Greetings from New York City. I’m here today to sit in on an all day workshop titled: FIND THE STORY BENEATH THE SURFACE. New York Editor. Donald Maass, is the presenter.  I heard him speak in Dallas a couple of years ago and I was so impressed that I bought his books, and traveled to New York to hear him speak today.

I heard him speak in Dallas a couple of years ago and I was so impressed that I bought his books, and traveled to New York to hear him speak today. He definitely stands out in the crowd of editors and speakers at writers conferences.

With that in mind, I’m writing a series of posts on standing out from the crowd.

As I was thinking about this post, a lawyer I coached sent me a message on LinkedIn about Verrill Dana lawyers whose niche practice is representing breweries. They write a blog titled: Lawyers on Tap, which as best I can de

Seth Godin recently posted a blog titled: Be the Different One. It’s short, take a moment to read it.

I have shared parts of this story before, but it bears repeating. While I was on active duty in the USAF, I represented the Air Force in government contract litigation against some of the top defense contractors and top government contract lawyers.

In 1976, as I was planning the next phase of my life and career, I received offers from large defense contractors to go in-house and from DC law firms with government contracts practices. I chose something different and Nancy and I came to Roanoke, Virginia where there wasn’t a government contractor for miles and miles.

I became a commercial litigator, like at least a dozen or more Roanoke lawyers. Then, I decided to focus on construction law, representing contractors. (I believe I was the first construction lawyer in Roanoke. Now there are several.)

 

The whole idea of being the different one was made clear to me when I was asked to be on a Public Contracts law panel at the 1981 ABA Annual Meeting. During a conference call, each panel member was asked to describe their topic. When I responded I would be talking about highway construction contract disputes, the panel chair said:

Cordell, no one cares about that topic.

I can’t remember exactly how I felt when he put down my topic, but I do remember that after my presentation, I knew I was on to a great practice, because he had probably been right-the lawyers attending that meeting probably did not care about my topic.

I was indeed the different one, and it paid off over the next 30 years of my career.

What’s a different practice now?

School started yesterday in Prosper, Texas. As I was cruising Facebook I noticed several Windsong Ranch moms posted photos of their kids who are seniors and titled them the last, first day of school.

One mother lamented that no one posted the last first day of work. I could be at that point. In 2010, I coached 125 lawyers and I was on the road every month. Since I left my law practice in 2005, I have never coached as few lawyers as I am coaching in 2017.

So, maybe January 2, 2017 was my last first day of work. We’ll see.

I practiced law a long time. I’ve coached lawyers for over 12 years. I’ve seen and coached a lot of rainmakers.

At the risk of overgeneralizing, here are some traits I have observed:

  1. Most rainmakers have the right attitude Most rainmakers have a “can do” attitude. That enables them to persist when others quit. They are not like the pessimist described by Winston Churchill.
  2. Most rainmakers are really good lawyers They may not be the smartest lawyer in their field but they have focused on always getting better and becoming the best lawyer they can be.
  3. Most rainmakers are genuinely likeable They connect well with other people in large part because they are able to convey they really care. They are empathetic and understand the other person’s point of view. They are good listeners. They are able to build trust and rapport quickly. They are open and friendly.
  4. Most rainmakers have a confidence inspiring personality Clients need to feel you can take care of their problem. They are entrusting something really important to them in your hands. Rainmakers are able to instill confidence.
  5. Most rainmakers are willing to get outside their comfort zone I believe real achievement occurs when you stretch and try something that is uncomfortable.
  6. Finally and perhaps most importantly, rainmakers know what they want, they know what their clients need and they deliver value and exceed expectations. It all starts with knowing what they want and having a burning desire to achieve it and then using their non-billable time wisely.

There is nothing magical about the traits in the list above. I know some traits may not come naturally to everyone. When I was practicing law, I worked harder on those that did not come naturally to me. You can follow that path also.

Two final points:

  1. Rainmaking skills can be developed. You don’t have to be born with them. I know because I certainly was not born with innate rainmaking skills. Many of you also know because you have worked to build your profile and relationships with clients and referral sources.
  2. You don’t have to be an extrovert who is the life of every party or event. That doesn’t mean you can just hide in your comfort zone. Be willing to engage people.

I didn’t think of empathy when I decided to learn Spanish. Yet, as I tried to speak to people in San Miguel de Allende, I understood more about them than if I was speaking to them in English.

When I got home, I found a recent Fast Company article: Can Learning Another Language Boost Your Empathy? There is an interesting study of kids learning a second language the parents among you might find interesting. I found this quote that applied to me while I was in San Miguel.

Learning another language, it seems, may nudge us into territory where we can’t help but slow down–where we need to seek understanding and commonalities in order to communicate.

I definitely slowed down, as I was processing what the other person was saying to me in Spanish.

A few years ago the New York Times published a blog: Can Doctors Learn Empathy? It was written for doctors, but it could have just as easily been written for lawyers.

I found this interesting:

Greater physician empathy has been associated with fewer medical errors, better patient outcomes and more satisfied patients. It also results in fewer malpractice claims and happier doctors.

Wouldn’t you agree that greater lawyer empathy would be associated with the same things for clients and lawyers? If so, what is empathy and how can you learn to be more empathetic?

According to Wikipedia, Empathy is defined as:

the capacity to recognize feelings that are being experienced by another. I like to say that it is the ability to walk in another’s shoes.

As a lawyer, it is the ability to look at things from your client’s perspective. It is very important for you to understand how your client, or client representative, views the matter you are handling and what is important to him or her.

Keep in mind that for a business client your legal work is in the context of their business and for an individual client, your legal work is in the context of their life.

You are not born with empathy. You have to develop the skill and practice.

A few years ago I was working on a huge contract dispute that took me to Las Vegas every week. After working hard one day, I came back to the hotel and ate at one of the many restaurant bars. I struck up conversations with strangers at the bar and tried to listen, and not judge or offer advice.

I used phrases we should use as lawyers, like:

  • Tell me more
  • Help me better understand
  • What was that like for you?
  • How did you deal with that?
I paid very close attention to what each person told me and tried to put myself in their shoes. (As a quick aside, this experience taught me that it is true,
What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas
Through this practice, I discovered I needed to become a better questioner and better listener when meeting with clients.
So, when you are in a social setting, sitting on an airplane, or like me sitting at a restaurant bar eating by yourself, strike up a conversation, ask questions, sincerely listen, do not judge and do not offer unsolicited advice. Practice, practice, practice.

 

I can’t coach pessimists. I just can’t help someone who searches for a reason why he or she will not succeed. I love coaching optimists. Yet, at what point does an optimist have to also be a realist.

I was always optimistic. I believe I owe my success in part to my optimism.

During my career, some people said I was optimistic when I had no reason to be optimistic. In other words, they believed I was unrealistic in my optimism. I’m sure they are right.  But, my optimism enabled me to see possibilities when I was experiencing difficulties.

Watch The Optimism Bias TED Talk, where scientist, Tali Sharot notes it is important to be optimistic for three reasons:

  1. Interpretation Matters: Whether you succeed or you fail, people with high expectations always feel better.
  2. Anticipation Makes Us Happy: People prefer Friday to Sunday. People prefer Friday because of the anticipation of the weekend ahead. I loved the anticipation connected with winning a new client, getting a client matter successfully resolved. When a case was successfully finished, it took me some time to get back on track because I no longer had the anticipation.
  3. Optimism Makes You Try Harder: When you are optimistic, you are far less likely to throw in the towel when you are not achieving immediate success. If you are a long time reader, you likely recall that when I decided to focus on a niche construction practice representing contractors who built roads, bridges, airports and rail, it took over two years before a contractor hired me.

What about being overly optimistic and failing to deal with realism? It can lead to risky behavior, underestimated the cost and time to complete a project and more difficulties. If you are interested in learning more about her work, here is an extract of her book: The Optimism Bias.

I wanted to get other ideas on unrealistic optimism.

Some time ago, I read How I Became an Optimist, a Harvard Business Review guest blog post written by Tony Schwartz. He describes historically being a cup half empty person because he believed being a pessimist was realistic. In deciding to become more optimistic, he created a ritual based on realistic optimism –

namely the practice of telling the most hopeful and empowering story in any given situation, without denying the facts.

The next time you are pessimistic about an outcome, create the most hopeful and empowering story you can without denying the facts.

 

A few years ago, I read the Copyblogger post: How to Create World-Class Content by Never “Writing” Again. There are many gems in the post, like:

You’re more detective than writer.

identify bus man.jpgWhat does that mean in the context of practicing law?

Suppose that a federal agency that impacted your clients’ industry went to Congress to seek legislation to “experiment” with something new, what would you do?

That is what happened in the transportation construction industry and being a detective allowed me to create content (articles, guides, presentations) that put me at the top of mind for contractors.

Here is a discussion on Special Experimental Project No. 14 – Innovative Contracting. As you will see it allowed:

State DOTs to evaluate non-traditional contracting techniques which are competitive in nature but do not fully comply with the requirements in Title 23 United State Code.

As you will also see what started as an “experiment” became common practice and remains so today. In the 90s I wrote articles, including: Design-build requires changes in law and Design-build: evaluation and award.

I did presentations on design-build and innovative contracting and I created a Design-Build Guide and an Innovative Contracting Guide.

Here is the bottom line take away for you:

I was not a brilliant lawyer, but I was insatiable about staying in front of anything that impacted my clients. You can do that also.

The quality of the articles, presentations and guides was not nearly as important as being the first lawyer to focus on the issue for the transportation construction industry. It will take you more time to do the research necessary to learn what to write about and what to speak on than it will to write the article or prepare the presentation.

As you know, I spent a month living at Habla Hispana in San Miguel de Allende. Here is a link where you can get a feel for the residence there. The first floor was a spacious kitchen and living area. My room was on the second floor along with another room occupied by two of my fellow classmates. On the third floor another suite was occupied by a student in a more advanced class.

That living arrangement was like living in a dorm having your own room or like when I spent seven weeks living in visiting officer quarters when I was in the Air Force. Over the month living at the school I developed lasting relationships with my classmates.

It made me think back about building lasting, authentic relationships. Here are questions and thoughts.

Answer these questions:

  • At a networking event should you be interesting or interested?
  • On Facebook should you be interesting or interested?
  • When you meet with a potential client should you be interesting or interested?

A few years ago, Seth Godin posted a bblog titled Interesting & Interested, suggesting  it is important to be both and asked why it is so difficult. He didn’t say it this way, but my take is most people try so hard to be interesting, that they are neither interesting nor interested.

woman_man_dinner_rs.jpgSeth’s blog reminded me of the story of a young English lady eating dinner in successive nights with Gladstone and Disraeli. I believe I first read the story in one of Stephen Covey’s books. According to the story, the young lady reported:

When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England,” she said. “But after sitting next to Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest woman in England.

Do you want to do more reading on building authentic relationships? I recently found a Fast Company blog that was posted two years ago. The Art of Building and Maintaining Authentic Relationships. I think you will find four tips of the advice in the blog valuable.

 

You’ve likely read that President Clinton has an amazing ability to make a person feel like he or she is the most important person in the room. He also has an amazing memory of names and faces.

Anne Marie O’Brien is a Lamson Dugan and Murray partner I coached back in 2011. She has the same talent and people skills, and I wish I could be with her once a day just to get the energy boast.

Every quarter I met with her group in Omaha and we ate dinner together. Each time, Anne Marie asked her colleagues and me great questions that got the conversation going.

One time she asked:

What made you decide to become a lawyer?

Another time  she asked:

What was your best trial experience? What was your worst trial experience?

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 8.18.04 PM

She then listened as each of her colleagues (all men) answered.

Anne Marie has a gift and is able to engage people by asking questions. I wish I had her gift. Her interest and curiosity are just a part of who she is. I’m positive I would have developed more relationships with potential clients.

I always felt awkward at events, unless I had made a presentation. Because I never enjoyed networking, I decided several times in my career to simply practice. I read books and articles by networking experts and came up with some networking questions for events attended by business men and women. Here are my questions:

Networking Questions

  1. Network Question.jpgHow did you get started in_______?
  2. What made you decide to go into the ___business?
  3. What do you love/enjoy most about what you do?
  4. Tell me about your company.
  5. What separates your company from the competition?
  6. What changes are happening in your industry?
  7. How is the current economy impacting your business?
  8. Depending on the answer: Do you see things turning around for you?
  9. What do you see happening in your industry over the next few years?
  10. What are some of the projects you are currently working on?
  11. What ways does your company promote/market its products/services?
  12. Does your company use social media in its marketing efforts?
  13. What do you like to do in your spare time?
  14. Tell me about your family.
  15. What do your children enjoy doing?
  16. Where are you from originally?
  17. How long have you lived here?
  18. What do you enjoy the most about living in ___________?
  19. What can I do to help you? What can I do to help your business?

What questions would you add to this list?

If you are like me and need more help on networking, here are some books on my reading list:

How to Work a Room, Revised Edition: Your Essential Guide to Savvy Socializing by Susan RoAne

How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships by Leil Lowndes

How to Connect in Business in 90 Seconds or Lessby Nicholas Boothman

Well, I’m finally back home from San Miguel de Allende, the city awarded best in the world by Travel and Leisure. I’ve been told that the number of searches for San Miguel de Allende since the award is incredible.

I am happy to be home, but, I miss the great learning experience at Habla Hispana, the  $1.20 lattes, inexpensive meals, watching 100s of families gather at El Jardin, buying vegetables and street corn from the same vendors at the Mercado.

But, most of all I miss the local people I met and my classmates, who like me poured their heart out  learning to speak and understand Spanish.

San Miguel’s award: Best in the World, and what is likely to follow made me recall Seth Godin.

Being best in the world is seriously underrated.

is Seth Godin’s opening line from his book: “The Dip.” He talked about it in this video, as one of his 10 rules.

He says the only way to win is to be talked about. People do not talk about average companies,  or average law firms.

What is being the best lawyer in the world? It is simply being the best is in the eyes of your clients and potential clients. They define what best means. For most legal work, “best” does not mean literally the best. It means “best” at the time, “best” value, “best” for the particular matter.

Since the big recession, business clients have redefined “best in the world. In many cases it is no longer big law firms whose associates billing rates are $300-$500 an hour. If your firm is not one of those pricey ones, what are you doing to become visible to the large companies that are looking for more value for their money? Do you know who the influencers are for those large companies? Do you know what they read?

Business Section of Paper

You won’t be very successful by trying to sell those clients. Everyone is trying to sell them, so they will not believe what you say. You will be more successful by showing them.

Suppose a General Counsel of a large company came to your law firm website. What do you suppose she would be looking for? Do you suppose she would find it on your website, or is your website just like every other law firm’s site?

Wow, this is my last post from San Miguel de Allende. Tomorrow I will meet with Martha from 11:00 to 1:00. Then a car will pick me up and take me to a Leon Airport hotel. On Saturday, I will catch a 6:00 AM flight and I’ll be home before 9:00.

Have I learned Spanish in four weeks? No, I wouldn’t be able to tell you about anything I did in the past or anything I will do in the future, as I only know the present tense of verbs. Also, my son-in-law (yerno en español) will tell me I still speak Spanish like a gringo. It’s going to take a lot of listening and speaking out loud to hopefully one-day pronounce words and sentences correctly.

But, there is hope. While here, I decided to research why Selena was so popular. I found a website, 20 Reasons Selena Quintanilla Will Never Be Forgotten. There, I discovered that when she died. thousands of her fans remember what they were doing, like those of us who were alive when President Kennedy was assassinated.

More importantly, I learned: Selena didn’t actually speak Spanish at the beginning of her career. Her father, Abraham Quintanilla taught her to sing in Spanish — learning lyrics phonetically — so she could resonate with the Latino community.

I have the video of her last concert from the Houston Astrodome on my iPad. Her Spanish, including, pronunciation es excelente. So,…maybe there’s hope for me.

Ok, enough about me. let’s focus on you. While here learning, I’ve been thinking about your learning.

Have you learned how to:

  1. Create a Business Plan?
  2. Determine goals that will challenge and stretch you?
  3. Determine what activities to undertake to meet your goals?
  4. Find articles and other materials about your clients’ industries and their company?
  5. To write articles, blog posts and guides and give presentations and webinars that will enhance your reputation and increase your chances of getting hired?
  6. Develop a Focused Contacts Plan so you focus on your best contacts?
  7. Determine what your clients want and expect?
  8. Get business without appearing to be needy or greedy?
  9. Build trust and rapport?
  10. Become more client focused?
  11. Hold yourself accountable?
  12. Develop the young lawyers on your team, so they can be trusted by your clients?

Here is a short clip from the video coaching program I created for lawyers.

You’ve heard the expression:

You only get one chance to make a first impression.

In your career, you are constantly judged by the first impression you make. If you are not interested in learning more about San Miguel de Allende. skip down to where I discuss first impressions.

I’m in my last week of Spanish immersion at Habla Hispana in San Miguel de Allende. Starting last Friday, I am working one-on-one with Martha. This has been the highlight of my experience in school. Among other things, Martha is teaching me to pronounce the words correctly. (quite a task).

Over the four weeks, I have added many words and phrases to my vocabulary. When I see the English words on a flash card. I remember the Spanish. However, if I only hear the words, my brain takes a moment to process. So when Martha asks me a question, she also writes the question, and my answer, and at the end of our class gives me her written pages

Big things are happening here in San Miguel. Last week I learned that San Miguel received Travel and Leisure’s award as the number 1 city in the world. If you get a chance, click on the link and read about San Miguel and spend three minutes watching the video.

Our class members were very active on Saturday. After my session learning with Martha, we all went to the Botanical Garden to hike. We saw the waterfalls, the dam, and the natural surroundings.

Saturday night we went to the first annual  Ultimate Food & Art Fest Featuring Renowned Chefs & Artists. The event was held in Parque Benito Juarez. It is a huge and wonderful park. The last time Nancy and I visited here, we went to the park several times and watched organized girls basketball teams play.

On the way to the food and art festival. we saw a young 15-year-old and her court of young boys posing for her Quinceanera. They must have felt like movie stars with all the people, including me taking photos.

 

When I get back home, I’ll go back to working on my novel. My main character, Gabriela, is one of those outgoing lawyers who makes a positive first impression.

If you know anything about writing novels, you likely know as a writer you should try to show, don’t tell. But, just in case you are interested, some experts say show, don’t tell is a myth, or a lie. See:  Why “Show, Don’t Tell” Is the Great Lie of Writing Workshops.

So, for the sake of argument, let’s just say I want to show that Gabriela makes good first impressions. I might say when she walks into a crowded room, heads turn like they are watching a top model walk down the run-way. As she walks, she smiles and makes eye contact with people seated near her. When she gets to the table, she pauses in front of Christopher,  looks him directly in the eye, grasps his hand and arm and asks about his children by name. ( Ok, I admit this could be over the top, but I’m practicing here, so you’ll get the idea.)

Woman waving SS 88006990

Suppose you are going to a function where you will have the opportunity to connect with potential clients. You should apply the same principles. Stand tall, look and feel energetic.  How can you be energetic?

  • You might listen to music before the event. I always chose Tina Turner live concerts before I met anyone. When you meet someone later, you’re more likely to smile because you will still energized by the music.  
  • Look into their eyes and determine their eye color, because that will force you to pay close attention.
  • Be open (arms not folded). 
  • Make sure your attitude is warm, confident, relaxed and engaged.
  • Be genuinely interested in the other person. You can’t fake it.

 What I have described may sound mechanical but it isn’t. If you watch people who connect with others, it is very natural.

I want to share with you a study done by professors and discussed in the book “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell. In Nalini Ambady’s study, a group watching video, without sound, matched the evaluation of the students who had actually taken the course. The researchers kept reducing the time of the video until it was 2 seconds. The results stayed the same.

If you want to read about the study, check out: 10 Seconds: The Time It Takes a Student to Size You Up. There, you will find:

Ambady compared those snap judgments (10, 5, and 2 seconds) of teacher effectiveness with evaluations of those same professors made by their students after a full semester of classes, and she found they were also essentially the same.

For the study report, check out: Half a Minute: Teacher Evaluations from Thin Slices of Nonverbal behavior and Physical Attractiveness on Stanford Professor Nalini Ambady’s webpage.

What does Professor Ambady’s study tell us?

People, including your potential clients, including jurors during your next trial, make up their minds quickly and your body language is way more important than your words or tone of voice. Body language is your eyes, your smile and whether you are open.

Practice, practice, practice making a great first impression.