How is a law firm like a vegetable garden? Otto Sorts, the anonymous contributor to Attorney at Work, makes a clever comparison between the two.  He provides sound advice on pulling the “weeds” from your firm.

What kind of weeds are we talking about?  He identifies four of them thusly:

  • Those possessing credentials with the knowledge and skills required for their position (lawyers and staff), but fall short when it comes to performing well when the “rubber meets the road;”
  • Those that do not fit into the culture and vision of the organization.  Often these folks poison the atmosphere around them, and may have been hired for the wrong reasons.  (The son of a named partner in one law firm I know quickly comes to mind on both counts.);
  • Those not willing to give a “little something extra.”  For example, not willing to adapt, learn, be creative, or lack ambition and drive.  Don’t waste your time trying to bring them around.  As Sorts advises, “if you don’t value (them)…, pull them;” and,
  • Those who were valuable for some time (and where compensated accordingly), but “who no longer produce.”  Of course, they should be “handled with care and consideration” (as should all of the above).  However, as Sorts states, if last year’s tomato plants are interfering with this year’s beet crop, then they should be pulled.

His advice on how: do it early before the weeds’ roots become well entrenched, and problems just get worse; and as mentioned above, with sensitivity and compensation, as appropriate.  Delaying will only create further disruption to the organization.

A summary comment seems to be most apt. “You’ve got a garden to tend.  You don’t want to spend all your time and effort on dealing with weeds,…”

It has often struck me as odd that articles aimed at categories of lawyers (newbies, middle-age, old and the extremely long in the tooth) can just as well and should be directed at lawyers of all ages. Such is the case with a download I ran across on Attorney at Work.

It is entitled “25 Tips for the New Lawyer.” It is really good, and contains snippets that apply to all lawyers. I found it a good reminder of the things that lawyers should pay attention to no matter what stage of their career they find themselves. The following are a few I particularly like relating to marketing (as usual, my comments are added in parentheses):

  • “Your client is always right. (Most of the time, that is.)” (My only disagreement here is that clients are always right all the time, at least from a marketing standpoint);
  • “Return phone calls promptly. Really.” (Within no more than a couple of hours in this day and age. If you are unavailable, empower someone else to at least communicate your unavailability and when you will get back to them);
  • “Before beginning the work, ask your client or supervisor what success will look like. Don’t just guess. You’ll probably be wrong.” (Certainly, this is more applicable to the new lawyer, but all lawyers should apply this tip when it involves two a new matter from a client);
  • “While your client or colleague is in your law office, you are the hosts. Act like one.” (Make sure your receptionist knows this, and courtesies – including short wait times – are followed);
  • “Under-promise and over-deliver. Never the other way around.” (Particularly when it comes to deadlines, I like to recommend to lawyers that they beat the deadline by a day or two. Most clients would be favorably overwhelmed.);
  • “When you complete a matter or a task, ask for feedback. Be clear that you’re not looking for flattery-you want to know how to improve next time.” (Client satisfaction is so important in order to obtain additional work or referrals from a client, failure to demonstrate that you really care about the quality of your services may border on marketing malpractice.); and
  • “Remember that clients don’t always one a lawyer. Sometimes they just need someone to listen to them.” (In a marketing context, make sure that is at least 50% of the time.).

In addition to this document being an easy and a short 5-10 minute read, it has links to additional articles and blog posts bearing on each tip. This is a valuable tool for lawyers of any age, even if it only to serve as a refresher.

If you or your firm lawyers have a formal marketing plan, it was likely prepared with the help of a consultant.  Often these plans are lengthy and full of jargon or boilerplate to justify the fee.  As a result they are frequently put on the proverbial shelf and not implemented.

Worse still is the failure to have a plan at all and/or have one that is too broad and vague bordering on the worthless.  A discussion on LinkedIn initiated by lawyer and consultant, David M. Ward asks the question whether your marketing plan is “void for vagueness?” The reasons for having a plan are straight forward, according to Ward: you need one, it should be simple, and it must be specific.  I concur:

  • To paraphrase the comment by the Cheshire cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland “if you don’t know where you are going (with your marketing efforts), any path will take you there.”  And “there” is nowhere;
  • It has to be simple, or it won’t get implemented; and
  • It must be specific (and measurable) as to the who, what, when, where and how your efforts will be accomplished.

The plan cannot be made up of generalities; for example, saying you will take part in a networking event, take a referral source to lunch, or write an article or make a speech in the next quarter.  Rather, it needs to be more detailed as to what events you will network at (best if ones that your clients or referral sources attend); the person(s) you will take to lunch and when; what publication/blog you will write an article/post for and on what topic; and what focused organization you would like to speak before and on what topic in the next quarter.   These are just a few examples of the specificity a plan needs.

Short of that your plan is void for vagueness.

Yes, I’m serious.  Get rid of those annoying, non-paying, difficult clients of 2012!  Some of whom likely keep you up at night. You will feel better and be happier in the new year.

Such is the advice from Canadian lawyer Simon Chester on Attorney at Work this week also. For those who think we’re both nuts, take a look at a few of my earlier posts on this subject going back to 2006 and 2007.

Are Bad Clients Keeping You Up at Night?

Praise the Lord and Pass the … (Client to Someone Else)

Stop Procrastinating – Fire Those Bad Clients

Do You Need to Fire A Client?

When to Fire a Client

The advice is just as valid in 2013.  Happy New Year!