I will present, what I believe, based upon my studies and my experience, are some of the more important basic management principles that lawyers should consider to survive in the new millennium. Some topics are covered in more detail than others because of time limitations or I have not yet developed my theories on those subjects.
I will present six major management areas, explain why those areas are important to lawyers and discuss some management theories specific to those areas. I will give some practical examples of the principles in action from my own law practice.
I believe the six important areas of management for lawyers are: Marketing, Process and Systems, Management of Information, Technology, Strategy and Attitude.
Marketing has been given a bad name by lawyers because lawyers have basically been snobs about something they did not have to do. In the past just being a lawyer brought in the business. This is not true any more.
Times have changed with increased competition. Now lawyers must market to survive let alone thrive. In the future it is going to be more important as competition heats up from not just other lawyers but especially from non lawyers – paralegals ( especially former lawyers), accountants, software programs, and the Internet.
Lawyers have many misconceptions about marketing.
The main misconception is that many lawyers actually believe marketing is a bad thing for the client. Advertising by lawyers until the late 70’s in Ontario and even the great free enterprise United States was actually banned until the land mark case of Bates et Al. v. State Bar of Arizona finally allowed lawyers to advertise in The U.S.. That attitude that marketing is bad must change. If done right marketing is a good thing for both the lawyer and the client.
A cause of that misconception is that lawyers believe marketing is simply advertising or perhaps some public speaking or joining local organizations – however marketing is much much more.
The basic principle taught in Marketing 101 is that there are 4 P’s to marketing – yes Promotion but also Product, Place and Price.
Lawyers like, any other business, can obtain more work by developing a better product Yet generally lawyers do little to try and improve their product and do little to differentiate their services from other lawyers.
There is a lot one can do even for a simple will file. Look at the differences when I do wills and powers of attorneys.
Always adding more – a Japanese management theory which name escapes me, is to have continual small improvements. When I started this paper I was working on being able to fill out my forms directly from my home page – as a client told me – people do not like to write anymore but are used to just typing. Now I have done that so it is easier for clients to fill out my forms on the computer and then even e mail to me before their appointment I am having positive feedback from that improvement.
Good ideas come from clients – therefore the survey contest – ask for suggestions and give them an incentive to give suggestions – my first award winner in the mid 90’s said ” Ever heard of the Internet- you should really get on it “. So I did having one of the first local lawyer web sites in 1995.
It is easy for lawyers to be creative to develop new improvements for their products – Tom Peters calls it “creative swiping ” in one of his classic books “Thriving on Chaos” ( Knopf)- just look to other industries that move a lot quicker – an advantage lawyers have is they are in a very slow “Time Clock” industry. A good book about being innovative is by the guru’s guru Peter F. Drucker , “Innovation and Entrepreneurship- Practice and Principles” ( Harper and Row).
Look to see what other lawyers in your own or better still other jurisdictions are doing – use the Internet to find out – go to American conferences – I have been going to American Bar Association conferences for over ten years – have been to San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, San Diego and Phoenix – besides being better cities than Toronto to visit, courses are cheaper and much better than Canadian Bar or Law Society ones.
Do not think there is little left to create – remember story of U.S. patent office official who wanted to close the office in 1890’s because there was nothing more to invent.
Can have the best mouse trap but if no one else knows about it then it is not going to sell.
Promotion an area where a small amount of money can obtain huge rewards or a lot of money can be wasted – you have heard of the Edsel and New Coke – many others you did not hear of because the product bombed – the title of a book says it all “Marketing Myths That Are Killing Business” (McGraw Hill) by Kevin Clancy and Robert Shulman.
There are many many promotion theories.
I will discuss a few general theories in the promotion aspect of marketing by leading authors:
(1) Al Ries and jack Trout have written a number of marketing books together or separately including “Positioning” (Warner Books) – “The New Positioning” ( McGraw Hill)- Jack Trout alone “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing – Violate them at Your Own Risk”( Harper Business) and “Focus” ( Harper Business) – Al Reiss alone.
The Positioning Theories – A marketer must take into account that there is a vast amount of information the mind is bombarded with like never before and it is growing – 4,000 books are published a day. At my home we get three morning newspapers – look at all the TV channels we get and all the magazines we get – not to mention the internet. However within 24 hours the mind forgets up to 80% of what it though it could learn – people are simple blocking out information to survive. It must be therefore taken into account according to the new positioning theory- that minds are limited, minds hate confusion, minds are insecure, minds don’t change, minds can lose focus.
I have learnt my lesson a couple of times when I tried to get too fancy with a radio ad and my print ad. The simple ads are better.
What does all that mean. You have to position yourself into the prospect’s mind. Which leads to one of my favourite marketing book – The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing – Violate them at Your Own Risk. The first law being the law of leadership – it is better being first that it is to be better. Who is the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic – who is the second – who is the first man on the moon – who is the second person.
Being first does not just apply to just big companies but to the small guys as well as do all these principles.
I was one of the first lawyers locally to have a home page on the Internet – mine went up in the fall of 1995. Because of that I was a runner up in Ottawa’s Monitor Magazine’s Best Home Page contest in March of 1996. So until the day I retire or die – which will probably be the same day – I will be able to call my Web site the Award Winning Web Site- in fact – that is how I sometimes describe it. A number of years ago I was one of the first to have a larger, more creative yellow page ad which when there were few of them resulted in major yellow page business – which has fallen off because other lawyers started doing them also. But what if you can’t be first – follow the 2nd law – create your own category to be first in like Amelia Erhart did for flying. She being the first famous woman aviator.
Positioning theories also suggest that the message is short, concise and eye catching to get that attention – but business cards as an ad just don’t do it in my opinion.
One other major principle that derives from positioning theories is that a one shot or limited ad campaign does not work – the mind does even see the ad the first time – it takes many times for the ad to be noticed – I see some lawyers run a few ads in a local paper and then say – it did not get me any business – that’s because one ad or a few never do – it has be sustained because the mind needs to see it a number of times. Don’t bother with the Citizen – much too expensive – go with community newspapers. Don’t bother with the Clarion – where I advertise either. I am always asked whether my Clarion ads work to which I always reply that they do not – I love throwing away my money.
(2) Another major marketing guru is Jay Levinson. He markets his books well by calling his theory “Guerilla Marketing ” (Houghton Mifflin) . He has written and co written a number of books with Guerilla in the title – I have 4 – Guerilla Advertising – The Guerilla Marketing Handbook – Guerilla Marketing Online – Guerilla Marketing With Technology – not sure or forget why called Guerilla – except it sounds good, is simple – connotes innovation and the little guy – which who Levinson is catering to while many other books seem to think the reader is president of General Motors.
Digress to make an important point – the nice thing about modern management is that the little guy has a major advantage over the big guys – unlike the past where being big gave one the resources to crush the little guys. Little guys can move quickly – do not need all the partners and their spouses to agree on a marketing campaign and with technology the little guy does not need the major equipment – no great economies of scale. Look even at law libraries now – technology makes you pay by the user. Little guy can get permission himself to get the new technologies sooner. Little guy should leverage that advantage and move quickly on changes.
The Guerilla books sell well because there is a lot of useful general information for the small firm – read any one – probably start with Guerilla Marketing – by the way I believe I have read some of the others because I found them and other business books in my local Nepean library which has an excellent business section. You do not have to buy them. But if can not find them in local stores – try www.Amazon.com which has everything.
My latest emphasis is on relationship marketing which is primarily, but not simply to do things to establish a life long relationship with clients. It is a natural for lawyers yet it is amazing how little we do of it. With the advent of technology however it is becoming much easier and cheaper. Relationship marketing also involves customizing the product for the client – again this is a natural for lawyers because this is what we do with our product but I think we can customize the marketing also so it does not look like mass marketing – the proponent of relationship marketing believe strongly that mass marketing in the third wave economy is dead . This is a theme in many books now – that market is fragmented and have to go after the individual with relationship marketing. It is also much more profitable to narrow your clients according to “The Profit Zone” by Slywotzjy and Morrison (Times Business)
Studies show it is cheaper to get business from an existing client as opposed to getting a new one. Simply go after old clients not just for their business but for their referrals. Remind clients in your last reporting letter to them that you would appreciate their referrals. Remind them what else you do – heard many stories where a lawyer has run into a client who used another lawyer for something the original could have done but the client says “I did not know you did that kind of law also”. Reward clients that send referrals not just with a thank you note and a Christmas card but with something tangible. At Christmas/ Chanukah time I send out maple syrup to anyone who sent me a client during the previous year.
I know of a local law firm who decided it did not want to hold on to the wills they had in their safe so they wrote all of the clients they had to ask them to pick up their will – the firm obtained a lot of business from these people wanting to update theirs wills when they got that notice – so send out a notice to see if your clients still want you to hold on to their will and mention new changes to the Powers of Attorney law as well as changes to the law concerning Wills.
I have had the feedback from clients that they expect a lawyer to follow up and keep in touch with them and are surprised when the lawyer did not do so. Therefore they went to another lawyer the next time they needed a lawyer.
What can you do? –
- Establish a web site so clients can check in on you and latest developments though that alone is not good enough. Must email clients with changes in the law and additions to your web site so they will be reminded to go there.
- bf wills every five years to check to see if need update, bf when the year is up of someone who did a separation agreement, advise clients of the child support guidelines
- send out newsletters – though suggest you can personalize it – do it by cheaper e mail
- have a good data base on your desk top so when they call you can remember them more easily – I use Microsoft Access so when I client calls they are impressed that I know how old the kids are
- ask for their referrals and reward them
- lawyers are sitting on gold mines of business with their old files and do not mine them
- a major theme of relationship marketing is that there are a lot of clients you do not want – do not go after everyone – even some of your previous clients that may not be worth it – however as a large amount of legal business does come from referrals from clients a client you may not now want they may still be able to refer you good business so can still keep in touch with them
I admit this is an area I have not studied enough – have based price too much on the market rate and hourly rate.
I have made it a practice of having my secretary call around to get quotes ever year to find out what other lawyers are charging for wills.
Only recently doing a little more value billing in that not just charging for time – but have not gone heavily into value billing because very hard to do so for Family Law as the amount of time spent varies so much between files depending on too many factors beyond my control.
Should determine price totally on value for tasks that can estimate easily the amount of time and resources it will take – therefore know your cost very well.
Question is how to determine value – value to the client – value the lawyer thinks it is worth – value the market has stated it is – can you find the market value – does the client know how to value the service – I am working on it.
There is a theory that your price should either be at the lowest end – to get the shoppers or the high end to maximize profit but not in between – because of the competition from non lawyers it is going to be very hard if not impossible to compete on price – don’t suggest you do try to be the lowest end.
Probably a lot can be done to use price as a marketing tool and to set the right price to maximize profits – send me your results
The types of practice determines the place of the law office – wills, family law and residential real estate should be in the suburbs – clients continually do not want to go downtown and pay for the parking – you may want to be downtown where the action is but your clients do not
The Marketing Mix
Cannot be all things to all people – cannot be the lowest price and provide the best service or be the innovative product leader. Focus on being the leader in one area – The Discipline of Market Leaders (Addison Wesley) by Michael Treacy & Fred Wiersema argues that being focused in one area is what makes an enterprise successful – those areas being either operationally excellent being the lowest price for the same quality or being the product leader having an innovative product or either thirdly being customer intimate having the best service.
If done properly marketing works. It is also a lot of fun. It makes practising more interesting. With the emphasis on product which is my personal mix it is also rewarding. You should be able to judge whether your marketing works . This means obtain good statistics. I have known for many years now where each client comes from. I cannot open a file without putting a code as to how the client chose me. In PC law I call that the referring lawyer so that the program breaks down my fees according to where I got the client. From that information I have made decisions as to what ads to keep and what ads not to renew.
Process & Systems
Systems apply just as much to services as they do for manufacturing for the same two reasons – to be efficient and to have quality control. For lawyers good systems will reduce negligence claims because of the quality control that comes with a good system. This is now more important than ever to lawyers because of the high deductibles and high premiums that come with even one claim.
Being efficient is much more important and will become more so as the legal service pricing will be based more on value than the billable hours because of the shift from a seller’s market of legal services to a buyer’s market.
How do you produce a good system?
The first step according to the author Michael Gerber of the “E Myth” ( Harper Business) is you sit down and write a manual so detailed that you could sell your systems as a franchise. You go into complete detail in a simple way. That way your system is “process driven” and not “people driven” – because anyone, even Rick Mount, could follow the instructions even if he is having a bad day. Companies like McDonalds are successful because that is their approach – do not have to be a franchiser to think like one.
How does one make a better system of doing things?
Start with a checklist or action plan of all the steps in the process starting with even the initial telephone conversation and ending with the reporting letter and perhaps a follow up. For each step develop notes, checklists, precedent letters, precedent documents. Decide who is responsible for each step – lawyer, secretary or even the client.
I am sure all of you have done this to some degree but probably not to the point where it could be sold as a franchise. My experience is that when dealing with some younger lawyers they seem to reinvent the wheel every time they do a separation agreement.
To improve the system there are number of principles that can be applied.
The first is to review the steps to see if they all are really needed – re engineering. May find that a step is no longer needed or can be combined with another step or it can be delegated.
Delegation is the a good way to be more efficient – including delegating to the client – this is what banks are doing by making us use ATM’s. I also do a lot of delegating to clients.
I get my will and matrimonial clients to fill out the information form that I need to process the file before they come to see me – in my guides or from my web site. That saves a lot of my time. Also ensures I get the names spelled right.
I delegate to clients part of advising problem by sending them before and during short articles about the law in general. Again saves time and therefore their money and ensures quality control. Can get much more on paper than can say in an interview.
Another form of delegation is “outsourcing” simply get another organization to do the work. Your staff does not need to do the registering or the filing or perhaps other steps.
A major element that many companies are using to differentiate their service and use as a marketing tool is the element of time. Doing things faster or instantaneously . It is commonly known now as “Real Time” which is the title of a book by well known Regis McKenna ( Harvard Business School Press). We live in the instant gratification age. Except from governments consumers expect things yesterday. Your system should try and find ways to speed up the process. Technology and delegation are ways but there is a simple other method that I have been using consistently only in the last few years that really speeds things up. At the end of a consultation or even a phone call an action is planned such as a letter to the other side or spouse. I now simply dictate the letter with the client listening to what I am saying. That way I do not put aside the task which will cause delay. I will remember exactly what to do, and the client will not have to review the letter ( which many want to do in family law). When voice recognition works better I will be able to hand the client a copy of the draft letter on the spot. When I have a will client I make their signing appointment to sign two weeks from the day of the interview promising them a draft within a week and then dictate the will when they leave the office. I am filling out the many “Briefs” in the new Family Law system now with the client at their appointment with the client helping watching their monitor.
Unfortunately we do not have time to work 24 hours a day on our law practice – let alone much time on the research and development side so when deciding to overhaul your systems you have to be careful what systems you overhaul – a point of “The Process Edge” by Peter G. W. Keen (Harvard Business School Press) is to get “the right process right”. Many firms re engineered a system to get 13 steps down to 3 but went bankrupt because that process was not important to the bottom line – so watch what you change.
Also in deciding in priority what to work on first remember the chain theory. The chain is a strong as it’s weakest link so work first on the weakest link.
Deciding priorities – Early in my career I learnt that it is important to think like a client and not a lawyer – something I believe lawyers do not do or do enough of – in the late 70’s or early 80’s my small firm bought one of the first word processors from Xerox – it had the feature of right hand margins and proportional printing – the “i”‘s took up less space than the “h”‘s. A document just looked so much better and more professional – my firm was very impressed – spent a lot of money on the machine and the training of the one secretary that would use it because it was not that easy to use. The first time I had a separation agreement prepared with it I was so impressed I excitedly phoned up my client to say that her agreement just came back from the special new machine and did it look great – right hand margins, proportionably spaced – dead silence from the client who I expected to be impressed – her response – “I do not care what it looks like – what does it say ?”
I now and then sit in the client’s chair in my own office to see what the client sees.
Instead of a fancy brochure that cost a fortune, is outdated in a short period of time and says nothing other than where a person went to school and what areas he or she practices in I give photocopy, a 2 page resume – that tells the client much much more about me – how old I am, where I am from, the fact I am married with two boys, what articles I have written and where I have spoken. Clients in their surveys tell me they do not care about the fact that my information is not in a fancy brochure. And as a client once said ” You know all about my personal life, I should know something about you”. And if you do not tell them how old you are what client does not somehow look at your diplomas on the wall to see when you graduated – I know I do when I go to a doctor’s office. So in developing your processes think like a client not a lawyer.
Lawyers are primarily in the information business and we live in the information age therefore it is important if not critical that lawyers manage the abundance of information that is produced – not just legal information but management information.
I am not going to talk about the important subject of legal information – believe others are speaking on that but again to emphasize that with the competition these days a lawyer who does not keep up with legal information is not going to survive.
Where to get the management information. Do not count on the Law Society of Upper Canada or the Canadian Bar Association. Unfortunately the Law Society treats Law Office Management as a minor and unimportant subject. It is not taught at the Bar Admission Course or much at continuing education programs . Only recently because of the high costs of errors and omissions insurance is the Law Society taking an interest. Its approach is more from the insurance angle rather than a client oriented or lawyer oriented approach.
The answer is simple – read books and magazines you get at your local library, the bookstore, amazon.com. ( though cheaper and faster to buy it at chapters.ca once you find it on amazon). Join the American Bar Association – very cheap and get their magazines which I believe could be a lot better but better than nothing.
There are two issues about all these business books. One, are the principles just simple common sense and obvious and the second issue, can these books just not be simplified into a few pages or even sentences.
In my humble opinion the answer to both questions are “yes, but”. To answer them we have to go to a book about these business books John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge’s “The Witch Doctors – Making Sense of the Management Gurus” (Times Business). After quoting a business book publisher who said “Isn’t it incredible that this stuff sells” the authors point out that “Some of the things that strike us nowadays as blindingly obvious were anything but obvious when farsighted management theorists talked about them”.
I am sure many of you are saying to yourself that most of what Pascoe has had to say to day was obvious. Like of course you try and differentiate and improve your product but how many of you thought of that before, or are doing something about it. Do not discount these theories so fast just because they are obvious. And do not discount them just because they are simple and easily understandable. Peter F. Drucker is critical of managers who believe a theory has to complicated to be good.
I agree with the authors that to extract the few nuggets of gold in these books you have to do a lot of mining – too much – which is why I more than often never finish these books or even get very far once I believe I have got either the main point or no point out of them. It is also why I subscribe to Executive Book Summaries which for about $100 a year Canadian each month sends me two or three 8 page summaries of business books and 4 or 5 one page summaries of books.
Some books are obviously better than others at getting right to the point. That is why I like the Positioning and 22 Laws of Marketing books as they get right to the point. The other book I did not mention that I like and recommend is Harry Beckwith’s “Selling the Invisible” (Warner Books).
It is filled with short snappy ideas for marketing in the service sector. He has a new book out now which looks good but I have too much reading to do.
Technology is important because it is a major tool that is needed to market better ( data bases), to have better systems ( precedents) to manage information better ( getting the info and storing it). Technology is being forced upon lawyers whether they like it or not. We will have to file court and real estate electronically eventually so learn now.
You do not have to be a mechanic to drive a car and you do not have to be a computer nerd to use technology. I know very little about computers. My secretary makes changes to my web page. I do not know how. I have a data base but I can not program it but my secretary can. I cannot even create a macro in Word. Sherlock Holmes had a theory that the mind is like an attic that can only hold so much so watch how much you try and put in it. That is why, as smart as he was, there were many subjects Sherlock Holmes knew nothing about and cared to know nothing about. It is easy to be overwhelmed by technology – just hire a consultant and let the consultant advise you and fix your problems.
Don’t be so cheap and try and do a lot of the technology yourself – hire people – especially less expensive students or part timers if thinking about doing a web site – that is what I have done three times and have saved a lot of money.
In todays buyer’s market for legal services lawyers are going to have a strategic plan. If they do not they are simply going to disappear or they will make marginal incomes. Many companies including many large ones even once Fortune 500 companies have disappeared because they did not adapt to the changing market.
So how do you develop a strategy ? You simply study by reading and attending courses about management theories and then based upon your own strengths, weaknesses and preferences develop a plan of action. Though you should experiment a little you should learn by others mistakes and theories.
Think about some of the strategies I have talked about today.
The Discipline of Market Leaders preaches that you can not be all things to all people and therefore must focus on one of three areas – product leader, operational leader ( lowest price) or service leader. I personally have chosen the product element with the product being better service which results in doing two out of three areas which I believe is workable.
That brings me to a very important principle that runs through many of the management areas and that is “focus”. Talk about a book with one simple theory “Focus” by Al Reis is certainly that. But it is an important principle. The book is full of examples. My favourite being the comparison between Coke and Pepsi. Coke has been over time a much more successful company for its investors than Pepsi simply because Coke has stuck basically to selling Coke whereas Pepsi got into the restaurant and other businesses and therefore lost it focus on it main product. In the 80’s Coke decided to diversify and bought Columbia Pictures – lost 80 million dollars on it – got rid of it and is back doing well just selling Coke. For lawyers that means to specialize somewhat in one or a few related areas of practice. Clients generally want specialist for lawyers like they want a specialist for a doctor.
But focus also applies to other applications such as time management. Set aside time when not taking calls so can focus on a file. Limit your interruptions. Do one thing at a time.
Another strategy or technique that runs through all areas of management is “Innovation”. The title of one of my favourite business book says it all “Get Innovative or Get Dead”. It is written by a Canadian Matthew J. Kiernan( Douglas &McIntyre). It outlines 11 commandments for businesses. – The need to be innovative runs through every business book from Tom Peters to Peter F.Ducker so there must be something to it.
“Competing for the Future” by Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad ( Harvard Business School Press) was I believe the number one management book when it was published a few years ago. The book’s theory is that to be successful a company has to create the future not just for its own firm but for its industry. That is similar to one of the 22 laws of marketing. It does not sound easy to do. But then perhaps not that hard for lawyers to do considering we as a profession have not introduced too many new products in the last few hundred years and have not done things too much differently in those hundreds of years either – but we are going to have to.
One of the commandments in the “Get Innovative or get Dead ” book is “create a bias for speed and action” which was one of the eight principles found in the book that really started the business book revolution “In Search of Excellence” by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman back in 1982. If you have not read or heard of that book it is like saying you are a physicist and never read anything by Einstein. According to “In Search of Excellence” most companies say “Ready, Aim, Fire” whereas it should often be “Ready, Fire, Aim”. Of course for lawyers it is ” Ready, Ready, Aim, Contemplate, Get another opinion, call a meeting, get a release ( not sure from who), forget it I don’t have time, it’ll never work”.
One strategy which I believe can not be won is protectionism. We are in a deregulated world. It will not fly that the public needs to be protected from those terrible paralegals and real estate closing centers. It does not matter if it is true those non lawyer services are sub standard – it is not going to sell. The public will not stand for it.
How does one develop a strategy. It is a managed process according to the books like the approach in the book “Strategic Planning for New and Emerging Business – A Consulting Approach” published by Dearborn. That book’s model has three phases the Premise Phase, the Analysis Phase and the Strategy Development Phase which is broken down into Vision and Mission Statements for the Premise phase, Environmental Analysis – General, Environmental Analysis -Industry, Firm’s Strengths and Weaknesses, Distinctive Competencies and Competitive Weakness for the Analysis Phase and for the Strategy Development Phase the steps are Growth Strategies, Goal Setting, Unit Strategies and Tactics and finally Writing the Plan.
It is a jungle out there.
A lawyer, especially in a small firm or by him or herself is expected to be the Chief Executive Officer, the Comptroller, the Director of Marketing, the Head of the Personnel Department, the Vice President in charge of Research and Development and the factory worker who produces the product.
For anyone to survive in today’s stressful complex world they have to have the right attitudes. My basic stress books (and I have almost as many books on stress management as I do business management) taught me that the basics to stress management are to (1) be physically in shape to handle the stress (2) simply remove your self from the stress and (3) have the right attitude to handle the stress.
I have the following coping attitudes:
Clients: I practice primarily family law so it is even more important to have the right attitude about your clients since when going through a domestic dispute the clients sometimes are not the easiest to deal with. First rule is that a family law client is often justifiably temporarily insane because, of the emotional experience of separating from their spouse, no longer seeing their children on a daily basis, too often seeing their children in turmoil and often facing a major financial change in lifestyle. I do not think any of us would be completely rational under those circumstances yet we expect our clients to be so. So indulge them a little, humour them, be empathetic and not so hard on them.
The law says your entitled to half the towels and so if a client wants half the towels, ask for half the towels. Point out it may not be worth fighting over the towels but deal respectfully about it.
I enjoy my clients especially the many I personally think are nice people. We are not good friends but we have a bond. I am helping them through probably the worst thing that can happen to them in a life time – even dying can be less painful than a separation. They of course don’t appreciate that when they see my bill even though they’ll pay a real estate agent $9,000 to simply sell a $150,000 house.
Other lawyers: Again there is a bond among lawyers though many times I would like to break that bond. There is one lawyer in town my friends know that if I die of a heart attack they are supposed to phone him up and blame him for it. With him now and a few others I simply will not take the case if I am in a position to do so. Actually it is the same with clients – do not take cases for clients you just do not like. Also do not take cases with clients who you know are going to difficult payers or who are asking relief that is unreasonable – let them hire some of the hired guns in town.
Judges: Judges are like school teachers when you were younger. It takes awhile to realize they are human. As I married a Judge’s daughter, I found out earlier on in my career that they are human ( I never found that out about teachers for at least 10 years after I finished school and had them as clients). If a Judge takes his or her job seriously it is a very time consuming and difficult job. In my opinion some Judges now come with an agenda which they can get away with because the discretion they are entitled to exercise. It is often not fair but you have to live with it because you have no control over it.
The System: Would you believe that after 23 years in practice I still believe that justice usually prevails if it is fought out to the end. There are problems with the system but it is still good and generally getting better.
Exercise – run off the stress
Positive Mental Attitude – a lot of books on the benefits of a positive mental attitude because it is true
Our laws are changing, we have Judge’s with agendas, we have competition from within and from without, we have a hostile press and a public that puts us somewhere between used car salesmen and tv repairman on their “trust” list. We are seeing business in areas of practice such as real estate and insurance work diminish. But lawyers should stop their whining. We have the major thing that others do not and that is a lot of control, we are our own boss. We can not be fired. If we need more business we just have to market more. If we loose a case we still theoretically get paid. If we handled the client and the file right the client will be satisfied with us win or loose. Lawyering is interesting and has variety. We , at least family lawyers, though not looking for the cure to cancer do something very worthwhile. So stop complaining unless you are terminally ill.
To really enjoy the practice of law and to do a better job lawyers are going to have to embrace management principles such as those set out in today’s talk. The old cliche that “Law is a Profession and not a Business” never made any sense to me. If a professional is to do the best job for their client then he or she is going to have to apply business principles to ensure quality legal services.
However as the saying goes “talk is cheap”. As per a recent article in “Fast Company” a common problem in business today is that businesses have a lot of great ideas and especially in the new economy which puts a lot of emphasis on knowledge but you have to put those ideas into action.
So by the end of the month your assignment is to make one new innovative improvement to your services. Email me what you did.