Business advice for your law practice, adapted from Jeff Bezos


Personal Productivity for Lawyers

This quick-start guide to Getting Things Done and Inbox Zero also includes two shortcuts for those who want the benefits of GTD without having to learn the system.

Along with announcing Amazon’s purchase of Zappos, which is pretty big news by itself, Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, shared “everything” he knows about business. After you watch, go ahead and print your own Lawyerist MBA diploma, because there is probably more business information in this 8-minute video than in many MBA programs.

Lawyers run businesses. Each law practice, whether solo practitioner, big-firm junior associate, or general counsel, is a small business. So lawyers can—and should—learn a lot from successful businesspeople. Lawyering is changing fast these days, and lawyers who innovate will define the practice of law in the years to come.

Inside Bezos’s brain are some meaty business pointers for lawyers.

Obsess over your legal clients

Since lawyers are service providers, lawyers are generally pretty focused on clients. But not necessarily in the way Bezos means.

Obsessing over clients does not just mean returning their phone calls and striving for a favorable result. It means figuring out—obsessing over—ways to better serve your clients. Not better ways to win their case, but better ways to meet their needs.

For example, think in terms of the product you sell, and how you sell it. The billable hour is a great example of lawyers not obsessing over customers. It was promoted largely as a way for lawyers to squeeze more money out of clients, not as a way to meet clients’ needs. Sure, there are some cases where you simply cannot give an accurate estimate of the work required, but there are many cases where you could.

Think of new ways to satisfy your clients while making a decent income, and your practice will flourish.

Invent new ways of practicing law

Banish either-or thinking. When faced with two flawed options, invent a third option that takes care of the flaws in the other two. As Bezos says, “you can invent your way out of any box.”

For example, there are many categories of cases that many attorneys have, for one reason or another, decided are “just not worth taking.” But are they really not worth taking, or is it just that nobody has bothered to figure out a way to turn a profit while meeting those clients’ needs? Put your mind to it, and you can build a practice in a new niche.

Think long term

Many lawyers—like many in business—never take the time to look far ahead, because it is all they can do to keep up with what they need to do now. This is a mistake.

You should always be thinking forward to what you want your practice to be in 5 or 10 years. But you can put long-term thinking to good use over shorter intervals, as well.

One good use of long-term thinking is building a forms bank for your firm. I have gotten in the habit of trying to start every project from my forms folder. If I do not already have a form—say, for a summary judgment memorandum in state court—I will start to create it. I add all the “generic” information I can come up with (standards of review, tasks), until I need to start adding information about my case. At that point, I save it to the client’s file.

The next time I need to write a similar brief, I have already written half of it (an excellent argument against hourly billing, since the second brief will almost certainly be more polished—and therefore more valuable—to the client, even if it takes less time to create)!

It’s always Day 1

Bezos spends the least time explaining this one. What he means is to hold onto that spirit of innovation, client service, and hustle that you had on the day you opened your practice. Every day is an opportunity to fail, but also a chance that your Next Big Client will come tramping in the door.

Keep up the hustle!

Bezos business | MPR News Cut


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  • I could not agree more with 4 main points about business. Well worth the 8 minute investment.

    Having started my company 7 years ago in my apartment and trying to focus on his 4 points, this video hits close to home for me.

    There is a lot we can all learn from Jeff, both in style and substance.

  • I would add that Bezos’ remarks are applicable whether or not you own or run a business or practice. It really is about how to be inventive and responsive as a service provider. All that lawyers can sell is their knowledge and skill. Even lawyers in established practices need to remember Bezos’ advice as part of their overall career process and planning. You are your brand — what’s it gonna be?

  • But wouldn’t you agree that in order to think big picture, you have to think detail, too?