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?

As you know, I spent a month living at Habla Hispana in San Miguel de Allende. Here is a link where you can get a feel for the residence there. The first floor was a spacious kitchen and living area. My room was on the second floor along with another room occupied by two of my fellow classmates. On the third floor another suite was occupied by a student in a more advanced class.

That living arrangement was like living in a dorm having your own room or like when I spent seven weeks living in visiting officer quarters when I was in the Air Force. Over the month living at the school I developed lasting relationships with my classmates.

It made me think back about building lasting, authentic relationships. Here are questions and thoughts.

Answer these questions:

  • At a networking event should you be interesting or interested?
  • On Facebook should you be interesting or interested?
  • When you meet with a potential client should you be interesting or interested?

A few years ago, Seth Godin posted a bblog titled Interesting & Interested, suggesting  it is important to be both and asked why it is so difficult. He didn’t say it this way, but my take is most people try so hard to be interesting, that they are neither interesting nor interested.

woman_man_dinner_rs.jpgSeth’s blog reminded me of the story of a young English lady eating dinner in successive nights with Gladstone and Disraeli. I believe I first read the story in one of Stephen Covey’s books. According to the story, the young lady reported:

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.

Do you want to do more reading on building authentic relationships? I recently found a Fast Company blog that was posted two years ago. The Art of Building and Maintaining Authentic Relationships. I think you will find four tips of the advice in the blog valuable.

 

Well, I’m finally back home from San Miguel de Allende, the city awarded best in the world by Travel and Leisure. I’ve been told that the number of searches for San Miguel de Allende since the award is incredible.

I am happy to be home, but, I miss the great learning experience at Habla Hispana, the  $1.20 lattes, inexpensive meals, watching 100s of families gather at El Jardin, buying vegetables and street corn from the same vendors at the Mercado.

But, most of all I miss the local people I met and my classmates, who like me poured their heart out  learning to speak and understand Spanish.

San Miguel’s award: Best in the World, and what is likely to follow made me recall Seth Godin.

Being best in the world is seriously underrated.

is Seth Godin’s opening line from his book: “The Dip.” He talked about it in this video, as one of his 10 rules.

He says the only way to win is to be talked about. People do not talk about average companies,  or average law firms.

What is being the best lawyer in the world? It is simply being the best is in the eyes of your clients and potential clients. They define what best means. For most legal work, “best” does not mean literally the best. It means “best” at the time, “best” value, “best” for the particular matter.

Since the big recession, business clients have redefined “best in the world. In many cases it is no longer big law firms whose associates billing rates are $300-$500 an hour. If your firm is not one of those pricey ones, what are you doing to become visible to the large companies that are looking for more value for their money? Do you know who the influencers are for those large companies? Do you know what they read?

Business Section of Paper

You won’t be very successful by trying to sell those clients. Everyone is trying to sell them, so they will not believe what you say. You will be more successful by showing them.

Suppose a General Counsel of a large company came to your law firm website. What do you suppose she would be looking for? Do you suppose she would find it on your website, or is your website just like every other law firm’s site?

I recently read a Seth Godin post: Who are we seeking to become?

I particularly like this quote:

The difference between who you are now and who you were five years ago is largely due to how you’ve spent your time along the way.

I coached a successful lawyer who decided to focus her time on her family, church, health and law practice/clients. As you might imagine she accomplished a great deal in each of those categories.

With coaching and law firm consulting work at almost a standstill, I’m focusing my time on becoming fluent in Spanish, becoming a better novelist and becoming a better golfer.

I’m actually in San Miguel de Allende in a Habla Hispana Spanish Immersion class.

Habla Hispana

Yesterday, I went to class with five other beginners from 8:30 to 1:00. Three teachers worked with us and it was intense learning for an old guy like me. I had to listen very carefully.

I arrived on Saturday and moved into my room on the second floor at the school. On Sunday morning, I was awake at 6:00. I tried to go back to sleep, but…Around 6:45 Needing coffee, I searched to see if any coffee shops were open and discovered one near the El Jardín plaza opened at 7:30. (Starbucks opens at 8:00 AM on los domingos.)

When I arrived at 7:30, I I took this photo of El Jardín and the Parrish Church of San Miguel. The coffee shop was open,  but they hadn’t started making coffee. I sat waiting for 15 minutes and finally gave up and walked back to Via Organic  near Habla Hispana. Francisco fixed me a latte and I learned he had moved back to San Miguel from Los Angeles to help his aunt run the business.

La Jardin

 

To get a full appreciation of how beautiful the Parrish Church is, here is better photo.

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Believe it or not, I’m nervous about this experience. I’ve taken a Spanish class here in Dallas and I have a tutor. The first thing I realized is I probably have not focused on memorizing things since I took the Bar Exam in 1971. That’s a lot of years between memorizing things.

I’ve been asked why I want to learn Spanish. My father spoke fluent Spanish. He loved Mexico, and when I was 12, we traveled by car all the way from Chicago to Acapulco. If you think about Chevy Chase and the Vacation movies, we would have a good one on that trip.

My son-in-law’s first language is Spanish and Nancy and I travel to Mexico regularly. All of our friends who live there speak English. We love them and I want to speak to them in their language. Will I be able…? I’ll try my best and let you know.

If you’ve never been to San Miguel de Allende, I recommend it. The weather is never too cold or too warm. Many Americans and Canadians live there.  Check out Living, Working, Retiring in San Miguel de Allende. There are two golf courses, so I  have my golf clubs with me. But, having sat through class one day, I can picture the golf clubs remaining in my travel bag,

I’m determined to learn Spanish. The teachers here are awesome, but I know it will take more than my four weeks of intensive learning. I wonder if I’ll be able to write a blog in Spanish when I return.

 

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?

Bpeople smiling SS 105067544

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.