Mid-Year Resolutions : Nine Tips To Becoming A Better (And More Successful) Attorney

Become A Better AttorneyIncreasing Challenges Need To Be Met With A Thoughtful Plan

As we enter the second half of 2012 (where did the first half go?), it’s good to pause briefly for reflection and renewal.

This is especially important for attorneys who are also running a small business. They face such challenges as client relations, business development, financing, marketing and more.

“As we assist more law firms with their financing needs, we’re constantly reminded how stressful this profession is,” said Richard Silverstein, President of Case Funding Inc., of New York, a specialty finance company which provides working capital loans and financing to contingency fee based law firms.  “Lawyers are being pressured from many directions to succeed, and without the time to step back, evaluate their business and develop ways to become more effective, they’re always going to be playing catch-up.”

Silverstein offers a handful of stress reduction suggestions for attorneys:

1 – Resolve to improve client service and don’t do any of the eleven things that annoy clients the most
How many can you name?  Don’t read the next paragraph – close your eyes and see how many you can come up with.

OK, here’s the list:

  1. Not returning phone calls.
  2. Not replying to e-mails.
  3. Making clients wait in reception.
  4. Ignoring client/staff incivility.
  5. Dropping names to impress others.
  6. Not clarifying for the client.
  7. Not delivering on promises of performance.
  8. Not delivering on a promised outcome.
  9. Not communicating during long periods of inactivity.
  10. Failing to be prepared.
  11. Sending a very large bill without warning or explanation.

Be diligent in avoiding these 11 mistakes and you’ll have happier clients. You’ll reduce the possibility of discipline complaints and malpractice claims.  This will make you happier, and make you more money in the long run.

2 – Re-evaluate your fee structure and retainer requirements
Are you asking clients to pay for value or results?  Is your message, “we’ll do your last will and testament, trust, power of attorney, and medical directive for X dollars,” rather than, “we can protect you, your family and estate from government intervention, taxes, and most family squabbles for X dollars?”  Turning the discussion from “price for paper” into a discussion of “price for value” is more effective in convincing clients to hire you. Change the conversation, and you’ll earn more money.  Analyze, revise, and practice incorporating this new approach into your discussions with clients.

3 – Make sure your firm has the resources it needs to succeed.
People are the most important part of your firm and often the face that your clients see. But you are the one who sets the example. Every firm has its own “personality,” but every firm must remain professional and courteous.  Adequate financial resources are critical to a firm’s success.  Ensure your firm has the financing  it needs to operate the office, hire experts and manage case and trial costs to properly mount successful cases.

4 – Don’t just say you will start a marketing plan next year – do it!
For yourself and for your firm.  Marketing is always good, but shotgun efforts are very inefficient.  Start with a thoughtful, practical and realistic plan (you can find one on Google).  To keep your marketing momentum, make appointments for yourself each week throughout the year – write them on your calendar now – to implement each step of your plan.  But above all, have a plan!

5 – Connect with your peers

Join the ABA Law Practice Management Section or the ABA GPSolo Division to get the best information on developing or fine-tuning your law practice.  Also, join your state bar Solo and Small Firm Section to increase your networking opportunities.  If your state bar does not have one, start one!

6 – Recognize the growing need for bi-lingual legal services
Consider language classes at a community college or consider popular software just to start.  The world is changing, and those that greet the changes will be the most successful.

7 – Spend time learning LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools
These social networks are sources of new business.  Create a profile, search for connections/friends, and post regularly about your practice and your professional life.  If you are familiar with these networks, spend time to learn their deeper features, or expand to other networks, such a Martindale-Hubbell Connected (Beta) or LegalOnRamp.

8 – What is the one thing you would like to change about yourself?
We all have personal shortcomings.  Some of them are small, some of them are big.  Pick one thing that you would like to change in your personal or professional life.  Write it down on a piece of paper – and then write out the steps you need to take to make the changes you want to make.  You can do this  – within the next twelve months.

9 – Book a vacation now!
Everyone needs downtime.  Grab your calendar and block off two weeks together, or two one week blocks (health experts say a 2-week vacation is best).  Get your spouse, partner or significant other to block the same dates off in his or her calendar.  Those dates are sacred – don’t book anything in them.  If you don’t block them off now and keep them clear, you will never get the holiday that your mind and body needs.  If you can’t afford to go away, enjoy a “staycation” at home – a staycation can be just as relaxing if you absolutely keep work off the calendar!

Conclusion
“Remember the famous quote ‘Tough times don’t last, tough people do,’” added Silverstein.  “These are challenging times in the legal profession, but with a clear personal and professional plan, forward thinking firms will thrive.”

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