(How you can become instantly more productive by following three simple rules…and still get home in time for dinner with your family)
We’ve all had these days. You get to work with a specific plan in place and soon enough, unexpected time bombs hit your plate. It might be the lawyer friend who just want to “take a second to pick your mind”, a friend from law school who wants to talk fantasy football or perhaps the needy client who only needs your ear for a second. Either way, you get sidetracked and before you know it, 4:00 p.m. rolls around and you haven’t accomplished a damn thing.
Did you have a productive day? Keep in mind, being busy is not the same as being productive. Just being busy doesn’t mean a damn thing. But how do you serve your clients and get work done at the same time?
First, you need to develop a system for communicating with clients. And no, a system does not include taking all phone calls as they come in. The system for client communication must be in writing and preferably signed by your clients at the first meeting. If your clients are informed about your Rules for Communication at your first meeting and sign an agreement that they will live by your rules, you’ve taken the first step to managing your time ruthlessly.
The First (and most important) Rule for Client Communication: No Unscheduled or Unplanned Phone Calls
This is a big one. If you continue taking unscheduled phone calls from clients (or anyone else for that matter), you will have no control over your time. As soon as the next phone call comes in, you will be sidetracked and redirected to a different case and a new client. This is a complete waste of your time!
You must educate new clients at your first meeting that you will not accept unscheduled phone calls. But this does not mean you will not provide access to your clients…but only on your terms and when you are available.
My “3 Rules of Communication” require that clients schedule a phone call with me between 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. and send an email or fax to me that sets forth the purpose of the phone call.
The email or fax will serve two important purposes:
#1: It requires the client to give careful thought to the topics that he wants to discuss with me; and
#2: It will give me the opportunity to be prepared for the phone call. Instead of telling the client, “I will have to get back to you”, I will have answers for their questions during the phone call.
Instead of taking unscheduled phone calls, you blocking out time to take phone calls at the end of the day after you’ve got a lot of work done. Now, you are taking back control of your workday, and that’s a beautiful thing.
The Second Ruthless Rule: Never Meet with Clients who Show Up at your Office without an Appointment
Never meet or speak with clients who show up at your office without an appointment! You need to be crystal clear with your new clients by educating them: if you show up at my office without an appointment, I will not meet or speak with you. It’s that simple.
Taking time to meet with clients who do not have an appointment is even worse than taking unscheduled phone calls. If you take these unscheduled appointments, you are completely redirecting your attention and time away from the important work projects that will make money for you.
So how do you keep clients happy? You just need to explain that you will be happy to meet with them…but only on your terms and when you are available. Your clients must schedule a time to meet with you and send a fax listing the topics that you want to discuss at the meeting. You can allot as much time as the client wants for the meeting and you will be prepared to answer their questions. Sounds like a productive meeting, right?
The Third Ruthless Rule for Managing your Time: KILL THE EMAIL MONSTER!
It is awfully tempting to take a break in the workday to check email. Hell, email is fun to read and an easy distraction from your real work. But email is the ultimate time thief.
So here’s what you do. Tell your new clients that you do not respond to email. Hell, it is just way too easy to get caught up in responding to email and convincing yourself at the end of the day that you got a lot done. You’re kidding yourself!
Here’s how I kill the Email Monster: I do not open my email box until 4:00 p.m. each day. That’s right, I do not open Outlook until the end of the day. Why? Don’t you need to stay informed of what’s going on? Hell, no!!!
By the end of the day, the “emergencies” and the “top priority” emails will all have worked themselves out and usually there is no need to respond to them. But trust me, this will be the hardest thing for you to do. The habit of reading and responding to email is so well engrained in us that it seems impossible to break.
But give it a shot! You will be amazed at how productive you can be when you stop taking unscheduled phone calls, unplanned office visits and perhaps most important of all, stop reading and responding to emails as they hit your inbox.
The First Step to Implementing your Rules of Communication
I ask new clients to sign a seven-page agreement that sets forth my rules, and yes, they initial each page and sign the final page to confirm they will live by my rules. There is even a page in my Rules of Communication that explains what happens if they violate the rules, including termination of the attorney-client relationship. Ouch! (but that has only happened once and I was glad to see them go).
Your clients should leave your first meeting with a signed copy of your Rules of Communication and an oath that they will live by them. Once you establish the grounds rules, you will be amazed at how infrequently your clients will violate you rules.
Are you still cynical about my Rules of Communication? My rules are endorsed by Ben Glass, Esq., the leading authority (at least in my view and many other’s) in the country on law practice management and business development
Still don’t believe me? The nation’s top lawyer for law office development, systems and mindset, Ben Glass, Esq., had this to say about my #3 Rules of Communication:
Here, I’m going to show you John Fisher’s really, really “ruthless” of his clients’ access to him.
I’ve not heard of anyone who had actually tried this positioning who has come back to say, ‘It didn’t work; I’ve returned to giving everyone around me instant access to me at any time.
Remember, you can only “act this way” when you are confident that there’s a stream of new clients coming down the pipeline. As John explained in the October Coaching Call (Coaching and MasterMind members should make sure they listen to that CD!), almost 100% of his clients come on referral from other lawyers
At the end of the day, will your clients leave you for another lawyer? Will your clients grumble that you are not accessible to them? Well, if this happens, then rip up the rules and go back to the old school way that you had been doing things…but I think you will be shocked at the results and how you’ve just managed to take back control of your time.
How you can get started being “ruthless” with your time
I have two FREE gifts for you: #1: a CD of my one-hour interview with Ben Glass, Esq. describing my “lawyer to lawyer” model for business development and #2: my seven-page document called, “John’s #3 Rules for Communication”. Just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Send me the Rules of Communication and the FREE CD of the Ben Glass, Esq. interview”, and I will mail them to you. Not too shabby, right?
How can we help you become more awesome?
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