Now that it’s 2015, let the business planning begin! It’s time to come up with your New Year’s resolutions for your law practice–and stick with them! Of course, when making your resolutions, don’t forget to consider taking steps to care for your mental health.
We all know that lawyers have high rates of depression and substance abuse. After all, practicing law isn’t always easy and sometimes lawyers try to do too much. As a result, many lawyers feel overwhelmed, overworked, and overstressed. Not surprisingly, these feelings often lead to anxiety and depressed moods.
But there are things you can do to avoid falling into the stressed out lawyer trap. That’s the idea behind our 15 blog post series, “The Happy Lawyer.” Throughout this series of blog posts, we strive to help you identify changes you can make to improve your quality of life and your state of mind. In today’s post, we’ll focus on your 2015 business planning and the importance of balance as you start making resolutions for the upcoming year.
Certainly business planning is important, but so is your sanity! That’s why one of your priorities should be to focus on controlling your workload. Ensure that you leave time for family, exercise, and other hobbies that you find enjoyable.
One of the best ways to control the planning of your schedule is to know when to say no, whether to potential clients, current clients, or outside obligations. In other words, don’t bite off more than you can chew.
Know when to say no
First, know when to decline a case. Not every potential client is one worth taking on. So when someone walks through your door or calls your office seeking representation, carefully consider whether taking their case makes sense.
In an article from Idaho Business Review, attorney, author and business coach, Ed Poll offers great advice when deciding whether to accept a case. He gives three reasons as to why you should consider declining particular cases:
- Not every new client is worth taking on. Keep your eyes out for the warning signs of difficult clients and just say no. It’s better to decline a case than spend unwarranted amounts of time managing unreasonable expectations.
- Current clients owe you money. Instead of opening new files, it might be prudent to focus your efforts on collecting monies owed from current clients rather than taking on new ones.
- The new case will represent more than 10% of your overall revenue. Avoid putting all your eggs in one basket. Otherwise you risk spending too much of your time and energy on one case without knowing the outcome.
Set limits with current clients
It’s also important to set limits with clients in the cases that you do take on. In this age of 24/7 access to information, it’s important to ensure that your clients understand the parameters of your business availability.
In a post at the Legal Ease blog, Allison Shields explains how to manage client expectations. According to Allison the first step is to discover and shape the client’s expectations at the very start of representation. The key of business planning is to explain the services that you offer, the ways in which you’ll communicate, and your expected availability. Allison explains:
If the client’s perception of ‘service’ is something more or different than what you provide, the client will always be dissatisfied, regardless of how good your work is. It’s your job to manage expectations in each of these areas.
It’s also important to establish boundaries at the start of the case. Make sure the client is aware of your limits and accepts them. Otherwise, you’ll likely end up with a demanding client who isn’t happy no matter what you do.
She also advises that you keep your client informed throughout the case, whether about billing issues, staffing changes, or case developments. The more you keep your client in the loop, the less likely misunderstandings will occur.
And, in the event that you need to have a difficult conversation with a client, make sure to empathize with the client. Listen to your client’s concerns and respond accordingly. She offers this great tip about empathy to help with your client discussions:
If you can guide the conversation in a way that makes clients feel understood, the conversation will run much more smoothly.
Be selective about outside obligations
And last but not least, don’t overextend yourself with outside commitments. It’s tempting to accept offers to serve on boards and committees, to speak, or to volunteer elsewhere, but before accepting any offers, give it some thought.
Carefully plan how much of a time commitment will be required, how much you’ll enjoy participating, and how you expect the commitment will benefit your law practice. Of course, not every outside commitment needs to have a business development goal, but at least a few should.
Now that you’re armed with guidelines for your 2015 commitments, it’s time to set your New Year’s resolutions for your business. What are your plans for 2015? How are you going to make the most of this coming year? What steps will you take to become the Happy Lawyer you were meant to be?