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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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The Importance of Thank You

May 27, 2011

Filed under: Practice Management — @ 12:54 pm

Sometimes your parents were right. They tried to teach you to say thank you. However, they may never have said what’s in it for you! Well, I can think of at least three ways saying thank you can help you in your business.

Say thank you to your referral sources. Whenever you have a meeting with a referral source, send them a hand-written note thanking him or her for taking time out from his or her busy day. Whenever a referral source sends you a client, send them a handwritten thank-you note.

What will the result be? At the very least, the referral source will be impressed. You will stand out from the other attorneys whose manners are not as nice as yours. You may get a thank you for your thank you. And, you will be remembered, so the next time the referral source needs to send someone to an attorney, he or she will think of you.

Say thank you to your clients. For similar reasons, thank your clients. Think about it — most of them are taking a great leap of faith when they hire you. Clients ask people they don’t know very well to take on matters of extraordinary importance in a system they don’t understand. It seems to me that that is a great honor.

Also, clients, as referral sources, retain you because they know, like and trust you. So, help your clients know and trust you by showing your good manners. Send a thank-you note when they retain you; send a thank-you note when they refer a friend your way. This should generate more referrals. Your clients’ positive experiences can only help you and your bottom line.

Say thank you to your team. Were there times when you were an employee that you felt underappreciated? Of course there were! How much of a difference would it have made to you if your boss had simply said, “Thank you for doing a good job”? It probably would have made your day!

Well, do you thank your team members for a job well done? Try it. You’ll be surprised by the positive response. Taking the time to say thank you makes all the difference in creating and maintaining a loyal team.

Say thank you to your significant other. Although this doesn’t formally fall in the area of law practice management, my husband reminds me to tell you to say thank you to your significant other.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Have You Done Any Succession Planning At All?

May 25, 2011

Filed under: Succession Planning — @ 1:28 pm

For reasons that aren’t quite clear to me, I now receive CPA Trendlines , a free email magazine for CPAs. I haven’t unsubscribed. CPAs, like attorneys, are in the personal services business, and I find most of the information in CPA Trendlines is also relevant to legal practices.

All business professionals need to plan for the worst. I especially liked a recent article, “Succession Planning: What’s Your Excuse?” It seems CPAs are just as negligent as other professionals about protecting their families, their clients, and planning for the worst! In the article, the authors complain that senior partners in accounting firms have no succession planning strategy in place and that nobody talks about it. Younger accountants therefore worry about the future of their firms and shy away from partnership.

Just do something! Well, we as attorneys, just like CPAs, are all going to leave our practices one way or another. You may want to die at your desk — and that’s fine — but you still have to plan for it so someone else can step in when needed. As the CPA Trendlines article says, “even a memo would be a major accomplishment.” Find someone who will agree to step in if there’s an emergency. Tell your family and your team about that person.

You can get help. Of course, you should be more deliberate about your succession than just a memo. If you’d like to be more proactive about your exit strategy, there are people out there who can help you design and implement it. I certainly relied on the expertise of others when I was designing my exit from practicing law. Atticus has a workshop about exit strategies coming up on June 10 in Orlando. If you’re interested, check it out at http://www.atticusonline.com/programs/seminar_catalog/exit_strategies_workshop/

Please let me know how this is helpful to you!

The How of Processes, Part 2 – Implementing and Improving Processes

May 20, 2011

Filed under: Processes — @ 1:51 pm

Now that you’ve decided you need processes in your office and you’ve started to document them, there are two more steps: implementing and improving your processes.

Implementing Processes. You may have something written down, but you still have to make sure it works! Have your team members do a dry run on every new process. Ask them if the written process is easy to follow and covers all the steps to getting something done. Make necessary corrections so that someone tackling the task for the first time — a new employee, perhaps — can handle it from start to finish.

Improving Processes. Processes are not static! You can learn things from them, including how to do things more efficiently. After using a process for awhile, visit with your team about it. You and your team may decide there is a more efficient way to do something. Keep the lines of communication open so your team members feel empowered to make suggestions for improvement. Make sure everyone is empowered to observe that something is “stupid” or inefficient, even if it’s done that way because you’ve always done it that way.

Please let me know how this helps you!

The How of Processes, Part I – Creating Processes

May 18, 2011

Filed under: Processes — @ 1:44 pm

In my last blog posting, I talked about why written processes are a good thing for your business. The next time you hire a new team member or bring a temporary employee into your office, you will be happy, happy, happy that you can show him or her the documented processes about how your office operates!

But, acknowledging that you need processes is only the first step. To have processes that work, you also need to (1) create them; (2) implement them; and (3) improve them.

Today, I’ll talk about step one: how to create a process.

Identify things that are done in your office. If there is a task in your office that’s likely to be done more than once, it makes sense to develop a written process for it. I imagine that sounds overwhelming to you — how do you document them all? Prioritize what processes need to be created first. Some people like to start with the things they do most often; other people start with whatever they are working on at the moment.

Get your team on board. You can’t implement processes from the top down. You need your team’s assistance. If your team members do not have an investment in the process (no pun intended), nothing will get done. So, ask for help. Explain why processes are a good thing. Solicit your team members’ input on what processes to document first. Ask your team to create the first draft of processes for things they do regularly.

Set deadlines and give rewards. Even if you and your team members understand why creating processes is important and how they can make all your lives easier, because it’s not billable work and a bit of a bother, it’s easy to put off documenting a process. So, set deadlines — ask for a draft process at the next team meeting. And, consider rewarding someone when he or she does a good job, such as getting the written process done early. It doesn’t have to be much — how about a Starbucks card, for instance?

Every time you do something new, draft a process for it. Another important component of having a systematized practice is to create a process for everything. That ranges from a process for watering the plants (how often should it be done and by whom?) to the most complex legal work. So, when you tackle something new, write down what you do as you do it. You’ll be most of the way to creating a process you can use in the future when the issue comes up again, and you won’t have to waste your time reinventing the wheel.

Please let me know how this is helpful to you!

The Why of Processes

May 13, 2011

Filed under: Processes — @ 1:10 pm

This week, I had the privilege of hearing Chesley (“Sully”) Sullenberger, the captain of U.S. Airways Flight 1549, which landed in the Hudson River in January 2009. What a story! I can report that Sullenberger has transformed himself from an excellent pilot into an excellent speaker.

Airliners and Law Practices. So what’s the connection between Sullenberger and a blog about law practice management? Processes! Captain Sullenberger talked about the importance of processes in the context of training a team and handling an emergency. Even though Sullenberger did not know his team well — Sullenberger and his copilot met for the first time three days before the flight — everyone had been thoroughly trained and had emergency processes down cold. Therefore, Sullenberger’s team members were able to work together to avoid a disaster.

What Processes Do. The point is that processes are essential to successful management of a situation. For us, as lawyers, it’s the situation of successfully representing a client while making a good living. If we have processes, implement them, and train our team to use them, we are more likely to:

• Not reinvent the wheel each time a situation arises
• Delegate, because we know our team has a clear guideline to accomplish what needs to be done
• Do something more profitable — such as marketing or real legal work — because we’re not wasting our time on something someone else can do
• Produce quality work because we’re not scrambling to decide how to do something at the last minute
• Make more money because we do things more efficiently

On my next posting, I’ll talk about how to implement processes in your office.

Please let me know how this is helpful to you!

Who Are Your Clients And Why Are You Working With Them?

May 11, 2011

Filed under: Clients — @ 1:24 pm

Do you like all your clients? Or are there some that are just a pain? Do you have clients who cause your staff to complain? If the latter two questions are the case, maybe you want to consider some client selection criteria for your practice.

A key to your profitability — and sanity — is client selection. At Atticus, we suggest you rank your clients into “A,” “B” “C” and “D” clients as follows:

    • “A” clients are your dream clients. They pay — promptly — what you ask. They like the work you do for them. They follow your advice. They appreciate what you do. They refer their friends. You like them personally.

    • “B” clients are close to dream clients. They pay. Sometimes you have to do a little more work for them. They usually take your advice. They send referrals.

    • “C” clients are average clients. They usually — but not always — create problems. They don’t always follow your advice. They may not be as cooperative as they should be. They may be a slow pay.

    • “D” clients usually create too many problems and take too much of your energy to be worth working for them. They don’t pay, they try to negotiate your prices, they don’t take advice, and they don’t refer anyone to you.

Don’t let the wrong prices bring you the wrong clients. You may worry someone won’t retain you because he or she thinks your prices are too high. That means that person is, by definition, not an “A” client. Why would you want to work with someone who doesn’t want to pay you? “A” and “B” clients recognize the value you bring to the relationship and are willing to pay you for it, while “C” and “D” clients may not see the value and, in fact, very often try to negotiate discounts.

Set your prices to weed out the “C” and “D” clients. Your business will be far more profitable — and you and your team will be a lot happier — if you only have “A” and “B” level clients.

Some Upcoming Speaking Engagements

May 6, 2011

Filed under: Speaking Engagements — @ 9:00 am

I’ve got some speaking engagements coming up and I thought I would share them with you.

As a certified practice advisor, I will be co-teaching, along with my fellow practice advisors Glenn Gutek, Cammie Hauser, Ashish Karvé and Patrick Wilson, the Atticus “Practice Builder” in Pasadena, California on June 3 and 4. The Practice Builder is a two-day boot camp designed to enable you to take control of your practice and make more money. Space is very limited! If you want more information and to register, click here.

On June 8, I’m presenting a one-hour webinar titled, “How to Get Paid a Fair Price for What You Do.” For more information and to register, click here.

I’m also presenting at the June 10 joint meeting of the WealthCounsel Northern California and Southern California Forums. I’ll be speaking about cash flow management and staffing, including:
• Finding and hiring the right people for your business
• The RULES for managing your cash flow
• Maximizing your revenue
For more information and to register, click here.

Finally, Jeffrey Matsen, a very successful attorney with an office in Costa Mesa, California, and I are teaching a free webinar about “How to Build a Solo Practitioner Estate Planning Practice.” It will be on June 18. My focus will be on marketing and cash flow management. For more information and to register, click here.

Please let me know if you will be attending one of these programs so I can say hello to you!

The More Things Change…

May 4, 2011

Filed under: Technology — @ 12:50 pm

In my last blog, I wrote about how changes in technology have affected the rhythms of practicing law. Today, I received the California Bar’s “eJournal” (they don’t put a printed version in the mail anymore). Among the various articles is, “R u sure u want 2 tweet?” by Diane Karpman, who often writes about ethics issues in California bar publications. Karpman committed the faux pas of inadvertently sending “friend” requests to every one of her Facebook contacts (including, apparently, some judges). Beyond violating netiquette, Karpman may have breached an ethics rule or two.

I think Karpman’s article falls under the old saw, “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” She notes the ethics rules are “about three decades behind the times … regarding electronic communications.” I agree. But, on the other hand, Karpman’s article is really about a very, very old rule for practicing law: be careful what you say!

I get questions from my clients about Social Media. I think Social Media is a new and important means of establishing credibility and marketing your practice. I also think it’s here to stay — at least until the next great thing comes along.

But — and this is where the old saw comes in — you can get in trouble with Social Media just like you can with any other form of communication. You can offend a lot of people by a careless comment in Cyberspace. You can also offend someone the old-fashioned way: speaking face to face. And, the person you are speaking with directly is probably more important to your business, because he or she probably is a client or referral source. So, although the medium may be new, the rule is the same: think before you speak (or tweet!).

Is this useful to you? Please let me know.