2011 September | Jan Copley Atticus Blog
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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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Dealing with the Evil Empire

September 30, 2011

Filed under: Marketing,Practice Management — @ 5:42 pm

The practice of law is changing and, like it or not, we have to deal with it. At the risk of sounding Pollyannaish, sometimes the obstacles we run into might turn into liberating opportunities.

Take the online legal resources, such as LegalZoom, that have sprung up over the past ten years. In some ways such products are threats to our practices because they offer purported legal services at purportedly lower prices. However, are they really a threat? Consider this:

    • In my experience, the do-it-yourselfers who shop based on price do not fully appreciate all we do and the relationships with them can be unrewarding. Maybe these aren’t the kind of people we want to work with anyway.

    • We can make a lot of money cleaning up the messes people create when they try to do it themselves with online legal planning. That’s what I used to tell people when they asked me why they couldn’t just create their estate plan using LegalZoom or Quicken Personal Lawyer. Once I said that, the people who were asking the questions nodded in agreement.

Even Consumer Reports, a cost-conscious publication, recommends in a recent article http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/money/retirement-planning/write-your-own-will/overview/index.htm that people consult with an attorney about their legal problems!

So, what’s the point of this article? Rather than fretting about perceived competition from online resources, think about how they present opportunities to you in the future. Position your practice so you don’t market to the people who shop only on price; also consider marketing your practice as a resource to solve the problems that people themselves create.

Let me know how this helps you!

A Doctor Considers Coaching

September 28, 2011

Filed under: Coaching — @ 7:42 pm

My good friend, Mark Merenda, recently forwarded an article in the October 3 edition of The New Yorker, “Personal Best” by Atul Gawande, about coaching. In the article, Gawande, a physician, talks about how we regard coaching as essential as sports, but that in other professional disciplines — teaching, music, medicine — we do not. He explores the concept that “with [just] a diploma, few will achieve sustained mastery; with a good coach, many could.”

I think everything Gawande says applies to lawyers. To excel, he states, “[y]ou have to work at what you’re not good at…. But most people don’t know where to start or how to proceed.” Your coach can help you get to a place of “unconscious competence.”

From nearly thirty years of practicing, I’ve learned that the law expects perfection. Yet, once you’re out of school and on our own, how are you supposed to get there? That’s where a good coach comes into the picture. A coach can help you overcome a sense of isolation; point out your blind spots; be a sounding board for ideas and problems; and serve as a tool to improve your practice.

Please let me know how this helps you!

I’m Too Busy to Bill

September 23, 2011

Filed under: Billing,Practice Management,Pricing — @ 8:00 am

I am not kidding, I’ve actually had lawyers tell me that they are “too busy to bill.” That comment always makes me wonder how that person is eating, much less paying the rent!

Now, I know that many attorneys practice because they love the law, but most of us are in it to make a living, too. And making a living requires collecting payment for the services we provide to our clients.

Unfortunately, law school doesn’t teach cash flow management, and many of us start up our business without thinking about the steps involved in actually getting paid. To that end, I have a couple of suggestions:

Be rigorous about billing. Designate specific days, at least once a month, to get the bills out. Don’t schedule any meetings that day, and don’t plan on doing any client work.

Don’t work with deadbeats. Only work with clients who are willing to pay you. If the first words out of a prospect’s mouth are “what is it going to cost?” send that person on his or her way. You don’t lose money on the cases you don’t take.

Figure out a way to capture your time. If you bill hourly and have trouble tracking your time, ask your assistant to interview you at the end of the day about what you have worked on. Have him/her actually create the time records. If you do this, it’s likely you won’t lose as much billable time because you haven’t documented it, and you won’t be subjected to the physical task of logging your time yourself.

Raise your prices. Make sure your prices are high enough so you make a profit. I know that many attorneys are afraid that if they charge too much they’ll lose clients. However, a wise man once told me to think of it this way: if you double your prices and lose half your clients, you’ll still be making the same amount of money.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Are You Advertising Without Knowing About It?

September 21, 2011

Filed under: Social Media — @ 12:51 pm

Because Social Media is new and weird, I keep writing about it. I recently came across a blog posting, “Privacy Blind: Opting Out of Social Ads” that really caught my eye. It turns out that if you “like” something on Facebook or LinkedIn, the Social Media sites will then advertise those products to your “friends.”

I’m not sure that the techno-wizards at Facebook and LinkedIn thought about this, but it seems to me that this might be a breach of an attorney’s ethics, either by advertising our services outside the rules of professional conduct, or by inadvertently endorsing something we shouldn’t.

Fortunately, there are ways, as the article says, that we can change our privacy settings to prevent this from happening! Given the advertising restraints we attorneys have, I think this would be a good idea.

Let me know how this helps you!


September 16, 2011

Filed under: Practice Management — @ 12:52 pm

As I review my most recent blogs, I find that I’ve been writing a lot about goals. It occurred to me that I should define the term. So what is a goal, exactly, and how do you get there?

Goals vs. slogans. I think for purposes of managing a successful law firm, a goal is a specific objective, something that we want to accomplish. It must be more than a slogan. Rather, a goal is something measurable. A slogan is, “I want to make more money;” a goal is, “I want to increase my profit by 20% over the previous year.”

Why should I care? And why are goals important? Well, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” Goal-setting can be daunting, because it requires you to challenge yourself. On the other hand, without creating goals, you run the risk of stagnation.

Goal-setting is only the first step. You can create goals, but that, without more, won’t get you anywhere. You can’t simply set goals and forget about them. To remember your goals, write them down and set a specific time (weekly, perhaps?) to review them. Track your progress. Only then can you measure your success and adjust accordingly.

So what are you goals for the remainder of 2011? What do you have to do to make it your best year ever? Let me know!

Pay Attention!

September 14, 2011

Filed under: Practice Management — @ 12:47 pm

I’ve been writing about the signs of a team that doesn’t work. So far, we’ve covered fear of conflict, lack of trust, failure to commit, and lack of accountability. According to Patrick Lencioni in his The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, there is a fifth symptom: inattention to results.

A team that works focuses on what it wants to accomplish. What a team’s inattention to results means is that you have no team. Rather, you have a group of individuals more invested in their personal interests than the agreed-upon goals. People on a dysfunctional team don’t care about defined goals — and, as a result, the business fails to grow. Alternatively, a team that works and that has bought into a common goal has a unity of purpose and is more likely to get where it wants to be.

So how do you create a team with an eye on the team’s goals? Here are a couple of suggestions:

    Say what you’re going to do. Have the team publicly declare a goal, a timeline to meet that goal, and what each of them (including you) are going to do to reach the goal. You know that you’re more likely to do something if you say it out loud; it’s the same with your team members.

    Reward performance. Give team members a bonus for meeting a goal. Consider rewarding both individual and team performance.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Holding Yourself to Account

September 9, 2011

Filed under: Practice Management — @ 1:17 pm

I’ve been talking about the symptoms of a team that doesn’t work. Today, I want to briefly address the fourth “dysfunction” Patrick Lencioni identifies in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: avoidance of accountability.

What is accountability, anyway?
I think “accountability” is a word that is tossed around too freely, to the point where it’s a cliché. For purposes of this discussion, I believe accountability has two definitions:

  • First, it means a person is willing to be called upon if his or her actions/inactions are inappropriate.
  • Second, it means other people are not willing to tolerate the discomfort that results from someone’s failure to keep his or her commitments.

What if you and your team are not accountable? If you don’t have a culture of accountability in your office, you and your team are likely to tolerate mediocrity in themselves and each other. Even worse, you as the leader, wind up being a parent to your team members — you are required to scold and push them to get things done!

So what does accountability look like? If you have a culture of accountability in your office, poor performers will be asked to improve. Your team members will identify potential problems and respect each other.

For your team to be accountable, you must be accountable. There is no way you will have a culture of accountability in your office unless you, as the team leader, walk the walk as well as talk to the talk. This means:

  • You meet your commitments to your team members and their clients. If you say you are going to do something, you do it, you do it well, and you do it on time.
  • You hold your team members to your standards. If someone doesn’t meet your standards, you let them know and work with them to improve. The team member will either step up to the plate or put you out of your misery by leaving.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Decisions, Decisions…What a Pain!

September 8, 2011

Filed under: Practice Management — @ 2:41 pm

Practicing law is hard. However, I think that any attorney who owns his or her own business will agree with me that serving as a leader to your team is just as tough.

You have to be committed. I’ve previously written about how lack of trust and fear of conflict render even the most talented team ineffective. According to Patrick Lencioni in his The Five Dysfunctions of a Team , there is a third symptom of a team that doesn’t work: lack of commitment. This means all members don’t buy into and move forward with a decision once it has been made.

The two major obstacles to commitment are a desire for consensus and need for certainty.

Consensus can be paralyzing. Sometimes people just can’t agree. If a team, and you as its leader, insist on consensus, you’ll never make the decisions necessary to move your business forward. There are times when you, as the leader, have to decide — period. Just do it in such a way that your team members feel their concerns have been heard so they don’t resent your leadership.

Certainty is overrated. Some people crave certainty and have trouble moving forward without it. I’ve found this to be especially true with attorneys. That’s ironic, isn’t it? In litigation, there’s always a wild card, called the judge! We counsel our clients to go forward based upon the best information we have, even if we can’t guarantee a result. Well, the same thing applies to team decisions. If you and your team can’t decide because you’re not certain of a result, you’ll be stuck.

A couple of suggestions. How do you and your team commit to a decision? Here are some thoughts:

  • At the end of a meeting, review decisions to make sure everyone understands
    what they are
  • Set deadlines for implementing a decision
  • Do a worst-case analysis — it may not be that bad
  • Do a best-case analysis — it might happen

Let me know how this helps you!

Can You Be Trusted?

September 2, 2011

Filed under: Practice Management — @ 4:48 pm

Trust is a key component of a functional team. If you don’t trust your team members, your business will be forever limited.

According to Patrick Lencioni in his Five Dysfunctions of a Team, trust is the heart of your team. If you don’t have trust, you don’t really have a team. Rather, you have a collection of individuals playing politics, holding grudges, and working in silos. You won’t see creativity or new ideas from a team without trust.

However (horrors!), is it possible that you are the cause? Can you be trusted? Being trustworthy means having integrity, keeping your promises, and doing what you say you are going to do.

So, do you keep your commitments to your team? Do you routinely cancel team meetings? If you don’t meet a deadline, are your team members free to hold you accountable? Do they see you blowing off promises you’ve made to clients? If you don’t prove yourself as trustworthy, why should your team members bother?

Please let me know how this helps you!