First things first

I spent all of last weekend outlining and getting started on my next two books.
 They’re both about business development, of course, but one is designed to be an idea-generator and action-prompter, while the other is more of a teaching book.  I got outlines done for both and started working on the actual writing.  By Monday morning, I was really ready for a weekend.  (Oooops.)

The reason I started two books at once is because the subject matter is so intertwined that I needed to rough out the scope of each before starting to write.  And as I did that, I started thinking of related articles and blog posts I should write, seminars I should offer, and how to incorporate the information into a workshop that I’ll be introducing soon.  I ended up with my desk covered in notes, windows galore open on my computer, ideas exploding every few minutes, and way too many avenues to pursue.

At first, the energy was seductive:  I was excited and everything was flowing, so I kept working on multiple ideas at once…

But then, everything shifted.  I started feeling confused as to which idea belonged to which project, I lost sight of which project should take priority, and I couldn’t decide whether one idea was reinforcing another or simply repeating it.  UGH.

Have you ever felt like that when it comes to business development?  Especially when first diving into rainmaking activity, some lawyers get neck-deep in activity without a cohesive plan that defines objectives, priorities, and strategy.  And sometimes, even successful rainmakers can have so many ideas that it’s hard to know where to start…  And so all those lovely ideas go to waste or, worse yet, get partially implemented without the necessary support to reach the goal.

When I realized that I was falling victim to idea frenzy, I stepped away from the desk to clear my head.  When I came back, I cleared my desk and my screen, leaving only the text of one book and a gathering place for notes and ideas for other projects.  That allowed me to focus, and I was able to make a substantial dent in writing  Better yet, I see how each project fits into the overall picture, and I can assign priorities.

Do you ever get deep into business development activity and find yourself spinning?  That’s a symptom of an unclear (or nonexistent) plan or attempting to implement all parts of a plan at once, without regard for priorities.  But the fix is simple:  stop, consult (or create) the plan, and then move forward deliberately.  (Just don’t deliberate when action is needed.)


Speak Your Clients’ Language

I don’t watch much television, but while I had the flu I didn’t feel up to doing anything more energetic than staring at a screen.
 As I was flipping channels, I happened across what I thought at first was a rather poorly done law firm ad… And then I discovered that it was a promo for Staten Island Law, one of the newest shows on the OWN channel.  You can see the promo spot here and another one here.

(If you’re from Staten Island and horrified, my condolences — I once saw a neighborhood where I used to live on the Real Housewives of Atlanta, so I can empathize.)

The Staten Island lawyers, Elura Nanos and Michele Sileo, are former New York City prosecutors who founded Lawyer Up to tutor law students on complex legal concepts using easy-to-understand terms.  Their book titled How to Talk to Your Lawyer is already on sale, with good reviews.

Staten Island Law is about mediation rather than legal representation as such, but many reviewers won’t catch that distinction, and those who do may or may not understand that mediation isn’t quite the same when it isn’t part of a reality TV show.

Why should you care about Staten Island Law?

Whether you represent individuals or Fortune 50 companies, the series portrays lawyers who appreciate their clients’ needs, which should be your focus as well.  When I speak, I often say that to be most effective, you must grok your clients.  Robert Heinlein coined the word grok, which means “to understand profoundly and intuitively.”  Although the word is most often used by programmers, engineers, and those who enjoy science fiction, it’s applicable to attorney-client relationships as well.

What does it mean to grok a client?  It means that you understand their needs and wants, you speak their language, and your interests are aligned with theirs.  Staten Island Law offers a great example of client-grokking in terms of legal language and colloquialisms.  If you watch some of the program clips available online, you’ll also see that the Staten Island lawyers move beyond the stylistic connection to understand their clients’ wants and needs.  For example, this clip shows them exploring why a woman is so opposed to the prenuptial agreement that her fiance insists on having, only to discover that their explanation of marital property rights puts his fears to rest.  (Don’t look to the specifics of the advice, just the conversation.)

Think about how you approach your clients:

  • Do you speak your clients’ language…?  Or do you expect them to speak yours?
  • Do you spend time getting to know what your clients want and need…?  Or do you assume and project?
  • Would your clients say that you “get” them…?  Or would they shake their heads and sigh, “You know lawyers…”?
  • Do you ask questions and explain concepts using examples that are relevant to your clients…?  Or do you use cookie-cutter examples that they may understand intellectually but not in any experiential way?

The more you can empathize with and relate to your clients, the more satisfied they are likely to be with your representation.  Demonstrating this same connection with potential clients will also make it more likely that you’ll get hired.

You may be wondering how you can come to grok your clients and potential clients.  Simple: build relationships and ask questions.  Even intuitive understanding requires a base of knowledge.

Whatever your client profile, make sure you spend time getting to know them and demonstrating that you understand and care about their perceptions and needs.  Your client relationships will be strengthened as a result, your referrals will grow, and you won’t have to wonder whether your clients are learning from books or ACCA meetings how to “wrangle” you.

Discipline, Experience, and Innovation: 3 Must-Read Blog Posts

1. Why “Inspirational Quotes” Don’t Work (and what does).  Peter Shankman, founder of Help A Reporter Out(“HARO”) writes convincingly on the short-lived motivation from inspirational quotes.  I love quotes, but I agree that they won’t carry you for the long haul.

Shankman suggests this instead:  “Do today, what you know you can do tomorrow.” In business development terms, that’s one reason it’s generally more effective to spend 30 minutes on marketing every day than it is to plan a half-day of marketing once a week.  (And by the way, HARO often features reporter queries for lawyers, so you or a staff member should make it a practice to scan them.)

2. Overheard at the American Bar Association’s Women in Law Leadership (WILL) Academy.  Dyanna Q, writing for Ms. JD, summarized some of the points from panels at the WILL Academy.  Although the Academy was designed for women, many of the points are useful for men as well.  A few favorites:

  • “Get yourself a ‘kitchen cabinet’ – a personal group of advisers and mentors who provide valuable feedback / guidance.”  (Edith Perez, speaking on Setting Our Sights on the C-Suite)
  • “The most important tip to rainmaking:  reciprocity.”  (Victoria Pynchon, speaking on Communication Skills:  Can We Talk?)

3. LinkedIn Tops 200 Million Members:  One simple way lawyers can use it.  One of the complaints I hear most often about LinkedIn is that it’s more like a directory than a social network.  LexBlog’s Kevin O’Keefe, author of Real Lawyers Have Blogs, shares a simple tip to overcome that issue:  share information and updates, and respond to others who are sharing.And don’t miss Kevin’s post, Is your law firm using Google+?  It ought to be.

Selling The Invisible

Selling The Invisible
by Harry Beckwith

You can’t see them — so how to you sell them?  That’s the problem with services… This book begins with the core problem of service marketing:  service quality.  It then suggests how to learn what you must improve, with examples of techniques that work.  It then moves to service marketing fundamentals:  defining what business you really are in and what people are buying, positioning your service, understanding prospects and buying behavior, and communicating.


Selling The Invisible offers targeted suggestions for marketing your services, using anecdotes to teach.  Divided into eleven sections with multiple one- to three-page chapters in each section, Beckwith’s book gives bite-sized lessons on what clients and prospects (that is, potential clients) want, expect, and find persuasive.  A few notable tidbits:

Serve your clients as they want to be served.  Beckwith criticizes lawyers who write a “really good brief” but fail to notice that the brief was “equally effective for the client $5,000 earlier” and that it “covers an issue that might have been avoided entirely through good lawyers.”  In other words:  don’t get so caught up in technical merit that you overlook what the clients see.

Marketing starts with you and your employees.  “Review every step — from how your receptionist answers to the message on the bottom of your invoices — and ask what you could do differently to attract and keep more customers.  Every act is a marketing act.  Make every employee a marketing person.”  For example, notice how you (or your assistant or receptionist) answer the telephone:  would you-the-caller want to talk with whoever answers your phone, or would you-the-caller have the impression that you were interrupting something more important?

Clients seek personality and relationships.  “Service businesses are about relationships.  Relationships are about feelings.  In good ones, the feelings are good; in bad ones, they are bad.  In service marketing and selling, the logical reasons that you should win the business — your competence, your excellence, your talent — just pay the entry fees.  Winning is a matter of feelings, and feelings are about personalities.”

Being Great vs. Being Good.  “People in professional services are especially prone to thinking that the better they get, the better their business will be.  The more the tax lawyer knows about the tax code…the more business will beat a path to [her] door.”  Beckwith cites examples in law, medicine, and financial services to prove that clients place relationship, trust, good communication, and other non-technical proficiencies above technical skill.  (I would add the corollary that technical excellence is a prerequisite rather than a pure competitive advantage.)  Beckwith’s summary:  “Prospects do not buy how good you are at what you do.  They buy how good you are at who you are.”  (But you still have to have the skills to deliver.)


Why should you read Selling The Invisible?

If you consider yourself skilled at selling your services (and you have the business to back it up), review Selling The Invisible for reminders.  If you’re new to marketing your services, this book will serve as a foundational text for basic marketing principles.  You’ll also pick up terrific ideas for client service and for contributing to your team’s or organization’s business development efforts.

Selling The Invisible is an invaluable addition to a marketing library.  It’s quick to read; one could even read the bolded summary statements at the end of each chapter to get the gist of Beckwith’s ideas.  But, as you read, be sure to implement Beckwith’s bottom line in the chapter entitled Fallacy:  Strategy is King, and “Do Anything” (preferably passionately) rather than creating and revising strategy endlessly.

Start the New Year by Evaluating Your 2012 Results

I hope you took time over the last few weeks to think about how 2012 went for you and your practice, and especially what you’d like to do differently in 2013.  Change requires action, but unconsidered action relies too heavily on luck.  That’s why planning is a must.

Have you ever been so eager to get somewhere that you just jump into the car and strike out, thinking that you’ll get your bearing and figure out directions as you travel?  A few years ago, I was speaking in Knoxville, Tennessee.  My host drove with me from the hotel to the restaurant where I was speaking, and I was to drive back to my hotel alone.  I wasn’t familiar with Knoxville, and it took me more than an hour to get back to my hotel — a trip that should have taken only 20 minutes.  I needed a “You Are Here” indicator, which prompted me to get a GPS unit soon afterward.

This same principle applies when it comes to business.  If you don’t know where you are now, you’ll find it hard to take meaningful action.

Take these steps for a quick review:

  1. What was your 2012 practice revenue?  How much did you bill, and how much did you collect?  (If a larger firm associate, how much time did you bill and how much time did a supervising partner write off?)
  2. How did you get those clients?  Specifically, what was most successful?  What was least successful?  (If a larger firm associate, consider assigning lawyers to be your internal clients.)
  3. What specifically do you do to serve your clients well?  What could you do better?  (For extra insight, ask your clients.)
  4. Who contributed to your success?  How have you acknowledged those people?
  5. What mistakes did you make, and how might you avoid them in the future?
  6. How did you invest in growing your practice?
  7. What will you bring from 2012 forward to 2013?  What should you leave behind?

While a full review will include additional questions, this short form will give you the foundational information you need to move forward in 2013.  When you know what’s worked and what hasn’t, you’ll also be able to identify how to set your focus.