Law Practice Tips Archive: 151 – 200

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Tip #200

Now's the time to do those things you've been putting off

If your practice has slowed down because of the economy, take this time to do those things you haven't had the time to do until now. Such as:

  • Improve the technology in your office
  • Start a blog
  • Polish systems and revise forms
  • Engage in marketing activities you've been too busy to do
  • Finally write your business plan
  • Take a vacation
  • Hire a business coach
  • Start practicing in a new area of law that has always interested you and is busy in this economic downturn
  • Improve the technology in your office

Doing things like this will position you well for when the economy turns around. Some of above will also help you attract new work.

What gaps do you want to fill in within your practice?

If you would like coaching on this area of your law practice, please consider contacting me to see how I can assist you.


Tip #199

Have your clothing make a professional statement

Clothing communicates. The first thing people notice about you when they meet you is what you're wearing. Does your clothing project the image of a trustworthy professional that engenders respect?

With the economic downturn, it may be time to return to a more professional style. Upgrading your dress code might be very helpful in landing your next client.

What do you want to do about your dress code?

If you would like coaching on this area of your law practice, please consider contacting me to see how I can assist you.


Tip #198

Highlight Your Abilities

In an ideal world, you and your work would be appreciated and referrals would just naturally follow. Unfortunately, in the real world it's necessary to promote you and your good work. Your clients and referral sources don't know what you really did unless they learn it from you.

Here are a few things you can do:

  • Make a point of telling your client how complicated the work you are doing is.
  • Let the client know the reason this is a good result and what rabbit-out-of-the-hat you had to pull in order to achieve this for them.
  • Have interesting stories to tell about how you perform your work for them and other clients.
  • Contact your referral source and let them know why the last client they referred was pleased.

What do you need to do to promote yourself?

If you would like coaching on this area of your law practice, please consider contacting me to see how I can assist you.


Tip #197

Maintain Your Verbal Communication Skills

Don't grow too dependent on email. Some things, such as bad news, are best handled by picking up the phone or by giving it in person.

Negotiations are more likely to be successful when handled by phone. Discussing a problem verbally with a client gives you the forum to engage in other communication skills such as listening and being curious, which will help you come to a solution easier and faster.

What's on your plate that would be better handled by a phone call than an email?

If you would like coaching on this area of your law practice, please consider contacting me to see how I can assist you.


Tip #196

Increase revenues capturing more billable time by improving your time recording practices

If you're one of those time keepers who instinctively decide to reduce or not record time at all, stop doing that. The time to reduce any time is when the bill is being finalized. You really don't have enough information to make the decision regarding the value of your services to your client until the context of all the other issues or tasks handled for that client is taken into account. When the bill is finalized any discounted time can be shown as a No Charge. That gives an added marketing or client relation benefit.

What, if anything, do you want to do about your time recording?

If you would like coaching on this area of your law practice, please consider contacting me to see how I can assist you.


Tip #195

Continue refusing to take on clients that don't meet your criteria

Don't use the poor economy as a reason to accept clients that you wouldn't accept in a good economy. If you suspect the potential client is going to be difficult, don't falter because you're worried; you know you'll regret it. Those stress-causing clients are not a good choice no matter how bad the economy is. You're better off spending your time marketing your law practice to attract the quality clients that do meet your criteria.

What decisions do you need to make about taking on new clients?

If you would like coaching on this area of your law practice, please consider contacting me to see how I can assist you.


Tip #194

Distinguish Yourself

It's not enough to do good work; clients assume you know what you are doing. Give your clients the kind of attention that will have them appreciate you for more than your lawyering skills.

What do you need to do to give your clients the kind of attention that will distinguish you from other lawyers?

If you would like coaching on this area of your law practice, please consider contacting me to see how I can assist you.


Tip #193

Everything you do is marketing

Every interaction you have with another person – whether by phone, email, letter, or in person – is marketing. Each of those interactions creates an impression. Favorable impressions obviously lead to more referrals. During the holidays we have even more opportunities for interacting with others.

What do you need to do to make favorable impressions in all your interactions?

Happy holidays!

If you would like coaching on this area of your law practice, please consider contacting me to see how I can assist you.


Tip #192

Complete the work on your desk to make room for new work.

Rather than delaying or spreading your work out over the day or week because you are worried you don't have enough work, just complete the work. That will do a few things:

  • make you work more efficiently,
  • get the work back to the client(s) faster—that's good marketing,
  • get paid sooner because you bill sooner,
  • help you feel better because you are accomplishing things,
  • give you time to focus on some of those marketing things you don't like or never have time for, and
  • the most interesting reason of all—since nature abhors a vacuum, more work will show up to fill the vacuum you create in your practice.

So if you want more work, finish everything you have to do. What have you got to lose? Try it and see what happens.

What will you do to create more work?

If you would like coaching on this area of your law practice, please consider contacting me to see how I can assist you.


Tip #191

Motivate by Asking Questions

Employees and others respond positively to learning new things and developing skills and abilities. In fact, a workplace that encourages those qualities is considered a good place to work. By using questions rather than giving direct orders you foster an environment of learning and developing, a far more motivating place to work than otherwise. For example,

ask:
"How can you help me respond to our clients faster when I'm out of the office?"

rather than issue the order:
"Return client calls when I'm out of the office as quickly as you can."

What, if anything, do you need to do to ask more questions and let go of always giving direct orders?

If you would like coaching on this area of your law practice, please consider contacting me to see how I can assist you.


Tip #190

Maintain policies that help your clients understand that, in exchange for your quality legal services, you expect to be paid promptly and in full.

If you want to maintain a Prompt Payment In Full policy, here are some things you should (and should not) be doing. Keep in mind that, since you've already delivered the service, the client should expect and be prepared to pay you in full.

Do not
  • Suggest in any way that you don't expect to be paid as soon as you send the bill.
  • Ever agree that you can wait to be paid.
  • Delay getting your invoice to the client when work is complete.
  • Give clients up to 30 days to pay (have the bill due on receipt).
  • Refuse to accept a check at the initial meeting.
  • Keep working when you have an outstanding account.
  • Ignore a client's failure to pay your bill. Call them as soon as you notice.
  • Treat friends and family more leniently. Be even clearer with them that you expect to be paid promptly and in full.
Do
  • Charge interest on late or outstanding accounts.
  • Use clear, unequivocal language about your payment terms.
  • Make it easy for clients to pay your bill. For example, include a self addressed envelope with your invoice.

What steps do you need to take to ensure your clients pay in full promptly?

If you would like coaching on this area of your law practice, please consider contacting me to see how I can assist you.


Tip #189

Communicate your collaborative attitude by using "Yes, and" rather than "Yes, but"

Using "yes, and" is an effective way to convey your appreciation and acceptance of someone's suggestions and ideas while giving you a way to add your own suggestions without causing the other person to shut down or reduce their sense of contribution in the way that "yes, but" does. For example:

You've done a good job on the brief (yes), but you could make the ending better by ___________.

   versus

You've done a good job on the brief (yes) and I wonder if you could make the ending even better by ___________.

The second version, although similar, opens the discussion to find a collaborative way of making the brief better. It invites the person to add their own ideas and so encourages creativity and problem solving.

How will you incorporate the use of yes, and?

If you would like coaching on this area of your law practice, please consider contacting me to see how I can assist you.


Tip #188

Your existing clients are your most valuable asset. Do what it takes to keep them satisfied with you and your services.

Now more than ever, with the uncertainty in the economy, it's important to make sure you give your existing clients whatever consideration is necessary so that they feel understood, appreciated, and assured that you're handling their legal matters in their very best interests. You don't want to give them any reason for not wanting to continue working with you. In other words, give them reasons to want to continue working with you.

What do you need to do to make your clients want to keep working with you?

If you would like coaching on this area of your law practice, please consider contacting me to see how I can assist you.


Tip #187

Delegate Early

The sooner you have others helping you, the sooner you'll be able to have your delegatee produce a work product that meets your criteria. This reduces your stress and increases your overall efficiency.

What will make it easier for you to delegate early?

If you would like coaching on this area of your law practice, please consider contacting me to see how I can assist you.


Tip #186

Accept Only Clients That Will Result in Realizing Your Full Rate

When interviewing a potential client, if you think you might:

  • not want to ask for a large enough retainer for the kind of representation this client will need; or
  • feel uncomfortable asking this potential client for money; or
  • start work without a retainer because the potential client doesn't have the money yet; or
  • reduce your bill because you think the bill is too expensive for this client; or
  • go ahead and do additional work because you believe the work needs to be done, even though the potential client won't want you to spend the additional time; then

stop and use these insights to consider whether your practice can afford to take on such a client. Be aware that any of these possibilities will result in your not realizing your full rate.

What do you need to consider before you agree to be retained? What, if any, changes do you need to make to your criteria?


Tip #185

Read Bill Eddy's Book High Conflict People in Legal Disputes

Eddy has used his training as a therapist and an attorney to provide insight on how to deal with people with personality disorders. He includes all sorts of case histories, stories, and offers insightful problem-solving strategies. This book is a great resource to deal with one of the areas that plague a lawyer's practice.

Here is the link to buy the book: http://highconflictinstitute.com/content/view/14/54/


Tip #184

Practice Good Enough

Stop being a perfectionist, especially when it leads to procrastination. You can't finish something if it's never good enough. Experienced lawyers know when "good enough" is the right solution. Not everything has to be done perfectly. Become better at knowing just what's important for the particular task at hand. Your clients will be happier that you're not spending more time than is really necessary to serve their needs.

Get confident about your legal skills so that you'll know when enough is good enough.

What do you need to do to feel more confident?


Tip #183

Increase Your Competitive Advantage by Knowing What It Is

What do you do that's so attractive to potential clients that they'll hire you every time and not even think about hiring another lawyer? What is your added value?

What knowledge, skills, judgment, and experience do you offer that set you apart from other lawyers?

The answers to these questions will help you appreciate your competitive advantage.

What are your answers to these questions?


Tip #182

Get Paid on Receipt

Rather than automatically giving your clients 30 days to pay your invoice, start requiring that they Pay on Receipt. Then, so that there are consequences for late payment, have interest begin to accrue after 15 days of the invoice date.

Your engagement letter would need to include such provisions in a payment policies section.

What do you want to change about your payment policies?


Tip #181

Join LawLink.com

I was recently introduced to Lawlink, the first online network exclusively for licensed attorneys. Consider joining at http://www.lawlink.com/. Over 3,500 attorneys nationwide have.

How could online networking benefit your practice?


Tip #180

Focus on Relationships Rather Than Branding

If you're really serious about marketing or developing your practice, then focus on building relationships rather than branding your firm. Your relationships with people have more weight than your brand when it comes to a client's decision to hire you.

In order to give potential clients positive feelings and knowledge about you, focus on creating, maintaining, and expanding relationships with existing clients, potential clients, past clients, referral sources, other lawyers inside and outside the firm, staff, and vendors of the firm.

What relationships do you want to expand?


Tip #179

Be willing to make mistakes

If you're not willing to make mistakes you'll keep doing things the same old way you always do and not improve. I'm not suggesting you get sloppy or do things that will result in malpractice or negligence. I'm suggesting that you be willing to do things that make you uncomfortable because you've never done them before, but should do them. Be willing to do it wrong so that ultimately you'll do it right and reap the rewards of your courage.

  • Be willing to have a client not like the fact you're asking for your bill to be paid.
  • Be willing to work on the dog file and make a few mistakes to get it resolved.
  • Be willing to ask dumb questions at a networking event.

"If I find 10,000 ways something won't work, I haven't failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward." Thomas Edison

Where should you be willing to make mistakes in your practice?

If you would like coaching on this area of your law practice, please consider contacting me to see how I can assist you.


Tip #178

Use the 80/20 rule to help make delegating decisions

When you're overwhelmed in your practice and having difficulty delegating, consider applying the 80/20 rule, or Pareto Principal: approximately 20 percent of your efforts produce 80 percent of your results, and therefore 80 percent of your efforts produce 20 percent of your results.

Ask yourself if what you're about to do is in the 20% or 80% category? If it's in the 80% category, delegate it. Delegate that 80% of your efforts that would only return 20% of your results.

How will you use the 80/20 rule to help with your work load?

If you would like coaching on this area of your law practice, please consider contacting me to see how I can assist you.


Tip #177

Ensure Your Clients Receive Accurate Bills

Billing is an area where you can create or lose trust with your clients. Commit to making your timekeeping one of those things you do very well. When you do this you will write bills more easily and accurately. These bills are more likely to be paid promptly and in full by satisfied clients.

What do you need to do, if anything, to improve the accuracy of your client bills?


Tip #176

When at a networking event, have a plan on how to approach people you don't know

Your networking plan can include the following:

  • Make attending the event a game such that you plan to meet at least one person you have not met before.

  • Approach the greeter or host of the event and ask them to introduce you to a particular person — they will want to help you feel comfortable, for after all it's their event and they want it to be a success.

  • Approach a group of three, and in an appropriate lull in the conversation say something like: "Hi, I'm Irene Leonard, this is my first time to this event. I hope you don't mind my joining your group." Of course, they won't mind if you are polite and don't attempt to then dominate the conversation.

    The reason for approaching a group of three is that they are less likely to be having a private conversation.

  • Look for someone else that appears to be alone and approach them with a question like: "Hi, Irene Leonard, this is my first time attending this event what about you?"

What actions are you willing to take to approach new people?



Tip #175

When at a networking event, use open ended questions about the event to help you break the ice

Many people are uncomfortable talking to "strangers" at social functions. To help you more comfortably mingle, have a few open-ended questions in mind to help you break the ice. For example:

   "What brings you to this Real Property Law Section meeting?"
   "How long have you been a member?"
   "What have you found to be most valuable about these events?"

What questions can you come up with?



Tip #174

Maintain a Positive Attitude Toward Clients Questioning Your Bill

Be open minded and amenable to having your clients question your bill. Choose an attitude of "I'm glad you want an explanation of my bill" rather than "You must be upset with my services if you want to question my bill."

Use your clients' questions to help you learn more about them so you can ensure your services are delivered in an exceptional manner. Use your answers to their questions to help them understand the value of what you have done for them. Make it a win-win conversation.

How will you handle client billing questions?



Tip #173

Include Time in Your Schedule for the Unexpected

In a busy law practice it's a given that there will be daily unexpected conversations, emails, and projects. Include time in your daily schedule for those unexpected events.

Making room for unexpected situations will help you feel in control when the inevitable unexpected shows up.

How do you want to prepare for the unexpected?



Tip #172

Talk With Your Client Before Sending a Large Bill

If you've done a lot of work for a client this month and you think the client will be surprised and upset by the size of the bill, call and warn your client that the bill is coming.

Say something like: "I know the bill is going to seem like a lot of money so I wanted to give you a warning. I also want to remind you of all the necessary work that we did for you this month." Then proceed to give the details of the work to the client. Then go on to say: "I'm sorry that you've been put in this difficult position of having to respond to all the demands from the other side. I wish there were more that I could do to make this process easier for you."

If you handle surprisingly large client bills in this manner, you're much more likely to receive payment in full from a satisfied client than if you do nothing but send a bill without a warning and explanation.

How do you want to handle your large bills?



Tip #171

Develop Client Relationships Rather Than Merely Maintaining Them

Rather than simply maintaining the status quo with your clients, actively seek out ways to help them. Learn what other needs they might have for which you can provide service. By developing your relationship with your clients you'll invariably sell them more of your services and make yourself more valuable.

What clients come to mind?


Tip #170

Plan to Follow Up

After a networking event, schedule time to follow up with the people you met. Come up with an action plan for staying in touch.

What is your follow up action plan like?


Tip #169

Set up Your System for Staying Clutter Free this Year

The single most important reason people have clutter in their offices is not having a system to deal with it.

Some key aspects your system should include are:

  1. Having enough space to put things and information—this may mean cleaning out file cabinets to make room for this year's work.
  2. Knowing where everything that will come into your office will go without having to make a new decision—it's the need to make a decision that causes most of the clutter.
  3. Having a daily routine—e.g., finishing the day by clearing your desk. If you have handled point 2 this should be easy.
  4. Spending time to stay organized.
  5. Relocating or throwing away things as you no longer need them.

Merely having a system isn't enough. You must follow your system consistently in order to stay clutter free.

What, if anything, do you need to do to remove the clutter from your office?


Tip #168

Reflect Positively on What You Accomplished Last Year

Take a few moments and think about the good things that happened last year. Because we are always so busy thinking about what has to happen next, we sometimes miss the very important purpose of relishing or savoring what we have done. As an end-of-year assignment, I ask my clients to come up with 100 accomplishments for the past year. Those that carry out the exercise report it made them feel very good. It made them realize what a good year they had.

What are your 100 accomplishments for 2007?


Tip #167

Practice Saying No This Week in Order to Reduce Stress

If you're experiencing many demands on your time, especially because of the holidays, decide what's important and commit to that and say no to the rest.

What do you need to say no to?


Tip #166

Handle the Dog File

If you have a dog file—one of those files sitting on your desk that you've just been avoiding—pick it up, figure out what you need to do, and just do it. You know the longer you take to get to it the harder it's going to be. You'll probably find that it was a lot easier to handle than you thought.

What do you want to do about your dog file, if you have one?



Tip #165

Stop Pre-editing your Time

If you're one of those lawyers who instinctively decide to reduce your time or not record it at all—stop doing that. Wait until finalizing the bill to edit your time. You really don't have enough information to make the decision regarding the value of your services to your client until you take into context the other tasks you attended to that month for your client. If you still want to discount your time you can show that in your bill as a No Charge or delete it. But you may also decide that you really have performed well for the client and realize the total bill is not unreasonable for the value they received that month. This can happen when you get an unexpected good result and wish you had tracked your time.

What will you change with respect to tracking your time?



Tip #164

Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

Delegating is an art. Delegating doesn't just consist of giving something to someone and expecting them to get it back to you the way you want it. If work is not returned to you the way you want, it's your responsibility to give better instructions and follow through. Replace your limiting belief "It's easier to do it myself" with something like "Once they're trained, it will be easier for me."

  • Give clear expectations of what you want.
  • Follow up to make sure it is being done the way you want.
  • Review the work as soon as you receive it so you can get it back to the delegatee while the project is still fresh in both of your minds.
  • Give the work back with instructions on how they can improve or fix the work-don't do it for them-let them learn by doing.
  • Acknowledge what they did well-build on their strengths rather than focus on their weaknesses.

What changes do you want to make to your delegating skills?



Tip #163

"A service that is needed is always worth more than a service that has been delivered." Ronald J. Baker

You have more leverage to get your bills paid before you start an engagement than after it's completed. This is why it's so important to get agreement to your fees and the money in trust to cover the cost of your engagement.

This tip is taken from 2001 Professional's Guide to Value Pricing by Ronald J. Baker, pages 131–133, which deals with the psychology of pricing.

What if anything, do you want to change regarding your pricing policies?




Tip #162

Practice Saying No this Week in Order to Reduce Stress

Competing demands require that you say no to the least important. When you have a high service value it is hard to say no, but to really serve your clients you need to prioritize and that means saying no to something.

No includes:

  • "I'll do it next week."
  • "I'll get someone else to do it."
  • "I won't do it all."

What, if anything, do you need to change to say no?




Tip #161

Track and Bill Time Spent Reading and Responding to Emails that relate to Client Matters

Losing even 15 minutes a day to untracked emails can be very expensive. If you have not mastered new habits that help you track all your email time, make a commitment to come up with a system that works for you.

Being too busy to track emails is not a good reason. Assuming reading email is part of your morning ritual before you start your day is also not a good reason.

What, if anything, do you need to change when it comes to tracking and billing emails?




Tip #160

Educate Your Clients on the Complexities of their Legal Matters

If your clients have complex matters that will take a great deal of research and time, explain that to them. Sharing with clients all the difficulties and uncertainties of their situations helps them realize why you must spend so much time on them (resulting in a high fee) and makes you look good (they need your expertise to sort out the complexities). When you approve your bill, you will be less inclined to reduce your fee if you have kept the client informed.

Are you educating your clients enough?




Tip #159

Get Involved in Your State or Local Bar Association

Being involved in your associations can be valuable to your career. It can:

  1. Help you find new opportunities
  2. Provide you with valuable practice resources
  3. Help you solve problems with different perspectives
  4. Network
  5. Find a mentor, be a mentor
  6. Provide an environment for learning
  7. Make you feel good as a result of your contribution

What do you need to do to get involved?




Tip #158

Advance Your Interests by Advancing the Interests of Others

By being supportive of others (rather than competitive) and helping them succeed, you create good will that will ultimately benefit you.

Ways to advance others include:
  • Making referrals to other lawyers, especially competitors
  • Praising the efforts of others
  • Going the extra step for your client, boss, co-workers, and staff
  • Volunteering to be of help

How can you be supportive of others?

How can you "brag" more?



Tip #157

Remember to "Brag" and "Show Off"

Telling clients, referral sources, and others of your successes, small and large helps them know you are a competent, capable lawyer and gives them confidence in your abilities. If you don't tell them, how else will they realize you're doing a good job?

How can you "brag" more?



Tip #156

Treat Existing Clients as Though they were New Opportunities

Find out what has changed or is changing for your clients. When you take the time to reassess your understanding of their business, transaction, situation, or needs, you give yourself an opening to help them in a new opportunity.

What clients should you be making inquires of?



Tip #155

Know Your Client's Pain

To develop new clients, especially business clients, you must know enough about their difficulties to promote your abilities in such a way that when they're ready to hire you they'll know you can help them.

What will you do to learn more about potential clients?



Tip #154

Make Use of Checklists Rather than Relying on Your Memory

Make it easier on yourself by creating standard check lists for routine matters. The use of check lists ensures that something is not forgotten and relieves you from having to remember everything.

A check list that relates to tasks when you're engaged by a new client might include:

___Did I send a thank you to the referral?

___Have I added the client to my holiday letter database?

___Did I get the client's birthday and have I added that to my database?

___Have I added the client to my contact management database?

___Have I received the signed engagement letter?

___Have I received the fee deposit check?

___[If you have a newsletter] Have I added the client to the mailing list?

___Have I completed the accounting records as they relate to a new client?

___Have I completed new client file opening details?

___ _________________



Tip #153

Use the discussion of fees to help you identify what is really important to your client

Rather than avoiding or putting off discussing the cost of your services with your clients, use the discussions to help learn how important the legal matter is to them. It's best to find out how much money they're willing to allocate to the matter before you start the work.

Use the discussion of costs to educate your clients, to make sure they can afford your services as you want to deliver them, and to find out what level of service they actually want.

What is your policy on discussing fees with clients?



Tip #152

Create and Follow a Get-Away Plan for Your Vacation

Enjoying a stress free vacation means following a get-away plan that includes the following:

  • To handle last minute matters, and matters that need to be handled more or less immediately upon your return (including email), block out non-committed business days both before and after your actual vacation. This means do not book appointments or meetings on these days. Creating space for the unexpected in advance will help relieve the stress of getting out the door.

  • Tell clients at least 2 weeks before your vacation that you are going to be gone. Let them know whom they can contact in your absence. Find out what, if anything, needs to be handled before you go and what can wait until your return.

  • Delegate everything so you have nothing on your to-do list for the last business day before the start of your vacation. At least two weeks before you leave, decide what work you will delegate to whom. Schedule the completion of undone work for at least one day after your return.

  • Decide how you will handle email and other client communications while you are away. Figure this out at least 2 weeks before you leave.

What steps will you take to enjoy a stress free vacation?

Note: Part of the get-away plan for my own vacation includes letting my readers know that I will not be publishing another tip until June 11th.



Tip #151

Document Good News with Your Clients

Lawyers are careful to document the problem issues or things that can go wrong with their clients. Equally important is the need to document what you did well so clients feel good about their engagement of you and your services. Just as you write a confirming letter to reveal problems, have a policy of writing letters to explain how well you handled a problem.

When was the last time you wrote a client describing a job well done?