I was coaching a group of lawyers for the last time recently. At the end of our group meeting, the group’s leader asked for a good summary of what we had covered. I shared this blog post with the group and thought you might find it valuable.

I read a recent survey report of large (big law) firms. There was one survey question that really got my attention:

How important is business development to success in a law firm?

Here was the answer:

 A lawyer’s ability to generate business is the single most determinative factor in whether a lawyer will become an equity partner.

That certainly was no surprise. In fact, I thought that was kind of a Duh question and it certainly does not just apply to lawyers in large law firms.

I know how to develop business. I did it and many lawyers I have coached or who worked for me are doing it. If you want to learn, I want to help you. I urge you to learn how to:

  1. Motivate yourself to learn and attract clients
  2. Figure out and adopt attributes of successful lawyers/people that will work best for you
  3. Define what success means to you by figuring out what you want to achieve in your career and life
  4. Set stretch goals
  5. Prepare a detailed action plan to achieve goals
  6. Determine what learning will provide you with the greatest return on your time
  7. Determine what kind of client development efforts will best work for you
  8. Make time for client development when you are busy with billable work and have a family
  9. Get organized for a more productive day
  10. Hold yourself accountable for client development activities
  11. Best get outside your comfort zone to take your practice up a notch
  12. Be patient and persist when you are not seeing results
  13. Raise your visibility and credibility-Building Profile
  14. What organizations will be best for you
  15. Write an article, or blog post: picking the topic, how long, title, opening, closing
  16. Give a presentation: picking the topic, getting the opportunity, homework before the presentation, PowerPoint, opening, format, speaking skills, handout
  17. Use social media: blogging for business, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter,
  18. Build relationships with referral sources so they recommend you
  19. Network at events
  20. Determine what are your best sources of business
  21. Focus on Contacts (Client relationship management)
  22. Make pitches to clients who consider hiring you
  23. Make great first Impressions
  24. Clients Select: importance of website bio, relationships, recommendations, strength of weak ties, building trust and rapport, developing questions, listening skills and how to ask for business
  25. Provide extraordinary client service and cross-sell: what clients want, how to deliver it, ways to add value, cross-selling planning
  26. Develop your the team: leadership, team building, motivating younger lawyers, supervision and feedback

What else can I do to help you?


Suppose for the moment that we will be working together in 2017. Suppose  we will have a one hour coaching session every other month. The first thing we would work on would be your 2017 Business Plan. To help you get started, here’s an exercise.

Exercise 1:

Title: Establish Your Goals

Duration: 30 Minutes

Instructions: Begin by brainstorming potential goals. Think about what you want to achieve, clients you want to serve, the type of work you want to do more of, what you want to experience, what you want to learn. After you have completed your list, think about and write down why each draft goal is important to you and when you answer, think about and write down why your answer is important to you.

In other words seek to determine what is motivating you to achieve the draft goal. From your list, determine which goal is your major definite purpose/most important goal. Based on understanding why achieving other draft goals is important, decide on which of the others should be part of your plan.

Exercise 2:

Title: Develop Your Action Steps

Duration: 15 minutes

Instructions: For each goal determine the actions you will need and want to take to achieve the goal. Additionally for each goal, determine what action step you will take in the next week.

Exercise 3:

Title: Begin Work on Your Plan

Duration: 15 minutes

Instructions: Determine how much time you plan to commit to non-billable activities over the next year. Then determine how much of that time you will spend on your professional development, firm activities, pro bono services and client development. For each category, prepare a draft list of action items you could do in the allocated time.

Here is a 2017 Business Plan Template you can use for your plan.



This week we finish the first half of 2016. It’s gone by really quickly. What have you been doing with your non-billable time in the first three months?

In 2008, I posted a blog The Will to Prepare To Win. I noted that most lawyers I know enjoy the opportunities to serve clients and help those clients achieve their goals. I certainly enjoyed that part of my practice. Yet, many lawyers do not have the will to prepare to get those opportunities they enjoy.

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Recently I gave a presentation to about 50 young lawyers. I began as I frequently do by asking:

How many of you have a business plan or development plan and written goals for this year?

Five lawyers raised their hands. How about you? Do you have a written plan for this year?

I am always searching for ways to convince young lawyers to prepare a business plan. Several years ago, I conducted a Planning for Success in 2010 webinar. I think about 500 lawyers participated.

I talked about how I did my plan from the time I was a young lawyer.

My plan included my own development and client development. I did it from the top (goals) to the bottom (non-billable hours) and bottom (non-billable hours) to the top (goals). I had to do it both ways because I had to choose among activities I wanted to do to achieve my goals.

For each goal I asked why it was important to achieve it and if I did not have a good answer, I reconsidered the goal.

For the goals that survived the why question, I prepared detail actions. Then, each 90 days I would list the actions for that quarter. Finally, I planned the activities I would do each week.

My 2016 planning presentation slides are available on SlideShare here.

One more thing: Preparing a plan is part of my career workbook shown above- Prepare to Win. Click on the title and you will have a sample of the book. You can get the Kindle version on Amazon here for only $2.99.

Want a fairly concise idea on how to set goals you will actually achieve? Here goes.

When I teach or coach lawyers, I like to play the Curly video from City Slickers. It’s the One Thing video.

Figuring out your “one thing” is the beginning point of long range planning. But, that is not enough.

You won’t stick with it unless you also identify the benefits of achieving that “one thing.” I call it the answer to the “Why” question. Why is achieving it important to you.

I suspect every reader knows that as an associate handling litigation for the partners in my small law firm, I decided I wanted to focus on and represent construction contractors building highways, bridges, airports and rail.

I clearly understood the benefit to me.

  • First, I am far more comfortable knowing a lot about a little rather than a little about a lot.
  • Second, at the time, the highway construction program across the US was growing leaps and bounds. So, I would be working with a growing industry.
  • Third, I knew of no construction lawyers who were focused that narrowly on transportation construction. So, I could become known as the “go-to” lawyer in that narrow field.
  • Finally, I loved being out on construction projects and working with construction contractors on those projects.

What is the one thing you want to achieve or become in five years? More importantly, what will be the benefit to you of achieving that one thing?

Recently I did a program for a law firm and began by asking the lawyers:

How many of you prepared a written business plan with goals for 2015?

Only a few lawyers raised their hands. So, suppose I ask you:

Did you have a business plan for 2015?

I have posted several blogs over the years trying to encourage and convince you to prepare a plan. Here are a couple of quotes I like:

Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare. Japanese Proverb

Most people aim at nothing and hit it with amazing accuracy. Jim Cathcart

I hope those quotes convince you. One more thing: The two most important assets you have are your time and your energy. If you have no plan, how do you know if you are using those assets wisely?

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My next post will give you further ideas on preparing your 2016 Business Plan.

I’m in Toronto today where I confess, it’s a little colder than I expected when I looked in my closet and purposely left my topcoat at home.

I’m speaking to lawyers this week on planning, a timely topic as we are reaching the end of the year.

How can a young lawyer develop an effective plan? First, keep in mind that as Dwight D. Eisenhower said after the D Day invasion:

Plans are nothing, planning is everything.

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The thought that goes into developing the plan is invaluable. In order to make the planning process valuable, you might answer questions including:

  1. What is your target market?
  2. What steps have you taken to understand your target market’s industry and business?
  3. What are the problems, opportunities, external and internal changes your target market is facing, or better yet, will likely face in 2016?
  4. What solutions can you offer?
  5. What makes you unique and able to add value to your clients better than your competitors?
  6. What do you consider to be areas where you could improve?
  7. What client development efforts have you made in 2015? Which were successful? What was the greatest return for the least investment of time?
  8. What do you perceive as obstacles to your client development success (either firm or self-imposed)?
  9. What have you done to expand relationships further with your existing clients?
  10. What is the one thing you can do that you are not doing now that would have the greatest impact on your client development efforts?

Want more thoughts on Planning? Take a look at these 2010 Blog Posts where lawyers I coached explained how they were creating their plans for the next year.

Do you by chance remember which was my most read blog in 2013? On December 31, that year I posted my Top 10 most read blog posts. Number 1 on the list was Want a great example of a 30 days and 90 days plan?  Tricia DeLeon shared her 30 days and 90 days plan.

A couple of weeks ago, Tricia shared her 30 days and 50 days plan with me and gave me permission to share it with you.

Cordell, I would appreciate your thoughts on these planning actions. Your post today inspired me to finalize them! Talk to you this afternoon.

By March 1, 2015:

  1. Confirm 6 other members for women’s networking group.
  2. Start Linked In Group for networking group.
  3. Set up individual lunches with 4 of the women group.
  4. Revise law review article on Daubert challenges for financial experts.
  5. Meet with client to have him insert portion to law review article.
  6. Meet with communications director to find best place to publish article (will do on 2/9).
  7. Revise firm’s webpage material on financial institutions litigation (due 2/13).
  8. Update PowerPoint on Avoiding Lender Liability for American Bankers Association (due 2/20).
  9. Invite Leadership Dallas committee to celebration dinner after Feb. 6th class day.

By April 1, 2015:

  1. Schedule second women’s networking group and formulate substantive agenda.
  2. Schedule 2 other individual lunches with network members.
  3. Schedule 4 meals with existing clients.
  4. Get Daubert article published.
  5. Finalize financial institutions litigation materials for firm.
  6. Practice ABA speech in front of colleagues.
  7. Update LinkedIn page with new picture and recent speeches, articles.
  8. Schedule at least 1-3 other meetings with new bank clients for lender liability talk.

What do you suppose I told her about her plan? I said it looked really good and I had one suggestion I thought would make it more powerful. I suggested that after each action item, Tricia add: “If I accomplish this action, I will…” I wanted her to caption why accomplishing the action was important for her.

During December I am focusing on Planning for 2015 and including ideas from lawyers I coach. In Tricia’s blog post below, I have updated her photo and her ideas for 2015.

Tricia DeLeon is a partner in the Dallas Bracewell Giuliani office and is an attorney whom I have coached and mentored. As you will see below, her business plan for 2015 focuses on her life priorities.

I am preparing my 2012 business plan by listing my big goals and then thinking about what small steps I can do each quarter to achieve my goals. I like Cordell’s approach of organizing and dividing my business plan into several categories. My plan will include 7 categories:

  1. Spiritual;
  2. Family;
  3. Mental/Personal Growth;
  4. Firm/Professional Development;
  5. Physical;
  6. Fun; and,
  7. Financial.

I will have a few big goals listed under each category that I hope to accomplish in 2015. Some of the categories I’ve selected may not seem relevant to a “business” plan, but for me to succeed in my profession, I also have to try to achieve balance and growth in other areas of my life.

This year I’m also thinking about who can help me and keep me accountable for achieving my goals. For instance, My 2015 fitness goals include,  completing 150 hot yoga classes in the year and continue to run at least 5-10 miles a week with my girlfriends. If I have a friend or group working with me to achieve a goal, the more likely I am to do it. And, similar to the training schedule for the marathon, I hope to take small, consistent steps toward accomplishing my big goals in all 7 categories for 2015.

Over the years I have been frequently asked: How can build my practice and become a top rainmaker in my firm? 

I always say that is a great question. It’s natural to ask that question because when you are a rainmaker you have control over your destiny, you feel in high demand both by your clients and by your firm and you have the most coveted asset a lawyer can have-clients and a book of business.

Many young lawyers don’t know where to start or how to best spend their time. Are you one of those lawyers? If so you are not alone. Let me offer some thoughts for you.

Start Here: Decide What You Want to Achieve

The first step for you is to discover what you want and then create a plan to achieve it. How did I do it?

If you are a regular reader you know that in 1978 I decided I wanted to become the preeminent transportation (highways/air/rail) construction lawyer in the United States and I developed a plan to achieve it. When I started I had a long way to go because I had never done any work for a transportation construction contractor.

Next: Create an Effective Business Plan

When I prepared my business plan for that year and every year thereafter,  I did both a top down approach and a bottom up approach. In the top down I wrote down all the actions I wanted to take.

I still have my  1999 business plan. I saw that it included workshops for four clients, presentations at four construction association conventions or meetings, my monthly Roads and Bridges magazine column and visits to 20 construction contractor clients.

In my bottom up approach I decided how non-billable much time I would devote to client development and estimated how much time each of my action items would take. I broke my plan down into 90 Days Plans and then further broke it down to a weekly plan. Each week I planned my client development activities and I tried to do something, no matter how small an activity, each day. 

Build Your Profile: Writing and Speaking to Get Hired

Most rainmakers have built their profile and focused on becoming the “go to” lawyer in their field. Look at their bios. You can build your profile by writing and speaking. Whenever you find something your clients need to know, write an article or a blog post. When you do identify a problem or opportunity and offer a solution.

Your goal in writing articles or blog posts is to have your potential clients see you as the person to handle the solution.

Make Your Presentations to Business Clients Different Than Other Lawyers

I urge you to make your presentations to business clients different than other lawyers. Many lawyers think, write and speak linearly. As a result, they give the audience the history of Swiss watch making in a series of incredibly wordy and boring PowerPoint slides when the audience really just wants to know the time.

Make your presentation more like a rock concert. Start strong and end strong and have your audience wanting to hear more from you. Make your slides visual and when possible includes some multi-media. Engage your audience by asking questions and getting them involved. 

Finally: Build Relationships

Client development is also about building relationships. As a starting point, become more focused on your contacts. You should not have random lunches with contacts when you can’t find anyone in your office with whom to eat lunch.

 Clients typically narrow their choice of lawyers based on reputation, but they hire based on how well you connect with them. When you meet in person you have a very short time to develop trust and rapport. There is a way to do it and it begins by generally caring about the other person. 

So, What’s the Bottom Line?

You can become a rainmaker. Do it by planning your time wisely, developing your profile and reputation and building relationships. What else can I do to help you?

You can start your own client development networking group. That is what Holly Draper did after a presentation I gave to the Collin County Bar Association.

I wrote about the presentation in my blog: Small Firm and Solo Lawyers: This One is for You and I posted my slides from the presentation on SlideShare: Client Development for 2014 and Beyond.

Holly is a family law lawyer and writes a Family Law Blog. Holly and her husband Rob, have two children, Abby and Jake, and a golden retriever, Sophie. She is active in her church, enjoys playing and watching sports and loves to travel.


After learning about the coaching group she started, I asked Holly to share her idea with you.

Back in January, I attended the Collin County Bar Association’s “Making Your Practice Work” seminar. I’ll admit that I did not have the highest of hopes for the seminar, but everyone needs their CLE credit, right? So, I went, and boy was I glad I did!

Overall, the speakers were fantastic, with a lot of great information on such topics as using technology in the courtroom, e-filing and Cordell’s presentation on client development.

I started my own practice back in 2008, and things have gone just fine. I never had a business plan, and I puttered along with just enough business to pay the mortgage and take the occasional vacation. My business never soared, though. After listening to Cordell’s talk, I left the seminar really motivated to put a plan into action and make my business flourish.

One of the ideas that Cordell suggested was to brainstorm 25 ideas for client development. Twenty-five ideas should be a piece of cake, right? Wrong. The first five ideas came easily, but I really had to dig to get even close to 25. (I confess, I actually only came up with 22 ideas.)

Cordell’s next suggestion was to put those ideas into categories based on the amount of work required and the potential return for each idea. Several of my ideas were to get involved with various networking groups, but in the past, the return for my time just was not there. Those ideas made it to the scrap heap.

I realized that most of my quality referrals came from other attorneys, but I was not aware of any networking groups specifically for attorneys besides the bar associations. Nothing against the bar associations, but they usually have family law attorneys coming out of the woodwork. I really was not sure that would be the greatest place for me to grow my business.

Out of my brainstorming, I came up with the idea to start an attorney networking group, with the membership limited to one attorney per practice area. I put a post on Facebook to see if anyone else might be interested. Immediately, several attorneys said they wanted in.

Next, I had the receptionist at my virtual office e-mail the other attorneys at the office to see if they were interested. Sure enough, several of them were. As I put the word out through various avenues, the response was overwhelming. Attorneys loved the idea!

On March 6, we had the first meeting of North Texas Attorney Networking, and it was a smashing success!

Group members all agreed that we would get to know each other personally and professionally, and we would look to each other first when we needed to make a referral. Not only would this lead to more business for each of us, but it would also allow us to refer family, friends and clients to excellent attorneys that we actually know in other areas of law.

This idea is just in its infancy, and we are still working out the kinks and figuring out the best way to move forward. But, after just one meeting, I can confidently say that this brainstorm generated a winner!

Holly has created both a networking group and a coaching group. I am convinced that the lawyers in her group will share their successes, their challenges and their opportunities. In the process, they will get to know each other, help each other stay focused and have fun together. If you can’t participate in one of my coaching groups, try this and I will be happy to help you.