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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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Sometimes You Can’t Make it on Your Own

October 26, 2011

Filed under: Coaching — @ 8:51 am

Most attorneys practice in solo or small firms (or small departments within larger firms). We rely on our personal, individual intelligence and our personal, individual energy to run and grow our businesses. We are rugged individualists!

Sometimes that’s not enough. Our law school curriculum didn’t include classes on how to manage our time or cash flow. We may know the applicable labor laws, but we don’t necessarily have the skills to hire and keep stellar team members. We’re not sure how to market ourselves. And, we get so busy that we never make and/or find the time to figure out what we really want our businesses — and our lives — to be like.

As much as we loath to admit it, we may need help. With apologies to U2’s Bono, “sometimes you can’t make it on your own.”

If you are stuck in your practice, you might consider coaching to move you forward.
Working with a coach is similar to having a personal trainer. You know how that works: if you don’t have someone to report to, it’s not as likely you will make it to the gym. If someone isn’t pushing you, you probably won’t have as intense a workout. It’s easier to quit on your health program if no one is around to hold you accountable. Somehow, just having the coach provides you with the motivation to push yourself and accomplish more. Of course, if you actually do what your trainer says to do, you will be healthier and happier for it!

Good business coaching will do the same thing. Having someone hold you accountable means it’s more likely you will finally write up that business plan. Then, your coach will push you to actually implement it! You may not know where to start to move your business forward; your coach will have some suggestions. If you have lots of ideas, your coach will help you evaluate and prioritize them.

Coaching is not a gimmick and not a panacea. Working with a coach, as with working with a personal trainer, requires hard work and a willingness to change things. But, if you commit to the coaching process, coaching will give you the clarity and the boost you need to grow your practice and improve your life.

There are a number of coaching organizations out there. There are business coaches and life coaches. We at Atticus provide coaching for lawyers, and only for lawyers.

I don’t know a successful attorney who has not had some kind of coaching during his/her career. Is being successful part of your business plan? Do you want a life you love? If so, help is out there!

Please let me know how this helps you!

What’s the Return on Your Social Media Investment?

October 21, 2011

Filed under: Social Media — @ 8:00 am

Like everyone else who is blogging about practice development, I’ve written about the uses and abuses of Social Media. It’s a tool — and an important tool — for developing our businesses.

Social Media marketing costs money. However, a problem with Social Media is that if you’re not careful, it can be expensive. How is that possible? Isn’t one of the advantages of Social Media is that it’s free?

Well, yes and no. You might not have to pay money to anyone to have a presence on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Google Plus, etc., but that doesn’t mean it’s not costing you money. Remember, your time is valuable and certainly not free. You might be spending too much time on your Social Media presence — time more profitably used on face-to-face marketing or client work.

Measure the return on your efforts. As noted by Chris Vigil in the Pasadena Star-News, you need to measure the return on investment from your Social Media marketing efforts, just as you need to measure the return on investment for all your other marketing activities.

So — are you really making money with your Social Media efforts? Don’t get me wrong — you have to do Social Media marketing to keep your marketing presence. But you can fool yourself with it, too. Are you just spending time in front of the computer with your Social Media campaign as a means to avoid a more challenging face-to-face marketing meeting? You won’t know if your efforts are effective unless you measure them.

Please let me know how this helps you!

I Hate Meetings!

October 19, 2011

Filed under: Meetings — @ 1:05 pm

When I was practicing law, I attended a lot of meetings. In fact, as an estate planning attorney, I made my living by meeting with clients, potential clients, referral sources, and potential referral sources. Some went well, some didn’t go so well.

Bad, bad, bad. So, why, as a general rule, do we do such a bad job running meetings? I mean, how many dreadful meetings/hearings have you sat through? Well, as usual, nobody in law school thought to teach meeting technique.

The nadir of my meeting career happened when client wife and I were discussing home decorating concerns. Client husband sat patiently for about two minutes and then announced, “This isn’t the way I run my meetings!”

How to make it better. What I took away from the experience (apart from a very embarrassing memory) was the realization that although you have to run a meeting to be entertaining for the participants, you’re also meeting for a purpose and you can’t get too far off track. That’s why Robert Half’s article, “Meetings: Frustrating Facilitators and Annoying Attendees” interested me. Half’s article identifies seven kinds of meeting killers and gives pointers on how to handle them.

Terrible technology. One of my pet peeves about meetings is the ham-handed use of technology. How many times have you seen someone fooling with the data projector to the detriment of them and their audience? Instead of serving as a useful tool, technology badly handled can quickly turn into a means of defeating your purpose (for an extreme example, check out “Next Slide” on the “Attorney at Work” blog).

Meet for a purpose. So, just as with everything else about practicing law and running a business, if we are going to run a meeting, we need to do it well. That means preparation. We have to decide what we want to accomplish with our meeting: do we want to be retained by a new client? Convince a colleague to work with us? Convince a judge or jury of the righteousness of our client’s position? And if so, how is the meeting structure and how are the meeting attendees going to get us to our goal?

Please let me know how this helps you!

Are You Thinking About Hiring? – Part Two

October 14, 2011

Filed under: Staffing — @ 8:00 am

In my last blog posting, I wrote about deciding when it’s time to hire someone. Today I want to talk about whom you should hire.

Do you need another lawyer on staff? In my career as an Atticus coach, I talk to clients about their staffing needs. What I’m finding is that when attorneys feel they have staffing needs, they think they need to have another attorney on their team. But that’s not always the right decision. Bringing on another lawyer can be expensive, even if you only pay based upon the work that the attorney does or brings in.

What’s not getting done? Think about what’s not getting done in your office. Is it the photocopying? Then you don’t need another attorney to handle that; you need a low-level clerk. In fact, you may only need someone to handle the work on a part-time basis.

What are you doing that you shouldn’t be doing? Think about the work you are doing: are you the one standing in front of the copy machine? Preparing client retention agreements? That’s not attorney work! You don’t need another attorney on board; you need someone you trust who can handle the work for you.

Good hiring is a key to profitability. Your firm will be most profitable — and you’ll take the most money home — if you hire the right people for the work that needs to be done. Hiring someone who is overqualified will be unnecessarily expensive. Further, the employee will be bored and the relationship won’t work out.

So, think hard about the kind of person you need when you decide to hire someone, and don’t hire another attorney until it’s clear that a nonattorney can’t handle the work that isn’t being done.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Are You Thinking About Hiring? – Part One

October 12, 2011

Filed under: Staffing — @ 1:01 pm

Being a boss is hard. In some ways, it’s like marriage — relatively easy to get into, and really hard to get out of.

Why are you hiring? Most of us want our business to grow so that at some point we have to hire someone to help us meet our commitments to our clients. As a coach, I find that some people make the decision for emotional reasons, hire someone, and then are surprised to find themselves with substantially increased overhead and bringing home less money.

That’s why I was really taken by a recent story, “A Single Hire Is A Big Deal To A Small Business,” on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. The article contains a nice discussion of the financial costs we need to consider before hiring someone.

The Rule of Three. As attorneys, we can use an additional benchmark to decide if it’s time to hire someone. Consider what we at Atticus call the “Rule of Three:” an employee who bills for his or her time should generate revenue three times the employee’s salary. The first third is to cover the employee’s compensation; the second third covers expenses associated with the employee (i.e., benefits, employer taxes, phones, IT costs), and the remaining third is the attorney’s profit. It’s worth looking at: if a new person isn’t going to help you make money, perhaps it’s not a good time to hire someone.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Time to Say Goodbye – Part Two

October 7, 2011

Filed under: Clients — @ 12:43 pm

In my previous column, I spoke about firing employees. There may be some other people in your practice you need to fire: toxic clients!

I’ve written in a previous article http://www.copleycoaching.com/blog/2011/05/who-are-your-clients-and-why-are-you-working-with-them/ about how we, at Atticus, help our clients classify their clients, but I think it’s worth repeating here:

    • “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 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.

If you have any “D” clients, now is the time to fire them. Don’t hang on to them hoping that somehow they will transform themselves into “A” and “B” clients. Take my word for it — they won’t. Why spend any more energy on people who are only causing you sleepless nights?

You might also consider firing all your “C” clients. Are they really worth having around? Are you making any money — that is, profit — on these retentions? If not, why are you bothering? It probably makes more sense for you to spend your time marketing for more “A” and “B” clients than working on “C” client matters.

How wonderful would it be for you if you only worked with quality clients?

Please let me know how this helps you!

Time to Say Goodbye – Part One

October 5, 2011

Filed under: Staffing — @ 7:14 pm

I don’t know about you, but I think staffing is the hardest part of running a business. You hire one part-time employee and suddenly you need a whole HR department! Now you have to deal with employment taxes, employee benefits, training, office procedures, supervising someone, personnel reviews…. Aargh!

Tough love. I think the most difficult staffing decision of all is when to let someone go. If we hire someone, we invest money, and, of course, we also make an emotional investment in that person. We get to like the person who is around every day; we want them to do well.

Tough decisions. It hurts when someone we’ve hired isn’t doing as well as we would like. A mistake that I have made more than once was to overemphasize the occasional flash of brilliance and ignore the problems I had to deal with because of the person’s performance. Another mistake I made was sticking with a problem employee because I was opting for the devil I knew rather than the devil I didn’t know.

So, when should you let someone go? I suggest the following standards:

    • You’re relieved when your staff person calls in sick
    • You find yourself doing things your staff person should be doing because you don’t trust him/her to do it right
    • You get recurring complaints from your clients about the person
    • You can’t trust the person to do his or her job
    • You find yourself cleaning up lots of messes that your staff person made
    • Your employee refuses to be held accountable
    • Your employee creates unhappiness with your other team members

Please let me know how this helps you!