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It's possible to have more money and less stress

|Written By Kirsten McMahon - Law Times

VANCOUVER — Every law firm can be a goldmine, but there'sa fatal flaw in the way most people manage their firm, a flaw that decreasesincome and increases stress levels.

Mark Powers says most law firms have to rethink the way they do business.
Mark Powers says most law firms have to rethink the way they do business.
"In order to access those rewards — increase your income and decrease your stress — you're going to have to rethink your law firm," said Mark Powers, managing partner of Atticus, one of the United States' leading practice-management, education and training organizations for lawyers. "You're going to have to look at your law firm from a new perspective and, worse yet, you're going to have to look at your role in the law firm from a new

perspective." Powers said.

He spoke to attendees at the Canadian Bar Association's annual meeting in Vancouver last week about how to make more money and spend less time in the office.

He said the law firm model most people follow is broken. It may have worked at one time, but it doesn't anymore. The current model has produced long hours, a lack of control, clients who don't pay, high stress, and endless to-do lists.

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a new result. It's you going into the office every morning, unlocking that door, going in, turning on the lights, getting behind your desk, turning on your computer, opening the piles of files on your desk and saying 'today is going

to be different. Today I'm going to go home on time. Today I'm going to be able to plan that four-week vacation. Today I'm going to be in control."

But as a sole practitioner or a partner in a firm, you take on several roles. You're not just the legal technician, but also the manager and the owner/shareholder, so it's important to balance the legal skills with client-development skills. You can also become a therapist and accountant at times, Powers said.

Many lawyers fall into the trap of taking on any work that comes over the threshold, he noted, even when they know the client may be shady.

One way to increase income and decrease stress is to look at your client-intake system and rate each client from A to D: A being the client who pays promptly, listens to advice, and has realistic expectations and D being the client with uncontrolled emotions, slow collections and often carrying a shopping bag full of papers and saying things like, "It's not the money, it's the principle."

Once you look at your list of clients, you'll find that the ones who bring in 20 per cent to 40 per cent of your revenue use up 60 per cent to 80 per cent of your resources, he said.

An easy way to say no to a client without actually telling him no is to simply raise your retainer or rates. Establish systems to identify time and money bandits at the door and learn to say no with grace and compassion.

Clients who rated an A are often surrounded by other A-list clients, while the time-and-money bandits are usually surrounded by others like them.

Powers urged lawyers to let go of two clients right away.

"If you don't know which two clients to let go, ask your staff, as they have a better idea," he said.

A successful marketing approach is another way of increasing income while decreasing stress. Powers encouraged lawyers to make three good marketing contacts a week and maintain at least 20 good sources of referrals.

"Good rainmakers stay connected to people," he said. "They do things that are simple, but they do it consistently. Don't complicate marketing. If you like to golf or play tennis . . . that's what you do, but never stop marketing."

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