How comfortable are you?

I had an awakening recently. You see, a few years ago, I needed a new desk chair. Since I was in a hurry, I couldn’t find one that I really liked. But I found one that was adequate and cheap—$69 or so—and I bought it, figuring that I’d replace it in a few months. I put the chair to hard wear: 10+ hour days on weekdays, at a minimum. The chair was ok, so I wasn’t in a hurry to replace it.

Last fall, I noticed that I was moving like a 100-year old woman when I’d stand up after working at my desk for a few hours. My back hurt all the time, my shoulders were tight, even my legs were painful. And I concluded that I’m getting older… That I should count myself lucky to have no worse complaints.

Last week, my chair started leaning to the right, to the point that I was afraid I’d tip over. Clearly time for a new chair. And this time, I found a chair that suited me perfectly. Ideal back support, a seat that’s just the right depth, great support. So I bought it, assembled it, and plopped myself down to get back to work. When I stood up, I realized….

I felt great. Nothing hurt. It isn’t age: I had been in pain for several months because I’d bought a cheap chair, I used it long past its prime, and I didn’t bother to investigate the reason for my pain. I kept suffering much longer than I should have.

What does this have to do with practicing law? Simple: we all too often get lulled into the familiar, accepting low-grade discomfort. Unless we’re screaming for relief, we put attention elsewhere and get distracted. We don’t fix the problem even when the fix would be simple.

Ask yourself:

  • Is your physical environment comfortable? Is your equipment (computer, printer, lamp, etc.) in working condition and located where it should be?
  • Do you need more support? That support could be a colleague to help with the billable work or administrative decisions, well-trained and enthusiastic staff, a virtual assistant on call, someone to do your bookkeeping and billing, or someone to help you with decisions about your career or your practice, just to name a few possibilities.
  • Are you taking care of yourself well enough? Do you need more sleep, more activity, better nutrition, a long vacation?
  • Are you working toward a goal, or are you operating on autopilot?

  • Would you be happy if your practice continued for the next twenty years on the same trajectory that it’s on now in terms of the substantive practice, the kinds of clients you serve, and the financial rewards that you’re receiving?
  • Are you delaying or avoiding an investment of time or energy even though you’re know that investment would bring significant benefit to your practice or your life?

One business development failure I see among lawyers is the tendency to delay getting started with consistent activity. Unless you’re a sole practitioner or you’ve been told that you must bring in business or find a new job, you could possibly float along for years, saying that you’re focused on building your book of business and delaying any significant activity. You have to make the decision that you’ll do what it takes to grow your practice… And then do it.

Take a moment today to ask yourself whether there’s any aspect of your professional life in which you’re feeling so comfortable that you’re effectively stuck. Stuck in something that’s familiar but not effective? Take an immediate step to get unstuck today. (If your stuck spot has to do with business development, perhaps we should talk. Click here to schedule a complimentary consultation.)

Legal Business Development: How can you revive a neglected professional relationship?

Despite the best of intentions, it’s easy to let a relationship slide. You get busy, you lose track of your contact schedule, you run out of ideas for keeping in touch… And next thing you know, your relationship has atrophied.

But, like muscle, an atrophied relationship can be rebuilt. By focusing time and attention on your relationship and maintaining consistent effort, you’ll often be able to revive a good relationship more easily than you built it in the first place.

But you might feel awkward trying to re-energize a stagnant relationship, especially if you aren’t sure that the relationship can be reinvigorated. If you find yourself about to write off a relationship, you need to be sure that the relationship can’t be resurrected. It’s easy to allow discomfort to lead you into turning a neglected but viable relationship into a dead one, and lawyers far too often write off relationships before they’re truly finished. But how do you know? Or, as someone often inquires when I’m presenting a business development workshop, Is it ever too late to rebuild professional relationships that have languished?

The short answer is that it depends on the relationship. The deeper the relationship, the more likely it can be resurrected.  If, however, you meet once and fail to follow up, or if you follow up only once or twice, the relationship will lack the firm footing necessary to allow it to flourish following a period of silence.  That said, it never hurts to try to rebuild a relationship, particularly if your sole reason for reconnecting is to re-establish communication and not to seek a favor.

So, what can you do to rebuild a connection that has faded? The simplest, and often the most effective, approach is to do precisely what you would do with a friend you haven’t seen in a long time: pick up the phone and say, “I realized it’s been a while since we’ve spoken, and you’ve been on my mind.  Is this a good time to talk for a few minutes? How are things with you?  What’s new?”  If several months have passed since you were in touch with this contact, you may even begin the conversation by re-introducing yourself.  (This is where my recommendation to maintain a database of contacts proves especially helpful: you don’t have to try to remember when and where you met.)  You may experience a few awkward moments as your contact gets back into the connection, but most people will pick up relatively quickly.

If, like many lawyers, you’d rather do nine hours of painstaking document review without a coffee break than pick up with phone, you do have other options. For example, you might consider the following:

  • Send an email to reconnect. You might suggest talking by telephone and either arrange a time or let your contact know you’ll be calling.  While you’ll still have to pick up the phone, you’ve created an expectation that you will call, and chances are good that you’ll avoid an awkward beginning.  If you suggest that you’ll call, though, you absolutely must do so – or run the risk of looking like a flake.
  • Send an article or other resource that will interest your contact. The resource may address a legal or non-legal issue, but it must be tied in some way to a conversation you’ve had with the contact.  Attach a note that says, “I remember talking with you about [topic of resource] at [wherever you had the conversation] and thought of you when I saw this [resource].  Hope it’s useful!”  By doing so, you not only reconnect by offering assistance, but you do so in a way that will bring your conversation back to your contact’s mind and refresh the relationship.
  • Issue an invitation. You might invite your contact to an open house or to attend a CLE or other seminar of interest with you.  If you deliver an invitation by mail or email, be sure to attach a note saying that you look forward to reconnecting. This personal touch will indicate to your contact that your interest is genuine.
  • Seek out news about your contact. This may be a more challenging approach if you’re seeking to reconnect than to maintain a relationship, but it’s worth a quick search to see whether your contact has been in the news recently.  You may find news of a professional event (an honor awarded, a trial won, a leadership position attained) or a personal event (a new marriage, a new baby, a recreational or community activity).  Such news offers an ideal reason to get in touch again.

Take a few minutes this week to review your list of contacts. With whom should you reconnect?  Choose three to five people and reach out to them.  Building and maintaining your network is always a valuable activity, and keeping relationships alive will often pay off (often in unexpected ways) over time.

Got Purpose? (If you want a successful and satisfying legal practice, your answer had better be yes!)

I recently started listening to podcasts again after getting out of the habit for some reason. (Isn’t it interesting how even successful and enjoyable habits can erode if we don’t stay on top of them?) My new favorite is a podcast that’s also available via video: Good Life Project, by Jonathan Fields. The Good Life Projectpresents a weekly deep-dive interview with an entrepreneur, artist, author, or thought leader. The interviews are educational, informative, and often moving.

As I was pulling into my garage after a 90-minute drive last week, I was listening to Fields’ interview of Simon Sinek. Sinek’s story and insights (covering storytelling, leadership, impact, service, and purpose) were so fascinating that I sat in my garage for another 15 minutes, too spellbound to move. Here’s why…

When you connect what you do with why you do it, you fuel your efforts.

Why do you do what you do? I’ve written before about the importance of connecting with your “big why” to help propel you even when times get challenging in your practice or in your business development efforts. And that’s important, especially when you need some extra motivation to power through the tough spots.

Perhaps even more importantly, feeling a sense of purpose and service will embolden you to go further than you otherwise might, because it’s the right thing to do.

My clients are sometimes reticent to get in touch with a new contact (potential client or referral source) for fear of seeming too pushy or annoying. And I get it. On occasion, I’ll have a consultation with a potential client who will promise a return call and then disappear. In the past, I wouldn’t follow up with that person because I didn’t want to pressure someone into a decision. I still don’t, but I now follow up because I can’t let something as important as moving ahead (or not) in building a book of business slide just because I’m uncomfortable. Being of service demands that I follow up.

A sense of service outweighs discomfort every time.

If you’re working to grow your practice, if you’re a leader in your firm, or if you’re feeling a hollowness in your career and life, listen to Sinek’s interview. You won’t be sorry.

Also, ask yourself the question Fields asks to close each interview: What does it mean to you to live a good life? Are you doing that? If not, how is your practice (and your life) affected?

Legal business development: how to determine whether a rainmaking expense is a cost or an investment (and why it matters)

I once talked with a client who was upset at the prospect of paying nearly $1,000 for equipment required for making a presentation to a group of her ideal clients.  She confirmed my expectation that she’d be able to use the equipment again for similar presentations, and I suggested that she view the financial outlay as an investment rather than a cost.

“What’s the difference,” she sighed, “call it cost or investment, that money is just plain gone.”  You spend cash for both costs and investments, true, but the distinction is critical in making smart decisions about rainmaking expenses.

A cost is defined as “the amount or equivalent paid or charged for something;” an investment is “the outlay of money, usually for income or profit.”  The difference?  No matter how beneficial, a cost is money paid or time spent that doesn’t produce further profit or income.  An investment, however, is intended to be recouped and, if the investment is well chosen, to bring in more money than you originally paid. Big difference!

You must understand this distinction so that you can evaluate opportunities that come your way.  When you are presented with a chance to do something, whether it’s sponsoring some sort of event, speaking to a group, or enhancing your own professional development through training or coaching, you need to be able to discern whether you’ll be paying a cost or making an investment. Both have their place, but you have to budget differently for each kind of expense.

For example, in the last few years, I’ve made an annual 5-figure investment in working with business mentors, and those investments have paid off handsomely.  The feedback I’ve received and the ideas generated have brought in substantially more than the sums I paid.  I decided to make those investments after following the mentors and carefully evaluating what was offered.  I would not pay the same amount as a cost that I didn’t expect to recover—but I’ll happily invest any amount of money when I know that it will produce a multiplied return in new income.

When you’re making a decision about spending (including whether the opportunity is an investment and whether it’s the right one for you), consider these questions:

  1. What benefit can I reasonably expect from taking part in this opportunity?  Consider not just financial or business benefit but also the ancillary relationship benefits that may accrue.  For example, if attending a meeting holds little direct benefit to you, but one of your best clients has asked that you attend, you might find that the benefit of meeting your client’s request will merit the investment of time.  If the only benefit is emotional and unlikely to lead to a business benefit—your own enjoyment or development of a social relationship—then you should consider the opportunity to be a cost rather than an investment and make your decision accordingly.
  2. What’s the likelihood of reaping the anticipated benefit?  You may not be able to predict with mathematical certainty the probability of attaining the benefit that you’re seeking, so a qualitative estimate is all you need here.
  3. What’s the magnitude of the anticipated benefit? I look for at least a 2-to-1 payoff for financial investments. For instance, when I had the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles a few years ago to speak at a conference, I weighed the $2000 travel and hotel bill against the lifetime value of getting at least one additional client.
  4. What will I need to put into this opportunity to increase the likelihood of getting the benefit?  Especially when an investment is primarily financial, it’s important to recognize that you may need to put in additional time and energy — and perhaps additional money — to get the results that you want.  That isn’t necessarily an indication that you shouldn’t make the investment, but you need to know what you’ll need to do before you commit. To continue the previous example, in addition to the financial expenditure, I knew it would take several days to craft and practice my presentation.
  5. Am I able to make the necessary investment of money, time, and energy?  When’ve defined the scope of expenditure you’ll need to make to get the benefit you’re seeking, determine whether you can make that investment.
  6. Am I willing to make that investment?  As I often tell my coaching clients, if you want things to change, you will need to change.  Even if an opportunity carries no financial cost, be sure you’re willing to invest your time and energy, since no benefit flows without some sort of investment.

Use these questions in making your own decisions, and use them to help your clients see the benefits of investing in working with you on financial and other levels.  In many substantive areas of practice, a clear need often precedes an engagement, and convincing is unnecessary.  When your work is characterized as planning or arranging something (estate planning, for example), you may get more business when you’re able to demonstrate how investing will pay off, in reduced taxes for your client’s estate (financial benefit) and in reduced stress for your client’s survivors (emotional benefit).

How do you use the language of cost vs. investment in your own business and in making your own decisions?  Your assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to notice the ways you think about the outlay of money, time, and energy.  Are you making the right investments?

Leadership in uncertain times

I’ve been thinking about leadership quite a bit in the last several weeks. We see examples of good and not-so-good leadership every time we tune into the news, even when we may disagree with one another about which political leaders fall into those categories.

More immediately, we see examples of leadership and have opportunities each and every day to be leaders among our colleagues, our communities, our families, and perhaps other audiences. You may find an opportunity to lead a team of colleagues by, for example, setting up a weekly luncheon via Zoom. Perhaps you’re called to help your clients identify and navigate the obstacles and opportunities that come from today’s unsettled health and financial circumstances. Or you might identify ways to rally your community around medical and first responders or to help schools continue educating students even though classes have been adjourned. When you have a vision, regardless of whether that comes with a title, you have a chance to make a difference by serving as a leader.

Much will be written in the coming weeks and months about leadership lessons from these unprecedented times. In the meantime, a few points for your consideration:

  1. “Leadership is action, not position.” This quote from Donald H. McGannon implicitly recognizes two truths.

    First, leadership isn’t a natural result of occupying a titled leadership role. True leadership (as opposed to titular leadership) requires action directed toward some objective. Those who are named as leaders may or may not be able to function accordingly.

    Second, you can be a leader without holding a leadership title. Whether there’s a leadership vacuum or whether you simply identify a leadership opportunity, you can step up even if you’re not named as a leader.

  2. Leadership requires authenticity. While it may be tempting to act as if everything is going to be fine even when that isn’t at all certain, those who look to you as leader will likely have an exquisite sense of whether you believe what you’re saying. When times are uncertain, authenticity often requires an acknowledgement of that uncertainty rather than a chest-beating positivity.
  3. Leadership requires emotional intelligence. Be tuned into your own emotions and those that your team is experiencing. Good leaders are able to share empathy without falling into any overwhelming emotions the team may be experiencing.
  4. Leadership requires a focus on an objective. Whether the objective is to beat COVID-19, to ensure that clients continue to receive highly skilled and timely legal services, or to build a cohesive team that’s working from multiple remote locations for the first time, identifying the objective allows the team to organize around it and unite to achieve a goal.
  5. Leadership requires an emphasis on “we,” not “me.” While a leader (with or without title) is going to be in the spotlight, the most effective leaders focus on a combination of objective and team. Your team (colleagues, clients, community members, family members) will be working to meet the objective, and setting the emphasis on how “we” are uniting to meet our objective will almost certainly be more effective than how the team can work to implement the leader’s objective and decisions.

One advantage we have today that’s critical for leadership in today’s “stay home” atmosphere is technology. Consider how you can use Zoom or another video platform to enable face-to-face meetings so you can get a read on your team’s temperature. Think about using a group text to share developments and accomplishments. And if your firm has platforms that are already in use, be sure to take advantage of those so that what happens away from the office is recorded and referred to when these extraordinary times have passed.

What leadership (or other) questions do you have about navigating these times? Leave a comment and let me know. I may respond to you directly, or I may share my response in a future blog post.