All posts by - businesslawguy

Find success in failure

We all have heard the saying “You learn more from failure than success.” The truth is you can learn from both your successes and your failures. You do this by examining what lead to the success or failure.

I don’t end up in what are referred to as beauty contests often. This is when a potential client is speaking with or interviewing more than one attorney or law firm from which one will be chosen. When I have, I have won some and lost some. When I have lost out on an opportunity, instead of just moving on or focusing on my current clients, I have reached out to the potential client and asked why.

I don’t do this to try and have them second guess their decision and hire me. I do this to find out whether it is something I can learn from to have a better chance when I have the next opportunity. Most people will give you a few minutes of their time. More importantly, I also believe most people will be honest with you too.

Next time you don’t get the client, project, sale, etc., ask why and thank the person for telling you. Also, if you did get the client, project, sale, etc., ask why and thank the person for telling you.

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Performance v. Expectations

Do you do what you say you are going to do? Do you have a plan? Or  do you just wing it and hope that you will achieve the results you are striving for? If you don’t have a plan, how do you measure your results?

You need to have plan for what you are doing in your business. It needs to include goals and the steps you will take to meet your goals. It can include long term and short term goals. You can even include personal goals, such as exercising or learning to play guitar. Research shows that you have a better chance to achieve goals when they are written down.

Of course, after you draft a plan, you actually need to look at it. Keep a hard copy on your desk or a copy on your computer desktop where you actually will see it regularly.

At my firm, all attorneys have to write a plan for each fiscal year. We also utilize one on one mentoring when attorneys want it. In addition to this, a few years ago, a partner of mine came up with a concept we call Path To Excellence, which has had great results.

We refer to it as PTE, and it can involve a small group from a practice area or attorneys in the same general experience range in practice. These groups provide accountability.

People don’t get in trouble if they don’t do what they said they would between meetings. PTE is not about shaming people, but holding them accountable and enabling them to better themselves and their practices. The results speak for themselves with so many young and experienced attorneys stepping up their games over the last few years.

Anyone can set themselves up to have accountability. If you work alone, find someone you know to be your accountability partner and help each other. Your mentor or accountability partner can be someone inside or outside of your organization. The point is that having one will provide you with a better chance to meet your plan and your goals.

And it’s not too late to write a plan now for your goals through the end of the year, along with the steps to accomplish those goals. As a famous old ad campaign said, Just Do It!

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Always deliver great customer service

I want to deliver a great customer experience to every client, every time I interact with that client. I try to be conscious of this no matter the type of communication I am having with them. I find that this is easier in person or on the phone than through email or text because I receive immediate and better feedback through what I am seeing and hearing than when communication only is in writing.

Every single one of us has one or more clients or customers. These clients and customers want to know we care. Luckily, there are many ways to show you care. For me, I can demonstrate empathy for my client’s situation, I can listening fully to what they are communicating to me and I can honor the commitments I make on getting back to them or completing a project or task.

Delivering a great client experience also means paying attention to the simple mechanics of customer service. For example, it is better to over communicate with your client or customer than the alternative. If you are communicating too much for their liking, they will let you know, hopefully in a constructive manner. It also is of the utmost importance to return calls and emails promptly. Nothing says “you and your issues are not my priority” than responding to people in an untimely manner.

I am in the legal business, but I also am in the customer service business. If I do not provide great service to my clients, there are a lot of attorneys in my area who will. The same is true regarding you and your business. What will you do today to make every client interaction a great customer experience?

 

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Network intensely

Professionally, you want to be known by as many people as possible. To do so, you need to network. This doesn’t mean going to events and collecting business cards. It means meeting people, consciously deciding who you want in your network and then nurturing those connections and relationships.

There are many ways to do this. You should think about and come up with ideas and strategies to ‘touch’ your connections. There are various ways to do this, such as by sending an email to check in, forwarding an article on a topic your of interest, or sending a book. Of course, you always can pick up the phone and call. The choice is yours, but you should know your connections sufficiently well to know what type of contact is best.

The idea of thoughtful acts or gifts isn’t new, but it is something else you should think about. I have a partner who is great at this. He will get to know people and send them thoughtful gifts. An example is when he learns a connection roots for a specific professional or college sports team, he sends a gift related to that. This is easy to do online. You can bet the people who receive those unexpected thoughtful gifts remember him. And these types of gifts are great because most people will keep them in their office and are likely to think of the sender more because they see it every day.

Another idea is to hold gatherings where you can bring your connections together. Certain of your connections are great connections for other of your connections, i.e. you need to be connecting your connections! You can hold a formal meeting, go to lunch or have a happy hour. The choice is yours, but people appreciate and remember when you are willing to help them by introducing them to your valued connections.

If you sit around hoping for work to fall out of the sky it will be a long wait. Instead you need to jump in feet first to networking. As you make new connections, the next step is deepening those connection. You should be working on your network every day.

What’s going to be your first step to do so?

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You get back what you put out to the world

I heard someone say this recently and it struck me because it is so true. If you put out positive energy you are more likely to receive the same in return from those you deal with. If you put out negative energy, you can’t be surprised when you have negative and adversarial dealings with others.

All you have to think of is how your mood or initial interaction with someone colors the rest of your conversation. If you smile and greet someone with pleasantries, you will get a different reaction than if you are negative and seemingly indifferent to seeing the person. I know sometimes you have just come from or are dealing with something negative professionally or personally, but you have the choice whether to bring your feelings and attitude into your next interaction or conversation, or not. If you can’t control your feelings it may be better to delay or not have an interaction until you can move past what you are dealing with. Calls and meeting can be rescheduled. I compare it to the response you draft right away to a nasty email and then, hopefully, save or delete so you can later respond when you aren’t upset and “in the moment.”

Some people equate kindness with weakness, which I don’t agree with. As an attorney who deals with attorneys representing parties adverse to my clients, I am in an adversarial position with many people I deal with every business day. I do not expect to become best friends with my opposing counsel, but I do expect (or many times can only hope) to have professional dealings with them, which also is better for our respective clients. In dealing with people in this manner, I remain assertive and looking to move my  and my client’s agenda forward, but I can do so while being kind and professional.

Sometimes I am disappointed and am dealing with negative attorneys who can be anything from argumentative to insulting to me or my clients. In those situations I am able to choose how to react in response, which can escalate or diffuse the negative nature of the conversation. If what I am doing doesn’t work, I have the choice to stay on the phone or end the call. It also provides me with choices in the future on how to deal with these types of individuals, i.e. trying to communicate mostly in writing by letter or email, or whether and when to be on the phone with them in the future. One particularly annoying part of dealing with people like this is that most of them are nothing but nice, personable and professional in person.

I have found approaching people I deal with in a positive manner makes my professional life much more to my liking. When dealing with other attorneys, our clients may have issues with each other, but it isn’t personal to us. I recently dealt with an opposing attorney who spoke and acted as if the bad actions he accused my client of had been taken against him, not his client. It made our dealings unpleasant. I was glad when the matter was completed and hope not to deal with him again in the future. Not only was he unpleasant to deal with, he made our dealings take longer and cost my client more in the situations in which I had to deal with him. In that case it didn’t matter how I responded to his attacks because he never changed his attitude or tack.

More importantly, I gain nothing  by making the interactions with opposing counsel negative without good reason. It doesn’t advance my client’s interest or help resolve the real issues. Instead, it only wastes my time and brings negative energy into my day.

We all have people we deal with where the easier road is to allow yourself to be sucked down into the negative vacuum they are stuck in. The next time this happens to you, make the choice to not let yourself get sucked in by trying to turn the conversation productive or choosing to exit the conversation. And if you are the negative or angry person coming into a conversation or meeting, only you can choose to step back and decide to approach it in a more positive manner, whether now or later.

 

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Tell the truth

This is simple and there are no exceptions. Tell a lie once and all of your truths become questionable. Early in my career I heard a very experienced attorney say “a half-truth equals a whole lie.”  He was correct because anything not 100% true is a lie. Another benefit of telling the truth was summed up to me long ago by a friend who once said he never lies because it’s far easier to remember the truth than a lie.

I know some of you are thinking of situations where you may soften the truth to try not to hurt someone’s feelings. You are right that some situations are more nuanced than others, making a one-size fits all rule difficult. I am not speaking to those type of outlier situations, but to general day-to-day life in which your reputation is at stake.

Your honesty is part of your reputation. You may not be called out or caught every time you aren’t honest, but it will catch up with you. You may lose relationships or opportunities that you know you lost or that just don’t come your way because of your reputation.

Trust is important, and like your reputation, it’s earned. The difference is people will assume you are honest unless or until they believe you aren’t or hear you aren’t from people they trust.

Once trust is lost it will either take a long time to earn back or it can’t be earned back. Once that happens it negatively affects and taints relationships. People may still deal with you (mainly if they have to, i.e. family or in the workplace), but it won’t be the same. Even if it feels like it, a lack of trust permeates a relationship for into the future.

This goes back to “think before you speak.” Lying is a choice. You can call it embellishment or whatever you want, but if others think you stretch the truth, know you have just made your road forward harder.

 

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To get the story you have to ask questions

We are all good at telling a story, especially our own story. We are not as good at actively listening to others tell a story. This is true even when we are being paid to listen.

This is why it is important to remember how important it is to listen, which also means asking questions, especially asking the right questions. What the right questions are will depend on the situation.

If it is in a personal setting, you should view the person across from you as wearing a hat that says “make me interesting.” If it is in a business setting, you need to look at the person across from you and visualize them wearing a hat that says “I have an important story to tell you.”

For instance, as an attorney, the story and facts I am learning from a client, especially a new client, are integral to my ability to be able to properly advise and represent their interests. If I don’t ask the right questions or actively listen, I will miss important facts I need to do my job, and to do the best job for the client. These types of issues exist no matter what your line of work or profession is.

The next time you are dealing with someone new, whether a client, a sales opportunity, interviewing a new hire, or meeting someone personally, make sure you ask more questions than they do, and let them talk more than you do. Make sure you actively listen so that you can ask necessary follow-up questions and see where it gets you. My guess is it will lead to better business and personal relationships, and, in business, it will help you make sure you have the information you need to do your job.

 

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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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Be nice

Life seems to be made up of many rules, written and unwritten. Most are a matter of common sense, like just being nice to people you meet and deal with. It sounds so obvious you may be asking yourself why I would spend time even mentioning it. Despite being obvious, I’ll bet someone just came to mind who you dealt with recently and the dealings were unpleasant because the other person just wasn’t nice.

I know who that person is for me. It was an opposing attorney on a litigation matter. I know this can go with the territory, but most litigators actually are good to deal with and range from professional to really nice. It’s what makes the people who aren’t nice stand out. I have been known to say that it seems easier to remember nasty or obnoxious opposing attorneys more than those who are nice.

In my case, the issue being discussed seemed pretty obvious to me. It was procedural, dictated by rules, and is something that has to be done in every lawsuit. Even though it seems like that should make it an easy matter to deal with, it resulted in opposing counsel raising his voice with me and arguing with me despite me not arguing back. It also caused multiple conversations and emails on what shouldn’t have been a big deal. This wasted my time and increased the fees incurred by both of our clients.  Importantly, it didn’t advance any agenda he may have had or put his client in a better position legally.

In a different context, someone I have known for years and who always has been exceedingly nice to me, is not to everyone.  An example is that these person is very nice to people who he thinks can help him in some way or are “on his level.”  This manifests itself by him not always treating those he views as below him with courtesy or respect. I think it is so ingrained he really doesn’t know how he comes across and would be shocked if someone said something to him.

On the other hand, out of law school I worked for a gentleman named Jim Marlar. He later became a federal judge and is just a really nice guy. When he took me to the federal courthouse in Phoenix for the first time, when I was still in law school and serving as a law clerk for his firm, he introduced me to federal judges, but also to the court librarian and to courthouse janitors. Really. He treated all of them the same, knew their names, about them and had a real connection forged by years of simply being nice and treating people with respect. It was a great lesson I have never forgotten.

I know it can be easier said than done to be nice to everyone. It is even harder when they are not being nice to you. With the attorney I mentioned, I do my best not to raise my voice, get sucked into an unnecessary argument and remain professional. It hasn’t changed his behavior, but maybe if I continue to do the same he will realize his rudeness and posturing don’t help him and our dealings will be better. At least I am trying to be nice and not make the situation worse.

The next time someone is not nice to you or you encounter someone you don’t necessarily want to engage with, just be nice because it may help, and certainly won’t harm your reputation like sinking to their level or ignoring someone. It’s your reputation. What do you want it to be?

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