July 04, 2008

"I'm Not Going to Risk Failure on the Possible Chance of Success."

Turtle Shell

It seemed appropriate to write this post on Independence Day.

Blogger James Chartrand of Men With Pens writes a very 'arrow through our entrepreneurial heart' blog post when he asks:

Are you setting yourself up for failure before even trying for success?

Think about it. How many times have you said, “Okay. I’ll try… but I don’t think it’s going to work.” You give it a skeptical shot. When your attempt doesn’t produce miraculous results, you throw up your hands and say, “See? I told you it wouldn’t work!”


"Most people aren’t willing to risk failure, embarrassment or loss on the chance that success, pride and gain might occur.

Funny, that. We want the good stuff, but we aren’t willing to take risks to achieve goals. We avoid potential success because potential failure is worse.

So we protect ourselves with skepticism. We take no action because action is risky. We don’t put ourselves forward because where we are is okay. We don’t take chances because we can’t control the outcome. We won’t have faith because misplaced trust can be painful.

We don’t want to get hurt."

There are many people, myself included, who will help you dispatch the naysayers, those 'others', professors, colleagues, and more who will make you feel like you can't possibly succeed as a solo practitioner.  But how do you deal with your internal voice, that nagging voice inside your head which tries to quell your enthusiasm, your entrepreneurial spirit and rob you of those opportunities which present themselves, repeating over and over...'I won't succeed as a solo practitioner.'

"In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure."   Bill Cosby 

Taking any risk is never easy.  That's why they call it a risk.  There is a definable downside if you don't succeed.  But what is the cost to your spirit not to take calculated risks in this life?

June 23, 2008

Are You A 'YAWN'ing Solo Practitioner?

Yawning_man1 With all the discussion about Millenials and Slackeoisie, we may have discovered the ultimate highly motivated, ethical "un-consumer' in this generation as well, the YAWNs (Young And Wealthy but Normal).  And it's no wonder we don't hear about them.  The majority deliberately stay under the radar.  They do not fall victim to competitive consumption. And given the greatest number of bankruptcies are now Baby Boomers, well, maybe you can learn something important from the YAWNs about how to run your solo practice.

Since I've started doing one-on-one focus group sessions with new solos to help guide the education at Solo Practice University, I am finding much of what is being stated in this Kiplinger article quite true about those who are aspiring towards the 'W' in the Yawn. (When you read this article you will see Bill Gates is their unofficial leader...yes, he's absurdly wealthy....but the new generation of aspiring YAWN's are creating a lifestyle along the way to earning their version of "W" which can only be achieved with a solid work ethic.)

So, how does a solo practitioner live a 'YAWN' ing lifestyle?

  • Extremely low overhead(personal and professional) including serious consideration for the home office option;
  • Smart low-cost operational office purchases which keep them untethered to a phsycial location or traditional office hours;
  • Paperless office - addresses efficiency, low overhead, being untethered AND environmental concerns;
  • Taking on those clients or legal issues which fire up their passion reminding them why they went to law school and also gives them the freedom to serve the indigent or new business owner without putting themself out of business;
  • NOT feeling compelled to network in conventional ways or ways which go against their 'lifestyle' choices;
  • Using social media for both business and pleasure;
  • Understanding there is no 'work' life and 'personal' life...but just 'life.'  I'm finding aspiring YAWNs in their 20's don't have traditional Monday through Friday mindsets.  Each day plays out as a combination of the two and can no longer be so cleanly divided.  Nor can the hours in a day thanks to technology.

I'm sure this post will raise somebody's hackles.  Anything I write which doesn't pay full homage to the old guard while eschewing the new usually does.  But you see, I can respect what was, is and will be equally and with full appreciation of all. 

But the fact is, aspiring YAWN's aren't swimming against the tide loaded down with baggage everyone else thinks they ought to carry.  They are going with the flow consciously unencumbered....and, in my opinion, in a much more interesting river. 

June 17, 2008

If I've Ruffled Your Feathers....Well, Too Bad (Only Kidding :-)

I apparently ruffled some feathers with my last post advising those who are serious about their web marketing presence to not use Blogger or Blogspot as their main blogging platform.   What some commenters failed to take into account, in their comments and via e-mail when challenging my opinion on using these platforms for marketing their business, is I am giving my advice as a consultant to new bloggers. I am paid to advise current solo practitioners or those who are going to start their own practice what tools or platforms will work best for them based upon today's options.  I have an affirmative duty to advise them as to what will satisfy their short and long term web marketing goals while working within their current budget and technological skills.

There are several legal bloggers who are held in high regard who use Blogger and Blogspot.  But ironically, it is generally not their main web presence geared towards bringing in paying clients.  And if it is, then I would question how long they have been blogging and whether or not they would make the same choice today? 

You have to understand, regardless the platform, if you have been writing great content, are linked to in great numbers and by influential thought leaders, chances are you have created Google roots and it would not be wise to disturb that root system.  I cannot begin to tell you the number of bloggers who are well known who realize, much to their dismay, changing platforms now to something more robust and with greater flexibility would be too costly in terms of their hard-won Google rankings and links.   Those who were ill-advised and did make the transition have deeply regretted their choice precisely for this reason.

My comments are not an attack on others.  It is advice for the new solo practitioner to heed....or not.  I am paid to think both in the present and future in terms of cost-effectiveness and ease of growth as well as to stay abreast of technologies and to advise accordingly.

So, my position stands.  If you are a new blogger who is currently a solo or going solo I would strongly advise against using Blogger or Blogspot to build your professional web marketing presence and I would definitely discourage the use of any advertising on your site if it is your main marketing vehicle for your services. 

June 09, 2008

Can You Really Afford To Bash The 'Millennial' Lawyer?

(This is a little long but worthwhile :-)

There has been much discussion recently about the Millennial in the workforce and particularly in law firms.  I need to weigh in because I feel differently then those in the legal community who have been quite vocal about their disdain for what is being called the 'Slackeoisie.'  While I immensely respect the writers of What About Clients? and the prolific Scott Greenfield, I view this generation differently then they do.  (And as 60 minutes portrays here.)

Maybe it's because, even though I'm two generations removed from a millennial, I understand some of what they feel. I don't believe the mindset of the Millennial is a new one. I think in large part they just harbor more entrepreneurial drive then previous generations....and I get entrepreneurial.  They are not willing to put off starting their dreams. They are certainly less inclined to sacrifice unless their career goal is attainable within a relatively reasonable period of time. They don't see their world segmented - work life in one corner and personal life in the other.  They just see 'life.' And there is a stronger belief in one's self but it has been nurtured on a fast food mentality.  They are simply in the fast lane 24/7.  It's saying 'no' to the old model.  And it is by saying 'no' some interpret them as arrogant, disrespectful and dismissive of those who did work within the old model to get where they are today.  I believe this is what irks those who have trudged the traditional path....barefoot through 10 feet of snow...to school...without a winter coat.  We can't be mad at an entire generation because they don't want to play by the rules most of us felt we had to abide by.

Of course, there is much more (positive and negative about this generation) that can be (in)appropriately broad-brushed.  Yet, as in any generation there are those who are driven to achieve who have a strong work ethic and those who are slackers.  But for some reason, this generation is really getting slammed.  I believe it is unfair.

What role has corporate America (you and me) played in this?  Let's see.  These kids grew up:

  • watching their parents slave away at jobs only to be laid off over and over, again,
  • lose their pensions and health benefits to criminals like Enron;
  • watching corporate America outsource their jobs overseas;
  • seeing a corporate culture change from one where employees were valued and shown appreciation to a culture of poor treatment and being told they should be grateful to have any job;
  • being told if they didn't like 'any job' there's ten more people who look just like them lining up to take their place. 

The days of feeling proud for having given all your working life to one company and getting the gold watch and retirement dinner have disappeared. Today's young worker sees working for another based upon the old model as indentured servitude with no realistic brass ring and they want no part of it.  This is especially true after being told over and over again that their generation will be the first generation to not do as well as their parents.  Now there's an exciting future to consider as they carry $100,000 + in student loans. 

So, if they want to do an end run around the old model because they think it's broken can we really fault them?  If they want to look up at the sky and see endless possibilities of their own creation rather than the big round butt of a manager who blocks their innovation and creativity can we blame them?  If they want to try and figure out a new and better way that works for them should we tell them they're wrong and publicly ridicule them for trying?  Who are we to say what is best for them? Now who's being arrogant, disrespectful and dismissive?  What I have heard over and over, again, from clients and others is, "I wish I hadn't been so scared?  I wish I had their guts."

Bravery, stupidity...call it what you will.  But those brave or stupid people created Google, Zappos, Amazon and so much more than we could ever have anticipated because they DIDN'T follow the traditional models (all driven on customer service and regard for their employees, mmmmmm).

And for those who are in management at law firms, have you ever heard of 'internal marketing?'  It is a wonderful phrase coined by Sybil Sterchik who discusses the concept during an interview with Toby Bloomberg at the very popular Diva Marketing Blog.  She says that when you value your employees, your employees value your customers. 

Internal Marketing is a strategic blend of marketing and human resources focused on taking care of employees so they can take care of customers. While that still sounds warm & fuzzy, nonetheless it’s critical because if your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers!

Appreciation, involvement in the process, being part of a company's dialog and success, the creation of a community, translates into loyalty by the employee and profits to the company. 

And this is not a new concept.  It is a forgotten concept,  I know because I experienced it in the companies I worked for in the 80's. I worked at not one, but two, companies who had office happy hours every Friday afternoon hosted by the president.  One company president drove his motorcycle through the company offices giving employees rides.  This same company handed out turkeys to every employee at Thanksgiving, held birthday parties for each employee.  Ten year anniversaries were celebrated with a one week trip to London and a stay at their corporate apartment with show tickets.  Was this a small private company?   One was small.  The other was the U.S. headquarters for an international corporation where I worked for 3 years.  This was a time before executives took $50 million dollar bonuses while telling their employees the company can't afford to give COLA raises while simultaneously reducing their health benefits. When I left the company with the motorcycle-riding president, it was the only time I actually grieved for 'family" because the company invested in creating a culture within the workplace...a culture the employees didn't want to leave.

And I believe the companies I worked for are being described by Ms. Sterchik when she states:

I find it ironic that many companies who do Internal Marketing well aren’t necessarily aware that they’re using Internal Marketing. These are companies with a workplace culture and operations committed to the value of both customers AND employees.

If a company who has employees really believes they can skip this step and retain employees, either they are paying their employees so well they can't afford to leave or they are deluding themselves.

Despite different generational attitudes in the workplace, companies will still need to engage their employees. And that’s where Internal Marketing comes in – enabling organizations to communicate and reinforce a sense of common purpose, a sense of belonging, and a sense of being part of something special, particularly in workplace that’s becoming increasingly insular. Internal Marketing will continue to be relevant as a ‘high touch’ people-centered management approach in a ‘high tech’ world.

So, you see this isn't a generational mandate unique to the Millennial.  This is just good business.

This new generation can't work within an environment which does not respect their goals and values, a management hierarchy which can't conceive of, never mind nurture, a new way of doing things which actually benefits the company and the clients foremost, If law firm managers, even solos looking to hire an associate choose not to recognize this but, instead, behave antagonistically, then they are going to lose the talent they have and certainly not attract new talent.  If this talent strikes out on their own without regrets why are the law firms so mad?  Why should these new lawyers have to take 20 years to figure out they don't want to waste their time at that law firm?  There is 'paying your dues' and then there is selling your soul.  This generation didn't create disloyalty.  It was the previous generation of employers who were disloyal and dishonest and gave this new generation permission to say, 'screw you.'

So, there are some mea culpas to be made by employers.  There are some steps they have to take to create environments to attract today's young worker.  Today's generation is suspicious and self-serving because they've learned no one is going to look out for their best interests better than themselves (or their parents.)

This generation grew up (and is continuing to grow up) connected to a vibrant and diverse community through technology and they can no more leave this connectivity when in the workplace then they can leave their left arm.

Employers should capitalize on this connectivity and the freedom they, too, can experience released from the confines of the 9-5 workday and sterile cubicle and harness the additional strengths of the millennial worker instead of straitjacketing them.  And when there is a strong work community it mitigates the needs for a rigid caste system. The caste system is dead..at least for this generation.

And that is why I believe, more and more lawyers will strike out on their own.  Millennials will be more inclined to pursue their entrepreneurial bend, especially in the law.  And you will see those who have worked so hard within the current system who get the boot or are not rewarded in ways which are meaningful to them more inclined to become solo practitioners.

Then consider the economic times we are facing.  In a time of uncertainty, the direction this world is going, extraordinary debt, health care in crisis, global warming, endless war...there is a certain 'live for the moment' feeling which propels them to say, 'if this isn't working for me, I'm outta here.'  They don't just say, "time is precious."  They live and work knowing time is precious.

Rigidity and lack of consideration for the mindset of this generation is a recipe for economic disaster for businesses of all stripes. Law firms are definitely not immune.

As a solo, there may come a time when you may choose to bring on an associate.  Remember this.  And remember why you chose to go solo, the freedom to control your own time, your own destiny. You realized you'd rather be responsible for your own financial security and you have faith in your abilities to do this.  And when you made (or make) the decision to go solo didn't you, regardless if you are a Baby Boomer, Gen X or Gen Y, basically say the very same thing?  I think the phrase was 'screw you.' :-)

June 01, 2008

Shouldn't You Have To Ask Permission If You Want To Take A Blog's Feed For Your Profit?

(Update:  Another interesting perspective published two weeks ago by Larry Borsato at PC World and the Industry Standard.)

This has been troubling me for a while.  And it just may go over like a lead balloon for some of you. We all work really hard on creating quality blog content, building our readership, creating trust in order to sell our legal services.  We publish it on our blogs, some under a creative commons license.  But when we started publishing did we automatically implicitly give any one person or company the right to gather our blog's feed and present our feeds in an aggregated format so they may profit off our reputation and work....without our permission?

When the ABA Journal On Line went live with their blawg directory, if you chose to submit your blawg and they accepted, you gave them permission to publish your feed. And they aggregate for profit. That's perfectly acceptable.  I have submitted my blawg to several directories and sites like Feedburner and Technorati who profit from the collective body of feeds. This was my choice.  And I actively consented.

When I suggested to Guy Kawasaki he create a LawAlltops I gave my permission for my site to be used on his aggregator.  Will their come a time he may monetize the site?  I strongly believe that's his plan.  But, again, he has my permission.

What I have noticed lately is others looking to take my feed without my permission for their own profit.  One could rationalize that it's free publicity.  But since when did I lose my authority to publicize my work the way I choose to and with full knowledge of where it will be fed? 

Remember, these are not other bloggers writing their own blog post on their own blog and referencing my blog post (even with select paragraphs copied) then providing links back to my blog. Nor am I referencing those who are listing my blog in their blog roll.  I'm also not discussing traditional RSS for the individual reader who is simply looking for the convenience of having the blogs they like collected together for easy reading. There is no profit motive for the individual who creates their own aggregation, just convenience. 

The for-profit sites I am talking about are those sites created by an individual/company who wants to funnel readers to their site on a grand scale, to encourage them to go to their site exclusively to find your blog post and mine based upon the concept of convenience to the reader.  Then the owners monetize the site. They profit by selling advertising and/or they market their own products and services.  Just by being part of the aggregation on this site there may be implied consent and endorsement of whatever the product or service is being advertised or sold.  And should the aggregation be part of a larger company, the company could be sold to yet another.

Is aggregation without permission any different than the content scraper who lifts your post without permission, while still giving you attribution, so they can draw away your traffic and promote their 'ad words' or services or products for their own profit?  If the SEO for the aggregator's site is or becomes great, will it replace your site as the first site in a search for your name or content and draw your intended traffic there?  Is it really fair?  It may or may not be technically lawful but what better way to encourage endorsement from those whose feeds you seek then by asking permission.

Should bloggers state clearly on their blog they do not give any third party the right to take their blog's RSS feed for personal profit without the owner's express permission? I know I do in the creative commons license I post on every page of this blog.

Maybe I'd be OK if I was asked and I might even enjoy the publicity depending upon the quality and mission of the aggregator.  And I don't really even begrudge them looking to turn a profit for their work if they are producing something of value. But I do have a problem with someone just taking.  Just ask me.  I don't bite....well, not often. 

Anyone have any thoughts on this?  I'm really just looking for discussion as to whether I'm off base, have missed something or have hit the mark for any or many of you.

May 17, 2008

How NOT To Conduct A Deposition

I can't teach you how to conduct a deposition on this blog (we'll save that for the experts at Solo Practice University.) But this video can show you how NOT to conduct one.

May 10, 2008

Cramming 31 Hours in a 24 Hour Day - Solos Do This

This is a fascinating ABC news report showing us how technology allows us to cram 31 hours into a 24 hour day.  Is this a good thing or not?  I know it took me 8 days in to a 14 day vacation to actually relax.  I'm not so sure this is a good thing.

(ABC Video link has expired.)

I know I would rather have more time than money.  And you?  As a solo are you finding you need to create 31 hours in a day?  Do you have to or just feel like you have to?  Good time to review your time management skills, how you delegate repsonsibilities, how you create your priority lists.

Let's get back to 24 hours in a day...and a good night's sleep.

May 02, 2008

When Going Home To Go To Work Benefits The Client

On this blog and others solo lawyers tout the benefits for the lawyer who goes home to go to work.  They are referred to as Third Wave Lawyers, decentralizing from traditional offices and shedding second wave work environments for more independent, creative and technology-driven practices (generally at 'home' )which can be a boon to the independent lawyer...the solo practitioner.

And yet those very same lawyers (as well as home office detractors) will say it presents an unprofessional appearance and question whether both colleagues and clients will take them seriously.

Well, let's think about the client in this post (because quite frankly you are not running your business to please or impress your colleagues.  Well, at least I hope not.)

A few years ago I had the need of a lawyer who was highly specialized.  I wanted the best lawyer, not necessarily the one with the closest office.  I found him in Colorado.  Clearly, we were not going to meet.  All our business was conducted on the internet and phone, initial consultation, signing of the retainer agreement, all legal communications and payment.  He negotiated on my behalf, we had three-way teleconferences and concluded business without ever meeting. For all I know he was working in a shed in his backyard or talking to me while mountain biking.  I didn't care.  What mattered was his level of expertise, customer service orientation and ability to get the job done. 

I found it tremendously convenient to not have to leave my home to go to his office, waste valuable travel time, gas, pay for parking, sit in a waiting room, make idle chit chat nor did I care where he practiced.  I knew by reputation he was excellent and because he conducted his business this way it was emminently affordable.  But, the key here is it was much more convenient to me, the client.  Were there highly qualified individuals in Connecticut?  Sure.  But I would have had to traipse to their offices and...well, I wasn't interested because they wouldn't conduct business this way if I was local. I would have had to go to their offices to meet, at least initially. (OK, part of it is I would have felt compelled to meet with them.)

Yes, this was a contract issue and my lawyer and I were comfortable conducting business this way.  My point is when you are questioning going home to go to work don't automatically assume that a home office is a liability to your clients. It may very well be a blessing to them.

Reality check:  How often do you actually meet your clients during the course of the representation?  If you are involved in an adversarial proceeding, can you conduct depositions at opposing counsel's office and on their nickel?  Can you meet your client's for an initial consultation in the court house (depending on their legal matter) or at a virtual office paid for a la carte or make an arrangement with a fellow attorney to use their conference room?  Many bar associations have conference rooms for rent on an as needed basis for their members.  Consider going to your client's place of business for their convenience if appropriate (while showing interest in their business). Be creative based upon your practice area but don't assume not having a traditional office where you are carrying overhead is the only way a client will accept you as a credible professional.  Then factor in how much of it is your own personal prejudice and fear of what others may think.

Remember, what you assume is a negative to the client by NOT having a traditional office, may only be you projecting your inability to turn a home office into a positive in your own mind...or you have very specific needs which you have determined cannot be met by having a home office.  And that is perfectly OK.  The purpose of this post is to help you consider if a home office may actually be a good thing for your client. Also, going home to go to work is not about not having the money to open a traditional office.  Going home to go to work for many is a lifestyle choice.  Not all home office lawyers are impoverished.  Not all traditional Second Wave lawyers are wealthy.

A home office is not necessarily right for everyone or every circumstance.  But don't let your own prejudices stop you from assessing the option objectively.

April 12, 2008

If An Elephant Can Paint A Self-Portrait Why Can't We Learn How to Say 'Please' and 'Thank You'?

Yes, this is a real video of an elephant painting a self-portrait.  Legitimate. 

And my point remains, if elephants are intelligent enough to learn how to paint a self-portrait, why can't today's youth learn manners?

Why am I ranting on my own site?  Because as I drill my 4 year old on the importance of saying, 'please' and 'thank you', teaching him to respect others, I see young people in customer service who don't know the words, don't know when to use them, alienating customers...and this translates to the most basic courtesies we offer to our own clients on the telephone, in our initial consultations, the courtroom, follow up upon a legal matter's conclusion and more.

I had read about a year ago how Big Law firms were bringing in etiquette consultants to educate their associates on the most basic manners.  What is happening to our society?

OK.  What set me off?  I've been noticing it more and more recently and it's been irking me.  Then today I was starving and did the unthinkable...I went to McDonald's drive through.  By the time I was done with the whole experience....waiting for that thank you which should have come effortlessly with handing me my change...it was just handed to me and the employee looked off in space.  That was it.  I couldn't hold it back. "Did anyone ever teach you to say 'please' or 'thank you' or 'have a nice day' even if you don't mean it!!!  He just continued to stare at his register and waited for me to leave swallowing hard enough his adam's apple bounced a couple of times.

The other thing which irks me no end is going to a restaurant looking incredibly feminine and the waiter or waitress comes up and says, "Can I get you guys anything to drink?"  Guys?  I'm no guy.  There is absolutely no way to confuse me with a guy.  I may not be poofed up and wearing a pink tutu, but there is no confusion. And these are very nice restaurants.  What are the waiters being taught when it comes to customer service?  It's the little things which will make people come back or not when dealing with you or your firm.  It's not the fanciest office.  It's not over-priced letterhead.  It is common courtesy and respect.

Thank you for listening.

End of rant.

March 12, 2008

High Demand and Growth Areas In the Law - Opinions

From Law is Cool comes this blog post of opinions from Big Law to solos as to the growth practice areas for the future.  Much turns on the aging of our society and technology and energy.  A very nice collection of insights.

Here are my thoughts on the subject if you are interested.