I’m always delighted to find a new resource that makes my life easier, and so this week I’m offering you a few of my favorites.  I’ve used each of these myself, and I hope at least one will prove handy for you.

  1. online computer back-up system:  A couple of years ago, I suffered through three hard drive crashes in about 6 months.  I try to back up my files to an external hard drive regularly, but sometimes I slip up and forget. is an inexpensive Internet-based backup system that operates automatically.  When my Outlook file got corrupted a few months ago and I somehow had neglected to back up those files to the external drive, Mozy rescued me from disaster.  I think of it as cheap insurance.  Be sure to consider implications before backing up privileged information.
  2. Basecamp:  Getting the “to do” list out of my head is critical.  It’s easy to forget something important otherwise, and it’s a waste to devote valuable attention to trying to remember “must do” items.  Basecamp is an easy, web-based solution that will allow you to access your lists anywhere, and you can share your list with others (perhaps an assistant) if you so choose.
  3. HIghtail:  When you need to send large files, Hightail is an easy solution.  You can choose from several service levels, including a free option that offers only basic function and more advanced levels that offer password protection, tracking, and more.  Again, be sure to consider whether to send privileged information in this way.
  4. Online relaxation and meditation timer:  Practice can be stressful, and sometimes a short break can make all the difference – not just in your stress level, but also in your productivity.  “My Free Guided Meditation” allows you to set a timer for 1 to 60 minutes, accompanied (if you like) with a selection of relaxing music.  It’s an easy way to design a quick, time-limited break.
  5. Healthy meals, cooked for you.  Too busy to cook, and sick of the same-old, same-old options?  Look into prepared foods for pick-up or delivery.  In Atlanta, I like Fresh’n’Fit, which offers a 1200- or 2000-calorie option for neighborhood pick-up or overnight delivery.  Similar services are available in most metro areas — for instance, I’ve heard wonderful comments about Seattle Sutton, though I’ve never tried that service.  (Try a Google search on “healthy meal delivery service” and your city to see what’s available.)  Though these options aren’t inexpensive, it’s a much better alternative to night after night of greasy take-out.

Weekly Rainmaker Activity 9/28/09

What written marketing materials do you have?  Examples include a website, a one-page description of your practice, a newsletter, articles, and so on.  For this week’s activity, choose one item for review.  (Although I would generally include a biographical sketch as written marketing material, exclude it for this week’s purposes.)

As you read your marketing material, how much is written from your perspective (generally indicated by lots of “I” and “we” statements), and how much is written from your client’s perspective?  Although your potential clients will be interested in your qualifications and experience, they will be primarily interested in whether you are someone who could meet their needs.  (Don’t allow yourself to imagine that legal sophisticated potential clients are different here.  They aren’t.)

In other words, potential clients won’t care about all of those “I” statements until they have a sense that you understand their concerns, that you know where they’re coming from, and that you are someone who serves clients like them.  It’s important, then, that your materials speak to your potential client and not at her.  How you accomplish this will vary somewhat depending on your area of practice.  In general, though, you’ll want to describe the concerns your ideal client is facing, the decisions at hand, the problem he’s confronting, the doubts or worries she may have.  Then you’ll describe how you assist someone in that position, preferably with examples based on past experience.

Review the material you’ve chosen through the “speaking at”/”speaking to” filter.  If you find many more “I” and “we” statements than statements designed to speak to your ideal client’s situation, it’s time to revise what you’ve written.

If you’re uncertain whether your written marketing materials speak to your ideal clients, perhaps we should talk.  Please send an email to schedule a complimentary consultation, during which we’ll explore the challenges you’re confronting and the solutions that may be available.

Weekly Rainmaker Activity 9/21/09

Pop quiz: Who are your best referral sources?  List the top 10 of each right now.  If you are a more junior lawyer in a law firm and don’t yet have your own clients, list the senior lawyers for whom you do the most work.

Were you able to make the list?  This information should be at the tips of your fingers at any moment.  If you don’t know who these people are, your activity this week is to find out.

Assuming you know who your top clients and referral sources are, the next question is:

How often are you in contact with them?  One of my clients recently realized that his top referral sources send him at least 5 substantial matters a year, resulting in several hundred thousand dollars of business.  And then he realized that as he’d become busier, he moved away from the close contacts that had helped to build those referral relationships.  Yes, he sent business to them as well and he attended mettings with them frequently, but he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had lunch or played golf one-on-one with these people.

Relationships, like anything else, are always in motion.  Are yours growing closer or more distant?  If you don’t stay in good contact with others, the relationships will grow weaker and you may find that the support that you enjoyed is transferred to others who are more attentive.  There are no bad motives in play, but absence in business rarely makes the heart grow fonder.

Take a few minutes now to set times to check with the people who think enough of you to send you work.  Make it a point to reconnect and to find out what’s going on with them.  At the same time, express your appreciation for their referrals.  And then lay your plans so you can be sure to check in with them at least quarterly.

On Procrastination

Wednesday’s post Top Ten Tips to Overcome Overwhelm apparently hit a nerve with more than a few readers!  In comments sent directly to me by email, procrastination was identified as the top challenge for many of you.  In response, I’d like to offer you a video — which may be enabling procrastination, but it’s a chuckle and provokes awareness, so I’ll let that slide.

Top 10 Tips to Overcome Overwhelm

Overwhelm can tank a day faster than just about anything else. 
When you have more email than you can handle, an out-of-control task list, and phone calls that just won’t stop, it’s almost impossible to operate effectively.  Even if you manage to limp along, you may find that you’re distracted and that things are falling through the cracks.  Over the years, I’ve honed in on a variety of methods to beat overwhelm, and these are the top 10, based on my own experience and client feedback:

  1. Move.  Overwhelm tends to cause paralysis, and the fastest fix is a quick burst of activity.  Walk around the block or your office floor, dance for 30 seconds (close the door!), or do 10 jumping jacks.
    Get your blood pumping.
  2. Lift your mood.  Overwhelm brings a heavy energy.  Use music, fresh flowers, aromas, or whatever works for you to get a lift.  I keep a bottle of orange essential oil at my desk because I find that a drop or two perks me up almost instantly.
  3. Focus intently for a short time.  After my computer and telephone, my most-used piece of equipment is a digital timer.  When I feel stuck, I’ll set the timer for 45 minutes and power through that time, knowing that I can take a break as soon as the timer beeps.  I also compete against myself using the timer to see how quickly I can sort through papers or complete other dreaded tasks.  The timer gets me going, and I usually keep going (thanks to momentum) after the alarm sounds.  Here’s the one I use.
  4. Clean it up.  Clutter reduces productivity and creates overwhelm.  If your desk is messy, set aside 15 minutes to clear it off, even if that means stacking papers and moving them to the floor.  If your email in-box is so full that you feel anxious when you open it, set aside an hour to tame it.  (Don’t know how to accomplish that in an hour?  Help is coming soon.)
  5. Call in the reinforcements.  Find the right help for your source of overwhelm.  Perhaps your assistant can help you clear your desk, or a colleague may be able to give you feedback to help cut through the mental clutter.  When you feel overwhelmed, it’s hard to see outside the bubble of stress.  Get some help.
  6. Dump it.  One common source of overwhelm is the mental task list.  When you’re juggling “must do” items in your head, fighting to remember all of them, you’re pulling energy away from productive activity to simple memory maintenance.  Do a brain dump and get the tasks on paper and free up your mind for more useful work.
  7. Get out of the office and do something else.  Admittedly, you can’t always implement this tip, but it can be very effective.  Have you ever noticed how often brilliant ideas strick while you’re in the shower, running, walking the dog, or doing other activities unrelated to work?  When the body is working and the mind is free to wander, creativity flourishes.
  8. Access a different part of your brain.  One litigator I know uses art to focus himself before a trial.  Art allows him to pull back from the logical, analytical side of his brain and bring forward the emotional and creative parts.  What can you do to bring another part of your skills to the table?
  9. Mind map.  If you’re searching for an elusive link between facts or trying to form a creative argument, try using a mind map.  Get a clean piece of paper, draw a circle in the middle of the page and label it with the problem or circumstance you’re contemplating.  Think about related subjects, actions you could take, and people who might be helpful in addressing the issue, and draw lines and branches to represent the ideas that come up.  If you’re really stuck you may find a mind map more useful than an ordinary list.  Click here for a video on this technique.
  10. If you’ve tried several of these approaches unsuccessfully, you may be exhausted.  Think of your energy as a pitcher of water.  If you pour and pour and pour without replenishment, the pitcher will empty and nothing you try (except adding more water) will allow it to pour more.  If a quick break or quick spurt of energy doesn’t refresh you, your pitcher may be dangerously close to empty.  Identifying that spot and taking action is a critical professional competency.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed in your practice and uncertain acout how to turn things around, perhaps we should talk.  Whether you’re trapped in the day-to-day minutiae of a subprime practice management approach or looking to improve your practice as a whole, working one-on-one with my Practice Acceleration System™ will help you to make quick, measurable progress toward your objectives.  Click here to arrange your complimentary 30-minute consultation.

Weekly Rainmaker Activity 9/14/09: More on introductions

Last week’s WRA focused on the language to use in introducing yourself to potential clients and others.  This week, let’s look at the substance of the introduction.

Many lawyers seem to fall into the habit of the “just the facts, ma’am” introduction, which goes something like this: “Hi, I’m Bob Smith.  I’m a litigator with Dew Goode.”  While that introduction does give some valuable information, it’s also downright boring.

Choose a more interesting introduction, and you’re more likely to get conversation going that has a chance of developing into a relationship that may lead to billable work or other opportunities.

In The Reluctant Rainmaker, I share five approaches to introductions, but I’ll focus on two today.

  1. The benefits-focused description.  The typical so-called elevator speech follows a template, such as “I help ______ to ______ by _______ so that they can ______.”  An example: “I help small businesses to maximize their net profits through careful tax planning so they can grow quickly and pass on more of the company’s hard-earned profit to its owners.”  Or, “I help pharmaceutical companies with annual revenue in the range of $2 million to get the cash they need by negotiating funding deals so that they can conduct clinical trials of drugs in development.”  This form of introduction may lack panache, but it offers results-oriented information that will allow your conversational partner to understand quickly what you do.  If you follow this introduction with an interesting example, however, you can provoke good conversation.
  2. The “you know how” introduction.  Using this approach, you cast the problem that you solve for clients in a common, easily-understandable “you know how” framework: “You know how often a couple who’s no longer happy together decide to divorce and the situation turns into an absolute disaster, with each spouse blaming the other and trying to get any possible advantage, with the result that everyone comes out a loser in the end?  Well, I work with divorcing spouses before all of that begins, using an approach called collaborative law.  I represent one spouse and another collaborative lawyer represents the other spouse, and we sit down together to find a way to end the marriage without starting World War III.”

Whatever style you choose, be sure your introduction is brief, conversational (please, do not memorize and recite a great introduction!), attention-grabbing, and cast in a form appropriate to your listener.  Try new introductions regularly and see what gets the best response from listeners.

If you’d like to learn more about effective networking, check out The Reluctant Rainmaker, which is also available on — Kindle version coming soon.

The Essential Little Book of Great Lawyering

The Essential Little Book of Great Lawyering
by James A. Durham

The Essential Little Book of Great Lawyering is aptly named:  at just 52 pages (including the title page, copyright, and table of contents), you’ll need less than an hour to discover the essential skills of great lawyering.  Some readers may be wondering why anyone would need a book to learn what great lawyering is, and some may be thinking that great lawyering “obviously” means possessing enormous technical expertise, good judgment, and years of experience in which to develop those attributes.  That is what most lawyers mean by great lawyering.  But what do clients mean?

According to Durham’s client interviews, a great lawyer is one who knows the law and has “become a lawyer that people trust above all others, and . . . to whom they turn when they (or people they know) have any kind of problem.  In other words, a great lawyer is one who knows and responds to her client’s needs, desires, and preferences.  Durham’s research revealed that 90% of clients say that they like lawyers who are responsive and who really know their client’s business, but they seek even more.  Great lawyers also communicate clearly, build relationships with their clients, provid remarkable value, and are loyal to their clients.

The Essential Little Book manages to go beyond those generic words to offer specific examples of what lawyers must do to succeed fully in practice.  My only quibble with the book is Durham’s suggestion that a lawyer must know what his client wants to happen throughout the engagement.  I would recommend that, to the extent it’s feasible to do so, a great lawyer would ask what his client wants, including how much communication is helpful and in what form, how advice might be presented most usefully, etc.  Nevertheless, Durham’s point is well-taken:  great lawyers pay attention to what their clients want and need, perhaps even more than the clients do.

One of the key mistakes I make is believing that “being a great lawyer” (as measured by technical expertise) is all that’s necessary to build a successful practice.  Durham addresses this same problem and offers that being a great lawyer (as defined by clients) is the foundation of a successful practice.  I couldn’t agree more.

The Essential Little Book should be required reading for lawyers.  Between now and the end of the year, set aside an hour to read the book and another half-hour to set some goals to help you become a great (or even greater) lawyer.  You’ll build a much stronger practice for that effort.

Weekly Rainmaker Activity 9/7/09

What kind of language do you speak when you’re talking with potential clients and referral sources?  I don’t mean English or Spanish, but whether you use “jargon” or “regular” language.  As with most anything else, each has its place, but you must select the appropriate language intentionally.

If you’re talking with lawyers or legally sophisticated consumers, carefully sprinkled jargon may have its place.  Those who are familiar with the area of law you’re discussing may expect to hear certain buzzwords.  If they don’t hear them, they may not be confident that you’re fully up to speed and skilled in the revelant area.  Dropping a word or two of jargon (a reference to a code section, perhaps) indicates that you are likely competent in the area of practice at issue.

If you’re talking with laypeople, however, sprinking in even a small amount of jargon may confuse the listener or — worse yet — may come across as if you’re talking down to him.  With some care, you can address even complex issues with clear, simple, and jargon-free language.  No one wants to feel stupid, and potential clients (or clients) may be reluctant to ask questions that reveal their lack of familiarity with the subject.

Lawyers often cross the jargon line in introducing themselves.  Think back over your recent introductions.  Do you use the appropriate amount of jargon?  Do listeners immediately understand what issues you address in your practice?  For the purpose of this week’s WRA, focus solely on the language you use.  Next week, we’ll look at a few other aspects of introductions.

Elite schools, unhappy lawyers?

The American Lawyer recently reported the results of a study titled After the JD, conducted on behalf of the American Bar Foundation.  The study, which tracked 5000 lawyers who began practicing in 2000, found that “new lawyers working for firms of more than 250 lawyers are less satisfied with their jobs than their counterparts in smaller firms,” and that  “[g]raduates of the most selective schools are the least satisfied with their jobs at large firms, while graduates of less selective schools are relatively more satisfied.”  The authors explain the disparate levels of satisfaction on the basis that graduates of elite schools are “groomed to expect success” whereas lower-tier graduates are more likely to view a job at a large firm as “a coveted reward for hard work . . . not to be squandered.”

Of course, large firms tend to recruit primarily from top law schools, and the authors address the implications of their findings on future hiring opportunities, suggesting that large firms hire more graduates of non-elite schools, improve working conditions, and cut associate pay.  The authors’ conclusion:

[I]f large firms respond to the economic crisis by substantially reducing starting salaries, they will be able to more quickly right themselves financially, hire graduates willing to work for less pay, and perhaps even take a little pressure off partners who face the constant pressure of finding work for associates. If firms lower pay but keep the same misery and engineered attrition for associates, they will get a short-term profit boost. But if lower pay also means a better lifestyle, more instruction and responsibility, and better evaluation, firms can lay the groundwork for success well beyond the end of the current recession.

The full article is worth reading.  Personally, I’m skeptical about seeing sweeping changes along the lines proposed… But I’ll be curious to see whether some aspects (such as further cuts in associate pay in exchange for an “improved” lifestyle for associates) may be implemented.  While the authors have a point that “[t]he general restructuring that takes place in a changing economic landscape creates room for organizational innovation,” large firms’ response to the recent economic challenges (and the fracture lines that culminated in the business crash) suggests that organizational innovation is not necessarily the strong point for the bulk of firms in this category.

Who Is Your Ideal Client?

While in Teton National Park last week, I noticed a trend among serious hikers.  I parked at several trailheads during my vacation, and I noticed that the parking lots for the more intense hiking trails featured a surprising number of Subaru cars, all with outdoorsy names like Outback.  I’ve never seen so many Subarus in one place, and I’m not at all sure that I’ve seen more than a handful elsewhere.  I was curious, so I did a quick Google search and turned up a Subaru Outback user forum that includes lots of photographs, many (if not most) of which show the Subaru in an outdoor sports setting (with a canoe strapped to the roof, camping in the woods, etc.), as does much of the advertising for the Subaru Outback.

Subaru Outback and outdoor enthusiasts apparently go hand-in-hand.  I imagine that further research would turn up Subaru sponsorships of outdoor events, advertising in hiking and mountain climbing magazines, and so on.  Subaru seems to have its finger on the pulse of this market, and the market appears to have responded.

What does this have to do with practicing law?  Like Subaru, you must identify your ideal client to a level of great specificity and deep understanding of your ideal client’s interests, preferences, and activities.

When working with lawyers on business development, one of the first questions I ask is, who’s your ideal client?  It’s a marketing truism that it’s much easier to direct your services to a well-defined group of potential clients, because doing so allows your ideal clients to recognize you as their ideal lawyer.  By focusing specifically on a particular group and their legal needs, you also develop your expertise and your reputation for expertise more quickly.

How specifically should you define an ideal client?  Some lawyers stop at a fairly high level – estate planners, for instance, may focus only on those who have estate planning needs, which is an adequate description but lacking the full body that can prove helpful.  Others delve more deeply and might hone in on new parents who have never done any estate planning before, parents of special needs children who have particular estate planning needs, or those who want to arrange for pet trusts, for example.  The more narrowly you can draw your niche, the more accurately you’ll be able to tailor your message – and, or course, nothing says you must restrict your practice to a narrow group.

When you begin to define your ideal client narrowly, you can consider psychographics in addition to demographics.  Demographics include information such as age, gender, occupation, education, and so on.  Psychographics describe the attitudes, values, and motivations that your ideal clients hold.  What interests them?  What magazines do they read?  What groups do they join?  Where do they vacation?  What are their hobbies?

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that psychographics are irrelevant if you represent companies rather than individuals.  Individuals make the hiring (and firing) decisions for companies, and individuals acting together determine company strategy, goals, and planned outcomes.  While you may be less interested in the personal psychographics of corporate representatives, looking at the psychographics in their professional capacities will provide valuable information.

When you’ve analyzed your ideal client psychographics, you may find that you’ve created a roadmap of forums for publications and presentations, networking activity, and so on.  You may notice connections that had not been apparent before, or you may define known connections more clearly.  Whatever the level of revelation, you will certainly find information that you can use to better reach out to your ideal clients, which will in turn help you target your business development activity.

Uncertain about how to describe your ideal client?  The Reluctant Rainmaker includes a step-by-step process to help you discover who your ideal clients are and how to reach them.  Check out The Reluctant Rainmaker: A Guide For Lawyers Who Hate Selling.