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Jan Copley
Certified Practice Advisor
Atticus, Inc.

530 South Lake Avenue, Suite 250
Pasadena, CA 91101
(626) 696-3145
(626) 421-6747 (fax)

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What the Nevada Secretary of State Says About Your Business

March 30, 2011

Filed under: Growing Your Business — @ 1:58 pm

I still get mail from my previous life as a practicing lawyer. Recently, I received the Nevada Secretary of State’s “Quarterly Economic & Business Activity Report.” In its report, the Secretary of State says business filings for Fourth Quarter 2010 were up nearly 3% from the same quarter in 2009, and, according to the Secretary of State in its cover email, the “latest data…confirms the worst of the declines are in the rear view [sic] mirror and potential for future expansion may be on the horizon.”

So why should you care? Of course, one reason is that growing business activity means the potential for an increase in your business. But, you’ll only enjoy the increase if you actively seek it out and plan for it. So, now is the time to talk to your clients about taking advantage of and planning for that activity.

And you should do the same: consider putting in place processes that will enable you to more efficiently do the business work your clients need. How can you structure this work so your team handles most of it, rather than you? How can you charge for the work so you receive the value of what you are doing for your clients?

In other words, a rising tide lifts all boats — but only if the boat is built for it. If the tide of the United States economy is indeed rising, now is a good time to plan and implement to take advantage of new opportunities!

Book Review: How I Raised Myself from Failure
to Success in Selling

March 25, 2011

Filed under: Book Review — @ 1:23 pm

I’ve been catching up on some professional reading. I recently finished Frank Bettger’s How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling (Fireside 1947). The book tells Bettger’s story of how he became a successful insurance salesman.

So why am I writing about a book that’s older than most of my readers? Because it’s worth reading. Although the book shows its age at some points — it’s unconsciously sexist and nobody had iPhones sixty-four years ago — Bettger gives timeless advice for people in the personal services business. He talks about his personal insecurity, getting himself organized, learning to deal respectfully with sales prospects, how to respond to objections, learning to risk failure, and many other things that we, as attorneys and reluctant marketers, struggle with. Bettger’s book proves that although times have changed, many problems and their solutions have not.

I found this book endearing. The authors in many self-help books tend to lecture; Bettger just tells his story. He doesn’t restate the same thing over and over again. How I Raised is a quick read and full of great stuff. Check it out!

Does Your Team Drive You Crazy?

March 23, 2011

Filed under: Focus/Time Management — @ 12:49 pm

I’ve previously written about telephone and e-mail interruptions. You may have another major source of distractions: your team. Do your team members interrupt you at odd moments? Do they “lurk and blurt?” The members of your team probably do this because (a) they’re not sure how to handle a particular problem and/or (b) they don’t feel they have access to you.

Your team will always have questions and you will always need to answer them. However, every time someone interrupts you, your production suffers. So how you handle this? I have a couple suggestions.

Set aside time to answer questions. Make sure your team members know they have a specific time every day to ask you questions. A “huddle” with your team first thing in the morning may be a good time to review and answer all the questions that arose the previous day. Of course, if you schedule such a time, stick to it! Ask your team members to stick to the time, too.

Have your team members “batch” their questions. Ask your team members to write down their questions as the questions arise. Tell them you will be available at a designated time to give the answers. In fact, you might want to ask your team members to also write down their proposed solutions. If you do this, you may find your team members solve problems without your help.

Let your team know when you don’t want to be interrupted. I am sure your team members know you’re not available when you’re in a meeting; however, do they know when else you don’t want to be interrupted? Tell them! Close the door; work out of the office; or just say you don’t want to be interrupted for the next hour.

Set priorities. You may get interruptions because your team members don’t know what’s important and what’s not. Let them know. You might want to prioritize outstanding matters for the week at your weekly team meeting, and set goals for each day at your morning huddle.

Create a written process manual.
This is the nuclear option for managing interruptions. If your team has someone or something else to consult to answer questions, and you ask your team members to take advantage of that resource, you won’t be interrupted so much. So, every time someone does something that is likely to be done again, have that person write down what they did. After awhile, you’ll find you have a wonderful resource for getting work done!

I hope these comments are helpful. Try some or all of them and let me know if they work for you!

Book Review: Go-Givers Sell More

March 18, 2011

Filed under: Book Review — @ 12:53 pm

I read Bob Burg and John David Mann’s book, The Go-Giver (Portfolio 2007) soon after it was released. In the book, Burg and Mann tell a fable about a frustrated salesman who learns the secret to success is through giving. Pindar, the wise man in the fable, teaches the “Five Laws of Stratospheric Success:”

    1. The Law of Value
    2. The Law of Compensation
    3. The Law of Influence
    4. The Law of Authenticity
    5. The Law of Receptivity

I remember thinking The Go-Giver is a fine book, so I picked up Burg and Mann’s most recent book, Go-Givers Sell More (Portfolio 2010) expecting to enjoy it and learn something from it. I am sorry to say I was disappointed.

First, Go-Givers Sell More assumes you’ve read The Go-Giver. I have, but I found I didn’t remember any of it, so Burg and Mann’s references to their previous book didn’t have any meaning for me.

Second, Go-Givers Sell More is boring. It is a classic example of the worst aspect of most self-help books, which is to say the same thing over and over and over again. Go-Givers Sell More consists of nearly two hundred pages, which I can summarize as follows:

Do. The. Right. Thing.
Think. Of. The. Other. Person. First.

According to Burg and Mann, you’ll be successful if you keep these lessons in mind.

I think Burg and Mann are right. I agree that the only way to give value to someone and to make that person an enthusiastic client is to think of that person first and to provide services that truly meet the person’s needs. If you are greedy and pushy, you’ll lose the relationship (and the sale).

Unfortunately, however, as far as I’m concerned, Go-Givers Sell More was such a tough slog to read I all but lost the message. Just read The Go-Giver and keep its message in mind when you deal with people around you; Go-Givers Sell More is unnecessary.

What’s a Law Firm Really Worth, Anyway?

March 16, 2011

Filed under: Selling Your Law Practice — @ 1:30 pm

When I tell people — especially other lawyers — that I sold my law firm, I often get the question, “how did you value it?” Because law practices generally have very few hard assets, and since used furniture, computers, and telephones are pretty worthless, the value of a practice depends upon the nature of the firm’s work, the strength of its processes, and its profit margin.

Altman Weil, Inc., the legal consulting firm, recently released “Law Firm Valuation,” a three-part article by William F. Brennan about how to value a law practice. In the article, Brennan goes through various methods of valuing law firms and concludes that the best way to do so is to use a combination of approaches, based upon the law firm’s balance sheet (including work in progress and accounts receivable), coupled with an analysis of the firm’s ability to generate future cash flow.

Brennan’s article is impressive in its thoroughness. However, what I learned from the real life experience of selling my firm is that the value of a law practice is its “fair market value” — that is, “the price at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts.” United States v. Cartwright, 411 U. S. 546, 551 (1973) (quoting from Treasury reg. § 20.2031 1(b)).

In other words, analysis is great and essential, but, in the end, the price will come down to what a buyer is willing to pay, and what the seller is willing to accept.

Book Review: Richard Susskind, The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services (Oxford University Press, Paperback Edition 2010)

March 11, 2011

Filed under: Book Review — admin @ 8:00 am

If you plan to work in the law for more than the next five years, you need to read The End of Lawyers?  In his book, Richard Susskind reflects on the pressures technology is bringing to the legal profession, and how attorneys must adapt — whether they want to or not.  Briefly stated, Susskind believes lawyers must change how they work or die.

According to Susskind, the growing availability of legal information on the Internet, coupled with increased cooperation among and demand for price controls from end users, will force more efficient delivery of legal services.  Susskind sees the law evolving (and soon!) to the point there will be five types of lawyers:  (1) trusted advisors who offer “bespoke” services; (2) “enhanced practitioners” who provide systematized, packaged legal services; (3) “legal knowledge engineers,” who create standardized working practices and systems; (4) “legal risk managers,” who work with end-users to reduce the need for more costly services (such as litigation); and (5) “legal hybrids,” who have multidisciplinary practices, i.e., acting as project managers (with real project manager training) as well as attorneys.

I mostly agree with Susskind, but not entirely.  I think his research, largely among large law firms and in-house counsel, skews his perspective, making him less knowledgeable about legal services provided to non-institutional clients.  I believe Susskind places too much emphasis on cost savings influencing the future of the law — people often make decisions based on factors other than what something will cost them.  Finally, Susskind doesn’t acknowledge that although online legal solutions may appeal to the consumer, use of those services may ultimately result in more work for lawyers when they undo the messes created by people who don’t know what they are doing.

I want to make one more observation.  I find most tomes like this to be unreadable, consisting of pages and pages of meaningless words, saying the same thing over and over again.  Susskind’s book is not one of them.  Although dense, the book is not repetitive and mostly made sense to me.  In other words, I could read it.  I think you should, too.

–            Jan Copley
Certified Practice Advisor

Gain An Hour A Day By Controlling Telephone Interruptions!

March 9, 2011

Filed under: Focus/Time Management — admin @ 8:30 am

Are you too busy?  Does it seem as if you can never finish all the things you want to get done in a day?  Are you more efficient when you work weekends (even though you don’t really want to)?  Maybe it’s because you’re interrupted too often!

Consider taking control over one of the most insidious, insistent, constant and shrill interruptions in every lawyer’s day:  the telephone.  Do you take calls as they come in?  There are studies that say every time you are interrupted, it takes twenty minutes for you to recover from the interruption and get back to whatever it was that you were working on.  That means if you take three unscheduled telephone calls in a day, you’re losing an hour of productivity!

Here are a couple of easy, effective steps for managing telephone interruptions:

Let your team do the heavy lifting. Teach your team members to handle a telephone call as much on their own as they can.  If someone calls and asks for you, the team member on the telephone can respond by saying, “[attorney name] is not available right now.  Is there a message I can give him/her or is there something I can help you with?”

Although the caller may be asking for you, what the caller really wants is an answer, and if the team member can answer it, the caller will be satisfied and you won’t be interrupted.  Your team member may be able to answer the question on the spot.

Alternatively, during a scheduled time for your team members to consult with you, you can answer the caller’s question and the team member can call the inquiring person back.  The caller will be happy and you won’t be interrupted — so you’ll be happy, too!

Set aside a specific time every day to return calls. There will, of course, be some questions and some conversations only you, the attorney, can handle.  That doesn’t mean you have to drop what you are doing when the call comes in!  Rather, set aside a specific time each day to return calls.  Have your team members tell callers that you’re not available but will return the telephone call at a certain time.  Have your team members ask if that is acceptable to the caller (most of the time it is).

Of course, for this strategy to work, you must return the call when you say you will!

Is this really gonna work? You may respond to these proposals by thinking (a) your team will never go for them and/or (b) that, by designating a specific time to return calls, you are setting yourself up for a miserable hour every day.  That’s what I thought when I decided to implement these techniques.

However, I can tell you from my personal experience that neither thought is true.  My team was quite supportive of these ideas and implemented them immediately.  And, because I was able to prepare for the questions I would be answering when I returned calls, the telephone calls were generally efficient and pleasant.

Try these two techniques and let me know if they work for you!

Don’t Surrender To The Tyranny of Email!

March 4, 2011

Filed under: Focus/Time Management — admin @ 3:59 pm

I previously wrote about managing telephone interruptions.  There are two other common interruptions in an attorney’s day:  (1) interruptions from your team; and (2) you interrupting yourself.

Think about it!  How many times do you take time from whatever it is that you are doing to check your email?  or surf the Internet?  or make that phone call that just popped into your head?  Or gab with your assistant?  Or play Solitaire?

We need to do all these things in the course of a day to stay sane.  But, every time you interrupt yourself, it probably will take twenty minutes for you to get back to effectively concentrating on whatever it was you were working on.

Today, are going to talk about managing one of the biggest interruptions of all:  email!

As far as I’m concerned, email is a blessing and a curse.  It’s a quick, convenient, cheap way of communicating with lots of people.  On the other hand, if someone sends you an email, the sender seems to expect a response within ten minutes!  Email can be extraordinarily distracting and amazingly time consuming.

To combat this, consider the following:

Turn off the little box. You can adjust your settings in Outlook (or whatever email service you use) so you don’t get the little box at the bottom of your screen saying you have a new message.  You’d be amazed at how much difference eliminating that small distraction makes.

Schedule specific times in your day to review and answer your email. This will enable you to focus on your email messages, rather than squeezing them into whatever else you are doing.  Would setting aside time at the beginning of the day, when you are easing back into work after lunch, and/or at the close of business work for you?

Handle your email efficiently. Consider the “one touch” management rule they used to teach about pieces of paper — try to touch a message only once.  Read it, answer it, delete or file it.

Set expectations for your clients and colleagues. Tell people you only check your email during certain times of the day.  Tell them you’ll respond to their message in forty-eight hours.  If you can’t get back to the person in twenty-four hours, have a member of your team call the sender to let the person know you haven’t forgotten them.  Then, you can answer emails in a controlled environment, with enough time to answer that dreaded “one quick question.”

If you follow these simple steps, you should find you have more time.  Experiment and let me know how well they work!