Happy Thanksgiving!

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the United States. Whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving or just going about an ordinary Thursday, please know how grateful I am for the opportunity to serve you through this newsletter.

 

Take time to Work ON your practice.

Lawyers, like other business owners, tend to spend their days working in their business: seeing clients, writing documents for client services, having meetings about client projects, and so on. And that’s good and important work, without which the business that is your practice would cease to exist.

Marketing lives and thrives, however, when you’re working on your business. That’s when you come up with a new way to talk about what you do and identify an under-served client sector that needs your services. That’s when you come up with a great idea for an article, you write that article, and you consider who might help you land a speaking opportunity to develop further and share what you wrote in the article.

So, here’s today’s question: how much time are you spending on your practice? And is the time you’re spending effective?

Effectiveness is driven by not just the degree to which you’re able to raise your professional profile and the business you bring in, but also by the number of smart ideas you have and implement. As Seth Godin writes, “Pretty good ideas are easy. The guts and persistence and talent to create, ship and stick it out are what’s hard.”

Take some time today to work on your business. If you don’t know where to start, start with asking what is your vision for your practice. Consider your practice area, your sub-niche within that area, the clients with whom you work, how you serve those clients, and your practice setting, for starters.

WHAT DO YOU REALLY WANT FROM YOUR PRACTICE?

A number of my clients recently seemed to hit a brick wall with their business development plans. Nothing was wrong, exactly; but progress was much slower than it had been in the past, and my clients seemed to have a certain malaise. In each case, problem solving revealed no problem with the plans themselves, but one key issue: uncertainty about the ideal result.

Here’s the issue: without clarity and a certain excitement about the preferred practice setting, the preferred number of clients and matters, the preferred kind of client and matter, and so on, business development is almost destined to fail. That isn’t an airy-fairy “thoughts become things” assertion. Instead, it’s the result of two truths.

  1. Business development is a simple process, but usually not an easy process.
  2. If you don’t know exactly what you want and why, business development challenges that might otherwise be overcome will seem insurmountable because you don’t know clearly what it is or because you don’t want it enough.

Certain telltale signs reveal this lack of clarity.

 

If your business development progress has slowed, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you a high achiever who’s suddenly feeling meh about the goals you’ve set?
  • Does business development work that seemed doable in the past suddenly seem unusually difficult?
  • Do you find yourself unwilling or unable to make the time for business development activity?
  • Do you know what to do to grow your practice, but find yourself resistant to taking those steps?

If you responded “yes” to more than one of these questions, something is out of kilter. Very often, that something is a mismatch between what you say you want and what you actually want or a lack of clarity about your objectives and how your business development plan will get you there.

To get clear on your objectives, ask yourself what you want from your practice in terms of your subject matter, your practice setting, the kinds of clients with whom you want to work (and those with whom you do not want to work), the kind of matters you enjoy, how much time you want to spend working, how much money you want to make, what you want your day-to-day professional life to look like, and what you want your personal life to look like. You’ll know you’ve got clear objectives when you can describe the practice you’re aiming for and how it fits into your life with clarity, and you’ll know your objectives are right for you when that description gives you a sense of excitement or satisfaction.

If you’re at a standstill, stop beating yourself up and start asking questions. I have yet to meet a lawyer who simply cannot build a practice, but I’ve met a lot who actually don’t want to build a practice or who want something that isn’t likely to result from executing the business development plan they’ve created.

So… What do you want from your practice?

WHAT CAN YOU LEARN FROM THE 2015 SURVEY?

About this time every year, Altman Weil releases the results of its survey of law firms. Those who work in large firms need to read the report – tellingly titled Law Firms in Transition – because it’s a good window into what other firms are doing and why, which is critical information both for firm business purposes (in other words, what’s working?) and for competitive purposes. Those not in large firms need to read it because smaller firms have increasing competitive opportunities that may increase yet further thanks to some of the problems outlined in the report.

A handful of summary points caught my attention:

  • Overcapacity of equity and non-equity partners, especially in larger firms, is endemic and a drag on profitability.
  • Non-traditional competitors are actively taking business from law firms and the threat is growing.
  • In 63% of law firms, partners aged 60 or older control at least one quarter of total firm revenue, but only 31% of law firms have a formal succession planning process.

The upshot from the report is that law firms are taking measured steps to change practice (evolutionary, not revolutionary) and that clients aren’t demanding anything more. In other words (and, to be clear, these are my words, not Altman Weil’s), law firms are like one hunter in a group running from a bear: there’s no need to be the best runner, just better than the slowest hunter. This is not a particularly good sign for large firms, but it may be good for smaller firms that are seeking to innovate and offer more client-appealing alternatives to the norm.

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