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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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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!

The Future of the Law Business

June 6, 2012

Filed under: Current Events,Growing Your Business — @ 1:38 pm

The Wall Street Journal recently published a short article, “Survey Says Post-Recession Shifts are Here to Stay” on its Law Blog. The article is based on the results of a new Altman Weil, Inc. survey, “Law Firms in Transition.” Altman Weil sent questionnaires to the managing partners of large law firms, asking about the partners’ vision of the future of the law. The survey reports on the answers.

The big guys are discouraged. According to the Wall Street Journal, the results of the survey are disheartening, at least to lawyers. The managing partners see, among other things, a future with more price competition, more commoditization of legal services, and more flat price billing. They have less confidence in the future of their businesses.

I find it interesting that Richard Susskind made the same predictions more than four years ago in his book, The End of Lawyers: Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services.

Is it really that ugly? I’m not entirely sure the news is as bad as the Wall Street Journal paints it to be. The law has gotten to be a bloated, ugly profession: a business model based on billable hours encourages inefficiency and client suspicion. I’ve read reports to the effect that most practicing lawyers are not happy. Is it possible the predictions from the survey will prompt positive changes in our industry? I, for one, hope so.

Change is hard, but sometimes necessary. I acknowledge that transition is difficult and uncertainty uncomfortable. But I also know that when I was practicing law, every time I got comfortable with what I was doing, I lost opportunities to improve my business. I think large law firms have made the same mistake.

To be successful businesspeople — and successful lawyers — we have to have the courage to welcome change and to adjust our practices to meet our clients’ needs. And, I believe that if we do so, we’ll still make a good living and that our clients — as well as ourselves — will be happier for it.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Is Your Firm Healthy? A Twelve-Point Checklist

May 25, 2012

Filed under: Growing Your Business,Practice Management — @ 1:02 pm

The mega-firm of Dewey & LeBeouf is imploding; according to an article in the May 18 Wall Street Journal, there are rumors that Dewey will seek protection in the bankruptcy court soon. It’s not the first time a big law firm has gone down in flames, and it won’t be the last. And you can’t just blame it on economic conditions; during the thirty years I’ve been a lawyer, I’ve seen the biggies go down during good times as well as when times were tough.

As a law practice management coach, I mostly work with small firms and solo practitioners. So, you may think that any lessons to be learned from Dewey’s demise aren’t applicable to my clients. If so, you would be wrong.

I recently ran across a blog article, “A (Don’t Be) Dewey Dozen: Use This Checklist to Make Sure Your Firm Isn’t Dewey” on the ABA Legal Rebels website. According to the article, there are twelve questions to ask to determine if a firm is healthy:

  • Does the firm trust its leadership?
  • Is the firm sufficiently liquid?
  • Can everyone articulate the firm’s strategy and value proposition?
  • Do proposed mergers and acquisitions advance the firm’s strategy?
  • Are clients firm clients, not just clients of an individual partner?
  • Is firm leadership truly aware of the firm’s finances?
  • Does partner compensation make sense?
  • Does the firm encourage client feedback?
  • Are the firm’s clients happy?
  • Does the firm listen to its critics?
  • Does the firm believe its value can be improved?
  • Is the firm willing to experiment with new ways of doing things?

Think about it: why would these rules not apply to small law firms? Ask yourself these questions about your business; if you answer no to one or more of them, it may be time to step back, acknowledge that improvements are necessary, and work to fix the problem.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Ten Ways to Boost Profits

August 10, 2011

Filed under: Growing Your Business,Practice Management,Pricing — @ 1:51 pm

I’m still not sure how I got on the mailing list CPA Trendlines, an email newsletter for accountants, but I certainly enjoy it. The latest edition contained an article about boosting profits. There’s enough similarity between accounting and law firms that I thought it would be useful information to pass along to you.

I especially like the following points:

    • Don’t be shy about raising your prices.

    • Get rid of unprofitable clients.

    • Set goals for everyone in the office.

    • Not everyone who breathes is a potential client.

    • Set goals and focus on them.

I bet if you implemented at least one of these strategies, your profitability would go up!

Please let me know how this helps you!

The Good Thing About Failure

August 3, 2011

Filed under: Growing Your Business,Practice Management — @ 12:59 pm

Something I often see in my life as a law practice management coach is attorneys’ fear of failure. For some reason, many lawyers are afraid to take risks that will, in the long run, help them succeed. Some resist spending money without an immediate, guaranteed return. I think others are cautious because they are afraid that by failing, they will look bad.

I find this fear of failure to be ironic, because what is the practice of law other than managing risk? Judges and juries are always wild cards. Transactional work carries danger, too: a client may not understand the transaction and will mess it up, or the law will change, making the planning inappropriate or inoperative.

Failure is good. In fact, maybe because of my experience as a lawyer, I’ve come to believe that failure is an inherent part of success. It’s nice to know that at least one other person out there shares my opinion. Samantha Power, this year’s commencement speaker at my alma mater, Occidental College, told the graduates, “failure is a profound sign of success.” According to Power, “failing to fail is a sign that you aren’t yet testing the limits of what you are capable of.”

Failure only works if you learn from it and make changes. Of course, no one succeeds simply by getting out there and failing! As the old saw goes, we learn from our mistakes. That’s the upside of failure — we discover what doesn’t work. I recently had an epiphany, however: failure is a growth tool only if we learn from it and make changes based upon our new knowledge! So, the moral is that in order to succeed, we need to try things we haven’t tried before, analyze what didn’t work about it, and then make the adjustments necessary to make our experiment successful. If we don’t do this, we’ll never grow — and we’ll never grow our practices, either.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Patience and Lessons From Chicago

July 29, 2011

Filed under: Growing Your Business,Marketing,Practice Management — @ 12:56 pm

I attended the WealthCounsel/Advisors Forum/ElderCounsel “Planning for the Generations” symposium in Chicago last week. This time I went in my new role as an Atticus Practice Advisor, rather than as a practicing attorney. Although I sat in on a couple of legal-technical presentations (I don’t want to lose my edge!), my real job was to chat it up with everyone I met.

It was an interesting experience. I learned a lot about what the attendees are worried about. I also learned about new resources available to us through the various vendors there. I don’t know if I generated any new business.

So, was it worthwhile for me to go? The answer is a resounding yes! Why?

I got a refresher course in an important marketing principal. I keep telling my clients that it takes seven touches to create a relationship. For some reason, I had forgotten this in connection with my own marketing activities. Actually meeting people I’ve previously spoken with only on the phone reminded me of this principle, and also gave me a chance to make one more touch. In other words, we need patience and persistence in all things — especially marketing.

I got some useful feedback. By talking to people, I learned what they are worried about nowadays. As usual, marketing seems to be near the top of the list, but the participants also expressed concerns about conquering new areas of the law — and new technology. It reminded me that change can be hard. Change requires commitment, persistence, and accountability. The conversation also reminded me that if we don’t commit to change, we grow stagnant.

I learned it’s not all gloom and doom. While chatting with my friends and colleagues, I also learned that many of them are doing well. Sometimes professional gatherings can turn into exercises in group paranoia, so it was great to hear people say they are happy. I also heard people — friends, colleagues, and clients — express gratitude for relationships the person and I have developed over time. If that isn’t worth the price of a trip, I don’t know what is!

Please let me know how this is helpful to you!

The Three Magic Questions

July 27, 2011

Filed under: Growing Your Business,Referrals — @ 12:51 pm

Most of the attorneys I coach say they want more clients. They usually want to build relationships with referral sources with the idea of using those relationships to generate business. This makes sense, because a good, reliable referral source for your business can be a wonderful thing.

The problem is that many attorneys don’t know what to say to a potential referral source (and the referral source doesn’t know what to say to the attorney, either). So, the relationship goes nowhere and everyone winds up being disappointed.

It’s not that hard, really. Referral sources want to know, like and trust the people they work with and to whom they send their clients. The quickest way to build such a relationship is to allow a referral source to open up to you and for you to let the referral source know that you are open to new business.

I think there are three magic questions to ask every time you talk to a referral source, whether it’s for the first time, or if you have been working with this individual for many years. Here they are:

Question 1: “How can I help you in your business?” By showing genuine interest in someone, you are much more likely to build a relationship with that person. Wouldn’t you like it if someone asked you this question? Offer to be a resource and to help. It will get you a long way — and a lot of business.

Question 2: “Do you know anyone you think I should meet?” Most people want to help. It’s okay to ask for assistance. Very often, a referral source knows someone who might be helpful to you in your business. Why not ask? If you do, you create the opportunity to learn about a potentially beneficial new relationship.

Question 3: “Are you working on any interesting cases lately?” This question is another way of reminding a referral source that you can be a resource to him or her. The referral source may not have thought about how you can help. So remind him or her. At worst, the answer to the question will be no. If so, you won’t have lost anything. However, the question may very well be yes, resulting in more work for you.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Are You Marketing Coherently?

July 6, 2011

Filed under: Growing Your Business — @ 1:31 pm

We’ve just entered the third quarter of 2011. I previously wrote…-it’s-time-for-your-business-checkup/ about how it’s a good time to take stock of your business’s performance for the first half of the year, including suggesting that you check in on your marketing performance so far.

It’s not just marketing, it’s how you market. I recently ran across a blog, “Stop Chasing Too Many Priorities” in the Harvard Business Review. The theory behind the posting is that companies don’t market coherently; rather, they tackle any marketing strategy that looks good to them. As a result, the marketing message gets confused and the company’s marketing efforts are not as successful as they should be. I think this ties in with my advice about checking your marketing message: is it consistent? Does it make sense to the consumer?

Put together your marketing plan. In my experience, we, as lawyers, are just as guilty as other business owners of muddling our messages. We chase after the latest good idea without considering if that idea is a good fit for us. The result is confusion in the marketplace and frustration for us.

I suggest that a better approach for you is to figure out what you do well and the message you want to put into the market place, and then how to communicate that message consistently. Try limiting your marketing strategy to three major messages and get those messages out regularly. After an appropriate period of time — at least six months — step back and see what’s beginning to work. Then, tailor your message and it’s likely you will find that your marketing is becoming much more effective!

Please let me know how this helps you!

Say Aaaah … It’s Time for Your Business Checkup!

June 17, 2011

Filed under: Growing Your Business,Practice Management,Processes — @ 1:08 pm

Let me ask you a question: now that we’re getting to the halfway point for 2011, how has your business performed so far this year? Has your performance been better than last year? Worse? Or have you been too busy to find out? Or are you afraid to look?

Take your temperature. It’s easy to become so busy working in your business — getting client work out and paying the bills — you forget to look at the big picture to see how you are really doing. According to the Los Angeles Times, it makes sense to use the calendar to remind you that it’s time for a mid-year checkup.

Diagnosis and medication. By doing a mid-year checkup, you can find out what’s working and what is not working in your business. You may find that some aspects of your business are doing just fine (which is nice to know!), while some others are not producing the profit they should. Are there inefficiencies you haven’t noticed? Identifying a problem will enable you to find ways to fix it.

When you do your review, be objective. Base your analysis on facts, not your emotions. Do you have the necessary facts and information to measure your business’s performance? If not, that’s the first problem you should fix!

Don’t forget your marketing checkup.
Mid-year is also a good time to review your marketing strategies. Take a look at where your business has come from over the last six months. It may surprise you! This information can be very useful as you decide on your marketing program for the remainder of the year.

Try this and let me know how it works for you!

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!