Law Practice Tips Archive: 51 – 100

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Tip #100

Focus on asking effective questions to enhance your listening skills

Good listening skills are the hallmark of a good attorney. Clients feel listened to when their attorney asks questions that reflect they have been listening. Use the art of articulating and clarifying to ask effective questions.

     For example: "Here's what I hear you saying. Is that right?"

Tip #99

Don't be reluctant to talk about Money with your clients!

There are many good reasons to discuss the cost of your legal representation with your client before you start and during your representation.

Here are a few:

  • Most importantly – it will go a long way to ensure you get paid.
  • You can use discussing the actual cost of the legal representation to educate your client on the legal process.
  • You can learn a lot about your client. If they are reluctant to pay you up front, what do you think the likelihood is they will pay you once you have done the work?
  • Talking about money helps create trust – a very important quality that must exist between attorney and client. You learn whether the potential client trusts you – if they are willing to pay you up front – they trust you.
  • Being able to talk about the difficult subject of money evidences your strength of character to your client. You model how you handle awkward situations by how you handle asking them for money.

What, if any, new policies do you want to establish regarding money?

Tip #98

Maintain excellent follow-up with all of your clients

Make asking yourself "What follow-up do I need to do with or for this client?" a consistently-asked question in your practice.

Tip #97

Start Value Billing

Come up with a plan to move away from hourly billing to value billing. Consider starting with charging fixed fees for specific small sections of a matter.

Make sure your fee agreement reflects your billing practices.

Check out the following American Bar Association resources for ideas on alternative billing methods:

ABA Commission on Billable Hours Report 2001-2002

Ad Hoc Committee on Billable Hours On-line Toolkit Table of Contents

Chapter 10 of Alternative Methods of Billing from Winning Alternatives to the Billable Hour: Strategies That Work, Second Edition, Copyright 2002, American Bar Association can be found at:

Tip #96

Make sure you have a written fallback plan in case something serious happens

In the event something serious happens to you, make sure you have a designated person who knows how to access your emergency information. This emergency information might include how to get in touch with all of your clients, lawyers on other matters, passwords, financial information, etc.

Tip #95

Be an effective "Delegator"

Make sure you clearly explain your expectations when delegating work including: scope, format, budget, due dates, time, and output when you give work to associates or others.

Tip #94

Deliver a finished product to your clients at the end of the matter

Whether you have a transactional or litigation practice, delivery of the important documents identified and tabbed in an attractive manner, gives your client something tangible and practical to memorialize the matter and use in the future.

For example, at the end of a divorce, give your client the dissolution decree identified in a way they can easily find. In addition, include a letter explaining why the document is important to them.

This kind of closing document is a great marketing tool so make sure your contact information is easily found in the closing binder.

Tip #93

Respond promptly to your clients request for information even when you have to deliver bad news

Some lawyers make the mistake of not wanting to call their clients back if they have bad news. Make it your policy to always contact your clients as quickly as possible even if something you have done is the reason for the bad news. In fact, the sooner you inform the client that there is a problem the easier it will be to put it right.

Tip #92

Reflect back on the past year

Take time to reflect back on the past year and look at all that you have achieved. It's important not only to look forward to what you will accomplish next year, but to savor and relish your accomplishments of this year.

Come up with 100 things you feel that you've accomplished this year - they can be big and they should also include those small but equally satisfying things.

Tip #91

Use keeping your client informed as part of your marketing

As lawyers we have a duty to our clients to keep them informed of their matter. Use this duty of keeping your clients informed to also deepen your relationship with your clients. Do this by:

  • adding a personal handwritten note when copies of informational documents are being sent to your clients.
  • writing a letter with documents explaining what they are and where you are on the case time-line.
  • giving the client a phone call to let them know this material is arriving and what it means.
  • sending an email to your client letting them know of any interesting matters that you are handling.

You might think this stuff is routine, but taking the extra effort to think about what else the client might like to know and following through may make all the difference to cementing your working relationship.

Tip #90

Thank your clients

Take time to personally thank your clients for the work they send you, for being the kind of people you like to work with, or for any other reason you appreciate them. Just as you appreciate receiving a thank you note from a client for a job well done your clients would appreciate receiving a thank you note from you.

Tip #89

Don't make your client's problem your problem

Caring and compassion for your client is important and necessary to be a good lawyer, however, it is also important to distance yourself from taking on your client's problem. Don't take your client's problem personally. Take time to examine the situation objectively. When you notice you are getting really upset by what is happening stop and assess the situation. What can you do that pertains to the law, the process, or even what different advice can you give? Stop getting emotional and use your intelligence.

Tip #88

Control your email instead of it controlling you

Come up with rules to effectively handle your email so that you aren't spending time that can be billed. Consider rules like:

  • Read and respond to client's email first.
  • Read emails when you have time to respond.
  • Read your email three times a day - morning, before or after lunch and late afternoon unless you are waiting for a specific client email. Regular mail only comes once a day so treat email the same way.
  • Read one email no more than twice. Handle email like paper communications - do it, delegate it, delete it, or delay it.
  • Do billable work first.
  • Create file folders into which emails can automatically arrive.
  • Do not respond to email as it comes in. Respond at intervals throughout the day after you complete some billable work.
  • Save personal email for the end of the day.

Make your own rules, but make your rules. Since email is still a relatively new method of communication don't continue to react - come up with your own proactive method to handle email so that it makes you more efficient (rather than email making you less efficient).

Tip #87

Be willing to get uncomfortable in your marketing

If you have been doing the same old thing expecting better results it is probably time to do something different. Just the thought of doing something you have never done will probably make you feel uncomfortable. Be willing to do things that, if you just thought about it for a while, you would realize there is no real reason for not taking that action.

For example: If you have never called a client to ask for feedback on how their matter is going - call them. Or, if you have never gone to your client's place of business - go there. Or, you think sending birthday or other cards is a dumb idea - send them anyway. You get the idea.

What are you willing to do that you have not been willing to do that might produce the marketing results you want?

Tip #86

Create meaningful relationships with your clients

Practice development is best when your focus is on building strong relationships with your existing clients. Learn as much as possible about your clients. Ask good questions. Be curious. Be responsive to their calls and needs. Make them feel like they are your only client.

Being interested in a client's business or life is more important than delivering good "legal" services. Clients generally don't know whether you know the law or have good legal skills. They only know how they feel about how their lawyer treats them. So treat them very well.

Tip #85

Treat some of that email as billable time

If you find yourself spending one half hour or more reading your email and not billing that time, it's time to change that habit. So that you feel comfortable billing the time spent reading the email, make a decision to read an email and complete the work before you go on to read the next one. Make the decision that reading an email includes some strategizing which is billable time. Or, come up with your own way of making sure you bill the time you spend reading emails if they relate to a client's matter.

If you add 15 minutes a day of email reading to billable time you will capture $9,000 at a rate of only $150 an hour.

Tip #84

Don't respond when angry!

If you are dealing with a difficult individual, don't match their anger with your anger. Find a way to calm yourself. If that means taking a break from the meeting or telephone call to cool down, do so and let go of your anger. Then return and keep your cool.

Tip #83

Deliver 10 out of 10 service

Do you call your clients with an update on their matter before they call you? Do you ask for feedback on how you could do better during the matter? Do you, or someone on your behalf, return calls within hours of your client's calls? Do you take time to really understand and listen to your client's problem? Taking these actions are part of delivering 10 out of 10 service. How would you rate your service on a scale of 1 to 10? What will you do to improve your service?

Tip #82

Update your Partnership Agreement

When was the last time you reviewed your partnership agreement and made changes to reflect the true status of your firm? Ideally, you should review your partnership agreement on an ongoing basis just as you would advise a client.

Tip #81

Stop being your client's no interest lender

If you are not charging your clients interest on their outstanding accounts you are losing money for every day the accounts are not paid. In addition, you are not giving your clients any incentive to pay you when due.

In the initial engagement interview discuss all the money details including the amount of interest you will charge on unpaid accounts. Then, confirm the amount of interest and money details in your engagement letter. It will make it easier to follow through in the event you need to.

Tip #80

Track your hours in relation to specific matters so you can determine appropriate flat fees.

If you are not flat fee billing because you are concerned you will not judge the fee appropriately and lose money - do the preparation work to make yourself more comfortable with offering flat fees for some of your services. Clients like the certainty of knowing what their lawyer is going to cost and in many cases you can earn a higher effective hourly rate. So start keeping records that include tracking time for entire matters and portions of matters.

Tip #79

When You Don't Know, Consult with Others

Law school does not teach you how to run a business, market or self promote, time manage, delegate, manage others, or a whole host of other business or practice development skills. Recognizing this may cause you to 1) learn the lacking skill, or 2) consult with or hire someone to help you. There is no dishonor in realizing that you do not know how to do everything that comes up in your practice.

Tip #78

Be creative by:

  • Breaking your rules.
  • Taking calculated risks.
  • Being open to trying new ideas.
  • Taking time to think.
  • Brainstorming often.
  • Trusting yourself - not immediately being critical of your ideas.
  • Turning off your internal negative chatter and listening to your intuition.
  • Thinking about something from a completely different perspective - imagine you are a respected mentor, historical figure or child.
  • Asking stupid questions.

Tip #77

Start Limiting or Reducing your practice if you find you are overwhelmed or running on adrenaline 24/7

If you find you are often feeling too busy, overwhelmed, or your adrenaline might be running low it is time to examine how you got there and what you need to do to get back to a reasonable state of affairs. Take responsibility for your actions. Even if you are an employee of a law firm you need to figure out how to best serve your client - whether that is your employer or an outside client. No one is going to help you do less work. You are always going to be asked to do more. Figure out how to balance the client demands with delivery of your services. Only you can determine when enough is enough. Keep in mind you do stop working at some point - you finally choose to go home for the day. Planning and saying diplomatic "no's" are essential skills to master in order to keep control of your practice.

Tip #76

Overwhelm Comes with the Practice of Law - Acceptance Instead of Fighting this Helps

Accept the fact that you may currently have too much on your law practice plate. How long will it be or overwhelming? Decide what personal pleasures you need to say "no" to in order to keep your sanity. For a short, time that "no" might be to taking time off, spending time with your family, or leaving at a reasonable hour. The trick is to make sure that this does not become a constant state of your practice.

Tip #75

Learn How The 80:20 Rule Impacts You

The 80:20 rule, or Pareto principal, states that the relationship between input and output is rarely, if ever, balanced. When applied to work, it means that approximately 20 percent of your efforts produce 80 percent of your results. Learning how to recognize and then focusing on that 20 percent is the key to making the most effective use of your time. Use the rule as a reference point to ask whether or not you are focusing on the important 20% - or the trivial 80%.

Tip #74

To Change a Practice Behavior Begin the New Behavior and Consistently Implement it until it is Natural

Some examples:

If you would like to consistently write "to do" lists you might want to follow the 21 day rule (Experts say it take 21 days for a new behavior to become a habit). Write a "to do" list for 21 days including the weekend so that you are so consistent you don't even miss one day of the 21 days.

If you wish to track your time better start by consistently tracking all your time (including non billable time) and track all your time until you find you naturally track your time.

These are two areas in which a number of lawyers have difficulty. Both take time and effort to implement if they are not natural behaviors.

Tip #73

Practice Good Time Management Skills So You Can Be More Productive and Reduce Stress

Developing and maintaining good time management skills is a continual process. It takes on-going practice to change any bad habits you may have.

Evidence of enhanced time management skills will result in improvement to your bottom line. You will be able to bill more hours. If you capture just 30 minutes more a day at a billing rate of $200 an hour you will add approximately $24,000 to your revenue. Not a small number for a little more time.

What time management skill do you need to improve?

Tip #72

Use a Written Fee Agreement Consistently to Avoid Client disputes

Make the use of a written fee agreement, no matter how small the matter, a consistent practice or habit. This will reduce any misunderstandings of your representation and fees.

Include the following in your written fee agreement:

  • Clear details regarding the scope of your representation
  • Details regarding fees, payment, and anticipated expenses
  • Confirm your client's expectations
  • Confirm your client's obligations
  • Ownership of the file
  • Details of what happens at the end of the matter.

Tip #71

Use your To-Do List Efficiently by Allocating Estimated Time to Action Items

When writing your day to-do list, allocate the estimated or anticipated time to accomplish each of the items. This does a number of things:

  1. It has you see how much time you actually have in your day to get the things done you want to do.
  2. It helps keep you focused on spending no more time on a particular matter that you've determined it should take.
  3. It helps you block out or plan how to achieve your minimum billable hour requirement for the day.
  4. It helps you do the most important items that are required for the day.

Tip #70

Look for the Opportunity in the Problem

Rather than worrying about the problem that has just cropped up in your practice, stop and determine how this is an opportunity for things to be done better or differently. Worrying wastes energy. What actions or steps can you take to turn the problem into something positive?

Tip #69

Block out Time for your Vacations Now

It's essential to plan for the important things in your life and practice and taking vacation is vital. For busy practitioners it is often very difficult to take big blocks of time off. The easiest way is to plan well in advance. Block time off for the rest of the year and add a few days before and after. Use the days before to get prepared so you can leave with confidence that you have everything under control. Leave time the days after to do whatever needs to be handled that has come up in your absence. And most importantly enjoy your vacation.

Tip #68

Strengthen relationships with your favorite clients

An effective way to create the practice you want is to focus or develop the positive aspects of your existing practice. Assuming that working with ideal clients is a positive aspect of your practice, come up with at least three ways to strengthen your relationships with them. Here are some ideas:

  • Visit them at their place of business.
  • Make referrals to their business.
  • Let them know why you like working with them.
  • Get feedback while delivering your legal services.

Tip #67

Work toward what you want for your practice in 2004

Write down at least three things that you want to occur in your practice in 2004. For example,

  • I want to generate revenues of $_________
  • I want to decrease expenses by _________ %
  • I want to work smarter not harder in 2004.
  • I want to increase referrals by ______%
  • I want to get more work from ______ client.

Then, come up with your plan to achieve those goals. Make 2004 your best practice year ever by taking the time to strategize, write down what you want, and then take the steps to get there.

Tip #66

Let go of overly demanding and non-cooperative clients

In anticipation for having a more rewarding and successful practice next year, review your files and let go of the most difficult 10 to 20 %. The result will be a reduction in your aggravation by at least 80% with likely no loss of fees. You will be able to focus on doing a better job for your remaining, more cooperative, clients, which will lead to more referrals, clients and revenue.

If you would like coaching on this area please consider contacting me to see how I can help you.

Tip #65

Create More Time in your Practice by Letting go of Perfection

In many cases good enough is enough. Consider asking yourself these questions when you are getting bogged down.

  • What are the reasons I spend so much time on X? Are they the right reasons?
  • What are the worst things that can happen if I don't do this perfectly?
  • How can I wrap this up and live with it?

Trying to do everything perfectly can lead to doing too much and that can lead to burnout. Let go of doing things perfectly.

If you would like coaching on this area please consider contacting me to see how I can help you.

Tip #64

Use Negotiating Traits to Your Advantage

People are not all the same. For that reason you need to consider what the negotiating style of the person is you are negotiating with in order to achieve the most effective negotiation. Remember, do not treat everyone the same. Even honey is not very effective with some people.

If you would like coaching on this area please consider contacting me to see how I can help you.

Tip #63

Get Feedback from your Client during the Transaction or Matter

Many lawyers follow up with getting feedback after a transaction is completed - many do not. Getting feedback is an effective, easy way to continue to develop your relationship with your client in your efforts to receive future work and referrals.

Seeking feedback from your clients during the transaction will give the client what they want during the matter. Although clients appreciate lawyers that want to do better in the future, they would rather their lawyer did what they want during their deal.

Compare this example of classic service. Consider your frustration when at a restaurant and the waitperson does not ask how the meal was till the end, if at all, and you were dissatisfied with things during the meal that could have been easily remedied if the waitperson had only given you an opportunity to voice your thoughts. Many times these are issues that are not a big deal - otherwise you would have said something, but they do impact your overall sense of the service or the restaurant. Also, consider how much you appreciate the waitperson that checks quickly after the delivery of each course and then very cheerfully gives you want or need. That is how you want all of your clients to feel about you as their lawyer. You are service oriented and want to give them a good experience of working with you.

If you would like coaching on this area please consider contacting me to see how I can help you.

Tip #62

Listening is Part of Effective Questioning

Your clients come to you not only for your ability to win a lawsuit, to negotiate a settlement, or write an agreement, but also for your wisdom. You evidence your understanding or wisdom by listening to your client - not just asking questions or delivering the service.

When clients are listened to they feel understood and are more trusting of you. Effective listening is a skill that requires nurturing and development. Since lawyers are smart, the temptation is to get by with listening at a minimal level. To connect with your client and have them experience you as an effective lawyer requires you to maintain superior listening skills along with asking effective questions.

If you would like coaching on this area please consider contacting me to see how I can help you.

Tip #61

Keep Records of Your Accomplishments

Use these records to help you write effective, persuasive

  • partner evaluations,
  • professional bio,
  • website,
  • client response for proposals, or
  • resume.

Or sometimes on a bad day you can read them to remind you of all the good things you have done in your career. Taking time to savor your accomplishments any time is a great way to appreciate your practice.

Tip #60

Get Your Christmas Marketing Plans in Order

Now is the time to make sure you are ready for Christmas and the benefits it gives your personal marketing. Here are some tips:

  • Update your Christmas card list.
  • Which, if any, of your clients or referral sources should you consider giving a thoughtful gift to this year?
  • Order client, staff, other attorney gifts soon.

Tip #59

Take Stock of Your Practice

Are you doing everything you said you would do in your practice? Do you have an upcoming review with your partners that you would like to have shine? Annual reviews are a good way to keep you on track for what you want in your practice.

Consider these questions:

  • How would you convince your partners that you deserve more?
  • What are you doing to contribute to the growth of your firm?
  • Are you meeting your billing goals? If not what do you need to do to meet them?
  • Are you meeting your personal marketing goals?
  • What can you do to get on track?
  • What can you do to get the next level in your practice?

If you would like coaching on this area please consider contacting me to see how I can help you.

Tip #58

Face difficult tasks by realizing they are difficult and just do them

If you don't want to do something you know you should do - like call the client with bad news, or tell someone their work is not satisfactory, or let someone down - it helps to make handling such a difficult situation easier if you:

  1. Face the fact that it will be difficult and there is no way to make it easy.

  2. Prepare your strategy in advance. Consider what result you want out of facing the difficult matter? What issues do you need to cover, what are the alternatives to handling the matter? Most importantly take the time to think through the details of the difficult issue.

  3. Don't waste energy chastising yourself saying "I should do this" and then you don't. Following through on difficult actions often takes more thought than "I should do this". Difficult situations take addressing how and what you want to achieve, the realization there is no easy way, and then you just do it.

Tip #57

Strategize what is next in your practice

Strategizing is more than thinking about your practice - it is being purposeful and long term in planning. Much of our time is spent reacting to circumstances - it is important to take time to strategize about the results you want from your investment of time, energy, and money.

On a scale from 1 to 10,

  • How satisfied are you with your clients?
  • How satisfied are you with the way a major matter is going?
  • How satisfied are you with the quality of your work?
  • How satisfied are you with the money you are making?

Then, ask yourself what you need to do to increase your satisfaction in those areas.

If you are not spending time strategizing around these areas you are probably not making as much money and not enjoying your practice as much as you could.

Tip #56

Plan your vacation now!

A number of my clients are taking more vacation time this year than ever before. How they achieved that goal was to determine in advance what it would require for them to take 4 or 5 weeks. Then they worked the plan. What would it require for you to take 2 more weeks' vacation than you usually do?

Tip #55

Time is Finite

We all just get 24 hours in a day. Choose, prioritize and commit to what is the most important use of your time.

Tip #54

Get clear instructions about client expectations

Don't assume your client wants you to research every issue and uncover every question. As enough questions to get a clear idea of how much they want you to do. By being clear from the start, you can avoid unexpected costs to the client. A satisfied client will send you more work.

Tip #53

Match your work to the amount of your anticipated legal bill

If you find you reduce the time you bill clients for work you deliver, consider this: you may be automatically delivering 'Cadillac' product when 'Chevrolet' is more appropriate. With input from your client decide in advance what is necessary. Let the client know what your work will cost and stick to the time budgeted. If it takes more time, get the client's okay before you do additional work.

Tip #52

Learn to say 'No' to Clients

If you experience pressure from clients because you are not able to meet their imposed deadlines, say no. You may feel you have to say yes, because you want to please them, but consider the reality of your workload. You can say no in ways that are effective which will satisfy the client. Consider using ready-to-go scripts. Something like, "...I am not able to handle this in that time frame, but I can have it to you by...."or , "I am not able to handle that for you by then. Would you like me to suggest someone else to handle it for you or wait until I can get to it?"

Tip #51

Get Things Done by Focusing on What is Important in Your Law Practice

Do you find yourself thinking at the end of the day "I did not get anything done"? If so, is it because you spent your day doing things that were urgent, but not important. Or, were you not getting the important things done because you were attending to other matters? One way to focus on what's important is to ask yourself before you start the next matter "Is this really important? Does it fit within my overall plan for the day, for the week, and for the month? If the answer is no - you know what to do. Find and do the thing that is important and fits within your plan. If you don't have a plan - create one.