Last December, I wrote that I would not make suggestions about what to do to be better but rather how to think better.
There are many disadvantages to putting your thoughts to paper and then sharing those thoughts with the public. There is (at least for me) an obligation to give the appearance that I am attempting to live up to my own standards or aspirations. In reviewing the December columns of the past few years, I have made some real changes and some improvements both professionally and personally.
Here is what I have learned in 2010 which I think can help all of us as we continue the process of building on our past successes.
- The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear. Your name/reputation is your path to your success. There are many great practitioners in Maryland in all practice settings. Skill is not the only factor in your potential or continued success. As solo and small firm practitioners, it is more difficult to separate yourself from your work. You are your firm. Your name is your firm. Every time you leave your house, appear in public, perform a service or engage in any activity, you represent your firm. If you practice in a smaller county or jurisdiction, this is even truer.
Protect your name like it was your most valuable asset. Consider what you want others to think when they hear your name. Although you can never really control what others think, you can control how you act and perform.
less does not mean that I am not concerned about doing a good job or being the best I can be. What it does mean is that I work really hard to prepare for every possible problem that could happen and know that if something does go wrong or does not work out the way I had planned, I will simply handle it, apologize and get a good night’s rest.
- You can’t always control the wind, but you can control your sails. You cannot control others. You cannot control most situations. You can only control yourself and how you react to situations.
We want desperately to control as much of a situation as possible to minimize surprises, especially as we represent our clients. However, there is no way we can control the situation and, too often, when confronted with something that is not what we expected, we do not react well. In fact, we react quite badly which often does more harm to our client.
The best we can do is to prepare as effectively as possible and, when confronted by a surprise or situation that we did not anticipate, use that preparation to come to the best possible solution. Instead of spending all of our energy trying to control everything, we need to learn how to handle surprises.
- It’s not always about us. Too often, when clients or potential clients come to us, we are so certain that we know what the problem is and how to solve it that we fail to listen. We seem to have difficulty in simply listening to others. Sometimes, all that our clients initially want of us is to listen. This is often hard for us to do because we think we know the answer immediately. Even if we are right, however, we gain more by listening.
It is important not only to listen but also to respond appropriately. Different situations and different individuals may require different responses. This would seem to fly in the face of our desire to be true to our own personality, but often it is more responsible and mature to respond in a way that is better for the recipient than for you.
This can be especially true when responding to an online post. The use of e-mail and e-mail discussion lists can often lead to rude and unpleasant responses. Before sending a snarky message or response, ask yourself how you would feel to get the same type of response. If you would not like it, do not send it.
- Success is not an accident. The 12th Annual Solo and Small Firm Conference featured a half-day program on using the new social media to build or expand your practice. I had really promoted it to the MSBA Young Lawyers Section and expected most of the attendees to be “younger” or newer practitioners, or those who were more tech-oriented.
I was quite pleasantly surprised when I saw that most of those in attendance were successful and highly experienced practitioners. As I thought about it, I realized that the reason they were successful was because they stayed on top of what was happening in the legal profession, both in their practice areas as well as technology and marketing. No matter how experienced or successful you are, you can never stop learning. Successful practitioners are so because they stay active and intellectually challenged.
- Admit when you make a mistake and apologize. We all make mistakes, yet we hate admitting as much, as though admitting it means we are somehow stupid or lazy or careless. It means none of those things. It simply means we are human. Clients will forgive you as long as you do not try to hide it, take steps to correct it and do not let it happen again.
This is especially true if you make a promise but do not keep it. Very often, we overpromise but circumstances prevent us from delivering. If you make a promise that you know you cannot keep, or did not keep, simply contact the client and apologize. Do not make excuses. If necessary or possible, correct the situation and make certain that you learn what you need to do to make sure it does not happen again.
Last year, I mentioned in my article that worrying never helps. Never. I am happy to report that I have learned to worry a lot less this past year. Worrying less does not mean that I am not concerned about doing a good job or being the best I can be. What it does mean is that I work really hard to prepare for every possible problem that could happen and know that if something does go wrong or does not work out the way I had planned, I will simply handle it, apologize and get a good night’s rest. Life does not get better than that.
I hope that you all have worry-free sleep in 2011 and beyond.