New Year’s Resolutions for Your Professional Life

Vol. 30 No. 6

By

Michael Moore (mmoore@moores-law.com), J.D., is the founder of Moore’s Law, LLC, and helps both lawyers and law firms create professional success. He is the author of The Lawyer’s Toolkit for Creating Both Personal and Professional Success (Thomson Reuters, 2013).

If you don’t know where you’re going,

when you get there you’ll be lost.—Yogi Berra

With the new year looming ever closer, it’s only natural to start forming resolutions for the year to come. Many of these resolutions deal with changes to our personal lives: lose weight, be nicer to our family, exercise more. But there are also resolutions to make—and keep—in our professional lives. For solos and small firm lawyers, these resolutions are particularly important. When you’re running your own show, strategic planning is crucial. But strategic planning implies that you have an actual destination in mind.

Do You Know Where You Want to Go?

As you close out another year of practice and try to decide what to do in the year ahead, you can easily be overwhelmed. It may appear there is too much to do and too little time to do it. Creating a strategic plan can be a positive solution. Following a plan focused precisely on what you want to achieve allows you to concentrate your efforts. You can measure your progress and raise your self-confidence. You’ll also quickly spot and avoid the distractions that might otherwise knock you off course. An effective plan helps you organize your time, maximize your resources, and make the most of your activities.

How Will You Get There?

Effective plans should include goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics. Your goals should be defined as where you want to go and what you want to accomplish. Each goal is therefore a simple statement of what you hope to get done. For example, your goal might be, “Add one new business client.”

Now you will need objectives that are the milestones by which you measure your progress toward achieving your goal. In this example that might be as simple as adding a time deadline: “Add one new business client within the next three months.” You have narrowed your focus and removed ambiguity. Now you can measure your progress toward your goal each month.

Strategies are the methods by which you will meet your objectives. For example, “Write a business law article, speak at a conference for business owners, meet five new potential business clients, and turn one of these into an active client.” You have transformed “Add one new business client within the next three months” into specific strategies to be achieved within each of your monthly objectives.

Tactics are the resulting specific activities within each of the strategies you have developed. In this example, actually getting the article published, speaking at the conference, and developing the leads are all tactical activities. Executing these tactics will achieve your strategies. Following your strategies measures your progress against your objectives. If you achieve your monthly objectives, your likelihood of achieving your goals is very good.

Suggested Goal #1: Increase Client-Development Activities

One obvious goal for every lawyer is to develop more client relationships through more effective marketing activities. Client development has often included more trial and error than analysis. Frequently lawyers simply trust their networks of personal relationships and the word-of-mouth referrals that have worked in the past. These techniques may produce some results, but in today’s hyper-competitive market for new clients, there are more effective methods available.

Your personal marketing plan. One example of a more effective client-development method is to create a personal marketing plan. Start by setting personal objectives that are realistic and achievable. For example, “Add five new contacts within the next six weeks.” Your strategies therefore might include learning how to work a room, creating a relevant elevator speech, and expanding your use of social media. These strategies will require tactical application. You need to actually attend networking events and apply your new knowledge. Get the first event on your calendar. When you attend, your primary tactics will be to work the room and use your elevator speech. Your secondary tactics will then include following up on any relevant leads within two weeks of the event. Include these new contacts in your future marketing activities. Get the next event on your calendar and repeat the process on a regular schedule.

Market, message, method. Creating a personal marketing plan will require you to focus on the most effective method to deliver your unique message to your target audience. Your starting point is defining the market where your potential clients are most likely to be. What is your practice area and what kind of clients do you want to represent? Are you looking to represent individuals or organizations? These answers help you craft a message of value about what services you offer to meet the needs of these potential clients. Does your message say you are a generalist or a specialist? Do you have a variety of experience or a refined practice area? Have you been recognized as an expert and authored articles on the subject matter?

Your method of delivering your message to the market must be customized so it will be received and understood by your potential clients. Some of the lawyers I work with use speaking opportunities in front of other lawyers, trade associations, or conferences. Some lawyers create success by writing articles, newsletters, and blawgs. They circulate these within their target market on a regular basis. Other lawyers I work with prefer networking and direct personal contact with potential clients. By creating your own unique personal marketing plan, you will be able to focus on the specific objectives, strategies, and tactics that will help you achieve your goal of increasing your marketing activities next year.

Suggested Goal #2: Increase Your Number of Clients

When I was in law school and working my first job as a law clerk, one of my eye-opening experiences was watching lawyers get new clients. In torts class, we did not discuss how the lawyers who sued the Long Island Railroad on behalf of Mrs. Palsgraf actually got her as a client. We were trained to be legal professionals, not sales professionals. At the small firm where I clerked, I quickly learned that all the marketing activities in the world are worth very little if no actual clients come through the doors.

Your goal of increasing your number of clients will require you to overcome a common dilemma. People resist what others try to make them do, not what they themselves choose to do. Your objectives should create a natural progression for potential clients to be ready to make the obvious choice of matching their specific needs with your specific skills. Often, it’s just a simple matter of the appropriate wording. Your purpose is to help clients get what they need or want. Your goal is to create a mutual value exchange and a win-win scenario for both of you.

Empathy is a critical skill. Once you have direct contact with a potential client, listen to what is being said. What is the potential client’s problem? How might you help? You will need to focus your attention on identifying and defining the specific issues unique to the client. Then you can narrowly identify how your specific knowledge might be a benefit. Your strategies to engage in a discussion designed to reveal a potential client’s needs and to determine whether you or your firm might be a good match for these needs is not solicitation to the client. It is a conversation, a mutual exploration, an offer to guide that client through a specific legal situation.

Potential clients are usually seeking experts they can trust. You want potential clients to feel comfortable in exposing their problems to you. Helping potential clients define their most critical issue greatly increases your likelihood of success. Make sure you emphasize their issues and not your experience. You will want to appear knowledgeable and confident but not arrogant or over-confident. Help potential clients choose to solve their problem by hiring you.

Suggested Goal #3: Improve Personal Time Management

Personal effective time management increases our individual productivity and revenue generation. By focusing on where we spend our time, we can improve our client service, create professional success, and find more options for an improved work/life balance. We can be more effective at everything we do.

Your objectives should include improved time entry techniques. Billable time is a lawyer’s finished product. Your strategies should focus on shortening the cycle time from work in process to billing to payment. Tactical activities such as entering time daily, getting bills out in a timely fashion, and collecting receivables promptly will help you increase both personal productivity and overall profitability.

The value of lists. In this knowledge-based digital age, most of us suffer from information overload. Many of you may find yourself working like I do, trying to use various methods of notes and reminders to follow up on the myriad items and activities that occupy our typical day. One solution that has worked for me is making effective use of lists.

One of my common challenges is to stay focused on the specific things I need to get done on a given day. Often as a day unfolds there are many new activities that arise to alter my plans. Therefore, each night I make a list of all my activities expected for the next business day. I make another list of all phone calls I hope to make the next business day. If my activities will keep me with a client the entire day (coaching lawyers or working on a project, for example), then I know I will have limited time to make phone calls and will need to prioritize that list. On the other hand, if I will be traveling in my car or through airports from activity to activity during the day, I know I can catch up on my phone call list.

As the workday progresses, I can refer back to my lists to keep me on track and moving forward successfully. Creating a working list for your day can also help you decide how to make the most effective use of your time.

Suggested Goal #4: Improve Client Service

Your goal to improve client service is all about meeting client expectations. Your very first meeting with a prospective client is one of the most important meetings you will have with that client. This is because effective client intake establishes many of the relevant aspects of the client relationship. Following an initial visit with a lawyer, the client develops certain expectations that will guide the client’s thinking as the matter proceeds. Ideally, these expectations will be based on what the lawyer actually said. In reality, however, the expectations will usually be based on what clients thought they heard.

Defining client expectations. For these reasons, ongoing client communications are critical, especially when events occur that will affect the client’s expectations. Therefore your objectives will need to focus on improved communication with clients, including how the anticipated legal process will work and how long the process might take. Clients also want to know the actual strategy for addressing their legal issues as well as a range of likely results. Of special importance will be the anticipated overall cost of the legal services, how the services will be billed, and when payment of the legal fees will be expected.

Your strategies should include meeting prospective clients face-to-face because this allows you to judge their credibility. Are there holes in their stories? Does everything fit together? Tactical activities might include scheduling a free consultation to meet them in person. Or charge a flat fee for the consult, to be credited on their account if they hire you. You will also need both a client intake form and a client intake checklist. The checklist is for any telephone screening and the initial interview. It prompts you to collect all the essential information you need to know for a preliminary conflict check. The intake form, when completed, will contain all the relevant information for your financial due diligence, client contact information, and billing information.

Make a Resolution to Start Planning

Practicing law is one of the most demanding professions, and the struggle to succeed can be overwhelming. Now is the time to plan for your success in the new year. Effective planning is necessary to help you assess your strengths, set goals, and stay on track. Creating a strategic plan will allow you to focus precisely on what you want to achieve and help you concentrate your efforts. By measuring your progress you will raise your self-confidence. By choosing where you want to go and creating a detailed plan of action focused on realistic, achievable objectives, your chance of success increases exponentially.

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