I’ve started working out with a trainer again. I am working far harder and far more focused than I ever did on my own. I confess that I am amazed how out of shape I am compared to earlier times in my life when I was regularly running 5 miles.

When I feel like I can’t do any more reps of an exercise, Michael pushes me and I keep going. Yesterday, when I finished one exercise near quitting time, I wanted to say, “Let’s call it a day.” But, I kept going.

So, what does my new workout regimen have to do with client development coaching? Put simply, in both cases, the person receiving the coaching or the training must be highly motivated and willing to try new things.

Do you know which lawyers in your firm will get the most out of client development or career coaching? After coaching well over 1000 lawyers in the US and Canada, I can usually tell after one meeting with the lawyers.

In two instances, I told the law firms they would be wasting firm money if I coached the lawyers they had selected for coaching.

Suppose for a moment I asked your lawyers for their reaction to the following:

Client Development has never been more difficult than it is today.

I would likely be able to tell from their response whether they will be a good candidate for Client Development Coaching.

Fixed or Learning Mindset

Why? Put simply, it might tell me if your lawyers have a fixed mindset: “Lawyers either have the ability to get business or do not have the ability to get business,” or a learning mindset: “I can learn to get better at client development.”

Lawyers with a fixed mindset believe that effort is for those who are not talented. Their greatest fear is really trying hard to develop business and failing at it. As result, they will not make the effort to learn how to do client development and will give up if they do not have immediate success.

Lawyers with a learning mindset will keep striving to learn more and get better even if they were fairly successful when they started the coaching program.

Do You Have Lawyers Like This One?

When I told one of the lawyers I coach that client development has never been more difficult, her response was:

That’s fantastic because very few lawyers will be willing to pay the price to really get good at it. I plan to be one of those lawyers who will pay the price.

A Law Firm Management Committee Question

Ten years ago, I met with a large well known law firm’s management committee about my client development coaching program. Near the end of the meeting, a senior partner asked me to describe the ideal candidate for my coaching program. I quickly replied:

Tiger Woods.

He said:

Tiger Woods doesn’t need a coach.”

I told the group:

Leave aside that Tiger Woods actually has a coach, I am referring to his desire to get better rather than his great talent.

Why I Chose Tiger Woods as the Example

At the time I had watched Ed Bradley interview Tiger Woods. During the interview Bradley asked why when Tiger was the number one golfer in the world, he changed his swing. Tiger responded: “To get better.”

Bradley reminded Tiger that he was doing pretty well with the old swing. Tiger once again said he knew he could get better. Bradley then pointed out that Tiger changed his swing a second time and asked why. By now anyone could guess that Tiger answered once again “to get better.”

If you have even the slightest interest in golf, you have watched the dramatic shot on the 16th hole at the Masters. That is the shot Nike loves because the “swoosh” on the golf ball was visible for a full two seconds before the ball rolled in and CBS announcer Verne Lundquist exclaimed: “In your life have you ever seen anything like that.”

Lessons from Stanford Professor Dr. Carol Dweck

On July 6, 2008 the New York Times published an article titled: If You’re Open to Growth, You Tend to Grow.

The writer describes three decades of research done by Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck on why some people reach their creative potential in business while equally talented others do not. Dweck believes it is how people think about intelligence and talent. Those who believe their own abilities can expand (get better) over time. They “really push, stretch, confront their own mistakes and learn from them.”

The writer concludes that, while talent is important, people with the growth mind-set tend to demonstrate the kind of perseverance and resilience required to convert life’s setbacks into future successes.

If you are a regular reader you know I frequently recommend Carol Dweck’s book: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Her studies are amazing. You can also find many important articles on her website Mindset.

In the first chapter, she refers to a study she did early in her career. She brought grade school children in one at a time and gave them a series of puzzles to solve, each one getting increasingly more difficult.

She watched the reactions of the students and saw something she never expected. One ten-year old boy when confronted with hard puzzles, rubbed his hands together, smacked his lips, and cried out:

I love a challenge.

Others with growth mindsets had similar reactions. They did not see themselves as failing. They believed they were learning and getting smarter. Those young children with fixed mindsets believed they could not learn to do the tough puzzles and didn’t try to do them.

So, give me the lawyers in your firm who have a burning desire to get better. You may not think some of those lawyers need coaching, but I can assure you they will get the most out of it, because they will put the most into it.

Even lawyers for whom client development is anything but natural get a lot out of the coaching if they have the learning mindset. After all, there is great energy around trying to get better.

Seth Godin posted a blog recently titled: On being discovered. In it he said something that describes my strategy and approach to developing business.

Instead of hoping that people will find you, the alternative is to become the sort of person these people will go looking for.

I was meeting with a group of lawyers I coach over dinner when one of them asked me what was the most important client development step I took.

I narrowed my focus.

Why? One reason was my healthy paranoia. I was far more comfortable knowing a lot about a little than a little about a lot.

But, I also narrowed my focus to attract clients. To borrow Seth Godin’s line,

to become the sort of person construction contractors will go looking for when they need a lawyer.

I discovered early in my career that marketing yourself as a commercial litigator or as a corporate lawyer is a challenge.

If you are marketing to everyone, you are marketing to no one.

How do you distinguish yourself from the hundreds of other commercial litigators or corporate lawyers in your city?

When I narrowed from commercial litigation, to government contracts, to construction government contracts, to transportation construction government contracts, I better understood my potential clients needs and I received many more speaking and writing opportunities. In a few years, I was well known throughout the United States.

How can you narrow your focus?

You can either have a niche practice which is based on your specialty or you can have a targeted industry practice which is based on what your clients do. Even if you are a connector and networker, you can narrow the focus of the events you attend and become more focused on your best contacts.

If you are interested in learning more, take a look at my slides from a program: Developing a Niche Portable Practice.

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.

 

How many times has a more senior lawyer told you that client development is about building relationships?

I heard that throughout my career and likely you have also.  Maya Angelou summed up one key ingredient in building relationships:

 

I recently posted a blog that touched on this point: Lawyers: To Attract Clients Should You Be Interesting or Interested? If you have an extra minute, I urge you to read that post again. You will find the famous William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli story there. Both were prime ministers during Queen Victoria’s reign in the late 1800s.

As you might recall the story is about a young woman who sat next to each gentleman at dinner on consecutive  nights. After the two dinners she reportedly said:

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

I want you to picture the dinner conversation each night. I wonder how many times Gladstone began a sentence with the word “I.”

Do you think the young woman actually got a word in during the conversation? If she said anything, do you think Gladstone actually listened, paid attention and responded?

I suspect Disraeli approached the conversation differently. I suspect he frequently used the word “you.” I bet he asked many questions in order to get to know the young woman.

As important, I bet he actually listened intently and took what he heard to further the conversation.

Lawyers tell me they do not want to be thought of like a used car salesman. I would never want a potential client or contact to think of me that way. Suppose you are meeting with someone for lunch, are you talking about:

  • You
  • Your firm
  • Your last case or transaction
  • Anything else about you, you you
Instead are you asking questions about:
  • Him/Her
  • His/Her company
  • The company’s issues
  • What you read about the company
  • His/Her family
Are you truly listening? Are you making eye contact? Are you smiling and warm? I will leave you with a quote attributed to Disraeli:
The greatest good you can do for another is not to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.

As you know, I spent a month in San Miguel de Allende learning Spanish. I actually learned more than Spanish. For the first time in a very long time I was forced to listen. Listening to questions or statements in Spanish took a lot of energy. That experience made me realize I was not listening as well when someone speaks to me in English.

You don’t have a month to go somewhere and learn how to listen. I searched and found an article that might help you listen more effectively: 10 Steps To Effective Listening.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Cordell, no one cares about that topic.

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

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

What’s a different practice now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two final points:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I found this interesting:

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

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

According to Wikipedia, Empathy is defined as:

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

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

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

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

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

I used phrases we should use as lawyers, like:

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

 

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

You’re more detective than writer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the bottom line take away for you:

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

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