Client Development Coaching

Earlier this year a law firm marketing director asked me:
Cordell, what should be included in our client development training program?
Almost 10 years ago, I wrote a Practical Lawyer article Unlocking The Secrets To Developing Your Future Rainmakers. It has some ideas for the marketing directors.
I practiced law and learned about client development from the seat of my pants. I probably learned more from my mistakes than I ever learned from my successes.
In 2017, you don’t have time to learn from your mistakes. That was one reason I left my law practice to coach lawyers.
In my firm I found many lawyers were motivated to develop business and client relationships, but gave up when their efforts weren’t productive.
Since 2005, (seems like a long time ago now), I have worked with young associates, junior partners and senior partners, just like you.
Based on my own client development efforts and the work I have done with lawyers, I have a good idea what you need to learn to be successful.  Here is my list of Planning and Motivation activities to incorporate now:
Planning and Motivation
  1. Discover the attributes of successful lawyers/people and incorporate them into your own career
  2. Decide what you want to achieve
  3. Set motivating stretch goals
  4. Prepare a yearly plan to achieve those goals
  5. Break down your plan into shorter time frames (90 Days, or 60 Days and weekly)
  6. Take StrengthsFinder and determine what kind of client development will best work for you (See this blog post with my strengths.
  7. Make time for client development (you will never find it)
  8. Get organized for a more productive day (See this blog post for discussion of David Allen’s book: Getting Things Done)
  9. Stay motivated and accountable…even when you are not seeing results
  10. Patience and persistence (It took two years before I received the first call from my client development efforts)

The beauty of coaching is you can get feedback when you are working on each of the 10 activities above.

P. S. I have finally finished a complete draft of my novel. I’ve worked on it since 2014, and I have written 10 different versions. This one is the last version. But, some of my earlier versions tell a story so different from this one that I may go back and create a second novel with different characters.

This novel is about a young Hispanic lawyer who is best known for her beauty and defending refugee children who is called upon to defend the richest man in Texas against Department of Justice Prosecutors who know no bounds when it comes to their desire to convict the defendant and destroy the defendant’s lawyer’s reputation.

If you are interested in reading the draft, send me an email.

quarters.jpegA friend asked why me why so few law firms have client development coaching programs. My answer was simple:

Some law firms look at client development coaching as a cost rather than a revenue producer.

As you may know, I set up a client development coaching program for new partners in my old law firm. We set a goal of doubling the total business of the new partners in two years. After we achieved the goal in one year, I decided I wanted to work with lawyers on client development full time.

A few years ago I did a series of presentations for Legal Marketing Association (LMA) chapters on how to set up a wildly successful client development coaching program in their firm.

Knowing that even if I made awesome presentations, the legal marketing professionals would go back to skeptical firm leaders and partners, I concisely shared what a firm should experience from a coaching program. Here is my short list:

  1. INCREASE FIRM REVENUE AND PROFITABILITY
  2. Make its next generation of partners and firm leaders more focused on client development.
  3. Develop individual and group responsibility and accountability.
  4. Make client development a greater part of the firm’s culture.
  5. Help each lawyer in the program determine the client development efforts that will work most effectively for him or her.
  6. Ensure that each lawyer in the program is taking action.
  7. Increase business with existing clients and bring in new clients.
  8. Enable lawyers within the program to get to know each other better, to work effectively as a team, and to collaborate on their client development efforts.

If you have a partner who is interested in teaching and coaching lawyers in your firm, you have a great opportunity to create a wildly successful coaching program.

 

This week I am posting on how to make the sale and close the deal with new clients.

Recently I was asked:

What are some of the most popular client development topics lawyers you coach want to discuss?

After thinking about it, I responded that the lawyers I coach want to know ways they can attract business from friends and people they know who work with businesses which already have outside counsel.

You likely also spend time with friends who are with companies using other law firms.

How can you unseat those other law firms? You may never, but the best chance you have is to do it in very small steps. 

First, you never want to say anything negative about the law firm the client is currently using. After all, the company picked that firm, so you would be seen as challenging their judgment.

I wrote a Practical Lawyer column on this topic: How Can Your Friends Become Your Clients? As you will see, I listed three potential opportunities:

  1. Become the Second Lawyer
  2. Become the Subject Matter Expert
  3. Add Value the Other Firm is Not Providing
I am sure you can see the potential in each of those idea, but how do you even have a conversation about potentially helping the client?  I believe it depends on your relationship with your friend or contact and what you are comfortable asking him or her.

When I was practicing construction law, I spoke frequently at construction contractor association events and had the chance to eat breakfast, eat lunch or drink coffee with potential clients who were not using us. While I never had this specific conversation, it might have gone like this:

Cordell: “John, how is business for your company this year?”

John: “It is so-so, the economy still has an impact on us and we would like more work.”

Cordell: ‘What kind of projects are you looking at?’

John: “Because of the economy, we are looking at more design-build and Public-Private Venture (P3) projects?

Cordell: “I am trying to understand what contractors value from their outside counsel on those projects, may I ask you a  couple of questions?”

John: “Sure.”

Cordell: “How many outside law firms do you use?”

John: “Two, we use one for our construction and labor and employment issues and another for our corporate and tax work.”

Cordell: “Are they small or large firms?’

John: “Our construction law firm is a smaller than our corporate firm.”

Cordell: “Does your construction law firm use create a plan at the beginning of the projects they work on for you?”

John: “No, they are not doing that.”

Cordell:  (I might or might not say this depending on how well I know John.) “ We found clients like having an idea at the beginning what to expect moving forward. Is this something your company would value? ”

John: “I could see where that would be helpful.”

Cordell: “ Does your construction firm do any in-house training on design-build and P3 projects at no charge for your project teams?’

John: “No, they don’t do anything at no charge.”

Cordell: (Again I might or might not say this depending on how well I know John.) “We love to invest in our relationship with our clients. We find these workshops are very helpful to get to know the management team and to better understand what is going on with the business.”

John: “Very interesting.”

Cordell: (I know that John is expecting me to try to get him to hire us at this point, but, in my opinion that would not be a good strategy. So I might say:) “Thanks so much for the feedback. We are constantly searching for ways to better serve our clients and your thoughts are very helpful. If you think of anything else to add, I would love to hear from you.” Or, I might say: “We would love the opportunity to do an in-house workshop for you. Would you find it valuable if I send you our design-build and P3 project workshop materials?”

In my coaching program we have a session on asking for business and closing the sale. A couple of years ago I wrote a one page guide:  How to Ask for Business/Close the Sale.

 

A friend read my blog Tuesday: 7 Questions to Answer to Develop a Successful Client Development Coaching Program and asked me to answer the questions I posed.

She said she wanted my “Client Development Coaching for Dummies” answers. She finally convinced me to answer the seven questions.

  1. Setting a group goal creates a team. One lawyer I coached said his group felt like a firm within the firm. The hope is that no one will want to let the team down.
  2. Agreeing on 25 action items makes the goal more focused. Goals without actions are like New Years Resolutions that never get done. It also provides a talking point for each group meeting. “How are you doing on those 25 action items?”
  3. Creating a plan forces the lawyer to start thinking strategically and how best to use his/her time. I want the lawyers to have something to aim at and know when they are off-course.
  4. We break down the yearly plan into 60 or 90 days actions because it is more likely the participants will do the activities if they are in smaller chunks. It also provides for accountability when I have the telephone coaching sessions with them between the in person sessions. My beginning agenda item is a report on how they are doing on their 60 or 90 days action plans.
  5. When they share their plans with me, I have “nagging” rights. Again, my goal is to find ways for each participant to be accountable.
  6. Reporting monthly is one more way to be accountable. When the reporting is on a portal page or in an email that is shared with the group and with a firm leader, no one wants to have nothing to report. It also enables me to keep up with what each lawyer is doing, which makes the coaching sessions more focused.
  7. I have to build a personal relationship to better understand the lawyer’s unique talents, opportunities, and challenges. I also must earn their trust to be able to help them find the path that will work best for them.

I hope this is helpful.

I suspect that if you have not started a client development coaching program in your firm for this year, you are not likely to start one now.

How about 2018? Let me share one analogy to argue in favor of a coaching program in your firm. Have you ever had a workout trainer? When I worked out with a trainer, I was focused, I did more than any other time, and I was in the best physical condition of my life.

A coach will provide the same motivation and focus for your lawyers. I’m thinking about retiring at the end of this year, so let me give you some ideas on how to get the most out of a coaching program.

A law firm marketing director recently ask me how to make a client development coaching program successful. As you know, my first response is always to select lawyers who want to be in the program and develop business. If you select the right lawyers to participate, then you are ready for the next steps.

When I coach a group of lawyers in a firm, we set a group goal and decide on 25 action items to achieve the goal. Each member of the coaching group sets individual goals and prepares a plan to achieve them.

Each time when we meet in person each member of the group create action plans (goals) for the next 60 or 90 days.

Members of the group share their plans with me and in some cases with the other members of the group. Each month, each member of the coaching group reports on what he or she has done that month.

Some firms put the reports on a coaching group portal page and other firms send an email with the photo of each person in the group and his or her report by the photo.

Some of you might be asking or wondering:

  1. Why do I have the coaching group set a group goal?
  2. Why do I ask the participants to agree on 25 action items?
  3. Why do I encourage each person to set his or her own goals and create a business plan?
  4. Why do we break down the actions to 90 days action plans?
  5. Why do I encourage each member of the group to share with me what his or client development plans are?
  6. Why do I encourage each member of the group to report monthly what client development activities he or she has done, and why that report is published?
  7. Why is building a personal relationship with each lawyer so important?

You may wonder what I love the most about coaching younger lawyers. It’s really pretty simple. Each young lawyer I have coached has unique talents, unique goals, unique challenges. The great joy I experience coaching is when a lawyer has an aha moment and figures out the way to achieve his or her unique goals.

Many of you reading this blog had that moment when we worked together and you personally know what I love about my work.

Ok, if your firm is thinking about a client development coaching program, If you answer these questions you will have some good thoughts on how to make client development coaching successful.

 

If you are  not interested in my effort to learn Spanish in San Miguel de Allende, you can skip to the end of this post to learn how my efforts relate to your efforts to become a rainmaker.

Hola from San Miguel de Allende. I am in my second week of Spanish Immersion at Habla Hispana. After this week I will be half way to completion. It’s the rainy season in San Miguel, which has made life here a little more challenging.

I was afraid when I left Dallas I would be bored and lonely on the weekends when we do not have class. As expected, last Saturday, I was both bored and lonely, but I walked around town and watched many celebrations including a wedding where the bride rode in a horse drawn carriage.

The people here are incredibly friendly and they are willing to help us learn and pronounce the words correctly. After my first class a week ago I needed a spiral note pad to take notes. (I have since gone to my computer after realizing I cannot read my own writing). I went to a small office supply store and met Isidro, and his daughter who is home from school in Mexico City for the summer.

Isidro and I started talking about my visit and when he heard I was here to learn Spanish, he offered to help me if I would help him with his English. He speaks English very well, so you know who is getting the better part of the bargain.

We practiced later in the week and I offered to take him and his daughter to lunch on Sunday at a place he picked. So, on Sunday I met Isidro and his daughter at his store at 1:00 and we drove to Querétaro, a larger more industrial city an hour from San Miguel de Allende. (As an aside, I am still struggling to pronounce Querétaro correctly. It kind of sounds like kay ray tear o, but not exactly).

Throughout the afternoon, Isidoro spoke to me in Spanish and explained what he had said in English if I didn’t understand.

During my first week here, I experienced challenges trying to remember words and  pronouncing the Spanish words correctly.  Like everything else I have attempted in life,  I worked incredibly hard, but  in this case, I don’t believe I worked smartly or strategically.

As a result, I had so much floating around in my brain that I could barely remember how to tell people my name in Spanish.  The last time I processed this much information was when I took the bar exam in 1971.

Over last weekend, I focused on figuring out a more strategic plan to learn. As  result,  I decided to work on vocabulary and pronunciation one-on-one with tutoring from my favorite teacher, Teresa.

Yesterday, during our four hours of class,  I understood what the teachers and my classmates were saying. It was huge fun. I must have felt the same way when I was a young boy and finally figured out how to throw a baseball. So, as we say here at the school, I’m getting it poco a poco (little by little), but the joy of getting it a little is great.

In my search on how to learn, I found a quote from a very famous foreign language teacher, Michel Thomas.

“What you understand, you know. What you know, you don’t forget.” – Michel Thomas

The Defense Language Institute says it takes about 600 hours to become relatively proficient in a language. I read elsewhere that it is one hour of class to two hours of personal study. You can understand why many people give up before they become proficient. I don’t believe I will be proficient after four weeks of class. It will take more later.

The key of course is motivation. I like to say you have to have a big enough “why” to stick with it. In my case, my big enough “why” to learning Spanish is simply to prove to myself I can do it.  I don’t need it for my work. I can get by without it when we travel to Mexico. But, I’m driven to prove to myself I can do it.

To stay motivated, I create a list of goals each day on what I want to accomplish and before I go to bed, I review my list. But, it takes more than motivation.

So, my questions are:

  1. Do you have a big enough why to stick with your client development efforts.
  2. Have you figured out what areas you need to improve?
  3. If what you are doing is not working, have you thought about a different strategy?
  4. Are you working hard to get better, or are you focused and working strategically?
  5. Would it help to set goals for each day on what you want to accomplish?

Hasta luego.

Ok, I’ve completed three days of Spanish classes with my five other classmates. We love our teachers and we’ve bonded together like many coaching groups with whom I have worked.

So, I can answer my title question in one sentence:

Start your own coaching group because it is more likely you will make client development efforts you are not making now and it is more likely the efforts you make will over time produce results.

I contend:

Client development coaching is about getting lawyers to make changes and create new habits. Making changes is more likely to occur when the lawyers are part of a group. Plus, it is more fun to make those changes with a group.

A couple of years ago I studied why making changes is so difficult. I found a very interesting article by David Rock titled: A Brain-Based Approach to Coaching. If you are interested in the science and research, you will find it in this article. Rock talks about why coaching is needed:

In the last few years, neuroscientists have been confirming what many of us know all too well: change is much harder than we think. You can take this statement literally: change requires more than just scant thought; it requires ongoing attention and a significant effort of the will.

 

A few years ago I worked with a group of 5 highly motivated lawyers.  I knew they were motivated because they were paying for the group coaching out of their own pocket.

They were from different firms and different practices and did not know each other before we started. Each month I conducted a one hour group telephone coaching session. I purposely limited the number in the group so there was a distinct individual coaching component and a group coaching component. During our sessions I asked each lawyer what they had worked on the last month.

Each month we also focused on a topic and I did short presentation. One month I focused on Motivation and Accountability. One lawyer described my role as similar to a fitness trainer because I helped each member in the group take action and be accountable.

When I worked with fitness trainers, I always did more than when I was by myself. If you have a client development coach you will do more and  do what is more valuable.

If your firm is not willing to have me come and help you do more and do what is more valuable, create your  own group, meet regularly and hold each other accountable.

While I favor creating your own coaching group, having sat through three days of classes I can say the teachers (coaches) drive us to push ourselves further than we would on our own.

San Miguel

I took this photo on Monday, near the Jardin. I believe the young boy’s parents were taking his photo at the same time.

For my lunch Monday and yesterday I went to the mercado. On Monday, I ate steak in a salsa rice, beans and homemade tortillas for 40 pesos. Yesterday I ate corn in a cup (street corn) and a large glass filled with fruit for 30 pesos. I’ve learned that when the vendor tells me cuánto cuesta (how much) in Spanish, I have to rack my brain to remember the numbers.

I came back to my room to do my homework. One assignment was to write what we like or dislike about each of the four seasons in our home state. The other was to write sentences that included a fruit or vegetable and a number.

Last night a group of five of us ate dinner nearby. All five ordered a meal. Two of us ordered beer and a third ordered Sangria. The other two ordered coke. Out total bill was 316 pesos. I’ll let you find the exchange rate and do the math.

P.S. We each needed a tablet of paper for notes. I found a place, and took a  classmate. The gentleman who owns the little store offered to have each of us tutor the other in our new languages. I’ll talk to him in Spanish and he’ll talk to me in English and we’ll help each other. His English puts my Spanish to shame so…I may be getting the better end of our bargain.

Does your law firm have a client development coaching program? In my experience only a handful of firms are investing in helping young lawyers develop those skills.

If your firm thinks it is valuable for your younger lawyers to attract, retain and expand relationships with clients, here are some client development skills you might consider teaching them.

Junior Associates:

  1. Dress for Success
  2. Business Etiquette
  3. How to Network
  4. How to Remember Names
  5. Active Listening Skills
  6. Systematic Ways to Keep in Contact
  7. What Clients Want and Expect
  8. Taking Control of Your Career
  9. How to Set Goals and Prepare a Development Plan
  10. Using Non-Billable Time Wisely

Senior Associates:

  1. Client Development Principles and Practical Tips
  2. Building Profile:
    (a) Your Website Bio;
    (b) Writing Articles that Will Generate Business:
    (c) Presentations the Will Generate Business;
    (d) Joining Organizations and Associations;
    (e) How to Follow Up After an Event
  3. Building Relationships with Clients:
    (a) How Clients Select;
    (b) What Clients Want;
    (c) Learning the Voice of the Client;
    (d) Thinking Like a Client;
    (e) How to ask questions;
    (f) Client Service;
    (g) Building Trust;
    (h) Building Rapport;
    (i) Personality Traits;
    (j) Following Up After Completing Project
  4. RFPs and Client Pitches
  5.  Client Interviews

New Partners:

  1. Coaching Program-Group and Individual: (a) Setting a Group Goal; (b) Developing Action Items to Achieve the Group Goal; (c) Accountability
  2. How to Prepare a Business Development Plan: (a) Setting Business Development Goals; (b) Developing Action Items to Achieve the Goals; (c) Making Client Development Part of Habits
  3. StrengthsFinder and How Each Can Best Use Time
  4. Becoming the “Go to” Lawyer
  5. Delegating and Building the Team
  6. Cross Serving
  7. Client Visits
  8. Selling Skills
  9. Becoming a Trusted Advisor
  10. Client Development Mistakes to Avoid
  11. Dealing with Difficult Clients

 

Does your firm have anyone helping to develop the next generation of rainmakers?

Our firm didn’t have anyone, so I started coaching our new partners. I loved that work so much that I gave up my big partnership draw, left my law firm and started coaching lawyers full-time.

IMG_0503

Over more than 12 years, I’ve figured out what I’ve done to  help the lawyers with whom I have worked:

  1. Identifying what is the lawyer’s definition of success
  2. Planning and goal setting to achieve the success
  3. Figuring out each lawyer’s major strengths and offering ideas and best practices on how to use those strengths
  4. Answering questions and providing feedback and suggestions
  5. Accountability: Pushing each member and the group to attain group and individual goals.
  6. Overcoming challenges.
  7. Role playing and experiential learning
  8. Presentation/communication/writing articles and blogs skills
  9. Understanding how clients select lawyers and how to be considered and selected
  10. Networking, developing relationships and converting those relationships into business
  11. Understanding what clients want and how to give it to them.
  12. Referral to outside sources on career and client development
  13. Opportunities for team building and cross-selling

Do you remember I recently wrote about the difference between teaching and coaching?

As you will see, the first six actions are in the coaching portion of the program and the last seven actions are in the training and teaching portion of the program.

I loved my law practice. I loved my clients. I appreciated what I was being paid, which was more than I ever dreamed possible.  But, there’s nothing better than receiving a hand-written note from a lawyer I coached several years ago, describing how the lawyer has become a top rainmaker, or leader in their firm.

If you know me, you know why that is so valuable to me.

I like to tell lawyers I coach that the difference between a teacher and a coach is:

A teacher will give you the right answers. A coach will ask you the right questions.

My goal in coaching is to help lawyers change and become more focused and purposeful about their client development efforts. I realize from my own experience that change is extremely difficult, especially for lawyers who are busy doing work for clients. I also realize that becoming more focused and purposeful is much easier if you have someone helping you.

I ask questions to get to know the lawyers I coach. I want to know their unique strengths, their unique experiences, what motivates them, what unique challenges they face and what client development activities they have done before they met me.

I frequently look for a good definition of a coach. Recently I saw this one:

What is a coach? “Part therapist, part consultant, part motivational expert, part professional organizer, part friend, part nag — the personal coach seeks to do for your life what a personal trainer does for your body.”

~MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL STAR-TRIBUNE

I think lawyers with whom I have worked would say at any given time I have taken on each of the roles described above.

Some time ago, I enjoyed reading The Harvard Business Review Blog: Five Coaching Strengths that Produce Champions. The writer focuses on coaching olympians and concludes that the most important of the five coaching contributions was:

build a strong coach-athlete relationship

I believe that also applies to client development coaching I do with lawyers. The lawyers who have been most successful working with me have allowed me to get to know them and we maintain a strong relationship years after the coaching program ends.

Create Your Own Client Development Coaching Group

I’ve written many times that if your firm is not willing to provide a client development coach, like me, get a group together and coach each other.

If you would like, I’ll make myself available by webinar for your first group meeting and share with you how to get the most out of working together.