All posts by - businesslawguy

Don’t be a poor winner or loser

Despite the participation medals or trophies our kids get for seemingly every activity or sport, in most everything in life there are winners and losers. This obviously includes in business. The baseline is easily a business surviving versus a business failing. If you speak with someone whose business is going to fail, they don’t want a pat on the back or to be told “good try.” They wanted to win.

Of course we all lose. When you lose, how do you react? Do you get upset? Do you blame others? Or do you take responsibility for your part in the loss, if any? I ask because I am used to seeing people make excuses.

Conversely, how do you act when you win? Do you gloat? Do you put down whoever lost? Or are you complementary to the person who lost?

In what I do there are winners and losers all of the time. It could relate to a motion being considered by a court or at trial. No attorney can win them all. And there can be real excuses because we are hemmed in by the facts in each case and the law that applies. The excuses I have heard over the years for these types of losses are many, such as “the judge made a mistake” or “the jury just didn’t like my client,” etc. The list goes on and on.

When I have lost I chalk it up to experience and try to look back on what I can learn. I also try to be a graceful loser, where it makes sense and is appropriate. When I communicate a loss to a client, such as when a court issues a ruling months after a hearing or trial, I make sure to do it in person or on the phone, and not by email or text. I don’t make excuses. Doing so never helps the situation and is not how I would want to come across.

When I win, I am, of course, happy. Who isn’t? But I also maintain a professional decorum with any opposing attorney or party. I save the celebration for my client and the attorneys I have worked with on my side of the case.

Knowing how to win and lose is important. It contributes to how people view you and your reputation in your community. Next time you win, or lose, think what you want your reputation to be and let it guide you to acting accordingly.

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Work smarter

Everywhere you look you are told hard work pays off. This is true, as is the fact that hard work is required to become successful. But as you gain experience and have success, the formula should change and you should work smarter.

By working smarter I mean a few things. The first is that you should be able to streamline much of what you do. This may be through utilizing technology that saves you time or keeps you more organized. It also could be that your experience allows you to complete certain tasks or types of work faster.

Second, you should be delegating work. This allows you to push work down to younger or less experienced co-workers. In my world that means having associate attorneys do certain projects such as research and writing, which saves me time and the client money. It also allows you to focus on higher-level tasks. By delegating work you can choose the work you enjoy more or create the time to develop more work.

Third, choose to work when you have the most energy. When you are first working you it feels like you have to be in the office when your superiors show up in the morning and when they leave at night. As you gain experience and the people you work with and for know you get your work done, you hopefully can schedule how you work.

If you aren’t a morning person, having to be in the office and working by 8 am won’t help you get more done. I know someone like this who starts work after 10 am each day, but then works into the evening. If you are a morning person or the opposite, try working to your body’s rhythms and see if it helps you get more done. It also may help you feel more rested and maybe even experience a touch less stress.

These are just a few ideas for working smarter. We all should be open to trying new ideas and strategies that may help us do so. If you do, hopefully you will find a few ideas that will work for you.

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The Email Conundrum

Picture this: you are working on an important project with a fast approaching deadline when suddenly an email comes into your inbox and your computer makes a sound alerting you to this new email. What do you do? You know the answer for most people is that they open the email, thereby interrupting their work and train of thought on the time-sensitive project. We all have been there and the new email is hard to resist.

I have been speaking to more and more people, who, though clearly in the minority, ignore the new email and plow forward on the project in front of them. You probably are thinking “what do these people do with their email?” They tell me they actually set specific times of the day to review and respond to email. One person told me he reviews email at 8 am and 2 pm each day. Another told me he does so at 11 am and 4 pm each day. These two and others I have spoken with swear it works. They all believe it allows them to truly focus on the things they want and need to work on .

I like the idea, but worry about what time-sensitive email I will miss if I turn off the email notifications and only check it a few times each day. Of course the answer is to retrain people to call you if they have a true emergency or time-sensitive issue at hand. I still am trying to wrap my head around whether this idea may work for me, but I could get there in the future.

In a day and age when everyone expects instantaneous response times for emails and other electronic communications, it’s hard to bite the bullet and be less in touch. But it also could be a differentiator. In my case, maybe my clients would appreciate the notion that when I am working on their matter I am focused on it and nothing else.

If any of you work this way or decide to try to do so, I would appreciate feedback on your experience and what feedback you receive about doing so from your colleagues, business partners and clients.

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Luck v. Skill

I really like the podcast How I Built This, on which Guy Raz interviews entrepreneurs about the businesses they have built. At the end of most of the interviews he asks each entrepreneur how much of their success they attribute to luck and how much they attribute to skill. The answers can be interesting, but it always makes me apply the same question to my business and those of my clients. Since first listening to that podcast in the last few years I have been known to pose the same question to my clients and professional contacts.

For me, and for most of the people I have asked, I believe it’s a combination of both. I include timing as part of luck, because most times there is nothing you can pin a chance meeting or conversation on.

An example is when, many years ago, I interviewed at a law firm where a partner there asked me for references. In addition to asking for the usual type of references we generally know will say how great we are – otherwise why would we be using those people as references? – they asked for an adverse reference. I never had been asked that question and thought of an attorney who had been very complementary after being adverse to me in my first trial. The end result was that the formerly adverse attorney, after giving me a great adverse reference, asked me to come work at the firm where she was then employed. I accepted that offer.

If Law Firm A hadn’t asked for an adverse reference I never would have had the opportunity with Law Firm B. Additionally, the timing of this occurring was at a point in time when Law Firm B was interested in hiring someone with my background and skills.

Without those skills, the serendipitous timing wouldn’t have mattered. My skills allowed the opportunity to advance to a job offer and to succeed in that new position.

The point is that business and life are an amazing combination of luck and skill. You need to take the time to hone your skills in you chosen line of work. As you move forward you need to be open to luck and timing. This could be a job opportunity like I had, or a chance connection with a new client with really interesting work for you to do.

If any of you have a great story on the intersection of luck and skill, I would like to hear about it.

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Feedback is important

It is important to provide people with feedback in the workplace. Feedback should be positive or in the form of constructive criticism. Purely negative feedback accomplishes nothing and is the sign of a poor corporate culture.

If you are providing positive feedback, make it meaningful. You should praise someone’s work or actions when it’s really deserved and you mean what you say. Being overly complimentary all of the time won’t help morale or people improve in the long run.

In our participation trophy world, praise can be handed out too much and in situations where it’s not warranted. Don’t give positive feedback when it isn’t deserved. If you do it only will cause problems down the road.

In a similar vein, people withhold praise when it would provide validation for an employee who did a good job and deserves it. I know it can be hard to always know how complimentary to be or when to provide some constructive criticism. The better you know the person the easier it should be to know how and when to provide feedback.

If you start thinking about providing feedback more often you likely can find the balance in trying to provide the right amount of feedback to your co-workers. Try it and see the positive effect it can have on you and your workplace.

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Try new things and hold yourself accountable

It’s the first full week of a new year. I hadn’t decided what to write about when I saw a great quote from Anthony Bourdain. The last part of the quote caught my attention. He said “Open your mind. Get up off the couch. Move.”

Given his television show and how he lived his live, he may be referring to traveling and new experiences. I read the quote expansively. I read it to say to be active and try new things.

These are both good ideas. Being active is good for your body and mind. Don’t be a couch potato. You miss out on so much if you are, other than possibly some additional TV time.

If you haven’t been active in a while, start by taking a short walk. What you do should be dictated by your current level of activity, or inactivity. It’s okay to start slow and it will give you a better chance to stay active consistently.

When you are trying new things, whether exercise or something new in your work, accountability may help. Accountability partners help to keep you honest on how your new activity is going. It can be good to include your accountability partner in your new activity or work strategy. They can help you stick with it when you might otherwise give up.

It’s up to you if you want to call a new activity a “resolution” or not. The goal is long term change, so call it whatever helps you keep that in mind.

I also like the idea of traveling and new experiences. If you go on a great adventure in 2019. Please let me know because I always like ideas of places to go and people to meet!

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The 2018 version of why it’s time for an annual “checkup” for you and, if you have one, your company

Over the past few years many of you probably read my blog regarding having a checkup for you and, if you have one, your business. This does not involve the doctor, but it does involve all the other professionals in your personal and business life. Since that time, I decided to make this topic an annual tradition. This is based in part on the range of feedback I receive every year.

Some of you said “What a great idea. I am definitely going to do that.” Other said “Sounds like a good idea, maybe I will look into that.” Most of you were busy with the holidays and all that they entail, and probably ignored my advice. To be honest, any of these responses is okay and ignoring my advice may not have had detrimental effects to you or your business.

The point of the advice is that you only know what you know. If you do not check in with your professionals and, for example, make sure contracts or your estate plan remain enforceable and up-to-date, that is where risk comes in. For example, I always check in with my accountant at the end of the year to ensure that all is right with taxes.

In 2016 I had a reminder related to a different item you should check in on annually, auto insurance. We had two teenagers on our policy and a number of vehicles, and the premiums always seemed so high to me. But my insurance person knows me and shops the policy every year looking for the best rates rates for policies with similar coverage from quality insurers. He did that for me at the end of 2016 and we ended up with a new insurer, with pretty significant savings.

With the time constraints of life, it is sometimes hard for me to move beyond the higher-level checkup, but when I do I usually end up with some benefit. Unfortunately, in our time-crunched world, the question of who to check in with at year end is expansive, from your estate planning attorney, to your investment person, to your insurance person, to vendors you may use such as a yard or pool maintenance company, or your cell phone carrier or your Internet provider. You may be surprised what a company will do in lowering monthly costs to satisfy a current or longtime customer. Try it and see what happens. A good one to start with is your cable or satellite television provider (assuming you haven’t cut the cable).

I know, I know, who has the time? None of us do, which is why the choices are yours. Are your contracts up to date? Did you pay enough estimated taxes or withholding? Are you paying the cleaning service at your office or your lawn service for your home too much? The choice of what professionals to consult, what costs to check or compare, and what services to put out to bid is yours. Choose wisely!

And for those of you seeking a reminder or who did not see it in years past, here is my original blog post on getting an annual checkup:

The end of the year is always a good time to take stock of where you are personally and professionally. This can be checking in with your personal accountant to make sure you have withheld/paid enough taxes during the year or planning for deductions to planning for large corporate expenditures on things such as upcoming projects, planned corporate initiatives or planned equipment purchases. But the one thing that is a constant is that we all should be doing this.

In the past I have mentioned why it is good to sit down with various professionals you or your company work with just to check-in, be they attorneys, accountants, insurance professionals, financial planners, investment professionals, etc. The list depends on you and your business.

This does not have to be a formal appointment unless you think that is appropriate depending on the nature of the planned conversation. Instead, it can be you offering to buy them lunch or a drink. The point is the better the professionals you work with know you, the more they are able to make recommendations aimed to benefit you or your company.

So don’t wait, start making plans today to meet with these people this year, or at least first thing next year. We all are busy this time of year, but if you take these actions it will help you now and in the future.

Happy Holidays!

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Success

As we head into the end of the year it is a good time to reflect on the past year and plan for the coming year. Was your 2018 a success? If not, will you have goals and a plan in place to try to reach those goals for 2019? Whether or not your year was success, have you ever thought about how you define success?

We all look at success differently. For one person it may be to earn the most money they can. For another it may be to do the best job they can every day they are working.  For yet another it may be to positively impact the most lives they can. Your definition of success depends on you.

The great college basketball coach John Wooden looked at success more about competing with yourself than someone else. I think this is a good point. You may set goals that, if reached, will result in you doing better in some manner than someone else. How you define the goal is the difference.

For an attorney a goal may be about billing a certain number of hours or bringing a certain amount of money. This type of goal can be written in terms of what you will do, i.e. I will bill 1800 hours next year or it can be I will bill more hours than any other partner at my firm next year. Which goal will motivate someone to work harder depends on the person. When I set these types of goals I focus on what I want to do, but not how that will measure up to what others I work with will do.

So as the sun sets on 2018, take time write down goals. When you do, think about how you will measure success. There is no wrong answer. Plus, if you write down your goals, there is a much better chance you will reach them.

I will leave you with a quote from Richard Branson, who equates success with personal fulfillment:

“Too many people measure how successful they are by how much money they make or the people they associate with. In my opinion, true success should be measured by how happy you are.”

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Consistency and organization matter

Consistency and organization matter. The idea is to have a plan and put it into place. What that plan is and how you put it into place will be different depending on you, your business and how you like to work.

For instance, I use a hand written to do list, but also rely on calendaring and tasks in Outlook. This can result in redundancy, but with some of the types of deadlines I am dealing with, I like that.

Others I know block out certain times in their day for specific activities. This can include blocking out a block of time to review email, and not constantly monitor it. At times, I do something similar in part by blocking out time for specific projects that may take longer and on which I need to really focus.

Also, for me, this is an evolving process. I am always looking at how I can better plan and be better organized. It is very important in my day because many times I am working on a significant number of legal matters during the same day, which can negatively affect my focus if I’m not careful.

Think about how you plan your day to work on or be in touch with the projects and people you want and need to. Then think about how we can plan to be better organized to do so. Last, share the insights that work for you with others and pass it on.

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Don’t limit your imagination

The only person who can limit your imagination is you. What I mean is that if you think there are limits regarding what you can do or accomplish you will encounter self-created self-fulfilling prophesies. If you think about this you will know it’s true.

Negative thinking stops positive momentum. It doesn’t matter whether it’s me thinking I can’t do better than my opposing counsel at trial or a running back thinking he can’t get past the other team’s defensive line. If you approach a situation thinking you can’t, you won’t. Of course the opposite isn’t the same because if you think you can, you might, but you certainly will have a better chance of being successful.

It is better to be like The Little Engine That Could (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TPUwrURo6M) than thinking the challenge ahead of you is impossible. The Little Engine said “I think I can, I think I can” and, what do you know – spoiler alert – it pulled that long train over that steep mountain.

Next time you have a similar type of challenge, tell yourself you can do it, and give yourself a better chance for success.

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