Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Importance of Being a Planner

I've spent about 20 hours this week preparing for, speaking at and moderating seminars for my target client base, and also spent a lovely long evening at a networking dinner. I enjoy the speaking engagements, and they don't take so much preparation anymore because they recycle material that I already know very well. I always feel hopeful and optimistic after every seminar, and expect a lot of interesting work to come from it all. Eventually though, the high wears off, and I wonder if it was time well spent.

So, as I was sitting in the airport yesterday evening on the way home from engagement #2, I thought I should go back to the business plan I wrote last year to see what has changed, how this past week's efforts fit into the original plan, and decide whether to pursue similar opportunities next year, to drop some of them, or to go in a new direction. Since we are coming up on firm budgeting decisions for the next year, it also seems a good time to decide the amount of resources I need for marketing, the specific items I think I'll want to spend time and money on in 2010, and the amount of money to keep on hand for good opportunities that meet these objectives in 2010.

I haven't been this formal in my business plan in years past, though I've often thought I should be more diligent in making a plan, deciding on metrics for measuring effectiveness, and then evaluating the results. After a few years of documenting a plan and then evaluating it, it should be interesting to see if there is a pattern. Unfortunately I don't have a database that will fill in the economic returns from the various aspects of my plan, but I like to think that a back-of-the-envelope analysis will be sufficient. Let's check back in this time next year and see whether this long term planning exercise is useful.

On the other hand, the whole exercise of building a plan and evaluating it could be a waste of time. For me, at the very least, I find it personally interesting to sit back and think about business planning. Having a plan does do one thing for sure: it keeps me out of trouble for a short while. At least when I'm writing and updating the plan, I'm not tweeting or posting to LinkedIn or Facebook. My colleagues and family should at least appreciate that.

So, that's the plan. What's yours?


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Blawgs as Niche Marketing Tools

Sunday I posted as a guest blogger on NewYorkLawyersSuccess Blog. I had been asked to comment on why more women lawyers don't blog, and you can see my thoughts here.

One additional thought I had after that posting was that perhaps some women just think they don't have anything useful to say in a blawg. This is also good point. An effective blawg must be focused (narrow is GOOD), current, constantly updated, well written, and compelling to the blawger. When I had the hubris to start this blawg a year ago, I knew that there was absolutely no point in blawging on my particular area of the law, because there are many, many fine professional publications that post up to the minute developments and analysis of tax and nonprofit law. So I was sure that a blawg written by me on the topic would never compare to those resources. Instead, because at the time I was looking for information about women lawyers and leadership challenges and didn't find anything useful on the internet at all, it seemed like something I could write about. Not as an expert, really, but more as an editor. So I encourage others to look at it the same way: find a niche where there is no one else, and that is compelling to you, and start collecting ideas. Then write about them.

Keep in mind that blawgs work best as niche publications, not general circulation magazines (unless of course you have a staff of full time reporters working for you). But if you are doing a blawg on your own, the niche market you carve out need not be directly related to the substantive area of law from which you make your living. In my case, I want readers of my blawg to perceive my brand as a leading, cutting edge, personable, articulate lawyer. I use my blawg as an additional tool to create that image; not the only one, but an important one in this era. Only time will tell whether it's achieved that objective, but I can wait.

By the way, if any of you have thoughts or comments you'd like to publish before diving into actually blawging, consider guest blawging, either here or on some other site. Most blawgers welcome a guest's participation.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Haiku # 10

Drippy, slippy day
Broken umbrella, wet hair
I really hate rain.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Good Things About the Practice of Tax Law, as Explained to 3L's

Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of spending 20 minutes with third year law students as a guest speaker on the topic of "What is it like to be a tax lawyer?" Although not all work days are a thrill ride, there are many good things about working as a tax lawyer today, which I'll focus on here. I'll leave the not-so-good things for sunny day when I can afford to be depressed. On a rainy day, one should focus only on good things.

Aside from the satisfaction of helping good people do good things, the most satisfying aspect of my chosen profession has been the opportunity to learn something new every day in a constantly changing environment. The arc of my career as a tax lawyer I think has been pretty typical: The first 5 years I learned tax law, where to find it and how to understand it. The next 5: I learned to write about tax, for all the various audiences (clients, other lawyers, the IRS, professional publications, and so on). That was much harder than learning tax in the first place. The next 5: I learned how to anticipate what the clients needed to know. And in the last 5 I've learned to anticipate all the other legal issues for my chosen industry.

A lot has changed over the last twenty years, the most significant, of course, being the changes to communications technology. Any of you other "seasoned" lawyers remember the Lexis and Westlaw terminals connected to dot matrix printers? Or the really old days when "current" law was found only in "books"? These changes are good for lawyers, but not so good for trees.

Some things have stayed the same: tax is still complex, notwithstanding 20 years of discussions of tax simplification in Washington. The rules are much more accessible, though, which is very good thing for folks who want to do the right thing.

Clients are still grateful for help navigating the rules, but they do expect much more timely answers. Although not everyone expects their lawyer to be available 24/7, it is much harder as the lawyer to tune out client demands for personal time. In this economy, I don't know any lawyers who feel good about not being constantly in touch. Every now and then I might tune out, but not for any significant period of time. I am not sure that is a good thing.

The acceptance of women in the legal profession has evolved over the past twenty years, though it still is not a level playing field. But improvements in maternity leave policies, part-time partnership opportunies, child care, and leadership roles for women and working moms are light years ahead of where they were in 1988. All good things.

Client development or "marketing" has also changed dramatically. Twenty years ago personal networking in the old boys network seemed to be the way that work was distributed among professionals. Networking today is far more complex, competitive and creative than in days past. I think that is a very good thing.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Practical Tips for Blogging

In early October I stumbled across Grant Griffiths' site, Blogging for Profit, and his "Kick Your Blog in the Butt" series. Each day in the month of October he offers tips on how to keep a blog fresh, interesting, and useful. If you have been thinking about starting a blog to complement your marketing efforts, you'll find some really helpful ideas there. One of the best so far has been the post for Day 9: Avoiding Writer's Block. Don't be misled into thinking that his approach is not for lawyers--there are loads of good ideas in his site for developing useful lawyer blawgs.

In any event, his assignment for day 9 was to create a list of 10 things to blog about in the next month. I'll be working on that, but would definitely like to hear reader suggestions about what you'd like me to write about (or, conversely, what you don't want to see again--anyone tired of my twitter chearleading, fashion commentary or snarky missives? Post your comments for public consumption, or send me a private email.)

Long time readers will remember that I published my first post on October 12, 2008, so here we are, one year later. Many thanks to those of you who have supported the effort, you know who you are! As always, I look forward to hearing from you.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Monkey Trap

I've been on vacation a bit lately, wonderful time with very little thought of work, blogging, marketing or anything else other than horses. I have, however, had occasion to think about the monkey traps in my life. There are various versions of the monkey trap, some say it is a gourd with a narrow neck, into which the monkey trapper places tasty nuts. When a monkey reaches in and grabs the nuts, her fist is too big to withdraw from the gourd. Since the gourd is tethered to the ground, the monkey is trapped. All she has to do to gain her freedom is to release the nuts. Apparently, so the lore goes, monkeys don't think it through, and hence are easy to trap with this method.

I don't know if that is really how you trap monkeys. I do know that there are some nuts in my life, that were I to let go of them, I'd feel less trapped. I might even be more effective as a lawyer. I am letting go of the nuts, one by one, and can almost feel my freedom. What nuts are trapping you?

In any event, Monkey Day is coming up on December 14, so you have plenty of time to prepare.