Join The Friday File To Read The Rest
Keep reading by joining 11,000+ lawyers and get early access to articles like this. You’ll find safe, successful, actionable approaches for your law practice. Together, we’re less alone and more connected. Join us.
Buying something makes my brain feel like I’m doing something. Does that happen to you?
When I bought my gym membership, had my photo taken, got my fancy card, and went home, it felt like I’d exercised.
When I read the article about losing weight by eating healthy food, I went to the grocery store to buy a bunch of vegetables. It felt like I was shedding pounds.
When I bought my new phone, downloaded the apps from my old phone, and called a few people to test it out, it felt like I’d done some serious work.
My personal favorite thing to buy is a new task management app so I can move my old tasks into the new app. That makes me feel really good about getting things done. My brain gets more joy from moving things around on the list than it does from doing the actual work
It’s sad that buying doesn’t equal doing
Maybe the tendency to buy instead of do isn’t entirely our fault. The folks who sell things are pretty good at using marketing to convince us that buying things is progress. Maybe it’s their fault?
Maybe the desire to buy things is a function of the lawyer-culture. Maybe we equate having something cool to describe with success. Maybe we show off the size of our rented office, or our brand new website, or our super-slick software, and think that makes us more like the lawyer we dream of being. Maybe it’s the fault of the other lawyers?
Maybe the problem is rooted in the larger culture? Maybe everyone we know buys things in an effort to solve problems, make things better, and get an emotional boost. Maybe the consumer culture traps us in a mindset that allows us to believe that buying things is the solution to any problem. Maybe it’s too big for us to resist because the buying habit encompasses all of us?
It truly is sad that buying things doesn’t equal doing things because buying things is much more fun than doing the work. Buying things makes us feel busy–we research, we compare prices, we talk to friends about the choices–and we’re able to make the purchase and check that task off the to-do list. Buying things definitely feels like it ought to help us put points on the scoreboard of life. Yep, it’s sad.
What do you really want?
If you want to own things, then buying things will get you there. It makes perfect sense to acquire things, because then you will own more things.
But if what you really want is:
- a better bottom line for your business, or
- a bigger business, or
- a business which makes a bigger difference in the life of its customers, or
- a business that’s more valuable to others
then buying things likely isn’t the best way to achieve your goal.
Doing things is the ticket if you’re interested in making progress toward your goal of changing the business from what it is to what you dream it will become.
Getting what you want is more about doing than buying. SAD!
Doing things sometimes involves buying a thing or two–sure. But doing things is usually more about focusing and doing and less about spending and acquiring new things.
Doing things is about making change happen, and that usually involves writing things down or talking to people. It rarely relies upon the purchase of much of anything.
Better marketing usually involves meeting more people or writing more material so you can use it in all the places you can publish.
Better management usually involves more time focused on your team, executing a plan of systematic communication, and working with the key players to document systems comprehensively.
Better financial management usually involves more time optimizing the business plan, developing an understanding of your model and results, and drilling down into the financial details of your business.
Better implementation of technology usually involves mastering the existing online products and training your team to do the same. Most firms haven’t come close to exploiting the features of the technology they already own.
These are things you might not need to buy
There are lots of cool things to buy. In fact, I’ve bought many of them only to sell them, give them away, or throw them out when they proved useless. You can skip my mistakes and keep your money. In fact, you might want to send me a small portion of your savings out of gratitude. Just let me know and we’ll Venmo.
Here’s some of what you should consider not purchasing:
Most of us hire folks way too early. Associates are awesome. They make a good target when you need to throw something. But they’ll end up crushing you financially if you hire one before you’re ready. Being ready requires substantial revenues plus the time and energy required to supervise and train. Don’t rush into this purchase.
2. Virtual humans
It’s tempting to outsource things, because doing things yourself is a pain in the ass. I share your misery: doing things is far less fun than not doing things. I’m a big fan of the not doing things thing.
There are online services which will do just about anything. They’ll answer your phone, handle prospective clients, draft documents, do legal research, survey your clients, encourage online reviews, and massage your toes. Well, the toes thing is hard to do online. But all the rest of that stuff is legit.
Don’t buy those services, giving other people jobs, until you have a job for yourself. Some lawyers hit $150,000 in revenues, take my outsourcing course, and start outsourcing. Unfortunately, they outsource themselves right out of a job. Sadly, we need to be doing these tasks ourselves for now because we can’t afford to give away the work until we have sufficient work to keep us busy.
But wait, you say. What if you’re at $150,000 and revenue and you’re too busy to return a call or draft a pleading? Then you’re doing it wrong. Odds are you’re charging too little for your time, because $12,500 a month in revenue, plus working on marketing your practice, still isn’t enough to use up all of your time.
These very nice people call you on the phone explaining how they have a pile of names and contact information for people who are desperate to hire a lawyer like you. It seems that these “leads” can’t find a lawyer by any other means so this nice sales representative is helping them by calling you and offering to sell you their information. Does anyone buy this crap? Please don’t.
4. Search engine optimization
I trust that there are some folks in this industry who are not scammy, sleazy, underhanded operators. I just haven’t met them yet. When I ask the lawyers buying these services what they’re getting for this $1,500 to $3,000 per month they usually respond with “I don’t know.” Well, what I know is maybe this is something we don’t need to buy.
5. A fancy briefcase
If your mama buys this for you as a gift then it’s okay. Otherwise, you don’t need this in order to play the part of lawyer in the drama of your life. Leave it at the leather store so it’ll have the company of the other dead cows.
6. All the software
I love me some software. I have, in fact, bought it all. In the old days I carried around the printed manuals in my fancy briefcase (although I called it a litigation bag).
Today, you only need to buy more software when the revenues justify the expense–and that’s likely not quite yet for many of us. I know of small firms grossing under a quarter million dollars paying for ten different types of software, for a broad range of functions. Do we really need an intake system to intake one client per week? Do we really need a practice management system to handle fifty clients? Do we really need document management software if we’re not yet creating very many documents?
Buying software which doesn’t get used–yet–is a mistake. It takes food from your mouth. There’s no rush. You can buy this stuff when you need it, and then it’ll be justifiable and useful. It’ll be there when you need it.
7. The old-fashioned stuff
Lawyers used to buy letterhead, fax machines, Rolodexes, desktop calendars, desktop computers, file servers, file cabinets, calculators, phone book ads, books, and lots of other crap. Those days are gone. You’re not required to buy the old-fashioned stuff just because it’s what you saw in the lawyer’s office on TV.
8. Office space
There was a time when office space was essential. There was also a time when the earth was inhabited by dinosaurs. Those times have passed. Yes, you may need to rent a desk and chairs in an office building for a meeting now and then, but most of what lawyers do today is done on the phone, via text, and with email.
Work used to be a place to go. Now, it’s an activity which follows us 24/7/365, and lives in our back pocket or purse. Work is symbolized by our mobile device instead of our office space. The world has changed and the old concept of commercial office space died with the dinosaurs. You don’t need to rent space unless you’ve got a unique use case in which it’s required. Office space is no longer the default setting.
9. Fancy car
I’ve ranted before about the lawyer who teased me about my Honda Civic. They disbarred him and that makes me smile a little bit. Screw that dude.
Not only is a Honda Civic perfectly acceptable for a lawyer today, you can go further. Living full Uber (or Lyft or Didi or Grab or Juno or whatever) is a wonderful way to go. If you’re feeling inadequate because you haven’t bought an expensive car, then mumble something about “your driver” waiting for you and you’ll feel better as you rush out to your waiting Uber.
10. Phone system
That big box some lawyers have in their closet and those clunky phone handsets they have on their desks–yes, those are the kinds of things which ought to have been boxed up and put in the attic along with all the other old crap nobody wants or needs anymore.
You don’t need to buy a phone system. You can use your mobile device or an app on your laptop with your earbuds. Today, voice is delivered online without any hardware other than that device that’s always in your hand anyway. The voice software you get online beats anything those old phone systems offered, and it’s cheaper too.
You lose, they win—not good. BAD!
Buying prematurely hurts you in two big ways –
First, it’s expensive. Wasting money is awesome when you’re making lots of it, but it’s stupid when you’re not. You really need the money so you can buy things like food and shelter.
Second, it’s distracting. Because buying things makes us feel good we prioritize shopping over doing the things that matter. We’ll spend our evenings browsing and comparing purchase options instead of creating content for the website or emailing prospective referral sources about lunch.
The impact of spending our time buying, instead of doing, is cumulatively devastating. It slows us down, sets us back, and is doubly damaging because we’re not only reducing our revenue, we’re increasing our expenses. Don’t let that happen to you, and reverse course if it’s already happening. Stop the bleeding.
Buying things does create change. Unfortunately, the change is often more significant for the seller than it is for us, the buyers. They have more money in their pockets, we have less. We’re still the same old person, doing the same old thing, in the same old way–even after we’ve spent money buying the stuff they’re selling.
Don’t buy to feel like you’re doing something. Do something to feel like you’re doing something.
Get the Friday File email and be a more successful lawyer in just minutes a week
Every Friday morning, join 11,000+ lawyers in being less busy and more productive. You’ll find safe, successful, actionable approaches for your law practice. Together, we’re less alone and more connected. Join us.