LinkedIn Groups Gets an Update

LinkedIn GroupsI’ve long been an advocate of LinkedIn Groups as a business development tool, but, especially with the previous round of changes that separated Groups into a stand-alone app, many lawyers didn’t take advantage of Groups.

This month, LinkedIn announced it’s making some changes to its Groups feature in both the website and mobile app that should improve the user experience.

Groups will now be re-integrated into the main LinkedIn user interface for a more seamless experience, making it easier to access your Groups from the LinkedIn Home page.

With the new Groups interface, you’ll also see conversations from your Groups right in your main LinkedIn news feed. Threaded replies will be incorporated, and you’ll be able to edit posts and comments and reply to comments from the app.

Rich media features will also be added to Groups, allowing members to post video, multiple images or rich media links to Group discussions.

For those of you who are overwhelmed with email, you may be happy to learn that instead of getting updates from your Groups via email, those updates will now be incorporated into your LinkedIn notifications.

Changes in LinkedIn Group Administration

The previous round of changes to LinkedIn Groups included a lot of changes in how Groups were administered and monitored.

LinkedIn is simplifying Groups administration by reducing the number of categories of users in Groups to just owners, managers and members. Groups members who were previously designated as moderators will become regular members unless the Group’s owner elevates the user to a manager.

All Group members will be able to post in their Groups without prior approval. Group admins should block or remove members who consistently violate the Group’s rules since pre-approval will no longer be available.

Both Group members and admins will still be able to report inappropriate content to help reduce spam, and admins will continue to be able to edit or remove posts and comments that violate that Group’s rules.

Group managers will be able to pin items to the top of a Group’s feed.

Why You Should Use LinkedIn Groups

LinkedIn Groups are an excellent tool for gathering valuable intelligence about your audience. By following Groups on LinkedIn that contain your target audience (existing and potential clients and referral sources), you can learn about their problems and concerns and see what’s important to them.

In Groups, people share information, brainstorm ideas, discuss their interests and challenges,  post informational articles or links and conduct polls, making it easy for you to get to know others and for them to get to know you.

Groups give you the ability to reach out to your target audience to ask for feedback, educate them about your services or the legal issues that affect their lives and/or businesses, demonstrate your knowledge, and increase your visibility.

Reviewing LinkedIn Group discussions and activity can also help you to generate ideas for new service offerings, blog posts, articles, presentations, and more.

Joining Groups gives you access to a wider audience that goes beyond just your direct connections. As a Group member, you can view the list of members who share a specific interest, and navigate to their Profiles for additional information or to connect.

Getting The Most Out Of LinkedIn Groups

To get the most benefit from Groups on LinkedIn you need to be an active participant, just as you would when joining a group or community in “real life.” Merely being a member won’t do too much for you-you have to get involved: start discussions, post interesting articles, engage with other Group members and their content, and reach out to begin one on one discussion or connect.

Engage naturally in Groups, just as you would in an in-person networking setting. Provide value. Don’t over-promote. Be sure to review the Group’s rules and abide by them. Post content that is relevant to the specific Group.

Don’t just post links – add your own commentary, ask a question or make a statement to encourage interaction.

The new Groups experience should begin rolling out to users shortly.

Improve Your Law Firm’s Collaboration and Productivity with G Suite

Improve Law Firm Collaboration and Productivity with G SuiteIntroduction

Looking to improve workplace collaboration & productivity within your law practice? Miles Hischier, of HiView Solutions, a Google Integration Partner, authored this article for Lawyer Meltdown to share insights about how law firms can use Google G Suite for work email, project collaboration, and document storage. Learn about G Suite  and the popular features relevant to a law firm.

What is G Suite?

Google G Suite, sometimes called by its former name, ‘Google Apps for Work,’ is a collection of Google office productivity apps for business. The G Suite package includes:

  • Professional email through Gmail (name@domain.com)
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Hangouts
  • Google Drive
  • Google Docs

. G Suite also includes administrative tools through the G Suite Admin Panel.

Google offers 3 plans: G Suite Basic ($5/user/month), G Suite Business ($10/user/month), and G Suite Enterprise ($25/user/month). This article focuses on G Suite Business, which is appropriate for law firms with fewer than 250 employees.

Google Doc Features that Lawyers Love

Suggesting Mode. Google Docs allows you to ‘track changes’ and provide specific feedback inline within a particular document. Suggestions appear in colored text and can be “accepted” or “rejected” by other editors.

Commenting. This feature can be utilized to provide metadata or commentary about a specific inline edit. Just like Microsoft word, comments are captured & labeled with the commentator’s name.

Version Control. Instead of manually versioning files by name & date, Google automatically saves all edits. At any time, you can review the entire version history of a document and identify who made the last change and what specifically was changed.

Interoperability with MS Word. Google Docs can be downloaded into MS Word Docs. Google Doc Suggestions & Comments will also transfer into the Word doc as well.

Google Drive for Document Storage

With G Suite Business, you get unlimited storage (with 5+ users) and Team Drives, which enables law firm ownership of files/folders instead of Drive file ownership at the employee level.

Team Drives. Team Drives can be a useful complement to your case management system. For instance, you can add multiple Team Drives, organized by client name or by case, and then archive Team Drives over time. With unlimited storage & Google Vault for data retention (see below), you’ll have an easy search panel to cull through old files down the road if needed.

Work with MS Office Files through Filestream. Filestream was created so you can easily work in MS Office from your local computer and save new versions to your Google Drive account. Filestream is a Dropbox-like sync client that connects to your G Suite account and automatically uploads a new version of your MS Office Document to G Suite. You only need to select the Filestream folder through Finder on Mac or Explorer on Windows.

Protect Firm Data through the G Suite Admin Panel

 Mobile Device Management. If you have employees accessing work data on their own mobile devices, you can use Google’s built-in mobile device management service to enforce a device passcode, helping ensure that a lost iPhone doesn’t compromise your firm’s information. Further, admins can configure ‘account wipe’ which enables you to remove all firm data from the mobile phone without deleting the employee’s personal data, like photos.

Drive Sharing Controls. Since law firms handle sensitive information, we recommend that you disable external link sharing. This means that links can be shared internally, or with clients/partner organizations that have been whitelisted through the G Suite Admin Console. If someone outside of this protected realm needs to access a document, they can still be added directly to a file as “contributor,” but will need a Google Account to access the file.

This can happen 1 of 3 ways:

  1. Their company has G Suite
  2. The account shared with is a @gmail account, or
  3. They’ve created a free Google Account with their work email address at accounts.google.com

This way, you always know who your information is being shared with. With external link sharing enabled, anyone with the link can open that file.

Security Controls. From 2-factor authentication to usage reports, there’s a range of security control options that administrators can enable through the Admin Console to ensure G Suite is secure. Read more about G Suite Security here.

Google Vault (eDiscovery & Retention). Google Vault enables law firms to archive historical mail, chat, and group history. Google Drive Files can be archived as well. Firms can enable a default retention rule, such as “save indefinitely” to retain information. Google Vault can also be used for Legal Holds, Search, and Exporting data. Audit reports are also available to show actions taken by Vault users.

Google Meet for video/audio conferencing with clients

 Google Meet is a scalable and stable audio/video solution. Google Meet offers a way to join via URL from a computer, as well as a unique dial-in number & meeting PIN. This way, you can present yourself on camera to your clients or colleagues in another location and review documents together. Sometimes, it might be useful to simultaneously share a Google Doc so you can collaborate in real time on the call as well. G Suite Enterprise is quite a step up in price but includes the option of recording calls if you desire that functionality.

G Suite = A new way of working

G suite offers law firms a collaborative set of tools that provides alternative workflows to the traditional Outlook/MS Word combo that many law firms rely on today. Plus, as you bring younger lawyers into your practice, there’s a strong chance they’re well versed in this set of tools already. Google offers a very similar toolset in their G Suite for Education package, and younger employees (most people under age 35) bring Google Apps knowledge with them to the office.

For employees less familiar with Google products, a quality Change Management engagement with a Google Partner like HiView Solutions can help you convert even the most stubborn employees over to new ways of working. To learn more about G Suite, visit gsuite.google.com.

Billing Tips for Solos and Small Firms

paying with credit cardThis post contains affiliate links. If you click through, I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you). 

One of the biggest hassles of being a solo or small firm lawyer is dealing with billing issues including tracking time (if billing by the hour), generating invoices, tracking payments, following up on late payments, generating financial reports, logging expenses, and more. And one of the biggest areas of conflict between lawyers and their clients is conflict about billing, invoices and fees, in part because lawyers don’t track or enter time properly, send bills consistently, or create bills that are easy for clients to understand and pay.

There are many solutions for solo and small firm lawyers to get rid of these headaches, including full-featured practice management programs that include time tracking, billing and invoicing, calendaring, document and case management. But if you’re not ready for a complete practice management program (or if your practice management solution doesn’t include billing and accounting functions), and you’re looking for an easy to use, quick to deploy billing and accounting solution for your solo practice or small law firm, FreshBooks might be the answer for you.


I personally use FreshBooks for Legal Ease Consulting and it has become an essential part of my practice. FreshBooks is a cloud-based billing and accounting software program that includes a whole host of features to help you with your firm’s finances, and the dashboard makes it ridiculously easy to see where you are financially at any time.

Estimates

Clients like to know that their legal matter will actually cost them, not just what your billable rate is. Any time you can provide clients with an up-front estimate or budget, it’s a win for you (if you stick to the budget and explain variables that might affect the budget or fee in advance).

FreshBooks has an estimates feature that can help minimize that friction with clients whether you’re billing on a flat or fixed-fee basis or billing by the hour. They can also be great for clarifying the budget or scope of work, or for giving clients a roadmap of the steps that will be needed for their matter to reach a conclusion.

FreshBooks has estimate templates you can use, and they can be customized with your logo, colors and images. Clients can view and accept the estimate online, and you’ll be able to check the status in your dashboard to see whether the client viewed or accepted the estimate. You can also create discussions through comments to work through any questions the client might have. You can also use the estimates to compare to actual invoices and fees in the future to improve your budgeting and estimating skills.

Time Tracking

Tracking time is unavoidable if you bill by the hour. It’s always adviseable to keep track of your time as you are performing tasks for clients. This not only leads to more accurate billing, but it saves you the time it takes to attempt to re-create what you did later.

FreshBooks includes a timer that will help you keep track of how long you spend on specific tasks, and you can easily see how much time has been logged by your associates or staff. Time can be logged on the go with the FreshBooks mobile app.

Once the time entry is created, it’s easy to add it to an invoice. You’ll also have the added benefit of being able to see how much time is being spent on specific tasks so you can improve your productivity (not to mention your client estimates and budgets).

See more about Freshbooks time-tracking here.

Professional-looking invoices

The days of manual billing should be long past us, but too many solos and small firms are still sending invoices on the fly using a word processing program. Not only does this make billing and payments difficult to track, but it looks unprofessional and it takes up far too much time.

If you’re meticulous about your work product, your business cards, your website, and your appearance when meeting with clients, why wouldn’t you be just as meticulous with your invoices or billing statements?

Your invoices should be well laid-out, easy to understand, professional looking, and contain your firm’s name (and/or logo), address, descriptions of the work performed for clients and the fees charged. FreshBooks can help you with all of that. It’s easy to create invoices, set due dates, or even send recurring invoices for clients on a regular payment plan. Again, you can use the templates already in Freshbooks or customize your own.

One of the things I love about FreshBooks is that I can see the status of every invoice that was sent out. I check my dashboards periodically to make sure that none of my invoices were overlooked by my clients. I can see whether a client has viewed the invoice, and if they haven’t viewed it within a specified period of time, I can reach out to them to make sure it didn’t land in their spam folder or get lost in the shuffle somewhere, and I can easily re-send the invoice.

I don’t have to worry about following up for late payments, either. I can set up FreshBooks to send my clients a late payment reminder automatically if payment has not been received within the amount of time I specify. If you want, you can also add late payment penalties.

See more about invoicing with Freshbooks here.

Accept credit cards and online payments

Make it easy for your clients to pay you – and get paid faster – by sending clients online invoices and accepting credit card payments. One of the great things about using FreshBooks is that you don’t need to set up a separate merchant account and payment gateway or jump through a lot of hoops to accept credit cards.

If you decide to take credit cards, you need to set up the feature in FreshBooks (they take a percentage of the fee, similar to other credit-card acceptance platforms), click a button in the invoice, and your client will be able to pay you with a click of a button in the invoice as soon as it is emailed to them.

But if you don’t want to accept credit cards, you can still send online invoices and tell FreshBooks that you only want to accept checks – your clients will still get their invoice by email, which can significantly decrease your wait to get paid.

Find out more about accepting payments through FreshBooks here.

Expense tracking

If you connect your bank account to FreshBooks, you can automatically track and categorize expenses, and even pass expenses along to your clients where appropriate. Freshbooks will also let you take a picture of a receipt and add it to an expense, making it much easier at tax time.

If you don’t want to connect your bank account, you can add and tag expenses yourself. Either way, it’s easy to see what your weekly, monthly and yearly expenses are.

Financial reporting

Don’t wait until tax time to take a look at your firm’s overall finances. Financial reports can help you see where your firm stands financially at any time, and can give you insights into average fees, fees billed vs. fees collected, how much work was written off, and more.

In addition to the dashboard mentioned above, FreshBooks has a host of financial reporting capabilities to help you stay on top of your firm’s finances (and to help you and your accountant prepare your taxes!). These include profit and loss statements, accounts aging and expense reports, among others. You can sort, filter and customize reports so you get only the information you need when you need it.

See more about financial reporting with Freshbooks here.

FreshBooks is just one of the tools that I use in my practice – it makes dealing with my firm’s finances not only easy to use, but easy to understand. You can try Freshbooks for free, or look at the FreshBooks Pricing Page for full details on all of their plans. (If you click on these links and sign up for FreshBooks, I get a small commission at no additional cost to you, but I wouldn’t recommend FreshBooks if I didn’t think it could be helpful to you!)

Checklist for a Client-Focused Website

10 Questions to Ensure that Your Website Attracts Clients

  1. Are your clients described on your site?

Can your clients ‘see’ themselves anywhere on your site? Is there sufficient detail so that clients will read it and say, ‘that’s me’? Does your site include testimonials from representative clients, or case studies of typical matters you handle so that clients can see the kinds of people or businesses you represent?

  1. Does your site accurately describe the legal problems/challenges faced by your clients?

More likely than not, your website gives a laundry list of practice areas. But does it talk about the specific problems your clients encounter, or the situation in which they find themselves at the time they’re seeking your advice?

  1. Does your site talk about your clients’ problems in language your clients understand?

Or does your site sound like a bunch of legal gobbledy-gook? Are the terms you use on your website the same terms your clients use to describe their problems or challenges? Use the ‘mother/child test’ – if you read your site to your mother or child, would he/she immediately understand it?

  1. Is your site easy to navigate?

Are navigation buttons clearly labeled? Are they easy to find? Do navigation buttons look like buttons? Is there navigation available at both the top and bottom of your web pages? Is your contact information easy to find?

  1. Is your site easy to read?

Are paragraphs and sentences short? Are key points highlighted or set apart from the rest of the text? Do you use headlines, bold type and spacing to give the eye a rest? Is your site easily skimmable?

  1. Does your site provide valuable information to clients to keep them returning to your site?

Is your site a resource for your clients or merely an online brochure? Do you provide clients with information, resources, case updates, facts, new information that could affect their business, changes in the law that might affect them? The more relevant content that is on your site, the more clients will keep returning. You’ll build credibility, loyalty and provide fodder for search engines.

  1. Does your site establish you as an expert in your field?

Does your site contain case studies or jury verdicts to demonstrate your expertise? Does it contain statistics, testimonials or other evidence of the results of working with you? Are there published articles on topics relevant to your clients’ business, challenges or legal problems? Do you list seminars and speeches you’ve given on your practice areas? If this information is listed on your site, is it easy to find? Is it listed in an organized fashion, by date or by category?

  1. Does your site pass the ‘so what’ test?

Clients read everything with the “what’s in it for me” mindset. To  be really effective and grab clients’ attention, you can’t just describe your office, your practice areas and your attorneys’ qualifications – you’ve got to answer the ‘so what’ – how do those things benefit the client?

Don’t just say it – show it. If your site says that you’re committed to learning the client’s needs and understanding the client’s business, you must demonstrate that on your site. Show that you know what your client’s needs are by telling a story, providing a case study, or talking about your clients’ businesses (in general terms) on your site.

  1. Do you walk clients through your site and tell them what to do?

You wouldn’t let a client wander around on their own in your office looking for an attorney’s office, the restroom, the conference room or the coffee machine, so why let them wander around your website on their own? ‘Signs’ (navigation buttons) alone aren’t enough. Give your client a tour and lead them through your site by providing suggestions about where to go next, or proposing an action step.

A client who gets lost, can’t find what they’re looking for, or doesn’t know what to do next is just as likely to click away from your site as they are to go back to the navigation bar to look for something interesting to read on your site.

  1. Does your site demonstrate the difference between you and your competitors?

Your site should be a reflection of your firm’s personality. It should give prospects an idea what it will be like to work with you and highlight the benefits and advantages your firm provides. Clients are looking for people ‘like’ them, or people they can relate to. If your site is too ‘flat’ and clients can’t get a good feel for the firm from it, they’re likely to move on.

[Infographic] Six Ways to Jumpstart Your LinkedIn Network

Is your LinkedIn network working for you?

In 2016, Dennis Kennedy, my co-author on LinkedIn in One Hour for Lawyers, and I wrote a two-part post on LinkedIn about how lawyers can reinvigorate their LinkedIn networks. That post was subsequently combined into one post on Law Technology Today.

As we say in the article, it’s usually best to send personalized invitations to connect and to always think strategically about who you want to connect with and why, as well as what might motivate that person to want to connect with you. But we also talk about some ways to add a lot of LinkedIn connections quickly at those times when that makes strategic sense for your practice.

We discuss these six ways to expand your LinkedIn network, whether you’re brand-new to LinkedIn or you’ve had a Profile for a number of years:

  1. Uploading your contacts/address book to LinkedIn to make connecting with those you already know in the “real world” easier
  2. Sending personalized invitations – your goal is to get the other person to accept your invitation to connect, so invite wisely!
  3. Using Groups to identify and reach out to potential new (targeted) connections
  4. Connecting with fellow alumni from your college or law school
  5. Searching 2nd level connections
  6. Using LinkedIn’s “People You May Know” suggestions

Although some things have changed since we wrote the initial piece because LinkedIn changed the user interface, the main ideas remain the same – you may just need to click in a different place to find what you’re looking for.

For example, now you’ll click Continue under add personal contacts on the left side of the page under My Network to upload your address book. And LinkedIn no longer provides the radio buttons to choose how you know someone when sending an invitation to connect. Find Alumni is no longer an option under the My Network menu, but you can still connect with fellow alumni by searching for your school and then clicking the See Alumni button.

You can find Part 1 of the article here (on my LinkedIn Profile) and Part 2 here (on Dennis’ LinkedIn Profile). Or check out this great infographic the folks at Venngage made for us for a quick visual reference:

Expand Your LinkedIn Network with Legal Ease Consulting

Tips to Avoid Lawyer Meltdown [Interview]

istockmicrophone000001548083smallI was recently interviewed by Law Firm Suites for their “Ask the Expert” series. They asked me for some tips for avoiding lawyer meltdown, as well as other tips for solo practitioners, especially new solos.

The interview was a good reminder of one of the lessons I’ve learned in my practice – to quote from the interview:

To be a great lawyer (or any type of service provider), you have to be a whole and complete person – and to be a whole and complete person, you have to have a life outside of work. To help others you have to fill your own well first – not just financially, but emotionally and creatively, too.

Make sure you make time for yourself and the things you enjoy. And if you need help with your practice, or if you’re a new solo, the interview covered a range of topics, including establishing a niche practice; learning how to turn away work; staying motivated; and necessary tools for solos. If you’re interested, you can find the complete interview here.

FREE Data Protection Checklist for Choosing Cloud Practice Management Providers

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Download our FREE data protection checklist for cloud practice management program selection – just enter your name and email below. I promise never to share your email – it’s safe with me.

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How to Do More In Less Time Podcast

How to Do More In Less Time Cover Image

Having difficulty managing your workload? Think you could be more productive? My newest book, How to Do More In Less Time: The Complete Guide to Increasing Your Productivity and Improving Your Bottom Line may help. The first part of the book will provide you with strategies to help you manage your day to day tasks, while the second part of the book will give you specific tips on how you can shave time off of everyday tasks by using the software programs you’re already employing in your law practice more efficiently.

Want a preview?

Listen to this podcast interview with me and my co-author, Daniel J. Siegel.

A Simple Social Media Plan for Lawyers

A Think social media is too difficult or time consuming? Here’s a basic social media plan that only requires about 1 1/2 hours a month – although you can expand and contract it as necessary:

Make Meetings Count

Business MeetingLawyers attend (or host) a lot of meetings. Even solos are involved in bar association committee meetings, networking meetings and client meetings, just to name a few. Meetings can be held in-person, or virtually by video or teleconference. Meetings can be invaluable tools to brainstorm, get input from a number of people at once, develop goals or strategies, discuss a problem or choose an action or outcome.

But meetings can also be huge time-wasters. Many meetings are unproductive due to the lack of a specific objective, unclear agenda or other problems. That lack of productivity is compounded when the wrong people attend or when meetings are unfocused. And just like email isn’t the best tool for all purposes, meetings aren’t the best tool for all communications. Meetings should have a specific goal or intended action outcome.

If you’re tempted to schedule a meeting just to provide an “update” to a number of people, it may be more appropriate to provide that update using another method and eliminate the meeting. In those cases, a more appropriate tool to provide the information might be a project management tool (like Basecamp), email, or a note in the client or project file, unless the update is significant or is tied to an event or celebration.

If you can’t eliminate the meeting entirely, make it more effective and avoid wasting time by avoiding the most common meeting time-wasters and following these steps:

1. Determine your purpose

First, decide the purpose and goal for the meeting. What outcome do you want to see from the meeting? Is this a brainstorming meeting to generate ideas, a meeting to identify and/or resolve issues, an action-based meeting to identify next steps and responsibilities, a task-based meeting to accomplish a particular assignment or a meeting to make a decision?

Once you know what you are trying to accomplish, you can decide on the meeting structure that will work best: will it be a free-flowing discussion (good for brainstorming or generating ideas) or will participants have a set time to speak (perhaps better for check-in or status based meetings)? Does the meeting address a time sensitive issue that must be addressed right away, or is it a future-oriented, planning meeting?

2. Decide who should participate

Attendance can make or break your meeting: inviting too many people can unnecessarily complicate it, but inviting too few (or the wrong people) can hinder progress.

Your knee-jerk reaction might be to invite everyone in the firm or everyone in a particular category of people to participate in every meeting, but we recommend that you give a little further thought to who should participate in your meetings.

The meeting’s purpose will also drive the attendance. Determine whose experience or expertise will be necessary to accomplish the meeting’s purpose. If the meeting is a decision-making meeting, it stands to reason that the decision-makers must be present in the room in order to accomplish the goal of the meeting. But be sure to include other stakeholders and those who might be significantly impacted by the decision so that they may provide their input or perspective on what factors should be considered.

You may also want to consider whether some participants should only be present for a portion of the meeting, rather than for the entire meeting.

3. Set the agenda and communicate in advance

Create an agenda for the meeting with topics to be discussed and persons responsible. Show that you respect the time of all involved and set limits for discussion, with a concrete beginning and ending time for the meeting.

Advise attendees of the date and time of the meeting. Communicate the purpose and expected outcome of the meeting, goals and agenda to all participants well enough in advance of the meeting so they can prepare. Include any supporting documents needed for the meeting, or that you expect participants to have reviewed or to be familiar with for the meeting. Advise participants of their expected role at the meeting. Request that participants respond to confirm their attendance. Send out a meeting reminder the day before the meeting to confirm.

4. Ensure the meeting stays on track

Start on time and stick to your agenda. Make sure introductions are made if you are not certain that everyone participating knows one another or if some participants are attending the meeting remotely. Have each person indicate who they are and why they are there or what their role in the firm or group is.

Begin the substance of the meeting by repeating the goal or purpose. Advise participants of the format of the meeting. If there is a projected (or firm) end time for the meeting, announce it in the beginning so that everyone is aware of it.

If issues arise that are unrelated but must be discussed during the meeting, request agreement of the participants to continue the meeting beyond the originally agreed-upon end time and establish that only those individuals involved in that particular project or issue be required to stay. If non-urgent issues arise, table them for a meeting to be held at another time specifically for that purpose.

Designate one person to be the meeting facilitator to keep the meeting on point and on time, or assign a time-keeper to keep an eye on the clock and remind the facilitator.

To obtain maximum participation, make the meeting a ‘safe place’ for people to express their opinions without judgment or ridicule. Allow each person the opportunity to speak, but don’t let one person take over the meeting. Obtain different perspectives by asking open-ended questions. Increase participant engagement in the meeting is to assign different people to lead the discussion on each agenda item.

When controversy arises, look for points of agreement. (“Can we all agree that the goal is…” or “If I’m hearing correctly, everyone seems to think there is a problem with Y, but we haven’t come up with the best way to solve the problem yet. Let’s see what we can come up with.”)

Before concluding the meeting, develop an action plan based upon your initial agenda. If necessary, recap the decisions that were made, lessons learned, or options identified during the meeting.  Identify next steps, set deadlines for the tasks identified and assign responsibility for those tasks to specific groups or individuals. Determine whether additional or follow up meetings will be required and, if possible, schedule them immediately.

5. Take action after the meeting

Even if you don’t take ‘minutes’ of the meeting, make sure that the main goals and decisions, deadlines, action steps and responsibilities determined during the meeting are communicated afterwards, in writing, if necessary. Consider whether they need to also be disseminated to those who were not present at the meeting to make follow up and future meetings more productive, even for those who were unable to attend. Follow up individually with those who have action steps to complete. If follow up meetings are necessary, add the tasks and responsibilities that were established to the agenda for follow up, or request that responsible parties submit a report of their progress to be attached to the agenda for the next meeting.

Meetings don’t have to be a black hole of wasted time if they are utilized properly. First, you must determine whether conducting a meeting is the correct way to accomplish your objectives. If it is, you’ll want to develop a meeting agenda based upon those objectives and invite only those people who are required to meet those objectives or make decisions necessary to move the project forward. Communicate the objective in advance to allow participants to fully prepare. Then use meeting facilitation techniques to keep the meeting on task and on time. And don’t forget to summarize what was accomplished and document next steps, deadlines and responsibility.

This article is an excerpt from my upcoming book, “How to Do More in Less Time: The Complete Guide to Increasing Your Productivity and Improving Your Bottom Line,” with Daniel J. Siegel, scheduled to be published later this year.

Dealing with Difficult Clients

Difficult conversationsIf you have been in practice for any length of time, sooner or later you’re going to get stuck with a difficult client, or at least a difficult client conversation. Uncomfortable client conversations can arise for multiple reasons. Sometimes those reasons have more to do with the client than with the lawyer, but every attorney-client relationship contains two players, so you need to be aware of the ways in which you might be contributing to the problem and the ways you can contribute to a solution.

Take on the right clients

The best way to deal with truly difficult clients is by not taking them on in the first place. That requires that you be able to identify potentially bad clients early – preferably before a retainer is signed so that you can avoid them entirely. Make a list of bad client warning signs to help you identify potentially difficult clients. (See this blog post for tips on identifying bad clients).

Pre-screen and pre-qualify clients by:

  • Asking the right questions
  • Educating clients about the legal process in general and your services in particular
  • Evaluating whether your firm is the right fit for the potential client.

Pay attention to what your gut is telling you when you first meet with clients – if your gut tells you the client is not right for you, don’t agree to the representation.

If you’ve already hired a client that isn’t the right fit, consider firing them.

Communicate value

To effectively attract and retain good clients, you must communicate the value of the services you offer. Know what is important your potential clients and be able to differentiate yourself and your service from the others in your practice area – not just when you’re trying to attract new clients, but throughout the engagement.

Relate your services to the benefits to the client. Everything you do should be based upon the clients’ perspective – what’s in it for the client? How does each of the activities you undertake advance the client’s goals or contribute to their desired outcome?

Manage clients’ expectations

It is crucial that you discover, and help shape, the client’s expectations at the outset of the engagement, and that you continue to manage them throughout the engagement. In her article, “How to Handle Difficult Clients,” in the July/August issue of Law Practice Magazine, Justice Carole Curtis notes that clients have expectations not just about results, but also about service, time and costs. If the client’s perception of ‘service’ is something more or different than what you provide, the client will always be dissatisfied, regardless of how good your work is. It’s your job to manage expectations in each of these areas.

For more tips on managing clients’ expectations, see my posts Tips for Managing Client Expectations on the Legal Ease Blog or Managing Client’s Expectations on Lawyerist.

Know your boundaries and set limits

Often confrontations arise when the unexpected occurs. You can reduce many common difficult client situations by being prepared and setting boundaries at the outset of the engagement. Clients who can’t abide by your processes or boundaries will often self-identify themselves, offering you the opportunity to explore the situation before a confrontation occurs or the chance to decline the representation. There’s no reason to tolerate an abusive client!

Provide excellent service

Keep the client updated about what’s happening with the case. Don’t make clients ask you for a status; be proactive and provide regular updates, even when nothing is happening.

If you need to make a staffing change on the file, give the client a heads-up; don’t wait until the client receives a bill with a new attorney’s name on it or receives a phone call from a new attorney in your office they don’t know. Always present your best work; even if it’s just a draft, it should be free of spelling and grammatical errors, typos and other problems. Always accompany copies of documents or decisions in the client’s matter with a plain language explanation of what the document is and how it affects the client’s case.

Recognize that the client may not always agree with the course of action you think is best. Explain how the different options might advance the client’s stated goals and give your insight about consequences and potential pitfalls, but remember that ultimately, it’s the client’s job to choose the course of action. Document these conversations or follow up in writing.

Under-promise and over-deliver, keeping the four areas of client expectation listed above in mind.

Bill appropriately

Often, client problems or complaints arise out of disputes about or confusion over fees. Don’t nickel and dime your clients by charging them for items that really constitute part of your overhead and should already be factored in to your fees. Make sure your fees are fair and reasonable. If there is a change in your budget, big expenditures that need to be made, or if unexpected costs arise, advise the client as soon as you become aware of the change; don’t wait until the funds have already been expended or simply add it to your bill without discussing it with the client first.

Obtain client feedback

A client that doesn’t complain isn’t necessarily a happy client. And even happy clients may have additional needs that you could address. Obtain feedback throughout the engagement and upon its conclusion and act on that feedback when you receive it.

Handling Difficult Client Conversations

Even if you have done all of the above, you may still won’t be able to avoid difficult conversations entirely. Even generally good or cooperative clients can become difficult at times, especially when you have to tell them something they don’t want to hear, or when they have a complaint.

Sometimes conflict arises because clients don’t feel understood. Even business clients have an emotional investment in their legal matter, and many legal matters have high stakes, affecting clients’ finances, livelihoods, businesses, or their very lives. If you can guide the conversation in a way that makes clients feel understood, the conversation will run much more smoothly.

When you find yourself in a situation that requires a difficult conversation with clients, keep these tips in mind:

Mirror the client’s concerns. Let the client tell you what the issue is, and then reflect it back to the client. This way, the client knows they’re being heard, and you ensure that you understand their issue.

Focus on the client. The key to resolution is concentrating on the client’s feelings and the client’s desired outcome, rather than focusing on yourself, the work you have already done, or additional work that may be required. For example, if a client asks for something in a rush, respond by first acknowledging the client’s sense of urgency and how it affects their goals – not by telling them how much work you have to do or why what they’re asking is impossible.

Lay the groundwork for bad news – and go slowly. Resist the urge to just ‘get it over with’ by blurting out the bad news all at once. When you know the client isn’t going to be happy about what you have to tell them, start out by acknowledging the client’s desired outcome or goals, introduce what you are going to discuss, or explain that there are a number of different strategies that can be employed to move forward with their matter. Be sure to give the client reasons for those options and for what occurred. After you’ve delivered the bad news, let the client know that you empathize with their position.

Acknowledge the client’s feelings. Acknowledging a client’s feelings by saying something like, “I can tell that you’re upset about this” will begin to defuse the situation. Don’t let yourself get emotional or allow the client to push your buttons and don’t argue with clients about their feelings, whether you believe they are justified or not; you won’t change their mind and you are likely to make the situation worse.

Let clients know that they’re not alone. If this particular problem is a common one, or many clients seem to be frustrated by the same thing (for example the Court’s delay in making a decision, or opposing counsel’s refusal to provide documents), let the client know that not only are their feelings valid, but that they have been expressed by others in the past. If you are similarly frustrated, let the client know; it can be a way of getting you and your client back on the same side.

Work toward a resolution based on where you are now. Once the client is calmer and you’ve acknowledged them, you can begin to gather information that can help you to reach a solution to the underlying problem. Offer the client options for resolution, even if you can’t meet their specific demand.

Focus on the positive. Instead of saying no or telling a client what you can’t do and why, tell them what you can do. Explain the options in terms of the client’s goals (i.e. because I know that you don’t want to drag this litigation out…” or “Since you want to keep costs down…”

Don’t retreat or get defensive – it only escalates the confrontation.

Get help. While these suggestions may seem simple, they’re not always easy to implement. Working with a coach or getting some client service training can help you develop the skills necessary to handle difficult client situations.

Need help identifying bad clients or weeding them out? Want some training on dealing with difficult clients? Contact me for a consultation.

A version of portions of this article originally appeared on JD Supra.  

 

Improve Your Marketing in One Step: Focus on Your Clients

Focus on clientsI recently received a question from a blog subscriber, “If I did one single thing to improve my marketing what would it be?” My answer: focus on the client. Get excruciatingly clear on who your best clients are and why. Create an ideal client profile so that you can easily recognize potential clients who may fit into this category, and so that you can describe your ideal clients succinctly and consistently. This will help you educate your referral sources and help them to spot your ideal clients so that they immediately know who to refer to you.

Too many lawyers make the mistake of trying to target too broad an audience for fear of turning business away. But instead of attracting more clients, a poorly identified ideal client results in a watered down message that loses its impact and fails to elicit a response.

It is only when you have a good picture of who your ideal clients are that you can move forward to determine what is important to them, where to find them, how to attract them, how best to serve them, what processes and procedures need to be in place, which employees will work best with those clients, and more.

Who are your best clients?

Review your past and present client lists. Which clients did you work best with? Which were the most lucrative for the firm? Which were the best sources of additional business or referrals? Which clients were the most difficult? Which ones failed to pay or did not respect your advice? Which ones brought you matters that didn’t fit into your strengths? Make a list of the characteristics of good and bad clients.

The value of a client isn’t measured solely by the size of the case or the size of your fee. Valuable clients can be those who have realistic expectations, respect your advice or want the best service. Perhaps your ideal client is one who works with you on a case – or perhaps it’s just the opposite. Maybe you work best with clients who leave you alone to work your magic. Maybe your best clients are simply those who will be ‘raving fans’ and generate lots of referrals for your practice.

Once you have a preliminary idea of what a ‘high value’ client means to you, they will be easier to spot. This takes some in-depth work, but it is well worth it. When you become skilled at defining and identifying high-value clients, you waste less time and energy on lower value clients that sap your energy or cost you money and time.

Change how you talk about your practice

Listen to how most lawyers talk about their practices (or read their websites, social media posts and other marketing materials): it’s all about the lawyer, rather than being about the client. This is a mistake. Clients don’t care about you – they care about themselves and their problems. Why not change the focus of your marketing to be more in alignment with the clients’ interests?

Your marketing message should create an association for the people you are speaking to – either so that they identify themselves as your ideal clients or so that they immediately think of someone else who needs your services.

Instead of focusing your marketing message on you, focus on who you serve and what they struggle with.

Calling your clients by name

Think of your marketing message as a way of calling the name of your potential clients. Rather than making a general statement (“Hey, you!”), identifying someone by name (“Hey, Bob!”) will get their attention much easier. Bob is tuned into that information because it’s very specific to him. You want your marketing to do the same for your clients. You want them to think you’re talking directly to them – because you are.

In order to call your clients by name, you need to be intimately familiar with who those clients are. The better you know the clients you’re seeking to attract, the better your marketing efforts will be. Creating a client profile is a good way to develop that knowledge.

Keep in mind that whether your practice focuses on individuals or businesses, all of your clients are people. If you have a business to business practice, you’ll want to focus on the decision-makers – the human beings you need to connect with in order to get their work.

When creating your ideal client profile, remember that you may have a different “ideal client” for different for different areas of practice or services you provide. Dig deep. Some areas to explore include the four Ps: Psychographics, Patterns for choosing legal services, client Problems, and your Positioning.

Psychographics

Psychographics are one of the most powerful ways to connect with your clients, and also one of the most frequently overlooked. You may find that your clients are actually very different demographically, but psychographically, they have a very similar profile.

Psychographics, while less tangible, are much more accurate in predicting which people or businesses will relate best to your particular message, method or solution. Psychographics include things like your client’s mission, philosophy or values, their reputation in the industry or community, their management or communication style, integrity or litigation history. For example, do you prefer clients who are more collaborative and settlement-oriented or those who want to fight or pursue litigation regardless of the cost?

Psychographics include any belief or value that your clients strongly identify with – and they don’t necessarily have to relate directly to their business or to their legal matter.

Patterns

An important part of profiling your ideal client is determining how they choose legal services. Knowing that your clients are more likely to make the decision to hire a lawyer at certain times of the year, as the result of specific triggering events, or upon receipt of specific types of information can help you plan your services and your marketing strategy. Learn why your clients hire you, what kinds of service providers they prefer and what similar services they have used, among other issues.

Problems

One of the most effective ways to connect with clients is by identifying what problems they face. Everyone wants their problems to be solved, and if you can identify what the client perceives their problem to be (as opposed to what you think their problem is, or what lawyers generally think the problem is), you’ll get the potential client’s attention quickly – and start gaining their trust. Think about not only the problems themselves, but also about the symptoms of the problems that your clients commonly experience, and how clients typically describe them.

Use the language your clients use when crafting your marketing messages, writing copy for your website, posting on social media, or discussing what you do at a cocktail party. Put yourself in your clients’ shoes. If you can do that, your marketing will automatically stand out from the rest of the lawyers in your area and it will help you build relationships.

What is it that your clients want or need? How do they talk about it? Is there an underlying result your clients wish to achieve, even if they don’t articulate it? What are the underlying emotions your clients typically experience when facing the kinds of legal problems you solve?

Positioning

Once you’ve analyzed the problems, ascertained the values and goals, and determined when and how your ideal clients choose legal services, you need to get your message in front of the right people, whether they are the clients themselves, their trusted advisors, or other referral sources. Your client profile should help you to position yourself in front of the right people if it includes an analysis of the places your ideal clients and referral sources gather.

What do your ideal clients read? What do they watch or listen to? Who influences them? What kinds of advisors do they seek? Which websites do they visit? Do they participate in social media? Where and how? Are they members of specific groups on LinkedIn, for example? Where and how do your ideal clients seek out information? What professional associations do they belong to? What types of events do they attend? What causes do they care about?

If you don’t already know the answers to these questions, ask your best clients, or do some research on your existing clients or on individuals in your target market.

The client profile will help you to focus your marketing efforts, plan effective means of reaching your ideal clients, and develop methods to serve them better. The insight it provides can be invaluable for the future of your practice. But don’t create your ideal client profile and then put it away – it is important to revisit it regularly to keep it up to date.

Don’t Organize – Spring Clean!

A secret to happinessGretchen Rubin, author of the New York Times best-sellers Happier at Home and The Happiness Project proclaims that one of the secrets to happiness is:

Don’t get organized. 

It’s Spring, and that’s the time of year that many of us turn to clearing out the clutter, both at home and at work. Somehow it’s tolerable in the winter months when we’re hunkered down, but something about the warmer weather makes us want to strip down and create some room to breathe.

But for people who have the “clutter mentality” (another of Gretchen Rubin’s phrases), Spring cleaning means simply organizing, without tackling the first the crucial step – eliminating. Rather than evaluating what’s important to keep and what no longer serves, those with a clutter mentality will organize and simply  make things neat, without making the hard choices.

Fancy organizing tools – including technology tools – can be fun to use, but don’t let them become a crutch that you use to avoid making difficult decisions. Keeping things – or information – that you “might” need “someday” can be more of a distraction than it’s worth, especially if you can’t actually find it when you need it.

Real organization – and Spring cleaning – starts with clearing out – getting rid of anything and everything that is outdated or no longer useful. As Gretchen says, “If you don’t keep it, you don’t have to organize it.” Clutter prevents you from working efficiently by distracting you, covering up important documents or files, and by adding to anxiety and stress.

Getting rid of “stuff”

Clear away the physical clutter in your office. Most lawyers’ offices, whether those offices are inside or outside of the home, are clutter magnets, in part because they simply have too much to do during the day. But a periodic sweep through the office, keeping these five things in mind, should do the trick:

  1. Your office should only contain paperwork that you’re currently working on, supplies and files that you need on a regular basis, and  a few mementos that are meaningful. The rest is trash or should find another home.
  2. Keep only those items in your office that you need to take action on or that you need to refer to when doing your work – but if the item is for reference on a project you won’t be working on in the next day or two, file it to keep the clutter out of your office – and to prevent distractions from the task at hand.
  3. If you haven’t done so already, now might be a good time to consider going “paper-less.” Instead of worrying that everything might not have made it to the paper file, or playing file tag with others in the office who need access to the same documents, scan everything that comes in and file it right away into the matter’s electronic file. But even if you work with paper files, don’t use your office as a place to store them. Your office should contain on the files you’re actually working on.
  4. Create an automatic deadline for tossing certain items, like bar association publications or section newsletters. Often, they are available online and they’ll be easier to find (and read) that way than by wading through a stack of periodicals to find the article you think you remember seeing.
  5. Get control of the mail and email. When mail arrives, categorize it immediately, and make a place in your office for each category. If it’s mail that has a particular date, make sure the date gets entered into your calendar immediately. Outdated emails or emails that aren’t client-related should be deleted. There’s no need to keep thousands of emails in your inbox.

Eliminating Other Obstacles to your Practice

Clutter isn’t just piles of “stuff” or paper. Clutter comes in all shapes and sizes. It includes the nagging worries cluttering up your thoughts, the “dog” files that you never get around to working on (or that you know will end badly), employees (or partners) who are abusive, nasty, unproductive, or otherwise drag your firm down, clients who don’t listen to your advice or are impossible to please, and more. De-cluttering isn’t limited to physical things or piles of paper in your office. Put a real “spring” in your step by adding these to your “toss” pile:

Bad clients

Do you need another reminder? Bad clients drive out good clients. They drain you of energy and distract you from doing your best work for your best clients. Consider firing some of your worst clients (or letting your staff tell you which clients they think you should fire).

Bad or unecessary employees

If you have motivated employees that contribute to your firm and help make you successful, by all means, keep them – and take good care of them. But some employees are toxic and drag down the rest of the firm. If you  have employees that are abusive to staff, or clients, don’t pull their weight or are otherwise dragging you down, it may be time to bite the bullet and get rid of them.

Tasks and Procedures

Are you performing tasks you don’t need to do? Delegate more. Are some tasks being performed by multiple people, multiple times? Streamline your tasks so that the fewest possible people are involved in any particular task. When is the last time you reviewed your office procedures? Have some of your old procedures become redundant?

To-do list items

While I’m all for using lists, they need to be productive for you. A to-do list that contains too many tasks is overwhelming and unproductive. Make a “don’t do” list to help you drop unnecessary or unimportant items off of your to-do list. If you’ve been carrying a particular item on your list for a long time, reconsider whether that item is a priority for you. Instead of piling things onto your to-do list, schedule specific times to accomplish them and put them on your calendar.

Outdated services or practice areas

Re-visit your services: are there some services that have become outdated? Are you out of date or in need of a refresher course in your area of practice? Are there new areas of practice emerging that you would like to focus on? Are your clients’ needs being met with your existing services?

Keeping Up

Now that you’ve cleared out, I give you permission to organize what’s left. But don’t forget to do a periodic purge. Before you leave the office at the end of the week, take 15 minutes to do a quick pick up of your office – move out files or paperwork that doesn’t belong, get rid of any unnecessary mail or junk flyers, etc. Take a few minutes to review your calendar and tasks for the following week, and make a plan.

 

LinkedIn Updates and Changes Every Lawyer Should Know

LinkedIn logoLinkedIn has been busy making even more changes to its platform lately. Here’s a summary of some of the changes and updates you should know about:

Skills and Endorsements

LinkedIn’s previously named “Skills and Expertise” section has been re-named “Skills and Endorsements” in part due to feedback LinkedIn received from lawyers who advised that many jurisdictions (including mine – New York) would not allow lawyers to complete any section under the title “expertise” without special certifications. The newly-named “Skills and Endorsements” section should cause less ethics headaches for lawyers. However, there are still cautions. To learn more about endorsements, check out my article on Law Technology Today, LinkedIn Endorsements 101.

Changes to LinkedIn Company Pages

In another article on Law Technology Today, I talked about LinkedIn Company Pages. That article gives a good overview of what lawyers can do with LinkedIn Company Pages for their law firms, but as of April 14, 2014, LinkedIn will be eliminating the Products and Services tab from LinkedIn Company Pages. It turns out that not too many users were taking advantage of this feature of Company Pages. In place of the information that used to be contained in the Products and Services tab, LinkedIn recommends two options. First, you can post Updates to your Company Page about your services. These Updates will appear both on your Page and in your followers’ LinkedIn feeds. You can even include video in your Updates. While this is one option, you may want to use this option for announcements of new services or initiatives, news or other timely items, rather than general descriptions of your practice areas and services.

Your other option is to use Showcase Pages to highlight specific services that your firm might offer. Showcase Pages were introduced by LinkedIn in late 2013 as a way to highlight specific products or services, or to allow businesses to reach specific audiences who might be interested in only a segment of the company’s offerings, rather than their general Company Page updates.

Essentially, Showcase Pages are sub-pages under your main law firm Company Page on LinkedIn, but they are dedicated to one individual service that you provide. Showcase pages can be helpful for law firms who have diverse practice areas and want to post different content to different audiences. As legal marketing expert Nancy Myrland noted in her post announcing Showcase Pages last year, Showcase Pages can also be a great way to institutionalize cross-selling, because all of the Showcase Pages link back to the main Company Page and to one another.

To find out how to drive traffic to your Company Page, you may want to read my post from the Legal Ease blog, “Driving Traffic to your Law Firm Company Page.” These concepts can be applied to your Showcase Pages as well.

LinkedIn Analytics

LinkedIn has been adding some tools within the platform to help you see how much attention your LinkedIn Profile, updates and Page are getting. For example, the “Who’s Viewed Your Profile” feature of LinkedIn now gives you lots of information about the industries and locations of the people who have viewed your Profile, as well as information about how they found you (LinkedIn search, Google search, etc.) – even with a free account (although premium accounts provide even more information). In addition, at the bottom of the “Who’s Viewed Your Profile” screen, LinkedIn will also give you suggestions about how you can garner more Profile views.

If you post Updates to your LinkedIn Profile, on your Home Page LinkedIn will provide you with information about how many views and likes your recent Updates have received under “Who’s Viewed Your Updates” in the right sidebar.

If you manage a Company Page for your firm, you’ll get Analytics (stats on the number of impressions, clicks, and interaction) and Page insights (Page views, unique visitors, page clicks).

Blocking Users

LinkedIn recently made some changes that will now allow you to block individual users on the platform. Simply go to the person’s Profile that you want to block and click the down arrow next to the blue button you see on their Profile and click on “block or report.” For more details, including what blocking means on LinkedIn, stay tuned for an upcoming post on Law Technology Today explaining how you can do it.

Planning for Law Practice Improvement

Failure and SuccessThe first month of the New Year is already more than half over, but even if you haven’t started, it’s not too late to plan to make this the best year yet. You can still set things in motion to move your practice to the next level, work more effectively and attract the clients you want this year. Here’s how:

Do a year-end review

First, take inventory of your practice. The only way to make changes, to grow or to move forward is to first accept what is; before you can start thinking about making improvements, you need to know where you stand now.

Take stock of last year’s goals:

  • What goals (whether written or not) did you have for your practice last yer? Did you want to finally get some systems in place? Explore a new practice area? Create better relationships with clients or attract a higher caliber of clients to your firm?
  • How well did you meet those goals?
  • What benchmarks or other documentation do you have in place to determine whether or not you met your goals?
  • What made you successful or unsuccessful in meeting this year’s goals? What do you need to continue doing, and what do you need to change?
  • What resources do you need to make those changes?

A general review of the past year can help you to see areas ripe for improvement:

  • What clients/practice areas were the most/least profitable over the past year?
  • Who are your best/worst clients, and where do they come from?
  • What new strategic alliances/referral sources have you cultivated in the past year? What new relationships would you like to create?
  • How many new clients retained you over the past year? How much new business did you receive from existing or former clients?
  • How well did you follow up with new contacts this year? Did you use a system for keeping in touch with potential, existing and former clients? How effective was that system?
  • How up to date and effective are your marketing materials (business cards, website, blog, newsletter, brochure, email campaigns, seminars/presentations, etc.)? Do they accurately reflect who you are and what you do for your clients? Even more importantly, do they accurately describe your clients and their needs, wants and concerns?
  • How large are your receiveables and what can you do to reduce them?
  • How often did you convert prospects into clients over the past year?
  • Are you using staff, outside sources and vendors effectively, or could you delegate better?
  • What improvements have you made in your practice over the past year for the benefit of your clients? What can you do to knock your clients’ socks off in the future?

If you already have good systems, records and documentation in place, you may be able to obtain reports containing this information from your computer system in a few clicks. If not, you may want to consider a systems overhaul to make this information easier to obtain in 2014, as it can be invaluable.

For example, if you know where your business is coming from and you aren’t getting the kind of business you’d like, you may want to explore where the ‘less desirable’ business is coming from. If all of your “bad” referrals are coming from the same place, you may need to re-educate those referral sources; if your referral sources don’t know what your ‘sweet spot’ is, they can’t refer you the best clients. Similarly, if your marketing materials are not effective, accurate and timely, if they are attracting clients that you don’t want, you’ll want to revisit your marketing materials.

Choose three main goals

Now that you know where you are, you can start setting the wheels in motion to make improvements by setting goals. But don’t make the mistake of setting too many goals or goals that are too large. Although you may have a long list of things you wish you could do in your practice, a long list can quickly become overwhelming. Instead, choose three main areas you’d like to improve in your practice over the next year.

Choose the three goals that you think will have the most impact, or that are the most urgent, and focus all of your time on those three goals. Even with only three goals, there are going to be lots of little action steps to be taken in order to reach them. Anything that doesn’t work toward those three goals should be sidelined or put on a list for the future so that it doesn’t distract from your focus.

When you set a goal, estimate how long you actually think it’s going to take to accomplish that goal. Then build in some additional time for unexpected obstacles and inevitable delays.

Write down the list of your three projects and keep it posted somewhere you can see it and be reminded every day.

Create a plan

Write down the purpose of the project, the principles (why?) behind the project, and your vision of the outcome. Brainstorm ideas for strategies to achieve the outcome. For example, if one of your goals is to increase your client base by 20% over the next year, your strategy might include targeting a new industry and/or increasing your online marketing efforts.

List the steps required to pursue each strategy. These might include identifying industry needs, researching potential clients, or developing online content. Be as specific as possible.

Armed with all of this information, you can create an action plan. The action plan should identify specifically what you are going to do, who will be responsible for doing it, how will it be done, how you will follow up, when each item should be completed, who will supervise each action, and what mechanisms will be put in place to determine compliance.

Schedule time now

Intentions don’t create results – only actions do. But some of the most important actions never make it to your schedule because they don’t have built in deadlines or aren’t directly tied to client matters or revenue. Often these are the very actions needed to achieve your goals. To avoid this problem, once you’ve outlined the goals, strategies and action steps, take out your calendar and schedule time now to get moving on your plans.

Decide now when and how often you’re going to work on each of your goals and block the time on your calendar, keeping in mind the amount of time you’ve estimated to complete the goal. Schedule the individual action steps as appointments just as you would schedule client appointments.

Don’t leave another year to chance. Make a plan now to take action on your goals, but stay flexible. Regardless of how well you plan, obstacles may arise, the market may change or new opportunities may come to light. Keep your plan flexible by building in time to periodically review your goals and the progress of your action items and make any adjustments necessary.

(A version of this article appeared in the January 2014 issue of The Nassau Lawyer.)