Brick and Mortar Lawyer

The window is open a mere 4 inches, but the wind and cold it lets in is more than enough to make you take notice that you're in London during wintertime.  The room is above a pub.  The pub is in a trendy section of Marleybone.  Outside the window, a mere 2 feet high by 2 across, people walk amongst cobblestone streets, giving off the same noises of traffic as they have for centuries in this City.

I'm not in the habit of thinking about architecture and zoning, but London makes me think of architecture and zoning and I can't stop.  The houses and the buildings are 3-4 stories tall, which is drastically different from houses and buildings that are 8-9 stories tall, or even 6-7 stories tall. Buildings and homes that are 3-4 stories tall is the perfect height for a City like this one. Anything below that height is flimsy.  Anything above that height is imposing.  3-4 stories assures that you are not engulfed by steel and glass but rather securely surrounded by brick.  Brick makes me feel good.  Brick is a material that is not in any way supposed to make you think something is bigger than it is, like glass or exposed beams.  Brick doesn't transform itself or act like something is not. Brick is confident in itself, knowing it could withstanding anything. I imagine brick buildings proud of themselves.  Not comparing themselves to other, bigger brick buildings, but instead, understanding the simple job is to keep out the cold and to ensure the foundation stands, no matter what.  

Invariably, whenever I am in London and I look at the brick buildings, all essentially the same size and height, I look up and think of all of the bombs the Germans dropped on those buildings. The blitz and the stiff upper lip and the tunnels the people had to live in for months on end, while the brick buildings did their very best (it's in their nature) to absorb the bombs and to show resilience by their not collapsing and to give the people confidence that they too were brick and would survive this.  I did not expect to enjoy London as much as I did when I first visited London as that cliche American who visits their older, more mature cousin.  But each visit to London makes me want to visit London again and walk among the brick buildings and wide open parks at night. And the more I do, the more I become fascinated with the simple, effective way you can build a brick building and it can last two hundred years and look the same as it did when the bricklayer finished the job. 

On the plane ride home, I think of brick buildings and why we moved away from them.  I think of the parallels between the way we build with the way we learn, and what we value.  Lawyers, for instance, now invariably pretend to be modern glass buildings. We join forces with other lawyers to make sure we appear a certain way, attracting others to visit us and compliment us and how big we are. We use verbal cues and sleight of hand to promise protection and we believe that glass and steel are the future and anyone who doesn't is old fashioned and doesn't understand how buildings work or what their job is.  We increase the number of floors, unsatisfied until we press against clouds.  Bigger is better.  On our indeterminate climb, somewhere along the way, we forget to ask "what's it for?" Is this what the client needs?  To keep building?  Are we better protecting them, or are we simply growing and building to grow and build?  In the midst of this, brick still stands and it still protects and it doesn't crowd you and it let's sunshine in and you don't feel intimated when you walk amongst it.  Small, sturdy brick buildings do their job and nothing more. They do not promise things that they cannot deliver and they do not care about their height or being the strongest brick building. They know, implicitly, that they are strong, and so they need not communicate it because you will know it without them saying a word.  

Our profession would do itself many favors if we simply focused on being brick buildings, rather than expending all of our energies to convince ourselves and the world how tall and tough and resilient we are, when in fact we're the farthest thing from brick around.

5 Stars

Black Mirror is a great and terrifying show. I can't get over one of the episodes and I can't get over how I think this links to the fraudulent online review system that many solo/small firm practices are based off of.  

In Nosedive, the protagonist lives in a world where you are rated by everyone you come into contact with.  Think of someone rating you as an Uber driver, but for literally everything you do. You buy coffee and if they rate you a 4 or a 5, you did well.  An incentive to be nice.  Spill coffee on someone and you get rated a 1 or 2.    The story gets infinitely weirder, but the moral is the same: we're becoming caricatures of our real selves, obsessed with how we're rated by others online.  

Avvo, Google and Yelp allow clients to review lawyers based on the work that lawyer performed (putting aside Avvo's patented "I saw you once at a Bar thing and can you review me well even though you don't know me in the least?" system).  The overwhelming number of law firms listed have a solid five rating.  If you know anything about the law of averages or regression to the mean you know that there's absolutely no way that all of the law firms listed can be excellent and stay excellent over the course of years. How does a law firm receive dozens of five star reviews? Not 4 out of 5 (which means really good). But 5 out of 5.  Par excellence. Nothing better.  It's like constantly eating food cooked by Eric Ripert.  Are they making you have mental orgasms? It's impossible.  

So, if it's not possible, that means someone is rigging the system (apologies for using that term at such a delicate time).  Either the reviews are fake, or perhaps incentivized (there is one lawyer on Yelp who had to publicly apologize to a client for offering a $100 discount for leaving a review) or the sample size the lawyers use is tainted.  Lawyers may send review links to clients that outwardly show that they appreciate the job that lawyers performed, rather than all of their clients, which would instead give a significantly more honest look at what clients think of the firm. (For instance, one Bankruptcy attorney was somehow able to procure over 100 Google reviews-all 5 star-in a year.  The issue was that they had only filed a few cases.  How does that work?)

The bigger question is: so what, who cares? 

As a self regulating profession, we are obsessed with "protecting the public against deceptive advertising for lawyers."  It's as if lawyers are wizards and can glamour a client just by whispering the words "free consultation" into their ear.  And while we argue the merits of lawyers discounting their services on Groupon, there, right in front of us, are hundreds and hundreds of law firms using what could possibly be deceptive (see: fake) reviews to convince potential clients to hire them. And yet, we do nothing.  

A simple solution: If you allow lawyers to use review services, you must enforce that they send the review link to each one of their clients at the conclusion of their case (I would propose a once a month courtesy review deferral, in the case of the "crazy" client). Put that on the statement of Client Rights and Responsibilities.  Make the lawyer attest to it once they send in their CLE requirement affirmation. Make sure that is emailed to each client after they retain (in the case of lawyers who review their services). Make them self report how many clients they sent a link to. We can figure out a way to implement this.  Draconian? Maybe, but I don't think so.

If we are obsessed with protecting clients, then we should protect them against the most obvious risks of deception out there. It's not the "We settled a case for $50,000,000.00" advertisement that's going to bring in most clients.  It's the 203490 5 star reviews on Yelp, when your competitor has...11....that will bring in the client.  Clearly, the latter is more deceptive than the former.

A final note: I've implemented a new review system for our clients, instead of asking them to go to Yelp.  Clients are sent an email at the conclusion of our representation and asked to review us, and it's automatically posted online. We don't scrub it. We don't contest it.  We do this for two reasons:  1. Potential clients should have an actual real glimpse of what others have to say about us.  2. Authenticity will make a come back.  A 4.5 is more honest than a 5.  A 3.9 is more honest than a 4.  I think people crave (because I crave it) authentic reviews of how someone performs or how something works, rather than glowing endorsements.  We can't tell what's real anymore. We've diluted 5 stars to such a degree that we think good is 5 stars.  It's not.  Hopefully we can see that more clearly now.

What's it worth?

An interesting thing happens when a client asks me how much I charge for my work.  I physically tighten up.  My voice falls a few octaves.  I begin speaking faster.  I am defending myself and my worth.  Inevitably the client will bring up what other attorneys charge as if to infer "why do you charge more?" without actually saying it.  

Recently, I've reframed that question.  When a client asks "How much do you charge?" I take a breadth and say "The question is: What's it worth?"  What is it worth to you to make sure your real estate transaction worth $1,000,000.00 is handled by an attorney and not a paralegal?  What is worth to you to ensure that your Bankruptcy goes smoothly, since we don't do volume?  I make the client think about what they're worth.  Are they worth just as little as what the other firms may charge?  Maybe.  But maybe they're worth more, because, like anyone else, they feel that they're special.  Their circumstances demand knowledge and attention.

One interesting aspect of this is some clients will still say "OK, but I still don't see a reason I should pay $1000 more."  That's OK.  That's their worldview, and you'll never change it.  In fact, you'd butt heads if you tried.  They'll never think that (insert profession) should charge (insert price) because (insert worldview/experience/anecdotal evidence) etc.  You've done both you and your potential client a favor by moving on.  Like Madonna and an accountant from Tulsa, you're not meant from each other. It's good that you realized that instead of trying to make it fit.  You're both better for it. 

How many journal entries does it take to realize you’re a coward?

How many journal entries does it take to realize you’re a coward?  How many journal entries does it take to realize that you don’t want to actually do the work?  Instead, talk about doing the work.  Endlessly talk.  Because the journaling feels like “the thing” as opposed to doing the real “thing.”  

After moving my offices back to downtown NYC (ask me anything, but do not ask me to commute), I came upon about 5 books full of semi regular scribbles.  Nonsensical babble about “different ways” to increase my business.  Gems such as “newsletter” and “reach out to clients” after the case is over.  My favorite-“ask them about Wills.” As if asking them to entrust you with planning their estate is akin to bumming a stick of gum.  What do you call it when you write about the same things ad nauseum but you don’t actually know you’re writing about it ad nauseum?  Imagine a movie critic, sadly stricken with Dementia, writing the same review of Top Gun, over and over again, not knowing that, yes, he’s already mentioned how wonderful Tom’s hair was in that motorcycle scene.

Do you know what’s better than constantly writing about setting up a monthly event for clients? Setting up a monthly event for clients.  You begin by calling a venue.  Perhaps a local watering hole, or a place where people sit to enjoy food.  You follow this by saying “yes, I will pay for this space on October 12th.”  You then follow this seemingly courageous step by sending out an email to clients that says “I would like to buy you drinks and thank you.”  And, finally, for the piece de resistance, you show up to the local watering hole or place where they serve food on October 12th, and you ply your clients with drinks or food or adoration or kisses or whatever. You do not...YOU DO NOT...write about doing this for 4 years in cafes only to have a eureka moment in Year 5 and say “You know what I should do? I should put on a monthly events for clients!?”  

In my little, ostentatious, expensive journal, I’ve described the following prescriptions for increases business and client engagement, in great detail:

  1. Throwing a holiday party

  2. Sending out a monthly newsletter

  3. Hiring more people

  4. Opening another office

  5. Learnings Trusts and Estates law

  6. Partnering with a litigator

  7. Co-ordinating a monthly dinners for brokers

  8. Networking 4 nights a week

  9. Learning how to play golf (and thank you for telling me you play golf and everyone that you play golf because definitely the Crossfit people are more annoying than you.)

  10. Putting together seminars on buying your first home.

  11. Giving presentations at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce

  12. Sponsoring a Little League Team (this was always a little creepy to me, as I do not have children yet.)

  13. Blogging three times a week

  14. Doing a Podcast

  15. Interviewing non lawyers on my podcast.

  16. Hand written thank you cards for each client.

  17. Gifts for each client at the closing.

  18. A “how are you” email, 6 months after the closing.

Do you know how many of the above I’ve put into practice.  One.  I do a monthly newsletter (which I love.)  For 10 years I have been “journaling” and talking and, in crunch times, saying I would bring 1-18 to life and nothing.  Zip.  Zero.  Complacency and the fear of failure creep in. Business is good.  Growing every year.  But when did the equation become Business Good= Not doing anything at all. My business is growing in spite of 1-18.

The truth is, like many of you (or not), I fear failure.   What if no one shows up at my monthly party?  What if the presentation of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce ends in tomatoes thrown (at me)?  What if I have nothing to blog about and receive emails that say “What the hell is this?”    

Why does any of this matter to you?  Because maybe you feel the same way.  Maybe you want to take these very, very productive, ambitious business generation tools and implement them and see what happens but you just poop your pants at the thought of it and oh hey, here’s my journal!  Push through.  Do it anyway.  You’re going to fuck up.  People won’t show.  People will complain.  People will say your speech/talk/dinner could have used this and some of that and a little of this and oh by the way.  Who cares?  Do it anyway. There is no secret sauce to this.  No silver bullet.  Your website and your SEO and your fliers and your “leave me a review” emails.  How is that working out for you?  Me too.  So just do this.  Do one. Take one example and break it down into small steps and then act on each one.  Act like someone has a gun to your kid and says “If you don’t do this, I’m going to shoot your kid (this works if you’re not Liam Neeson). Take chances.  Get out there.  Feel massively uncomfortable, but do it anyway.

I hid behind some pen and pad bullshit for years and I didn’t even know I was hiding behind it. I’m not going to “journal” for a long, long time.  It’s a crutch.  An excuse. A way to check a box on a checklist that shouldn’t be there in the first place.  But I am going to take chances and have fun and hope it leads to increased business and if it doesn’t, who cares?  At least I did something.  It’s more than I can say about what I’ve done for the past decade.  






 

Antifragility and the business of law

Yesterday, I spent 3+ hours at a real estate closing.  The first hour was spent signing approximately 300 documents to transfer the interest in the house from one person to another.

The next hour was spent copying and collating those papers, and waiting for the bank to approve the physical check that was to be delivered from the Purchaser's bank to the Seller.

The final hour was spent waiting for additional documents to come from the lender, via fax (via FUCKING FAX) because an "i" in the name was missing from their original docs, and so we had to resign those documents.

I have a law degree that I went into debt to the tune of $150,000 for and I'm waiting for a copy machine to finish copying and a fax to fax.  In 10 years, there is no way my job, as a real estate transactional attorney possibly exists.

What's more-the price pressures will continue to increase.  The role will continue to be commoditized and the fees will continue to fall.  

If you swim against a rip tide, you will likely wear yourself out and drown. If you swim parallel to it, you will live.  (I learned this in surf camp, when, I kid you not, on the first day, in the first hour I was there I nearly drowned).

In Antifragile, I book that I truly love, the author discusses the difference between Fragile, Robust, and Antifragile (The Triad).  Fragile things that are exposed to volatility will be harmed.  They'll fall apart.  There is more loss than gain.  When something is Antifragile, it will actually benefit from the volatile event. The best way to make something antifragile is to decrease downside rather than increase upside. 

What this means, to me, is if you are in a legal market that continues to be commoditized, increasing prices is not decreasing the risk that you'll have a cataclysmic event in the near future. In fact, it may inversely make you more reliant on this stream of income to survive.   It's better to have another area of law you practice, or to get out of it altogether.  

Wills, Estates, Real Estate, Bankruptcy (I have not been able to raise prices in 5 years and they've actually decreased), incorporating businesses, etc., may continue to suffer the effects of continued commoditization and low priced competition.  This leaves you exposed if you practice in these.

I have maybe 2-3 years left in Real Estate and then I have to switch to something else or get out of law altogether.  I know that I don't know anything about what will happen tomorrow, but I also see that I need options significantly more than I did even 5 years ago.

 

Large Law Firms shouldn't care about Wellness and that's OK

In a June article titled Why $180k Is The Wrong Way To Motivate Associates And Attract Top Talent, Jeena Cho discusses why compensation alone is the wrong way for large law firms to attract and retain talent.  Jeena believes that millennials are looking for other things besides money, including satisfaction surrounding the work that they do, and wellness programs to help them manage the stress that's associated with the job.  I believe that not only is this inaccurate, but that this line of thinking has to be put to bed, once and for all.

If your worldview is that the work you do should have a meaningful purpose to you, or to society as a whole, you have more than likely ruled out working for a large law firm in the first place.  One of the main problems we face when we describe what an entire industry "should do" is that we put ourselves in the drivers seat when we tell them what to do.  But they are not "us."  For instance, I don't think salary is everything when it comes to life.  That's probably why I don't work at a large law firm.  It's why I make less than I would if I didn't stop networking every night.  But that doesn't mean that high salaries don't work to attract and retain talent.  In fact, we know they do.  How?  Because there are dozens, if not hundreds of law students applying for each open associate position at a large law firm.  I have yet to read an article insinuating that Cravath is having a tough time filling seats.

You could argue that the student/associate doesn't know what they're in for, but that's a specious argument at best.  Summer associates sometimes engage in talking to one another.  It's nice.  They tell each other how absolutely miserable the job is (many also love the job, by the way). They're not naive..  They're not saving the manatees.  They're aware of that. They've come to terms with that.  Prostitutes typically don't complain that their client didn't vacuum the room and fix the flat screen after he/she left.  It's a transaction.  I give you $200,000 when you know less than nothing about law.  You bill out 2000+ hours a year.  If you stick around long enough, you will earn much more than $200,000 and you can bill even more for the firm. 

The other issue with telling an entire industry what they "should" do, even though there's no indication they need to it, is that your cognitive bias kicks in.  Google is doing something with wellness.  So is another tech company.  Frankly, everyone is doing something with wellness now, and using "data" to show...something good. I don't know what, but it's good.  Because you think mindfulness is beneficial, and you've seen that companies that incorporate mindfulness has somehow "improved", that doesn't mean that works everywhere, but you probably think it should.

At some point, it's imperative we realize that indentured servitude is a thing of the past.  100% of millennials surveyed confirmed that they have free will and can chose not to accept offers, or leave law firms anytime they want.  If there comes a day where a newly minted grad of a top law school doesn't care about a $200,000 salary, and cares more about wellness, then the market will respond.  The market has not. It likely never will.  Setting up meditation times while asking your associates to bill 2000 hours or more a year isn't exactly changing your corporate culture. It's forcing your Uber driver to drive to California from New York, on no sleep, but making sure he plays a white noise machine on the way.  It's paying lip service so that the associate can get back to work and bill at $500/hr to make the Firm money, so the partners can take home millions.  This isn't difficult.  The system isn't broken.  It works quite fine.

Books

I've always enjoyed reading, but often never found the "time" to read.  About 2 years ago, I made the time.  Prioritizing this above other things. Again, time is your most valuable commodity. Unless you're playing offense with your time, you're going to play defense.  And playing defense with your time is no fun.

My system for finding books to read is simple.  I google people I admire + books they recommend, and then I read those.  Then I look at who those people admire and then I google + books they recommend and I read those.  

I don't have to tell you the benefits of reading but allow me to tell you the benefits of reading.  I watch less TV.  I drink less.  I go to sleep at an earlier hour and feel more refreshed in the morning. I catch things in every day life that I wouldn't have.  I argue less, and if I do argue, I don't take things as personally.  Those are the actual, physical changes from dedicating time to read. Mentally, I learn an enormous amount about how wrong most people are about almost everything. In the past 8 months, I've learned about cognitive bias, dissonance, anchoring, mental models, how the world was formed, what topography has to do with how civilization grew, Churchill's private war with debt, forgotten religions, making a chicken under a brick, the Simple Theory of Relativity (kind of, not really), anti-fragility, how close we came to losing the war in the Pacific. The list goes on.  

These books have made me more curious about the world, and, as a result, have made me a better lawyer.  Why do clients think the way they do?  Why do they hire someone else instead of me? Why doe they blame me even if I meet their expectations? Why are some clients hands off? What's the best way to reach out to them?  What's the best way to frame a situation?  Why am I concerned about "never enough"?  This is just a sliver.  I know of no greater way to grow as a person, and therefore, as a lawyer.

It can seem daunting. Professional life, family life, etc.  Tough to put time aside.  Setting up Mini Habits worked for me.  Tell yourself you'll read 5 pages a day. That's easy.  10 minutes max.  You'll almost certainly read more, but you won't feel bad even if you hit just 5 a day.  5 pages x 365 days= 1825 pages.  That's about 5-8 books. A year.  Not bad at all.  That's if you only read 5 pages a day, and trust me you'll read more.

Below, please find three books I enjoyed most so far this year.

  1.  Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific  

  2. Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder  

  3. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

 

 

Happy reading.

10 years

In the past 6 months, I have come close to partnering with three different firms who I have approached or have approached me.  Offered equity in one.   Turned them down. Offered "partnership" in two others.  Nothing came of it.  The market will push me to do follow this path more and more in the coming years. 

I moved from my office to an office in Midtown, only to discover I hated commuting and moved right back downtown in a period of 2 weeks.  The thought process behind that was to be physically closer to other attorneys, which would lead to more referrals.  Except I don't like being close to other attorneys.  

The age of the internet has made moving back and forth within 2 weeks seamless and relatively stress free. Think about that when you sign that massive office lease for 10 years.

I fired an associate and a paralegal and hired a new, better paralegal.  The first time I fired someone I almost vomited.  It is no longer difficult. It's not fun, and it's painful, but it's no longer difficult.

My numbers are great for the year, but I'm always going to be stressed that they're going to fall again any day now, which will send me into a panic, forcing me to "network" all day and night (yielding crumbs more than streams).  This will continue until I stop practicing and likely after. You should get used to it. 

I'm coming up on my tenth anniversary in practice and I know significantly more from a business perspective than I did before, and I still know close to nothing.  

The only things I've gleamed so far are the following:

1.  Do great work as often as you can without making excuses for why it's not great.  This will be the only thing that drives work your way in the long term. You will not always do great work but you should always try to do great work and call yourself out when you don't. Your website could be pretty as shit and your SEO guy could be Larry fucking Paige himself and it won't matter in the long term. Do. Great. Work. 

2. Have 2-3 mentors at the ready.  Generously ply these people with alcohol, food, gifts, etc., because the value they give is enormous. Stop asking where to find a mentor. You can tweet at Joe Biden.  The gatekeepers are gone.  Find a mentor. 

3. As hard as it is, open your mind to other opinions that are not like your own.  Put your bias aside for a minute and listen.  Really listen.  You will grow as a result.

4. The stress will never stop.  The imposter syndrome will never stop.  The "am I prepared" will never stop.  Continue.  Press on.  

5.  Someone's life, money, business, freedom, etc., is in your hands.  No matter how much they anger you.  No matter how mean or uncompromising they are.  You accepted this responsibility, and it is a great one. Act accordingly.

6. You'll know bad clients by having bad clients.  Then you'll know the bad clients ahead of time.  If you still retain them (cause that's what you're doing), you've learned nothing.

7. Time is the most valuable commodity in the world.  Not money.  Not fame.  Not accolades. Time.  This should help you plan your day.

"Raise Prices"

Tim Ferris interviews Marc Andreessen.  Take a listen.  MA is asked what he'd put on a billboard.  "Raise Prices" is his response.  Companies are so preoccupied with volume (more clients attracted by lower prices) that they become "too hungry to eat."  They'll take anything except what they're actually worth.  You can't hire that great salesperson, marketer, engineer, etc., and you're not making enough, so you cut costs more, and more, and more, instead of just charging what you're worth in the first place.  Race to the bottom

 

Lawyers are fascinated by the next existential crisis (tech/AI/LegalZoom), when the real battle is saying "No" to clients who try to knock down your fee.  How many lawyers are scared to do this?  How many say they think clients will never pay their fees if they raise them?  How many lawyers have actually tried?

Are you a resource or are you a transaction?

Are you a resource or are you a transaction?

Do clients call you when something goes wrong or only when they need something specific to what you do?

How many times has a client asked your advice about a particular set of circumstances that have nothing to do with the area of law you practice?

How many times has a client asked you to make a referral to another attorney?

How many times has a client asked you to make a referral to another area (insurance, financial) altogether?

How many times have you heard from your clients (not vice versa) after your case/deal/transaction ended? 

Being a resource assures you that the phone will ring when a client needs advice on many things. Being a transaction assures you the phone will ring only when clients need that one thing you do.

 

 

 

 

You are not an Entrepreneur. You are a lawyer.

You are not an Entrepreneur.  You are a Professional. You are a lawyer.  It's critical you understand the difference.

An Entrepreneur is busy thinking of ways to grow their business to their core market and expand to other markets.  You are not.  You are likely doing loads of legal work and fishing for new clients. 

An Entrepreneur uses capital investment to try and grow their business, to then pay their investors back and continue growing the business.  You do no such thing as a lawyer.  In fact, you are prohibited from doing so. 

An Entrepreneur either wishes to grow their business and reap profits or to sell the business.  No one is buying your law firm.  You don't have a business to sell.  You are the business.  If you get hit by a truck, your business gets hit by a truck.

An Entrepreneur can pivot and switch into another area or market if she sees the winds are blowing that way.  You do no such thing as a lawyer.  In fact, it's bad for business to do so.

You are not an Entrepreneur.  You are a Professional(Lawyer).  Entrepreneurs don't obsess over reading every book printed on being a Professional.  Entrepreneurs don't discuss, ad nauseam, why they must think like a Professional to succeed. Entrepreneur's don't go to "Bootcamps for Professionals."   

Why is it that you obsess over calling yourself an Entrepreneur, trying to mimic every character trait you read about in Inc or Forbes, and run your "lean" legal practice like a business?  You don't have a business.  You have a law firm.  There is nothing wrong with that.  

Start acting accordingly.  

 

Sex With Lawyers

Think back to when you were single, met someone at a bar, and wanted to take that person home.  You'd say almost anything (Maybe this is just me. Is this just me?)

"I'll call you"

"I like you"

"No, I'm not married."

"Yes, let's do this again." (Post)

You lied.  Maybe you thought that you might call, but you likely knew you wouldn't.  You did this for two reasons:  (1) Because you wanted to get laid (2) Because you never thought you'd see this person again.

You know you will see your clients again but yet you say:

"We'll update you on your case all the time."

"You'll always be able to reach me."

"I feel incredibly good about your chances here.  Can't guarantee, but I think we're going to come out great."

"You won't be charged more than 'x'".

Maybe you thought you might live up to these, but you likely knew you wouldn't.

 

How do you expect the client to feel when this happens?  Probably like they just got screwed.

 

 

Good and Cheap

 

The "Freelance revolution" will have you believe people are desperate for work and their own schedule, and you good find great, competent people at bargain basement prices.  You can't.

$12 an hour doesn't work.  Cheap and "good" never did.  For a small window of time post 2008, the thought was that people would work hard for just a few bucks, because the roof was collapsing around them.  That hand has been overplayed.

If you want to grow your firm, but keep expenses low, you're going to have a problem.  You can do one or the other, but you can't do both (save your "scaling" meditation for the moment.)

You're not going to find "good help" at $12 an hour, because "good help" knows that they're worth more than $12 an hour.  That's why they cost $30 an hour. If you want to grow your firm, you need to invest in your firm and pay top dollar.  The results should allow you to then hire more people for $30 an hour (non-legal help).  But if you continue paying the lowest you can, you'll continue finding people that want to do the minimum that they can.

Your fear may be that you will have to cut into your own salary or that you won't be able to keep the lights on.  That's good.  Things shouldn't be comfortable.   It's called "risk" for a reason.  

Numbers and Values

Not too long ago, you were force fed the idea that all must be tracked in life in order to improve.  Your steps.  Your calories.  Your body fat.  The mpg on your car. Your download speeds.  Your GB limit on your phone plan.   Then track your improvement.  Then post those numbers to compare your number with others to see who is improving more.  The same tracking orgy is taking place in business.  Clearly, it should apply to law firms.

In small law, you are now told you should (must) track your clicks. The lifetime value of a client. Your monthly billings.  Your YOY numbers. Your facebook campaign.  Your expenses. Your reviews. Your ROI. Your assistant's ROI.  Your rent as a percentage of the firm's gross income. Your matter flow (what?)

Then, after this, you should maybe do some legal work.

No.

Stop quantifying everything in hopes that you'll make discoveries that will change the way your firm runs.  These guys don't care about numbers.  They care about quality.  They care about purpose.  They care about fit.  They care about craftsmanship. They care about the value they provide the customer.  The numbers are secondary.  The numbers are a byproduct of, and not a starting point to, the relationship.

People are not numbers.  Law is not numbers. Data, like most other things, is only valuable when placed in the proper context and given the weight it deserves.  Focus on quality in your firm and in your way and the numbers will tell you the story later.

 

Passing the Buck

Lawyers boast.  They brag.  The bravado of wins and hallucinations of "zealous advocacy" seeps out from their very pores.  How else can one impress clients? How else can one impress colleagues.  What would you talk about without your "war stories?"  It is, to many, the difference between making it as a lawyer or not.  Mistakes are not made, or at least not admitted.  Mistake is a mistress you do your best to hide from the family. 

Why? Have you never felt like a fraud?  Have you never felt you've no business representing clients?  Have you never felt your insides churning when you realize you made a grievous error?  Good.  Me too.  Quite often. Now own it.  Admit it.  Not just to yourself as you internally and intellectually try and squirm out of the responsibility of the mistake.  Admit it to the client and tell them you'll do everything you can to correct it and do better.  Do not ostrich this.  Do not feign confusion or blame or pass the buck or stall or misdirect or shrug or use anger as a sword.  Own it.  Own it even if the client doesn't know you've made one.

Our phones and our emails and our texts has replaced looking someone in the eye and admitting fault. Saying the words not two feet from the client's face.  Maybe they've paid you thousands.  Maybe their very freedom is on the line.  Maybe they won't forgive.  Irrelevant.  Look at them and tell them that you made an error.  Large or small.   Yes, you may get sued.  Yes, you may lose it all (what you believe to be "all").  You may even deserve it.  Let the chips fall where they may.  The alternative is compromising your very ethos. Each time you deflect, defer and blame, you will lose part of your humanity.  Which is more important to you?  If you don't know, you've no business hanging the framed license that hangs on your wall.     

 

The Tyranny of Two Stars

Here is what Yelp, Google, Avvo did for my business when I started in 2007:

  • Increased sales.
  • Brought in a large number of clients.
  • Gave me an online presence when I didn't have one/couldn't afford what my competitors were doing.
  • Allowed clients to use reviews as referrals
  • Made me feel like I "made it" because the phone was ringing all the time.
  • Made me a lot of money.
  • Artificially inflated my ego when I read good reviews (I only sent it to clients I knew would leave good reviews, thereby skewing.)

 

Here is what Yelp, Google, Avvo did for my business after a few years:

  • Made me incredibly nervous (lose sleep) because of the chance someone would leave a bad review.
  • Made me spend hours arguing with Yelp that a bad review was fake (it was) as opposed to billing that time (I'm a fan of hourly billing).
  • Made me continue to represent people I should have fired because I was petrified they'd leave a bad review (sunken cost).
  • Made me hate my competition because I knew they were receiving fake reviews (i.e. User-ImmigrationLawyer4uinBrooklyn).
  • Made me furious that "good" reviews would not show up on Yelp.
  • Made me pay hundreds of dollars to Yelp to ensure good reviews would show up.
  • Made me question whether I was a good enough lawyer when I received a bad review.
  • Made me talk to clients who would called to price shop (the worst clients).

 

Moving Forward

Review sites will lose their status as something you can count on very soon. Too many fake reviews out there. Too many emails requesting endorsements. Too much information out there to make a decision.  Not everyone is 5 star. Almost no one should be 5 star.  I am recommended for appeals work on LinkedIN.  I've never done an appeal. 

Reviews are irrelevant.  Treat them as such.  Some clients are fantastic people.  Others are psychotic.   Some clients have been cheated on and hate the world.  You will never make this client happy.  You should stop trying.  If they leave you a bad review, I assure you the that life will go on and people will still hire you and your spouse will not leave you.  If they leave you a good review I assure you that you will not retire even a day earlier than you would have otherwise.  Start practicing law the way you want to practice law.  Do good work every day.  Let go of what you can't control.  Put more time into what you can.  You did not spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on law school to be defined by a fucking system of stars.

The misconception of business development in law.

By now you'll have read endless drivel about how "business development" is key to bringing in more clients.  A few notes on that.

  1. Meeting attorneys/professionals in complimentary fields (life insurance salesman/wills attorney) simply because they are in complimentary fields, doesn't lead to business.
  2. Getting belligerently drunk with other lawyers will not lead to business.
  3. Promising to send business to another person when you have no business to send, will not lead to business.
  4. "Picking someone's brain" will not lead to business.
  5. Looking tired, overworked, etc. will not lead to business.
  6. Complaining about your industry and putting other attorneys down will not lead to business.
  7. Just because you're at an "event", doesn't mean you're networking.
  8. The strip club, gentlemen, will lead to a lot of things, but it will not lead to business.

 

What may lead to business?

  1. Creating relationships with people. Not people who are in a certain line of work.  Just people.  You're just as likely to get a referral from your dry cleaner if you get to know them on a human level, as you will a person in a complimentary profession you purposely make forced conversation with.
  2. Common interests.  Like MMA?  Get to know people in your gym.  Like cooking?  Join a cooking class and talk to people.  Stop forcing yourself to go to events you think you should go to because it will lead to business.
  3. Going home and getting enough sleep/exercise will lead to more business.  (You can't get business if you're dead, can you?)
  4. Showing you care and adding value will get you more business (and make you a better human).
  5. Saying NO to almost everything will get you more business. You'll find time to focus on things that work and stop wasting time on things you think should.  You'll also get your life back.

A Final Point

The vast majority of attorneys spend time trying to get "new" business, when they haven't spent a single moment reaching out to past clients (who should be the source of 90%+ of your business after a few years). Do you send out newsletters?  Do you send out office announcements?  Do you reach out to prior clients to visit them at the home you helped them buy?  Do they know you're still alive?  

People ask me what I do to network.  I don't.  Stopped a year ago.  I go home and spend time with my fiance and my dog.  I go to bed early.  Our numbers have never been better.  It's not about what you think you should be doing because others are doing it.  It's about what works for you, individually.

 

 

 

Groupon

If you're running your law firm like Groupon, you're dead.  Groupon is dying.  There is good reason it's dying: It's not useful to either the business that is "selling" the Groupons, nor the end user.  You don't want to take private helicopter lessons.  You don't want to save 43% on dinner for four on a Monday night in December. You do (did) it because it saved money.  Theoretically. The business did it because they received a fresh infusion of much needed cash (otherwise they wouldn't have done it in the first place). Like finding love at last call at the bar, you're going to regret it very, very quickly.  Helicopter business, which is accustomed to 5 lessons a day on the weekends now has requests for 45.  They don't have the personnel for it.  There are tons of transaction costs involved, including fuel, maintenance, manpower, etc., that they haven't prepared for.  You, consumer, get super pissed about this, because you bought a Groupon and you want your private helicopter lesson and you want it now!  You leave a bad review on Yelp or whatever other BS site you use to whine when your ice cream isn't as cold as you like it.  Now helicopter business, that took a 50% haircut by selling these stupid coupons in the first place, is pissed and you're pissed and they're never going to use Groupon again so they're pissed.  Everyone is pissed.  No shit it's closing down.

 

What the hell does this have to do with your law practice?  

I don't really know, but here's what I can tell you: First, if you're offering your services on Groupon or Yelp with coupons, you're beyond saving.  There's nothing anyone can do for you.  You're schilling yourself and you're saying your stuff is so bad that you're willing to take a price cut because you need some cash. What the hell does that look like to your current clients?  They paid full price and these other people are paying 1/2?  Why?  Do you feel comfortable buying 1/2 price sushi?  Why should someone feel comfortable putting their confidence in someone who is essentially saying "I AM ON SALE"?  They shouldn't.  And for what?  A few hundred bucks?  Stop. 

Are you hawking your stuff online only like Groupon is?  If you are, you're screwed.  The internet is the next big thing that's going to make you rich, right?  It's not. Tell me something-how do you expect Joe and Rachel to select an attorney on Yelp/Avvo/Google/Yellowpages/Superpages/Citysearch/Angieslist when every other attorney is rated a perfect 5?  Going to get involved in an SEO arms race?  Going to run some local ads?  Be my guest.  The only thing the internet has done is muddy the waters.  The internet has been one of the worst things to happen to the business side of the practice of law in ages. If you think cutting the price of your service is going to keep you alive long term, you, my friend are sorely mistaken.  There is too much noise and there is no way you are going to break through that on your own.  You're screwed.  Even if you're on top of the local rankings, you're still screwed.  I promise you.

How do I not become Groupon??

Call your clients once a week.  Send them thank you cards.  Take them to dinner.  Work your ass off.  Find an industry you like (small business law) and go eat at every single place in the neighborhood and strike up a conversation with every bartender/server you can.  Find a business that's going to take off (marijuana) and learn every goddamn thing you can about that industry and start making contacts (double entendre!)  Stop selling and start talking.  Start fixing problems. Join the Chamber of Commerce.  Organize a golf outing.  Organize a gym class with people.  Be a human and stop selling all the time.  No one cares about your free consultations.  You're not selling timeshares in Orlando. Stop using price as the conversation starter.  Have 5 good clients instead of 50 shitty ones.  Make sure you're their go to call no matter what.  Refer stuff out to people who know what they're doing and stop asking about referral fees.  If you keep talking price all the time it should be no surprise that you keep getting treated like a prostitute.   

 

Special Snowflakes in a 90 degree heat

If you, for some reason, believe you will change the practice of law, you are completely deluded. If you, for some reason, believe you will march on in and leverage technology to change the way the average transaction occurs, you're out of your mind.

Before you even begin to comprehend what you just got yourself in to, take a long gulp of whatever alcoholic drink you have near you and answer the following questions:

 

  1. Are you prepared to suffer abject failure?  I mean total and complete financial ruin.  If the answer is no, then go get a job.  If the answer is maybe, then go get a job.  This legal space, at this time, is not for you.  It is for the very bravest and most insane and those are not mutually exclusive.  It is for those who would accept nothing short of enormous responsibility to pursue their total independence (I did not use the word dreams here, and you need take note of that.)
  2. If you are prepared to suffer the possibility, no, significant probability, of abject failure, then tell yourself, clearly, with defined terms, why in the name of Jesus you have chosen the life of a solo/small firm practitioner.  Is it for the money (we are all laughing at you.  All of us)? Is it because you will change the way law is practiced (we continue laughing, for you will do no such thing no matter how hard you think you will.)  Is it because you have no other choice (I believe this to be a finer choice, but it's still not good)?  Or, or, my little snowflake, is it because it's in your bones.  Is it because you could not possibly have someone tell you when you could or could not take a vacation?  Is it because no man/woman/transgender/whatever should tell you how much you can make in one year and determine the hours you should work.  Is it because you've worked for some shit boss and some shit job that's so jaded that he/she no longer cares about clients.  They are but retainers?  The teach you that clients are the means by which to make the HELOC payment on the over-leveraged vacation home.  If you want to rebel against this.  If you want to make the completely illogical choice of starting your own practice, then read on.

 This shall be nothing but unvarnished, unadultered, unedited viewpoints on the actual, real, business of small firm law.