Lawyers: Don’t Let Technology Steal Your Clients
April 7, 2014
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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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: Hire a staff that shares your values
February 11, 2014
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: Why Dominate Your Market?
October 10, 2013
Why would you want to play a bigger game than what you are currently playing? Who needs the effort, right?
And, why would you ever play such an outrageous game as something called “Dominate Your Market” workshop?
One of the biggest traps that stops great law firms from growing is the trap of relative success. The partners look around and see that no other law firm is doing what they do. None of their competitors market as well, practice as well, treat their employees as well, or make as much money as they do. They think: “We are, without a doubt, the best in our marketplace. No one comes close.”
They attended a CLE program as a participant or as a speaker and thought, “Wow, I am the smartest attorney in this room. No one can touch me.”
They see themselves as the best in comparison to anyone else. They don’t need help. They just need to show up and smile.
In my experience, once this occurs, all growth stops. The ball game is over. The trap of relative success has been sprung, and this firm has hit a plateau of comfort.
This trap owns them now. They will never see it as the collar it is around their necks. Their growth is now leashed, and that chain is short. As long as the trap of relative success owns them, they will slowly but surely lose their spot in the market place. Of course, they will never see this coming. They are blinded by their own brilliance.
This why you we at Atticus say lawyers should always play for market dominance. If you are always playing to be the best at all times, then no one can catch up to you. You must always set stronger and hungrier goals — the type that motivate you to always play at your best level.
Nothing is worse than a lawyer that ran out of goals. You must always be playing to be bigger, stronger, more profitable, and never ever think you are the prettiest firm in the room.
If you’re interested in taking your relatively successful law firm to new heights, then I encourage you to check out the Dominate Your Market workshop program. It meets quarterly, provides members access to our top coaches (me included) , an inspiring peer group of high-achieving lawyers from around the country, and access to Atticus’ enormous bounty of practice management resources and tools.
If you don’t yet qualify to join the program — it’s not for everyone — then you should know that Atticus offers a number of other workshops that will help your law firm reach its tipping point to success — The Practice Builder, The Practice Growth Program and Rainmakers.
If you have any questions about Dominate Your Market or any of Atticus’ coaching programs, contact me.
2 Quick Fixes for Your Law Firm’s Cash Flow Crisis
August 12, 2013
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I’m going to keep this short and sweet. There are two overlooked ways to improve cash flow at your law firm.
A cash flow crisis is a sure fire confidence crusher. Whenever I’ve started working with a law firm suffering a cash flow crisis, I’ve found there often were two simple, overlooked ways that they could have alleviated their money problems.
- Raise prices. I know that asking for more money might appear counter intuitive. However, in a non-contingency firm, raising the firm’s rates for fixed fee and hourly work is a quick and easy way of raising cash flow. Take a hard look at what you and the rest of your firm currently charge. What services are you giving away for free? Where are you doing work at discounted rates? Where could you immediately start raising prices today to improve your cash flow?
- Get all the money up front. Sure, I know you require a retainer and none of your clients ever fail to pay it. Yes, I know you collect half now and half later — or whatever way you get paid. However, in my experience, very few lawyers tell the truth about this. They say they get all their money up front. But if you push them past their initial hemming and hawing, they’ll finally admit that on most cases they do not get paid up front. If you want to improve cash flow, then get ALL of your money up front before you start work. You may have some clients balk, but in my experience 80 percent will pay up front. After a little bit of time, 100% will pay up front.
Try both of these ideas and let me know how they work.