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Five things lawyers believe that are bullshit

03 November 2017 - By Claudia King

Many lawyers have a set of beliefs about how lawyers should act and do their legal work. Some of these beliefs are simply not true. Our legal training, the media, TV shows and movies about lawyers, and our relationships with other lawyers foster these beliefs. These beliefs also come from a place of fear: fear of getting something wrong, fear of losing a client, fear of being sued, and fear of the future of the legal profession.

Friesian cow
Ton Volz CC-By-NC

As a lawyer I had a set of beliefs about my job, some of which I now realise were wrong. For example, I believed that all lawyers needed to fill out timesheets by recording every six-minute unit, whether it was billable or not. My reason for this was that if a client ever complained we would have a time-based record of what was done and when.

In my first job out of uni one of the first things I was taught was how to time record and the rules around it. I now realise that while time recording may be a useful tool for some people, it wasn’t a good tool for me as I believe it suppresses innovation.

Here are five beliefs lawyers have that are wrong, and some practical tips to help you to overcome them:

1. You know what your clients want

Lawyers must remember the core purpose of their jobs: to serve their clients. It follows that to do this well lawyers need to understand what their clients want. Lawyers often assume they know what their clients want because they surveyed one about four years ago.

I fell into this trap for most of my career because, in 2009, we worked with a business coach who surveyed our clients, and I spent years believing I knew what my clients wanted based on the results of that survey. But things change so quickly. It wasn’t until years later when we got regularly surveyed and spoke to our Legal Beagle clients about our service that I actually began to really understand what my clients wanted.

Practical tip: You can use Survey Monkey to survey your clients online for free. It’s super easy to use. Limit the number of questions you ask to say three questions, and ask meaningful questions like: “what is the one thing we should do right now to improve our business?”

2. Your clients will complain if you ask them for feedback

Lawyers often feel they can’t pick up the phone and ask clients for feedback about their services because they’re worried about a negative response. I used to be too scared to ask clients for feedback – what if they complained about the fees I was charging them?

It’s far better to have an uncomfortable conversation with a client about what you can improve than risk losing them as a client. Remember that constructive feedback from a client provides a massive opportunity for you. You’ll also find that clients enjoy being able to contribute and your relationships will strengthen as a result.

Practical tip: Set aside 30 minutes every week or fortnight to speak to clients. Choose a couple of clients to phone each time. Ask them how you’re doing as a lawyer and a law firm. The added bonus is that chances are you’ll end up with some more legal work from each call.

3. You can’t charge your clients the same amount if you use automation

It’s true that document automation software like Automio lets you create legal documents in seconds. This freaks a lot of lawyers out – how can you sell a document that usually takes you an hour or so to prepare for $500 when you only spend 40 seconds creating it?

It’s up to you to communicate the value in the work you do to the client and what your prices are. If you can’t communicate the value then it is likely low value work, and this is the work you’re at risk of losing unless you get more creative with your solutions for clients. If the work is low value and you’re charging a lot for it, well, you’re probably not going to be able to do this for too much longer regardless of whether you’re using document automation or not. So you need to find creative ways to serve your clients and provide them with value so they keep coming back.

Practical tip: Look at the regular work you do for each of your clients and identify ways to deliver it in a way that creates more value for them. For example, say you have a property investor client who you regularly prepare deeds of lease for. Being able to deliver a deed of lease to a property investor client within an hour or two of them instructing you is valuable to them – it means they can get a tenant signed up days or weeks sooner than it would take if it takes you a week to get the lease to them.

4. You have to work long hours to be successful

Most lawyers I know feel they work too much and don’t have enough time for what matters most. They also don’t take much time off. Many lawyers accept this as a way of life as a lawyer, so they don’t try to improve it. After all, the lawyers on Boston Legal worked 16-hour days, so that’s what you need to do, right?

With all the wonderful tools at our disposal, lawyers don’t need to work long hours to have a successful legal career. Instead of accepting that you’ll need to work long hours for the rest of your working life, commit to improving this aspect of your life. Create greater efficiency in your practice by using automation software, or hire another lawyer or assistant to help your team. Perhaps you can outsource some of your admin or marketing work you don’t enjoy much. Look at easier ways to earn revenue, like creating packages for clients with monthly subscriptions fees, or selling legal products online like wills or an online course for property investors or small business owners.

Practical tip 1: start listening to the Happy Lawyer Happy Life and the Beyond Billables podcasts. You’ll get some good ideas about how to work smarter, not harder.

Practical tip 2: If you don’t have at least a week of leave booked in the next few months or so, book it in now. And the next time you’re on leave, book in your next holiday after that.

5. Clever software and robots are going to replace lawyers

Every time you read a lawyer magazine there’s another article about another law firm launching an AI project or some kind of bot. You may find this intimidating because you’re unsure of this technology and the impact it will have on your practice.

You don’t need to freak out, but you do need to take action now to stay ahead. The good news is that automation won’t put you out of work as long as you embrace technology as soon as possible. This will help to ensure that your legal knowledge and skills remain in demand to clients and your firm. Learning how to use new technology to make it easier for clients to handle their legal needs is essential to remaining in demand.

Practical tip: start using a new technology right now. Give it a good bash for a month, and if it works …. well, great. If it doesn’t, move on. There’s legal software available to lawyers that doesn’t require you to pay an expensive upfront fee.

Claudia King is CEO and co-founder of Automio, having left legal practice to focus full-time on delivering law online and using technology to make law firms more efficient and profitable.

Last updated on the 3rd November 2017