Posts tagged - law

Criticize constructively and not in front of others

I always hope to learn from my mistakes. Similarly, anything I count as a failure in my career has been a great learning experience. There also have been moments where I have received constructive criticism, which helped me in the long run, because I was open to hearing it. I feel lucky that the people who provided this type of feedback to me did so in a professional and meaningful way.

In doing so, they both complimented me and criticized me because it is important to provide positive feedback if you are going to provide negative feedback. They also do this in private, i.e. not in front of others or in manner meant to embarrass someone. This is important.

I have worked at firms during my career where partners thought young associate attorneys would be motivated by providing negative feedback in group settings. It came across as “so and so did ________, and you should too if you want to have problems too.” Of course it had the opposite effect, scaring other associates and, at one firm I worked for, caused a number of the associates to look for and find positions with other firms. I am not saying the feedback was wrong, but criticizing someone in front of others is harmful to that person and negatively affects other similarly situated employees.

The next time you need to provide criticism to an employee or someone you manage, do it in private, as well as in a constructive manner. I would never think to broadcast an issue to others instead of directly and privately with someone I work with or who works under me. The goal is to help the person improve and succeed, but how you deliver the message may or may not have your hoped for and intended results. You need to think through how you constructively criticize people because it can help your people and your business improve.

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Turn on, tune in and drop out on your vacation: vacation ≠ work

Do you vacation at least once or twice a year? You should. Your body and brain need a break. Most of us work hard, but are not built to work every single day without a some downtime. If you have a family, they may even want to spend some time with you!

I was speaking with another attorney recently who was lamenting an upcoming vacation with his wife and kids. He was complaining about what he had to get done before his vacation, making sure things were covered while he was gone and the catching up he was sure he would have to do upon returning. I understand what he was saying because all of us face the same issues when we go out of town. Plus we live in a time when everyone – clients, opposing counsel, co-workers – expect immediate responses.

But you still have to make time to take a break, stringing together a number of days when you can focus on friends or family and activities you don’t get to do all the time. Taking yourself out of the grind, even for short periods of time, can help your mindset and motivation when you return. Of course, this assumes you actually take a real break when away, i.e. not checking email, voicemail or otherwise working. This includes the “excuse” of making your inevitable return easier by checking your email to weed out spam and unimportant emails, which I admit I have done. If you do this, you will see the more important emails and then feel you have to review and respond, and then you are sucked right out of vacation and relaxation mode into work mode.

To avoid this, you have to address your availability, or lack thereof, prior to leaving your office for vacation. You can try to do this by setting expectations on your availability and response time for clients, co-workers and others you deal with. Do this before leaving. The idea is to put yourself in the best place to have a break and enjoy yourself.

As I am writing this I also am remembering the attorney who complained to me about going vacation mentioning he knew he would be working while he was away if I needed to call or email him. No shock.

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Perfection breeds insanity

No one is perfect. We hear this all of the time, which is why it has become a cliché. It is true, but many people strive to be perfect. It simply is not possible, and is your idea of perfection the same as mine? I guarantee you it isn’t.

I know an attorney at another firm who is a perfectionist regarding the pleadings researched and drafted. By this I mean the number of times a draft pleading is revised is almost endless. By working this way, the attorney spends an immense amount of time on whatever pleading is being drafted. This ends up being bad on two levels. One, this attorney self-edits time, meaning that the entire time spent is not billed to the client, i.e. the client never will know how much work was done on the case. Second, all of us have important things to do, whether business or with family, that get lost in the shuffle when “extra” work is done that the client doesn’t know about and isn’t billed for. The idea of the perfect pleading also ignores the client’s budget because legal work, like many products or service, isn’t one size fits all.

What happens in the reality I just described is the attorney loses time for other work and activities, thereby billing less, making less money and having less time for outside activities. At the same time, the client likely is billed more than they can afford. These types of issues are problematic. The time issue is obvious, but time also is impacted by the money issue.

Attorneys don’t like dealing with billing issues generally. True statement. Plus, any time spent dealing with billings issues, whether with a client or your partners, is more time spent not getting work done for paying clients. The client wants to know why the pleading cost so much and your partners want to know why the pleading cost so much. Your partners also will want to know the client’s expectations of cost and why isn’t the client paying for the work. Despite these issues, many attorneys do this over and over, and have done so for years.

This is an example of how perfection breeds insanity in the legal profession. The definition of insanity I am thinking of is: doing the exact same thing over and over and expecting different results. Or maybe they don’t expect different results, and don’t know how to stop working in that manner. Either way it’s insanity.

Whatever type of job, profession or industry you work in has an equivalent to this. Instead of perfection, try to deliver the best possible service or experience to achieve the client or customer’s objections while keeping their ability to pay and any budget in mind. Do this and you have the best chance to meet their expectations, get paid and not waste time dealing with the issues that come with doing too much. You will save yourself headaches and brain damage by keeping these types of objectives in mind in your day-to-day work.

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5 things to check on or do with your attorney, insurance agent or work before you go on your summer vacation

Summer is fast approaching. At least it feels that way here in Phoenix. With summer comes the inevitable vacations, which include road trips and all kinds of fun (and somewhat) dangerous activities. Before you escape on a great adventure, here are some things you may want to think about and consider:

  1. Call your attorney if you are leaving minor children at home with friends, family or a babysitter. You need to leave insurance cards and information, but you also need to provide a limited power of attorney for the caregiver to be able to make medical decisions in the event a child becomes sick or is injured while you are in some exotic locale or otherwise unreachable.
  2. Call your attorney if your estate plan up is not up to date. If you’re not sure, you know the answer. Whether you are traveling alone, with a partner or with your family, it is important to have your estate planning documents in the form you want them. No one plans on something bad happening, but it is good to be prepared in case it does.
  3. Are you doing a short term or long term rental in-state, out of state or abroad? Call your attorney to review any rental contract or terms you are not familiar with or uncomfortable with (and this is important) before you sign the document. Rentals can cost a lot of money and you want to make sure you are getting what you think you are paying for.
  4. Call your insurance agent or broker and make sure you have sufficient life insurance in place prior to bungee jumping or skydiving during your vacation. Ditto for auto insurance before your road trip.
  5. Otherwise, remember to let your clients and colleagues know when you will be gone, and how to reach you (if you will be reachable and actually want to be reached…).

The point is that the more you know the better off you are. The professionals you use are available to advise and help you, and a few question can go a long way to protecting you and or your family.

That being said, I hope you are getting ready to go on or putting the finishing touches on a fantastic summer getaway!

 

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Meeting expectations shows clients you care

I previously have mentioned that my firm has 21 fundamentals that are the foundation of our culture. We call it the JW Way (http://www.jaburgwilk.com/mission-statement). JW Way #3 is Be Passionate About the Client Experience. Without clients or customers none of us would have a job.

We all have them. Whoever you work for is your “client.” For me, I have clients. You may have customers. If you work at a company and report to an internal higher up, that is your client – if this is you, you may be thinking “Manager Jones isn’t my customer or client,” but if that is who oversees what you do and provides feedback on whether you have met required goals or expectations, they are your “client.”

I am big on meeting or exceeding my client’s expectations. I do this a number of ways, with the focus always being on delivering outstanding legal advice, which happens to be JW Way #1. The day to day situations where expectations come in for me is on deliverables, such as draft letters, agreements or pleadings. If I tell a client I will have a draft letter for their review on Wednesday and I email it on Wednesday, I meet the expectation I set for them. If I send it on Tuesday, I have exceeded the expectation. But if I get it there on Thursday or Friday, I have failed. I would much rather under-promise and over-deliver than the opposite.

Even if you under-promise to make sure you can meet a deadline or expectation, it doesn’t mean you always will be able to do so. When that happens, you know in advance you need more time. So pick up the phone, let your client know and set a new deadline you believe you can meet. Things happen. Of course, if you reset deadlines all of the time, the client will think you either over-promise consistently, don’t manage your time well, always move this client’s work to the bottom of the pile or all of the above. If you do this often to enough clients, you won’t have to worry about time because you likely will be working for fewer clients.

Meeting expectations is an important facet of being passionate about the client experience. When you do this, it shows you care about what you do and your clients. This is the image you should want to project. And, if you are honest with yourself, you know it is what you expect when you are the customer.

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The Facts Matter

A fact is defined as a thing that is indisputably the case or a piece of information used as evidence or as part of a report or news article. This is why it is important to know the facts or check facts you hear before relying on them or passing them; don’t simply take them as true.

We live in a world where most people blindly believe what they read on the Internet or hear on television. But facts and truth matter, whether in the news or for you. In my world the facts, and the details related to the facts, make differences as to whether my clients have a chance of success or not in disputes and lawsuits. If I make an unsupported statement in a legal pleading or in court, in addition to not helping my client, I hurt my credibility generally and specifically – judges are smart and remember attorneys who do not support their positions well, let alone make outright misrepresentations in an effort to win for their client.

The idea that facts matters hit home for me recently when ESPN reported that my alma mater’s basketball coach was implicated in the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball. The story was based on facts that ESPN failed to check, which included alleged wire tapped conversations and what was supposedly discussed in those conversations. But ESPN did not confirm the accuracy of what they were reporting, or its source, before repeating the story over and over again. Instead, less than forty eight hours after the initial report, it is clear that no one at ESPN (or any other news outlet) has heard the tapes and that the “facts” they reported and how they interpreted those facts do not make sense if a simple time line is done. Importantly and interstingly, ESPN has generally been radio silent on allegations since twenty-four hours after they first reported them.

Now, this does not mean the coach did or didn’t do anything improper or illegal, but the damage is done. The University of Arizona has already lost one high-level basketball recruit. It is in a no win situation with the coach because his reputation has been significantly damaged, and therefore so has his ability to recruit top high school players. He may not be able to coach again. If he did something wrong then that is a good result. If he didn’t, his life has been ruined by people reporting hearsay information in a rush to be the first to report the story. How would you feel if happened to you or someone your know?

The point is that you need to make sure you have the facts straight in all situations. Each of our reputations relies on people believing us and relying on what we say. If you have the facts wrong, or don’t take the time to confirm you have them right, you are doing a disservice to the people you are dealing with, whether paying customers or clients, or friends or family. People will question what you say if you ignore the facts, or in some cases, the lack of facts. So always do your best to get the facts straight.

 

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Organization is important

  • Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up. ~ A.A. Milne

 

Yes, I just quoted the author of Winnie-the-Pooh. And he is right, which is both obvious and apparent, especially to those of us trying to stay organized. Let’s be honest, it is a constant struggle. You have your business life and your personal life. Some people keep separate calendars for each. Others are like me and keep one calendar for everything lest they miss anything.

And what works for me to stay organized and focused may not work for you, and vice versa. At home, I am having this challenge with my perpetually disorganized twelve year old daughter. At this point in time she fits the old saying “she would lose her head if it wasn’t attached.” In trying to advise her on organization, I have been speaking with her about what I do, and what others have told me they do, because I do not know what will work for her.

So, if you are not naturally organized, do you have a system? For instance, I use calendar reminders that are synced across my work and personal computers and devices, as well as using hand-written “to do” lists or lists I email to myself. What about you? Do you use a different method or combination of methods? Maybe certain software or an app?

As with most things, you should take time every so often to assess your state of organization….or lack thereof. Maybe you are reading this and realizing that your system or methods are failing you and you really are not as organized as you thought. If that is the case, you need to take action because disorganization leads to wasted time and lost money or opportunity. It could be forgetting to connect with the great lead you met last night at an event. Or it could be it causes you to have less time to spend with your family. Whatever it is in your life, disorganization is equivalent to loss.

Don’t let this happen to you. Take time to assess your level of organization. It might be working fine, or maybe it needs a tweak. Or maybe it needs an overhaul. If so, do it sooner than later because it will save you time and lead to time better spent personally and professionally.

And if you think you have a great system or method, please share it with me.

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Change Happens

What is hot tomorrow won’t be forever. Today’s styles and trends likely will have changed by this time next year, if not sooner. You can look no further than general music trends from the ’80’s through now.

Back then rock ruled. Think Queen, Led Zeppelin, etc. Then glam rock became big – think of Guns-n-Roses, Motley Crue and Poison – only to be kicked to the curb by Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and grunge rock. After that there was the era of the boys bands, and now pop and rap rule the charts and airwaves. And what artists or bands are popular changes all the time. And always did.

The same happens in the fields we all are in. Change is constant. It may be because of technology, which generally impacts all of us. It may be like in law, where new cases are published by Courts all of the time changing or narrowing the law. Or maybe you are an accountant and deal with the ever-changing tax code. If you think about it and are honest with yourself, you probably can name what has changed in your business in the first half of 2017.

Change actually is what keeps things interesting. In our evolving world, either continually adapt or get out of the way of those of us who do.

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Teamwork is necessary

No one really makes it on their own. Everyone is part of a team, whether internally at their business or with partners at other businesses. Anyone who thinks their success is only attributable to their own actions is mistaken and myopic.

You need to know your colleagues. Does this mean you have to be best friends with everyone and know everything about them? Of course not. But it does mean you need to know more than their name and which office they are in.

For what I do, I need to know the practice areas of other attorneys at my firm. If not, how do I serve my clients and referrals generally and when they have needs outside of my practice area? I can’t, and then I lose and my firm loses, because I can miss valuable cross-marketing opportunities.

It sounds so simple: you need to know the services your business provides. It is easier in some businesses than others. In mine, it means I need to remember a lot of information or be organized enough to access it or know who to asks in a given situation. And when I need to ask, it is another time being on a team helps.

Internal teamwork also fosters trust and collaboration. Sometimes you are the quarterback running the offense and sometimes you are the receiver catching the ball from a leader or supervisor and running with it. If you do not have an effective team, there is a better chance the ball is dropped, which reflects badly on your business.

Of course teamwork can lead to situations where some people get more credit than others, even where other members of the team were necessary and did the actual legwork that resulted in the credit or accolades. Good leaders recognize those who lift them up and enable the recognition. Most of the time you see someone getting recognition or an award, there is a group of people behind him or her who are responsible. And without their teamwork, the project being recognized likely would have gone nowhere.

So remember that every member of your team is impactful and has a role to play because team work is the rule, not the exception.

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We all are salespeople

I wanted to go to law school, but knew for sure after an interview with Pitney Bowes. The interviewer asked me to sell him widgets. I never tried to close the deal, so you can imagine the result of the interview. In addition to thinking law was interesting, I thought I was going into a profession that didn’t require selling. I was wrong.

In law you can sell or not. But if you don’t, others will control your destiny, not you. It is the same in many professions and businesses. It is the difference between leaders and others.

I learned to sell through sheer force of will and the help of many great mentors. All these years in I continue to listen to others to try continuously learn how to do it better.

So set goals and takes steps if being better at selling will improve your career. If I can figure out, so can you.

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