do you have “mindful awareness” of your practice? #mindfulwednesday

I spent some time last week with a few dozen attorneys, talking about law practice management, technology, and related ideas. When I give these talks, I tend to make them very interactive. As in, I ask lots of questions of the audience. How can I address their issues if I don’t know their issues? Thus, the questions.

Well, this wasn’t a very lively group. As in, radio silence when I would ask a question. But I didn’t relent. I kept asking. And eventually some bold souls accepted my challenge and started talking.

As the “conversation” (and I use this term loosely) progressed, I started to identify a core issue with this group: they weren’t answering my questions because they didn’t know how to answer them. I was asking questions about their practices that they couldn’t answer (for the most part) because they simply didn’t know.

They didn’t know why they handled time keeping/billing/whatever the way they did. They didn’t know why they did or didn’t have a process for intake or client communication or whatever. At least, they didn’t know the why well enough to share. Why? My educated guess is that it’s because they’ve been doing things they way they do them for so long that they’ve stopped wondering whether the way is a good way or not.

I was posing questions that forced my audience to start really thinking about the why and how of their practices. By the looks on many faces, this was both a novel and challenging experience.

The folks in that room were there because they seek a change. The first step: having a mindful awareness of the current state of your practice.

I’m borrowing the phrase “mindful awareness” from meditation, in which context it describes (loosely) a process of identifying a destructive thought pattern, labeling it, and letting it pass when it enters your mind.

In the context of a law practice, I conceptualize the meaning to get at the heart of the first step of change: identifying those processes (or lack thereof) that don’t work, that get in the way of a successful practice, that hold you back from being optimally happy in the way you work.

I’ve helped many folks through the process of changing how they work. Perhaps the sole truth I’ve witnessed: the best kind of change starts with a mindful awareness of the present.

It’s with that awareness that you’re able to truly focus on creating a practice that supports you and the life you want. Not the other way around.

it’s all in the presentation.

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I’m going to assume that you know the law. You know what you need to know, to perform the legal work that your clients need you to perform. You, and likely many hundreds — if not thousands — of other lawyers who could also serve your clients.

So why does a client choose you, and not one of the other hundreds or thousands?

It’s all in the presentation.

I know, I’ve probably lost you at this point. Didn’t take long. Because we lawyers spend little if any time thinking about this.

And by this, I mean all of the little things that make the difference for clients. You’re a superlawyer? Well, so are a lot of other lawyers. You’ve been doing this for X [insert impressive number of] years? Ditto. You have a high Avvo or Martindale Hubbell rating? Again, ditto.

None of these things set you apart. Now, they might appeal to another attorney who’s looking for someone to refer a client to, but to your ideal potential client? Not so much.

This is why someone hires YOU instead of another attorney: HOW YOU PRESENT YOURSELF.

So, how do you present yourself? What is the first impression of a potential client who …

visits your website?

calls your office?

sends you an email?

meets you at a networking event?

asks for your card?

has an initial consultation in your office?

You have one and only one opportunity to make a great first impression.

Spend some time answering the above questions. Really think about how you present to the people who you most want to work with. What can you do to present well to these folks?

I’d love to know what you come up with. And I’ll be sharing a few thoughts of my own in the next post …

the practice of law and depression, in three parts.

Along with many others, I’ve written about lawyer depression, most recently here.

I just came across a series of three posts written by a law professor (who also has extensive practice experience) about his experience with depression, and being a law student, lawyer, and law professor.

In this series, the author lays out the cold, hard facts. And he calls on lawyers and law professors to act.

However, as lawyers and law professors, we must to do more. It is clear that our students need us to do more. When you are depressed, you feel so terribly alone. You feel different. You feel ashamed. You feel weak. You feel like you will never feel better and that you can never be the person you want to be.

If 40% of our students feel this way, we must do more. They look up to us. They see us as role models and mentors. They see us as strong and successful and confident. They need to see that suffering from depression or anxiety or bipolar disorder will not curse them for all time and destroy their lives. These are treatable diseases, not character flaws. They need us to be brave and be honest.

-Professor Brian Clarke

Not every lawyer struggles with these issues. But most I know do, to some degree. Some of them sit in my office and cry. (I am not exaggerating. More than once, a lawyer seeking my help ended up crying in our initial consultation.)

In my humble opinion, the failure of our profession to grapple meaningfully with these endemic issues is tragic. And unacceptable.

The law professor who speaks out so openly in these posts is a shining example of exactly what we all need to do: TALK ABOUT IT. Bravely and honestly.

Acknowledging what most of us view as “weakness” will not be easy, or popular. But it’s absolutely necessary.

I’ve spent many of my 16+ years as a lawyer seeking a way to be really good at my work while simultaneously not losing my mind, my family, my friends. It’s not easy, folks. It takes brutal honesty to reflect and act in a way that goes against the grain for our profession.

The law part is not that hard (that was the fun part for me), but the business side of law is a bear. Finding clients, billing time, and collecting money, are just a few aspects of the business of law of which I was not a big fan. Keeping tasks and deadlines in dozens (or hundreds) of cases straight and getting everything done well and on time is a constant challenge. The fear of letting one of those balls drop can be terrifying, especially for the type A perfectionist who is always terrified of making a mistake or doing a less than perfect job. Forget work-life balance. Forget vacations. Every day out of the office is another day you are behind.

Professor Brian Clark

And it’s why I want to help other lawyers do it. It’s really the only reason I haven’t left the profession completely. Because really, when you pencil in the pros vs. cons, why would anyone stay? (I welcome challenges to this statement, by the way.)

As I wrote in a recent post, every lawyer I know as friend or client acknowledges the very same challenges and frustrations. I wager that every single one of them would leave the profession if the right opportunity presented itself.

Granted, my group of lawyer friends and clients is very self-selected. We are of a like mind. But I don’t think we’re the minority. Not anywhere close.

While I do not remember all of the details of my decent into the hole, it was certainly rooted in trying to do it all – perfectly. After my second child was born, I was trying to be all things to all people at all times. Superstar lawyer. Superstar citizen. Superstar husband. Superstar father. Of course, this was impossible. The feeling that began to dominate my life was guilt. A constant, crushing guilt. Guilt that I was not in the office enough because I was spending too much time with my family. Guilt that I was letting my family down because I was spending too much time at work. Guilt that I was letting my bosses down because I was not being the perfect lawyer to which they had become accustomed. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. The deeper I sunk into the hole, the more energy I put into maintaining my façade of super-ness and the less energy was left for either my family or my clients. And the guiltier I felt. It was a brutal downward spiral. Eventually, it took every ounce of energy I had to maintain the façade and go through the motions of the day.

Professor Brian Clark

Does this sound familiar???

I recommend this series of posts highly to anyone who cares about our profession and the people in it.

Law Professors, Law Students and Depression … A Story of Coming Out:

Part I

Part II

Part III

If you feel, even the slightest bit, that you need help — seek it NOW.*

Know someone who you feel, even the slightest bit, may need help? Help them NOW.

Accept Brian Clarke’s challenge. Be brave and honest.

*I searched for a really good national mental health resource for lawyers. I see a gap.

we all have the same problems.

Two conversations. Two very differently situated lawyers. One is a litigation partner at a large firm. The other has a transactional practice, and is a member of a three-person firm.

It’s as if they were both reading from the same exact script. That echoed similar sentiments of lawyers I’ve spoken with last week, and the week before, and six months ago …

“I don’t have time to do my actual work.”

“Between business development and administrative duties, I can’t sustain my billable hours.”

“I have to wear too many hats.”

Big law, small law. Litigator, transactional attorney. We all face the same dilemmas, don’t we?

We have to do our legal work, e.g. practice law. AND manage a business, e.g. manage people and processes. AND build the business, e.g. network and market.

What this looks like for each of us may vary, depending on how, where and what we practice. But the solution to our dilemma? The same.

Figure out where you can get the help and support to do the work that you don’t want to do, don’t have time to do, or aren’t good at.

You’ve (hopefully) figured out that a CPA is better-situated to handle your accounting and taxes. So you hire him to do these things.

So why are you writing content for your website or other digital assets? Or, even worse, you’re ignoring it. Along with many other opportunities to market yourself.

Or why are you constantly switching either (a) software/cloud applications (thinking that the next new thing will actually get the job done this time) or (b) staff (thinking that if you find just the right person, she can help you create and implement processes that will actually work this time).

For most lawyers, time is not well spent doing any of the above (along with a lot of other things).

I’m not suggesting that the same set of rules apply to all of us. A lawyer who is a really good writer (not legal writer — a writer writer) may actually do a better job of telling his or his firm’s story than a content writer with no legal background. But this is the exception, not the norm.

The solution is actually simple, though perhaps not easy: Figure out what you should be doing — and then find the resources to get the rest of the necessary stuff done by someone (or something) else.

It may be that technology and process can take over — for example, software that automates work, making it easier to convert from hourly to flat fee billing. You spend less time to produce a result that thrills your clients. Everyone is happy. Nice.

Or what about a system for soliciting feedback from happy clients, that gives you valuable information for improving client services and encourages and assists your clients in leaving positive feedback in places where it will have a measurable impact on your practice? This achieves a number of marketing and client development objectives, and can be completely automated.

The bottom line: no matter your practice area, there are many things you do — or should be doing — on a daily basis that can be delegated to another person, process, or technology.

The first steps are to perform a self-analysis, uncover the potential for delegation, and make the commitment to act.

So … GO! Do it. Analyze. And tell me what the first act of delegation is that you’re going to perform.

get moving.

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Want to be a happy, healthy, successful lawyer [or anything else]? Then get moving.

I mean it — literally get moving. Get up, get out, and work out. 

How, when, and how much [to some extent] matter much less than the fact that you’re just doing it.

I’m sharing this because we lawyers need the benefits of exercise as much (if not more than) any group of people I know. Too many of us suffer from depression, stress, anxiety, and other health problems.

But we don’t have to. A powerful antidote is not complicated, expensive, or very time-consuming. It’s EXERCISE.

You likely already know this, but it bears repeating that regular exercise does all of the following and more:

  • relieves stress
  • calms anxiety
  • controls weight [you can eat more!]
  • boosts energy
  • combats many diseases
  • promotes better sleep

In addition to all of this external, scientific proof, I know from personal experience that exercise can be the single most effective way to improve both your mood and your health. It really is that simple.

I guarantee the following: commit to a regular exercise routine — focusing less on the exact exercise or level of effort, and more on simple consistency — and your overall well-being will improve measurably. You will feel better. You will sleep better. You will think more clearly. You will be happier.

In many ways, I am the poster child for this guarantee. When I’m not in a regular exercise routine, I feel different. In a not good way. When I’m in it, everything else in my life is easier. And the exercise itself? It’s not hard. I just have to do it.

Ready to get started? It’s a simple as using an app such as DailyBurn, finding some exercises appropriate for your fitness level and ability, and just doing it.

If you need motivation, get a buddy to hold you accountable.Two years ago I was in a real exercise slump. So my sister (who lives 2,300 miles away) and I agreed to do the Insanity workout “together.” We held each other accountable, talked each day about it, and even blogged about our experience. Nothing like this kind of accountability to keep you going. I’m still doing this workout when I need a real exercise-induced endorphin boost.

Or sign up for a series of classes — pay in full, in advance, and you’ll be more likely to follow through. 

The key? Be consistent, but not militant. Life happens. Plan to workout. Do you best to make it happen. If it doesn’t, start again tomorrow. Do it regularly and the habit of exercise will follow. And you’ll reap the immeasurable benefits.

meditate on this: buddhify 2

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I’ve been intending to write about buddhify 2 for a number of weeks. Today I came across this meditation on meditation by Russell Simmons and realized that today’s the day.

I’ve been meditating consistently for a while now. Crucial for both my profession and my personality. I’ve written about it before, even.

And since I happened upon it and think the thoughts are pretty spot-on, here’s what Simmons has to say about three benefits of meditation, all quite apropos for the legal profession:

1) Meditation improves focus. By relieving you of distraction. Crucial in this age of digital distraction and multi-tasking.

2) Meditation gets you past “success” and “failure.” Our profession is full of success (highs) and failure (lows). Meditation helps you maintain an even keel throughout all.

3) Meditation helps you be more creative. Simmons points to meditation as a vehicle for creativity, much as it is for focus. I tend to agree, since in the stillness of mind, there exists an atmosphere that can welcome creative thoughts. A busy mind may not notice them.

I have a meditation method of sorts but when I came across the buddhify 2 app I thought I would give it a whirl. My conclusion: it’s a great way for a non-meditator to get into the meditation groove, and it can also give a boost to an established meditation practice.

The app offers a series of guided meditations organized around 15 categories, with each category offering two to three meditations.

I’ve relied on the app’s guided meditations in some specific circumstances and found it incredibly helpful. The big one: I have no trouble falling asleep but often wake up in the middle of the night, mind racing. I keep my iPhone (with earbuds) on my bedside table, set to the “Can’t Sleep” series of meditations (Settle, Gentle, and Whack. Guess which one is my stand-by? Whack.). The calm, British voice of the guided meditation consistently does the trick. Sleep finds me.

I also like the “Feeling Stressed” series (Flip, Replace, Rain). Because I’m a lawyer. And I often feel stress.

Each meditation lasts in the five to 10 minute range. A very small time commitment for a big return on focus. And perhaps a renewed, healthier view on success and failure. And more focus and thus fuel for creativity. My conclusion: you’ve got nothing but a few minutes to lose, and much to gain.

buddhify 2 — 1.99 in the App Store.

got Mac? now you can get OneNote. free.

I’m a big Evernote fan. And a big Mac fan. I’m pretty unabashed on both fronts. To the extent that I tend to write about platforms and software that serve only Mac. (Sorry, PC users. Nothing personal, but my life changed when I went Mac in my professional world. I haven’t looked back.)

But worth noting: Microsoft released OneNote for Mac today in the Mac store. It’s free (for now). So, using a free OneDrive account, you can sync OneNote between and amongst all platforms and devices.

My observation: Microsoft is going after Evernote. Unapologetically. Here’s a list of OneNote features — if you use Evernote, these will be familiar:

I’ve installed OneNote on all Apple devices and am investigating. While I’m not planning on abandoning Evernote (and my premium plan) anytime soon, I am intrigued. Stay tuned.

Thoughts? Please share in the comments.