that could put you out of business before the decade’s over?"

Second, once all of your clients have answered the question, identify the three or four most common answers and find people who can help the clients with their perceived problems.  Invite clients (5-10 at a time) to meet with these people and brainstorm solutions.  Don’t charge for these brainstorming sessions (you will identify enough new business out of them to justify the time).

Third, record the ideas, share them with all your clients, and help clients to implement them.

Finally, plan a hell of a party around New Year’s in 2010 and celebrate with the clients who’ve survived the decade.

 

Resolutions III: December 5

Add this question to your client intake form: 

What is something that you want to accomplish but you need someone else’s help in order to make it happen?

From The Ripple Effect

Resolutions III: December 4

Niche is an amazing new St. Louis restaurant in the Benton Park neighborhood.  After making reservations several weeks ago, I went for the first time Saturday night.  It was fantastic!

The Menu has three main categories:  First Things First, On to Bigger Things, and Sweet Dreams (appetizers/salads, entrees, and desserts).  Though the items listed in each course have individual prices, the restaurant offers diners their choice from each for a flat $35.00.  Not surprisingly, almost everyone chooses the “three for thirty-five” option.

Taking a page from Niche’s menu, here’s the resolution for the day:  Build A Menu for Your Firm.

  • Pick a practice area you are very familiar with, and divide the typical representation into three phases.  
  • Under each phase, list the kinds of things that you would do for the average client (like initial meetings, fact gathering, pleading preparation, etc.) 
  • Now, review old bills to get a sense of how much you really charge for each service, and come up with a price for each.
  • Prepare a “Menu” modeled on the one from Niche.

Even if you don’t plan on using the menu, it will force you to think about the attractiveness of the flat rate price.  Still not sure?  Ask your former clients (who’ve previously utilized the services you’ve set forth on the menu) what they think –  and most importantly, what they’d have thought if you’d presented them with the menu before they hired you.

BONUS:  If you are going to adopt the menu pricing model, go to a good restaurant supply store and have your prices printed in actual menus! 

Oh, and one more thing:  while you are developing a menu, don’t forget the “Whine List.”  Make a list of all of the things the typical client complains about.  Try to address those complaints with the client at the beginning of the representation, not at the end.

Bon Appetit!

 

Resolutions III: December 3

Build an office gallery:

Ask your employees to bring in the artwork of their children/grandchildren/nephews/neices/etc. and hang it in your firm’s “Gallery.”  Every year, have an art show, where all the kids are invited (with parents, of course) to see their work.

Resolutions III: December 2

Find your five favorite clients.  Take them to dinner.  Don’t let them leave until they answer this question:  What can I do to get more clients like you?

Resolutions III: December 1

Build a 2007 Resolution Wall.

Find a blank wall in your office where everyone can post as many firm-related “resolutions” as they want on 5×8 inch Post-It Notes.*   

At the beginning of 2007, draw a line ( tape) down the middle of the wall.  Label one side “Someday” and the other side “Now.”  

Ask every staff member to pick JUST ONE resolution they personally commit to achieving and move that Post-It from the Someday side to the Now side.

Every week, review the resolutions and ask everyone for an update on their progress. 

Once a resolution is achieved, place a huge checkmark (or big gold star) on it, and move another over from the Someday side to the Now side.

Repeat as necessary all year long.

* If you are feeling particularly brave, ask your clients to add their resolutions for your firm to the wall, and keep them up-to-date on your firm’s progress.

It is Resolution Time Again! Call for Submissions.

Each of the past two Decembers, in 2004 and 2005, I have posted daily Resolutions for Lawyers.  It is a fun thing for me to do and helps me to revisit some of the cool things I’ve seen and written about that year.  December is here soon, and I thought I’d open it up to everyone this year. 

If you’ve got a great Resolution you’d like to share, you can add it in the comments of this post, or e-mail me (Matt@LexThink.com) and I’ll share as many as I can.

Thanks! 

Only Four Decks of Cards Left

I was going back over some old posts this morning, and found this one.  Seems there are only 209 days left in the year as I write this.  That’s only four decks of cards “worth” of days left of your original seven decks. 

What do you expect to accomplish before year’s end?  Even more importantly, what did you expect to get done by now?  If you are looking for ideas, I’d suggest reviewing my Resolutions for Lawyers series.

For your clients, maybe you could schedule a “mid-year meeting” (at no cost to them) and use the opportunity to ask your clients what they want to get done before the year is over?  Then use the decks of cards as a visual planning tool to help them accomplish their goals.

Technorati technorati tags: , ,

Why Blog?

Christopher Carfi pointed me to this essay by Chris Brogan titled Cavemen at the Fire that captures the essence of the “why” of blogging for so many of us:

But the truth is, I’m getting value. I get value in talking with you. I’ve met so many engaging people, and every time one of you risks delurking and sending me an email, I meet a new friend….  I feel that every day I post something new is another micro resume. I’m telling people out there what I stand for, how I think, what matters most to me. Some days, that’s probably not going to land me a job. Other days, it’s something that people might relate to.

A Great Motivational Tip

Jason Womack shares a tip he received when he asked the audience at a recent workshop for their productivity tips.  Jason asked, “How do you stay motivated when the project outcome is a long time off?”  The best tip:

Label the project in terms of what I will receive when I’m done. Make it one I “want to” complete.

The Weekly Reader

Here’s a great management idea I’d never heard before from The Window Manager himself:

One of my tasks when I worked at Texas Instruments was to do a “weekly”. For those of you not familiar with this little management tool, this is a bulletized memo that lists the tasks you accomplished for the week, the tasks you are going to do the following week, and what your upcoming schedule looks like, particularly if you’re traveling. It also might include short summaries of customer meetings or market data that was picked up in the field.

My manager collected the weeklies of everyone under him, picked the “best” bullet points, and sent a weekly to his manager. His manager collected the weeklies from HIS people, picked the best bullets, and sent a weekly to HIS manager, and so on up the chain. At twenty-two, I thought it was an accomplishment if one of “my bullets” made it into the VP’s weekly since it had to percolate up three or four layers of weeklies to make it to that level.

If you work for (or by) yourself, do your “weekly” on Friday, put it in a drawer, and then review it on Monday.   However, instead of listing the tasks you accomplished, think a bit bigger.  List the things you are proud you accomplished, and things you have to do next week that will make you proud and/or happy when they are done.  If you are lucky enough to have a support group, share your weekly accomplishments with one another. 

Take a Minute and Save a Child

At BlawgThink, my friend Doug Sorocco told me something that, the more I think about it, is the single best thing that has happened because of my blog.  Last year, I posted this appeal from Doug, asking for help with a raffle for the Spina Bifida Association of America (SBAA), which Doug chairs.  Doug told me that someone clicked on the link though my site and donated $10,000 anonymously to the SBAA.

First, if that generous person is still reading this blog, THANK YOU! 

Second, in hopes that lightning may strike twice, I’m going to post this request from Doug he sent me today:

Hello friends! 

As many of you know, I am the Chairman of the Spina Bifida Association of America – a national non-profit organization whose mission it is to prevent the occurrence of spina bifida (i.e through education of the benefits of consuming folic acid prior to conception) and promotion of all those affected by spina bifida. 

Although spina bifida is the number one permanently disabling birth defect in the United States, research funding through the NIH is at a woefully inadequate level.  As a result, we as an organization have championed the Center for Disease Prevention’s (CDC) efforts to create a National Spina Bifida Program – a program that has been outstanding in its very limited time of existence and is used as a model by the CDC for public/non-profit cooperation.  The program’s funding is being threatened by cuts in the FY2007 budget.

I strongly support the program at the CDC and can personally vouch for the programs fiscal responsibility, effectiveness and meaning to the individuals living with spina bifida and the 60 million women of childbearing age in the United States.

Please take a few moments and click through the link below to send a message to your Congressional representatives that the National Spina Bifida Program at the CDC is also important to you.  It doesn’t take many responses to truly make a difference.

 It would also be helpful if you could forward this email to a couple of your friends and colleagues.

 Thank you so much for your assistance – it truly means a lot to me.

 Douglas

Here’s a link to the Action Alert from the Spina Bifida Association website, and here’s the link to send an e-mail to your Member of Congress.

Do your calendar and priorities match?

Mark at Manager Tools writes about an exercise he has all of his executive coaching clients do before he begins working with them:  He asks them to list their priorities and then looks at their calendars.  The result?

90% of the time they don’t match.

When I review with my clients what they said their priorities were, versus what their calendars proved they actually were, the primary emotion, once we fight through disbelief and dissembling, is embarrassment. The smart ones get something powerful from this: the disparity between what they know their jobs to be and what they spend their time doing is the primary source of their dissatisfaction in their role.

Such a simple, yet profound exercise.  Try it yourself and see if your calendar and priorites match?

Thanks to Lisa for the tip.

Lisa’s Daily Practice

Lisa Haneberg is starting up her 2 Weeks 2 a Breakthrough coaching program again.  She requires her students to do this “Daily Practice” everyday:

Each day:
- Tell two people about your goal.
- Take two actions that support your goal.
- Make two requests that support your goal.

It is a bit late to include this in my resolution series, but think about how it could help you get off to a great 2006.

Resolutions for Leaders

Lisa Hanneberg offers a free e-book:  New Year’s Resolutions for Leaders.

And now back to our regular programming.

If you are just tuning in, I’ve completed the Resolutions for Lawyers, 2006 edition.  I backdated all of the posts to correspond with the appropriate day for the resolution.  You can check out all of the resolutions 2004 & 2005 here.

 

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 31

OK, now that you’ve seen (counting last year’s) almost sixty resolutions, I expect you are a bit overwhelmed.  I’ve got just one more.  For our final resolution, I’m going to share this advice from Steve Harper:

Rather than do a wish list of all the things you want to change or achieve, why not start off with a moderate but attainable list of ONE thing you want bad enough to actually work your tail off to achieve it. Write it down, print it out, put it on the bottom of your mirror so you see it every morning, put a copy in your billfold, put one on your dashboard and on your desk at work. Surround yourself with the very public declaration that this is what you plan to achieve. I believe when you do this, you sort of create a public and private cheering team that will encourage you when things get hard (and they will). It’s easy to let ourselves down but I haven’t met one person that will allow their image to be that of a loser or a quitter when it comes to how others perceive them. It becomes a great motivator and benchmark to stay the course until the goal or resolution is achieved.

If you have more than one thing, write them down and throw it into a folder that you’ll review once each month.  Once you’ve achieved your ONE thing, pick another.

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 30

Take this test, and then pull out your calendar right now and schedule an innovation weekend.  Last year, I did it solo.  This year, my wife will join me as we take a few days  to think about how to innovate in our own personal life.  I’m looking forward to it.

Here is last year’s resolution:

I’ve written about this beforeIs you work area comfortable?  Is your assistant’s?  Read this study, then take a look here for some tips to make it better.

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 29

Stop Charging for Copies! 

For a customer’s perspective, check this out.

Here is last year’s resolution:

Find a way to Googlize Your Firm.

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 28

This one is a Steve Nipper two-fer.  Resolve to declutter your computer:

A few weeks ago I blogged over at Rethink(IP) about how I manage my RSS aggregator by putting RSS Feeds on Probation.  Michael Hyatt (Working Smart) takes a similar approch with the applications on his computer, blogging on how he has a Death Row folder where he moves programs/program shortcuts.  If they don’t get used in the next thirty days…they get sent to the electric chair, er recycle bin.

Here is last year’s resolution (also via Nipper):

Keep track of the nice things people say about you, and of the people who are exceptionally happy with your work.  When you are having a hard time at the office (or want to use some testimonials in your marketing materials) you have a list handy for a quick pick-me-up. 

And in case you think it is a bit conceited to keep track of the people who love you, remember that you will build a far more successful business by marketing to your happiest customers than your unhappy ones.

Thanks to my friend, Steve Nipper, for the tip.

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 27

Here’s one of my personal resolutions for 2006:

Make a list of the twelve people you know who could really help you improve your life in 2006, and then write down the one thing each could do to help you the most.  Each month, resolve to take one of them to dinner to a nice restaurant and ask them to do that one thing. 

If you want to be ambitious, make a parallel list of the twelve people you don’t know who could help, and do the same thing!

Here is last year’s resolution:

I read a lot of non-legal books — mostly business books — to help me generate ideas on improving my legal practice and to get ideas for posts in this blog.  I usually buy the books I read, and fold down the corner of each page that has something I want to come back to.  However, what tends to happen is that I end up with a bunch of books on my bookshelf with beat-up pages that I’ve not looked at since I read them in the first place. 

This brings me to my resolution for the day (and a simple Knowledge Management tip):

Whenever you finish a book, copy each page you “marked” while reading it.  Put the copies in an idea file that you review regularly — or at least when you are stuck and need to think creatively.

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Days 24-26

Take a vacation with your family.  These resolutions are coming to you a bit late (though I’ve backdated them) because I took my own advice.  Here are some pictures from our trip up California’s Highway One, from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

Elephant SealCalifornia Coast 1Pebble Beach 3Pebble Beach 1Pebble Beach 2

Oh, and here are the resolutions from last year:

December 24:

Identify the most successful businesses in your community and find out who is second and third in charge there.  Ask those people to lunch.  Learn everything you can about their business.  Don’t “sell” your practice or your services, but offer to help them in any way you can.  Follow up with a personal thank-you note after the lunch.

You will start to see business from these people and their businesses before next year is out! 

December 26:

Now that the holiday season is over, think about the one present you saw (on television, while shopping, under the tree) that made you say to yourself, “Boy, if I were a kid again …,” and go buy it for yourself.  Whenever you are having a tough day at the office, or really need to do some creative thinking, pull it out and play with it.  Here is the “present” I bought myself while shopping for my daughter’s Christmas presents — a Lego Ferrari F1 Racer.  I can’t wait to put it together.

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 23

Start a Think Tank.  Invite five of the coolest and smartest people you know and let them each invite one additional person.  Set up a monthly brainstorming meeting where you each bring an issue or idea you want to discuss.  Charge a new person each month with the task of introducing a different creative thinking process to the group.  Each month, invite a “guest thinker” to join the group for that session.

Here is last year’s resolution:

Find employees who want to work second and third shifts and experiment with one or two days a month where the firm never closes.  Advertise these days, and find out how many people who’ve never had time to meet with a lawyer come calling!

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 22

Resolve to ask your employees the one thing they’d like to change about your business.  Then commit to trying it for a month, no matter what it is.  Thanks to Zane Safrit for this one.

Here is last year’s resolution:

Every week, pick one of your “standard” forms (like retainer agreement) and give it to a sixth grader.  Ask them if they understand it.  Then rewrite it from scratch.

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 21

Take some time to answer this question:

What would I do differently at work if I knew I couldn’t fail or be criticized?

If you want to find more questions like this one, check out Mitch Meyerson’s 35 Questions That Will Change Your Life (pdf).

Here is last year’s resolution:

Find the biggest problem in your community and have a competition to solve it.  Involve the schools and retirement homes.  Give a prize for the best solution.  Make sure everyone knows your firm sponsored the competition.  Set aside another part of the prize money to go towards funding the solution.

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 20

Resolve to see your office as clients do.  Spend some time in your waiting room.  Listen in as a friend calls your office for an appointment.  Answer this question from Howard Mann:

What if you took some time away from trying to figure out what your clients want next and spend time every month experiencing how they actually see you today?

Here is last year’s resolution:

Create a Firm Master To-Do List — This list isn’t for client matters, but for firm matters.  Make marketing and firm development high priorities.  Make sure everyone has access to the list and place at least one item on the calendar each week to make sure it gets done.

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 19

Here is another favorite idea from the past year

Resolve to write down ten of the most fundamental changes you could make to your business without destroying it.  Once you’ve completed the task, try to make an objective and convincing argument why you shouldn’t make the change.  If there are one or two fundamental changes you can’t make a compelling argument against, give them a try.  (Via Report 103)

Here is last year’s resolution:

Look for space in your office where you can have a comfortable conversation with a client, partner, or staff member.  Having a white board or other brainstorming tool would be a big plus.  Make it a fun place to think.

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 18

Resolve to focus on what is “wrong” in your business.  Each week, identify two or three small things that are “wrong” with your business (kind of like Jeff Bezos does), and fix them by week’s end.  If you want to think more positively, identify three things that are “right” and take the week to make them incrementally better.

Here is last year’s resolution (one of my favorites):

Prepare a list of client commitments and stick to them.  Include returning phone calls within a specified period of time.  Send the commitments to clients with every bill.  Offer discounts if you don’t live up to any of your commitments.  Give clients a small discount if they send back a "Report Card" with their payment.  Make it look like the ones kids got in the fifties.  Follow up with them on any grade they give below an "A."

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 17

Resolve to say “no” more often in your business.  Read Sam Decker’s entire post to understand why.

Here is last year’s resolution:

Before you buy your next computer, try a Tablet PC.  Use it for fifteen minutes or so.  Once you experience the "magic" of using ink on your computer, you will have a difficult time with that boring old Dell or Thinkpad.

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 16

As you make up your “to change” list for 2006, remember the Chinese proverb:

If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.

Via 43 Folders.

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 15

Turn your clients on to blogs.

Not everyone “gets” blogging.  If you’d like to introduce your clients to blogs, why not give them a pre-populated list of blogs that are relevant to them and their business area — heck, include some blogs that reflect their personal interests, favorite hobbies, sports teams, etc.  Make sure it includes yours, of course.  Here, from Steve Dembo, is a quick way to do it:

If you go into Bloglines, click on My Feeds and scroll down to the bottom of the left hand frame, you’ll see a link called “Tell a friend”. Clicking on it allows you to enter in a list of email addresses and to pick among blogs you currently subscribe to. It will send out an email with a link to bloglines that will allow someone to register a new account at bloglines prepopulated with your chosen blogs!

Wow, I wish I’d known about this the last few times I got people started on bloglines. MUCH easier than having them jump from place to place to place subscribing to blogs without really understanding what it’s all about yet.

It’s kind of like a personal gift that keeps on giving.  It is like you are introducing your client to dozens of people that could directly help their businesses.  That’s pretty powerful relationship building.

If you use this tip, though, at least promise me you’ll include the [non]billable hour in the list. ;-)

Here is last year’s resolution:

Pick the three computer programs you use the most (or should use the most), and learn how to use them better.  Set aside an hour per week to spend reading the manuals and playing around with the software.  Better yet, get a “Dummies” book and read it through.  You will be amazed at the amount of time you can save just learning the in’s and out’s of most computer programs.  You would also be wise to make the rest of your office (especially staff) do the same thing.

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 14

As we approach the New Year, some reflection is in order, so here’s today’s resolution:  Resolve to write down the most important lesson you learned in 2005.   For some inspiration, check out Dave Pollard’s list.  Here a few of his lessons lawyers should learn:

 23. The customer has all the power in our economy. We just don’t realize it yet.

20. You know much more than you can say and you can say much more than you can write down. So if you want to share what you know, forget about writing it down, converse with me, or better still, show me. 

17. People learn more from stories than from even the most brilliant analytical discourse. 

12. We need to find the things that are at the intersection of what we love doing, what we do well, and what is needed — and then do them. 

9. Complicated ‘solutions’ don’t work if the ‘problem’ is complex. Forget root cause analysis, systems thinking, and easy answers. Engage a lot of people in conversations, observe, listen, pay attention, be open, and allow possible approaches to such situations to emerge. 

4. Frames matter. You’ll never convince anyone of anything until you understand her frame of reference. And you’ll never convince anyone of anything until she’s ready to be convinced. 

2. What most people want, women and men alike, is a little attention and a little appreciation. We need to be much more generous with these things, even more generous than we are with material things, and our knowledge and our love

And here’s last year’s resolution:

Think of your best client.  Now, go print out the MacKay 66.  How many of these questions can you answer?

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 13

Resolve to get your picture taken professionally.   Especially if you haven’t done it in a while.  Make sure you get a high-resolution digital file for yourself that you can use in your electronic and print materials. 

Here’s last year’s resolution:

As I get caught up on my resolution series, here is a great post from one of my favorite new blogs, Marketing eYe.  Read the entire post about how Alexander became “the Great.”  The resolution I took away is this:

The best and the quickest way to become more successful is to focus on your one main problem. Focus on your “Darius.” When your main problem is solved, you will find that the other minor problems you had took care of themselves or are not a problem anymore!

My main problem is procrastination.  What is yours?  What are we going to do about it?

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 12

Resolve to buy some coffee.  Here’s my orignal post:

Rosa Say passes on a great way to spend your marketing dollars:

This morning Kerwin and I walked into a Prescott Starbucks and both ordered their strong-brew coffee of the day to then find it was free. The barista at the cash register motioned over to a gentleman sitting in an animated discussion with a group of about six others, and said, “Your coffee is on Mr. Perez this morning.”

As Kerwin stirred cream and sugar into his coffee, we read a poster on the wall right above the condiment station with a picture of Mr. Perez’s smiling face explaining that every Wednesday morning from 8:30am-9:30am he buys coffee at that Starbucks for all his customers and anyone else who wants to talk story with him about investment banking and Prescott’s promising future.

Absolutely, frickin’ brilliant.

And here is last year’s resolution:

Look around your work and your life: Is there a promise you made that you can “over-deliver” on? Go for it, and let’s hear it for the “little bit of extra” that goes a long, long way. (From Jason Womack).

 

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 11

Resolve to improve the way your receptionist (or you) answers your phone.    Read this for some great tips.

Here’s last year’s resolution:

If you are interested at all in learning about how other businesses have mastered the art of client service, read Secret Service by John R. DiJulius.  DiJulius runs a string of spas in Ohio and details many practical yet ingenious ways he uses to deliver an unforgettable (and profitable) customer experience.  I came away with literally hundreds of great ideas from reading this book.  One of the three best books I’ve read this year. 

I still find this is one of the books I recommend most often.

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 10

Give your office a makeover.  Start by taking these two steps.

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 9

Resolve to buy a digital camera to leave in the office.  You can use it two ways:

First, take a photo of every client you meet with.  Keep the picture in the client’s file so everytime you pick up the file (or access it digitally) you are reminded of who you are working for.  You can also keep a private “face book” to review from time to time in case you have a hard time “putting a name with a face.”  This also helps avoid those embarassing moments you see a client in public in a different context, and can’t remember his/her name.

Second, take a picture of you and your happy client shaking hands after the representation ends (or when a favorable result is reached).  Put the picture in a binder titled “Our Happy Clients” and leave it in your waiting room.  Make sure to get each client’s permission first! (thanks to Michael Cage for this one, originally blogged about here).

Here’s last year’s resolution:

This one is easy, and should be on all of our "to do" lists everyday.  Think about that one person who helps you the most to do what you do (for me, it is my secretary Janelle).  Go to that person today and thank them. 

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 8

Resolve to rethink your advertising and marketing strategy.  Here’s my all-time favorite advertising idea (WARNING, may not be ethics-safe for lawyers).

Here is last year’s resolution:

One of my favorite ideas I’ve found since I’ve been blogging is the one I blogged about here called "Stop, Start, Continue."  Divide your staff into three groups and identify a single problem or question you need to address in your practice (or your life). 

Ask the first group to brainstorm and answer the question, "In order to _______, we need to stop doing _______."  The second group does the same with the  question, "In order to _______, we need to start doing _______."  Finally the third group answers, "In order to _______, we need to continue doing _______."

After all three groups have come up with a number of answers to their question, have everyone rotate and repeat the process two more times.  Get everyone together, review the answers, and then devise a plan to put the ideas into action.

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 7

Resolve to give each of your clients at least five minutes every month (off the clock) to check in and see what they are up to.  For more, check out this post talking about Rosa Say’sDaily Five Minutes.” 

Here is last year’s resolution:

Review the look of your normal invoice.  Then ask a seven year old to do the same.  Are they readable and easy to understand?  Do they have all of the information your client wants or needs?  It also wouldn’t hurt to call a few of your best clients (or the people in charge of paying those clients’ bills) and ask them if there is anything you can do to make your bills easier to read and understand.

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 6

This is a bit of a plug for a new friend of mine, but if you are serious about changing your new year, check out Jim Canterucci’s book Personal Brilliance (if you order soon, he’s got a lot of goodies for you). 

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 5

Continuing the theme from Day 4, don’t just ask for referrals, ask for testimonials.  I have done this several times after LexThink! events (and even here at this blog) and the results have been fantastic.

Also:  Last Year’s Resolution

 

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 4

Ask everyone for referrals.  From this Michael Cage post:

Ask everyone for referrals. People who buy from you? Ask for referrals. People who don’t buy from you? Ask for referrals. Here’s a simple, no-cost way to increase your referrals: Before you deliver a solution, tell your client that you prefer getting new business by referral. Less money spent on advertising means better deals for clients like him/her, and you’d like to work with more people like him/her. Ask them, “after we’ve delivered this and you are thrilled with how things work, would you refer us to your friends/colleagues?” After you’ve delivered, make sure they are thrilled, and only then ask for a list of friends or colleagues who would want the same service and expertise.

Also:  Last Year’s Resolution

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 3

Learn how to ask you clients for their budget.  It avoids big misunderstandings later.

 

Also:  Last Year’s Resolution

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 2

Have a bunch of favorite business books you’ve read (or not) sitting on your shelf?  Try this:  Each week, set aside 60 minutes for uninterruped reading, and grab five books and read a random chapter in each.  Make sure you have a notebook handy when you’re reading to capture any cool ideas you have.

Also:  Last Year’s Resolution

Resolutions for Lawyers Redux – Day 1

I’ll start the 2005 Resolutions with the number one favorite tip I’ve gotten in 2005.  Resolve to make Five “Unreasonable Requests” each week.  From my original post:

I had the pleasure of a long telephone conversation with Lisa Haneberg yesterday.  Lisa gave me some great tips I’m sure to implement in my Innovation Coaching Program, but one thing she told me really got my attention.  Each week, she resolves to make at least five “unreasonable requests” to people she has no business asking for favors.  She reasons that if just one request is granted, she’s gotten a bit of a bonus that week.  Doing a quick google search, I realize I’m not the only one impressed by Lisa’s approach.

I’ve been doing this religiously over the last two months and the results have been astounding.  If there is only one thing you will resolve to do in 2006, make it this.

Also:  Last Year’s Resolution

Resolutions for Lawyers – 2005 Edition

One year ago, I posted this:

Because we all want to become better lawyers, make more money, work less, spend more time with our families, and generally retire rich, happy, and healthy, the dawn of every new year is the time we finally decide, “Well, now I’m going to do X,Y, and Z to improve my _______, stop doing ________, and be a better ________.”  And even though we never have any problem filling in those blanks, I’m going to complicate matters by starting a new, limited-run series titled, “Resolutions for Lawyers.”

Until January 1, I’ll be posting a number of Resolutions.  Basically, it will be a collection of quick ideas and simple suggestions for things we all can do in the next year to become better lawyers and run our businesses better. 

Well, now I’m going to do it again.  Between now and December 31, I’ll post 31 all new resolutions and repost a few of my favorites from last year.  E-mail me at Matt@LexThink.com if you’ve got any you’d like me to add.

Set Your Billing Rate to $10,000 per Hour.

Steve Pavlina  has an interesting take on hourly billing:

The big problem is that when you tell yourself your time is worth $50/hour, you’re simultaneously telling yourself that it isn’t worth $75/hour or $200/hour or $10,000/hour. You’re programming your subconscious mind to limit the range of opportunities you will notice. Because you won’t be on the lookout for $10,000/hour ideas, you’ll overlook them completely. If you tell yourself you earn $50/hour, you’ll think in terms of $50/hour opportunities.

Thinking in terms of an hourly rate may help limit your downside, but it also severely limits your upside. And that’s a really bad trade-off, bad enough that it requires me to dismiss this whole paradigm as utterly stupid. There’s no way the upside of turning some $20 hours into $50 hours can compensate for missing those $10,000 hours. That’s penny-wise, pound-foolish.

One $10,000 hour is worth 200 $50 hours. That’s more than a month of full-time work! You don’t need too many of those huge payoff hours to pick up the slack of some of those less productive $0-20 hours, but if you miss out on even one of those $10,000 hours, it’s a crippling blow that overwhelms all other thoughts about financial productivity.

In the long run, your greatest financial risk isn’t whether you made the mistake of succumbing to doing $20/hour work when you could have done $50/hour work. Your greatest risk is missing those $10,000 hours. And most people miss out on them completely. It’s ironic that people think of being a salaried employee as being low-risk and being an entrepreneur as high-risk. The reality is just the opposite. One of the reasons I chose the entrepreneurial path is that it’s just way too damn risky to be an employee. I’m not kidding. It’s easy to hit a good number of those $10,000 hours as an entrepreneur, but it’s a lot harder to do so as an employee.

How many $10,000 hours did you enjoy this year?

Go ahead and read the whole post.  Really thought provoking.

Now, Here are the 7 Habits!

I love this “revised” list:  Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.

What is Your Power Button?

Ed Bott wrote a post titled Get to Know Your Power Button.  The post talks about how to configure your PC’s power button.  What I liked the most was Ed’s title.  So what is your power button?  Is it work?  Passion?  Money?  Family?

Trying Steve Pavlina’s 30 Days Formula

I ran across Steve Pavlina’s blog post titled 30 Days to Success just over a month ago.  In it, he outlines a fairly simple way to make dramatic changes to your life.  First, Steve’s explanation:

A powerful personal growth tool is the 30-day trial. This is a concept I borrowed from the shareware industry, where you can download a trial version of a piece of software and try it out risk-free for 30 days before you’re required to buy the full version. It’s also a great way to develop new habits, and best of all, it’s brain-dead simple.

Let’s say you want to start a new habit like an exercise program or quit a bad habit like sucking on cancer sticks. We all know that getting started and sticking with the new habit for a few weeks is the hard part. Once you’ve overcome inertia, it’s much easier to keep going.

At the time, I was drinking 3–5 Diet Mountain Dews each day.  I figured I’d take Steve’s advice, and resolve to stop drinking soda for “only” 30 days.  Days 1–3 sucked, but I slowly replaced my morning Dews with one cup of Green Tea and drank water the rest of the day.  Gotta tell you, it worked.  The thirty days was an easy amount of time to measure, and though I fell off the wagon a couple of times, it was pretty easy to get back on.  I don’t miss the soda at all.

Now I’m looking for another 30 day challenge.  For you lawyers out there, how about resolving to return every phone call within 24 hours just for the next 30 days.  I dare you!

Stop Trying on New Technology!

As an avid user of new technology, this post from 43 Folders hit a bit too close to home:

No tool can save you from your own crap behavior, so as you approach these great new apps—and I hope you’ll at least check them out if you haven’t—please try to do it with a bit of perspective about how or why the old tools were not working for you. Consider the patterns that you can observe about how you do your best work and which tasks have benefited from a certain tool or approach in the past.

And, finally, as you start to choose one new, dedicated tool to improve your productivity, be circumspect about the amount of pure “dicking around” time that you spend. Yes: learn the tool well and understand its functions and limitations, but avoid the temptation to blow a week moving “your system” into the Next Shiny Product until you really understand how you’ll be better off having used it. Don’t fiddle endlessly, just because it’s fun. That’s not running; that’s just playing with your shoes.

I’ve been working on my personal productivity solution for several weeks now, and I think I’ve gotten it down enough to share it with you (in a post later this week) — so long as I quit looking at amazing apps like Backpack, Sproutliner, Tasktoy, GTDTiddliWiki, etc.  The tools I have now are enough.  And I’m making the resolution now (a la this great advice from Steve Pavlina) to stick with what I’ve got for the next 30 days to make sure it works, before looking for the next best thing.

Small Firm Lawyers Tsunami Fund!

Denise Howell posts about how big firms are contributing large sums of money to aid tsunami victims.  What about the small firm lawyers?  The small firm lawyers I know are among the most generous and giving people on this planet.  I’d wager that most lawyers in small communities give a far greater percentage of their income (and time) to community and charitable organizations then do their big firm counterparts, although the big firms get all the press

Today, I am issuing the Small Firm Tsunami Relief Fund challenge:  I want to raise at least $100,000 for tsunami relief in the next three months — to be given to Save the Children — on behalf of small-firm lawyers everywhere.

As I often do, I’m posting this idea without thinking through all of the details.  I’ll work on those this weekend, but here are some possibilities:

1.  Get a company that serves solo and small firm lawyers to match all donations up to a certain level.

2.  Call upon the solo and small firm sections of various national, state, and local bar associations to get the news out to their members.

3.  Set up some sort of mechanism to accept the pledges and forward them on to Save the Children as a lump sum.

4.  Partner with all of the blawggers out there who write for a small firm audience.

I know there are a lot of details to work out, and I welcome your comments and suggestions.  I’d even suggest a conference call next week if anyone is serious about helping me with this.  E-mail me at smallfirmlawyer@gmail.com and let’s make this happen!

What will you say “no” to?

Sam Decker has this absolutely amazing list of things he resolves to say “no” to:

1. What strategies, initiatives and activities will you say no to?

2. What measurements will you not pay attention to?

3. What customers will you not target?

4. What people will you not keep?

5. What competitors will you not follow?

6. What will you remove from your web site?

7. What money will you not spend?

8. What meetings will you decline?

9. What trips will you not make?

10. What slides will you not create?

11. What will you not say?

12. What thoughts will you not entertain?

Read Sam’s entire post — especially the comments under each “resolution” — and resolve to not do some things yourself this year.

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 30

I’ve written about this before:

Is you work area comfortable?  Is your assistant’s?  Read this study, then take a look here for some tips to make it better. 

 

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 29

Find a way to Googlize Your Firm.

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 28

Keep track of the nice things people say about you, and of the people who are exceptionally happy with your work.  When you are having a hard time at the office (or want to use some testimonials in your marketing materials) you have a list handy for a quick pick-me-up. 

And in case you think it is a bit conceited to keep track of the people who love you, remember that you will build a far more successful business by marketing to your happiest customers than your unhappy ones.

Thanks to my friend, Steve Nipper, for the tip.

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 27

I read a lot of non-legal books — mostly business books — to help me generate ideas on improving my legal practice and to get ideas for posts in this blog.  I usually buy the books I read, and fold down the corner of each page that has something I want to come back to.  However, what tends to happen is that I end up with a bunch of books on my bookshelf with beat-up pages that I’ve not looked at since I read them in the first place. 

This brings me to my resolution for the day (and a simple Knowledge Management tip):

Whenever you finish a book, copy each page you “marked” while reading it.  Put the copies in an idea file that you review regularly — or at least when you are stuck and need to think creatively.

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 26

Now that the holiday season is over, think about the one present you saw (on television, while shopping, under the tree) that made you say to yourself, “Boy, if I were a kid again …,” and go buy it for yourself.  Whenever you are having a tough day at the office, or really need to do some creative thinking, pull it out and play with it.  Here is the “present” I bought myself while shopping for my daughter’s Christmas presents — a Lego Ferrari F1 Racer.  I can’t wait to put it together.

Ferrari Lego

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 25

Take a few days off and spend time with your family.

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 24

Here is one on my personal “to do” list next year: 

Identify the most successful businesses in your community and find out who is second and third in charge there.  Ask those people to lunch.  Learn everything you can about their business.  Don’t “sell” your practice or your services, but offer to help them in any way you can.  Follow up with a personal thank-you note after the lunch.

You will start to see business from these people and their businesses before next year is out! 

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 23

Find employees who want to work second and third shifts and experiment with one or two days a month where the firm never closes.  Advertise these days, and find out how many people who’ve never had time to meet with a lawyer come calling!

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 22

Every week, pick one of your "standard" forms (like retainer agreement) and give it to a sixth grader.  Ask them if they understand it.  Then rewrite it from scratch.

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 21

Find the biggest problem in your community and have a competition to solve it.  Involve the schools and retirement homes.  Give a prize for the best solution.  Make sure everyone knows your firm sponsored the competition.  Set aside another part of the prize money to go towards funding the solution.

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 20

Create a Firm Master To-Do List — This list isn’t for client matters, but for firm matters.  Make marketing and firm development high priorities.  Make sure everyone has access to the list and place at least one item on the calendar each week to make sure it gets done.

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 19

Look for space in your office where you can have a comfortable conversation with a client, partner, or staff member.  Having a white board or other brainstorming tool would be a big plus.  Make it a fun place to think.

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 18

Prepare a list of client commitments and stick to them.  Include returning phone calls within a specified period of time.  Send the commitments to clients with every bill.  Offer discounts if you don’t live up to any of your commitments.  Give clients a small discount if they send back a “Report Card” with their payment.  Make it look like the ones kids got in the fifties.  Follow up with them on any grade they give below an “A.”

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 17

I spent all day yesterday shooting a commercial for HP and Intel.   I was interviewed about my mobile computing habits, the benefits of WiFi for mobile lawyers,  and my use of the Tablet PC.  I got to use one of  HP’s Tablets during the shoot instead of my Toshiba M200 (not better, not worse, just different). 

During the shoot I showed my Tablet (as well as the HP) to the sound guy.  He had just bought an Apple iBook, but said he would have rethought that purchase had he gotten to use a Tablet first.  I can think of no other Microsoft-based product that elicits a similar envious reaction from Apple users.  Can you?

That leads into my resolution for the day:

Before you buy your next computer, try a Tablet PC.  Use it for fifteen minutes or so.  Once you experience the “magic” of using ink on your computer, you will have a difficult time with that boring old Dell or Thinkpad. 

Trust me on this one. 

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 15

I know, I’m getting behind on my resolutions.  Once you see the big announcement later today, I hope you’ll understand.  Anyway, here is the first in a flurry of resolutions between now and Christmas:

Pick the three computer programs you use the most (or should use the most), and learn how to use them better.  Set aside an hour per week to spend reading the manuals and playing around with the software.  Better yet, get a “Dummies” book and read it through.  You will be amazed at the amount of time you can save just learning the in’s and out’s of most computer programs.  You would also be wise to make the rest of your office (especially staff) do the same thing.

For me, the three programs I vow to spend more time with this year are Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft OneNote, and MindManager.  Oh, and I will learn to use ActiveWords to get better at each.

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 14

This is another favorite

Think of your best client.  Now, go print out the MacKay 66.  How many of these questions can you answer?

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 13

As I get caught up on my resolution series, here is a great post from one of my favorite new blogs, Marketing eYe.  Read the entire post about how Alexander became “the Great.”  The resolution I took away is this:

The best and the quickest way to become more successful is to focus on your one main problem. Focus on your “Darius.” When your main problem is solved, you will find that the other minor problems you had took care of themselves or are not a problem anymore!

My main problem is procrastination.  What is yours?  What are we going to do about it?

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 12

Look around your work and your life: Is there a promise you made that you can “over-deliver” on? Go for it, and let’s hear it for the “little bit of extra” that goes a long, long way. (From Jason Womack).

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 11

If you are interested at all in learning about how other businesses have mastered the art of client service, read Secret Service by John R. DiJulius.  DiJulius runs a string of spas in Ohio and details many practical yet ingenious ways he uses to deliver an unforgettable (and profitable) customer experience.  I came away with literally hundreds of great ideas from reading this book.  One of the three best books I’ve read this year. 

Resolutions for Lawyers

Three closings (in three different counties), two emergency hearings, and one article due have kept me from posting the last few days.  I’ll be back Friday morning with six more resolutions (to get back on track), and some really big news. 

Until then, take a look later today at the first Savvy Blogger Panel postings at Adam Smith Esq. 

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 10

Keep Sunday, April 3, 2005 open on your calendar.  More details to follow…

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 9

This one is easy, and should be on all of our “to do” lists everyday.  Think about that one person who helps you the most to do what you do (for me, it is my secretary Janelle).  Go to that person today and thank them. 

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 8

One of my favorite ideas I’ve found since I’ve been blogging is the one I blogged about here called “Stop, Start, Continue.”  Divide your staff into three groups and identify a single problem or question you need to address in your practice (or your life). 

Ask the first group to brainstorm and answer the question, “In order to _______, we need to stop doing _______.”  The second group does the same with the  question, “In order to _______, we need to start doing _______.”  Finally the third group answers, “In order to _______, we need to continue doing _______.”

After all three groups have come up with a number of answers to their question, have everyone rotate and repeat the process two more times.  Get everyone together, review the answers, and then devise a plan to put the ideas into action.

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 7

Review the look of your normal invoice.  Then ask a seven year old to do the same.  Are they readable and easy to understand?  Do they have all of the information your client wants or needs?  It also wouldn’t hurt to call a few of your best clients (or the people in charge of paying those clients’ bills) and ask them if there is anything you can do to make your bills easier to read and understand.

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 6

I got this one from The Nub

1) Take any issue you want to consider. E.g: your relationship with your kids or partner; your relationships at work; your project; your time; your stress — ANYTHING.

2) Now create a sentence stem that focuses on your issue. E.g. If I want to improve my time effectiveness by 5% I must…

3) Then complete the sentence between 6-10 times. Don’t get fixed too long trying to say the right thing, if in doubt, invent – just make sure the ending is grammatically correct.

Example endings could be: If I want to improve my time effectiveness by 5% I must…
…get up 30 minutes earlier
…set deadlines
…get to bed earlier
…organise my desk
…stick to my decisions
…accept that I can’t do everything
…keep in mind why I am doing something

Why only 5%? Because that’s not overwhelming. Try it out…There are tons of possibilities with this technique – I’ve just scratched the surface.

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 5

Who is your perfect client?  Old or young?  Rich or poor?  Male or female?  Once you’ve decided, go shopping.  Go to the kind of stores your perfect client frequents, and look around.  What draws your perfect client to the store(s) he or she shops in?  Is it price?  Is it selection?  Is it quality?  Is it atmosphere?  Go back to your office and compare your office’s “look” with the look of your ideal customer’s favorite store.  Could you make your office more inviting or accommodating?

Then think about what you sell (and how you price it).  Are you Wal-Mart, Target, or Nieman-Marcus?  Which one do you want to be?

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 4

Develop your “elevator speech.”

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 3

Pick your five best clients and ask to meet with each of them before the year is over.  Make sure they know they won’t be charged for the meeting.  At the meeting ask them, “What do you want to accomplish in the next twelve months, and how can I help you to do it?”

Resolutions for Lawyers – Day 2

Every time I see an advertisement for a time and billing “solution” for lawyers, it almost always has some variation on the theme, “If you could recapture just ___ more minutes per day, you would make $____ more per year.”  When lawyers are tied to billing clients by the hour, so much of what we do (and how we are paid) depends only upon the time we spend that is directly attributable to a client’s file.  And as the advertisement suggests, every extra minute we can recapture makes us more money.  Or does it?

Regular readers of this blog know that I am no fan of the billable hour, and apart from its destructive impact on the relationship we wish to have with our clients, billing by the hour has a more insidious effect on our business’ bottom lines:  We fail to take the time to think about the business itself.  Every time I meet with other lawyers and share some of the ideas about how my partner and I are changing our law practices, they invariably ask, “How do you find time to think about all of this stuff.”  Though I hold my tongue, I am thinking to myself, “How can they afford not to?”

That brings me to my resolution for the day:

Take 30 minutes per day to seriously think about your business.  Are you doing the work you like to do?  Are you working with clients that respect your efforts?  If you answer “No” to either of those questions, are there ways you can change your practice to get to where you want to be?

For those 30 minutes, get away from the phone and the computer, and commit to writing down 25 ideas.  File the ideas away, and look at them again at the end of each week.  Out of the hundreds of ideas you’ll generate each month, there will certainly be a gem or two that will help you become the lawyer you want to be. 

Trust me, if you work on your business for a change instead of just for your business, you will reap amazing dividends for your practice and your life.

Resolutions for Lawyers, Day 1

Identify your least favorite client — you know, the one that you hope doesn’t call, the one that pays their bill late, berates your staff, and/or makes outrageous demands on your time — and fire them.  They don’t deserve your hard work (and probably aren’t getting your best work anyway if you hate doing it for them).

As an added holiday bonus, let your secretary pick a client to fire too!  It is a great moral boost to everyone in the office when that one (and you don’t have to limit yourself to one) client is gone. 

Resolutions for Lawyers, Introduction

Because we all want to become better lawyers, make more money, work less, spend more time with our families, and generally retire rich, happy, and healthy, the dawn of every new year is the time we finally decide, “Well, now I’m going to do X,Y, and Z to improve my _______, stop doing ________, and be a better ________.”  And even though we never have any problem filling in those blanks, I’m going to complicate matters by starting a new, limited-run series titled, “Resolutions for Lawyers.”

Until January 1, I’ll be posting a number of Resolutions.  Basically, it will be a collection of quick ideas and simple suggestions for things we all can do in the next year to become better lawyers and run our businesses better.  

I would love to hear your resolutions for the next year.  Leave them in the comments to each post, and I’ll compile all of them at the end of the year in one giant post.  Until then, look for one of my resolutions each day until December 31.

Life Laundry for Law Offices

I don’t get BBC America at home, but have heard about the show Life Laundry, and thought it had an interesting premise:

In Life Laundry, storage expert Dawna Walter helps people streamline their internal and external lives by cleaning out their clutter and offering advice, insight and top tips – while antique dealer Mark Franks help turn junk into hard cash – all in 48 hours.

But this is more than just a home makeover show. For some it’s an incredibly emotional experience as they struggle to come to terms with the past.

Faced with rooms too full of junk for their owners to use, to broken computers and washing machines that have sat idle for years, Dawna and Mark take drastic action, emptying the offending rooms on to the closest outside space.

Step-by-step they take the homeowners through their belongings sifting, sorting, and slinging out the clutter that has taken over their homes – and in some cases their lives.

From people who have allowed their possessions to take over as a result of trauma, to sentimental hoarders, over-zealous collectors and people and families whose relationships are under strain from the amount of junk cluttering their homes – the Life Laundry experts are on hand to help.

What would the Life Laundry experts find in your office?  Old computers, printers that don’t work, dozens (hundreds, thousands) of books that you don’t use anymore?  Piles of trade publications and legal magazines that you’ve set aside to read someday? Get rid of all of that stuff and be amazed at how little you really needed any of it.

Idea Garage Sale.

I’ve been spending the last two weeks doing some housekeeping around the office:  closing files, throwing stuff away, reviewing every open file, and generally organizing the stuff I have sitting around.  One of the things I’ve noticed is how easy it is to accumulate things on the computer.  For instance, I have over two-hundred items in my “to blog” folder on Bloglines alone.  Add to that the hundreds of articles and web sites I’ve book-marked over the last four years and you start to get the picture of some of the electronic cobwebs in my office.

I have finally recognized that I have too many ideas sitting around cluttering things up.  For the next week, I’m going to have an “Idea Garage Sale” on this blog.  I’ll be throwing up tons of links, blurbs, and thoughts that I’ve found laying around for you to take if you want.  If there is anything left at the end of next week, it will get shipped off to Goodwill.

And as for my fellow bloggers, I know you are in the same predicament as I am.  Everyone knows that when the whole neighborhood has a garage sale, more people show up to buy and more stuff gets sold, so join me and have your own Idea Garage Sale, too.

Enjoy your shopping!

Draw the Red Line

I continue to be amazed by Hugh MacLeod’s How to be Creative series on his Gaping Void weblog. His most recent contribution is this gem:

15. The most important thing a creative person can learn professionally is where to draw the red line that separates what you are willing to do, and what you are not. Art suffers the moment other people start paying for it. The more you need the money, the more people will tell you what to do. The less control you will have. The more bullshit you will have to swallow. The less joy it will bring. Know this and plan accordingly.

Hugh is the guy who draws cartoons on business cards. Though I love the one that accompanies the post, the one here has this bit of wisdom, “If an ordinary person can understand what you do, you’re already half way to becoming a commodity.”

A procrastination fix.

I’ve recently read “The Now Habit” and I’ve been having a great time this week implementing its cures for my procrastination. I’ve spent most of the week cataloging all of my to-do’s (ala David Allen), and using the Franklin Covey Plan Plus software with my TabletPC. However, the best thing I’ve done is retreated to an abandoned conference room in my office building for two or three 30 minute blocks of time each day. I set my watch alarm for thirty minutes, take it off, and set it face down on the table. I start the project I need to work on, and work straight through for the 30 minutes. No telephone interruptions, no e-mail, no secretary asking me to fix her computer. The focused productivity has been absolutely amazing. I admit I got much of the idea from former Five by Five contributor Michael Cage, who writes:

The bulk of my income is derived from writing, and it has proven to be slow-going for me to write in my office. I’m an easily distracted person (the classic “hunter” profile a la Thom Hartmann). Ordinarily, I’d set about changing a trait that was an annoyance, but, in this case it is responsible for a large part of my success. I don’t want it gone, I just want better strategies for focus.

So, I bought an iBook.

It does not have E-mail set up and never will. When it’s time to work on important projects, I carry it into another office (that doesn’t have my stuff in it) to work; or strut over to Starbucks and down enough caffeine for the entire state of Virginia while pumping out the copy. In a sense, I’ve “ritualized” the entire process of writing including the tools I do it with. I’ve finished 3 major projects in the last 3 days that were dragging on for weeks. My productivity has soared. It’s great!

Like Michael, I’ve gotten more done in the last four days than in the previous two weeks. I’ll have a review of the Plan Plus software up soon, but right now, I’ve got thirty minutes set aside to get some real work done.

Ways to Reduce Stress

The Nub picked up this list from a Philipine Newspaper. Titled, “Christian ways to reduce stress.” There are a bunch of great ideas and tips here (no matter what your faith). These are my favorites:

1. An Angel says, “Never borrow from the future. If you worry about what may happen tomorrow and it doesn’t happen, you have worried in vain. Even if it does happen, you have to worry twice.”

5. Say NO to projects that won’t fit into your time schedule or that will compromise your mental health.

6. Delegate tasks to capable others.

8. Less is more (Although one is often not enough, two are often too many.)

9. Allow extra time to do things and to get to places.

10. Pace yourself. Spread out big changes and difficult projects over time; don’t lump the hard things all together.

11. Separate worries from concerns. If a situation is a concern, find out what God would have you do and let go of the anxiety. If you can’t do anything about a situation, forget it.

14. Have backups: an extra car key in your wallet, an extra house key buried in the garden, extra stamps, etc.

15. K.M.S. (Keep Mouth Shut) This single piece of advice can prevent an enormous amount of trouble.

16. Do something for the Kid in You everyday.

20. Get organized so everything has its place.

22. Write down thoughts and inspirations.

23. Every day, find time to be alone.

30. Take your work seriously, but not yourself at all.

31. Develop a forgiving attitude (most people are doing the best they can).

32. Be kind to unkind people (they probably need it the most.).

34. Talk less; listen more.

36. Remind yourself that you are not the general manager of the universe.

37. Every night before bed, think of one thing you’re grateful for that you’ve never been grateful for before.

Inspiration at Work

Anita Sharpe at Worthwhile wrote about an interview with Kevin Carroll, a creative guru at Nike, in HOW magazine. Kevin was asked in the interview to quickly name six things that inspire him. Go to Anita’s full post for his response, but Anita wrote:

It’s a fun exercise, and if you do it quickly, you might surprise yourself, or, like me, you might produce something that sounds like a personal ad on Match.com: “Magazines. The Beatles. Great dinner conversations. Spontaneous adventures. Billy Crystal movies, or any humorous book or movie that also has a point. Views of water (I bought my house because a creek runs through the property; my office window has a view of a swimming pool and I count that, too.)”

My six things off the top of my head:

My daughter’s laughter.
My wife’s smile.
Being the first golfer to walk the course early in the morning.
The Missouri Botanical Garden
Having a client say “Thank you.”
Having a full day to do nothing but read.

Sometimes we need to step back and realize that work helps us live our life, and shouldn’t replace it. Now, back to our regular programming …

Great Productivity Tips

Legal Coach Ed Poll has five productivity tips on his Coach to Lawyers Weblog from a presentation he attended by Nido Qubein. Nido’s tips:

1. Call or write 4 people every week (Monday to Friday).
2. Get the “clean desk” habit — do today what you can, don’t leave it for tomorrow.
3. Return all calls on the day received (still the number one complaint against attorneys in State Bar Disciplinary Boards around the country!).
4. Read one hour every day.
5. Read the newspaper at night (it’s faster because you’ve heard some of it already and you’ll know what’s important … and you won’t start your day depressed by the murder and mayhem reported daily).

I met Ed at the ABA national convention in Atlanta about ten years ago. He writes some great stuff for lawyers and has started posting more to his blog. He needs a link from his blog to his main website though.

The Silver Lake Group, Ltd.

Well, the Silver Lake Group, Ltd. is open for business. My partner is Jeffrey Mollet, a lawyer with expertise in agribusiness, real estate, and banking law (I’ll post his biography here in another post). Jeff shares my passion for innovation and we both recognize how important it is to get our new venture off on the right foot. To that end, I’m shutting down my legal practice for the next month to concentrate on everything we need to do to start fresh, and most importantly, start right.

To be sure, I’ll still be here for client calls and meetings, and the occasional motion or hearing, but I have no trials scheduled and will be taking on no urgent matters this month. On June 1, we will be meeting with every client and sharing with them our vision for our practice — and more importantly, learning from them how we can better serve their interests. Some things on my agenda for the next four weeks:

1. Complete our Satisfaction Guarantee.
2. Prepare our announcements and finish our marketing materials.
3. Settle on our slogan/tagline. Right now, “Innovative Lawyers – Guaranteed Service – Uncommon Value” is the one we like best.
4. Revise our Mission Statement and draft our Client Care Agreement.
5. Interview for our Client Concierge Position.
6. Talk to the Placement Offices at St. Louis University, Washington University, and Southern Illinois University Law Schools about a first or second year student for some research projects.
7. Work on the SilverLakeLaw.com website.
8. Finish our migration from Word (him) and WordPerfect (me) to OpenOffice.
9. Introduce Jeff to blogging. He’s going to be starting a Farm Law/Agribusiness Blog soon as a service to his existing clients. We will use weblogs as an alternative to newsletters for clients in specific industries.
10. Keep blogging (though a bit sporadically).

I’ve never had more to do and been more excited about doing it. Look for updates here and thanks for your support.

The New Firm Begins

It’s official. As of May 1, 2004, Homann Law and Mediation officially becomes “The Silver Lake Group.” The biggest news is that another lawyer will be joining me as I officially leave the land of solo practice. My new partner, who is now winding up his present partnership (on good terms), will be formally announced here next week. There are over one hundred things on my “to-do” list, so my blogging may be a bit sporadic, but here are some highlights of our business plan that I’ll flesh out in individual posts on this blog.

1. No client will be billed by the hour. I’ll unveil our Service Pricingsm plan in more detail next week.

2. We will guarantee each client’s satisfaction with our service or refund their money.

3. We will hire a “client concierge” who will be responsible for one thing: keeping our clients happy. The client concierge will contact every client weekly, organize monthly seminars of interest to them, write topical newsletters, send birthday and holiday cards, solicit client feedback, and manage our firm’s master client to-do list.

4. We will set up the “Silver Lake Small Business Foundation” and contribute ten percent of our profits to it. The money in the foundation will be used to teach entrepreneurship in local schools, donate books to public libraries, encourage people to start small businesses (with micro-loans), establish mentoring programs, and fund scholarships and work-study programs for local students.

5. We will share our methods, forms, letters, and experiences with others to encourage all of us in the legal profession to move away from the billable hour and toward a saner, customer-centered way of practicing law.

6. We will have a hell of a good time.

To say that I am excited is a massive understatement. I started this weblog to write about transfoming my practice, and I feel that I am almost there. Look for more details here over the next two weeks.

What is your purpose?

Tom Asacker has a wonderful post on his Rebel with a Cause weblog. Tom starts, as he almost always does, with a quote, this time from Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” Tom writes about “branding” and “marketing” in his blog, but read the rest of his post and imagine he is talking about being the perfect lawyer:

The same is true of business and of work. Because after all, it’s still life isn’t it? And I’m talking about purpose . . . not mission. Not vision. Not money. Purpose. I keep coming back to this critical aspect of one’s brand, because it seems to differentiate the best from the rest.

1. Useful – Is you business helpful? Is it enjoyable? Does it improve the lives of your customers and employees? Or are you simply filling the world with more noise and more stuff and lining your pockets in the process? If you’re not sure, take a good, long look at the faces of your constituents. Are they smiling and serene? Do they feel good about themselves and their decisions in your presence? No? Then wake up! This is your big shot at making a difference in people’s lives and in the world.

2. Honorable – Are you honest, straightforward, trustworthy? Do you play fair? And if not, whom do you think you’re fooling? I’ll tell you who. You’re fooling your kids! You are not doing them a favor by providing for their financial security through your Machiavellian methods. That’s simply more b.s. self-talk to make you feel good about yourself. What they need during these chaotic times is a role model to teach them what’s truly important in life. So for their sake, get real!

3. Compassionate – If you think compassion is a wishy-washy concept in business, think again. Compassion is the deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it. Isn’t that the key to innovation? Developing a deep understanding of the problems people have with their present life situation and developing products, services and business models to eliminate those problems? Of course it is. The days of make and sell are SO over. Sense and respond is the new branding mantra.

Now, reread #2 and go home and play with your kids.

My First Week

OK, it has been a bit longer than one week since I wrote my first post here at “the [non]billable hour” and I want to thank everyone who has been so kind to read my musings, comment on them, and even link to my stuff. Special thanks go out this first week to:

David at ethicalEsq who has driven a lot of traffic here and engaged me in spirited debate on the ethical issues of value billing.

Evan at Notes from the Legal Underground encouraged me to start this weblog. Evan is a friend and fellow Madison County Illinois lawyer who has a really unique take on this “judicial hellhole” we call home.

Carolyn at MyShingle for giving me a kind plug and setting a great example of how solo lawyers can blog for fun and recognition.

Thanks again. Matt

Resolutions vs. “Ideal Scenes”

David St. Lawrence left this comment about my focus on business planning:

I’m glad to see that you include business plans as part of your overall strategy. You may already have done this, but you can gain an entirely different perspective by writing up the ideal scene for your business and your personal life before going much further. An ideal scene can give you a view of your future from the 10,000 foot level.

David pointed me to his post on how creating an ideal scene in you mind can be far more effective than making a traditional “resolution.” His tips:

1. Write with all the certainty that you can muster. If you feel that this is a useless exercise, don’t bother wasting your time. Go back to watching TV. Do not write anything that you have doubts about. This is not a wish list. This is a description of things that need to happen and you are willing to make happen.

2. Write as though it is happening and write those things you know you can do: For example, “I network until I find a new job.” “We work out a plan to home school our children.” “I find extra work to pay off my loan.”

3. Do not allow anyone to belittle your ideal scene. If this is a scene that others in the family must share, you must let everyone contribute to the description of this future state that we call an ideal scene. If you can’t get agreement, then you will have to work out an ideal scene for yourself.

4. Be aware that achievement of your ideal scene depends on the intentions of those involved. An ideal scene that involves getting your spouse to give up smoking, or your boss to act more decent, is unlikely to occur unless they participate in the process.

5. Take a look at how your ideal scene will affect others. You may wish to rewrite it so that others will not be negatively impacted when your ideal scene occurs. Otherwise, you may feel guilty which will produce intense counter-intention to your predicted future and can prevent it from happening.

6. If there are known barriers, try not to use conditional statements about overcoming them. Rather than, “We move to Vermont, if we can find a good home for Lassie, or Grandfather,” write something like, “We work out a way that Lassie, or Grandfather, gets to live where he wants and then we move to Vermont.”

David’s suggestions are very timely for me. In my innaugural post, I set forth my resolutions. I’ll try to recast them, as David suggests, as my “ideal scenes” this weekend.

A Perfect Life/A Perfect Job

It is often easy to separate in our minds our home life and work life, but they are two sides of the same coin. In this Inc.com article an entrepreneur works with a coach to develop her “life plan” and finds that changing her life started with changing her business. The questions she answered are ones we all should think about:

Core values What’s most important to us?
Dreams What do we dream about? What do we want to splurge on?
Family Is the business allowing us time with our children?
Employees Are we helping them accomplish their personal goals?
Exit plan Do we want to retire? If so, what do we want the business to look like when we are ready to leave it? Who will run it? Or do we just want to reduce our hours, and if so, when?
Financial How much money do we want to make? Can the business support our income goals? How much do we need to expand the business? How much do we need to save for our later years?
Friendships Are we spending enough time with people who are important to us?
Fun Are we still having fun at work?
Interests Do we have the time and the resources to entertain and travel? What places do we want to visit in the next two to three years?
Location Where do we want to live?
Physical Health How can we maintain our health?
Relationship with each other Are we continually developing and improving our relationship?
Society Are we giving back to our community?

I’ve been thinking a lot about life/work balance lately. I am convinced that making my working environment better will make me a better lawyer, husband, and father — though hopefully not in that order. I hope to post a snapshot of my business plan tomorrow. Until then, how can you improve your work to improve your life?

Great Quote

“To do a common thing uncommonly well brings success.” Henry J. Heinz

Get Lots of Ideas

“The best way to get a good idea is to get a lot of ideas.” — Linus Pauling

I’ve been doing an exercise to help me realize my goal of transforming my law practice into an innovative and fun place to work — and get away from the billable hour. Every morning, I take a legal pad and number the left-hand margin from 1 – 25. Then I spend the next ten minutes generating 25 ideas. The ideas don’t have to be business-related, but I find that they often are. I put the list in a folder behind my desk marked “ideas” and don’t look at it again until I get ready to leave for the day. At the end of the week, I bring the lists home to think about the ideas. When Monday morning rolls around, I usually have at least one of the ideas that I want to incorporate permanently in my law practice. Each Monday, I’ll try to share those ideas with you.

Can a law firm be a purple cow?

From Seth Godin’s book Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable:

Make a list of competitors who are not trying to be everything to everyone. Are they outperforming you? If you could pick one underserved niche to target (and to dominate), what would it be? Why not launch a product to compete with your own — a product that does nothing to appeal to this market?

My legal niche to target is going to be woman-owned small business start-ups. What’s yours?

It’s not just me.

This study says that business executives want more job satisfaction, and not more money.

Via The Occupational Adventure blog.

I hate billing by the hour!

I hate billing by the hour. I’m also not very good at it — never have been. I find it very difficult to keep track of my day in six-minute increments. As a solo attorney, I have the flexibility to change the way I bill my clients, and I am resolving to do just that.

Now I know that New Year’s Resolutions are often forgotten before the snow melts, and how many times have we all promised ourselves to improve our personal and professional lives? Well this year for me is going to be different. With God (and the five or six people who will read this) as my witness, I resolve to do the following this year to make my law practice fun again:

I resolve to move all of my practice away from the billable hour — no exceptions. I do not want to keep another timesheet as long as I live.

I resolve to think more and work less. I will take one day off each week to reflect on improving my practice and to recharge my batteries.

I resolve to write more and speak more. I will seek out writing and speaking engangements instead of waiting for them to come to me.

I resolve to make my clients my best sales people. I will offer my clients a completely different legal service experience than they are accustomed to. I will ask them about what they want their lawyer to be, and incorporate their ideas into my practice model. In short, I will astound them.

From this day forward, I will be working with my clients and staff to overhaul the way I practice law. In my blog, I will be sharing my ideas and keeping a log of my progress. Join me as I make practicing law fun again.