Have you thought about how much little things matter? It’s easy to get so focused on practicing law, doing good work, and accumulating billable hours.
You clearly need to get those “big things” done. However, there are plenty of examples of how important little things can be.
With the holidays approaching, this is a good time for you to think about the importance of little things.
Each Friday for a few weeks, I’m going to post stories of attorneys doing little things that matter to their clients. Of course I will change the names to protect the innocent and edit the stories to preserve confidentiality, but the essence of the stories will remain intact.
I hope these blogs will help give you ideas on what you can do for your clients. And if you have a story to share, please forward it to me, it may help someone else.
Little Things Matter
An attorney I coached did a little thing that his client appreciated. It didn’t take much time, but it was appreciated.
The young lawyer sent his client a card upon learning about the arrival of a new grandson. The client responded by sending this email:
Thank you for taking the time to send the card regarding my family’s new addition. I have shared it with the family and it was sincerely appreciated by all.
I believe that client will remember his lawyer’s thoughtfulness for some time.
What client just came to your mind when you read this little thing? You may want to take a few minutes to send that client something that will matter.
Do you have a little thing that mattered story to share? Please send it to me.
How can I help my young lawyers achieve greater success?
That was an awesome question on a topic that I focus on continuously. A lawyer I coach met another lawyer I coach from a different part of the country at a conference. When they found out I coach both of them, one paid me a nice compliment. She said:
Cordell always encourages me to do more than I would do on my own and he does it in a way that does not make me feel guilty.
How can you do it? I got this one from reading an Interview with Carol Dweck. The Stanford Professor of Psychology talked about a 90 minute workshop Peter Heslin Don Wanderwalle, and Gary Latham conducted for managers.
If you are a senior lawyer mentoring or supervising junior lawyers, I want you to do the four things Heslin had the workshop participants do.
Think of three reasons why it would be important for you to have your associates develop their abilities.
Think of an area where you developed your own skill set, and write down how you were able to develop those skills.
Write a draft email to each of your associates with ideas on how they can further develop their skills. Include examples in the draft of how they developed other skills while they’ve worked for you.
Remember times you have seen someone learn to do something you never thought this person could do, and reflect upon how this happened and what it means.
I like this quote from the interview:
In fact, more and more research is showing that people’s level of commitment, effort, and continued training is what eventually separates the most successful people from their equally talented, but less successful, peers. This is true in sports, science, and the arts-and it is becoming clear that it is true in business, too.
Listening to Seth Godin, we learned that real innovation can’t happen without failure and that failure is an event, not a person.
I have written many times about failing and coming back from profound disappointment. For some reason, I think we are all drawn to stories about people who fail and come back again. Isn’t that the appeal of Frank Galvin played by Paul Newman in the movie: The Verdict?
Frank was once a promising lawyer in an elite Boston law firm. But, when we meet him at the beginning of the movie, he is an alcoholic ambulance chaser who has lost all of his recent cases. If you saw the movie, you likely cheered for Frank to win the malpractice case against the large law firm.
You can read about all that she has overcome in the last 9 years. No wonder this victory was so emotional. I loved watching her joy (and relief) after winning.
After reading about her win, I thought about other examples of athletes who had to overcome tremendous odds and problems to win again. Jennifer Capriati was one of those athletes. If you have four minutes, watch this video.
I have known lawyers who have been have never been innovative because they fear failing. I understand the feeling. But, keep in mind if you try something and fail, unlike Christina Kim and unlike Jennifer Capriati, you will not the the subject of the media attention.
It is just possible that you will be the only one who knows you tried something innovative.
Over the years I have been blessed to work with some great law firms and great lawyers. For several years I coached lawyers at McCarthy Tétrault. When I started coaching the McCarthy lawyers, I introduced them to Seth Godin’s blog and his thoughts on creating a purple cow.
In 2013, after I had read Adam Grant’s book Give and Take, I encouraged the McCarthy lawyers I coached to read it and share ideas. They did and found the experience very valuable.
A few weeks ago McCarthy Tétrault held its annual firm retreat. Shortly before the retreat I learned the firm had invited both Seth Godin and Adam Grant to speak. Wow, that just had to be the most awesome law firm retreat ever. I asked Leila Rafi and Elder Marques to share their takeaways from the retreat.
As two young partners in one of Canada’s leading law firms, we spend a lot of time looking forward to make sure that we’re doing what we need to do today to get where we want to be. The reality of a busy client-focused practice, however, means it can be a challenge to integrate forward-looking thinking in the day-to-day grind.
To help foster thinking strategically about the future, our firm decided to build an entire firm retreat around the idea of understanding and embracing the change that’s happening in our profession, and urging our lawyers to seize the opportunities created by that change.
Lawyers from all our offices, including our office in London U.K., arrived in Chicago on Friday, October 24, 2014, for Mission 2020 – Fuel the Future. Over three days, we undertook a series of learning opportunities, a powerful community building exercise, and social engagements to build and strengthen connections.
Our CEO, Marc-André Blanchard, moderated a panel discussion featuring leaders from U.S. law firms and advisory firms. The panel tackled the evolution of the legal industry and the ways in which clients are challenging fundamental premises upon which law firms operate – including questioning the billable hour.
We learned about how professional services firms can present their value proposition and measure success for clients in a holistic way and not just the number of hours docketed to a file. The panel also addressed how to effectively manage talent, recognizing that in today’s profession young lawyers are facing a different path towards partnership and are inspired differently as a result.
Today’s world requires innovation, a need to think outside the box, and a real understanding of challenges that clients face in order to foster lasting client relationships.
Listening to Seth Godin, we learned that real innovation can’t happen without failure and that failure is an event, not a person. For the vast majority of lawyers, this represents a radically new way to think about what we do and what we define as “success”.
Our firm leadership has embraced this idea and encourages young partners to take control of their own destiny and safely face the risks associated with trying something that is fundamentally new and different from what others did before. You can see that change to our firm culture starting to happen in many ways, one of which being how our lawyers use social media to connect with our clients and share knowledge with them.
Our retreat also featured Professor Adam Grant, whose Give and Take book is transforming the way many people think about relationships within their organizations and the kind of culture they want to build.
Last year both of us were in a Give and Take book group where lawyers shared their reactions to Adam’s ideas after each chapter. The book and the ideas we shared with our colleagues helped us professionally and personally and the connections we made with other lawyers resulted in business development opportunities and actual work! Understanding how individual behaviour impacts the group is especially important in a legal environment where talent is central to what we offer our clients, and where our most effective work is the product of collaboration.
Cordell Parvin, who has acted as a very effective coach to many of our young partners (including both of us), understood these kinds of changes long before the legal industry did. Cordell first introduced us to Seth Godin and Adam Grant, put together our Give and Take book group, and encouraged us to take ownership of our career development.
He has helped us recognize that today’s profession does not allow any of us to rest on our past achievements, but that we must be flexible and jump into the tide of changes that our clients are facing. We need to adapt; be creative; and master the art of collaboration with others if we are to find real success for ourselves and our clients.
Seth Godin reminded us at the retreat that while we think we have “a job”, what we really have is a platform: a platform upon which to be remarkable. Seth is best known for his ‘purple cow’ concept, the idea that we must throw out everything we know and find ways to stand out in the way that a purple cow would stand out from a crowd of Guernseys. Working in a law firm that recognizes that, and actually embraces it by encouraging its lawyers to ‘just do it’, is truly remarkable.
I found this Forbes article very helpful: 13 Things You Should Never Say At Work. Before you read the article, write down things you should never say to a client and then check to see how many are on the Forbes list.
I have been around law firms whose lawyers had differing ideas of the firm’s culture, its vision and what is expected of each lawyer. Those firms are notable by the number of closed door meetings and they are most likely not to survive in difficult times.
Near the end of the book, Kouzes and Posner suggest that leaders constantly ask themselves:
What values do we hold dear?
What visions do we aspire to realize?
What behaviors do we want to reinforce?
They go on:
Be prepared for every public opportunity to reinforce the culture and the meaning you want to create.
Are your law firm leaders constantly asking these questions? Do your lawyers know what values the firm holds dear, what visions the firm aspires to realize and what behaviors the firm wants to reinforce? Just having clarity on those points will create a synergistic atmosphere.
My friend Roger Hayse, once gave me an idea on how to determine the values your firm holds most dear.
Make a list of values (e.g. Integrity, Profits per Partner, Collegiality, Teamwork, Respect, Diversity, Quality Work Product).
Then have each of your partners, or each of your lawyers rate the importance of each value on a 1-10 scale.
If your lawyers rate the importance of each value the same or close to the same, then you know what your firm holds most dear. If the ratings for each one are all over the place, it’s time to go back to the drawing boards.
If things go well in your career eventually, larger and perhaps more important clients will replace those who came to you first. How will you treat those first clients who are no longer as important to you as they once were?
I never forgot those first clients. I believed that if it was not for those clients, I would not have had the opportunity to get the larger clients.
I have recently discovered what it feels like to not be the “top dog’ customer of my favorite airline. When Nancy and I lived in Virginia, I regularly flew on Delta Airlines and US Air (after it acquired Piedmont Airlines). I have over a Million Miles on Delta, so I am a permanent Silver Medallion member, which doesn’t mean much more than boarding a plane slightly earlier than the half of the passengers who have no status.
Even though I rarely flew on American Airlines, I joined their frequent flyer program when it started. When we moved to Dallas in 1996, and Delta essentially moved out shortly thereafter, I became a loyal American Airlines passenger. When American started the Executive Platinum status, I earned it every year, but one by flying over 100,000 miles. For many years, I also purchased the American Airlines AAirpass.
To show you how important being Executive Platinum was to me, two years in December I made roundtrip flights to Los Angeles in December, just to get the miles. Each time I would get off the plane at LAX, go to Starbucks and get a latte and re-board the same plane back to Dallas.
It was a heck of a way to spend Saturdays in December. If you think that is taking a flying status to an extreme, keep in mind that I was one of well over 20 passengers on each flight doing the same thing. I also talked to a flyer one time who told me he actually traveled to Tokyo, got off the plane slept a few hours and returned to Dallas just to keep his executive platinum status.
Several years ago, I received mail from American Airlines. When I opened the envelope, I was ecstatic to learn I had become a ConciergeKey member. You can read about it here. I confess, I have never received the kind of service I received as a ConciergeKey member.
I can tell you many stories. I will just tell one to give you the idea. A few years ago, Nancy and I were returning from Ireland. The plane from Chicago was late getting to Dublin, so we were late returning to Chicago. While we were rebooked on a later flight to DFW, the plane landed at O’Hare so late we would have missed that one. We were met at the gate by a ConciergeKey professional who whisked us away in a cart, help get our bags, get us through customs, personally rechecked our bags to Dallas and took us to the gate where our flight to Dallas was boarding. It was incredible.
Did you see the 2009 movie Up in the Air? If you did you likely remember the scene near the beginning when the George Clooney character and the Vera Farmiga character are comparing their elite status. They match pretty evenly until he pulls out his ConciergeKey card. You can see George Clooney throw his ConciergeKey card on the table in the trailer below or link to it here.
So, where am I now? Unfortunately, (or maybe fortunately given the stress of air travel and staying in hotels), I am coaching far fewer lawyers than the 120 I coached just a few years ago and as a result I no longer fly 100,000 miles a year. If I flew to Tokyo and back every weekend in December I doubt I would reach 100,000 miles this year.
As you will see on the card above, my ConciergeKey status expired in 2011. No one is there to meet me at the gate when things go wrong now. I was never really sure what I had done to be asked to be a ConciergeKey member and I truly never understood what I had done, other than getting older to lose the status. All I know is that once I had it, I really miss not having it.
I have 4,959,459 Million Miler Miles, almost 5 Million. When I reached 1 Million Miles, I became a lifetime Gold member. When I reached 2 Million Miles, I became a lifetime Platinum member. When I reached 3 Million Miles, I was thanked and reminded that I am a lifetime Platinum member. When I reached 4 Million Miles, I was thanked again and reminded again that I am a lifetime Platinum member. I assume the same will happen when I reach 5 Million miles.
Why do I care? What difference does it make?
If any of you have reached the top elite status of your favorite airline you know what a big difference it makes. Among the many differences is just how you are treated. On American, I no longer receive the several system wide upgrades that Nancy and I used to fly in Business Class to Europe and Hawaii. I rarely get upgraded now and I have to pay for it when I do. It is a world of difference.
To American Airlines credit, I have been asked many times for my opinion and I have told them repeatedly that when those of us who have close to 5 million miles on American reach 65, or pick an age, we should get 5 years Executive Platinum status without having to fly 100,000 miles.
Oh, there is one nice part of my flying story. Back in the early 80s when Piedmont Airline offered its first airline clubs, Nancy and I bought lifetime memberships for I believe $300. When US Air acquired Piedmont, we became lifetime US Air Club members. That did not do us much good when we moved to Dallas. But, now that American and US Air have merged, we have lifetime Admiral’s Club membership.
You might also find it valuable to watch Susan Cain’s TED presentation.
As you may know, at the risk of over generalizing, I contend introverts are better equipped to build relationships than extroverts. I have met many life of the party extroverts who talk incessantly about themselves and do not actively listen. On the other hand, I have met many introverts who ask great questions, actively listen and then find a meaningful way to follow up.
In 2006, I was writing my book Prepare to Win. In the first chapter I included what I had found on the state of the legal profession:
Young lawyers have never been paid more and been less satisfied with their careers.
Lawyers are viewed only above advertisers and car salesmen in terms of ethics. (Gallup Annual Survey)
Law students graduate with levels of anxiety, hostility and depression three to four times greater than the general population.
Lawyers suffer from depression at a rate 3.6 times higher than non-lawyers.
Only half of the lawyers who participated in a Rand survey said they’d become lawyers if given a second chance to decide.
I wrote the book when the law firms were doing well and the lawyers working for them were paid well. That all changed in 2008.
I recently went back to see if any of these findings have changed. You will be pleased to know that lawyers have gone up in the Gallup Annual Survey. In the 2013, Honesty/Ethics in Professions survey , our profession is now ranked between newspaper reporters and TV reporters. (I wonder what Walter Cronkite would think of that? I suspect he would think his profession has fallen dramatically.)
Ok, you might be wondering: What is positive psychology? The authors say it is:
Positive psychology is the study of the traits and conditions that lead to human thriving. It is often characterized as the study of happiness, but it is more accurately the study of all positive emotions and character traits, including joy, contentment, gratitude, optimism, and resilience.
Near the end of the article, the authors explain their conclusion this way:
If law school threaten students’ sense of self, the strengths-based approach of positive psychology aims to do just the opposite. Education scholar Edward Anderson put this point as succinctly as possible: “This is the message of the strengths-based approach to student success: Do not try to be someone else. Strive to be the person you really are-fully and completely. This is your best avenue to achieving excellence.
What do you think is the current state of the legal profession?