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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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How Do You Get Paid?

August 29, 2012

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

When I was practicing, I accepted credit card payments for my services. I used what was then the traditional route — a machine to swipe the card. I paid a percentage of the amount charged to the credit card processor.

It worked well. Hardly anyone carries checkbooks any more and people like to get the airline miles and other perks from using their credit cards. It meant that the credit card company financed payments, rather than me having to take installment payments. It also meant something really important — I got paid for my work.

As a result, I’m always surprised when I hear lawyers resisting taking credit card payments. They very often quote the downside of having to pay a certain percentage of the transaction to the credit card company. My response is that if the credit card company is charging 3%, raise your rates 5%. A client that won’t pay the additional 5% won’t pay what your original charge was, either.

Since I closed my practice, the financial world has created other, perhaps cheaper, ways for you to accept credit cards. Therefore, I thought it would be useful to my readers if I passed along the link to a recent posting, “Five Ways to Receive Credit Card Payments” on the Attorney at Work website. I especially like the concept of accepting credit cards that can go to your trust account — that would make it so much easier to keep an evergreen retainer.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Has Marketing Really Changed That Much? Maybe Yes, Maybe No…

August 24, 2012

Filed under: Marketing — @ 1:42 pm

A new post on the Harvard Business Review Customer Intelligence website, “Marketing is Dead” by Bill Lee, has created a discussion among my fellow Atticus practice advisors.

In the article, Lee asserts that traditional methods of marketing — “advertising, public relations, branding and corporate communications” — don’t work anymore. Rather, prospective customers “check out product and service information in their own way, often through the Internet and…word-of-mouth or customer reviews.”

Lee advocates four ways for businesses to adapt to “the new model of marketing:”

    1. Restore community marketing. This means using marketing resources to generate customer reviews, replicating the experience someone has when he/she asks a neighbor for a recommendation.

    2. Find your customer influencers. For attorneys, very often a new client results from a referral from another professional. Lee suggests that you find these influencers “and give them something great to talk about.”

    3. Help them build social capital. The suggestion here is that rather than rewarding someone with a gift for a referral, try helping them build their social capital. That means retweeting something the person says, liking the person’s Facebook page, and posting a good peer review on the appropriate website.

    4. Get your customer advocates involved in the solution you provide. This means asking your customers and influencers for their suggestions about getting the word out about you.

So why has this caused a stir among people who advise lawyers about marketing? Because it’s different from what we’ve been saying. We suggest that attorneys expend a significant portion of their marketing efforts with face-to-face interactions with referral sources, using tools such as the Laser Talk, The Interview, and effective stories.

But, as I think about it, I’m not sure the new marketing cancels out the old. Yes, we must adjust our marketing to take advantage of the Internet and Social Media. If we want to reach an end consumer, it’s important to keep up our presences on Avvo and Yelp. Ask your satisfied clients to say nice things about you.

But, if you are, in Lee’s words, “finding your customer influencers,” then I think face-to-face referral source marketing still makes lots of sense. If your Social Media marketing reaches one new client, great. However, if you develop a relationship with an influencer who can refer multiple clients to you — a CPA, say, or a real estate agent — then that person is hugely valuable to your practice. And the only way to develop a relationship with someone to the extent that he/she will refer work your way is to for the two of you to get to know, like and trust each other. And the only way to do that is to meet with that person.

So, it goes back to what I tell my clients about creating a successful law business — you have to do it all. That means using Social Media tools to reach potential customers, but also using traditional methods with your influencers.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Book Review: Scorekeeping for Success

August 21, 2012

Filed under: Book Review — @ 2:44 pm

Motivating employees can be tough. A constant theme in my conversations with my coaching clients is their struggles with managing their team members. My clients wonder how to motivate their employees effectively, and how to set performance standards for their staff.

Do your team members really know what’s expected of them? When I talk to my clients, I sometimes refer them to Charles Coonradt’s book, The Game of Work: How to Enjoy Work as Much as Play (Game of Work, Inc. 1984). Coonradt’s thesis is that most employees don’t really know what’s expected of them in their jobs, so they keep themselves busy with activity that may or may not move the business forward. According to Coonradt, if you make work more like a game, with scorekeeping that lets employees know your expectations and how they’re succeeding, they will be productive and happier.

It looks as if Coonradt has spent many years as a consultant for various businesses to help them create performance standards for their employees. He wondered why sometimes the experiments worked and sometimes they didn’t. Coonradt’s newer book, Scorekeeping for Success (Game of Work, LLC 2007) is the answer to his question.

How to keep score. The idea behind Scorekeeping for Success is that it is better to score an employee’s wins, rather than mistakes. You set minimum expectations; if someone’s work falls below those expectations, it’s time to work with that employee to help him/her improve. If the employee exceeds expectations, you acknowledge the good work.

Keep the scoring positive, rather than punitive. You want to do scoring to give an employee something to strive for, rather than counting mistakes. For example, if you’re concerned about accuracy, rather than evaluating an employee on how many errors he/she made, score the employee on the number of times he/she got things right. Set a minimum standard of, say, 95% accuracy, and then provide acknowledgement when the employee exceeds the standard. The idea is that the employee will enjoy striving toward the goal.

Sounds good to me! I think Coonradt’s thesis makes sense. There’s a lot more motivation when you say, “Good job!” than when you tell an employee, “Well, you messed up again.” And the standards for the employee’s performance become clear, which is helpful to both you and your team member.

I must say, however, that the book is a tough read. It’s 200 pages long; I think it would be more effective as a fifteen-page pamphlet. Also, it’s clear to me that Coonradt is a sports (especially football) nut; if you’re not, then the constant sports stories may annoy you.

Please let me know how this helps you!

If It’s Too Good to Be True…

August 15, 2012

Filed under: Growing Your Business,Practice Management,Prepaid Legal Plans,Pricing — @ 8:00 am

Even lawyers get scammed. Steve Riley, my friend and fellow Atticus practice advisor, forwarded a link to a recent Wall Street Journal Law Blog article, “Despite Warnings, Lawyers Still Fall for Collection Scam.” Apparently, lawyers can be just as easily sucked into promises of easy money as everyone else. So, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

What about prepaid legal? The article got me thinking about other financial arrangements, which, while not scams, can trap attorneys. Specifically, I found myself thinking about prepaid legal plans. Most prepaid legal plans require attorneys to either (1) provide their services at discounted rates or (2) remit a significant percentage of the amount collected to the plan.

The reason why lawyers choose to participate in prepaid legal plans is that they think they’ll see more clients and generate more revenue. That may or may not be true; some plans refer potential clients fairly consistently, while others do not.

You have to ask: will you make money? Generating more revenue may not be what you’re looking for: rather, the question to ask is, will you generate more profit? And the answer may be no. If you’re running your business with a 30% profit margin (which, according to the Los Angeles County Bar Association, is the average profit for a law firm) and paying 40% of your revenue from the matter to the lawyer referral company, you’ve just signed to work at a loss!

Alternatively, if the plan limits the amount you can charge for certain work, make sure that you’ll make money at that price. If the plan limits what you can charge for a specific transaction to say, $1,500, and it costs you $2,000 to provide that service, you’ll be losing money on the deal.

In either case, it seems to me you’re better off using the time you would spend on prepaid legal matters marketing for clients who will pay your full rate.

What quality client will you see? Another concern I have is that a prepaid legal plan member won’t be the quality client you want — you’ll be seeing individuals whose primary concern may be to get a discount. In my experience, people who choose their attorney based only on price are not great clients. As a rule, they’re not great referral sources, either.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Seven Things To Consider Before Selling Your Practice

August 1, 2012

Filed under: Selling Your Law Practice — @ 1:06 pm

Because I lived through the process of selling my law practice, I get a lot of questions about how I did it. I thought I’d share my “Top Seven” list of things I discovered during the process of preparing my practice for sale.

1. Branding Makes a Difference. I spent a lot of time and money branding the practice, and got professional help. Apparently it worked. Because my practice was known and our brand respected, the buyers perceived our business as something of value.

2. Get to Know Your Competitors. We spent a lot of time talking to other estate planning attorneys in our area. Ultimately, we sold to a firm headed by someone I met twelve years ago.

3. Run Your Practice Like a Business. No one is going to take on an enterprise that doesn’t make money or when the only person who knows what’s going on is the person who is retiring.

4. Effective Pricing is the Quickest Route to Profitability. Our practice was profitable because we charged enough for our services. If you don’t know how to do this, get advice from others who do.

5. Find a Way to Generate Recurring Revenue. That’s what a real business does, isn’t it? A buyer wants above all to see a dependable stream of revenue extending into the future.

6. Think About How You Want to Be Paid. Most attorneys sell their practices in return for a stream of revenue generated by their clients over a period of years. This cedes all control to the buyer. Is this what you want? If not, you need to figure out how you do want to be paid.

7. Selling a Practice Takes Time. It took three full years for us to actually find a buyer — and we had been working on packaging the firm for sale for much longer than that. If you’re considering selling your business, give yourself a long lead time. You’ll be in a better position to evaluate offers and consider different options. It took you a lifetime to build your practice — don’t rush the process of selling it.

Please let me know how this helps you!