If you’re like me, you think you’re a great communicator, right?

I saw a Forbes article recently that caused me to reconsider: 8 Secrets of Great Communicators by Travis Bradberry. Here’s what caused me to reconsider:

When communicating with people we know well, we make presumptions about what they understand—presumptions that we don’t dare make with strangers. This tendency to overestimate how well we communicate (and how well we’re understood) is so prevalent that psychologists even have a name for it: closeness-communication bias…

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” -George Bernard Shaw

You see, I believe some, maybe even most lawyers make presumptions about their client’s problem. Those lawyers listen for what makes the new client’s matter familiar because it gives them the opportunity to show how smart and how experienced they are.

Time is Money

I know because I’ve been in a room more than once where a lawyer trying to make a sale tried to convince the new potential client that he or she had handled a matter just like the one the new client has. Clients feel those lawyers are more interested in the legal fees than they are interested in them.

In addition to the presumption of understanding, the other problem is no client believes his or her matter is just like any other.

All of the eight secrets are right on target. For example, Bradberry’s third secret on the list is to: Listen so people will talk. I believe this description of listening is especially important for a lawyer listening to a client.

Listening isn’t just about hearing words; it’s also about listening to the tone, speed, and volume of the voice. What is being said? Anything not being said? What hidden messages below the surface exist?

Bradberry’s  fourth secret is Connect emotionally.

Bradberry includes one of my favorite Maya Angelou quotes:

People will forget what you said and did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

So, what’s the takeaway? You want to focus on your client, actively listen, don’t make presumptions and connect emotionally by taking a genuine interest in your new client and making them feel they are the most important client you have.

A lawyer I am coaching sent me an email about an event she would be attending.

I’ve some exciting news. I’m planning to attend the AAA Asssociation Annual Meeting in a couple of weeks. A current client of the firm is also attending the event and has offered to introduce me around to her contacts. As you know, I’m trying to grow my book of business servicing ZZZ companies.

I wanted to reach out to you to get some advice on how I should be prepare for the upcoming event and to make the best use of this opportunity. This is the first conference of this type that I will be attending. Any tips you have would be greatly appreciated.

Screenshot 2013-12-11 07.03.01

It is always great to have a client going to the event and introducing you to her contacts. But, sometimes you are on your own.

I recommended the lawyer read three short pieces I believe are helpful.

The first is from Bob Burg.  It is his 10 Feel Good Questions.

The second is 15 Tips from Keith Ferrazzi:Conference Commando

The third is a Forbes piece about following up after the event: How To Master The Art Of Networking Follow-Up.

I believe all three have ideas worth considering to prepare for an event.

In June, Nancy and I celebrated our 45th anniversary. Next month, I will be attending my __th high school reunion.

I loved practicing law and Nancy was my biggest supporter. I frequently said:

My clients tolerated me, but they loved Nancy.

Plenty has changed since I started practicing law in 1971, but I know one thing that has not.

The key to success in private practice with a law firm is the ability to attract, retain and expand relationships with clients.

Many of you became lawyers, less because of loving”the law” and more because you could use your knowledge and skills to help your clients achieve their goals.

If attracting, retaining and expanding relationships with clients motivates lawyers, why aren’t more lawyers doing what it takes to have that opportunity?

As you know, several years ago I wrote a book titled: “Prepare to Win.”  It is available from us, Amazon and is available for your Kindle, Nook or iPad.

Screenshot 2015-08-02 09.44.27

I picked the title based on a quote I had seen many times attributed to various famous coaches.

The essence of the quote is:

Many have the will to win, but only a few have the will to prepare to win.

Many lawyers have the will to attract, retain and expand relationships with clients, but only a few have the will to do the hard work that leads to getting, retaining and building relationships with clients.

How many lawyers in your firm have a written plan for their career, with written goals, and a method of holding themselves accountable? Do you have one?

How many lawyers in your firm are making a concerted effort to build their profile or build relationships? Are you?

Regardless of your law school, your class rank, your family situation, your age, your firm, your boss, your firm’s clients, you and only you are responsible for your success and only you can define what success is for you.

Over time you will also have to inspire yourself, motivate yourself, hold yourself accountable, stick with it when it is challenging and pick yourself up when things do not go as you had hoped. But, if I have coached you, then you know that encouragement at the right time is also helpful.

I was thinking about my work with lawyers when I read Forbes article: The 3 Most Powerful Ways To Change People Who Don’t Want To Change,

If we worked together you might notice some things in the article that we did in our coaching sessions. I encourage you to read the article and think back to our time together. If anything you read resonates with you, drop me a note.

When I worked with lawyers in my old firm, I learned a very important lesson. I could make an inspiring presentation on career and client development. But, if it was a one-shot program, very few lawyers changed. That was the reason I started coaching.

As you may know, my work is slowing down and I’m working on a novel (trying to exercise the right side of my brain). I still want to come to law firms and spend a day teaching at lunch and coaching the rest of the day.

Do you think it would be valuable for your firm’s lawyers if I spent one day each quarter (4 days in a year) with them?

 

What do associates say when asked about the feedback they receive from partners for whom they work? Several years ago, I was asked to help with a workshop for the orientation of new partners at a large law firm. I suggested that the firm film top associates discussing this topic among others. I doubt any of you would be surprised by what they said.

Did you see 60 Minutes on Sunday night? I had not seen the segment about Nick Saban, or even a preview, when I posted my blog on Friday: Career Success: What Learning is Most Important?  In that blog, I included a quote that was the chapter 3 title of a book about Coach John Wooden.

It’s What You Learn After You Know It All That Counts Most

What sets Nick Saban apart from other coaches? When I watched 60 Minutes, I learned how similar Coach Saban’s thinking is to Coach Wooden’s. When he was asked what his father would think about his huge success, he replied:

He envisioned a discussion on the need for even greater improvement: “No matter what the success level was, there would always be lessons to learn, things that you could do better and he would point those things out and it wouldn’t be about the accomplishments,” Saban said. “It would be more about how you could do it better, which I would appreciate by the way. I wouldn’t take that the wrong way.”

Here is the link to the CBS background discussion: 60 Minutes, behind-the-scenes with Nick Saban. Here is a link to be Bleacher Report summary: Nick Saban on ’60 Minutes’: Takeaways from Alabama Football Coach on CBS

Here is the link to the entire 60 Minutes segment:

http://youtu.be/xEp47-kX6jg

When you think about UCLA basketball, and Alabama football, you know right away that Coach Wooden played and Coach Saban plays  a huge role in their team’s success. All you have to do is look at the UCLA’s record after Coach Wooden retired, and Alabama’s record before Coach Saban arrived, to know they made a difference. Like Coach Wooden, Coach Saban recognizes that each player is different and he knows how to push the right buttons to get each player to perform at a peak level.

So, what will you learn if you watch the segment? I think you will learn how a coach, mentor, senior supervising lawyer can help young lawyers strive for excellence.

It starts with giving real-time feedback. Senior lawyers (coaches, mentors, supervising lawyers) should give both positive feedback and constructive feedback. As you will learn from watching the Nick Saban segment, the feedback should be real-time and consistent. The concept is simple, and the reasons for it clearly understood, but getting partners to actually do it takes real effort.

Law firms too often limit feedback to year-end reviews, and most of the year-end reviews are not very helpful. If your firm is like many, your professional staff has trouble getting your partners to complete their year-end reviews and when they complete the review, it is more like filling out a form to comply with the firm’s requirement. Your partners and your associates know the feedback is not really helpful.

If you want to better understand why year-end reviews don’t work, read this Forbes article: Ten Biggest Mistakes Bosses Make In Performance Reviews. I know from experience that senior lawyers make all 10 mistakes. If you and your colleagues, simply do the opposite of those mistakes, you will make great progress.

I am curious: Do lawyers in your firm give real-time feedback? Is giving real-time feedback a core value of your firm? When your lawyers give feedback is it constructive and effective? Do your associates value the feedback they are receiving? Are your associates getting better?

Did you read it? Did you read Noam Scheiber’s  New Republic article: The Last Days of Big Law: You can’t imagine the terror when the money dries up ?

The article addresses how law firms have fallen from the golden age and how this generation of law firm partners have been driven by greed. It all started when The American Lawyer started publishing the Profits-Per-Partner of law firms.

The article focuses primarily on Mayer Brown law firm, but as I read it, I thought it was written about my old law firm. When you read the article you might think it is describing your law firm.


At the risk of reminiscing about law firm life in the Ozzie and Harriet and Leave it to Beaver days, I have to say that when I started practicing law in 1971, lawyers were not driven by greed. When I was an associate, I was never told I needed to bill more hours. I was never rewarded because I had X number of billable hours.

I thought I was being paid a decent amount of money ($14,000 my first year). My focus was on my work and clients, not on my hours. I loved practicing law back then. But, I also realized early in my career that my happiness and future security depended on my ability to attract, retain and expand relationships with clients.

A partner for whom I did work (a mentor) once told me:

As a lawyer you will likely never be poor, but you will also likely never be rich. After all, you can’t make money practicing law while you are sleeping.

The partner who shared that advice is still alive. I am sure when he gave me the advice, he had never heard of “profits-per-partner.”

I wonder what he would say about firms with average profits-per-partner well over $1 million dollars, and associates required to bill so many hours that you wonder when they get a chance to sleep. Since he has a daughter, I am sure my partner mentor never dreamed that young women lawyers in some big law firms are now being encouraged to outsource their personal life and let their husbands stay at home to take care of the children.

You and I recognize that the legal profession has changed, and it will continue to change. The focus is increasingly on money, partners leave firms to join other firms where they can make more money. Partners in some firms not only compete against other firms, but also compete against partners in their own firm.

As the New Republic article points out, there is not enough corporate legal work to go around to maintain those $ Million plus profits-per-partner. Associates in big law firms no longer have any security. Interestingly, at least since 2008, partners in big law firms who do not bring in clients also have no security.

One thing made clear from the New Republic article is the only security any law firm lawyer has in 2013 is attracting clients and generating revenue. The problem is the best and the brightest young lawyers are not equipped to meet that requirement.

Even lawyers with a dedicated mentor have trouble making equity partner unless they meet a second criterion: demonstrating a potential for attracting clients…When, somewhere between the second and fifth year of their legal careers, they discover that brainpower is only incidental to their professional advancement—that the real key is an aptitude for schmoozing—it can be a rude awakening.

I disagree with Scheiber’s assertion that schmoozing is the aptitude that  produces clients and revenue. But, he correctly points out that brainpower alone is not enough to survive in a law firm today. I wonder how many young lawyers were told not to worry about client development and later learned not worrying about it caused them to not be promoted, or worse, cost them their job?

By now, young lawyers must realize they need to learn how to attract, retain and expand relationships with clients. For some of you this may seem daunting. It doesn’t have to be. I enjoyed learning those skills long ago and many young lawyers enjoy learning those skills in 2013.

I wish we could bring back law firm life in those Ozzie and Harriet and Leave it to Beaver days. But, you and I know those days are gone and are not coming back.

I believe learning and becoming successful in attracting, retaining and expanding relationships with clients is one of the only ways to change the Forbes finding:  No. 1 Unhappiest Job: Associate Attorney. I was both happy and secure when I was able to attract clients. Unless you become a lawyer driven by greed you will be also.

 

On July 4, I read the Inc. Magazine list of 7 Companies Older Than America. I suspect these companies already have lawyers and even more likely do not need them. So those 7 companies might not be the best potential clients. What would be the best potential clients?

A couple of years ago I wrote: Are You and Your Firm Focusing on the Right Clients? In that post, I talked about Fortune’s Top Industries. I think it is also important to look at emerging industries.  Is your firm paying close attention to those? I think it is job 1 for finding clients with substantial growth potential.

Just recently I read: China promises support for 7 emerging industries. The seven industries include:

  1. Affordable housing and public works construction
  2. Environmental protection,
  3. Information technology,
  4. Biology,
  5. Advanced equipment manufacturing,
  6. New materials and
  7. New-energy vehicles,

Is anyone in your firming learning the Chinese language? Will these also be emerging industries in the US and Canada?

You might also read:

  1. The Ten Trends That Will Shape Venture Capital In 2012 [Part 1]
  2. Venture Capital Draft: Hot Prospects, Part I.
  3. A Business Week article: America’s Most Promising Startups.
  4. A CNN-Money article Top Companies: Fastest Growing.

What are you doing to stay on top of what industry sectors are growing? You might wonder how I happened to find these articles. It was really pretty easy. I get RSS feeds to Forbes Entrepreneurs,  Business Week-Small Business , CNN-Money Small Business in my iGoogle and Google Reader pages.

A friend sent me a link to a Forbes article titled: The Rumors About Bill Clinton Are True. When I got the email my initial thought was: Which rumors? I suspect the writer, Shah Gilani chose that title to get the same reaction and interest from other readers.

By Roger H. Goun via Wikimedia Commons

I clicked on the link and discovered the article was about President Clinton’s amazing ability to connect with people he will only see one time. As Gilani noted:

When someone you don’t know, that you’ll never meet again, who is just going to shake your hand and sign a book for you and say thank you before turning to the next person in line actually engages you with a genuineness that is as surprising as it is disarming, you realize that person is different.

When Gilani asked President Clinton if he could ask a question, President Clinton replied: “Yes, of course.” Gilani recounts what happened after President Clinton heard the question:

He looked at me and with as much sincerity as I’ve ever encountered, he said, “I’m glad you asked me that, that’s a great question.”

Clients want to hire lawyers who engage them with genuineness and sincerity. It is part of what my first mentor shared with me. I have written about it before:

Clients want to hire lawyers who have “confidence inspiring personalities.”

I believe President Clinton has a gift for connecting with people. But, I also believe that if you genuinely care about your clients and helping them, and you show your sincerity, you can develop that same gift. When was the last time you responded to a client: “I’m glad you asked me that, that’s a great question” and sincerely meant it?

 

You are likely wondering what Warren Buffett and the super rich have to do with you? I promise to connect the dots. Think about what motivates you to do something.

Did you read Warren Buffett’s Op Ed piece Stop Coddling the Super Rich in the August 15 New York Times? After reading it, I had two thoughts:

  1. Since I did not meet the criteria for “super rich,” it would be easy for me to favor increasing the taxes on them.
  2. If Buffett and other “super rich” want to pay more taxes to help the country, why don’t they voluntarily do it?

After having those thoughts, I searched for the website Gifts to the United States Government and found a Forbes piece written by Daniel J. Mitchell: Warren Buffett’s Fiscal Innumeracy and a Cato Institute article, (published by CNN) by Jeffrey A. Miron Why Warren Buffett Is Wrong.

I also consulted a tax lawyer who reminded me Judge Learned Hand once said in an opinion:  “Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury. There is not even a patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes.”

I guess many super rich people who want to pay more taxes do not voluntarily do so because they know others who are super rich are taking Judge Hand’s advice.

I also learned, but did not watch, that Charlie Rose flew to Omaha to interview Buffett.

My purpose here is not to praise or find fault with Warren Buffett’s op ed, or Judge Hand’s dictum. Put simply, I want to explore whether law firms and lawyers voluntarily do certain things, or are they only motivated when they are forced to do it.

After consulting with some friends, here is my list for us to explore:

  • What motivates law firms to hire, promote and provide leadership postions to women and minority lawyers? Are some firms motivated only after clients demand it?
  • What motivates law firms to develop creative alternative billing arrangements for clients? Do some law firms only do it after their clients threaten to take their legal work to another firm?
  • What motivates law firms to increase pro-bono efforts? Do some firms require a nudge from their clients, the Bar or by seeing what competitors are doing?
  • What motivates law firms to spend time and money to train and develop their young lawyers? Will some firms only invest after their clients demand to have more highly skilled lawyers work on their matters?
  • What motivates lawyers to learn? Do some lawyers only do it if given CLE credit? Will they only come to programs if the firm provides a free lunch?
  • What motivates lawyers to invest in their careers? Do some lawyers require the firm to pay for it before they will participate?
  • What motivates associates in large firms to develop their career and do other non-billable activities? Do some of them only do it if they receive “billable hour credit?”
  • What motivates partners in law firms to prepare a business plan? Do some partners only do it after firm leaders require it?
  • What motivates partners to cross-sell and expand relationships with their clients? Do some partners only do it if they get all the origination credit?
  • What motivates partners to participate in recruiting the best and brightest new lawyers? Are some partners only motivated to participate at their alma mater on a football weekend?
  • What motivates partners in large law firms to complete their evaluation of associates? Are some partners only motivated to complete their evaluations after receiving word they will not receive their next pay check?
  • What motivates partners in a large firm to turn in their time sheets? In my old firm one partner only turned in his time when his paycheck was withheld.
  • What motivates partners in a large law firm to mentor younger lawyers? Do some of them only do it after the firm establishes a formal mentoring program?
  • What motivates lawyers to take money out of their own pocket and contribute to charities or recovery from disasters? Do some lawyers contribute after they see the firm’s staff contributing?
  • Finally, what motivates lawyers to simply say “thank you?” Do some lawyers only say thank you after being reminded they need to do it? (Reminds me of children being directed by parents to send a thank you note to a person who gave them a gift.)

What motivates your firm and what motivates you to do things you know will benefit your clients, your firm and your career?