June 02, 2008

7 Questions That Can Attract The Right Clients - James Chartrand

Back by popular demand after his first guest post, 'Why Every Solo Needs To Find Her Brand" is copywriter and branding expert James Chartrand of Men with Pens.  Today he discusses the importance of understanding yourself in order to create your brand and set you apart from the pack.

Guest Blogger - James Chartrand

7 Questions that Can Attract the Right Clients

You know that the competition is stiff. You realize you have to stand out from the crowd to make it these days. With the professional world relaxing, it seems viable, too. You play up a little more of your personality and use that as a marketing tool.

That's branding. That's creating an image for yourself that you can use to appeal to a specific market.

Decide Who You Are

Alright, it's a given that you're Professional Extraordinaire. That's great, but so what? Everyone else is saying the same thing. There's no reason for a person to hire you over the next Extraordinaire vying for clients.

You have to look at what makes you different from everyone else, and much of that begins with deciding who you are. Your personality is unique, there's no doubt about that. There's also no reason to try to fit your personality into the generic traditional mold.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are my values? What do I believe in?
  • What makes me feel good? What do I not enjoy?
  • What image do I want to portray to people beyond being the best?
  • What makes me different from everyone else?
  • What value do I offer to potential clients?
  • What type of personality do I have?
  • What type of person do I like to work with?

A little introspection on these questions helps identify the answers that feel most comfortable – and if you're comfortable with the answers, you'll easily be able to convey these concepts to others.

That's what makes you different.

Why Being You Works

Branding is that easy – letting yourself be yourself, no matter who you are or what your profession might be. Trying to fit into some idealized mold of a traditional corporate lawyer doesn't fit many people and it also turns off potential clients.

That's key – being you turns clients on. They resonate with your personality. They identify with who you are, because they see themselves in you. After a meeting, they might say, "Wow, he's great – and he's just like me!"

People – your clients – align themselves with others that they can identify with and relate to the most. If they feel some bond of interests, likes or personality, they'll naturally want to choose you over the competition.

Of course, your clients respect your knowledge and trust your skills, too. The point is that they know that there are plenty of other professionals who have just as much knowledge (or more) and that those professionals are highly skilled, too – just like you are.

But you're different. You're just like them.

Reaching the Right People

The added advantage of branding yourself effectively with your own personal flavor is that clients will gravitate to you – and you to them. You will naturally attract people that feel you are just like them, and you'll discover that they're just like you in turn.

What does that mean? That means you'll be working with people you enjoy more than others, people you find interesting or ones who make your job a pleasure.

True, this does mean that the individuals who aren't really like you and don't enjoy your style are going to go elsewhere. But the people who do like you and the ones you get along with the most will come to you.

Now all you have to do is a great job. You'll gain their trust – and a few referrals when they tell their friends about you. Sound like a good deal? It is.

And all you had to do was be you.

Is That All There Is?

Is branding yourself using your personality all you have to do to attract new clients? No, of course not; if only business was that simple.

Plenty of other marketing strategies can further your particular branding to set yourself apart from the competition. Many can be quite fun. Some are obvious (and often forgotten). Some are basic lessons that every new professional needs to learn to make it today.

But giving yourself permission to be yourself, no matter what your profession, is a great head start. Shed your preconceived notions that you have to fit your personality into a stiff mold. Your profession is already regimented enough as it is.

Be you, and use your qualities and values as your biggest asset. Market those assets, and start showing people what makes you different.

Visit James' blog at Men with Pens, where you'll find more great tips to help you build a better business. Better yet, sign up here for the Men with Pens RSS feed.

May 19, 2008

Why Every Solo Practitioner Needs to Find Her Brand - Guest Blogger - James Chartrand

Through Twitter I was led to (in my humble opinion), a brilliant Canadian writer named James Chartrand who co-authors the blog Men with Pens and is a contributing author to the highly acclaimed Copyblogger.

I referenced the first article I ever read by James called, "Are You Talking To My Generation?" It was when I read this article, "Are You In Personal Branding Prison?" that I contacted James and asked him to guest post here because lawyers are really just starting to understand they have to break free from their monochromatic and dull marketing world and really differentiate themselves.  But the majority simply don't know how and they are afraid of what they perceive are limiting and stringent advertising rules.

But I didn't want to feature a legal copywriter.  I wanted someone who has a lay person's perspective of lawyers, who understands running a solo practice and selling legal services does not remove lawyers from the rigors of creative marketing. I wanted someone who would work hard to educate the lawyer that it is really OK to speak 'with' your targeted audience in order to bring in clients and grow your practice.

I'm going to ask you a favor, however.  If you are intrigued by what James has to say, like his unique and blunt style, let him know in the comments section.  James is excellent at continuing conversation with readers who engage him.  I'd like us all to convince him to continue his contributions here....maybe even get him to teach the art of writing and branding at Solo Practice University :-).

Guest Blogger - James Chartrand

You're a lawyer. Fantastic. You've studied hard and long, passed rigorous bar exams and you've put in the time. Now you're on your own with your practice. It's time to gain some clientele.

So what's your brand?

Wait… You do have a brand, don't you? You do have an image you want to convey to your clients and your prospective clients, right?

Branding Yourself

Your brand is your message, the image you convey that makes you recognizable. Most likely, the brand you've chosen is a personal one. You want people to see you as educated, smart, savvy and expert – someone who can sway judge and jury with your brilliant research and powers of persuasion.

Your brand probably includes a feeling of expertise, a sense of trust and an image of authority. You're a great lawyer.

Enough said. Your brain is a valuable asset and your undeniable arguments and convincing speeches makes you the perfect choice.

Why Lawyers Need Branding

You've established your brand, that image of complete confidence and assurance of the win. Sounds good.

Now take a look at the brand that all the other lawyers assume. Their marketing message (and yes, lawyers have marketing messages) probably sounds identical to yours.

It's no wonder that people say, "I need a lawyer." A lawyer. Anyone will do, because lawyers are all the same. You rarely hear people say, "I need that lawyer on Jones Street. You know the one."

You may think that you're different from other lawyers, and you are, certainly. You have strengths, weaknesses, attitude and talents. But to everyone else, you're just a lawyer barking the same message that all the other lawyers do.

In fact, if you didn't have different colored hair, eyes or skin tone, you'd probably look the same, too.

You have nothing special to offer.

You have no business.

You have no brand.

Breaking Tradition with Business

Times are changing, and the way of working in the world is changing for every single man and woman across all industries and fields of practice. No matter what type of professional you are, you have competition. Stiff competition.

A law firm is no different from any other professional service. Plumbers, gardeners, writers, advertisers… These professionals all run a business. Their business requires marketing, promotion, sales message and branding.

So does yours. You're in this line of work to make money and be successful. You want to attract clients. You want to sell your services and be hired for your talents and skills. Those desires and elements are all part of business, not practice.

Unless you have the reputation of Apple and Macintosh on your side, you need to stand out. Tossing up a sign that reads "Jones, Jones, Jones & Smith" doesn't encourage anyone to hire you. A business card that reads, "Attorney at Law," isn't compelling.

Branding That Sells

Lawyers have a particular challenge in branding. Anyone – anyone at all – is their potential customer. For example, I could be your next client.

Why should I choose you? Why not her? Or him? Or that person over there? Lawyers all look the same to me, and they all portray the same message and image. There's nothing at all to differentiate one lawyer from the next (except perhaps the specific field of law), and there's nothing to help me take a decision of who to hire.

Even worse, the media plays up lawyers negatively, stereotyping them as money-hungry sharks that use questionable tactics to get the ruling. That means lawyers have to fight twice as hard to shake up common perception.

A good brand makes the difference, though. Think on this:

I'm in my 30s. I'm a father of two. I'm middle income level and do okay, but I worry about money. I believe in honesty, integrity and transparency. I believe in fighting for the underdog. Hell, I am the underdog.

I value hard work and effort to achieve goals. I respect education, but I also know that a piece of paper doesn't mean much and doesn't represent a person's self-worth. I believe that some people are better than others for a job.

I like straight talk. I don't like to feel stupid and I don't like being told what to do. I like a fair win – but of course, I like winning. I appreciate people who can admit they don't know it all and who acknowledge their mistakes.

Now, how are you going to convince me to hire you? What does your brand – your image, what you stand for – tell me that makes me want to work with you?

A good brand can help draw your potential clients – people just like me, or like her, or like him – to your business.

And make no mistake, you have a business, not a practice. Call it what you want if it makes you feel better, but at the end of the day, it's a business just like mine, with billable hours, clients, service and invoices to pay.

Break tradition. Start putting value into branding and market your business properly. Stop giving the same impression as every other lawyer out there – bland, boring and all the same.

Start by asking yourself why someone should hire you over the next person. Now ask yourself this question: What are you doing about it?

If you want to learn more on how to have a better business, visit James' blog, Men with Pens. You'll learn branding techniques, customer service tips and marketing advice on gaining competitive advantages. Better yet, get the RSS feed for Men with Pens right here.

May 05, 2008

Want Your Ideal Client? Be Their Ideal Lawyer

Identifying who your ideal client is, well, just the beginning.  You need to learn how to attract your ideal client so they will actually contact you to determine if they need your services and if you are 'ideal' to deliver those services to them.  How do you do that?

This post is not about branding directly.  I've discussed branding here and here.  This post is about understanding who you are targeting by generational differences and reflecting back their values in order to attract their business.  Each generation is classically 'labeled'.  Understand there are always exceptions and subsects within each group, but in general you should not be targeting the exceptions.

In James Chartrand's (of Men with Pens) post on Copyblogger, "Are You Talking to My Generation?" he writes the following:

There are four generations out there right now, all with money to spend: the Silent Generation, the Baby Boomers, Generation X (or the Thirteenth Generation) and Generation Y (or the Millennial Generation).
These people are zooming through the Internet connections. They’re surfing and buying every day. They’re looking for solutions, and you may have exactly what they want.

You’ve done your research. You know the demographics of your target market. You know their needs. You’ve chosen a design that appeals to that group and you’ve wordsmithed your content to be rich in benefits.

People hit your site. Those potential customers take a look and then…

Click. They’re gone. You’re left wondering…

Where’d Everyone Go?

Sales that don’t soar may be a problem of generational targeting. You might be targeting the right audience, but you may be turning them off with the values your website portrays. In essence, you may not be effectively conveying what makes your audience feel comfortable.

Gen X might like friendly, slightly cocky content. The Silent Generation may prefer a professional, authoritative tone. Baby Boomers may like a site that stimulates thoughts of self-gratification and leisure. Gen Y might be searching for what’s cool and trendy.

Each generation has a core set of values that define the group as a whole. Life events and experiences shaped each generation’s way of thinking. They have specific beliefs, opinions and values that they uphold.

These generations needs to know that the company they’re dealing with supports what they believe to be valuable.

Are you the business they’re looking for?

It is important to first identify the ideal client you are targeting then learn their generational values and see where they may fall in the following categories:

Silent Generation: respect for authority; conformity and adherence to the rules; law, order and duty; dedication, hard work and sacrifice.

Baby Boomers: personal gratification; personal growth, health and wellness; optimism and positive attitude; teamwork and being involved.

Generation X: diversity and global thinking; self-reliance and independence; life balance; fun and informal attitude; technologically literate.

Generation Y: confidence and achievement; sociability and collective action; diversity and morality; street-smart; optimistic and savvy.

These days, it’s not enough to slap up a nice design and some well-written content. You have to get into the heads of your buyers and learn how they think – and why they think that way. Targeting your market means intimately knowing who’s going to feel good about your business…

And who isn’t.

These are very important concepts when designing a marketing campaign and creating branding for yourself and your firm.  If you don't know how to effectively appeal to your target market's generational values, get help. But make sure you build that bridge.

If your services transcend generations you may need to consider separate campaigns.  Consider Coke.  They go after young and old in very targeted markets.  You may remember recent Coke campagin where a can of Coke inspires an older gentleman to skydive, etc. (the fountain of youth?).  Yet Coke targets the youth in other campaigns.

Given the nature of internet marketing, this can be easily done.  I can envision a well crafted website with landing pages for each age category or something along those lines. If you understand the concept, be creative.

But generational targeting can also be important in helping you to understand how to actually 'deal' with your client in the attorney/client relationship. 

If you are not sure how to get started doing research, be a little more informal. Canvas your existing clients, the ones you consider 'ideal' and say, "while I have a normal system of operation in my business (this is you maintaining control over your business and time) are their particular things you would like to see in the communication or interaction during our relationship which would make it more comfortable for you? If I can accommodate you I'd certainly be willing to try."

I have clients that flat out ask their favorite clients questions you would see in focus groups like 'please review my website...what would you improve upon?  Now that you know me in my capacity as an attorney, do you think my site accurately reflects my personality and what I do for you? Am I reflecting your values? Be creative...but never shy.  This is your livelihood.

(Please take the time to read the comments on Are You Talking to My Generation as it is a highly informative and thoughtful discussion of generational targeting.)

April 21, 2008

Solo/Small Firms Win Big Clients on Value - Not Price

Marcie Shunk of BTI Consulting wrote a powerful article for The Complete Lawyer called, "Welcome to the Age of the Smaller Firm" where she discusses how smaller firms are quickly becoming favorites on the short lists of law firms selected by the Fortune 1000. 

Surveys conducted over the past seven years show clearly that client service is king...not price.

Client service is one of the most powerful advantages smaller law firms are using to win over large clients. In an environment rampant with dissatisfaction (just 34.6% of corporate counsel recommend their primary law firm first) smaller firms are distinguishing themselves through superior communication, client focus and value.

Each year, BTI asks more than 250 corporate counsel to tell us which law firms stand out as the absolute best in 17 activities that are critical to the law firm-client relationship. Smaller law firms consistently outperform their super-sized peers in the four activities that truly differentiate a law firm in the eyes of clients:

  • Client focus
  • Understanding the client’s business
  • Providing value for the dollar
  • Commitment to help

Smaller law firms also stand out in the two problem-solving skills that are essential to establishing solid relationships: handling problems and dealing with unexpected changes.

Moreover, smaller law firms have raised their profile in several realms historically reserved for larger law firms including breadth of services and bringing together national resources (though they still lag their bigger competitors).

The client service advantages offered by many smaller law firms are winning the kudos—and dollars—of in-house counsel at top companies. Corporate counsel applaud the attention they get from smaller firms, as well as the feeling that their law firm is truly dedicated to helping them achieve their business goals.

Value: It's Not Low Rates

A component of client service, value earns independent distinction as an advantage for many smaller firms. Nearly half of the law firms corporate counsel recognize as best at providing value for the dollar are outside of the top 200. Yet it is not simply a matter of rates that places these firms at the top of the value list. Rather, corporate counsel laud smaller firms for their:

  • Practical approach
  • Superb communications and updates
  • Wise staffing decisions
  • Keen sense of risk and reward
  • Talent at articulating business stakes in client-friendly terms

All of these drive value in the eyes of corporate counsel.

This exceptional ability to deliver high value is one of the factors that helped vault smaller firms to the forefront of client short lists. It is also one that, in conjunction with client service, will help keep them there. Law firms that deliver value are, according to corporate counsel, a hot commodity. 30.1% of corporate counsel report that finding a law firm that delivers better value is one of their top unmet needs for 2008. To the extent that smaller law firms can continue to distinguish themselves in this arena, they will be well-positioned to maintain their current advantage over big name competition.

What Can We Learn From The Little Guys?

The advantages of smaller law firms are wide and varied, according to the feedback of hundreds of clients. Yet each of them finds their strength in a single place: Differentiation.

Whereas many of the large, national law firms have grown increasingly similar to one another in their breadth, scope and reputation, smaller law firms have managed to represent unique characteristics that help them stand out in the eyes of corporate counsel. We can all learn from their ascent into the short lists of the world’s largest companies.

Sometimes we hear the word 'differentiation' and we don't quite get what that means.  Differentiation is really listening to complaints and doing the opposite of what is causing the complaining.  If you hear often enough that clients are not satisfied with not getting phone calls returned, bad attitudes, not feeling important...then overcharging, you are not hearing 'my lawyers are overpriced.'  You are hearing 'I'm not getting the kind of service I was willing to pay for.'  So, you take this potential client who was willing to pay and market to them they will receive what they have complained they did not with their current lawyer.  This creates that elusive 'value' you also hear so much about.

Differentiation is also about presentation.  If you are technologically forward market this.  Market how it enhances the client's experience when working with your firm.  Showcase how it adds to the client experience because you understand and have listened to the client when they express their needs when hiring a lawyer. Market the nimbleness of your solo practice, your one-on-one connection with the client and attention to their goals. 

It's not about price.  It's about a client not getting what in her mind she paid for.  Yet lawyers bring their own prejudices about pricing, their own self-esteem issues believing they are not worth it, infuse their own morality to their pricing structure.  And thusly, they believe pricing is the number one factor in the client's selection process.

Pricing is part of the equation, but it is wrongly placed in first position for many solo and small firm practitioners.  If you listen to what your clients need and you are ready, willing and able to satisfy what they deem valuable in an attorney/client relationship you will be able to price yourself properly to make an enjoyable living while servicing the clients you choose.

Do you have an opinion about pricing?  Let's discuss.

Links of Interest:  In a Weakening Economy, Will BigLaw......

April 07, 2008

Lawyers Are Still Despised. How Do You Respond?

My friend, Scott Greenfield, unleashed a firestorm of 'public' response on his blog Simple Justice when he criticized John Stossel's 20/20 report about a young couple in New York City (happened to be lawyers) who felt compelled to sue their next door neighbor for smoking and/or not preventing smoke from getting into their hallway and other common areas in their apartment building. They were concerned for the well-being of their four year old as it related to the toxic nature of second-hand smoke. He didn't like Stossel's condemnation of the lawyers and said so here. 

Scott was assailed by commenters denigrating lawyers, particularly these lawyers as plaintiffs, and this then turned into a mantra, 'lawyers are a plague on society." (And Scott doesn't take anything from anybody and his responses to commenters reflect this. So, make sure you read the comments.)

I don't choose to enter the fray, but it begs a very important issue new lawyers face:  What do you say when you meet someone who is, shall we say, less than impressed with what you do and feels no qualms about telling it to? 

So, I'm asking you.  What do you say?

Lawyers Are Still Despised. How Do You Respond?

My friend, Scott Greenfield, unleashed a firestorm of 'public' response on his blog Simple Justice when he criticized John Stossel's 20/20 report about a young couple in New York City (happened to be lawyers) who felt compelled to sue their next door neighbor for smoking and/or not preventing smoke from getting into their hallway and other common areas in their apartment building. They were concerned for the well-being of their four year old as it related to the toxic nature of second-hand smoke. He didn't like Stossel's condemnation of the lawyers and said so here.  (And Scott doesn't take anything from anybody and his responses to commenters reflect this. So, make sure you read the comments.)

Scott was assailed by commenters denigrating lawyers, particularly these lawyers as plaintiffs, and this then turned into a mantra, 'lawyers are a plague on society."

I don't choose to enter the fray, but it begs a very important issue new lawyers face:  What do you say when you meet someone who is, shall we say, less than impressed with what you do and feels no qualms about telling it to? 

So, I'm asking you.  What do you say?

March 10, 2008

Wallet Mouth? How You Spend Speaks to How You Want To Be Seen

The title of this really cool blog Wallet Mouth and it's tag, "Your Wallet Is A Mouth.  When You Spend Money, You Tell The World How You Want It To Be" speaks volumes about how and why we spend the way we spend.  But more importantly, for the solo practitioner it speaks to how they want to be seen by their clients and their colleagues, friends and family and reflects their own self-image.

And because being a solo practitioner is all about creating something from nothing, they get the huge bonus of really defining their presentation and image.  When you work for another, you are accepting or adapting to your employer's creation and their 'image' based upon the way their wallet speaks.

For instance, I've dealt with clients who intellectually understand the value of low overhead but emotionally need to go the more traditional route and will take on the associated expenses of creating a second wave law office for very sound personal reasons which have nothing to do with servicing their clients.  It has more to do with the way they are choosing to live their lives which includes cultural and sometimes ethnic perceptions of success, a need for a prestige which other solos may not deem as valuable.  But it's not about other solos.  It's about that individual and their personal creation. And I'm not here to stop them.  I'm here to advise them of the pros and cons of their choice, but it is always their choice.

And in that choice, the way their wallet speaks, talks about their own self-perceptions and the world they wish to create.  Some believe in outsourcing paralegal or administrative tasks only to local, U.S. tax-paying vendors.  Others go overseas.  How they spend their money shapes their values, their vision of the world and the footprint they wish to leave and I'm not sure it's totally on a conscious level, either.

Some may say, "my wallet has no voice because I'm broke. The way I currently spend has nothing to do with image, but necessity."  I disagree.  Money has passed through your fingers before today.  How did you spend it?  Why are you broke?  Your wallet has spoken to your values.  Your values may certainly change.  But how you have spent your money reflects your values, age, circumstances at the time your wallet was speaking.  Did you invest in your education and/or a wardrobe of designer shoes?  Stretch yourself to buy a home, put your children in private school?  Values are reflected all the time. Your wallet has spoken.

The concept is complex and fascinating and if I turn the spotlight on myself, I can clearly see how my wallet has spoken for some time. I'm not a competitive consumer.  I will, however, spend money on experiences such as travelling, education, events. I'm totally of the philosphy 'less is more' and not being a slave to 'things.'  And when I do have to purchase, I purchase at the quality level which will permit me not to have to purchase that item again, for a long time.  I believe in purchasing value...the value I attribute to it. My cars will be at least 10 years old before we part company.  Was I always this way?  Yes and no.  But that's the beauty of evolving.

So, How does your wallet speak?  Are you invested in the 'trappings' of being a lawyer or in the latest technology to streamline your work?  Or both? How does your wallet speak for the practice you have or will be creating?

February 22, 2008

There is No Competition. That's Right. There is No Competition.

That woke you up, right?  Well, a good friend of mine and I had this discussion recently and we realized we share a brain on this topic.  We have never believed in external competition.  We have always believed in internal competition, competing with just ourselves to be better than we were the day, month, year, decade, before.  Yet, ironically, in doing so this triggers others to compete with us as we excel.  In essence, we become the 'enemy.' (see below)

This philosophy has propelled me throughout my life because it is not about winning at the expense of another (yet, when someone wins, in a strictly competitive world another loses) but simply to better my experiences, to rise to the next level of skill and success.

This 'no competition' attitude is key to successfully marketing your solo practice.  Let me explain.

  • Observe then Ignore the competition - That's right, observe then ignore them.  There are no shortage of clients, just lack of attraction tools which makes you feel like there are no clients.  Trust me, they are out there.

Conventional wisdom says that to beat your competition you need to one-up them.  Fox_with_animal_in_mouth_web1

This sort of one-upping Cold war mentality is a dead-end.  It's an expensive, defensive, and paranoid way of building your (solo practice).  Defensive, paranoid (law firms) can't think ahead, they can only think behind.  They don't lead, they follow. (Getting Real by 37 Signals)

However, do have an enemy. That's sounds just the opposite of what I said above.  But it isn't.  Sometimes the best way to know how to construct your legal services business is to know what it shouldn't be.  Figure out what type of legal practice is opposite of what you want to create and you'll discover where you need to go.  Instead of fearing 'the enemy' use it as a muse, a motivator. 

One huge benefit of identifying an 'enemy' is the ability to fashion a very clear marketing message.  If your 'enemy' is a huge, over-priced, ivory tower, partner heavy Big Law firm or a high volume, churn and burn client mill (even another solo) then position yourself as the opposite.  Clients are very good at drawing comparisions and it enables them to understand your position in relationship to others.  Not only will they understand quickly how you have differentiated your services, they will have a definite opinion about which type of service they prefer.

But DO NOT get obsessed with the 'enemy'.  If you over analyze and stay focused on what they are doing, you will start to limit your own thinking.  Look, analyze and then move on to your own vision of the perfect solo practice and cultivate your own ideas.  The 'enemy' is just a foundation from which to start your development.

Don't follow the leader.

Marketer's (and all human beings) are well trained to follow the leader.  The natural instinct is to figure out what's working for the competition and then try to outdo it - to be cheaper than your competitor who competes on price, or faster than your competitor who competes on speed.  The problem is that once a consumer has bought someone else's story and believes that lie, persuading the consumer to switch is the same as persuading him to admit he was wrong.  And people hate admitting that they are wrong.

Instead, you must tell a different story and persuade listeners that your story is more important than the story they currently believe.  If your competition is faster, you must be cheaper.  If they sell the story of health, you must sell the story of convenience.  Not just the positioning x/y axis sort of "We are cheaper" claim, but a real story that is completely different from the story that's already being told.  - Seth Godin, author/entrepreneur (from Be a Better Liar)

And to complicate this post yet further, you don't have to fabricate a story. 

You need to care about it

When you write a book, you need to have more than an interesting story.  You need to have a desire to tell the story.  You need to be profoundly invested in some way.  If you're going to live with something for two, three years, the rest of your life, you need to care about it. - Malcolm Gladwell, author (from a Few thin Slices of Malcolm Gladwell)

And when you decide to build your own solo practice you are making a long term commitment. Caring about your story comes from being genuine, authentic...being who you are, making your own unique footprint.  If you except this can you now understand why there IS no competition?

What do you think?

February 20, 2008

Be A Brilliant Salesperson to Be a Brilliant Solo Practitioner

I have talked about this on numerous occasions but this is the first time I've seen a law firm come right out and say that in order to be an associate in their firm you MUST have a sales background.  This is an incredible 'coming out of the closet' acknowledgment of how important it is for lawyers to be sales oriented and focused on the clients' needs; how critical it is to develop these skills in order to procure and keep good clients because this is a service-driven business. 

Construction law firm Scholefield Associates, P.C., is hiring new associates with a unique requirement -- a sales background. The firm says it is is borrowing heavily from the corporate world where the role of technical sales is fundamental to most successful business plans.


Interestingly, new research by Suzanne Lowe of Expertise Marketing, most professional service firms shows that 86% of respondents want their firm to hire fee-earners who want to market and sell, 51% have made formal efforts to hire fee-earners who want to market and sell.

Suzanne writes, "First, it’s a challenge to find the right set of marketing and business development capabilities, especially if the firm has yet to define them for itself! A firm’s recruiters and hiring staffers need standards to objectively evaluate marketing and business development skills. They can’t be expected to conjure them up in a vacuum. This viewpoint repeats a theme that, by now, rings loudly through this entire survey: there are widely varying definitions of marketing and business development, and a general lack of understanding of the value these functions could deliver in a PSF."

I encourage you to read both this piece and pieces I've written called "Be  A Brilliant Sales Person to Be a Brilliant Lawyer,  and The T.R.U.S.T. Factor.....

I'm so encouraged this fundamental concept is gaining more traction.  The sooner everyone embraces it, the sooner solos can direct their budgets and energies accordingly and the happier and more profitable they will be.

(Pleaes note:  This is a 3 person law firm....solos/and small firms leading the way, yet, again!)

February 18, 2008

Do You Have A 'Herd' Mentality?

Recent experiments by professors at the Universities of Oxford and Wales Bangor show that it may be natural for people to herd just like animals when they are in a crowd, as reported by The Telegraph (2/14/08) The scientists told volunteers to start walking around a large hall with no particular destination. Then they gave a few of the volunteers some directions on where to walk. It turns out that it took only 5% who seemed to be informed to sway the rest of the crowd of 200 people or more. "There are strong parallels with animal grouping behaviour," says Professor Jens Krause, who led the team of scientists.

..herding behavior in human beings .... is the study of how humans behave in groups within contexts of uncertainty....(Elliot Wave Theorist 2/17/08)

A solo practitioner is about not being part of the herd.  Or part of the herd-mentality created in law school which has every single lawyer on virtually the same career path - working for another, preferably Big Law.  I've received many e-mails from law students who specifically state they wanted to work for themselves but "got caught up in the attitude at law school" and ending up doing what everyone else was doing and getting a job.  They became part of the herd and were led by the 5% who knew definitively where they wanted to go...Big Law.

Being a solo practioner is about self-empowerment, choice and taking absolute responsbility for your own actions, successes and failures. This is the reality.  If you do not understand you alone will be responsible for your actions it will be very hard to appreciate the career path you are travelling when becoming a solo practitioner.

The ability to accept personal responsibility for work outcomes and to thrive under individual scrutiny improves your chances by 65 percent of successfully making the transition from working for a traditional large company to succeeding...at a small firm or as a (solo practitioner)

Peiperl, M., and Y. Baruch, 1997. "Back to Square Zero: The Post-Corporate Career."  Organizational Dynamics 25: 7-22

You alone are responsible for your successes and failures.

Whether by conscious choice or believing you have no other choice than solo practice, the issue is the same. However, knowing you are in control (for the most part) of this venture, you are eliminating a great deal of uncertainty because you have removed the external variables which lead to insecurity such as an employer, the employer's agenda, pleasing the employer, the employer's mismanagement which leads to your layoff, the possibility you are not the right color or gender or marital status or pedigree.  While there will always remain some degree of uncertainty in solo practice, a large part is removed because you know you are not going to fire yourself or knowingly create a failed practice.  You know your color, gender, marital status and pedigree and are quite proud of it.

Solos, however, deal with a different kind of uncertainty.  This includes bringing in enough of the right clients to sustain themselves over the life of their solo practice as well as getting the actual legal work done.  These skills can be learned and the pendulum on these uncertainties can swing towards greater certainty.

To countermand the solo's sense of uncertainty is the headiness of the achievement, self-employment on your terms, building something with your name on it, bringing in the clients and income to maintain a chosen lifestyle. It remains unquestionably one of the most powerful motivators for many who choose solo practice.  You work just as hard but on your own time schedule.  You are driven by your own work ethic in order to achieve those goals which are most important to you.  And these goals play a critical role in determining the character and structure of your solo practice. It's a symbiotic relationship.

If your ambition is Big Law that's terrific and congratulations for understanding the environment you believe you will thrive in as a lawyer.  I'm not here to dissuade you. But if the Big Law environment isn't where you will flourish and you are feeling like you are being led away from the solo or small firm option by the 'herd' then decide where you do fit into the 'herd."  Once you get a handle on where you fit in, (only your opinion matters) the options will make more sense and you can be a little more peaceful about your choices, whatever they may be.  Only then can you start successfully planning the present and the future.