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 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.

 

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

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.




 

Well, sadly it happened. Something I ate did not agree with me and I was up all Tuesday night. I did not have my A game for our four hours of class Wednesday. and I slept most of the afternoon. Thankfully, I feel better this morning.

How are my classes going? I enjoy them, but I still struggle to remember words when I am under pressure in a conversation. I’ll have to work on that when I get back home.

On Wednesday I was asked what was in my room.  I wanted to include mi maleta (my suitcase). I have no idea what I said, but it wasn’t maleta.

Let’s get to business. Are you a young lawyer looking for a mentor? In my book “Prepare to Win” I wrote a chapter titled: “The Importance of Role Models and Mentoring.”

I have written extensively on mentoring because I feel I owe a great deal to the mentors I had in my career beginning with my father. I also enjoy helping young lawyers.

Give me the Young Lawyer

I frequently receive email questions about mentoring from lawyers and professional development professionals. Here is an example of an email with questions about mentoring:

“Cordell, I recently thought about your article where a partner mentored you early in your career and how this partner met with you early in the morning to teach you about the practice of law. What advice do you offer to today’s young attorneys about forging similar relationships?

How can a young attorney turn a grumpy old partner, who is only concerned about his billable hours, into a mentor?”

Those are great questions. My first thought was:

“Gosh, I hope none of the associates who worked for me thought I as a grumpy old partner.”

My second thought was that the older the partner, the more likely he or she will be to take the time to listen and provide advice. The greater challenge is getting a grumpy young partner to take time away from billable hours.

I am not sure a young attorney can ever turn a partner who is only concerned about billable hours, into a mentor. Here are my suggestions for young lawyers:

  • Find the right partner. Lawyers in your firm who are good mentors are likely well known throughout the firm.
  • Find the right time to spend time with the mentor. As explained above, I met with my first mentor (we never used that term) the first thing in the morning over coffee. I learned early on that he spent some time early getting ready for his day and he was open to meeting with me then.
  • Convey that you want to learn and become the best attorney you can be. Experienced lawyers admire young lawyers striving to learn and be the best they can be.
  • Ask good questions. Experienced lawyers generally like to tell younger lawyers about their experiences. When I met with the young partner who took me under his wing, I frequently began the discussion with: “Have you ever…?”
  • Actively listen to your mentor.
  • After the mentor offers his or her ideas, don’t say: “Yes, but…” or “My problem is…” Any time a lawyer said that to me, I decided he really wasn’t seeking my help. Instead he just wanted to complain.
  • Come up with your own action plans after a mentoring session.
  • Pass it on. Find a new lawyer in your firm and offer to be his or her mentor.

Speaking of mentoring, you may know I wrote an e-book you can download here: Strategy for Your Career and Your Life. In it I discuss my own strategy and strategies used by other lawyers. I also include a workbook for you to use to develop your own strategy. If you think the book is helpful pass the link on to your friends and colleagues.

I recently read a Seth Godin post: Who are we seeking to become?

I particularly like this quote:

The difference between who you are now and who you were five years ago is largely due to how you’ve spent your time along the way.

I coached a successful lawyer who decided to focus her time on her family, church, health and law practice/clients. As you might imagine she accomplished a great deal in each of those categories.

With coaching and law firm consulting work at almost a standstill, I’m focusing my time on becoming fluent in Spanish, becoming a better novelist and becoming a better golfer.

I’m actually in San Miguel de Allende in a Habla Hispana Spanish Immersion class.

Habla Hispana

Yesterday, I went to class with five other beginners from 8:30 to 1:00. Three teachers worked with us and it was intense learning for an old guy like me. I had to listen very carefully.

I arrived on Saturday and moved into my room on the second floor at the school. On Sunday morning, I was awake at 6:00. I tried to go back to sleep, but…Around 6:45 Needing coffee, I searched to see if any coffee shops were open and discovered one near the El Jardín plaza opened at 7:30. (Starbucks opens at 8:00 AM on los domingos.)

When I arrived at 7:30, I I took this photo of El Jardín and the Parrish Church of San Miguel. The coffee shop was open,  but they hadn’t started making coffee. I sat waiting for 15 minutes and finally gave up and walked back to Via Organic  near Habla Hispana. Francisco fixed me a latte and I learned he had moved back to San Miguel from Los Angeles to help his aunt run the business.

La Jardin

 

To get a full appreciation of how beautiful the Parrish Church is, here is better photo.

Screen Shot 2017-05-13 at 1.17.06 PM

Believe it or not, I’m nervous about this experience. I’ve taken a Spanish class here in Dallas and I have a tutor. The first thing I realized is I probably have not focused on memorizing things since I took the Bar Exam in 1971. That’s a lot of years between memorizing things.

I’ve been asked why I want to learn Spanish. My father spoke fluent Spanish. He loved Mexico, and when I was 12, we traveled by car all the way from Chicago to Acapulco. If you think about Chevy Chase and the Vacation movies, we would have a good one on that trip.

My son-in-law’s first language is Spanish and Nancy and I travel to Mexico regularly. All of our friends who live there speak English. We love them and I want to speak to them in their language. Will I be able…? I’ll try my best and let you know.

If you’ve never been to San Miguel de Allende, I recommend it. The weather is never too cold or too warm. Many Americans and Canadians live there.  Check out Living, Working, Retiring in San Miguel de Allende. There are two golf courses, so I  have my golf clubs with me. But, having sat through class one day, I can picture the golf clubs remaining in my travel bag,

I’m determined to learn Spanish. The teachers here are awesome, but I know it will take more than my four weeks of intensive learning. I wonder if I’ll be able to write a blog in Spanish when I return.

 

Greetings from Phoenix, where unless you live here, it’s hard to imagine how hot it is outside. I’m coaching lawyers here and one topic we have been discussing is how each lawyer can become a “go to” lawyer in his or her field.

Do you remember a blog I posted: Lawyers: Being the Best in the World is Seriously Underrated ?

 The title is based on  Seth Godin’s quote: “Being the best in the world is seriously under rated.” The world in this case is being seen by your target market as being the best at something they need.

My first target market was commercial businesses, then I narrowed it to the construction industry. A few years later I further narrowed my target market to highway, heavy civil construction contractors.

At the time, that was a fast growing industry due to Interstate construction throughout the United States. Narrowing my focus was one of the most important things I ever did.

You might be thinking that focusing on an industry may not work for you. If you are, I urge you to reconsider, because the more narrow your focus, the more likely you can be “best in that world.”

Forbes recently published: The 10 Fastest-Growing Industries in The US. Take a look. Reading it almost made me return to my law practice and put my guides pictured below on social media.

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 8.54.28 AM

Which industries are growing fast, but are not over crowded with lawyers seeking to serve those businesses? If you find one with those characteristics and one you would be passionate about representing, you can become the “go to lawyer.”

This Sunday is Father’s Day. Each year I think about what my father taught me long ago.

It was Saturday, December 20, 1980. Nancy, Jill and I were getting ready to visit my family for Christmas. We got a call that day. My dad had died of a heart attack. I still miss him.

I thought of my dad when I did a program for associates based on my book Prepare to Win.

3_sm

During the program, I asked for the characteristics of effective goals.  One associate said: “They need to be realistic.” I didn’t say it at the time, but the lawyers I know who set realistic goals do so because they are easy to achieve. Super stars set goals that challenge them, stretch them and inspire them. My dad taught me to set those kind of goals.

My father was a creative artist and used his talent in the sign business. When I was five years old he left one of the largest sign businesses in Chicago and started his own business with a young partner named Bob Clauss. The Parvin-Clauss Sign Company is still in business today.

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 7.46.45 PM

How can what I learned from my dad help you become extraordinary? My dad was an entrepreneur and a risk taker. He started the Parvin-Clauss Sign Company without any assurance of the volume of business he and his partner would generate, but with the confidence he could do it.

When he retired from the business, he decided to create wood carvings and make jewelry. Once again he had no assurance anyone would buy what he was making.

I believe more people fail who are content and unwilling to take risks than those who dream big dreams. It must have taken courage to start a business with a family. It takes courage to be responsible for your own success, the well being of your family and to dare to try something others may think is unrealistic.

I have been an entrepreneur and risk taker during my career. I have been in small law firms, started a law firm, became a partner in a large firm and left that firm when I was at the top of my game to help other lawyers enjoy the fun and success I have experienced.

Do you have confidence in your ability to generate clients and business? Are you willing to take risks to try to be extraordinary, or will you settle for just doing good work for someone else’s clients? Even in a large firm, you can become a “go to lawyer” if you dream big dreams and work every day to achieve them.

I leave you with this quote from Dr. Robert Schuller:

What would you attempt to do if you knew you would not fail?

 

 

Would you agree that little girls are encouraged to dream big dreams and be ambitious, but when women grow up, at least some of them,  hate to even talking about ambition?

When I was a busy lawyer, I didn’t really think much about how men and women view ambition differently. But, since I’ve been coaching,  I’ve discovered men and women speak differently when it comes to ambition.

A Child's Joy

As you likely know, I’m writing a novel. Actually I’ve finished it, and now my sister is proofreading and I’m editing the story.

My character, now named Gabriela,  is incredibly  ambitious. On the one hand, her ambition drives her to succeed. On the other hand, her ambition is her achilles heel.

I’ve done some research as part of my writing. I found a Harvard Business Review article: Do Women Lack Ambition? I urge each of you to read it. I’ll share this point here.

In nearly all of the childhood ambitions, two undisguised elements were joined together. One was mastery of a special skill: writing, dancing, acting, diplomacy. The other was recognition: attention from an appreciative audience.

These elements are true not just for children, but also adults, and true for both men and women. So, read on further in the article and you’ll find a section titled: What’s Dashing Women’s Dreams?

Perhaps my novel will give you some of the answer.

My character is a young Mexican American lawyer who grew up in The Rio Grande Valley, known simply around these parts as “The Valley.” While growing up, her father,  a lawyer, encourages her to believe she can accomplish anything if she is passionate about it and willing to make the effort each and every day.

Young Woman2

After clerking for a Federal Court Judge in Dallas, and practicing law with her father in The Valley, my character is recruited by one of the big Dallas law firms, not known for its diversity. Partners in the firm refer to Gabriela as a “twofer” since the firm gets diversity statistical credit for having both a woman lawyer and an hispanic lawyer in one lawyer.

During orientation, the managing partner mistakenly refers to Gabriela as a secretary. Guess he didn’t get the memo stating the firm had hired its first Hispanic female lawyer. During her first deposition, the lawyer on the other side asks Gabriela if she is the interpreter.

Hopefully, you see why Gabriela  is ambitious. In her firm interview, when asked what she wants to accomplish, she replies, “I want to be on the cover of Texas Monthly, after being named the top litigator in Texas.” The partners laugh and snicker at her audacity.

I don’t want to give away my whole story. For now, let’s just say, while her male colleagues are praised for bing ambitious and setting stretch goals, Gabriela is chastised for doing the same. Some of the partners say Gabriela  is egotistical, full of herself, a narcissist, and those are just the characterizations I can write on a PG rated blog.

Some of her female colleagues, who also have worked very hard, shun the attention and give credit to others for their success, whether deserved or not. They don’t want to make waves.

Some of you have read or heard this story before. After coaching a group of women lawyers, I came home and told Nancy that group was my niche coaching group. Nancy gave me the jaundice eye look, but finally asked why. I replied,

Because women lawyers underestimate their ability to become rainmakers, while some of their male counterparts grossly overestimate their ability. When I coach motivated women, if I can just persuade them to believe and see themselves as rainmakers, they’ll achieve it.

I’ve coached many incredible women lawyers over the last twelve plus years. Many of those lawyers have become top rainmakers or top leaders in their firm. Many of you reading this post are those lawyers.

To those of you I have coached, both men and women, I can’t express how much I have appreciated getting to know you, and hopefully help you strive for more than you dreamed possible.

P.S. If this subject interests you, here are a couple additional articles you can read:

THE INFANTILIZING WAYS WE TALK ABOUT WOMEN’S AMBITION

The 7 Most Effective Ways For Women To Own Their Ambition

 

 

 

 

 

Some of you who regularly read my Blog do not know that I am a Hokie, a Virginia Tech alum. 

Screen Shot 2017-02-03 at 4.16.44 PM

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.