Phantom Tollbooth, Real Law Firm

Submitted by Nadya on Fri, 02/14/2020 - 14:35

Welcome to the second edition of Fable Friday! Today we’ll take a closer look at the 1961 classic Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster, with illustrations by Jules Feiffer. Although many of you probably read this when you were kids, I was delighted to read it this year thanks to a wonderful recommendation from a friend. In the novel, a young boy Milo receives a magic tollbooth. He drives through it and appears in the Kingdom of Wisdom. With the help of two companions, a watchdog Tock and a braggart Humbug, he goes on an adventure to help the troubled kingdom.

This is a wonderful book that I highly recommend rereading to ensure that you’re applying the lessons you learned from the Kingdom of Wisdom to your life and to your practice. To help you get started on that journey, let’s take a look at two cities that Milo visits: Dictionopolis and Digitopolis.


Dictionopolis is a city dedicated to words, ruled by King Azaz the Unabridged. It has an orchard, where words are grown on trees, and a Word Market, where all of the words can be purchased and sold. Some words are more common than others, and other words are reserved for special occasions. During a banquet, the people of this city eat their words.

As Milo navigates himself through this word-filled city, he learns lessons that can be helpful as you consider your communication with your leads and clients.

First, be clear and concise. Milo is overwhelmed when he walks through the Word Market, and says to Tock that he never knew words could be so confusing. Tock cleverly replies that they’re only confusing “when you use a lot to say a little.” This is especially important for your leads. Your Social Security disability claimants are likely just starting out their search for benefits and don’t understand how the application process works. Break it down for them in clear steps so they can follow along. While doing this, avoid using legal jargon that only you and your colleagues would understand. Use some of the more common words that Milo would find in the Word Market.

Second, while being clear and concise, remember that you still need to get your intended message across. In Dictionopolis, Milo meets the Which, not to be confused with a witch, Faintly Macabre. She used to be in charge of deciding which words could be used at what occasions in Dictionopolis, but as she got hungry with power, she banned almost all of the words. Make sure to provide claimants with information they need. When they ask you questions, give them answers. Ensure that your clients know where to go, whether it’s yourself or your paralegals, when they are looking for information about their case.

Third, as you determine how to best craft your message, make sure your ideas are fully cooked. In Dictionopolis, people eat their own words. You don’t want to regret what you say to your clients or your paralegals. In the city they also eat half-baked ideas, such as “The Earth is flat.” While they are sweet, they cause indigestion. Likewise, double check the information that you provide to your claimants, whether it’s on your website, in your emails, or in your conversations with them.


The second capital of the kingdom is Digitopolis, ruled by the Mathemagician. This is a city dedicated to numbers. The people in Digitopolis mine for numbers instead of gems. They eat negatively, meaning that they start eating when they’re full, and by the time they’re done eating, they’re hungry.

Milo is certainly surprised by what he sees in Digitopolis, and this city can provide you with tips for your law firm, just like Dictionopolis did.

First, Digitopolis cares about numbers, and you should too! While it’s important to choose your words wisely and have great communication with your claimants, you need to remember that your law firm is a business. The Mathemagician is great at solving number problems and the whole city is good at being as precise as possible. Try to keep that in mind as you calculate key metrics to ensure that your business is prospering. For example, it’s important to know your contact rate, your desired rate, and your signed rate of leads. It’s even more important to then calculate your cost per case to determine if your marketing channels are providing you with cost effective cases.

Second, focus on calculating the most important metrics. Milo meets the Dodecahedron, a man with 12 faces. The Dodecahedron tells ridiculous math problems to Milo, and when Milo points out that they’re silly, the Dodecahedron says, “as long as the answer is right, who cares if the question is wrong?” You should definitely care if the question is wrong. If it’s a question that you don’t need answered, then you might measure metrics that aren’t important. Or, if you don’t understand the question, you might measure the wrong metrics. Focus on the key metrics that you need, be it your cost per case, your dwell time, or your newsletter open rate. By staying focused you’ll be able to better analyze your metrics to make any necessary adjustments.

Third, remember that there’s an infinite number of ways to do everything. The Mathemagician teaches Milo about infinity, and Milo tries to reach infinity by climbing a staircase, as infinity is said to be at the top. Of course Milo doesn’t reach it. In your practice, while you improve your processes, follow ups, and interactions with claimants, there will always be infinite other things that can be improved. That’s not a problem - make improvements where you can, keep learning new tactics, and remember that you can’t do everything.

Milo visits a plethora of other places in the Kingdom of Wisdom, but (spoiler alert) the kingdom’s prosperity is only restored once Milo is able to rescue princesses Rhyme and Reason. Rhyme and Reason once proclaimed that both letters and numbers are equally important, and that is very true of your practice as well. Take care of your communication along with your business calculations to watch your law firm prosper. And if you’re ever in doubt, always look to Rhyme and Reason!