Tips For Texas Lawyers
Tip #1 – The importance of personal attention.
The person you are speaking with is the most important person in the room. Be sincerely interested in what other people have to say. Listen to what is being said rather than being preoccupied with thinking of something clever to say in response. People like people who take the time to listen to them. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou.
Tip #2 – If it’s Worth Doing, it’s Worth Doing Right.
If you commit to do something, give it 100% of your effort. In everything you commit to do, you will be making lasting impressions on your colleagues, judges, existing and future clients. Remember that people admire and respect leaders. Look for opportunities where you can take a leadership role. Start small and work your way up to something bigger. Sign up to work on a state bar committee, local bar committee, not for profit board, neighborhood or school committee and do a good job. If you doubt that you have the time to commit to an activity, wait until you do have time before volunteering but don’t use that as an excuse. Performing at less than your best effort will give people a negative impression. Be an active member of the organization rather than someone who watches from the sidelines. I have come to realize that working together with people who share common interests accelerates solid relationships more than other interactions to the point where people really feel they know one another in a short amount of time. I believe getting to establish relationships with others who have a shared interest, whether they are lawyers or not, is good for us all. By doing so, we are investing in our feeling of connectedness and good health.
Tip #3 – Be Optimistic.
When my daughter was little, we used to sing a song sung to the tune of “Oh my Darling, Clementine,” that went like this: “Optimistic, optimistic, optimistic right now. I will be optimistic, optimistic right now.” Science has proven that optimists live longer lives, experience better health and have more friends. Optimists are able to look at a bad situation without taking it personally and without thinking that negative events are pervasive or permanent. Similarly, optimists think that when something good happens, it is personal to them, will be pervasive and will be permanent. Buddha said: “With our thoughts we make the world.” Optimistic people do not let negative feelings distort their view of reality or exaggerate danger. Optimism gives you the clarity and energy to face problems and find solutions. Optimism correlates with success. Like anything else, being optimistic takes practice. At the end of each day, try to think of three good things that happened to you. Doing so will help you frame the events in your life and put them in proper perspective.
Tip #4 – Practice Makes Perfect.
You may recall Malcolm Gladwell’s book called Outliers: The Story of Success. His book has two theses, the second of which I will discuss here. Gladwell’s theory is that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of continuous practice to become a master in your chosen field. Gladwell points to Bill Gates, Tiger Woods, Mozart and The Beatles to prove his theory. He also focuses on highly talented musicians and compares them to those who were just average. Over time, what he learned was that regardless of whether a person is extraordinarily talented or just has the persistence to continue to practice, if one has some talent, even if only average, the only variable between success and mediocrity is practice. Although that requires a huge time commitment, I find it comforting to know that if I want something badly enough, it is within my grasp as long as I put in the time. Applied to the practice of law, that means that if you put in the work to know the area of law in which you practice backwards and forwards, the procedural rules that apply to that practice, the facts of each matter you handle for a client, your opponent and, if applicable, the judge who will decide your case, and have developed relationships with lawyers in your community who can share their experiences, you can be an amazing lawyer! After all, practice really does make perfect.
Tip #5 – Dress for Success.
You only have one opportunity to make a first impression. The way you dress forms the biggest part of the impression you will make. People who advise us that we should dress for the job we want, not the one we have, have science behind them. In 1955, there was a study that concluded that people wearing business suits portray authority. In the experiment, when a person dressed in a suit crossed the street against traffic, three and a half times more people followed her than when she was wearing a work shirt and pants. Always err on the side of being overly conservative and formal. We live in a world which is very judgmental. One where people are quick to make assumptions and categorize us based on what they see. Also, if we take the time, effort and pride in our clothes, we will radiate an image of self-respect and self-worth. Our own self-perception significantly influences and impacts how others perceive us. If we feel good on the outside, we are more likely to feel good on the inside which boosts our attitudes and our self-confidence and causes us to try to do our best work which brings better results. It also sends the message that because we take pride in how we look, we will also take pride in the work we do. When we take care with our dress, we will not only leave a great first impression but also a great lasting impression.
Tip #6 – The Problem with Perfection.
As Sheryl Sandberg said in her book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, “Done is better than perfect.” Rather than focusing on delivering something that is perfect, we should concentrate on delivering something that has impact. We should focus on doing the best job we can on our first draft and continuing to hone our writing until we are satisfied with the final work product. It is also helpful for us to keep in mind what our client needs. Oftentimes, our client doesn’t need a perfect work product. Instead, they need a product which will do the job based upon its role in the matter we are handling. It is also easier to reduce something to writing and come closer to completing a deliverable if we tackle it in small pieces. If we focus on delivering what our client needs rather than delivering a perfect product every time, our client’s needs will be better served in the long run.
Tip #7 – Become Memorable.
In each interaction we want to become memorable in a good way. One way to become memorable is to identify commonalities we have with the people with whom we are interacting. We should be prepared to be conversational about other people including what their practice areas are, what they are working on, careers they hope to have, motivations for doing what they do, inspiration for attending the event we are both attending and ways we can help them achieve their goals. The best way for us to become memorable is to make a good impression, show that we are genuinely interested in them and think of ways in which we can provide value to the people with whom we are dealing.
Tip #8 – Being Prepared in an Emergency.
We now know that we cannot rely on our government to ensure our basic needs. Armed with that knowledge, we need to be prepared to provide for ourselves. Consider investing in a standby generator as my husband and I have done. In the almost 10 years we have had it, it has proved to be invaluable. In this worst winter storm, it allowed us to provide a comfortable home to 13 of our family members. When we lost power, the generator immediately kicked in and powered the majority of our house throughout the storm. We also have a practice of having a 5-gallon water jug and dispenser in our home with multiple backup jugs of water in our garage. That enabled us to freely use water without fear that we would run out. From a work perspective, it is important to have an extra fully charged cell phone battery so that we are not left without means of communicating, especially given the deadlines that lawyers are subject to routinely. I have a practice of having case information sheets for all of my cases with the contact information for the court, my clients and all counsel on the file. I will now begin asking counsel to exchange cell phone numbers so that we can reach each other in the event of an emergency. Now that I’m working from home, I have basic office supplies including stamps and my rule books but will resolve to continue that practice even after I return to the office. I will also add certified mail cards to my office supplies so that I can send out discovery responses and other pleadings that must be served by a particular date. Knowing that emergencies occur, I will continue my practice of granting requests by opposing counsel for extensions. Finally, I have learned how to shut off our water at the main line and drain our pipes so that if we do lose power, the resulting damage will not make our home uninhabitable.
Tip #9 – The Value of Thank You.
Take the time to thank people who have done something for you with a proper thank you. You will be surprised by how few people remember to say thank you with a handwritten or personalized note. In this digital age, a handwritten note is rare and precious. A thank you note sent by mail will be opened first, even saved and remembered for a long time while an email will likely be forgotten immediately. Don’t limit your expressions of thanks to those who give you gifts. When someone invites you to their home for dinner, treats you to a meal in a restaurant or goes out of their way to show kindness to you, take the time to thank them with a customized thank you note that explains the difference their act of kindness has made in your life. In one of my earlier tips, I talked about how to become memorable. Since thank you notes are so rare, this is an easy way to become memorable for expressing gratitude with style.
Tip #10 – Change.
“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.” Gail Sheehy. Change, although often difficult to accept, is inevitable. When things around us are changing, we should look for the opportunity to grow. When life brings us unwanted changes, we need to take a deep breath and avoid the tendency to panic or freeze. If you are in over your head and don’t know how to handle a situation, ask for help from someone you trust. Try working through the situation in baby steps knowing that with persistence each day gets better and an experience that seems like it will last forever at the time will often seem fleeting in retrospect. Above all, face change with serenity, courage and wisdom. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Reinhold Niebuhr.
Tip #11 – No News is Ever Good News.
Failure to communicate is the number one complaint made by clients in disciplinary or grievance proceedings against their lawyer. Legal matters take time to resolve, and the proceedings are unfamiliar and often confusing to lay persons. Even if nothing is happening–some would say especially when nothing is happening–send your client a note or email and given them an update. If it’s bad news, do not procrastinate: We must inform our clients promptly, and provide relevant context and clear advice. Follow up important conversations with a letter or email that clearly memorializes your communications. We are our client’s fiduciary. The burden to communicate fully and fairly is on us. Our clients will appreciate that we are paying attention to their matter and keeping them informed. No lawyer ever got in trouble for communicating too often with their clients!
Tip #12 – Goals: What Gets Measured, Gets Achieved.
Set short term, measureable goals for yourself and revisit them often. It has been proven that people who set goals are much more successful than those who do not. Keep your eye on the prize. Focus on building your brand, which is what you want people to remember you as being known for. Tony Robbins, philanthropist and author, believes that “Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” Setting goals also gives us focus, keeps us motivated, helps us to avoid procrastination and allows us to feel a sense of accomplishment when we achieve our goals. Set goals around what you will accomplish for your clients so that you are sure to deliver what you promise. Client satisfaction is key to repeat business.
Tip #13 – Believe in Yourself.
One of the hardest things in life is to take risks. It is very easy to avoid taking risks because of self-doubt we may have. Taking on risks is like exercise. The more often we do it, the stronger we get. We should try to find something each week that we can do that is out of our comfort zone but will help us accomplish a goal or objective we set for ourselves. Once we have identified that opportunity, we should not be constrained by fear. Instead, we should focus on the good things rather than the bad things that can come from our taking a risk. Over time, we will come to realize that as we have consistently stretched to do things which at one time caused us to be fearful, we are able to do more and more without having any fear at all. If we don’t take risks in life, we will sit on the sidelines rather than be in the game. Remember, if we fail, let’s learn from that experience to become stronger.
Tip #14 – Follow-Up is Key.
Getting a book of business is hard! In sales, it is common to say that “The fortune is in the follow-up.” Sometimes, I find that I am afraid to follow-up because I will come across as overly pushy. However, when I stop to think about how many people are vying for my attention in their inbox, I realize that the chance of an email I sent to a potential client getting lost is very high. In addition to that, people are super busy. But, if I want to get the business, I need to communicate with people an average of seven times before someone decides to do business with me. That means if someone doesn’t respond to my email the first time, that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t interested in working with me. They just may not have heard enough from me which is why I need to remain consistent with my follow-up. A lot of people give up after one follow-up period. That means that if we follow-up more often than that, we are already ahead of most of our competition. The more follow-up we do, the more we increase our chances of getting the business. We need to make sure that when we do the follow-up, we add value in that communication to our potential client.