"Everything you've been told about building
an injury law practice is wrong"

Are You a Minimum Wage Worker?

Joe Lawyer drops by my office to talk shop. When I ask how he’s doing, Joe Lawyer always seems to have the same response: “Not bad, but I’m still licking stamps and envelopes.”  Joe Lawyer asks for tips and I give him the same answer every time: “Stop licking stamps and envelopes!”  I tell Joe Lawyer that his law practice will be exactly the same in 5 years unless he makes drastic changes.

The minimum wage in New York State is $9.00/hour.  If you are “licking stamps and envelopes”, your time is worth $9.00/hour.  And if you are sorting mail or doing anything that a minimum wage worker could do, you are a minimum wage worker.  Hey, that’s the decision you make in every moment of every day, namely, will you do grunt work or pay someone else to do it?

And here’s the kicker, Joe Lawyer responds (almost) convincingly, “I know, I know, I’ll make changes.”  I’ve heard the same story for 5 years and nothing’s changed and in my mind I am pissed off, “Stop wasting my time!” I know I’ll see Joe Lawyer in a year and he’ll have the same gripes.

Stop Being a Minimum Wage Worker!

The first realization is that you can’t do it all.  You have to find a way to handle the low pay-off activities, i.e., sorting and scanning mail, scheduling depositions, drafting discovery responses, etc. If you don’t have time for a full-time assistant, hire a part-time secretary for 3 hours a day or a virtual assistant.  You need to have someone who you can assign the “grunt work”.

“People earning $1,000,000 per year aren’t working 10 times harder than people earning $100,000. In fact, they are sometimes working less—but they are working differently.”

Brian P. Moran, The 12 Week Year

Don’t do a single thing without asking, “Can someone else do what I am about to do?”  If so, you have to delegate the task.  Makes sense, you say, but you can do the work faster and better than your assistant. That’s exactly the type of thinking that will keep you at minimum wage. The work product doesn’t have to be perfect—good enough is just fine.

Take this one step further by hiring a domestic assistant to handle your household chores. Is it the highest and best use of your time to mow your lawn or go grocery shopping? Hell, no! (I haven’t mowed my lawn in 15 years) Hire someone to do this for you—a simple ad on Craig’s List will attract a bunch of persons willing to do your dirty work.

The Highest and Best Use of Your Time

Once you have someone to handle the low pay-off activities, you need to carve out time in your schedule to focus on the work that brings the highest payoff. Just think, “What is the highest and best use of your time?”  Another way of posing the question is, “What activities make the most money for you?”  Once you know what the highest and best use of your time is, you need to carve out time in your schedule to focus on that work.

Let’s say the highest and best use of your time is the marketing that brings new personal injury cases to your law firm. Okay, what exactly is the activity that you do that brings new injury cases to your firm? Be razor sharp in your analysis of this question. Once you’ve defined the highest and best use of your time, you need to block out time in your schedule for this activity that is sacrosanct and will not be interrupted for anything.

“One of the building blocks of your success is the ability to spend time on what matters most.”

Brian P. Moran, The 12 Week Year

Perhaps the highest and best use of your time is a 2-hour meeting with your marketing director once a week, or writing an email to update a referral partner about the status of a case every day. Block out time in your schedule for this activity every week and be fanatical about keeping this appointment. By blocking out time for the activities that are the highest and best use of your time, you’re taking control of your workday.

Carve Out Time to Work Strategically

There is one thing that separates great lawyers from the mediocre: taking time away from the office to think deeply about the future of your law firm. Yeah, yeah, sounds good and you promise to get it to….but you won’t. There is just one thing you need to do RIGHT NOW: schedule four dates over the next 12 months for a quarterly strategic meeting for your law firm.

A quarterly strategic meeting is a day that you set aside to focus on one obstacle/problem facing your law firm. You set a simple agenda and you meet with your team members at an off-site location to fix the problem. Keep the agenda super simple and focus on specific tasks that each member of your team will do over the next 90 days. Post your “Rallying Cry” in your conference room and make sure it stays “top of mind” during your daily and weekly meetings.

“If you frequently defer the strategic work to accomplish the urgent, lower-value activities, you will never accomplish great things.”

Brian P. Moran, The 12 Week Year

Our law firm’s “Rallying Cry” at our last quarterly strategic meeting was getting trial dates for our best malpractice cases in the next 90 days.  It wasn’t easy, but we now have 11 confirmed trial dates over the next 9 months. VOILA! Our trial calendar is totally booked (which is another problem), but hey, this strategic thinking stuff kind-of works.

Get Rid of Distractions and Interruptions

You’ve got the best intentions to carve out time for strategic thinking and focus on the highest and best use of your time, but a strange thing happens: you get to the office and crap hits the fan! Emails, phone calls, emergencies and before long, it’s 4 p.m. and you haven’t done any real work.

“What most often keeps you from being exceptional is not a lack of time, but the way you allocate the time you have.”

Brian P. Moran, The 12 Week Year

You’re not alone: studies show that 28% of the average professional’s time in a day is spent on interruptions and associated recovery time. That’s 11 distracted hours in a 40 hour week! Eliminating interruptions and distractions is simply a matter of setting policies and systems in your law firm.

Begin with “Rules of Communication” that you ask your clients to sign. Your Rules of Communication state that:

  • You do not take unscheduled phone calls,
  • You do not respond to email,
  • You do not accept unscheduled office visits.

Simple, basic and they work. Will your clients be pissed off that they can’t have access whenever they want?  Not if you educate them with your written Rules of Communication at the initial client meeting. And if they’re still mad, do you really want these control freaks as clients? Hell, no!

A Ridiculously Simple Challenge for You

Here’s a simple challenge for you that will change your future forever: schedule four dates for a quarterly strategic meeting. Don’t do this tomorrow or later today—do this RIGHT NOW. This is nothing more powerful for your law firm than strategic thinking during quarterly strategic meetings.

“The future you are going to live is the one you are creating right now at this very moment.”

Brian P. Moran, The 12 Week Year

98% of you will take a pass on this challenge.  And that’s okay because if I can get even one of you to take this challenge, I will be thrilled.  And just in the small chance you happen to do this, send me an email (jfisher@fishermalpracticelaw.com) and let me know. We’ll both celebrate a moment of progress…and in five years, your law firm will look completely different.

photo credit: Business Computer and IT Support via photopin (license)

Leave a comment below telling me what surprised, inspired or taught you the most (I personally respond to every comment). And if you disagree with my take on running a personal injury law firm, or have a specific, actionable tip, I’d love to hear from you.