I’ve coached well over 1000 lawyers since I left my law firm and started coaching in other firms in 2005. I believe most, if not all the lawyers I have coached would like to attract, retain and expand relationships with clients.
Why are some of the lawyers I’ve coached successful and others are not? Many who do not succeed are really only saying they wish they could attract more clients.
Those who succeed do it a variety of ways. In some cases there’s luck of being in right place at the right time. In some cases there is luck of being born in the right family, marrying into the right family or having a friend who created a billion dollar company.
But, for most of lawyers I have coached who attracted major clients, they did it the old fashioned way.
They were motivated and worked hard, like an athlete training each and every day, and not seeing immediate results.
According to University of Chicago psychologist Oleg Urminsky, a sense of connectedness to the future self is essential for achieving long-term goals. (My emphasis)…
Urminsky considers his idea of connectedness to the future within the larger context of a well-documented phenomenon in behavioral economics known as time discounting. This occurs when people discount the value of a resource when there’s a delay in receiving it. For instance, if I offer you $120 now or $180 a year from now, you’ll most likely take the smaller-but-sooner option over the larger-but-later one.
Therein lies the problem, client development and attracting clients is a long term process. It requires lots of hard work for which there is no pay, and no immediate benefit. I know it took me two years of work, work, work before the first construction client called me.
I’ll leave you with one final example. I coached a lawyer 10 years ago. When I began coaching her, she had a very small amount of business in her column.
Recently she wrote to me and told me that a few years ago, she had set a goal of originating $3 million by the time she was a certain age. She told me she had reached and even exceeded her goal in 2016.
How did she achieve this awesome goal? Just as the motivation article suggests, she saw herself as a $3 million originator by a certain age, then she broke it down into smaller chunks and worked each year to get closer and closer to her long term goal.
If I have coached you, or you are a regular reader, you know I owe a great deal of my client development success to my writing. It worked well for me and I am confident if you follow my thoughts below it will work well for you also.
Writing articles and blogs is a great way to raise your visibility and credibility with your potential clients. If you are planning to use this tool, keep these three essential points in mind:
Select a topic that your clients and potential clients care about. (I spent more time selecting a topic than I spent writing the article.)
Write it so they will actually read what you have written. (I spent more time deciding on the title and writing the first paragraph than I spent writing the rest of the article)
Use social media as one tool to get as wide a distribution as possible. (I didn’t have this tool for distribution, but you do have it. Use it)
It is that simple, yet many, if not most, lawyers do not do all three well.
They spend little time thinking of the topic. Then they decide on a lame title that does not capture the reader’s attention. If you would like to learn more about writing and speaking to get hired, check out my video program and workbook.
P.S. I want you to try these three points. Help me write a blog post for lawyer readers. Pick a topic for a future blog post, then create a title you think would attract lawyer reader. If you have the time, write the first paragraph for me. If I select your topic, title and first paragraph, you can have access to my Video Coaching Program and Workbook.
Client development is all about being found when a client needs a lawyer and all about building trust based relationships.
If you want to start building a reputation and building relationships with clients focus on five important points. I know, I’ve made all of these points many times over the last 11 years. But, maybe I have not made them this succinctly.
Client development is not about “selling.” It’s all about positioning yourself to be found when your clients need a lawyer, and then providing exceptional service.
You will not develop client relationships merely by being a highly skilled lawyer and doing quality work. It is a necessity but only a starting point. Being a highly skilled lawyer is merely the price you pay to get in the game.
Client development is not about what you do, it’s about what your clients need. Find ways to learn what they need and put the work you do in that context.
Strive to differentiate yourself from your competitors. One way is to anticipate a potential problem or opportunity before other lawyers see it.
Better yet, identify and provide solutions to problems before the client realizes there is a problem. That will do more to build a lasting relationship than almost anything you can do.
Some of you who regularly read my Blog do not know that I am a Hokie, a Virginia Tech alum.
With Daughter Jill before the Independence Bowl 2015. We stayed home because of Tornadoes
This Sunday is Easter, but it also is the 10 year anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre. At the time, news reporters asked how such a tragedy could take place on a college campus, how such a tragedy could take place at Virginia Tech, how such a tragedy could take place in a small town, Blacksburg, Virginia.
At the time, many Virginia Tech grads felt numb, even if we had never known any of the people who were needlessly shot and killed or shot and injured that Monday. There was a lot of soul searching. If you want to learn more about those people, take a look at the We Remember Virginia Tech Website.
As I thought about the terrible tragedy that occurred that Monday, I thought of Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankel‘s book “Man’s Search for Meaning.” In the book Frankel tells readers that we can find meaning by creating a work or doing a deed, by experiencing something or encountering someone, or by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.
Frankel asserts that this unavoidable suffering “can bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.”
It was with those thoughts that I watched the convocation in Cassell Coliseum that followed on Tuesday. It was a very somber and quiet group. One newspaper reported that when a minister asked for a moment of silence, there was already silence.
Then, after all others had spoken, including the President of Virginia Tech, the Governor of Virginia, and President Bush, University Distinguished Professor Nikki Giovanni came to the podium and presented a poem “We are Virginia Tech” that transformed the crowd and anyone who saw her deliver it, including me. If you haven’t heard it, I invite you to watch and listen.
Dr. Giovanni, was well known long before her moving and inspiring message: We are Virginia Tech. She is a living legend. I only wish I could have studied writing in one of her classes.
If you have a few minutes, you might enjoy her Muhammad Ali interview:
If you have more time and interest, watch her presentation at the Point Loma Writer’s Symposium by the Sea 2016. Her story of meeting Rosa Parks and her poem about Rosa Parks are inspiring.
As lawyers, I hope we do not have to wait for unavoidable suffering to find meaning in our careers and our lives. Can’t we find meaning by creating a work or doing a deed, or by experiencing something or encountering someone? I have learned that while I may be inspired by the words of someone like Dr. Giovanni, my real inspiration and meaning in my life must come from within. So must yours.
A Wedding is an Event; a Marriage is an Achievement.
Making partner is an Event; Becoming a successful partner is an Achievement.
There are a variety of important steps to become a successful partner. Clearly, one of the most important is to develop a team that will enable you to provide the highest quality work and extraordinary service for your firm’s clients. Developing the team and retaining associates has always been a challenge.
I recently told someone that the book is about every ______ partner I have ever met who treats associates and staff like ____. You may have worked for lawyers like David.
David has a fixed mindset. He is bright, hard working and has developed a big ego. He acts as if he has never made a mistake. He is sure that successful partners are born not made. His superior attitude is insufferable because he projects that everyone else is out of step. Behind their backs, he describes lawyers others think are very talented, as dumb or lazy.
On your path to partnership, you surely received mentoring and you personally responded to these challenges yourself.
As a first step, I suggest that you revisit what you learned from your mentors and how you focused on establishing and achieving your goals. Your ability to lead and supervise younger lawyers will pay a large role in your success as a partner.
I was coaching a group of lawyers for the last time recently. At the end of our group meeting, the group’s leader asked for a good summary of what we had covered. I shared this blog post with the group and thought you might find it valuable.
I read a recent survey report of large (big law) firms. There was one survey question that really got my attention:
How important is business development to success in a law firm?
Here was the answer:
A lawyer’s ability to generate business is the single most determinative factor in whether a lawyer will become an equity partner.
That certainly was no surprise. In fact, I thought that was kind of a Duh question and it certainly does not just apply to lawyers in large law firms.
I know how to develop business. I did it and many lawyers I have coached or who worked for me are doing it. If you want to learn, I want to help you. I urge you to learn how to:
Motivate yourself to learn and attract clients
Figure out and adopt attributes of successful lawyers/people that will work best for you
Define what success means to you by figuring out what you want to achieve in your career and life
Set stretch goals
Prepare a detailed action plan to achieve goals
Determine what learning will provide you with the greatest return on your time
Determine what kind of client development efforts will best work for you
Make time for client development when you are busy with billable work and have a family
Get organized for a more productive day
Hold yourself accountable for client development activities
Best get outside your comfort zone to take your practice up a notch
Be patient and persist when you are not seeing results
Raise your visibility and credibility-Building Profile
What organizations will be best for you
Write an article, or blog post: picking the topic, how long, title, opening, closing
Give a presentation: picking the topic, getting the opportunity, homework before the presentation, PowerPoint, opening, format, speaking skills, handout
Use social media: blogging for business, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter,
Build relationships with referral sources so they recommend you
Network at events
Determine what are your best sources of business
Focus on Contacts (Client relationship management)
Make pitches to clients who consider hiring you
Make great first Impressions
Clients Select: importance of website bio, relationships, recommendations, strength of weak ties, building trust and rapport, developing questions, listening skills and how to ask for business
Provide extraordinary client service and cross-sell: what clients want, how to deliver it, ways to add value, cross-selling planning
Develop your the team: leadership, team building, motivating younger lawyers, supervision and feedback
My dad’s birthday is tomorrow, March 31. If he was alive he would have been 106 today. He passed away in 1980.
My dad was an artist, a photographer, a musician, and an entrepreneur. He loved fishing and hunting. He also loved fixing sports cars.
I never gave him the chance to teach me to draw, paint or carve. I was too busy playing baseball, basketball and football. He tried to teach me to play the piano, but I wouldn’t practice so he gave up.
When I was a teenager, my dad frequently towed home sports cars that he repaired in our garage and resold. I remember the first car was a green Jaguar XK 120. He frequently tried to get me to work on the cars with him. I tried, but I got bored quickly and went back to playing baseball.
Looking back now, I can say that while I was passionate about playing baseball, hunting, fishing and working on cars together are father-son experiences we could have shared for a lifetime. I missed an opportunity.
Even though I never gave him the chance to teach me to be an artist, I believe he unknowingly taught me about art and drawing in a way that made me a better lawyer and that is the point I want for you to get from this post.
In a blog posted a few years ago, Pencil as a Power Tool Daniel Pink talked about drawing again. He said drawing:
is a terrific way to develop the aptitude of Symphony, the ability to put together seemingly unrelated pieces to create something new.
I believe my dad taught me to see things others did not see. I had a unique interest in anticipating what might impact my clients. I believe I had the aptitude of Symphony. Lawyers I coach have heard me suggest many times to:
Identify a client problem, opportunity or change before the client does
Create a remarkable solution
Give it away
That is what making art as a lawyer is all about. If you are not making art, consider taking a drawing class or a photography class and focus on relationships of things to other things. Then, diligently read business news and industry publications.
Are you making art as a lawyer? If your father is still alive, what experiences are you sharing?
How are dentists like lawyers? Read on, you’ll get my take on the question.
As you are reading this blog, I will be sitting in the chair at my favorite periodontist getting my second surgical implant done, and hoping I won’t need the pain pills he prescribed that I declined.
A few years ago, a young lawyer I was coaching at the time and I met with Tyler, an associate who had worked for me. When Tyler’s wife became a permanent federal appeals court clerk in Kansas City, Tyler left our firm and went in house with a large construction company.
During the conversation the associate asked Tyler a very interesting question:
What do you know now that you wished you had known when you were practicing law with Cordell?
Tyler’s answer took me by surprise. He replied:
Even when you do a really great job handling a litigation matter, your in-house counsel will still not be happy. It is just the nature of litigation.
I’ve spent more time in my life than I would have ever wanted seated in dental chairs.
It all started with braces, then getting two of my teeth loosened beyond repair in a football practice, without pads or helmets. Our fullback went the wrong way and the crown of his head found my mouth.
That, of course, made them look dark when the braces came off and that’s when the serious dental work started. I like to tell my friends that I could own at least one Mercedes Benz or BMW car for the amount of money I’ve paid to dentists.
I believe dentists, thankfully not mine, can give you a greater understanding of Tyler’s point. No one get’s up in the morning and says:
Oh boy, I get to visit my dentist this morning.
I know I didn’t say that this morning. Even when they do a great job with your teeth, you hate paying them.
Some dentists, again thankfully not mine, want feedback. I saw a question one time, with ratings from 1-10.
How happy are you with your smile and the whiteness of your teeth?
I don’t know about you, but if I had responded with anything other than “damn happy,” I’d probably not return to that dentist.
Does your dental hygienist tell you that you are not flossing enough, or you aren’t doing it right?
Does your dentist discuss your “treatment plan” without ever telling you the cost of the treatment plan?
Instead, when you are taken aback by the extent of your “treatment plan” are you then turned over to a “treatment coordinator?” Yes, she’s the one who shields the dentist from telling you the bad news that your treatment plan will cost more than you ever dreamed possible.
If you need substantial treatment, do you feel like you are giving up control of your mouth and pocketbook to professionals you may not really know? (I’ve had work done by a dentist who was not very good. It cost even more to fix his mistakes.)
Aren’t there about 1oo other ways you’d rather be spending the money?
The truth is your clients feel the same way, only for you it is likely worse. You are like the dental hygienist telling your client they didn’t do something right. You are like the dentist telling your client how you can fix the problem. Then, you are like the “treatment coordinator” telling the client it will cost an arm and a leg and be money they would rather spend on at least 1oo other things.
No one gets up in the morning and says:
“Oh boy, I get to see my lawyer today.”
Tyler was right. Your clients hate the cost, hate the time it takes, hate the uncertainty and fear they may not have the best lawyer for the job.
One final thought: I recommend that you never tell a client: “If only you had not…”
My great grandmother died in 1978, when she was 106. She was a Civil War widow who received a check for $70 a month. She frequently marveled that she had lived to see us go from horses and buggies to rockets putting a man on the moon.
I can’t top that. But, I have lived to see innocence first lost in 1963. That was the year I realized we weren’t living in a Father Knows Best and Ozzie and Harriet world any longer.
Prior to 1963, I was only interested in sports, music and girls. I wanted to be a major league baseball player, or a rock star depending on the day of the week. In those days being one or the other meant you would be idolized by girls and that was just possibly my major motivation.
I grew up in Lombard, Illinois, a Chicago suburb in Du Page County, a heavily republican county. In Lombard, our only diversity consisted of families who were either Catholic or Protestant. Not one black family lived in Lombard.
I started playing baseball, basketball and football in earnest when I was 9 years old. Our neighborhood included enough boys to field two baseball teams in the summer and the baseball park where we played was only one block away. In the summer our mothers made a bag lunch for us and we rode our bikes to the park where we played baseball from sun up to dinner.
Some summer days, I went with my father to his place of business on 17th Avenue in Maywood, where the vast majority of residents were black. I was the only white player on the baseball field or the basketball court at the park behind his business. I became a better player from that experience.
My interest in music started about the same time. I may have inherited my love from my father, who was a self-taught pianist. At an early age, he shared with me that Eddy Duchin was the greatest pianist of all time.
When he bought the piano and signed me up for weekly lessons, he expected me to become the next Eddy Duchin. There was only one slight problem, my piano idol was Killer, Jerry Lee Lewis, and my piano teacher didn’t have any sheet music for Whole Lot of Shakin Going On.
When I was in junior high I got the chance to go see my first live concert at McCormick Place in downtown Chicago.
My friend John’s brother who was 16 and had recently gotten his driver’s license had tickets. When his friends couldn’t go he reluctantly invited his younger brother and me to join him. He told us the WLS DJ Dick Biondi would be the MC for what was being called the greatest rock and roll show of all time in the newly opened Arie Crown Theater at McCormick Place.
What he didn’t tell us was that Dick Biondi would be the only white person on stage that day. We spent literally hours listening to what was then called rhythm and blues, and later called soul music. I still have many of the songs I heard that day on my iTunes.
I still don’t remember all of the entertainers who performed that day. Essentially it was every black star that wasn’t a part of Motown records. As Dick Biondi said the show seemed to go on forever. The black entertainers I remember included, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry who passed away Saturday at age 90, Chubby Checker, The Platters, The Shirelles, and many others who you would have to be my age to recognize their names.
It was about the same time that I noticed girls. To be more accurate, I first noticed an actress, not a girl. Her name was Kim Novak and she played a teenage girl Madge in a movie called Picnic.
At the picnic, which takes place over Labor Day weekend, there is scene when Kim Novak and William Holden dance to the theme music “Moonglow, and Theme from Picnic.” It was clearly dirty dancing 50s style. Watch them on YouTube, you’ll get the idea.
We went off to high school with great optimism about our futures and the future of America, not knowing that in 1963 America would be forever changed and our innocence would be lost.
Each of us knows exactly where we were on November 22, when we first learned President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. I was sitting in Chemistry class, when our principal made the announcement over the intercom. We were all stunned by the news.
I spent the entire weekend numb, but glued to the television set. On Sunday morning, we skipped church which enabled me to watch Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald on live television.
But, President Kennedy’s assassination was the culmination of the year our country was changed forever. A great deal of change had taken place before that November day. On the music front, Beatlemania started. At the time, like many others, I was a fan of the Beach Boys.
In 1963 our country expanded its role in Viet Nam and the events in Birmingham, Alabama would no longer allow us to ignore inequality in our country. I think those events are what changed my outlook on life in America.
Growing up in my all-white Chicago suburb, I had never given much thought to the civil rights movement. That all changed in 1963 because we could actually see what was happening on television.
I watched in horror scenes from Birmingham where peaceful men, women and children demonstrators were met with violent attacks using high-pressure fire hoses and police dogs.
Later that year, after the white only restroom and drinking fountain signs were removed in Birmingham, the 16th street Baptist Church was bombed, killing four little girls.
During the summer, I watched scenes from the historical march on Washington and Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream Speech. The Civil Rights movement had become a national cause, and before his death President Kennedy proposed the Civil Rights Bill.
By the end of 1963, my taste in music had changed. I still enjoyed the Beach Boys, but I started listening to singers and songwriters, like Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary. Many an argument took place in our house when I started playing Pete Seeger singing We Shall Overcome or I Ain’t a Scared of Your Jail, Bob Dylan singing Blowin in the Wind, and Peter, Paul and Mary singing If I Had a Hammer, written by Pete Seeger.
Looking back now, I’m sure my father thought I had become what today would in polite circles be called a liberal, and less polite some other names. If he thought that in 1963, I can only imagine what he thought in 1968, likely the most turbulent year in American history.