Use a Daily “To Do” List to manage your law practice

David Allen states in his book, Getting Things Done, that the way to stress-free productivity is “capturing all the things that need to get done—now, later, someday, big, little, or in between—into a logical and trusted system outside of your head and off your mind.” The idea is to write every thing down rather than rely on your memory. This is essential for reducing stress; you won’t have to worry about forgetting something if it is in your system.

My personal experience, as well as lawyers I work with, indicates that following a well-prioritized, daily to-do list is one of the single most important things to help feel in control. Feeling in control helps reduces stress.

A well-prioritized, daily to-do list takes into account what has to be accomplished this week, this month, and next month. Deciding what I need to do today and what is realistic about what I can do today, helps me prioritize and determine what’s really important in the limited time I have each day.

Gerald (not his real name) hired me because he was extremely worried about his ability to serve his clients because he was so busy.  He was stressed because he never seem to get everything done on his weekly “to do” lists. He felt his response time to many projects was unacceptable.

The simple fact is he was unrealistic about what he put on his “to do” list. He put everything on his list and consequently became overwhelmed and unable to prioritize. Nor did he really use or rely on his list to meet all his obligations. With coaching, Gerald agreed to put only those tasks on his weekly and daily to-do lists that he absolutely knew he could get done in a week. He also agreed to include time for unexpected projects an client demands. And he agreed to say “no” to things that would put managing his “to do” list out of control.

He started his new habits by agreeing to put only three tasks per day on his daily “to do” list. When he prepared his daily “to do” lists, he was disappointed initially by how few projects he was planning on dealing with; but it was all he could realistically accomplish, especially as he had a practice with  many daily interruptions.

His new habits resulted in him:

  1. Feeling better about meeting his goals;
  2. Handling his client expectations better because since he was on top of things he could keep clients better informed as to their status and meet promised delivery dates;
  3. Capturing more billable time because he stayed focused and knew where he was spending his time; and
  4. Improving his delegation — he was more mindful about having others help him with his workload.

If you would like coaching on how to manage your time, please contact me , Irene Leonard, Business Lawyer Coach to see how I can assist you.

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Change Your Limiting Marketing Beliefs

If you’re having a difficult time adopting new marketing behaviors, it may be necessary to go deeper than just noticing your inability to perform the behavior. You need to uncover the thoughts that might be limiting or stopping you. Some thoughts are limiting, and until uncovered, block actions.

What are limiting beliefs? 

They are beliefs, either conscious or unconscious, that stop or limit you from doing something you say you want to do.

For example, you’ve come up with a personal marketing plan. The plan includes doing things you’ve never done before and don’t think you’d be comfortable doing, such as meeting new people or asking friends or colleagues for help with marketing yourself.

Then you just don’t find the time to make those calls. If you’re like many people in this predicament, you’re likely being stopped by fear or limiting beliefs and calling it procrastination.

One of my past clients, Joe (not his real name), agreed to make five calls to potential referral sources.  Although he knew he should make the calls, he didn’t even make one in the time period he agreed was a reasonable time in which to make them. He was embarrassed to make the calls because he didn’t want people to think he needed more work.

It was necessary for Joe to come up with a strategy—that included a script—to deal with why he was looking for work. The limiting belief that stopped him from making the calls was: “I must not be a good lawyer because I need more work”.  He realized during our coaching conversations that this belief was unconsciously limiting his efforts. Once he realized what was actually stopping him, he devised a plan to overcome the obstacles.  This time he followed through on his plan and made the calls.

If you would like coaching on how to overcome your marketing limiting beliefs in your law practice, please contact me , Irene Leonard, Business Lawyer Coach to see how I can assist you.

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Reduce Client’s Stress

Improve Client Relationships

Make a point in your law practice to do whatever you can to reduce or lower your client’s stress level. Being intentional about doing this will help you have better relationships with your clients.

Here are some tips on how to reduce your client’s stress:

  • Be clear and not harsh when advising your clients.
  • Help them maintain perspective.
  • Reframe the negative to positive when appropriate.
  • Listen empathically.
  • Communicate your care and concern.
  • Encourage them to keep in touch.
  • Keep clients informed.
  • Contact them before they contact you.
  • Learn what’s really important by being personal with them.
  • Send polite reminders of what they need to do. (Stressed people don’t remember what you’ve told them.)
  • Return calls or emails quickly.
  • Reassure them.
  • Give them what they want, not what you think they want.

Client’s are in a flooded State

Stressed or grieving clients are likely to be in a flooded state, meaning they can’t take anything in because of their shock, denial, anger, fear, or depression. When people are in those states they don’t operate well and they need you to take that into account in your dealings with them.

When you treat your clients empathically and keep in mind they are usually in a highly stressed state (because they needed to hire you) this kind of relationship will help you delivery your services at an exceptional level.

If you would like coaching on how to build better relationships with your clients, please contact me , Irene Leonard, Business Lawyer Coach to see how I can assist you.

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Effective Questions Deliver Positive Results

This video of a deer hunter in a tree stand who uses a question to deflect what could have been an oh crap! kind of moment is a great way to emphasis how asking good questions can help diffuse a bad situation.

Effective questions help you:

  • Connect with your clients in a more meaningful way
  • Better and more fully understand your client’s problem
  • Work with your staff more effectively
  • Cross examine more effectively
  • Gather better information
  • Improve your negotiating skills
  • Reduce mistakes
  • Defuse volatile situations
  • Persuade people

Most people know this is true but don’t really know how to ask good questions to get the results they want.  I hope this post will give you some ideas on how to ask better questions of your clients, staff and colleagues to help make you a more effective lawyer.

I hope you enjoyed the video as much as I did.

Effective Questions

Effective questions are questions that are thought provoking.  They are open-ended and not leading. They are not “why” questions, but rather “what” or “how” questions.  “Why” questions are good for soliciting information, but can make people defensive so be thoughtful in your use of them.

When asking effective questions, it’s important to wait for the answer and not provide the answer.

Listening so that you can ask the next good question is also critical to asking good questions.

Examples of Effective Questions

  • What seems to be the trouble?
  • What’s important about that?
  • What concerns you the most about _____________?
  • What do you mean by __________?
  • What else?
  • How do you want ____________ to turn out?
  • What do you want?
  • What are your expectations?
  • What will you do?
  • What are your next steps?

If you would like coaching on how to ask better questions in your law practice, please contact me , Irene Leonard, Business Lawyer Coach to see how I can assist you.

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How to set priorities in your law practice

Setting priorities in your law practice 

“We realize our dilemma goes deeper than shortage of time; it is basically a problem of priorities. We confess we have left undone those things that ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.”

 Charles E. Hummel

Because of all the competing demands on your time it’s important to determine the difference between doing what’s important and what’s urgent (and not necessarily important) and set your priorities on doing what’s important.  Here are two ideas to help you set priorities in your law practice.

1.      Rely on Your Values

What’s important to you will depend on your values, principles, and goals.  Your values are not morals, but rather beliefs that are the foundation of what matters and is important to you. Your firm or personal mission statement can help you stay focused on your values.

The sense of satisfaction from practicing comes from being in alignment with your core or important values. Since it’s difficult to work in accordance with your values if you don’t know what they are identify your core values to help you make choices or decisions within your practice.

2.      Use the Pareto Principal or 80/20 Rule

Applying the 80/20 rule, or Pareto principal, to your work load can help you prioritize.  The 80/20 rule states that the relationship between input and output is not balanced. When applied to work, it means that approximately 20 percent of your efforts produce 80 percent of your results. Recognizing and focusing on that 20 percent is the key to setting priorities that will result in an effective use of your time.

  •  Ask yourself; is what I’m about to do in the 20% or 80% category?
  • Use the 80/20 rule to identify your unproductive time wasters.

Set your priorities by identifying and eliminating tasks that are not in alignment with your values and goals and are in the 80% category. Then be realistic about what you can accomplish.  You can’t do everything all at once, so be diligent about eliminating tasks that won’t benefit you.

If you would like coaching on how to get better at prioritizing  your time in your law practice, please contact me , Irene Leonard, Business Lawyer Coach to see how I can assist you.

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Estimating Time Realistically is Essential

In order to meet your promises, you need to be able to accurately or realistically estimate how long it’s going to take for you to do what you promise. Your clients depend on your estimates to help reduce their stress.

Estimating time well is important because it helps lawyers:

  •  Give clients a realistic idea of what their services are going to cost.
  • Meet their promises to clients and others.
  • Reduce their stress and overwhelm by not over extending themselves.

Tips For Lawyers on how to estimate time:

Start by using a project list that shows all components, documents, meetings, and tasks to complete the promised project. Use past invoices from similar matters to help create the project list for the new project. Even though your time is on the invoice evaluate and estimate the time for each aspect of the project based on what you know about your client and the other players in the new project. Then add all the times together to get your total estimate to complete the project.

Then consider doubling your overall time estimate to take into account the unknowns and reduce the stress of meeting your commitments if in the end you under budgeted. It’s usually best to overestimate rather than underestimate your time for the purpose of meeting client promises.

  • Use check lists (or invoices) from previous matters to create your project list to make sure you include all components in making your estimate.
  • Your project list should include the types and frequency of client meetings, anticipated negotiations, and the number of revisions you typically make to documents.
  • Pay attention to how long it really takes for you to do things.  Use your invoices to learn how much time you take to do a task so that you can be a better judge the next time.

If you would like coaching on to get better at estimating your time in your law practice, please contact me , Irene Leonard, Business Lawyer Coach to see how I can assist you.

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Example of giving effective feedback to a legal assistant

To follow up on my last post here is an example of how to give feedback.

The context: Sue is a legal assistant who works for three senior lawyers in the firm.  She’s been with the firm for over eight years and generally does good work.  You are one of the partners and need to speak with Sue regarding a problem with her performance.

Start by setting up a time and place to engage in a private conversation.

Lawyer: Good morning Sue.  I want to start by letting you know that you’re a valued employee both to me and the firm.  You’re well-liked, smart, efficient and always willing to push yourself to help.  Thank you. I‘m hoping we can talk through a performance concern I have in a way that will help you grow and improve.  I know that’s important to you.

Sue: Okay, thanks.

Lawyer: Sue, I want to address the issue of your sending the Smith materials to the wrong party.  Tell me what happened.

Sue:  Oh, Mr. Jones, I don’t blame you for being upset with me.  I feel badly about what happened. But sometimes it’s hard to juggle all the demands that all three partners place on me.  That day all three of you had rushes that had to be handled simultaneously, and truthfully, I was so concerned about getting everything done before I had to leave for my doctor’s appointment that I guess in my haste I was careless.  I’m so sorry.

Lawyer:  Okay.  I understand that you had too much on your plate for the limited time you had that day. And we weren’t aware of the strain you were under. What do you think you could do in future to make sure you don’t make this kind of mistake again?

Sue:  Well, I guess I’d better come up with a way to make sure that I double check my work.

Lawyer: How can you do that?

Sue:  Well if I have more time I can double check.  So, I should go to you and the other partners as soon as I realize I’m going to have difficulties handling the work that’s been assigned to me and let you sort out what has priority. I could also ask one of the other assistants to help.

Lawyer:  Yes, both of those are good ideas.

Sue: But when it’s that busy it seems more efficient to just keep on trying to get the tasks done myself.  But I guess I’ve learned that when there’s too much for me to do, I need to get help rather than move faster and get sloppy.  I’m sorry. I’ll do my best to make sure I don’t let having too much on my plate result in anything else going out incorrectly.  I’ll slow down and make sure I double check my work.

Lawyer:  Thank you, Sue.  I appreciate your being conscientious and resourceful in coming up with a solution.  I also appreciate your candor and honesty in talking about the difficulties of your current workload.  Remember, since I’m ultimately responsible I need to know when you are overloaded.  Let’s talk next Tuesday so we can come up with a plan to help you with your workload.

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Give Feedback Effectively

Giving negative feedback to your staff and associates is a difficult, yet vital, law practice management skill.

Good law firm work environments encourage learning and growth, and giving and accepting feedback must be a part of that environment to improve work performance. Feedback that reinforces good behavior is the ideal way to foster growth.  But there are times when it‘s important to discuss an issue that’s brewing in order to stop it before it gets beyond repair.

It’s necessary to give feedback effectively in order for your employees to have the benefit of knowing where they stand, so they can take steps to improve.  If don’t give feedback with poor performers, they won’t know what to change, even if they sense your disapproval.

I’ve helped many of my coaching clients get past their limiting beliefs around giving negative feedback.  They had such concerns as:

“If I tell him about his mistakes”:

  • He’ll think I’m too difficult to work for;
  • I’ll hurt his feelings; or
  • He might quit.

Such limiting thinking stops you from giving necessary negative feedback.  It’s ironic, as your motive for giving feedback is well-intentioned; you want to help your staff or associates improve their performance so they can become more successful.

How to give Negative Feedback Effectively

Consider using the sandwich approach to give negative feedback.  Start with saying something positive about the employee’s skills or talents before describing the negative behavior that you want changed.   Plan to finish the conversation positively.  Be sincere in making the positive statements; if you lie you lose credibility.  In between the positive statements, give your employee feedback on the behaviors that need to change.  Base your feedback on behavior specific facts, not subjective opinions.

Choose the right environment

Negative feedback should not be given when you’re angry or upset. Wait until you can be calm and clear.  Your conversation should be private and not rushed or interrupted.

When giving negative feedback it’s important that you describe an actual incident resulting from the poor behavior and not judge the employee as a result of performance failure.  For example, say “This letter you wrote contained these five specific mistakes….”, rather than “You’re careless because you make so many mistakes.”

Be clear what improved behavior you want from the employee. For example, “When you write a letter, I want it to be 100% accurate.  Accuracy is more important than speed.”  Let the employee know what’s important about the improved performance. Have the employee confirm his or her understanding of your expectations.

Be Empathic

It’s useful to be empathic when giving feedback. Try to appreciate how the employee might feel when hearing they’ve done something wrong.  Be polite. Be appreciative.  Be respectful.  Stick to observations, not opinions concerning what occurred.

Additionally, be aware of your comment’s impact on the employee.  Pay attention to whether he or she goes into a distressed state.  If this happens, the employee is not likely able to hear what you’re saying.    When you are calm and objective, you’re more likely to help the employee avoid a “shut down” state.  If it does happen, give the employee a breather to calm down.

Give your employee a chance to talk

Give employees a chance to talk about their thoughts regarding their performance.   Listen to them so they feel heard.  Talk calmly through any differences.  An employee may have valid reasons for their current behavior. The purpose of feedback is to create awareness that leads to improvement or correction of your employee’s performance.   Giving them a chance to talk helps them increase their awareness.

Let the employee come up with their own solutions as to how to improve their performance.   By suggesting the solution, the employee is more likely to follow through. Make the employee accountable by arranging to talk again at a future date.  Be specific about the date.  End the discussion by positively acknowledging your employee.

If you would like coaching on how to give feedback effectively, please contact me , Irene Leonard, Business Lawyer Coach to see how I can assist you.

Posted in Delegation, Law Practice Management, Staff Management | Tagged | 2 Comments

New Rules for Law Firm Marketing

A Guide for Up-to-date Marketing of Your Law Practice

I just ordered The New Rules of Marketing & PR:  How to use social media, Blogs, News Releases, Online Video, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly by David Meerman Scott and think ever Law Firm Marketing Director should read The New Rules of Marketing & PR and then incorporate Scott’s suggestions and ideas in their law firm marketing plan.

Before I bought the book, I checked out a copy of the New Rules from my local library and felt the book so insightful and valuable that I wanted my own copy to keep as a guide and resource.

I’m always looking for good books that will help me help my clients build rewarding, successful law practices.  This book is one of those resources.

I appreciate how Scott reveals the secrets behind how the web has leveled the marketing playing field. It’s possible to do good, quality marketing at a very reasonable cost by following his suggestions and insights.

One example of a low cost way of connecting with a larger market is to engage in conversations with other bloggers or journalists that have a large following of your target client.  My coaching clients interested in building media attention around their practice especially like that idea.

Telling your story directly (via the web) is new, because, until now, you’ve never been able to reach a potential audience in the millions without buying expensive advertising or getting media covered.” David Meerman Scott

The New Rules of Marketing & PR is your guide to the new online marketing world so that you don’t unnecessarily apply the old expensive advertising rules to the new medium of the web.

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Nurture Relationships so Serendipity Happens

Lawyers should focus on nurturing relationships and not rushing back to the office so that serendipitous good fortune can have a chance.

I just read Ellen Florian’s interview with Tony Hsieh, CEO of in the April 30, 2012 edition of Fortune magazine.  The piece was for The Best Advice I Ever Got column.  It was the right article for me to read at this time.

I recently was a co-facilitator for a Building Buzz for Women Lawyers workshop here in Seattle, and I was disappointed with how few of the women lawyers stayed to network after the workshop. Isn’t that ironic?

They came to learn how to build buzz (interest so they could grow their law practice) around their practice and then left. They could have started to create buzz with other women at this perfect networking portion of the event.  I expect they were rushing back to their office because they had pressing client matters, but I still feel it was important for them to have carved out the additional time to connect with others.

The workshop was extremely well received with lots of interaction and positive feedback, so I don’t think the exodus was a negative reflection on the workshop.

Create Your Own Luck in Your Practice

You never know who you might meet that will lead to that next amazing opportunity.  It’s important to put yourself in the position to create your own luck.  You need to keep nurturing all your relationships and keep opening doors to meet new people so that you can nurture those relationships.  You never know what new luck that new relationship might result in for you and your practice.

So, why do I say I read the article at the right time?  Because Hsieh highlighted why I was disappointed – the women who left immediately didn’t stay to build relationships for the sake of building relationships.

Hsieh’s best advice given to him was “to build relationships for the sake of the relationship.” He tells the story of a friendship that Hsieh’s advisor maintained when it didn’t seem to make economic or business sense. The friendship ultimately resulted in the company landing a major client when the advisor’s friend because president of that major client.

If you’re focused on the friendships as its own reward, serendipitous stuff just happens. I know that sounds weird, but I can tell you for our 12 years of existence, it’s actually how a lot of stuff happens.” Tony Hsieh

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