There is much talk about how competitive the legal market has become. And this reminds me of an old Chinese proverb: “He who doesn’t turn runs far. “
In track and field events, the coach tells you to look at the tape in front of you, not who is behind you. Likewise, in running your law practice, do the best you can, focus on your skills (and improve them), on the efficiency and cost of delivering your legal services (use technology to improve your efficiency) … and, of course, on your clients and their needs (and wants). Then, you will have given it (your profession) your best shot.
John Wooden said, “The scoreboard? Championships? A sales quota? The bottom line? As goals, predictions, hopes, or dreams to be sealed up (in an envelope) and filed away, fine. But, as a day to day preoccupation they’re a waste of time, stealing attention and effort from the present and squandering it on the future. You control the former, not the latter.
“An organization – a team – that’s always looking up at the scoreboard will find a worthy opponent stealing the ball right out from under you….” Coach seldom scouted the opposition, focusing instead on what needed to be done to improve his team and prepare them to be the best they could be.
How do we get from here to there? Jim Collins, in his Good to Great, describes CEOs with many different styles, but all successfully leading their companies to the pinnacles of success. How do we do that for ourselves? Is wanting something enough? Is the intention to be great, to be successful, to be rich enough? Is imagining or visualizing the "there" enough?
I suspect not. First, we must identify where we are. Then we must honestly address what our current state or condition is. And finally, we must develop new approaches to deal with the troubling challenges we face. As Dr. Phil might say, in the popular vernacular, "How’s this working for you?" And if what you’re doing now isn’t working for you, you’ve got to change your pattern, your actions … and not merely wanting the change. You’ve first got to think it through and, then as my coach, Alan Weiss, might say, develop the "Resolve" to change.
Are you in a good employment situation, do you have a good law firm partnership, do you have the kind and number of clients you want? If not, what are you going to do to make the change you want? One approach might be to engage a coach to provide you with meaningful feedback.
From time to time, we will have a guest on our blog. This is something new for LawBiz Blog and we hope you find value in the expertise of those who will join us on occasion.
This week, Erik M. Pelton with Erik M. Pelton & Associates, PLLC is our guest blogger.
Creating and managing a successful solo or small firm is no easy task. But given the tools available today, it is easier than ever. And more and more clients today appreciate and even seek the personal relationships provided by boutique firms. Here are ten keys areas which every small or solo firm can master to propel it to greater success, growth and profit.
Our travels have taken us over 8,000 miles thus far. We finally turned the corner in Cleveland and have begun our trek back west. Today, we left Chicago for Madison and will go to Minneapolis and Omaha before boogeying back home. We will likely have traveled more than 11,000 by the time of our return.
Despite the diversity of our geography and of our people, I have found that lawyers are facing the same issues irrespective of whether they are in small communities or larger cities, in solo practice or in major law firms, in general practice or in a specialty boutique. Are there differences? Yes, but I like to view it in terms of nuances rather than differences. In other words, the "differences" are smaller in nature than many contend.
Oh, I know, we all think we’re different. We all think we’re special and face special circumstances. My experiences in both industry and in law tells me different, that all commercial enterprises, whether professional or trade, have the same basic characteristics. In other words, we all have to get the business (marketing), do the work (production) and get paid (finance). Each of us excel in certain areas and need guidance and support in others.
My travels has renewed my energy to coach and to produce more material (audio and electronic) that will guide lawyers to improve their connection with their clients. Though our trip has not yet concluded, it’s never to early to thank those many lawyers who’ve attended our programs and been generous with their comments of support. I look forward to continuing our work together.
I’ve talked about internships for lawyers. We’ve discussed articling in Canada. And now I find out that the State of Georgia has a mandatory mentoring program for brand new lawyers. Perhaps we’re not so far away from the internship process. On the other hand, since Georgia has been working this path for quite a few years and others have yet to follow, perhaps it’s still a pipe dream that even the current recession won’t make happen at either the law school or Bar level. It may still take the combination of law firms and client demands to create an effective post-law school education program for learning how to become a lawyer.
I competed in two events at the Senior Olympics held this week in Los Angeles. I previously reported my results. I’ve been thinking further about the process of the competition and came up with ideas about how the competition relates to my life, and the lives of many people in our profession. Below is how I see the Senior Olympics on the one hand and how they are a metaphor in real life. If you have other events in your life that you care to share, please write me.
I was coaching a client today. She pulled at my heart strings by telling me the problems she is having with several of her clients who owe her money, big sums of money.
One of the clients paid her $37,000 two weeks ago and already owes her another $27,000. After complaining about some of the services and getting a $5,000 reduction in billing, he has not yet committed to a date certain for payment of this amount. Oh, yes, you guessed part of it. "The check went out last week."
Should she continue working for this client? My advice was to review your file to make sure it’s clean and not susceptible of negligence claims, make one last effort to collect by telling the client he has to pay what is owed within 7 days or you will file a motion to withdraw because the client has not honored his agreement commitments, and then be sure you are far enough away from trial to have sucha motion granted.
Bottom line, however, while you are taking care of your client, you must take care of yourself! If, while focusing attention on the client’s issues, you ignore your own billings and accounts receivable, you will lose the respect of the client, you will not get paid the full amount owed to you, and you will not get more referrals from this client. Lawyer Beware!
My frustration level has been exceeded! How about yours? Have you had dealings with vendors who fail to respond to your reasonable inquiries and requests? Have you had appointments (doctors and lawyers are the stereotypical examples) that have kept you waiting beyond the stated appointment time?
If you’re a lawyer or other professional reading this, think about how your clients feel in conducting their business with you. Read on for nuances of this issue.
As a member of the National Speakers Association, I had the learning opportunity to participate with several of the great voices of our generation.
Marshall Goldsmith, who coaches more than 50 of the top 100 CEOs of corporate America, commented on several psychological observations that I found interesting:
- What we do at home, we do at the office, and vice versa. In other words, if we are unkind to our colleagues, our staff and our adversaries, we’re probably exhibiting to same behavior to our spouses and our children.
- Among the annoying habits that can hold successful people back is winning too much. Generally, we’re successful because we’re competitive. Being competitive, we win. But, we don’t know when to stop. We even compete on who is to select the restaurant to go to for dinner.
- Successful people often add too much value. In other words, we add something to another person’s idea. Instead of saying "thank you" and being quiet, we say that is a great idea, but it would be better if you add x, y, or z. He says that the quality of the idea may go up by 5%, but the participation will go way down … because it now is no longer the other person’s idea. We have stolen the other person’s investment in the process.
- Destructive comments prevents forward progress. Avoid the use of the words, "no," "but" and "however." These words discount the value of the other person and their ideas. By merely saying "thank you," we can create, maintain and retain our team with significantly greater results for all involved.
- Leadership is a contact sport! Studies show that where the leader followed-up, there was greatest improvement.
- What got you here, won’t get you there. Those competitive attributes that got you to the leader’s position are different than the attributes of a successful leader. You must alter your skill set in order to succeed in your new position.
Powerful thoughts, indeed. How can you apply these thoughts to your law practice. How can you coach your team to greater heights? Do you have a coach yourself? What do you want from your coach? Have you told him/her? How can a coach help you reach greater heights?
In a recent poll, the following areas were said to be the greatest concern for sole and small firm practitioners:
- Income fluctuations
- Managing the practice
- Lack of help in the practice
- Isolation from other attorneys
- Inability to discuss ideas with colleagues