By way of background, this vacation grew out of my husband’s two week business trip to his employer’s London office. Rather than spend the last few weeks of my daughters’ summer vacation at home, particularly when camp was finished, I figured that we could take advantage of our frequent flier miles and my husband’s accomodations to enjoy an affordable trip overseas. At the same time, I realized that I’d be doing most of the touring with my daughters on my own. So here’s what I learned on our adventures through London.
Make the Negatives Positives Though I’d spent a semester in London back in college, I don’t ever recall flinching over the price of a trip under the tube (or what we here in DC call the metro). But nearly 25 years later, either inflation or the weak dollar had me squeamish when I discovered that a one time ticket for my daughters and I was the equivalent of eight U.S. dollars, and a day pass as much as eleven dollars. And that’s only because my daughters who are 8 and 11 still qualified to ride free (well technically, it’s free for under 11, but we were never questioned). By contrast, the bus (which I never deign to ride at home) cost several dollars less – and by the end of the week, I was singing its praises. My daughters had been avid to ride on a double decker bus and were thrilled that we were able to do so almost daily (in fact, they resisted the one time we had no choice but to take the train when we travelled to my husband’s company picnic). Plus the bus gave us a chance to see historic buildings and sights which we would have missed underground on the tube. And, after seeing the brochures in our hotel about the $25 tour bus ride, I almost felt that I was saving $25 by riding the bus.
My experience with the bus reminded me that we can always take a negative situation in our practice and not simply accept it, but turn it into something desirable. I’ve seen that happen with the home office. Once considered a sign of shame to work from home, today’s creative lawyers are unabashedly celebrating the virtues of home based practices and the cost savings it provides to clients, not to mention the flexibility to those lawyers seeking work life balance. Other lawyers are discovering and developing ways to efficiently provide unbundled services and capture clients whose small cases would have once been viewed as unprofitable.
You can view solo practice the same way as well. If you’re exploring the solo option because you lost a job or can’t find work for others, sure, you can hang your head in shame. Or you can seize the opportunity to turn a bump in the road into a path to success and satisfaction.
Distinguishing Yourself From the Competition Doesn’t Matter If Clients Can’t Find You One of our favorite sites of the trip (albeit the most tourist-y) was the London Eye, a slow-moving, 443 foot Ferris Wheel type contraption with large glass capsules that afford a 360 degree view. Because the site is so popular, lines are long. So an informal carnival-type sideshow has developed along the river walk adjacent to the Eye to take advantage of the large crowds that that the Eye attracts. There’s a long row of at least two dozen performers — dancers and mimes, jugglers and magicians and such — who put on a show and then pass the hat to collect change from the crowd.
When we arrived at the site, my daughters excitedly tossed change to various performers. But after watching the first dozen, I grew impatient and picked up the pace through the remainer of the corrider. Turned out that many of the performers at the end of the row were actually better than some of those we’d already seen, but I’d grown so impatient at being hit up for change, that I hustled through without stopping. Had I been able to identify these performers at the outset, I probably would have watched their show and given them change, but because I didn’t know they were there, by the time I discovered them, I’d already had enough.
The lesson here is that if you practice in a field crowded with lawyers, all of your efforts to distinguish yourself with better client service or informative client education materials or a robust blog will fall flat if clients can’t find you to begin with. Clients are only going to interview a certain, finite number of lawyers before making a decision and if they can’t locate you – or find you after they’ve retained someone else, it’s too late — just as it was too late for the more talented performers whom I didn’t discover until after I’d tired of the entertainment. So as you develop your marketing materials, focus on ways to get them noticed – either by blogging regularly, which will increase your search engine rankings, cultivating relationships with reporters to get your name in the press as an expert , checking in regularly with referral sources or participating in events where you can get yourself in front of an audience of prospects.
Act As If You Own the Place One of the reasons that I love travelling places with my daughters is because they have such gusto for new places and a unique ability to make themselves completely at home no matter where they are. London was no different; being in a new country didn’t intimidate my daughters one bit. We visited the Princess Diana Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens and the girls played on a disk swing for hours with other British children (remarking that they were much friendlier than the kids in our local park); one day on the bus, they suggested that we get off at Trafalgar Square and hang out with the crowds watching the Olympics on big screen TV. After we saw Wicked, the girls noticed a group of people lined up at the stage door to get autographs, so they grabbed my camera and the play tickets and simply joined the crowd. When you follow the lead of others and act like you belong as my daughters do (and in fact, as most of us probably all did as kids), you get the same benefits as if you actually do, plus, you enjoy yourself more.
So the next time you head into court for your first argument, or meet a client for a first time, carry yourself as if you’ve done those things dozens of times before. (That doesn’t mean to pretend to understand what’s going on; ask questions as needed – but do so in a way that suggests that those questions are simply part of your way of doing business). Talk about your firm as a thriving business even if you only have two paying clients. When you act like you own the place, others will treat you as if you belong.