The start of the new year is an excellent time to start forming some new habits to make your day-to-day life run better.
Tip 1: Master Your Calendar Before It Masters You
Your calendar can work as an ally or an enemy. Tame it and make it your ally; it can be a nasty enemy. The first step is to acquire a good calendar program that works on your computer, tablet, and smartphone. You want your calendar in all those places, so a program that only works in one or two will prove less useful. If you still maintain your calendar in paper form, you need to move into the 21st century. Paper calendars worked really well until we got something that works better. We have had good calendaring programs since before the turn of the century/millennium. Move on up to a digital calendar, if for no other reason that if you use a paper calendar and lose it, you are in a world of hurt. Digital calendars shared among your devices provide immediate backup in case of loss. Make sure you enter everything on your calendar as soon as you set it; that makes for fewer forgotten appointments. Use your calendar to help organize your time. Allow yourself adequate time for each appointment and time to do your other tasks. And don’t forget to save some time for your personal life. Try to allow yourself some time for reasonable breaks during your day. A break can give you the time to catch your breath, reset yourself, and then move forward refreshed and with more energy.
Tip 2: Know When to Say No
It’s a good idea to develop a strategy for saying no. Many people suffer from the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), but saying yes to every task will leave you overwhelmed. Saying no can be stressful as well. To make saying no easier, create a strategy in advance. You might find that putting together e-mail templates or scripts will simplify the conversation and save you time and stress in the long run.
What about saying no to a potential client? If your policy is to never say no to a potential client, you are risking a potential malpractice claim. Here are some things to consider when deciding whether or not to take on a new client:
- Tread carefully with potential clients who have “last-minute” emergencies. We have also noticed that some malpractice insurance applications want disclosure of whether you accept cases within six months of the expiration of the statute of limitations.
- How many other attorneys has the client contacted? Why did these attorneys not take the case, or the client not pick these attorneys?
- How many other attorneys has the client had on this matter? Sometimes things don’t work out between a client and an attorney for a variety of reasons. One prior attorney does not necessarily indicate a problem client. Two or three prior attorneys may well indicate that this is a problem client, and you may want to think twice about undertaking to work with this client.
- Can the client afford to pay the anticipated fees? Once you get into a case, it can become difficult to extricate yourself. If the client cannot afford your fees, you probably do not want this client.
- Does the client have reasonable expectations? You should always discuss desired outcomes with a client prior to undertaking representation. The less reasonable the client’s expectations, the more likely you should consider not accepting the client. Unreasonable expectations tend to cause unhappy clients. Unhappy clients tend to cause unpaid bills, malpractice claims, or bad comments online at the end of the day.
Tip 3: Don’t Put Too Much on Your Plate
This is a refinement of Tip 2. Many people (particularly those who have a hard time saying no) stack far too much on their plate. Just like your dinner plate, your time/service plate should hold a reasonable quantity. If you stack too much on your dinner plate and then eat it all, you will likely end up overweight. If you stack too much on your time/service plate, you will likely end up overworked, hassled, and exhausted. Remember, you need a personal life, too, and that requires that you devote some time to it. Figure out what you can comfortably handle, and do not take on more. The analysis should include not just clients but other work you do, including volunteer work and community service (such as bar activities, Rotary Club, Masons, etc.).
Tip 4: Eat the Frog
“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day”–Mark Twain.
Twain had a masterful ability to put things in an interesting perspective. We see this comment as a metaphor. The frog in the metaphor represents the hardest task on your to-do list. You could spend hours pushing it off, warming up for the task, but we think you will feel better and find your day more successful overall if you dive in headfirst and push through it sooner, rather than waste time working around it and leaving it hanging over you like a sword of Damocles, dragging from day to day until you cannot put it off any longer and it has grown into a crisis.
Tip 5: Market Your Practice Better
Most lawyers have some difficulty with marketing their practice—and marketing themselves. We often get questions from lawyers about how they can improve their marketing practices. Marketing generates clients, and without clients, our practice does not succeed. The old ways of marketing still have value, and you should not abandon them. But new ways have grown increasingly successful, and you should consider adopting them. Often, new technology can help your efforts to market yourself using some old-school concepts.
Referrals generally represent your best source of business—nothing like a satisfied client giving your name to friends to build a practice. It may surprise you to see how that works out. Sometimes it plays out quickly, sometimes not. We have seen many situations where a client got an attorneys’ name from a previous client that the attorney worked with years ago. The satisfied client thought of that attorney when a friend needed a referral. Look for referrals from other professionals in your field and from other attorneys not in your field. The concept here is networking. The more people think well of you, the more likely they will refer friends and acquaintances to you. The more people you know that think well of you, the more referrals you will likely get.
This offers an example of old concepts and new technology working hand in glove. In today’s world, referrals come not only directly, but sometimes from people who recommend you to strangers. Several online services offer the ability to recommend or complain about a service provider, including an attorney. If you have good recommendations, strangers who do not know your client will read them, and they might induce the potential client to contact you about representation.
Have a good online presence. That means a professional website, for starters. When you have a satisfied client, see if you can get the client to write a review to one or more of the places that accept and publish such reviews. Consider retaining the services of a consultant to make suggestions as to how you can most effectively market yourself to the potential clients you want to reach.
Published in GPSolo eReport, Volume 9, Number 6, January 2020. © 2020 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association or the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.