Family law practice is one of the more difficult law practices to build. Mark Powers talks about how to increase your income and decrease your stress!
Interview with Mark Powers, Master Certified Coach
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Today I’m very pleased to have Mark Powers, who’s going to talk to us about how to make your practice better. Mark is the president and founder of Atticus. You can find out more about Mark’s business at AtticusOnline.com. Mark is a Masters Certified Coach and he’s one of the top practice advisors in the country. His practice is focused 100 percent on law firms.
Mark has a regular marketing column in Lawyers USA Magazine, and has co-authored two books. One is called Time Management for Attorneys: How to Increase Your Revenue, Decrease your Stress and Still Go Home on Time, and the other, How Good Attorneys Become Great Rainmakers: A Breakthrough Referral Marketing Process.e’s been coaching family lawyers for over 20 years.
One of the things you talk about is mission statements in your book. Why do you think a family lawyer should have a mission statement? What does that have to do with managing your time?
You know, the fascinating thing about mission statements is most family lawyers hate to do them. A lot of people think that they’re unpractical. But, in working with family lawyers the last 20 years, we noticed those who have a clear mission and a clear set of goals, do dramatically better than those who don’t. Once a family lawyer is clear about where they’re going, once they are focused and clear about what they want to accomplish with the practice and with their life, they are unstoppable.
Our philosophy at Atticus, especially our coaching philosophy, is that our practice should serve the attorney’s life. In order to build a law firm that truly serves the attorney, they have to be very clear about what they want in life. We need to be sure the boundaries are set in their personal life, then we can decide as a law firm to cater to them financially, emotionally and some people might even say spiritually. It is important to get your core values together. How would you describe this firm to someone? There’s a metaphor that author Jim Collin uses in his book Good to Great when he discusses how to make your business – or in this case, law firm – work well. He says it is important to ‘get the right people on the bus.’ The core values do that, and then from there we want to know the family lawyer’s personal goals. When I look at personal goals I’m thinking about fun and adventure. What do they want over the next year, five years, or ten years for fun and adventure? What do they want in terms of health, financial independence, relationships, home, professional and personal development or spiritual goals? That’s always a starting point.
When you are working with an attorney and start this conversation, do most of them think you’re crazy or do they immediately embrace it?
It’s fascinating, because if we went out to the family law community and we said “We can help you achieve your goals and have a better, less stressful life” nobody would come to us based on that. Instead, we have to focus first on the real world practical things, like increasing your income, decreasing your stress, and taking better care of your clients. All of that happens, and it happens at breakthrough levels for most people. But we can’t get those things unless we get clear about where we’re going. Lawyers don’t usually come to us for the goals and the mission statement, but it becomes a necessary part of the process. We learned this over time from making mistakes.
Family law lawyers would come to us and say, “I want more clients. I want more business.” The truth is they didn’t like a lot of the clients they had originally. We could help them with all of the marketing and teach them everything we knew, but if they didn’t get their time management under control, then it was hard to market. They weren’t enjoying the practice.
We had to get back in touch with all of those things to really make enormous gains with their practice.
So that segues into my next question which is about client selection. Why is selecting the right clients important to managing time in a family law practice?
For me, family law practice is one of the more difficult law practices to build. The clients are emotional, sometimes they’re vengeful and negative, and they want the family lawyer to play many different roles, like an attorney, a therapist, and a financial advisor. It’s a very complex practice, and it’s made more complex by the clientele that comes in. What happens in family law practice is that the lawyers are really bogged down in dealing with – I want to be respectful when I say this – different kinds of clients. Not everyone can pay your bills and not all clients are created equal, so we’ve got to be very careful in the clients that we select.
There are two things that will impact the family law practice more than anything else. When I say impact, I mean impact the quality of the attorney’s life, impact the quality of the client care and impact the quality of the staff and the income that the attorney takes home.
The first thing is client selection. I’ve seen it over and over again where 20 to 40 percent of the client are going to generate 60 to 80 percent of the revenue. Another 20 to 40 percent of the client, not the same ones, are going to use up 60 to 80 percent of the attorney’s and the staff’s time. You have to be very careful. We spend a lot of time working on client selection.
A lot of family law attorneys are sometimes concerned that if they decide not to work with a person, then who will? And I think they only have to look at the growth in the number of competitors they have in their market. There is no shortage of family law lawyers in anyone’s market. If we’re not able to work with them, we treat them with respect and dignity and we say no with respect, compassion and empathy and there are ways to do that. There are other people that will work with them and as a matter of fact, one attorney’s C & D clients are another attorney’s A & B clients.
The second thing that impacts the family law practise is the quality of the staff we let on our team. 80 percent of the headaches that family law attorneys deal with have to do with those two issues more than anything else. Rarely are the headaches consumed by substantive issues. They’re covered by mistakes we make with client selection or staff selection.
So part of the training you do with family lawyers is to help them better hire staff and to manage staff as well?
Oh absolutely. You have to. This is why family law practice is so tough. You know, a lot of family lawyers don’t – we say this jokingly – but they don’t hire people, they adopt them. When they take someone on, no matter how terrible those people can be, how badly they impact the firm or how poorly they follow systems or processes in the firm, most family lawyers have a very difficult time letting them go. We work on developing the strengths to build that great team and to be far more selective with the client.
Effectively hiring staff is not easy. I know if you were coaching me or coaching a family lawyer, you’d give them a lot of information that would help them do a more effective job at doing it.
People are important to us, and we have to enter into the hiring conversation from that base, knowing that we have to treat people with respect and compassion and decency. But, we have to be able to also build this law firm so that it makes an extraordinary difference in the community and in the lives of our clients.
If we were going to the Super Bowl and we had to surround ourselves with a team, we wouldn’t be able to tolerate some of the behaviour that we get from our staff. We wouldn’t tolerate low productivity because we have a deadline. We have to get someplace, and we have a deadline every year to get there.
What can a family lawyer do to better manage their time and get home on time?
Well you know people always ask “is it really possible to take two weeks off as a lawyer?” And the answer is absolutely yes.
It’s absolutely necessary that we do and I talk to a lot of family lawyers and I mean no disrespect when I say this, but when we look at the model that they’re following, the business model, and this is the part I mean no disrespect – I hope everyone hears this properly – but most family lawyers are cheating in this model.
Their business is filled with inefficiencies and issues and problems, and the family lawyer covers up those inefficiencies by staying late and coming in on weekends. They end up giving up their time, giving up their hobby, giving up their life. There are very little boundaries. Because the lawyer has the evening and the weekend available, they give it over to the firm. If they didn’t have the weekend or they didn’t have the evenings to give away, there would be a boundary of what their work week would look like. The firm would have to become better time managers and better managers of people instead of pulling more and more time away form the family lawyer so the business will run properly.
There are a group of family lawyers that we work with that had to double their revenues in an 18 to 24 month period, and these were pretty high-performing people. The catch was, they had to take a month off, four weeks in a row, at the same time. Everyone that took the month off hit their goals of doubling revenue. There was only one person that didn’t do the month; they just couldn’t get their head wrapped around it. I think they did two weeks in a row, something like that, and they didn’t hit their target.
I don’t want to say that there’s some mystery or miracle about taking time off, but we become more effective and more efficient when we do.
Everybody has had a Friday that they’re finishing up and they sort of let something go and say “I’ll get it tomorrow,” but if they didn’t have that Saturday and they knew that at the beginning of the week, they would have forced themselves to get that done earlier.
A very large number of family lawyers are getting burnt out at their desks. They’re not burnt out and leaving, they’re burnt out at their desks. They don’t have enough energy. They don’t have enough financial reserve. They don’t have enough personal reserves. Therefore, it becomes hard to get excited about your practice. It’s hard to get excited about another client. It’s hard to get excited about the intricacies of law when you’re coming from a depleted place. Our philosophy is that you have to get control of your time and create free time so that you can have a life. If we’re working weekends, if we’re working evenings, if we’re not taking vacations, I absolutely know that the law firm is off-balance. If it’s out of balance, we have to put it back in balance.
How does your training occur?
When we first begin working with the family lawyer, the very first thing we do is spend time with them on the phone and examine them and their practice. We do a behavioural profile. We look at their strengths and time management, marketing, staffing and cash flow. We go through their personal background. We understand the whole package, the firm, the size of the firm, all the things they’re dealing with and their frustration. From there we can give them a pretty good sense of where they need to go.
First, we do what we call a diagnostic to figure out what’s going on. Most people will go to a program that we do with a boot camp. We call it the practice builder, and it’s two days intensive about how do you run a law firm that serves your life and takes better care of your clients. We look at the basics, the fundamentals. In the law firm, from a management perspective, the fundamentals are time management, marking, staffing and cash flow. Once you have those down, things get a lot easier.
Some people will do a retreat for their law, they might want to bring people from Atticus to come in and work with their law firm. Some family law attorneys just like to work one-on-one. Like a personal trainer works with you on your health, a practice advisor works with you one-on-one on your practice.
So there are lots of different things.
The thing I always recommend is first let’s get clear about where you are and then figure out where to go.
Both Time Management for Attorneys and How Good Attorneys Become Great Rainmakers are filled with practical tools and techniques that would make an enormous difference for every family lawyer in the quality of their practice and the quality of their lives.
Unfortunately, many people read the book, but the vast majority of people don’t implement. That’s usually when a practice advisor comes in with some level of guidance, direction and accountability. For those who can read the book and implement it, it really will make an enormous difference.
At the beginning of this conversation, you talked about mission statements and having a clear idea of what your core values are. It is clear now that you need to have somebody or an organization like Atticus help keep you on track, because left to our own, we can wander and forget.
Well and it’s also a philosophical shift for a lot of family lawyers. What I mean by that is that a lot of family lawyers have great intentions when they start their practice. They’ve spent a great investment in their law degree and their education and their training and they want to practice law brilliantly.
But what happens is – which is we want to honour and respect that, but as soon as they become a shareholder, if they don’t start to master the business aspect, the time management, the marketing, the staffing, the cash flow, they will become a victim to the practice. They won’t own a law firm, it will own them.
Once you take control of it, you own it. You guide it, and it serves your life.
There’s an enormous philosophical shift of just doing it, doing it, doing it every day. Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth Revisited, for example, which I hope most people have read, talks about working on the practice instead of just in it. The quality of life is dramatically improved.
The one book that we’ve talked mainly about here is Time Management for Attorneys. I’m going to turn our attention to talk just a little bit about How Good Attorneys Become Great Rainmakers. Perhaps you can tell us what’s included in this and how they tie in together.
We said earlier that a lot of family lawyers would come to Atticus saying, “I need more clients. I need more business.” The truth is that no matter what we taught them about marketing, they had to get their time management under control first because, at least in our philosophy, marketing is a relationship-based philosophy. It’s all referral marketing from our perspective.
I hope I can deliver as much value as I can on this call without just talking about the books, but I will say the thing I love about it is that every chapter has an audio connected to it. There’s a chapter on learning how to ask for referrals. You can go to the website and there’s a chapter where we have attorneys talking about how they asked for referrals, what motivates them, how they do it ethically and with integrity, what was their comfort level, and those sorts of things. Our philosophy on marketing is that we are all very different. The way I’d market something would be different from someone else. The key is that we have to find out what your base profile is and make sure we’re building from there and not trying to get you or anyone else to fit into one box.
How is marketing broken down in the book?
You have to start with the conceptual. We go through what I think is the most powerful way to approach anything in life. We want to be able to develop what we call marketing habit. Sort of like when you brush your teeth, there are things you do routinely that you don’t even think about. There are five habits that we’ve noticed family law attorneys have, that from a marketing perspective, make an extreme difference on their ability to bring in clients.
Of all the things we’ve seen out there in helping people market, bar-none, the thing that has the greatest impact on doubling the number of clients and businesses was asking for a referral.
Making a habit of asking for referrals is asking for a referral at least once every single day. The more often you can do that and the more direct you can do that, the more successful you’ll be at bringing business in. Many lawyers are afraid we’re going to look like an insurance sales person. We have to develop a way that’s comfortable, fits our personality and becomes a habit.
Another habit would be to have conscious, pro-active marketing activity at least three times a week. To have sustainable referral marketing, I would have to be in touch with my network either by phone or in person ideally at least three times a week, either having lunch or picking up the phone and talking to someone and connecting with them.
In addition to developing habits, we can develop marketing access. In your financial life, you collect assets that help you build wealth. In marketing, you can develop assets that would help you build marketing wealth. Nothing will happen overnight, you’ve got to do this over time.
One asset, for example, would be having a database of your clients and your referrals. Having it in a place where you can access the email addresses, the phone numbers, personal information, birthdays, those sorts of things. That’s the marketing asset.
There are 21 assets in the book that people can work on. You can work on any one that’s comfortable for you or not. They’re all going to bring you in the right direction.
I really do believe that it would benefit any lawyer to purchase both books because I’ve heard attorneys tell me over and over again that this is not the sort of thing they were taught in school, yet it’s skills that they really need to develop in order to manage their practice.
Certainly developing a practice that serves your life does take time. You have to implement things over time, and it’s very important from a foundational point. But, when a lot of family lawyers come to us, they don’t have all the time in the world to develop conceptual things. What happens is we have to triage the situation. If they’ve got somebody that they have to fire, somebody that they have to hire or they’ve got an emergency, all of those things have to be handled first before you get into core values or any of that.
Clearly, you have got to take care of the real world practical absolute things right away so people can breathe, and then do something.
Mark Powers, President of Atticus, Inc., is a national speaker who has worked with members of the American Bar Association and bar associations in various states. To learn more about the work that Atticus does with attorneys or the Atticus Rainmakers™ program, please visit www.atticusonline.com.