Thursday, May 31, 2012

Business Plans Suck. Planning your legal career doesn't.

Two years ago, I was enduring the unending humidity of a Maryland summer. When you are trapped in air conditioning and unemployed, you're likely to pick up anything.

Now I've practically memorized Scot Gerber's "Never Get A Real Job." It's a primer for starting and running an enterprise. GET THIS BOOK, if only to read the chapter called "Business Plans Suck."

A business plan is a waste of time.

Planning is essential. But The Business Plan has taken on a life of its own. Here are a few realities:

The Business Plan is mostly fiction.

None of the things you write in The Business Plan will happen when you say they will.

No one reads the darn thing. I haven't read my business plan since I put it together in 2010. Why? It sucked. It had numbers and graphs and testimonials, and the bank put it in my file and never looked at it again.

A startup plan is NOT a waste of time.

Here is the difference. Like the Constitution, your startup plan is a living document. You can allow yourself to experiment with a startup plan. A startup plan can help you identify your best business model. A startup plan can be anything you want. But it should have some clearly defined goals, milestones, and ideas. You might want to think about money, but don't do that until you have a clear idea of your product, your market, and your selling strategy.

Your startup plan is short, sweet, and can be accepted on Kickstarter or IndieGoGo without any fuss or changes.

Scott Gerber recommends 8 questions to ask, and I like them. They are not mine. They are Scott Gerber's. Get his book to help you figure out how to implement them into your startup plan. 

1. What is the service your business performs or the product it provides today? 
2. How does your business produce or provide the product or service right now? 
3. How will customers use your product or service as it exists right now? 
4. How will your business generate immediate revenue? 
5. Who are the primary clients your business will target immediately? 
6. How will you market your start-up to prospective clients with the resources you have at your direct disposal? 
7. How are you different than your competitors right now? 
8. What are the secondary and tertiary client bases you will target once you’ve attained success with your primary base?

See, Gerber, Scott (2010-11-02). Never Get a "Real" Job: How to Dump Your Boss, Build a Business and Not Go Broke (pp. 91-92). John Wiley and Sons. Kindle Edition. 

I'm a Lawyer. I don't have anything to sell. So I don't need a plan.

Yes you do, so stop making excuses. You sell this thing called knowledge. You have a product, which is your advice, your skill, and your assistance. Figure it out. If you don't know what your product is, how are you going to attract clients? 

Any plan is better than none at all. You can illustrate your plan any way you'd like. Some people draw pictures of their plans. Others draw incredibly complicated "mind maps." I like mind maps, because I think chaotically. A mind map helps tremendously before you hone your offering to a few unique points. Brainstorm, get some friends over for wine and pizza, be as creative as you possibly can with your plan and your business model. 

Then refine it. 

What would you put in your business plan?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Three Strategic Planning Essentials to Make Your Practice Work

Have any of these things just happened to you?

1. I just graduated from law school and I have no job with anyone but me, a small law firm engagement, my dream job with a judge or BigLaw firm.

2.  I finished my first year of law school and still have most of my brain cells left. I have no job, a small firm engagement, or my dream clerkship with a judge or BigLaw firm (yay free baseball all summer!)

3.  I'm just starting law school in the fall and I have no idea why I signed up for this.

You can resolve each of these three situations with a simple acronym: PPM. In my environmental law world, it's parts per million, but do not get it confused. Rather, to make any business venture succeed, your PPM is:




You must have each component of PPM in your practice. It's a really good idea to incorporate these during law school, too, just to get into the habit. Warning: this is a short introduction; I'll cover these in detail over the remaining week.


You will never get anywhere without a plan. Feel free to leave your disagreements in the Comments section. The fact is, you are always executing your plan or someone else's plan. If you're executing someone else's plan, it's likely you're an employee. If you're executing your own plan, you either a very smart employee, or you're working on developing your own practice. 

Your plan doesn't have to be long. It has to be good. It has to be clearly stated. It has to be workable. Don't fall into the trap that your plan needs to have graphs and projections, unless you're a visual thinking. Your plan is your roadmap, not a funding piece.


Without the right people in your practice, it will go nowhere. I can hear you saying to yourself "I have no employees; I'm a law student/associate/solo." Feh. You need the right people around you as soon as you start school. Build a network within your class and especially with upper classes. Learn how to gauge personalities. As an associate in a practice, you can network with other people in the firm and other young lawyers outside your firm. 

The people you choose to be with is a reflection of you and your practice. If you have the wrong people in your corner, your practice will be a confusing mess. 


Money makes your plan function and pays your people. I hope you know that already. 

But you can bootstrap, seek investors, ethically seek sponsorships, and maybe even crowdsource to manage the bottom line. There are entire graduate programs devoted to raising capital, and I won't bore you with a crash course on fundraising (at least until Friday).

Today, just start with a plan.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

12 predictions about your career in Law

I'm in Philadelphia. This week, Drexel and Penn graduated another crop of law students. They were bright-eyed and confident in their future careers, believing that they were going to really enjoy that summer clerkship at Walmart.

I didn't get invited to speak. Here is the speech I would have given.

Congratulations, all of you. You're justifiably proud of yourselves. Some of you graduated Summa Cum Laude. Others graduated Magna Cum Laude or even Cum Laude. Most of you, like me, graduated Thank You Lawd. All of you stand on the brink of the best of times and the worst of times.. You are facing a different world, and I'm going to show you 12 ways your future career is going to be different from mine. If you apply the ideas today, you will still be practicing law in 10 years. If not, the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse will ride you down. Here they are, without explanation or fluff.

  1. You will be competing with a global workforce.
  2. Your target demographic has changed A LOT.
  3. Self-help Clients will shop for services, not lawyers.
  4. Clients will want the lowest price, which means firms will "unbundle” their professional offerings, and outsource as much as possible. Many already do. See The modern bankruptcy practice.
  5. Lawyers will have to learn how to commoditize some of their offerings. There clients will look for a package before they ask for a bespoke service.Lawyers will run to the Cloud for data sharing, collaboration, and the competition for attention there will be fierce.
  6. The most successful lawyers will have to be entrepreneurial, which means they’ll be marketing their “product” not themselves. There is material for a week's worth of blogs in this statement.
  7. Guidance from professional disciplinary bodies will become increasingly confused as the ways that lawyers solicit clients proliferate quickly.
  8. Lawyers will be increasingly required to promote themselves and market their own practices, whether they’re in a firm or not.
  9. The debacle at Dewey Leboeuf teaches us that the model for gigantic law firms is dead, and probably should never have existed in the first place. That is not to say that the model for a global law firm is dead. You just don't need to be Dewey Leboeuf to be one.
  10. Lawyers will stop selling their time and will sell their knowledge instead. The billable hour, like the gigantic law firm, is dead.
  11. The best lawyers will operate an enterprise that includes a sophisticated marketing plan promoting a unique product.
  12. The Lawyer who does something different will succeed. Don’t follow the lemmings over the cliff.
These predictions are not meant to depress. What I want you to do with this is go forth. Be Creative. Change the World. Do it Differently. You can. You have to.

Thanks, and good luck!