Posts tagged - rules

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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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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Change is an opportunity

I met up with an attorney I know recently. She had switched firms, going back to one she had worked for previously. I was surprised because she seemed happy at her last firm. It turns out she was generally happy, but some colleagues she liked were changing firms and a call came at the right time to get her to consider leaving. She did, and seems invigorated from the change of scenery.

Now this attorney may be in the honeymoon phase of working for a new firm. However this seems unlikely for an experienced attorney who already spent a number of years at the “new” firm.

The point is that change in what you do or where you do it creates new energy and new opportunity. It can have an incredibly positive impact on you professionally if you recognize this and act on it. Change can breed excitement, even in the case I mentioned above where the attorney liked the last place she worked.

This type of opportunity can come from other types of change too. I know a different attorney who lost a client that was a large percentage of the work he brought in and worked on. This could have been a demotivating event or even a career killer. Instead, he looked at it as opportunity and redoubled his marketing efforts to create a broader practice less reliant on a single client. In doing so, he created opportunity where many people would have been left floundering. Over time this attorney ended up with larger and more diverse practice, and became much more successful.

There are many examples of this, but you don’t need significant change like the ones described above to have opportunity. You can create your own opportunities at any time by making changes or tweaks to what you are doing. In either scenario, there is no time like the present to spend some time thinking about what changes may benefit you and your business, and create new opportunities.

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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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