(3 simple secrets for success I wish I had known a long time ago)
At the time, it just seemed like rude thing to say.
Here’s the story: I’m fresh out of law school and trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I’m taking any new client I can get my hands on and I’m struggling, but starting to make some inroads at my father’s law practice in upstate New York. My lawyer/dad was feeding me a new case every here and there and I was starting to grow a client base accepting just about any new client who walked through the door. I was beginning to think I knew what was I doing and starting to build confidence.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, one of my father’s real estate clients just happened to say something to me that seemed strange (and a bit rude) at the time. As this 40-something male was waiting around in the reception of my dad’s law office, he stopped me as I was walking by and said, “You need to get out of here.”
At first, this seemed more than just a little rude and I had no idea what he meant until he explained, “If you stay here [my father’s law practice in upstate New York], you will always be in the shadow of your father. You might become the best lawyer in town, but you will always be judged as someone who simply rode your dad’s coattails.” So, he went on, “You should leave and prove yourself somewhere else for five or ten years and if you’re good, you can always come back…after you’ve proven yourself.”
Deep down I knew my dad thought the same thing–he just wanted me to figure it out on my own. So I left the small town in upstate New York in August, 1992 to stake my own claim in the world.
How this Advice from a Small-Town Realtor Changed my Life
As a young, novice lawyer, I took jobs in New York City and later Albany with no firm grasp on exactly what type of lawyer I wanted to be. I handled real estate closings, evictions, wills and estates, small commercial lawsuits and just about everything under the sun, until one day a 30-something black male, Michael, came into my office in downtown Albany without an appointment.
Michael explained that he had sustained a significant brain injury in a bus accident and no lawyer in town wanted his case. Michael sustained significant brain damage in what appeared to be a cut-and-dry liability case.
I knew next to nothing about personal injury law, but I just knew this had to be a case. I accepted Michael’s case and immersed myself in studying personal injury law and any book I could find about traumatic brain injury. I was completely fascinated. Almost immediately I knew I had found my thing.
Michael’s case eventually made its way to trial in Troy. While Michael’s case settled at trial, he did not get anywhere close to the money that he deserved and I came away from this experience disappointed in the “scales of justice” and the concept that juries always seem to get it right—the idealism of a young lawyer was beginning to fade. But I knew one thing: I had found the only thing I wanted to do with the rest of my career.
Three Secrets to Success that will change your career
In hindsight, I know now that I was clueless as a young lawyer in the early to mid- nineties. Just like almost everyone else, I had no clear sense of what I wanted to do after law school. I just accepted what everyone told me: work hard and you will have all the clients you want, lots of money and a good life. What a bunch of crap!
There are secrets to building a great law practice and like everyone, I had to learn this stuff through trial and error and lots of mistakes. But if I could get in a time machine and go back to my father’s law office in the early nineties to have a chat with myself, I wouldn’t say, “Work hard and everything will be fine.” Instead, I’d have a much different conversation about three secrets that will make all of the difference in your law career.
Become a Specialist
First, I’d tell the young “me” that you have to specialize in something. Find what you love to do and then just say “no” to everything else. I know, lawyers are not supposed to say we are “specialists” in anything–our ethical rules say this is a “no-no”. But if you aren’t specializing in something, you will be marginal in everything.
The days of the general practitioner are long gone. Perhaps 30-40 years ago, you could be all things for all clients, but now, you’d just be a bad lawyer at just about everything. Even worse, as a general practitioner you will be viewed as just another lawyer and consumers will view you as a commodity that they can buy or sell for the lowest fee.
A specialist (oops, I’m not supposed to say that word) limits his/her practice to a very narrow area of the law and becomes an expert in it. Your website, letterhead and all of your marketing materials are designed to send a single message: you only do one thing and you’re damn good at it! A specialist commands respect from consumers, injury victims and other members of the bar.
When a new injury client is interviewing lawyers and they see that you limit your practice to a single, very specific area of the law while your competitors are the quintessential “jack of all trades and master of none”, who do you think they’re going to hire? You make it much easier for prospective clients to hire you by promoting yourself as a “specialist” (crap, there’s that word again).
But even better, by limiting your practice to a very specific area of law, you become a master of it. You’re damn proud of this and you’ll put yourself up against anyone. But this is just the first piece of advice I’d give to the young, inexperienced “me”.
Delegate almost everything
Your career (and life) will be chaos if you’re answering every phone call or email during your workday. You will never get home in time for dinner or attend your kids’ ball games if you insist of being everything for your clients. That’s why you have to delegate everything you can and do only those things that you cannot delegate.
Just think before you do anything, can this task be delegated to your secretary or paralegal? If so (and I’m guessing the answer is “yes” to almost all of your tasks), you have to delegate.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “okay, but I can do this task faster and better than anyone else”. This is exactly the type of thinking will ruin you. Now, there are certain things that only you can do; I can’t delegate depositions and trials because my paralegal doesn’t have a law degree. But just about everything else I can delegate.
But don’t just stop with your law practice, try delegating the menial, time-consuming tasks in your personal life. Hire someone in your town on Craig’s List to do your grocery shopping and get your dry cleaning for $10 an hour. Guess what, you just saved 3-4 hours a week to spend more time building your law practice and attending your kids’ ball games.
Marketing is the single most important thing you can do
This is where law schools get it wrong. Sure, law schools teach you everything you need to know about torts, contracts and constitutional law, but that’s just a small piece of what you need for success.
Yes, I’ll say it, there should be mandatory classes on marketing in every law school in America…but there’s not a single class or even an hour of instruction on owning and operating your law firm. Perhaps our erudite law professors just expect us to learn practice building through osmosis (on second thought, that’s a bad idea).
The best thing you can do for your career is to devote as much time and energy as you can to marketing and growing your law practice. Now, I know this is a taboo subject among most lawyers—I know, I know, you’re a lawyer not a marketer. But this is precisely the type of thinking that will prevent you from having the career and life you work so hard for.
If you are not marketing and growing your law practice every day, it doesn’t matter whether you’re the greatest lawyer in the world. You will just be sitting around waiting for the phone to ring with your next case. If there’s just one thing I could tell the young, naïve “me” back in 1992, it’s this: learning and implementing marketing in your law practice is the single most important thing you can do.
Action is Everything
Yes, specializing, delegating and marketing are the three cornerstones for a successful law practice. But these concepts are meaningless without one final ingredient: ACTION!
In the real world, you have to take real “action” to succeed.
T. Harv Eker, Secrets of the Millionaire Mind
It’s easy just to stay in your comfort zone and keep doing things the way you have. But taking action and implementing specific policies in your practice are what separates the winners from the wannabes.
My final words of advice for the young, naïve “me” is to take action every single day, even if it’s a small “baby step” toward your goals. You will not see any concrete changes in a few weeks or even 2-3 months, but you will begin seeing changes in 6 months if you take small steps toward your goals every day. And after a year or so, you will be stunned at the changes in your law practice (and your life) and your professional and personal world will never be the same.
How can we help you become more awesome?
What if there was a book about law office systems, management and marketing that leaves no secrets behind?
A book that will give you systems for every aspect of your practice, so your law firm runs like a finely tuned sports car while you’re on vacation. Yes, a book that Ben Glass, Esq., the nation’s leading marketing guru calls, “amazing”.
Now, for the first time ever, this book exists. The Power of a System: How to Build the Injury Law Practice of your Dreams is crammed full of 328 pages of cutting-edge, “you’ve never heard this before”, inside secrets about law office systems, management and practice and for only $26.99 it can be your’s.
Now, go to the home page of www.ultimateinjurylaw.com and order your copy of The Power of a System. Let’s get started building the injury practice of your dreams NOW!
P.S.: And by the way, if you’re not absolutely thrilled with The Power of a System, just send it back to me. You’ll get your money back plus $25.00 just for reading my book (sounds crazy? Read the book!) No questions asked and no strings attached!
photo credit: Corporate Image via photopin (license)