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Lawyers: Don’t Let Technology Steal Your Clients

April 7, 2014

Filed under: Client Issues,Innovation,Law Firm Technology,Practice Growth,Staffing Issues — Tags: , , , — admin @ 11:27 am

Look, I’m no Henny Penny. But it is true that I’ve been warning any lawyers that will listen how recent changes in technology are encroaching on legal services they provide to clients. For more than a few years, I’ve been talking about this issue in group workshops and one-one-one conversations with my coaching clients. Technology is a major game changer.

Those of you that have seen my presentation on “5 Predictions About the Future and 10 Strategies to Grow Your Practice,” know that I am pounding lawyers to really think about protecting their futures.

Now is the time to ask yourself: “In 10 years, what will my practice look like?”

A recent CNN story, “Here Come the Robot Lawyers,” only further highlights the competitive pressure advances in technology are bringing down on attorneys.

Technology isn’t just picking up services like drafting basic legal documents. It’s also wiping out entry level positions once considered the classic “apprentice” roles to learn the business. Those positions are vanishing, and I’m hearing about it firsthand.

I met a young lawyer who received his law degree a little more than a year ago. For months, he searched for a position at a firm, but he ended up opening a solo practice because he could not find a decent entry level job.

Learning how to research, write, and prepare legal documents in the real world of practicing law — as opposed to talking about it in a classroom — is a critical learning path for young lawyers in entry level law firm jobs. I’m not sure how future lawyers can learn these skills as well as we did after all the entry level jobs disappear.

This issue opens up many interesting questions for us as practitioners. What does this mean to us as owners of law firms? How can we use technology to cement our role in the market? How do we use it to increase value to our referral sources and clients?

If you have not seen the CNN article, check it out. Those of you that are enrolled in the Atticus quarterly workshops, the Practice Growth Program and Dominate Your Market, know firsthand that practice management consultants like myself are encouraging you to look upstream and deal with these coming trends now.

If you don’t do anything, you might as well expect to be replaced by a robot attorney.

Your Exit Strategy Starts Today, Not Tomorrow.

March 17, 2014

Filed under: Money,Practice Growth,Selling a Law Firm,Succession Planning,Uncategorized — admin @ 6:01 pm

The greatest challenge in planning an exit strategy from your law practice is that most lawyers don’t think about working today to make their practice more valuable tomorrow.

They put off thinking through how to make the practice valuable to a buyer. I have looked at this from many different viewpoints, including: selling my practice, looking to buy another practice, negotiating to have lateral partners merge, and examining what is the “real” street value of a practice versus the appraised value.

There are three key things to consider working on today that will increase the value of your practice tomorrow.

  1. Your case management system. There is tremendous value in an updated, thought out, and organized case management system. If you can email all of your clients to announce a merger, a marketing program, a workshop, or a law change, then you are on the right path. If you are thinking, “That is a really neat idea, but I would never do that,” then you may be on the wrong path to making your practice valuable.
  2. Your team. How dependent is the law firm on you? In my experience, the more dependent the firm is on your presence, the less valuable your firm will be to a buyer. The more your team can move work out the door without your intimate involvement, then the more valuable the firm will be.
  3. Your marketing. Do you have an annual marketing calendar? How many great referral sources do you have that you can transfer to a buyer? 100? 10? Or just 2? The more you can help a buyer transfer those referral relationships the more valuable your practice will be.

Potential buyers will be looking to answer three questions in assessing your firm’s value:

Can I run it efficiently? (case management)

Can I get work out the door profitably? (a good team)

What are my marketing resources and can they drive work in the door? (marketing calendar and referrals)

In my experience, lawyers should be working on these key issues with daily improvements to make their practices more valuable when they exit.

Lawyers: Polar Vortex freeze your cash flow?

February 21, 2014

Filed under: Money,Uncategorized — Tags: — admin @ 2:39 pm

It’s not just you. Don’t panic. It’s not the worst quarter ever.

The “Polar Vortex” threw much of the nation into our coldest winter in years. Compounded by a soft economy, this winter has really taken a toll on many small law firms in the northern states.

I hear about it from my clients. I see it in their numbers. Frustration, anxiety and panic is setting in. Don’t let it.

Here are seven things for you to consider as you deal with the financial damage created by the recent Polar Vortex.

  1. You are not alone. There are small businesses everywhere affected by this winter. I have seen in many different sources. Probably the best representative article about it is one I read recently in the Wall Street Journal. I’ve saved a copy of it for you as a PDF: Small-Businesses’ Sales Decline Amid Winter Weather. Take a moment and read it. You are dealing with a real phenomenon.
  2. Learn from it. Don’t write this experience off as a one-time event. Whether you agree or disagree with the theory of humanity’s affect on climate change does not matter. You can’t control what politicians, scientists or the media get whipped into a frenzy about. What you can control is your practice. So, learn from it. What if this happens again next year? What can you do to prepare for it? Right now, write out an action plan. (If you are in the southern states, think hurricane vs. Polar Vortex). Does it make sense for you to put aside a percentage of revenue monthly as weather-disaster fund in case this happens next year? Or, should you apply for a line of credit from your bank as a precaution?
  3. What plans do you need to adjust to plan out the rest of this year? I think they need to be revised based on your first quarter. What adjustments do you need to make to your marketing?
  4. It is time to work the phones. Call your top 20 referral sources and check in with them. See how they are doing. Ask for referrals. Start calling your best sources of business and fill your marketing pipeline.
  5. Organize all of your work-in-process that you can collect cash on. Rank it by dollar value. Then, you and your team just crank on getting it done. You need the cash. For most lawyers, there are tons of dollars laying around in uncompleted work. Get it done.
  6. Put together a plan of things to do the next time you are stuck at home due to snow, flooding or storms. You can hang with your family, snow board, make the best of it. When you grow weary of “family time” — or perhaps your family has grown sick of you hanging around the house bugging them — here are some things you can do. Write that marketing book you have always wanted to put together. Write 52 blogs that can be posted once a week for the next year. Write a course you want to teach. Write the systems that your office desperately needs.
  7. After the roads clear, you need to be focused when you are back in the office. No messing around. Dig in and crank.

Man-made and natural disasters can and will affect your business. You can be a victim of the circumstance or take action. I suggest taking action, because it will keep you warm and help thaw out your cash flow.

Lawyers: Hire a staff that shares your values

February 11, 2014

Filed under: Practice Growth,Staffing Issues,Starting a Law Firm,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — admin @ 12:36 pm

This article is part of a series to help busy lawyers recruit, train and manage a great team. If you have suggestions or questions, please contact me.

Law school taught us how to argue a point effectively, research court precedents and write compelling court petitions, but it didn’t offer most of us any actual business training — chiefly, how to hire and train employees for the law firms we would one day own or manage.

One of the biggest traps we can fall into as business owners is hiring staff members in a panic.

The following scenario might sound familiar:

A key staff member either quits unexpectedly or must be fired by you or your office manager. The crucial work this person did daily is going to pile up quickly. Most of it cannot be parsed out to other staff members. Clients will be phoning soon asking for progress reports. Important court filing deadlines are looming. And, of course, you have no viable candidates to replace this person because you haven’t been actively recruiting in preparation for staff turnover.

This is usually when many lawyers will quickly throw up a Craigslist ad full of high expectations for minimal pay. They sift through a barrage of emailed replies from desperate job seekers and proceed to interview and hire the first person who listed any work experience in a law firm.

Fast forward a few months or a couple years. Rinse, repeat. It’s a vicious cycle. I want to help you avoid this. To collect and keep a great team for your great practice, you need a foundation of values and skills to build upon.

First, let’s define what I mean by values. These are a person’s — or a  firm’s — principles or standards of behavior, the internal compass about what’s good, right and important.

A fundamental value that many firms and individuals follow is The Golden Rule, — treating others as you would like to be treated.

When I set out to build a great team, I evaluate candidates on values such as integrity, accountability, work ethic and being a positive thinker. But, of course, because every team member is different and brings a different compass to the table, frustrations are bound to arise.

As the owner or managing partner of a law firm, you can deal with myriad problems, or frustrations, on a daily basis. These might include:

  • My staff doesn’t show up on time. This directly eats away at productivity and profitability.
  • They don’t listen. Communication isn’t just talking — it’s listening intently so there is no doubt about what is required.
  • They don’t care about their work. If they don’t care, it will show, and the firm will suffer in the long run.
  • They have no work ethic. If they’re on Facebook half the time, how are they going to meet deadlines?
  • They don’t help each other. You can’t build a successful team without teamwork.

Note the distinction I’m making here. These aren’t problems with an employees’ skills, these are all related to an individual’s values.

To avoid these common frustrations, you must lay out what’s important to you and the firm. Clarify what really matters and educate your team about it. When that’s done, periodically grade your team to see who gets it — and who doesn’t.

Of course, great values alone won’t build a great team and a great practice. You need people with great skills, too.

Skills are, simply, the ability to do a task well, or expertise in a certain aspect of work. Some examples of skills I need in my great team are:

  • Customer service. At the most basic level, we have to meet customers’ needs to be successful.
  • Software expertise. Simply knowing how to use Microsoft Word is not an advanced skill. In today’s business environment, proficient use of standard office programs is expected. Test applicants on those programs. For expertise, I look for applicants with experience using CRM (customer relationship management) systems, document drafting software and writing spreadsheet formulas.
  • Accounting accuracy. This is how we keep score.
  • Drafting documents. I want staff members that can draw up documents, always making sure they double check their work against my notes.

The best thing about skills is that they can be trained. I can take a worker with great values and train her with the skills I need to build my great team.

Next time, we’ll talk about how you, as the owner or managing partner, can be a great part of your team.

I hope this information was useful to you, and if you have a specific case or a question, don’t hesitate to contact me.

Lawyers: Procrastination is a bad time management strategy

January 9, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 1:25 am

I encounter a lot of procrastination among lawyers. It’s a major vice that we’re all guilty of imbibing in, and it’s a major obstacle to effective time management.

Many lawyers will take on so many projects and cases that they start to put things off they that aren’t excited about doing (i.e. legal work) and use their bad moods as an excuse.

  • “These documents aren’t due for a while, and I’m feeling kinda blah right now. I’ll get to them later.”
  • “Things have been so crazy lately. I’ll tackle this thing when I can focus.”
  • “I really need to ‘zone out’ for a while to de-stress. After I’m relaxed, I’ll get back to work.”

Sound familiar?

Recently, The Wall Street Journal addressed the issue of procrastination and how putting things off until we “feel better” actually makes us feel worse in the end.

The article describes how when we give in to “mood repair” in an effort to feel better before we do the work that we are actually sabotaging our efforts. We face consequences for missed deadlines or making a mad dash at the last minute to get the work done.

Here’s what I took from the article:

  1. Imagine yourself in the future — having already finished the work — feeling the good feelings you’ll have for finishing the project or feeling bad feelings because you didn’t finish.
  2. Get started. Don’t let the size of the task overwhelm you. By starting with the simplest parts of a task, you can build momentum and save yourself from an emotional self-flogging at missing a deadline or trapping yourself into a mad dash to the finish.
  3. Beating yourself up over the results of procrastinating is actually more taxing on your emotions than putting off the actual task.

My experience is that before we finish a task, we’ll already start to feel a sense of accomplishment — a sensation most of us didn’t know we were craving all along — and that feeling will likely motivate us to complete the project without turning in a rush job.

Finally, the article addresses forgiveness. We’ve got to let go of our guilt over past procrastination. I agree. Don’t get stuck in a continual rut of disappointment in yourself. You dropped the ball. Pick up another one and start playing again.

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