Many of  you are uncomfortable selling yourself and potentially acting like a salesman. I understand. I never wanted a client to think I was acting like a salesman.

Let me share a story of a partner who paid me what he thought was the ultimate insult.

When I was the Construction Law Practice Group Leader there were two partners who, to put it kindly, were not on the same page with me. They helped me understand the meaning of the phrase:

“Leading lawyers is like herding cats.”

One year we held a practice group retreat at a ranch outside Dallas. After dinner and a few beers, one of the partners paid me what he believed would be the ultimate insult. He said:

“Cordell, you are not a real lawyer, you are nothing but a salesman.”

Sales commercialYou could have cut the tension with a knife. Other partners waited patiently for my response. I had not been drinking and I wanted to say something that would have included swear words. You likely know some of the words that I held back.

Then, I thought I should say something like:

“It’s a good thing I am a salesman because if I wasn’t you wouldn’t have anything to do when you come to the office each day.”

I decided nothing could be gained in our retreat from pointing this out. Instead, I just let his insult pass.

Later, I thought about his point. I hate any sentence that includes the words sales and lawyers. I hate to be sold anything and I know my clients and potential clients hated lawyers selling their services.

Many lawyers who struggle with client development tell me that they did not go to law school to become a salesman. I didn’t go to law school to be a salesman either. Yet, we are salesmen and saleswomen. In the end, we are always selling ourselves and our firm.

When you meet with potential clients, they are judging whether they can trust you to handle their legal matter and what it will be like working with you. They are also judging whether you are putting their interests ahead of your own.

So, the question is:

How can you instill trust, serve and build a relationship without coming across as a “salesman?”

  1. Build your profile or brand. If possible become the “go to” lawyer in some niche practice or some targeted industry market.
  2. View everyone you meet as a potential client. Treat them respectfully and become sincerely interested in them.
  3. Work on building relationships and serving, not on getting business.
  4. Think of ways to serve, help and add value at no charge.

Over the years I’ve written about stays at Ritz Carlton hotels. When I worked and could choose, I chose Ritz Carlton.

Years ago I stayed at the Philadelphia Ritz Carlton. When I checked in the person behind the desk asked:

“Mr. Parvin would it be ok with you if I gave you a room upgrade to a larger room with a view of city hall?”

I think that is a pretty effective sales approach. After all, who would say no to that?

What do you suppose your best client would say if you asked:

“Fred, would it be ok if I gave your company a day of my time at no charge?”

I believe you will get a great response.

As you know I left my law practice at the end of 2004 to coach lawyers in firms throughout America and Canada. While I took a substantial cut in income, when lawyers I coached succeeded and in many cases exceeded their own expectations of success, I felt it was very rewarding.

How can a coach help you succeed and attract, retain and expand relationships with clients? If you are one of the lawyers I coached, I bet you will recognize some ways on this list. If you do drop me a note and let me know what worked for you and how you are doing now.

  1. A coach can give you ideas of new activities to try
  2. A coach can help you clarify your own definition of success
  3. A coach can help you identify stretch goals and create an action plan to achieve them
  4. A coach can hold you accountable
  5. A coach can encourage you, keep your head in the game and push you when necessary
  6. A coach can give you feedback on what you have done

 

Your clients may have no idea whether or not you are a great lawyer, but they can easily ascertain whether or not you are focused on client service. I have written about client service several times. Take a look at my Client Service eBook.

Client Service and Cross-Selling

  1. Why clients are not satisfied with their law firms
  2. What clients want
  3. How to deliver it
  4. Client surprises you must avoid
  5. Client fees and billing expectations
  6. How to handle an upset client
  7. Ways to add value
  8. Cross-selling planning (I actually prefer Cross-serving planning)
  9. Cross-serving execution

I don’t know about you, but I found it hard to stay motivated after COVID-19 struck us and we had to stay at home in March.

Motivated Girl.jpgSo, how do you stay motivated when something outside of your control makes it more difficult? It is hard. I have been there and experienced it.

But, the answer is no secret.

You will not stay motivated by focusing on your results, especially when something outside of your control makes getting results more difficult.

.You will only be disappointed when you are not getting immediate results.

To stay motivated focus on your progress. Focus on what you are doing differently or doing better than you were in the past. If you focus on your progress, I can tell you from my own experience that you will persist and persevere until you succeed.

 

This year I am posting some activities I did with the lawyers I coached. Here are five.

In order to create an effective business/marketing plan you have to know who is your target market. Who is it that you want to hire you and your firm?

Who is your target market?
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What do you want your target market to hire you and your firm to do?
______________________________________________________________________
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How can you become more visible and credible to your target market?
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What organizations does your target market belong to?
______________________________________________________________________
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Who influences your target market?
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I am working on my third novel about my protagonist lawyer, Gabriela Sanchez. Gabriela grew up in the Rio Grande Valley where our daughter taught school, our son-in-law grew up and taught school and one of the top lawyers I mentored grew up.

I started writing the third novel in 2019 before COVID-19. The story began in late, 2019 when a seventeen-year-old girl and a sixteen-year-old girl are arrested for murder. Early in the story a priest asks Gabriela to defend the seventeen-year-old girl.

I chose those ages because because Texas is one of only a handful of states that treats seventeen-year-old defendants as adults. The seventeen-year-old’s trial was scheduled for March of 2020. But as I started the countdown to the trial in the novel, the Corona Virus changed everything. As I write this blog she girl still sits on the floor reserved for seventeen-year-olds in the Dallas County Jail, with no trial date set yet.

Gabriela is single. Each month that goes by she is more lonely, unhappy and frustrated, while her client withers away in jail. COVID-19 has impacted all of us in one way or another, but with the vaccine one can only hope we will reach a time when COVID-19 is not the cause of our unhappiness. How can you get back in the swing of things then?

Ten years ago I wrote a column in The Practical Lawyer titled: Some Practical Thoughts on Conquering Career Burnout. It is based on two books I co-authored about Tony and Gina Caruso.

In Say Ciao to Chow Mein: Conquering Career Burnout, Christina Bost Seaton and I focused on Tony, who after finishing his first year as an associate in a large Texas law firm is burned out and struggling to find meaning in his career. In Ciao, Gina loves her work as a clerk for a Federal Court judge. At the conclusion of Ciao, Tony has just been promoted to partner and he and Gina have two children.

In Rising Star: The Making of a Rainmaker, Kristi Sebalj and I focused on Gina. In this law parable business book Gina is now a partner in a mid-sized firm. She is the talk of the firm, having brought in $1 Million of business. Yet, she feels like a one-hit wonder because her success was a result of one big case from one big client.

Like the novels I have written more recently, the books are not big sellers on Amazon. I still have a few boxes of the hard copies of the books. If you firm wants a box and is willing to pay the shipping costs, contact me.

During my law and coaching career, I knew and worked with lawyers like Tony and Gina. Their characters are a composite of lawyers who have worked for me and lawyers I have been blessed to coach and mentor.

While practicing law for 35 plus years and coaching close to 1500 lawyers over many years, I studied and examined differences between lawyers who were successful and happy and lawyers who were not. Many of the successful lawyers with whom I worked or who I coached also had great personal lives and were focused on their families as a top priority.

What does it take? Here is what I discovered. Lawyers who are both successful and happy:

  • Take control their careers and destiny
  • Know what they want
  • Develop a plan to accomplish it and take action to achieve their goals
  • Build relationships
  • Work on making a contribution to a cause greater than themselves.

If you have the time, get to know Tony and Gina. You will see some of the same challenges you face and some of the same opportunities you have. As you will see, you can conquer career burnout by following the ideas above.

 

In my last post I suggested that to get ready for 2021 you ask your self four questions.

In this blog I want to supplement my questions with the four Ps.

  1. Picture Your Ideal Life
  2. Prioritize
  3. Plan
  4. Perform

While I coached lawyers on each of these steps, it took listening to a podcast to remind me.

When I walk our dog Stella I usually listen to either a book or a podcast. Over the holidays I narrowed my library of podcasts by deleting many I had subscribed to on true crime. I wanted instead to easily assess the podcasts on writing fiction.

While walking Stella on a cold and dreary New Years Day I listened to the Red Sneakers Podcast hosted by New York Times best selling novelist, William Bernhardt. In the podcast, Bernhardt mentioned the Four Ps for success listed above. Unfortunately I couldn’t tell if Sarah Cannon or Sarra Cannon, both writers should get the attribution.

Picture Your Ideal Life: Remember my five questions blog? Answering those questions can give you some idea on the first P above.

Prioritize: I have written numerous blog post suggesting it is a myth to seek work-life balance. Instead I suggested focusing on your priorities. See for example: The Key to 2015: Schedule Your Priorities and Do the One Most Important Thing.

Plan: Have you created a plan for 2021? For January, 2021? For January 1-8, 2021, for January 5th? If you haven’t and you want to get started, take a look at Business/Career Planning: If You Are Still Stuck-Here’s Help and the links within the blog.

Perform: Plans are meaningless without performance. You must find ways to compel yourself to take the actions in your plans. Here is a blog I wrote with some thoughts on that subject: Your Key To Success: Turn Your Goals into Actions.

 

In 2021, I am posting activities I did with the lawyers I coached.

When I was a young lawyer, I looked ahead five years when I prepared a business plan, visualizing where I wanted to be in my career and life.

When I coached lawyers I suggested that they set goals by looking ahead five years, but create actions for the year, ninety days, one month, one week, the next day.

In January 2026 (five years from now):

Where are you living? ____________________________________________________

If you have children, how old are they? _____________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________

What kind of legal work are you doing? ______________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________

What kind of clients are you serving? ________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________

How much business are you generating? _____________________________________

Over the Christmas weekend I watched The Bee Gees documentary on HBO Max.

There were at least three things that amazed me.

  1. Their first hits I remember came out more than 50 years ago.
  2. They reinvented themselves at least three times. The last time was when disco music became toxic and the “disco sucks” movement took hold of Mid-America, with a night of bedlam at Comiskey Park in Chicago. They received death threats.
  3. They wrote well-known songs recorded by other artists. See: 8 songs you didn’t know were written by Barry Gibb and the Bee Gees

As you may know, John Travolta owes a great deal of his success to The Bee Gees.

What does that have to do with law? If your career lasts as long as mine, you’ll most likely have to reinvent yourself.

Reinventing yourself means taking risks. I know I did it more than once. After leaving the United States Air Force and starting work in my first law firm, I was a “commercial” litigator and also handled insurance defense cases. I knew as early as two years later that the legal market was changing and I had to change with it or rot on the vine. I purposely left a practice I had established myself in to a practice I had to both learn and development.

As I may have shared, I am writing my third novel. I started writing in 2019 and the story started in 2019. I originally planned for the trial to take place in 2020. In fact, I picked a Monday in March for the trial.

Guess what? I am not aware of any jury trials taking place in Dallas after March 12, 2020. I believe trials are now being scheduled for January, 2021 and beyond. My protagonist, Gabriela Sanchez may have to reinvent herself. Will the jury wear masks, be seated six-feet apart and have plexiglas protecting them. How about witnesses? Will witnesses be wearing masks? Will they be protected by plexiglas? Isn’t it likely judges and juries will be less patient than before?

What will change in your law practice in 2021? Will you have to reinvent yourself.

If you want to learn more about reinventing yourself in difficult times, see: 5 Strategies for Reinventing Your Career in Uncertain Times

A lawyer worked for me many years ago. I doubt he reads my blog, but even so I will call him Pete rather than his real name.

Pete was a really bright lawyer. He was a litigator. When a case came to Pete he might tell the client it was a very strong case. As time passed sometimes on the courthouse steps, Pete told his client they should settle the case. Pete was so afraid of losing that he felt compelled to settle every case.

None of you want to lose a case, a transaction, or a client. If you’ve had that experience, the photo below might look like a familiar scene.

When I lost a case, or worse yet a client, it hurt, really hurt. Each time I failed it was like putting a dagger in my heart. Yet, now many years later, I believe my failures made me a better lawyer helped me clarify what I would focus on and strive to become.

I was thinking about fear of failing while watching a video clip of J.K. Rowling speaking at a Harvard graduation. As you will see and hear, she failed early in her career. But, that failure in part made her the well known author she is today. In her presentation she said:

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.

As some of you know, when I turned 21 in 1968,  Robert Kennedy was running for President. I strongly believed he could bring the country together at a time when we were very divided. (Does that sound familiar in 2020?)

I watched many of his speeches during his short campaign that ended in his assassination. I repeat many of his quotes from those speeches. One I particularly like is:

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”

Last, but certainly not least is the one minute video of Michael Jordan. You’ve probably seen it, but it’s worth another minute to remember what he said.

Don’t let your fear of failing hold you back.