“Everything you’ve been told about building
an injury law practice is wrong”

Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous Lawyers

Success (or the lack thereof) is determined by one thing: HABITS. The most successful lawyers have good habits and the mediocre don’t. Luck has nothing to do with it.

Highly successful lawyers seem to follow some of the same routine habits. If you have bad habits (i.e., mindless TV-watching and web surfing), you will be destined for a life of mediocrity. If you have good habits, you will have a serious advantage over every other lawyer and over the long-haul, success will be almost inevitable.

Habits are customary responses that you repeat the same way over and over. Once you establish a habit over 66 days (yes, there is a science to this), they become virtually self-executing and require almost no conscious thought. Your workday is on automatic pilot with habits.

Becoming a successful person is more a matter of choice than circumstance.

Rory Vaden, Take the Stairs

What are the habits of the most successful lawyers? Here are a few thoughts of the habits of the “Rich and Famous” lawyers.

Daily Habits of Uber-Successful Lawyers

No Email before Noon: Avoid the temptation of email and turn off the email notification window on your computer.

Filter Email: Have an assistant read your email, respond to as much as possible and only bother you with email that requires your response, i.e., email from the Judge.

No Unscheduled Phone Calls: Never accept unscheduled phone calls or clients who drop by your office just for a “second” of your time. These thoughtless time grabs distract you from your goals for the day.

Block Time Off for Phone Calls: Block off one hour for phone calls, ideally at the end of the day between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. To make the call productive, ask your client to send an email specifying why she wants to chat.

No Web Surfing: If you’re screwing around on the internet, you can’t expect more from your staff. A study of 10,000 U.S. employees found that the average worker admitted to wasting 2.09 hours each day on non-job related activities.

Self-discipline is the simplest and fastest way to make life as easy as possible.

Rory Vaden, Take the Stairs

No Internet, Facebook or Email at Home: When you get home from work, be present with your family. Thank you, Mike Campbell, Esq., for this simple, but extraordinary tip!

Daily Meeting with Staff: Meet with your staff for a “Daily Huddle” at 9:15 a.m. to discuss each employee’s Top 3 Goals for the day. The Daily Huddle is very brief (15 minutes), creates alignment around common goals, improves communication and gives your staff daily access to you to resolve obstacles. The Daily Huddle may be the #1 habit of the “Rich and Famous”.

Begin with a Positive Focus: Begin every Daily Huddle by stating one thing—personal or professional—that you are grateful for. When you begin with gratitude, you focus on the positive things in your life.

Crazy, Unorthodox Motivational Habits

Dream Manager Program: $ does not inspire or motivate. The best way to motivate your staff is to show that you care about them. Show your staff that you care about their dreams and invest time and money in the Dream Manager Program. This alone will set you head and shoulders above every other law firm.

Treat Your Employees Like Gold: Far more important than client satisfaction. Focus on employee satisfaction and they will treat your clients with the same respect and ultimately, you will be the beneficiary with great results. Ask your superstar employees, “What can I do to make work easier for you?” Hire an executive assistant for your superstar paralegal or take an employee to lunch every week.

Never Accept Mediocrity: Demand 100% compliance with your policies. Policies and systems aren’t worth squat if you don’t enforce them.

Book of the Month: Pick a self-improvement book and ask your team to read a new book once a month. For employees who write a one-page book summary, give a $100 bonus and post the book review on-line and in your conference room.

Fire Whiners: Weed out whiners. The mindset of, “My life sucks”, must be ruthlessly gutted from your law firm.

A life of average comes from having an average attitude.

Rory Vaden, Take the Stairs.

Document Systems: When you face a question or issue that is likely to recur, write down a policy. With written policies, you won’t have to revisit the same question more than once. Documented systems are essential if you want to your law practice to function when you’re not there.

Distraction-Free Work Environment: The ultimate work environment has zero distractions and is free of internet, email and phone calls. Go to a quiet place with no distractions, i.e., public library, turn off your cell phone and internet access and you will be crazy productive.

Distraction is a dangerously deceptive saboteur of our goals.

Rory Vaden, Take the Stairs.

Mindset Habits of the Successful

“We”, not “Me”: Never underestimate the powerful impact of your words. Give credit to your team and focus on the team with your language, i.e., “We”, not “I”. Pass along credit for great results to your team.

Purpose, Values and Mission: There is nothing more important than core values for any business. What are the basic values that govern the conduct of your law firm (i.e., 10 Commandments)? Once you create a set of core values (less is more), post the values in every office and celebrate when a member of your team takes action based upon your values.

Craft Your Vision: First, write a detailed description of what you want your law firm to look like in 15-20 years. Next, write down what do you want your perfect life to look like. You have to dream big to become big.

It’s a shame that we spend years of our life doing activities we think we’re supposed to do, and we spend only minutes figuring out what we really want.

Rory Vaden, Take the Stairs

Embrace Culture: What makes your superstar employees great? This is how you define the culture of your law firm. My law firm’s culture is based upon Humility and Hunger: employees who are humble, down-to-earth, highly motivated and hungry to get the job done at all costs. A group of highly motivated (hungry) and humble staff will be ultra-committed to your success.

Walk through Fire: Successful people form the habit of doing things that failures don’t like doing.

Success comes from being tested in the fire, being pushed to your limits, and having your character and confidence shaped by challenging circumstances.

Rory Vaden, Take the Stairs

The Power of a Mastermind: Join a mastermind! Surround yourself with high-achieving elite lawyers at a mastermind and have them dissect your marketing and management practices. Expose yourself to the best practices and avoid mistakes. There is nothing more powerful than a small group of like-minded individuals working toward a common purpose.

Financial Habits of the Best Lawyers

Know Your Numbers: Review your profit and loss statement at a face-to-face meeting every month with your bookkeeper. Know your overhead to the penny and trim the fat. Break down the expenses by marketing, case management and operating overhead (rent, payroll, health insurance).

Project income based upon trial dates over the next 12 months. Make sure your projected income is realistic and then fight to make it happen.

Be Frugal: Invest heavily in marketing and for everything else, watch every penny. If marketing pays for itself, invest more. Your best investment will always be in yourself.

“Every dollar you spend today is worth at least $5 in 10 years and $10 in 30 years.”

Rory Vaden, Take the Stairs.

Transparency with Your Numbers: Be straight with your staff about your finances (they know how you’re doing anyway). Your staff will appreciate your honesty and transparency and you will be rewarded with a group of devoutly loyal team members.

The Rhythm of Habitual Meetings

Quarterly Strategic Meetings: Quarterly strategic meetings separate winners from the mediocre. Meet with your team to create a single “Rallying Cry” for the next 90 days.

Post a reminder of your “Rallying Cry” in your conference room and discuss your progress at weekly meetings. Give everything you’ve got to turn your “Rallying Cry” into a reality and keep your staff laser-beam focused on a single goal.

Weekly Goal Meetings: Meet every Monday to set each employee’s top 5 goals for the week, including your “Top 1 of 5”. Focus your time and goals on your highest value “A” cases and as little time as possible on your lower value cases.

The Weekly Goal Meetings do 2 things: (1) ALIGNMENT around common goals; and (2) ACCOUNTABILITY for those who don’t do what they’re supposed to.

If you don’t know what your ideal week looks like, you will never have one.

Rory Vaden, Take the Stairs

Monthly Progress Reports: Have your assistant track the Key Performance Indicators (a/k/a “Smart Numbers”) for every important metric from website traffic, case management and new case intakes. Share the monthly progress report among staff, spot trends and celebrate progress.

Habits of Gratitude

Birthday Cards/Phone Calls to Clients: Shock your clients with a phone call on their birthday. Just say “hi” and let them know you’re thinking of them. Your clients will never forget your personal touch.

Weekly Lunch with Employee: Show your staff that you care by taking them to lunch once a week. Avoid talking shop and find out what they do in their spare time. You will be amazed that they too have lives outside of work.

Monthly Meals with Clients: Take a client to lunch once a month with your team. Your clients will appreciate the friendly gesture and your staff will see how their work has improved your clients’ lives.

Book Gift for Holidays: Make your holiday card unique by offering to send copies of your book to the friends of your referral partners. Gift wrap your book and send it as a gift.

Buy Lunch for Referral Partner’s Law Firm: Don’t just mail the referral fee check to your referral partner. Buy lunch for your referral partner’s law firm and hand-deliver the check for the referral fee when lunch is delivered. Thank you, Corina Skidmore (the world’s greatest paralegal) for this tip!

Daily Handwritten Notes: Write a daily handwritten note to your referral partners just to say “hi”. Handwritten notes are treasured and will not be tossed out.

Habits for Managing a Lawsuit

No Adjournments: NEVER adjourn trial dates or depositions. For a plaintiffs’ lawyer, adjournments are a deadly enemy that will screw up your income projections for the year.

Don’t be a Minimum Wage Worker: Think, What is the most effective thing you can be doing right now with the time you have available? It’s not all of the things you can be doing, but all of the things you should be doing. If someone else can do the task, you have to delegate.

Case Debriefing: Evaluate your success and failures with your staff at the end of each case. Review your goals for the settlement/judgment, legal fee to disbursement ratio and length of the lawsuit. Always search for ways to make small, incremental improvements in your systems.

Go Paperless: Go 100% paperless! You will have instant access to your files wherever you have an internet connection, specific documents will be easy to locate electronically and you will eliminate the hassle of storing paper documents.

Case Budgets: Establish a written case budget of expenses for every phase of a lawsuit from discovery, pre-trial and trial and estimate the costs as precisely as possible. The budget will show you whether the costs of litigation justify the projected legal fee. Ideally, your legal fee will exceed the disbursements by 10/1.

Budgets for Experts: Put expert witnesses on a written budget. Tell your experts they cannot exceed the budget without prior written approval from you. You can create a case budget that is precise to the dollar and the costs won’t be a surprise at the end of the case.

The Power of Strategic Thinking

98% of lawyers race through their workday with little thought or planning as to the highest and best use of their time. This doesn’t have to be you. Once you begin thinking strategically about each decision that you make in every moment of the day, you instantly raise your game to a higher level.

Once you establish firmly entrenched habits over the course of 66 days, you take control over your ideal work week. With habits, you are managing your schedule and time, rather than letting others dictate what you do with your time.

photo credit: ota_photos Road to Success 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.
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