Law Practice Tips Archive: 201 – 250

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Tip #250

Be both a leader and a manager in your law practice

Leaders motivate and inspire innovation, new directions, and change. Managers plan and achieve goals. To keep your practice fresh and productive, you need to have both manager and leadership qualities.

What new directions should you be considering?
What plans should you put in place to achieve your goals and new directions?


Tip #249

Focus on your Delegatee's strengths

If one of your goals is to help your staff or associates develop and grow, you'll get better results by helping them improve their strengths rather than addressing their weaknesses. When you try to help someone improve in an area they have no interest or aptitude for, it usually leads to frustration for both you and the person you're trying to help. You'll both be happier if you delegate more and more challenging projects that you know the delegatee can do.

Don't ask yourself – what can't this person do that I can help with? Rather, ask yourself – what can this person do that I can help with?

What will you do to improve your delegatee's strengths


Tip #248

When delegating, don't fix the delegatee's work yourself – give the work back for them to improve

Don't use the excuse that it takes too much time to have the person you delegated revise or fix the work. If you want them to learn how you want things done you need to give the work back with further clear instructions so they'll get it right.

What do you need to do to make sure you let the delegatee finish the project?


Tip #247

Be personal when using Linkedin.com

If you want to use Linkedin.com to help you build your practice, remember that you build relationships by being personal. When making your initial request to be linked up, don't use the standard “I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.” Come up with a more personal request; what do you know about this person or their business that you could remind them of as a reason for you to be connected?

What will you say the next time you decide to link to someone?


Tip #246

Improve your practice by doing something that makes you uncomfortable.

If what you're doing isn't giving you all the results you want, then it's probably time to do something you've never done before, something you're uncomfortable doing. For example, you don't like:

Maybe it's time to get over your reluctance and just do it!

What have you been avoiding that you'll step up and do to improve your practice?


Tip #245

Your business (and career) objectives should include some easy way to track financial goals to evidence your desired success.

Examples of basic financial goals are:

Come up with annual numbers that you want to achieve. Divide those numbers by 12 and then aim to hit or exceed that number each month. Don't be afraid or too busy to pay attention to your numbers each month.

Many lawyers (and others) are loath to spend much time with their financial records, but knowing where you stand financially helps you course correct, if you need to, much sooner than if you just guess at your financial situation.

What are your numbers and what will it take for you track them monthly?


Tip #244

Reach your Goals and Resolutions by taking baby steps

Take one of your practice goals and break it down into small, easy to execute steps.

For example, if you want to capture all of your billable time this year, you could start by focusing on capturing just some small portion of your time:

Start small, but steadily and consistently increase the step or behavior to ultimately achieve your goal.

This wisdom of starting with small steps has been around for centuries: “Confront the difficult while it is still easy; accomplish the great task by a series of small acts.” Tao Te Ching

What small steps will you take to achieve your goals?


Tip #243

Reflect on this year's accomplishments

Before making goals for next year, stop and appreciate the many things you accomplished this year. Give yourself the satisfaction of savoring or relishing what went well this year. You'll feel good for doing so and likely identify some ideas for next year's goals.

How quickly can you come up with a 100 accomplishments?


Tip #242

Be Responsive

Responsiveness is one of the best customer service qualities to nurture for strengthening client relationships. A fast response by you to your client conveys respect. It tells your client they are important to you.

How responsive are you to your clients?


Tip #241

Ask for feedback from your clients during the course of their matter

Getting feedback from your clients while working with them helps you deliver the kind of service they want and live up to their expectations. You can then treat them the way they want to be treated.

If you don't learn what would make your client happy with your services until after the matter is concluded (if ever) then you don't get a chance to redeem yourself in his or her eyes.

Since the best way to market your practice is through the referrals of happy clients, find out as early as you can what would make them happy, and then do that.

What would it take for you to ask for feedback from your 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 #240

Set Up a Google Alert for Your Name

Monitor your internet reputation by setting up Google alerts for your name and your firm's name at http://www.google.com/alerts. Find out what others are saying about you as soon as they post.


Tip #239

Choose "Friendly" over "Professional"

Some lawyers find it hard to find the right balance between their professional working persona and their friendly, social persona and lean too heavily on being professional. A highly professional personal style gets in the way of connecting with others. Since the mainstay for generating new business is the quality of your relationships, choose "friendly."

What, if anything, do you need to do about your personal working style?

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


Tip #238

Know what your client really wants before you dispense advice

To truly uncover your client's needs and wants you must ask investigative reporter type questions to find out what is beneath the surface of your client's problems. Clients come to you with what they think the issue is. Most times there is more to the issue then they know or understand, and thoughtful probing can result in your taking a very different approach then you would have had you not questioned your client's assumptions.

Consider asking these kinds of questions in your interview process:

What is the most worrisome issue?
What would be the best result you can imagine?
What would be the worst result you can imagine?
What are the long term consequences if this happens?

What, if anything, do you need to change before you give advice?


Tip #237

Use Engagement, Non-engagement, and Closing letters

Clarify your understandings with your clients (and non-clients) by putting what you tell them and agree to in writing. Since verbal conversations are not always remembered it's important to err on the side of caution and therefore avoid misunderstandings or potential harm to your clients by using:

  1. Engagement letters that clarify the terms of your services. This is especially important when the scope of your services is limited or has changed from when you first talked with the client.
  2. Non-engagement letters that confirm you are not someone's lawyer. This is especially important when you meet an interested party while counseling your client on a transaction that the other party is also entering into. "I know I meet you at the same time that I meet with your brother, but I wish to confirm that I am not your lawyer; and because of the nature of this transaction, I advise you to seek your own lawyer's advice."
  3. Closing letters to clarify that you have concluded working on the matter and will not be providing any further services. Even when you hope to have future work from this client, it's important to put in writing that you have concluded your work for the client on this matter and will not be performing any further work. Let the client know you look forward to their engaging you in their next matter. Closing letters should be written even if you haven't done anything for a client for years.

    Christian A. Stiegemeyer director of risk management at the Bar Plan Mutual Insurance Co. in St. Louis adds "Most important, the letter should not be drafted as a “CYA” document. It is not. It is an important counseling tool containing information clients need to protect their interests. But in doing so, the closing letter can protect the attorney's interests as well."1

Stiegemeyer's point applies to all the clarifying letters — by protecting your client through the use of these kinds of letters you also protect your interests.

What do you need to do about using engagement, non-engagement, and closing letters?

1The End-Of-Representation Talk Doesn't Always Mean The End, by Christian A. Stiegemeyer From the December 2009 ABA JOURNAL


Tip #236

Align your goals with your vision

September is a good time to access where you are in connection with your goals. In order for goals to be met you need more than your plan. You also need to be in alignment with your vision. Your vision is what will motivate you when taking the actions that are part of your plan to achieve your goals gets hard. If you find you haven't been meeting your goals then it may be time to connect with your vision.

  What is your vision for the future of your practice?
  What direction do you want to be moving toward?
  What strategies do you want to implement?
  What risks are you willing to take?

What do you need to do to align your goals and vision?


Tip #235

Keep your attitude positive

Everyone prefers to deal with positive people. If you think about it most things can be turned around and seen or said in a more positive light.

You'll feel better and your clients, associates, partners, colleagues, and staff will all appreciate your positive approach.

What do you need to do to stay positive?


Tip #234

Don't make excuses. Take responsibility for all the things that go wrong in your practice.

When things go wrong, don't waste time blaming others or circumstances. Figure out what you can do differently in the future to make sure whatever went wrong doesn't happen again. Blaming others won't help you be a better lawyer. Figuring out what you could do differently will help you be a better lawyer.

What do you need to take responsibility for?


Tip #233

Firing an employee is hard but sometimes necessary

One of the hardest things to do is to fire someone. But if you want a successful practice you have to learn when and how to let someone go. Even if he or she worked out for years there could come a time when he or she no longer is performing up to your standards. That's probably the hardest person to let go. But for all kinds of reasons, including their morale (they know they are not performing as they should and that makes them unhappy), it's best to compassionately let them go.

What, if anything, do you need to do to about letting someone go?


Tip #232

Being a good delegator means hiring well

Some lawyers don't delegate because they aren't happy with the results they get from the delegatee or they don't have time to train the delegatee to do the task. But if you hire well you will have much more satisfactory results. Hiring well means putting in the time and thought to find someone with the appropriate skills, talents, and principles that match your needs and principles.

What do you need to do to improve your hiring skills?


Tip #231

Delegate Rather than Procrastinate

If there's some task or project you've been procrastinating on, stop making yourself responsible for doing the actual task and instead make yourself responsible for simply getting the task done. Delegate the task, or parts of the task, to someone who's better at doing it than you.

As a business coach I'm often surprised by the response I get when I suggest that something my client has been procrastinating on can be delegated. There's usually a pause while the light bulb goes on and they say, "I never thought of that."

What are you procrastinating on that you could or should delegate?


Tip #230

Turn your online connections into in-person contacts

If you're using social media for marketing purposes then remember to take steps to interact with your contacts outside of your blog, LinkedIn, Facebook, or twitter posts. Don't rely on their contacting you. Pick up the phone if they're not local. If they are local, arrange to meet.

What do you need to do to create online connections that you will contact personally?


Tip #229

Comment on people's posts

Create relationships with your online connections by commenting on their posts. In addition to posting information that you think your client's or referral sources will be interested in, use LinkedIn and other social media websites to grow relationships by engaging in online conversations.

Whose posts do you want to comment on?


Tip #228

Keep your attention focused on your client in all your communications.

If you think you can get away with things like reading an email while talking to your client on the phone — don't. People know, they sense the disconnect. By doing something like this you risk, at best, annoying your client and, at worst, losing your client.

If growing your practice is important, spend time and focus on the clients you do have instead of spending time and money on marketing. Put your client first and use every interaction to connect with them.

What do you want to focus on?


Tip #227

Say no to a client when their matter does not have merit

Even though you might want to help a new client, if their case doesn't have merit, or they don't have enough money to pay for their venture (including your fees), tell them that. Be the lawyer they can trust because of your honesty. You may not be able to act for them now, but when they are in a position to move forward they are more likely to come back to you because of your integrity.

What would help you turn down such a client?


Tip #226

"A good Twitter account talks about and links to things that matter to its readers." Jordan Furlong

In developing your social media marketing plan check out Jordan Furlong's blog posting, Twitter for Law Firms. It's an excellent article on how and why law firms should use Twitter. Furlong says:

  "A good law firm Twitter feed keeps two things in mind: (1) it's all about the clients, and (2) it's not all about the firm . . . ."

and

  "If something is good, you spread the word about it, regardless of where it came from, because your goal is that those who listen to you are enriched for doing so."

How do you want to use Twitter?


Tip #225

Use Social Media resources to create trust by sharing information rather than selling your services

Use resources like LinkedIn and Twitter to share information that's of value to your connections, i.e, give stuff away for free. By giving away things of value — in this case information — you create a positive relationship with many people in your social media network at once. Because it's something they can use, it creates trust rather than suspicion. Selling when we haven't been asked to sell creates mistrust.

For example: Here is a good article I read in Fortune magazine — “How LinkedIn will fire up your Career” — regarding how LinkedIn is changing the way employers are finding new employees.

What do you think?


Tip #224

Use Social Media to build relationships

If you're still not using social media sites like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and others to stay in touch with your professional colleagues and clients it's probably time to come up with your plan to do so.

I recently realized I need to stop making excuses for not embracing the new technology — I used the excuse it takes too much time — but then all marketing activities take time. So I'm reading The New Community Rules: Marketing on the Social Web by Tamar Weinberg, and Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust by Chris Brogan to develop my social media marketing plan and strategies.

Check out Debra Bruce's very targeted and important article, 12 Social Media Ethics Issues for Lawyers. Debra L. Bruce is president of Lawyer-Coach LLC , a law practice management coaching and training firm, and author of the Raising the Bar blog.

What social media do you want to embrace as part of your marketing?


Tip #223

Use Social Media to build relationships

If you're still not using social media sites like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and others to stay in touch with your professional colleagues and clients it's probably time to come up with your plan to do so.

I recently realized I need to stop making excuses for not embracing the new technology — I used the excuse it takes too much time — but then all marketing activities take time. So I'm reading The New Community Rules: Marketing on the Social Web by Tamar Weinberg, and Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust by Chris Brogan to develop my social media marketing plan and strategies.

Check out Debra Bruce's very targeted and important article, 12 Social Media Ethics Issues for Lawyers. Debra L. Bruce is president of Lawyer-Coach LLC , a law practice management coaching and training firm, and author of the Raising the Bar blog.

What social media do you want to embrace as part of your marketing?


Tip #222

Keep in touch with clients you're not currently working with

It's so much easier to stay in touch than it used to be that there is no valid excuse or reason not to. Sending an email takes a lot less time than a phone call or lunch or coffee meeting, which you can also do.

Staying in touch with past clients is one of the easiest marketing tasks you can do.

How will you stay in touch with clients you are not currently working with?


Tip #221

Keep Growing Your Skills

Even if you are proficient at what you currently do, figure out and do what you need to do in order to upgrade or grow your talents and skills. Continuous career growth does a few things. It:

  1. keeps you competitive in the market place;
  2. adds freshness and renewal to a stagnant career;
  3. continues to keep your work challenging and interesting; and
  4. eliminates worry that may occur when you realize you've been taking your situation for granted.

How do you want to grow in your practice?


Tip #220

Thank people for their referrals that don't result in new clients.

Rather than thanking someone only when their referral actually becomes a new client, make a point of thanking anyone that refers someone to you.

When you learn that someone referred x to you and even if you don't hear from x, formally thank your referral source. Since referral sources are the foundation of all businesses and you want them to continue referring to you, thank them at every opportunity: when you learn of the referral, when you talk to the referral, when you get the client, and when you don't get the client. It's a great way to stay in touch with your referral sources, and it's so important for your relationship to always show your appreciation for the efforts they take on your behalf.

Who should you send a note of appreciate to?


Tip #219

Get your marketing plan in shape

The New Year is a time when we typically make resolutions to get in shape; so how about getting your marketing plan in shape?

If you don't have a marketing plan, make one. Keep it simple.

If you have a plan, review it and make changes to it based on what's working and what's not working.

If you have a plan that works for you, make sure you are exercising the plan routinely.

What does your marketing plan need?


Tip #218

Know What you Want to Accomplish in Your Practice Next Year

Knowing what you want is often half the battle to achieving what you want.

What are three areas you want to improve or build on next year?


Tip #217

Give the gift of appreciation this holiday season.

One of the best gifts I've ever received in the work place was a handwritten one page letter from one of the named partners of the firm where I worked as a first year associate. In this letter he praised my abilities, skills and talents in a way that made me swell with pride. His acknowledgment of me in this way had a huge impact on how I felt about myself, the firm, him, and the clients. It meant so much to me that I still have that 28 year old letter.

Give your employees or associates the gift of appreciation by writing a letter of appreciation in which you acknowledge their value to you and your practice. It's one of the most affordable and most appreciated gifts you can give.

Who would you like to give this gift to?


Tip #216

Create rapport when communicating by mirroring

Mirroring occurs when you adopt the same style (including posture, movement, gestures, breathing, rhythm, and speech volume) as the person with whom you're communicating. Rapport, or an understanding and respect for one another, occurs when people naturally mirror one another. Good communicators mirror other people unconsciously. So, if you would like to improve your communication skills, practice matching your speech cadence and posture to the person you're talking with. You'll notice that you feel more understanding of them when you're doing it. Your clients are more likely to trust and like you if they can relate to you. Mirroring them will help.

What do you need to do to improve your ability to mirror others?


Tip #215

Don't be afraid to fire that bad client

Just because you agreed to work for a client doesn't mean you have to continue working for them when you discover they are not a good match for you. Continuing to work with a client that you don't respect, like, or trust is often a disaster waiting to happen. In these difficult economic times it's harder but even more important to let a bad client go.

What client should you fire?


Tip #214

Gain Your Potential Clients' Trust By Listening to Them

When interviewing a potential client, it's important to fully listen without interrupting their answers to your questions. Don't assume you know the answer and start to answer for the client. Be patient. Wait for their answers. Suspend your judgments or opinions until you've heard all the facts and information you need. Say things like "tell me more about that."

If you truly listen to your client or potential client, they will feel heard and understood and will think you are a good lawyer. And you'll have more of the facts and information you need to make a better decision about how to handle their matter. A win/win.

What do you want to change about your client interviewing?


Tip #213

Use a client screening checklist to evaluate a potential client*

In order to avoid working with a high risk or difficult client, one that might accuse you of malpractice, it's important to first, know what to watch out for, and second, not agree to work with such a client. This is particularly important in a tough economy.

Your Pre-engagement screening list should include determination of the following:

  • Is this potential client changing lawyers? If they are, why are they? How did they handle the termination of the engagement with the last lawyer? What is the status of their account? How do they describe the lawyer they are no longer working with?
  • How many disputes has this potential client been involved in?
  • Have they had disputes with previous lawyers?
  • What are their expectations from your representation and can you satisfy them? Are they being unrealistic and or unreasonable? Is the potential client willing to listen and follow your advice? Are you able to reduce their expectations to reasonable bounds?
  • Do they want to run the matter based on what they think the law is or should be, or what their friends or relatives think should happen?
  • Find out how important this matter really is and whether they are really willing to spend the kind of money it will take for the representation they say they want. What is the client's ability to pay?
  • Requesting an advance fee deposit and the client's willingness to pay it gives you good information about the client.
  • What is your gut telling you?

What do you what to change about your screening process?

*No matter how bad the economy is, you are better off going to the beach than working with a client who doesn't pay, drives you crazy, or might sue you.


Tip #212

When asking your clients questions, take time to listen to their answers.

When communicating with your clients, you might think it best to efficiently go through your list of questions. The problem with this style is that it might lead the client to feel you aren't listening to them. If you're trying to instill trust in a potential or existing client, you may lose their trust if they don't feel listened to or understood.

Before my coaching training, I use to think my numerous "why" questions showed people that I was interested. Unfortunately, I didn't always get the result I was hoping for; people weren't feeling listened to because I wasn't giving them a chance to finish answering one question before I thought of another one.

In order to have someone feel understood, it's important to ask your question and then:

  • Not interrupt. (Helping them bottom line their answer is not the same as interrupting.)
  • Not be thinking about the next question while they're answering the question.
  • Wait until they've finished answering before determining the next question.

What do you want to change about your communication style when asking questions?


Tip #211

Say Thank you with Significance

Send a handwritten thank-you note to your referral source or anyone that deserves your appreciation. A handwritten note has always had a positive impact, but it has even more impact today with the dominant use of email to communicate. It feels more significant – you took time to choose the card, write the note, get a stamp, and get it to the post office.

What would it take for you to make a policy of sending handwritten thank-you notes?


Tip #210

Solidify relationships by personally delivering a thoughtful gift

What if during this lull in your practice you were to go to your best clients' places of business drop off a basket of fresh fruit from the local farmer's market and chat, just to connect? Even if it doesn't lead to immediate work it will help solidify your relationship and will likely lead to future work.

To whom do you want to make a personal delivery of a gift? It could be a cup of coffee, fruit, flowers, a book, homemade cookies . . .


Tip #209

If writing the perfect email is taking you too long (especially if you won't bill your client for it), make a phone call instead.

Email is faster and easier in many respects, but sometimes we spend too long crafting an email because the tone has to be just right. It's much easier to say things just right - meaning you spend less time. In addition, you connect with the other party on a more meaningful level by phone. If you spend less time and actually do a better job at conveying the message you are providing your client with greater value for your services.

Should you be using the phone more?


Tip #208

You're client's problem is not your problem.

Keep your stress down by remembering that your client's problem is not your problem. Separate acting in the best interests of the client from taking on the issue as if it were your own. In addition, don't take things personally: don't let the parties' anger or frustration influence your decision making.

What do you need to do to remind yourself to separate yourself from your clients' problems?


Tip #207

Make the quality of your professional services exceptional, unquestionable, and valuable.

Keep the quality of your services high during this tough economy by making sure you don't take on more than you can handle. Continue to update your legal skills and seek training for any new areas of law that you are venturing into. Manage your client's expectations about your services. Be upfront and reasonable about your fees.

What do you need to achieve the delivery of exceptional services to your clients?


Tip #206

Monitor your account receivable systems to keep informed

Have systems in place that keep you informed of who, when, why, and how much your clients owe you. Use your system to monitor when to stop working for clients who aren't keeping their accounts current or topping up their ever-green accounts, and when to have frank discussions regarding payment with your clients.

What do you need to change about monitoring your accounts receivables?


Tip #205

Take your vacation worry free.

Don't let these economic times worry you into not taking your vacation, or taking a vacation that's not really a vacation – meaning you stay connected to the office the whole time you're gone. If you're organized, have proper back up, and have educated your clients, it's truly possible to take worry free time off from your practice.

If things are slow in the office, that just makes it easier to take the time off. Anything new will wait until you get back. If it's an emergency, someone else can take the matter. If you don't have the confidence in your abilities to give yourself a needed break (and everyone needs breaks), then do something about improving your confidence in your abilities. That's where your efforts need to placed rather than being on call 24/7.

What do you need to do to take a completely worry free vacation or break from your practice?


Tip #204

Follow up personally and promptly on overdue accounts.

Deal with any problems early by talking with your client yourself. Don't let your receivables get over 45 days old without taking action. If you don't treat the non-payment of your bill as important, the clients may not treat paying you as important. Personal contact also is a good opportunity to find out why the account is overdue and what the client thinks of your work.

What will help you make calls on your overdue accounts?

For more pointers on achieving a 100% collection rate read my article published in the May 2009 Bar Bulletin.

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


Tip #203

Maintain "ever-green" trust accounts.

Send an invoice or a reminder to have your clients replenish their trust accounts, to make sure they don't dip below your threshold amount while you are representing them. Have systems in place to help you identify when you might need to increase the amount. This ensures that there will always be funds available to pay for ongoing work.

What do you need to do to set up "ever-green" accounts?

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


Tip #202

Take a General Counsel Perspective with your Clients

Since your clients don't always know what they need to protect themselves, you need to know what they need. To be of the greatest use to your clients you need to be able to answer questions like:

What does my client need that they don't know they need?
What keeps my clients up at night?
What's important to my client?

Knowing the answers to this kind of question will help you be a general counsel thinker for your clients. This means being proactive, strategic, and thinking big-picture about your client's difficulties and challenges.

The general counsel perspective will make you the most valuable to them and keep you busy in these tough times.

What do you need to do to take a greater general counsel perspective with your 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 #201

Get testimonials from clients by asking questions

Rather than asking a client to write you a testimonial, first ask them if they are willing to give you a testimonial. When they say yes, use their answers to questions like those below to write the testimonial yourself using their words:

If a friend or business associate said they were looking for a __________(insert the kind of attorney you are) attorney, what would you tell them about me if you wanted to recommend me?

What do you value about my services?

What do you think about the results we achieved on ___________(insert something that you know the client was very happy about)?

How would you use testimonials 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.