How to Set Priorities for a Balanced Life and a Better Law Firm in 2017

Stephen Fairley

By Stephen Fairley

 

If there is one thing that all the attorneys I’ve trained have in common, it’s that they are all too busy. Busy generating leads. Busy meeting with prospects. Busy preparing for trial. Busy running their business. Busy going to court. Busy putting out fires. Busy going to networking events. Busy, busy, busy!

Have you made a resolution that “this year my life will be different” – that you’ll actually carve out the time you need to enjoy your life? Unfortunately, that rarely happens. This is usually because most of us don’t know how to prioritize when a million demands are being made of us. We react, rather than consciously act.

As you gear up for 2017, consider this useful advice on how to prioritize your days, starting with the activities that provide the highest ROI on your time investment.

No. 1 – Write down your goals. People who know me have heard me say I’m not a big believer in “resolutions,” but I am a believer in writing down my goals. For many years I had goals, but never took time to write them down. For the last five years, I’ve taken time at the beginning of each year to write down my personal, relationship and business goals. When I did this, I started achieving more of them. Whether it was the simple act of formalizing them in writing or being clear about how I would measure my success, I don’t care. What I care about is that I started reaching more of them. I now write down annual goals and monthly goals and keep them on my cell phone where I can easily review them at any time. For this year, I have 10 business goals and 10 personal goals.

No. 2 – Do the one thing that is most important to you personally. Maybe it’s breakfast with the kids. Perhaps it’s going to at least half their sporting events. Maybe it’s starting to write that book you’ve always wanted to write. If you don’t do the one thing that means the most to you in the world, years will go by and you will regret it. if it’s an event or a series of them set them as appointments in your calendar. If it’s a project, break it down into bite-sized chunks.

No. 3 – Find someone to hold you accountable. Achieving your goals requires accountability (generally not your significant other). Whether it’s a business coach, a colleague or a close friend, you need to find someone to share your goals with and ask them to hold you accountable each month. Once per month, I meet with a group of other like-minded business owners to go over my goals and talk about ways to grow my business.

No. 4 – Do the one thing that is most important to the health of your law practice. This is not answering emails. For most of us, it is doing something that will increase revenues, and that usually means marketing or sending out invoices. When you make marketing a priority, you are ensuring that the one thing that feeds your business – new clients – doesn’t dry up for lack of attention. You create demand that will keep your business going instead of treating business development like a luxury that will get your attention once you have the time. Because you never have time.

For example, if you want more referrals in 2017, you must implement a process for obtaining them. Start with educating potential referral sources on what they need to know about your firm to send you great referrals, including:

• What your perfect client looks like. You need to answer this question very specifically. The clearer your description, the easier people can understand the types of people you can help and send them your way.

• Why someone should hire you. Be clear about your unique competitive advantage. Be sure your referral sources understand the precise reasons you outshine your competitors and how you differ from other attorneys in the same field.

• What problems you solve. By helping your referral source understand the kinds of problems you solve for clients, they will know what to listen for in daily conversations and be able to recommend you to someone who mentions having the kind of problem you solve.

• How you follow up. Your referral source needs to know you will follow up promptly and professionally with the people they send your way. Tell them your process.

• Why referrals are important to you. Let your source know that you rely on referrals as a way to build your business and how much you will appreciate their referring people to you. And finally, always remember to thank them and let them know that their referral is meaningful to you and your firm.

Lawyers are notoriously bad at sending out invoices on a timely basis. They don’t accurately account for their time in their billing software and then they don’t send out the invoices regularly. Both of these issues directly impact your cash flow (and not in a nice way). Require yourself and your team to input billable time at the end of every day. A recent ABA article estimates lawyers underestimate their billable time by 20-30 percent when they don’t immediately put it into their time and billing software. Make it a point to send out invoices every month, like clockwork. If you’re a litigator or have invoices over $10,000, then consider sending them out every two weeks. Put someone other than yourself in charge of emailing and calling clients who are more than two weeks overdue in their payments. Once an account becomes more than 90 days overdue the chances of collecting it are very slim.

No. 5 – Do the one thing that is most important to fulfilling your business obligations. This is all the stuff you have to do to stay in business. And it’s not just taking depositions and working on case files, it’s the entirety of serving clients how they deserve to be treated. And that starts with hiring great people to serve them. Some thoughts on that:

• Only hire passionate, smart people. You can’t fix stupid, so don’t hire it. Sure, we have all made hiring mistakes – people who interview great but their rubber never meets the road. Learn from those mistakes and put together a process for hiring that ensures you get the best possible people. Ask people what they are passionate about. It’s hard to motivate someone to care about producing excellent work if they don’t care about anything in life.

• Ask the reference question. In his excellent book, “Top-grading,” author Brad Smart recommends asking an applicant, “What will your previous boss say about you when I call him/her?” Be sure you actually call or contact them to find out.

• Get rid of the weak links. Bad employees kill the motivation in good ones. As soon as you discover you have a rotten apple, toss it.

• Give them freedom. Good people hate being micromanaged, so as soon as they have proven themselves, give your employees the freedom to do their jobs. If they have a great idea for doing something different than the way you’ve always done it, listen. If it makes sense, run with it. Incentivize them for ways to cut costs and serve clients better.

• Make it easy for them to do their jobs. The actual work we do is not easy, and neither is yours. So why make it more difficult for your folks by having outdated systems, tools, technology or processes? There are so many great automated tools out there to make the work process go more smoothly; invest in as many as you can and you will reap the benefits in a better work product from your people.

• Celebrate! I love to celebrate with the people I work with, whether it’s an informal lunch in the office where we can spend a little downtime just shooting the breeze or it’s a big holiday party.

No. 6 – Do the one thing that is most important to your current business operations. This category not only includes answering emails, returning phone calls, putting better systems into place – all the stuff that is essential to your current business operations – but also ensuring you have written systems in place to automate as much of your operations as possible. These include:

• Processes and procedures to capture major marketing metrics and data. You have to know the “lay of the land” if you are to be effective.

• Tracking mechanisms to measure lead sources and results. Know where your referrals and leads come from and chart the volume of those leads and referrals.

• Reports for tracking the effectiveness of your law firm marketing efforts. You have to know what is working and what is not. Don’t waste time and money on techniques that are not effective for you.

• Metrics for quantifying ROI of all major marketing initiatives. If technique A has a ROI of 10 and Technique B has a ROI of 5, which one should receive the bulk of your attention?

• An online marketing system to generate leads and prospects from the Internet. Use your website, blogs, news releases and YouTube videos to help generate leads for your firm.

• A system to develop relationships with potential referral sources and generate consistent referrals from them. Take people to lunch. Meet face-to-face and ask how you can help them with their business.

• A system for connecting with prospects, clients and referral sources on a regular, consistent basis. This includes monthly newsletters, annual client satisfaction surveys, keep-in-touch letters, referral education system, etc.

Be sure to train your staff on how to use the systems you have put in place. The best plans in the world are useless if they are not implemented consistently.

No. 7 – Do the one thing that has been nagging at you; it’s an obligation that has to get done, but is not necessarily critical to your business. If you made a commitment, honor it. You don’t want to be known as being untrustworthy, but when you’re running a firm, these items usually fall to the bottom of the to-do list.

No. 8 – Go live your life. Are you working so you can work more, or so you can have a better life? No one on their deathbed ever wished for more money, they wish for more time. If you don’t take the time out to enjoy the fruits of your labors, you are missing the whole point (plus a lot more).

Two-time international bestselling author, Stephen Fairley is CEO of The Rainmaker Institute LLC, the nation’s largest law firm marketing company specializing in marketing and lead conversion for small to medium law firms. Over 18,000 attorneys nationwide have benefited from learning and implementing the proven Rainmaker Marketing System. Over the last 16 years, he has become a nationally recognized legal marketing expert and been named, America’s Top Marketing Coach. He has spoken numerous times for over 35 of the nation’s largest state and local bar associations and has a large virtual footprint with his highly successful Rainmaker legal marketing blog and has over 200,000 followers on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. For more information, please call (888) 588-5891 or visit www.TheRainmakerInstitute.com.