Nobody wants the slow fix.
We want the magic bullet. We want the secret. We want to get-rich-quick.
I feel you, brothers and sisters. I always wanted to get rich quick. I still like the idea.
I also want to lose 20 pounds by next month, read five times faster in five days, get the girl, and go all night long without losing my erection.
I say go for it. Buy what they’re selling.
Buy the search engine optimization, the leads, the landing pages, the new website, the review management software, and the online efficiency webinar.
Say “yes” to every caller offering gimmicks, and believe them when they tell you they’ve got a “bunch of clients needing representation right now if you sign up immediately.”
But be sure your scheme works.
Be careful not to spend five years getting rich quick and end up with nothing when you could spend those five years getting rich slow and end up with actual money in the bank.
Be sure your get-rich-quick plan works fast, too, otherwise you would be better off on my slow plan that actually gets you somewhere.
I'm sorry, but I don't have the fast track plan. Sure, I can advise you to buy online ads. Google AdWords works. I've done it and my online advertising guru (he also happens to be my kid) does this stuff for law firms with great success.
But while advertising gets you quick results, it's expensive. Being known in your community is cheap. On top of that, personal referrals tend to bring you the most lucrative kinds of work.
So go for that get-rich-quick scheme if it really works fast. But if you're skeptical like me, take it slow, build a valuable reputation, let your community come to know and trust you, and watch the results pile up in your investment account.
Here's the approach for making more money over the next five years and ending up with a reputation that supports you for decades.
1. Become an expert
Nobody likes to talk about this part of marketing, but in the legal field, it’s pretty darn important to know what you’re doing.
I get that learning isn’t sexy. It isn’t always enjoyable. Listening to someone like Miles Mason drone on about divorce taxation was never my idea of a good time (sorry, Miles–love ya buddy).
Still, listening to Miles is more interesting than reading professional literature. Keeping up with professional journals or reading a book on trial objections can be so boring that cleaning the bathroom starts to look like entertainment.
But being good at this stuff matters. Even if you separate yourself from the day-to-day client contact, it’s important to know how to do the work so you can adequately teach, supervise, and communicate with your team.
Lots of lawyers stop learning after law school. Sure, they get their CLE credits, but fast forwarding to the secret code on a CLE video isn’t really about learning, is it? Yes, sometimes we scan the case summaries on the bar association blog, but it’s a cursory glance and how much information can you really absorb that way?
Becoming an expert doesn’t have to take years. You can learn quickly if you exert the same amount of energy as you did in law school.
Look at each engagement as a learning opportunity and do more work than required to simply reach the client’s objective. Go further, read more, and do what’s necessary to master the subject matter, whether it’s billable or not.
You're not going to get where you want to go if you simply learn what everyone else knows. You need more.
Develop a framework for thinking about your practice area, then plug in the details of cases, the tactics, and the strategies that you a master of your domain. Keep up with new developments, plug them into the framework, and learn to predict the future.
You need to become the person others turn to when they need help finding answers to questions no one else has asked yet.
2. Achieve some efficiency
You want steady growth over the long haul. For many, that growth comes at a cost: reduced profit.
That's counter-productive. Many firms grow the top line without growing the bottom line. Most law firms don’t scale well. They get bigger, but the extra revenue is eaten up by the bureaucracy required to manage the additional people.
That’s why many of the most profitable practices today are very small. These solos invent ways to become uber-efficient. They use document assembly technology, practice management systems, bots, outsourcing, and artificial intelligence to leverage themselves in previously impossible ways.
Whether you add people to your practice or not, it’s incredibly valuable to become more efficient. Efficiency starts with systems documentation. Once you see your process in its entirety, it’s inevitable that you’ll see opportunities to enhance the system.
Crafting and tweaking systems documentation doesn’t happen in a hurry. It’s a slow process born of experience. You do the same things over and over in your business, but sometimes the repetition is sporadic and infrequent.
For instance, if you only prepare and file a particular type of pleading once every six months, it could take five years (10 filings) to get the process right. Nevertheless, it deserves a system. Most practices (the ones that skip the systems approach) fail to see these long-term patterns, so they never identify opportunities to achieve efficiency.
By looking at the big picture, you’ll become more efficient and more profitable.
3. Turn happy clients into promoters
Obviously, making your clients happy is imperative.
You won’t grow if you regularly turn people who don’t know you into people who complain about their horrible experience working with you.
That will destroy you faster than you can imagine.
Instead, you need to turn people who don’t know you into happy clients. And you need them to tell others about their wonderful experience working with you.
That happens when (1) you give them a good story to tell about you (your personal and business story), and (2) you encourage them to tell it. People like to tell others about their experiences. They rarely need much more than a small push if you've given them something worth telling.
Happy clients need to leave their engagement with you primed to talk. They need to know all about you and what you can do, they need to recall all the good things that happened while you helped them, and they need to be motivated to tell those stories to others.
Once you’ve done a good job, you don’t need to do much to get them to spread the word.
Different lawyers approach these conversations differently. Some ask for referrals directly, some send newsletters, some hold annual parties, some send birthday cards, some pay referral fees, some ask for online reviews, and many find their own special ways of keeping in touch and keeping the former clients talking.
Former clients, without constant attention, will forget your name. I know it’s sad, but it’s true.
The lawyer who did the paperwork for the sale of my law firm played a pivotal role in my life for about two weeks. He did a great job, but I can't remember his name. He even sent me a newsletter recently, but it didn’t spark my interest. (I’m sitting here right now, racking my brain, and I still can't recall his name.)
However, there’s this one lawyer I’ve never met. I visited his website one time two months ago and signed up for his free e-book on something that made me curious.
Now I can’t escape him. He’s showing up on my Facebook and Instagram feeds. I’m getting his emails and I just saw his video ad on YouTube. Is he annoying? A little. Do I remember his name? Yep.
You don’t need to barrage former clients with YouTube videos, but it’s smart to keep adding value to their lives in small ways so they'll keep talking and telling the story of their great lawyer and the amazing result they achieved.
4. Grow your network
The words “grow your network” probably made you scan down to the next item.
Networking is old news, it's boring to discuss, and it's intimidating to many. But it works.
If you want to be big in 2023, you need people to know you, like you, and trust you. That can only happen if you meet people and try to act semi-human. Being strategic and systematic will speed up the process.
But it will only happen so fast. Trust takes time.
You might be able to get laid on the first date, but getting a referral for a big client takes more romance. Your referral sources need to trust you before they’ll start sending clients your way–they don't want to look bad.
Romance is easy compared to business trust.
I’ve got a system. I’ve taught it to more than a thousand lawyers. It’s about targeting people you’d like to know, connecting with them, and using time and proximity to build trust. It takes a while, but it will get you a little business the first year, more the second, and lots more with each subsequent year.
My networking system doesn’t involve BNI groups, Chamber of Commerce functions, or awkward cocktail parties. It does, however, involve talking to people you don’t know and getting to know them.
For some people it’s painful. For most, it’s more fun than they imagined. Everyone who sticks to the system makes new friends and ends up with new people in their lives who care about them and their business.
How does it work specifically?
- You pick people based on their likelihood of making referrals, and ask them to lunch.
- At lunch, you ask lots of questions to demonstrate your interest.
- They start to like you and you start to like them.
- After a year or two, you become friends and have lunch because it’s fun, not because it’s business. Repeat lunch every 90 days for 30 years.
- In between lunches, you send them an email with a funny cat video or something important they need to know.
- If you find yourself at lunch with someone you don't like, don't go to lunch with them again.
5. Write like a preacher on the corner
I passed one of those preachers on my way to lunch one day. He was screaming out Bible verses. I could hear him half a block away over the noisy crowd and the bus traffic.
Ninety minutes later, on my way back, he was still going strong. I jumped when he thumped his hand on his Bible. I suppose he felt moved by the spirit.
You need the spirit to move you as well. To write.
Yeah, I know you don’t have time. I know you don’t know what to write about. I know you don’t have any energy for writing after everything else.
Find the time, write what your prospective clients want to know, and summon the energy you would otherwise use on get-rich-quick schemes. Writing matters. It has mattered for a long time and it's going to keep mattering.
Publish your material on your website. Offer articles to local and national publications, as well. Write guest posts for other people’s blogs. Repurpose your writing for social media, online videos, podcasts, or whatever else gets your attention.
Writing gets you out in front of people, it demonstrates your mastery of your subject, and it positions you as the expert.
Write often. Make it a daily habit. Use your writing to tell your story, so that prospective clients and referral sources can see how well you understand their stressors and challenges. Write every day like you’re saving people from going to hell.
Your writing will change lives. In some practice areas, it will save lives.
Your writing won’t get noticed quickly, but this is for long-term results. You’ll get noticed by clients, media, referral sources, and others. People will talk about you and share your work, spreading your story.
Writing isn’t always glamorous, but it moves the needle. The speed of your progress will accelerate over time if you keep up with the writing.
You'll make lots more money–I promise
I completely understand the appeal of using marketing vendors and their schemes.
Many of us would prefer to delegate the marketing to someone else. We like to focus on the legal work because we enjoy helping others. The vendors of get-rich-quick schemes know this, which is how they plug right into our mindset to convince us to buy.
But those vendors are in it for themselves, not you. They’ll sell you ad space or leads or search engine optimization, just as long as you pay in advance.
Ask them, instead, to take a percentage of your return on the investment, and they'll move on to the next lawyer on their list.
Ask them for a money-back guarantee, and they’ll hang up.
Ask them to sign a contract that promises results and . . . You get the idea.
They're interested in closing their deal by the end of the month. You're interested in a successful career.
Building a successful practice isn't beyond your reach as long as you make steady progress. The lawyers who fail do so because they won't pick a path and follow it. They repeat the same mistakes, year after year. They worry about the wrong stuff. They'd rather think about whether to hire an associate, whether to change their firm name, whether to add a partner, or whether to switch practice areas. They're worried and stuck.
Building a successful practice is about steadily moving forward on the fundamentals. Become an expert, become efficient, encourage word of mouth, meet more people, and write about what you're learning and doing.
None of these things happen overnight, but they'll happen much faster once you see the path–the vision of your future–and start moving in the right direction.
I’m not offering you a get-rich-quick scheme today. But it’s a plan that works. It’s a steady path toward a solid reputation which generates a steady stream of clients.
It'll make you rich. It just won't happen overnight.