Greetings from Phoenix, where unless you live here, it’s hard to imagine how hot it is outside. I’m coaching lawyers here and one topic we have been discussing is how each lawyer can become a “go to” lawyer in his or her field.

Do you remember a blog I posted: Lawyers: Being the Best in the World is Seriously Underrated ?

 The title is based on  Seth Godin’s quote: “Being the best in the world is seriously under rated.” The world in this case is being seen by your target market as being the best at something they need.

My first target market was commercial businesses, then I narrowed it to the construction industry. A few years later I further narrowed my target market to highway, heavy civil construction contractors.

At the time, that was a fast growing industry due to Interstate construction throughout the United States. Narrowing my focus was one of the most important things I ever did.

You might be thinking that focusing on an industry may not work for you. If you are, I urge you to reconsider, because the more narrow your focus, the more likely you can be “best in that world.”

Forbes recently published: The 10 Fastest-Growing Industries in The US. Take a look. Reading it almost made me return to my law practice and put my guides pictured below on social media.

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Which industries are growing fast, but are not over crowded with lawyers seeking to serve those businesses? If you find one with those characteristics and one you would be passionate about representing, you can become the “go to lawyer.”

As you might imagine, I read dozens of blogs written by lawyers at least one time. What causes  your dream potential client to go back and read a second, third, fourth post and subscribe?

If we’ve worked together, you already know the answer.  Your potential client is looking for three things when he or she reads a blog written by a lawyer:

  1. Does the blog help him with his business?
  2. Does the blogger know her stuff?
  3. Is the blogger someone he or she would like to know?

Seth Godin posted recently: Microcopy in the age of a glance It’s worth a moment to read it. He points out that today, most people rarely get to the end of what you have written. He’s right.

If you read on, you’ll find he describes the importance of being human and being confident.

If your dream client read your blog for the first time today, would he or she see those two important elements?

Recently I wrote Client Development Coaching: You will learn what will work for you. A lawyer I coach read the post and asked me for examples she might borrow to find her own best approach.

I am an example of a lawyer who narrowed my focus to an industry. Seth Godin blogged about narrowing focus marketing approach in Un essaim de puces.

As you know, I began my client development efforts as a commercial litigator. I struggled to figure out how I could market myself. I was flailing away marketing to everyone. Unfortunately for me, there were several older and better known commercial litigators in my home town.

I changed my focus and narrowed my target market to highway and transportation construction contractors. It was by far the most important decision I made in my career. I actually widened my practice, to include contracts and every day advice. I narrowed my client base so I could be more valuable as a trusted advisor.

So, if you are marketing to everyone and not finding any success, you can narrow your focus to a smaller group, find a niche practice, or continue marketing to a wider audience. Whatever approach, use the tools, like blogging to widen your visibility.

 

Parvin Dad.pngMy dad’s birthday is tomorrow, March  31. If he was alive he would have been 106 today. He passed away in 1980.

My dad was an artist, a photographer, a musician, and an entrepreneur. He loved fishing and hunting. He also loved fixing sports cars.

I never gave him the chance to teach me to draw, paint or carve. I was too busy playing baseball, basketball and football. He tried to teach me to play the piano, but I wouldn’t practice so he gave up.

When I was a teenager, my dad frequently towed home sports cars that he repaired in our garage and resold. I remember the first car was a green Jaguar XK 120. He frequently tried to get me to work on the cars with him. I tried, but I got bored quickly and went back to playing baseball.

Looking back now, I can say that while I was passionate about playing baseball, hunting, fishing and working on cars together are father-son experiences we could have shared for a lifetime. I missed an opportunity.

Even though I never gave him the chance to teach me to be an artist, I believe he unknowingly taught me about art and drawing in a way that made me a better lawyer and that is the point I want for you to get from this post.

Seth Godin talks about making art. He says it has three elements:

  1. Art is made by a human being.
  2. Art is created to have an impact, to change someone else.
  3. Art is a gift. You can sell the souvenir, the canvas, the recording… but the idea itself is free, and the generosity is a critical part of making art.

Daniel Pink, in his book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, describes taking a week long drawing class and being taught that drawing is about seeing relationships between positive space and negative space, light and shadow, angles and proportions.

In a  blog posted a few years ago, Pencil as a Power Tool Daniel Pink talked about drawing again. He said drawing:

is a terrific way to develop the aptitude of Symphony, the ability to put together seemingly unrelated pieces to create something new.

I believe my dad taught me to see things others did not see. I had a unique interest in anticipating what might impact my clients. I believe I had the aptitude of Symphony. Lawyers I coach have heard me suggest many times to:

  1. Identify a client problem, opportunity or change before the client does
  2. Create a remarkable solution
  3. Give it away

That is what making art as a lawyer is all about. If you are not making art, consider taking a drawing class or a photography class and focus on relationships of things to other things. Then, diligently read business news and industry publications.

Are you making art as a lawyer? If your father is still alive, what experiences are you sharing?

Seth Godin posted a really short, to the point interesting blog on January 20. The title: Everyone is better than you are… Take a moment to read it, at least the last line because in that one sentence he describes how to be successful at client development.

His blog reminds me of his book: Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

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He makes many great, thought provoking points in the book. Here is one of them:

Perhaps your challenge isn’t finding a better project or a better boss. Perhaps you need to get in touch with what it means to feel passionate. People with passion look for ways to make things happen.

And here is another, explaining what it takes to be a linchpin.

The combination of passion and art is what makes someone a linchpin.

When I was a young associate, a partner in my first firm unknowingly gave me about the best piece of advice I have ever received. He said:

Cordell, you are a very smart lawyer. After all you finished third in your law school class. But, smart lawyers graduate from law school every year and they are easily replaced by other smart lawyers. Your success in this firm will depend more on how well you attract, retain and expand relationships with clients. Lawyers with those skills are indispensable.

Are you busy doing the work for senior lawyers in your firm and hoping they appreciate your work so much that it will be ok for you to never have clients of your own? I hope not. If you want to become indispensable:

  1. What are you learning about client development?
  2. What are you doing to attract new clients?
  3. What are you doing to exceed your clients expectations and create value for them?
  4. What are you doing to build relationships with your clients and with partners in your law firm?
  5. What are you doing to become a linchpin?

Seth Godin recently posted: Not enough ‘if’ or not enough ‘then’? Take a look at it.

How does it apply to you? Lawyers rarely have an ‘if” problem, because when clients need a lawyers help, they need the help.

But, lawyers frequently have a ‘then’ problem. You must demonstrate to your potential clients that ‘you’ are the lawyer they should hire. How can you do that?

I have written many times that you should understand your clients’ business and industry. Your potential clients rarely know whether you are a top notch lawyer, but they always know if you understand their business and industry.

 

A lawyer I am coaching asked a great question.

What was the greatest return on your investment of time?

Time is Money

For me that answer is an easy one. I wrote a monthly column for Roads and Bridges magazine titled: “LAW: The Contractor’s Side” each month for almost 25 years.

I chose the title of the column purposely. I wanted to convey that I represented contractors.

Here are a couple of columns I wrote:

At the Risk of Sounding False:I wrote this column after the Enron and Worldcom cases because I knew it was more important than ever for contractors to focus on business ethics.

Traveling the Measured Mile: I wrote this column to share with contractors how they needed to prove their damages when their project was delayed by the owner.

Why was writing this column such a great return on investment and what is the lesson for you?

  • The column was one page long, so I was not writing a law review article. I spent more time searching for the best topic than writing the column about it.
  • My photo was included with the column, which made it more personal. Contractors got to know me and they were interested in learning from the column.
  • Perhaps most importantly, the magazine was read by virtually everyone in the road and bridge construction industry.

Seth Godin has written about the importance of shipping it in his blog post Unrealized projects. In the post Godin writes:

One key element of a successful artist: ship. Get it out the door. Make things happen.

So, to get the greatest return on your investment of time, write short pieces often, write them on a regular basis, include your photo and then get what you write as widely distributed as possible.

 

 

I have spent a career reading non-fiction. I haven’t updated it recently, but here is my  Recommended Reading 2016. (Really 2013)

In 2013 I wrote There’s a Book For That with short summaries of several of my favorites.

Why do authors like Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin, Daniel Pink and so many others appeal to me? They entertain me, primarily with stories and in the process I learn something.

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For example, have you read Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point, or his book Outliers? Especially if you haven’t read it, here is my article: Tipping Point for Lawyers article.

Have you read Daniel Pink’s: To Sell is Human? Especially if you haven’t here is my blog: Recommended Reading: To Sell is Human.

Have you read Seth Godin’s book Linchpin? In the book he talks about our Lizard Brain to sabotages us. I wrote about it in Client Development: Self Sabotage.

The writers are writing on different subjects, but they share one thing in common. They are master storytellers and that is why we keep reading.

I’ve written about that skill many times. Here’s just one example: Client Development: One Incredibly Important Skill to Work On.

If you want readers to keep reading your blog, become a master storyteller. If you are a lawyer I coach, I’ve shared with you blogs I like because I feel like I just met the blogger for coffee after reading his or her blog post.

Do you want to dive into this subject further? Read: The Story Grid Spreadsheet for The Tipping Point and the follow on blog posts where Shawn Coyne explains why The Tipping Point works as a series of stories.

Finally, you may know I did a Webinar last week for MyCase.  Here is a link to Webinar Recap: Build Your Practice Through Blogging.

Seth Godin posted a blog recently simply titled Effort. I urge you to read it and subscribe to his blog.

In the post he asked:

What does it mean to try your best?

Then he suggests:

The trick: don’t redefine trying. Redefine the circumstances.

Lawyers I coach frequently ask me:

How did you find time for all the non-billable career development and client development efforts you made?

I remind them I didn’t “find” it. I “made” time. My circumstances demanded it.

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For the majority of my career I practiced law in a small firm, as small as three lawyers when we started in 1983. My family depended on me to make time for client development. If I had started my career in a big firm, I’m not sure I would have made the same effort.

I enjoy coaching lawyers in smaller firms because they share that circumstance. They can’t rely on the efforts of other lawyers or the firm’s “institutional” clients.

If you are in a big firm, use your imagination. What if your family depended on your non-billable career and client development efforts?

 

“Being the best in the world is seriously underrated.”

I loved this quote when I first read  Seth Godin’s at book: The Dip.

What does it mean to be “the best in the world?”

First, it is being perceived as the best by your clients and potential clients. You can not become the best until you clearly understand their perceptions, and they know you understand them.

It is their world, not yours. Being the best also means clients have compared you to other lawyers they have used or met. I’ve found that comparison very interesting.

I have told this story here several times. When I was a young lawyer, I was on a plane with Mr. Burrows, the CEO of my largest client. We were on our way to Florida to try and settle a big contract dispute.

Mr. Burrows was my father’s age and since my father had passed away, I looked at him as a father figure. Mr Burrows passed away a couple of years ago and I still think about how he influenced my career.

We were in aisle seats across from each other.

Burrows

During the flight, Mr. Burrows reached over and grabbed my arm and said:

“Cordell, there is something I need for you to know. I hate every lawyer I have ever met.”

I could not think of a response. Then, Mr. Burrows grabbed my arm a second time and said:

“But, of all the lawyers I hate, I hate you the least.”

So, on that day I learned that being hated the least by a contractor was “being the best in the world.”

Later, after we had settled the case, I paused to think about what Mr. Burrows was really telling me.

I think he hated me the least because I didn’t talk like a lawyer. I talked more like a contractor who also had a legal degree.

He appreciated that he did not have to pay me to learn about the highway construction contract clauses. I had learned about them long before I did any work for his company.

I also learned that clients expect us to do the highest quality work. If we don’t, we have a far bigger problem.

Where you can differentiate yourself is through being the best in your client’s world at understanding them, their company, and their business (industry).

What are you doing to become “the best in the world” in the eyes of your clients?