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.

 

I remember working with associates in my old law firm and helping them decide what they wanted to accomplish in their work and careers and helping them prepare a plan with written goals.

I had great intentions and enthusiasm, and so did the majority of associates. But, over time I discovered that my large law firm was, perhaps inadvertently, contributing to our associates not following through.

Here is what I concluded happened. Maybe it is happening in your firm.

  1. The firm leaders don’t make clear that the firm values the associates setting goals;
  2. The partners don’t set their own goals;
  3. The firm seems to only value billable hours;
  4. There are no benchmarks identifying what associates are learning;
  5. Associates are made to feel they are not doing what they should when they do non-billable activities outside the office;
  6. Associates are not encouraged to participate in attorney development programs;
  7. Associates are not given meaningful feedback;
  8. Associates who set goals are put down when they share their goals with the partners for whom they work;
  9. Partners do not share credit with associates when they help with an article or presentation;
  10. Mentoring in the firm is just talk and not meaningful.

 

 

 

 

First year lawyers are starting in law firms this month. If you have any in your firm, you might share this with them.

I am able to look back now and see how a few things I figured out when I was a young lawyer contributed to my career success and life fulfillment. Here is what I figured out:

  1. What I wanted in my career and life. I really gave a lot of thought to what was important to me.
  2. What would motivate me and help me stay on track. I found motivation very necessary to get through difficult times.
  3. That I had to have a plan to achieve it and stay focused on what was important to me. I discovered I can easily get distracted by unimportant things.
  4. What my clients and potential clients wanted and needed. After I developed my legal skills, I spent a great deal of my non-billable time focusing on clients.
  5. Different ways I could give them what they wanted and needed. I thought creatively and out of the box.
  6. That having the right attitude and not ever giving up were essential.
  7. Each of the people who worked for me was unique and different. This was a major breakthrough because for a time I thought what motivated me would motivate each of them.
  8.  The importance of focusing on my family and to the extent that I could do it, arrange my work schedule to enable me to do things with them that they value.
  9. Finally, each and every day, I wanted to try to get better at what I did in my professional life and personal life. I spent an entire career studying successful and fulfilled people and borrowing from each something that would work for me.

If you are a regular reader, you know that two of my most read blog posts focused on what I wish someone had told me when I was a first year lawyer. I combined those posts in this Practical Lawyer article:  Forty Important Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Was a First-Year Lawyer. Please share this with your first year lawyers

 

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.

 

Over my life, I have frequently been inspired by music, and simply quotes from successful people. A week or so ago, I saw a Success.com list: 17 Motivational Quotes to Inspire Successful Habits.

I shared it with a few lawyers I have coached and asked them to write a guest blog if they found a quote that resonated with them. Melissa Lyon, a Denver lawyer who has written several guest posts here found one that hit especially close to home for her.

The best way to stop a bad habit is to never begin it – by J.C. Penny

First, J.C. Penny’s real name was James Cash Penny and he was obviously the founder of The JC Penny Company that ended up expanding its stores nationwide – but what you likely do not know is that is that the chain traces its roots to my home state of Wyoming.

That’s right, he started the store in the late 1890s in a small town called Kemmerer, Wyoming, not far from my hometown.  Everyone where I am from knows the story and knows that is where J.C. Penny’s stores have their roots.

He may no longer be a local hero, but he is definitely still noteworthy as a self-made man who truly accomplished something for which we in Wyoming are proud.  If you don’t believe me, here is an article featured on wyohistory.org entitled James Cash Penny: From Clerk to Chain-store Tycoon.

Since coal fueled the opening of J.C. Penny’s and Wyoming is where it was born, obviously I was drawn to a quote from an entrepreneur who started his department store chain in the Cowboy state!

Second, I have one bad habit that I have been trying to kick for ages and I can never seem to truly stop it.  My friends all know I am not a morning person and I don’t wake up on my first alarm.  To be totally honest, I don’t even wake up on the second.

Heck, you could call me at 6 am and I could have a full blown conversation with you and be sweet as pie, and roll over and fall back asleep in one second like it never happened.  I love to sleep until the last possible second.  I love to push it until I will barely have enough time to get showered and ready for the day before I have to leave for work.

Interestingly, I really do not like to have to rush. Yet, I force myself to do it every morning – running around like a chicken with my head cut off because I have 23 minutes to be at the office.

You see, J.C. Penny was right.  I should have never began hitting the snooze button to start with.

Now that I have, I am in a deep love affair with my sleep from about 5:45 am to at least 7:24 am. But, like other people who strive to be better than they are, I am constantly working on it.

I have tried everything in the book to break this habit and so far, nothing has stuck.  Last weekend, I purchased one of those light alarm clocks (for an astronomical price) that simulates the sun rising and has birds chirping.  Here’s hoping it does the trick!

I’m a living example proving J.C. Penny was right on the money when he said, “The best way to stop a bad habit is to never begin it.”

P.S. Next time I post here for Cordell, I’ll let you know if the expensive alarm clock is working.

Thank you Melissa. Readers: If you read the Success quotes and find one you want to write about let me know.

 

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.