Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Junior Prom

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A courageous young attorney called the other today to ask what he unfairly termed “a stupid question.” He wanted to book a lunch with a trade association exec to pick his brain about an industry issue, but he was struggling in making the call and wanted some advice on how to word his invitation. I assured him that attorney angst over inviting people to lunch was not uncommon. For male attorneys, it could in fact be a “guy thing.” My theory: Most men never fully recover from the high school trauma of asking a girl to the junior prom; it haunts them throughout their adult years, and the residual emotional scarring forces them, on most days, to dine alone at Blimpie.

I suggested that, when he makes the call, he briefly explain to his prospect why he wants to meet. I further suggested that, taking a page from How to Win Friends and Influence People, he tell his prospect, “This is a complicated issue, but if anyone can help me with it, it’s you.” Finally, in his invitation he should specify the restaurant (a nice one) and a choice of dates, as in, “I’m thinking about the Capital Grille, either next Thursday or the following Tuesday, at 1:00. Which of those dates works better for you?” (In suggesting a power lunch, 1:00 is a key time. The restaurants are quieter, you don’t have to wait for a table, and the other person will be in awe that you are not bound by the lunch-hour yoke of a nine-to-fiver.)

Such an invitation fits under the heading of “assuming the sale” - not a question of will he have lunch with you, but merely when. It brings posture and confidence to the otherwise nerve-racking act of asking someone to lunch, and it will give you a better batting average than the typical high school guy.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Something Better than 5%

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At their retreat, the partners were finishing a plan to address their projected five-year needs for office space, associates and staff. As they were about to reach a conclusion (as it applies here, a “conclusion” being whatever opinion you hold at the moment you get tired of thinking about something), one of the founding partners, mostly silent during this discussion, elbowed me and whispered, “Watch this.”

On the white board he drew a graph that, if it illustrated the growth in your 401(k), would make you giddy. “This,” he explained to his colleagues, “shows the success of our firm since we started.” He gave a two-minute synopsis of their revenue, client and attorney growth during the firm’s first decade, then finished by saying, “We have never had a year that is as bad as what you’re assuming each of the next five years is going to be. And we never will.”

Around the table, loud exhaling was accompanied by the reopening of ring binders, and the planning discussion resumed.

Regardless of their past successes, it’s hard for most people to picture a future that is much better than now. They’re willing to entertain predictions of modest improvement, but except for the most intrepid planners, a bold vision of the future is the present plus 5%.

If crafting a compelling vision for your law practice has you stymied, try this: Pick a year – five or ten years from now – and design a Martindale-Hubbell profile for yourself that would be consistent with a huge practice. Fill in the blanks: articles you will have had published, presentations you will have made, certifications, professional memberships, community involvement, honors and awards, and representative clients.

That can be a fun way to create a great vision for your practice. Once you have that blueprint in front of you, you may find that working toward your vision becomes pretty easy.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Complaining

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Growing up in a small Midwestern town (see "Virden, Illinois") instills in a person certain practices, ranging from mundane (talking about the weather) to absurd (saying “hello” to other drivers when your windows are rolled up) to reclusive (declining help from, or otherwise bothering, other people).

Shedding the first two habits can be achieved by relocating early in life, but the aversion to imposing on others is a burden that chases many to their grave.

Consider this: At a restaurant, the hostess seats you next to the kitchen, despite vacant tables in more pleasant milieus. Or you notice a rustling in your salad. Or your entrée is unfit for human consumption. But when the manager comes by to ask “How is everything?” you say – altogether now – “Fine” … and never return.

Your clients may be equally reluctant to complain. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re happy with you; just that their displeasure hasn’t reached critical mass.

It may be up to you to invite them to complain. Otherwise, the next time they need a lawyer or recommend one, they may think of someone else.

The good news: Inviting clients to complain is easy. A benign question – “How are we doing?” or “Can you think of any ways we could serve you better?” – should do the trick (but beware of “fine”). There’s a good chance that they’ll praise you, or make a suggestion that you could easily implement. Even if they are more forthcoming than you would like, letting them vent is bound to have a salutary effect, and you may have a client for life.