by Janie Graziani
Originally published in Florida Bar News
A few years ago attorney Lee Elam of Brandon, Fla. was thinking of slowing down, retiring and selling his business. After decades as a sole practitioner he felt it might be time to have a little fun and stop working so hard.
However, Elam recently hired additional employees — even attorneys — not to take over the business, but to grow it. “I’m about to hire an additional person just to open new files,” says Elam. “That’s how much new business we’re bringing in.”
Why the switch? What happened to slowing down? Elam has learned new ways to run his business that have allowed him to make more money, spend less time working and even take up golf.
What is happening at Elam’s practice is happening for many attorneys throughout the United States after attending The Forum offered by Atticus®. By teaching management techniques specifically targeting the business aspects of running a law office, The Forum helps attorneys better manage their time, work and practice.
The result? Those attorneys who apply the techniques learned during The Forum experience an increase in income and a decrease in workload.
Prior to learning basic, but vital, scheduling techniques in The Forum, Phil Jones, an attorney in Port Charlotte, Fla. described his daily work life as chaotic. “I was jumping from one crisis to another,” says Jones. “Attorneys have a tendency to be adrenaline junkies and put things off until crisis mode sets in.”
Harry Hackney, a Tavares, Fla. attorney, agrees, “I didn’t manage my work before. It managed me,” says Hackney. “I just came in everyday and put out fires. Everyone else used to shape my day, but now I’ve learned to take control. I determine whether or not something is important rather than reacting to what someone else does.”
Beth Horner, an attorney in St. Petersburg, Fla., has also seen a dramatic difference in her practice since implementing the scheduling techniques she learned through The Forum.
“The major benefits have been increased production time and less chaos,” says Horner. “There is more of a set schedule and improved structure to the day now.”
“I’m better organized and in control of my calendar,” says Jones. “It’s difficult to learn how to say no, but the benefits have crossed over into my personal life. I’m not spreading myself as thin as I used to.”
Learning how to say no. Getting organized. As you might have guessed, there are other benefits to increased organization and more effective scheduling — ones that carry over to home life as well.
“I have seen a 50 percent reduction in my stress,” says Jones. “It’s made a difference in my home and work life. I’ve stopped feeling guilty when I don’t come in to the office on weekends, and that makes for more pleasurable time at home.”
“I have a peace of mind about my practice,” says Horner. “I know that it is not out of control simply because I’m not present in the office. I’ve stopped feeling that everything is falling apart, and now I concentrate on my children when I’m home without thinking of running back to the office to finish up something.”
“I think my wife has noticed a difference,” laughs Jones when commenting on the increased free time his scheduling has created. “There are times when she says, ‘Aren’t you going into the office today? I have things to do around the house.’
“I’m in a better frame of mind on the weekends,” Jones adds. “I used to dread Mondays and now that dread is gone.”
Jones admits that although maintaining that control on a week-to-week basis is difficult, The Forum has helped him to stay focused on what is important in life. “No matter what’s going on at 6:00 p.m., I’m going home to have dinner with my wife. I schedule time for that, and I don’t allow anything to interfere with it.”
Hackney agrees. “People think they are spending more time in the office because their children are important to them,” he says. “The fact is that it’s more important to be home with the children than to work additional overtime. The Forum gives you the confidence to put first things first.”
One of the ways that attorneys have gained confidence from The Forum is by learning to become more selective and to focus on potential clients who they believe will be more profitable to the business.
According to Hackney, “The number one improvement in my practice is having the courage to say no to the potential clients who have no chance of winning, little chance of paying and may not even need a lawyer.
“I used to spend a lot of time talking to people who I didn’t really want to be my clients and didn’t need a lawyer,” says Hackney. “I used to spend half my day trying to be pleasant rather than straight to these people. It was detracting from the clients who really needed me.
“Now, I’m still just as busy as I’ve ever been, only my time is spent more on those clients who pay, so I’m more productive,” says Hackney. “There are some holdover clients from before I started The Forum — clients who wouldn’t make it through my selection process today — but I haven’t taken on any new ones.”
By teaching attorneys how to evaluate clients and eliminate unprofitable ones, The Forum helps attorneys increase their income by focusing the same amount of effort on “A” list clients — those with a higher potential for success.
That’s why Elam is happily hiring new staffers while retirement becomes less interesting.
“We’ve created a new enthusiasm at my office,” says Elam. “I’m spending more time playing golf and enjoying it. Before I felt guilty playing golf, but now it’s part of the plan.”
That plan is another aspect of The Forum: marketing. Learning the difference between marketing and selling or advertising has been one of the more beneficial lessons of The Forum, according to Elam who says that playing golf is not only relaxing but also gives him the opportunity to tell others about his practice.
“You can market your practice at a minimal cost just by thinking through the techniques you learn from Atticus® and using them,” says Elam. “For instance, I try to send a handwritten note to the two lawyers on every mediation I do. It reminds them of my name and the next time they need a mediator they might think of me.”
If any of this sounds familiar to you, then you’ll probably be relieved to know that many attorneys — even those who have been in practice a long time — are struggling with the same issues of overburden and chaos.
“The most valuable thing I learned was that I’m not the only one out there with these problems,” says Horner. “I felt as if I were in a vacuum, and that I was not able to handle the constraints that come with the practice of law and have a successful practice. Now I know I’m not all alone.”
“I’ve also learned that it can be done. I can have a life and small children and practice law without feeling frustrated,” adds Horner. “And that means everything.”