Annual Meeting 2010

Lawyers: Get a Pedicure, Go to the Dentist and Don’t Give Away Free Consultations, Expert Says

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Lawyers who want to build successful practices should first find more personal time. That was the advice given by estate lawyer-turned-business consultant Alexis Martin Neely at a program on ways solo and small-firm lawyers can boost revenue and please clients at the ABA’s 2010 Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

“Look at where you aren’t taking care of yourself,” said Neely, who hired a life coach in 2002 to help her find balance in her life back when she was an associate at Munger, Tolles & Olson. “Maybe you start with pedicures and the dentist, but take care of yourself first.”

Neely, who went on to found a solo practice the following year, found that achieving this balance made her a happier person, and in turn better able to make her new clients happy and secure their loyalty. Within three years, her new practice boasted $1 million in yearly revenue—and she was eventually working only three or four days a week to maintain it.

But she also credits her firm’s success to a business model that abandoned hourly billing, focused on proactive continuous communication with clients and adopted a recurring revenue model, she said at Saturday’s session. Neely sold her practice in 2008 and now trains, coaches and strategizes with small-business owners full-time as founder of the Family Wealth Planning Institute.

Among the tips Neely shared with audience members—in addition to proper oral hygiene—are:

• Rename initial consultations with a title that conveys the value of your time, such as calling it a “family wealth planning evaluation.” And tell clients the monetary worth of the session. Even if you ultimately waive the fee, clients will appreciate that your time isn’t free.

• Give clients “homework” to do before you meet, such as gathering the financial documents you’ll need to evaluate their case. This investment by them will increase the chances they’ll employ your services.

• Focus your business on a specific demographic, find 10 different methods of marketing yourself and hope that each method brings in at least one client.

• Hire someone else to answer your phone and schedule specific times to return client calls. This limits interruptions during the work day and builds trust with clients.

• Allow clients to download basic legal documents, such as guardianship appointments, for free on your firm’s website. Most of these documents are available for free on the Internet anyway, and clients will be more likely to hire you for counseling and work on more complex matters.

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