When I practiced law, I wanted the lawyers who worked with me to not be content. I wanted them to not think they had arrived. I wanted them to strive to become a better lawyer each day.

Now that I am recruiting lawyers for firms that I know and respect, I hope to find lawyers who share those traits.

I was never content. Over my many years, I would wake up in the middle of the night and worry about continuing to create a pipeline of work to keep myself and others in my practice group busy.

I always had matters in the works, but my practice generated a few very large matters rather than many small ones. So the development of these matters came at their own pace, not always the pace I wanted.

I told my friends and colleagues I had “healthy paranoia.” I believe most super successful people have it.

They are successful in part because they feel the strong need inside to be successful and they worry when things are not going just the way they want them.

If you look at the quote above, you will likely see the connection. Having healthy paranoia is a key to greater success. It will cause you to think more creatively. But, paranoia goes from healthy to unhealthy easily and unhealthy paranoia will cripple you. Don’t let that happen to you.

As you may know, I wrote a book called Rising Star about a lawyer who had healthy paranoia.

 

I met with a friend recently who shared with me the challenge of thinking about the future beyond this year. I understood because I coached lawyers who rarely thought about the future beyond the next week unless it was about a planned vacation.

Way back in 2006, I gave a presentation to the Texas State Bar Young Lawyers Association (TYLA). The title of the program was “Crossroads, Mapping out the Rest of Your Career.”

I liked the title because for me “crossroads” meant a defining moment and “mapping” meant the young lawyers would focus on a destination and the road to get there. I also wrote an article on the same subject for the Texas State Bar Journal. Here is the link.

I began by asking how many in the audience were completely satisfied with where they were in their career. Very few raised their hand. Then I talked about the future and what would be the appropriate map.

For too many of us, the road and the destination would be clear if we would simply take the time to consider our future.

So, take some time today and figure out if you’re working towards a goal, or being called to it. You might be happily surprised with your answer.

If you have several million dollars in originations each year, you likely won’t need a business plan when you are seeking to change firms. (I suspect not many of those lawyers are regular readers of this blog, but…)

If you are like most other potential lateral partners, you want to able to demonstrate your potential. The first step in that effort is your business plan. You should prepare a business plan even if you are happy and content with your present firm. It will help you be more successful.

Why and how? In 2018, your time is really important, and for your own professional success and personal fulfillment, you should use your time wisely.

Preparing a business plan will help you prioritize how you spend your time, focus your attention on the important things and execute. With no plan, you will find it easy not to do anything other than the billable work that is on your desk.

If we worked together, you may recall I said that many lawyers spend more time planning a vacation than they spend planning their careers. Interestingly, the approach to planning can be similar.

What can we learn from our 30th Anniversary Trip to Ireland in 2000? (Can’t believe we are honing in on the big number 50 in two years.)

Start with Answering What and Why

Nancy, spent at least 20 hours planning this trip for us. She decided she wanted us to go to Ireland and she knew why.

Her family came to the United States from Ireland and she also knew she would enjoy the people, the scenery, the golf courses, the Irish beef cooked by French Chefs and the Irish Pubs serving Irish beer. So, she knew what and why. Then she planned where we would stay, where we would play golf and the itinerary for each day.

I like to say she did a top-down and bottom-up plan. Her top-down plan was looking at what she wanted us to do and where she wanted us to go. Her bottom-up plan looked at how many days we would spend and what we could do in that number of days. Then she had a plan for each day we were there.

When I practiced law, I prepared my business plan the same way and you should also.

I started with one major goal. My goal long ago was to become the “go to” lawyer for transportation construction contractors.

Why was that important to me?

First, I was far more comfortable knowing a lot about a little than I would have been knowing a little about a lot. I wanted to be a specialist and have a niche industry based practice.

I also wanted the recognition of being the “go to” lawyer for contractors. While I always had financial goals and wanted to earn a good living, the money really didn’t drive me. It was simply a way of keeping score.

My plan for each year had many, many action items. If did not reach my yearly financial goal, I knew I had come closer than I would have with no goal or if I had set a lower goal.

My bottom-up planning began with an estimate of how many non-billable hours I felt I could spend on client development. I usually planned to spend between 240-300 (20-25 a month). Then I outlined what would be the best use of those hours.

I have a short attention span. Knowing that caused me to break my action items down into smaller pieces. Each month I outlined the actions I wanted to accomplish that month and at the end of the month, I could track how I had done.

So, what do you want to achieve? Why is achieving it important to you? What is your plan to achieve it?

Many law firms will find a lawyer who has clients with a variety of needs to be a great candidate for their firm. It makes great sense, but most law firms don’t take advantage of the opportunity. Why?

In a nutshell, most firms do a poor job of cross-selling. There are a variety of reasons cross-selling is challenging. One reason is most firms have no plan or strategy for cross-selling. As a result, at best it is done on an ad-hoc basis. At worst, clients resent they are being “sold.”

When I was practicing law, we hired a consulting firm to help us with our strategic plan and paid them more money than I ever imagined. One of the consultants told me,

Cordell, you need to ‘cross-sell’ your firm’s labor and employment lawyers and environmental lawyers to your construction clients.

I replied,

I think that really makes great sense, but you have it backwards. Our labor and employment lawyers and our enviromental lawyers need to demonstrate they understand construction labor and employment issues and construction enviromental law issues.

Later, at a partners’ meeting, the consultants said our marketing cross-selling strategy should be to “further penetrate” our clients.

I raised my hand, stood up and said: “I had taken a survey and my clients unanimously had reported that they did not want to be ‘penetrated’ much less ‘further penetrated.’

I had never heard penetration used in the context of marketing or cross-selling.

I later learned that “penetration selling” means increasing current client revenues through increased usage or additional types of legal work. The problem with it is that it focuses on client revenues rather than client valuable service.

 

If I have learned one thing in my recent recruiting career, or better said, if I have been reminded of one thing in my recent recruiting career, it is this:

Law firms are looking for lawyers with clients they can bring and a book of business

For some firms, the cutoff is $1 Million annual fees. For other firms, it’s even more. So it’s natural for lawyers and law firms to focus on revenue. But, as Seth Godin recently wrote, that may not be the best place to focus.

Seth Godin posted a blog recently titled: Entrepreneurship is not a job. To provide an analogy, I would say: Practicing Law is not a job.

In his blog, Godin writes:

Bragging about how much money you’ve raised or what your valuation is a form of job thinking.

When I practiced law, some lawyers bragged about the size of their book of business. I understand. As I wrote above, it is how we get measured in the marketplace. But, it is, as Godin writes, a form of job thinking.

He then writes:

Entrepreneurship is a chance to trade a solution to someone who has a problem that needs solving.

Solve more problems, solve bigger problems, solve problems more widely and you’re an entrepreneur.

If you are a long time reader, you know this is how I think. I’ve written many times about identifying your clients’ problems, opportunities, and changes and then providing a solution.

Seven years ago I gave some advice on how to do it. How You Can Find Client Problems, Opportunities and Changes.

I recently read: Definition of Entrepreneur from 15 Successful Business Owners and was struck by how the definitions apply also to successful lawyers and rainmakers any law firm would want to have.

For example, here is Mark Cuban’s definition:

Someone who can define the business they want to create, see where it is going, and do the work to get there.

If you are a lawyer I coached, or if you are a lawyer who I mentored in my old law firm, you have heard words similar to those from me many times. I urged you to define what success you want to achieve, create a plan to get there in 3-5 years, work the plan and create a system to be accountable.

I urge you to take a couple of minutes and read the other definitions and find one to print and put someplace you will see it to motivate yourself to action.

Remember: Plan Long Term and Act Short Term

Some time ago I read an article titled: “The Big Secret to Success in Anything You Do.” The secret: the ability to concentrate.

In other words, the ability to focus all of your mental powers on one important task until that task is completed and completed well.

When I was a younger lawyer it was really easy to stay focused on the work I was doing for a client. That was before I had a computer at my desk, received 200 plus emails a day and had a Blackberry to make sure I could stay connected 24/7.

I was on a team at our firm trying out the first Blackberries. My first one was quite small about the size of a pager. I remember thinking how incredibly cool it was when I received an email from a client while eating dinner with our daughter. My client was amazed I was at work so late. Little did he know.

When I first docked my new Blackberry to my computer,  I remember working at my desk and hearing a buzz from my docked Blackberry signaling the arrival of a new email. I frequently turned my head to the computer screen, read the summary and then frequently read the entire email and responded. Does that sound familiar?

You likely experience being in the zone occasionally. I certainly experienced it when in court trying a case. The most successful lawyers experience it every day and you should strive to achieve it every day.

How can you experience the lawyer equivalent of being in the zone? I love a quote from Peter Drucker:

What you have to do and the way you have to do it is incredibly simple. Whether you are willing to do it, that’s another matter.

How to be focused is relatively simple. First, get your mind focused on your clients. When you put yourself in their world, you will be better able to anticipate your clients’ needs before they have expressed them. You can really differentiate yourself from other lawyers when you are looking ahead in that way.

Second, stay focused on the work you are doing for the client. To be focused on your work, you have to stop doing several things at the same time, like opening emails and responding, or chatting with someone who interrupts you.

If staying focused is a challenge for you, come up with a system that will work for you.

To get more ideas, read the US News and World Report article about David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done” and if you haven’t read the book do so.

I’ve been working as a legal recruiter for a couple of months, and one thing I have learned is I only want to place lawyers with firms when I know enough about the lawyer and know enough about the firm to believe the fit is one that both will thank me for later.

I posted this five years ago. Now, that I am helping law firms find the right candidates to join their firms, I wanted to share with you what I would look for in a potential candidate.

It’s the same thing I looked for when I was hiring lawyers to work with me in Construction Law.

Last week I posted: Want to know what it takes? I mentioned three main points:

  1. Knowing what you want.
  2. Believing you can achieve it.
  3. Taking action and persisting until you achieve it.

Today, I want to share with you a concrete example. My daughter Jill posted something on Facebook that made clear to me she paid great attention to what I was teaching her when she was growing up.

She also inherited some important traits from her mother. Nancy does nothing just half-way. She was all-in when she went to college and became the first in her family to graduate. She was all-in when she ran the blood bank at the local hospital and the Red Cross. She was all in when she was running and bicycling. She was all in when she took up golf when she was 40 (and still is today). She was all-in when she recently took up needlepoint.

I am very proud of Jill. I also feel she has expressed what I hope lawyers I coach take away from our work together. I asked if I could share what she wrote with you and she gave me permission.

I earned two stripes on my belt at jiu jitsu today. I was a little upset because my knee is messed up and I couldn’t roll. I just keep telling myself that God did not grant me with natural athletic ability so I have to work harder than most of the guys. I will show up and train every day no matter how tired I am. My goal is not to earn a black belt (although I believe that will happen) or win any tournaments ( got to enter them first), but to be better than the jiu jitsu player I was yesterday. I am not competing against other guys but against myself and my own self doubt and my fear of failure. I can’t bench press as much as Réne (her husband) and I do not have the skill of more seasoned players, but I will win in the long run because I am going to work harder through the tears, blood and sweat and I believe my passion will help me to overcome my physical short comings. I will be the best I can be. No excuses! I will be better than I was yesterday. It’s me vs. me.

 

What are the main points for you? There are several in her short paragraph. I love coaching lawyers who have Jill’s attitude about striving and working hard each and every day. More importantly for you, I think the takeaways are:

  1. Have clarity on what you want to accomplish.
  2. “Life is a journey, not a destination.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
  3. If you are following your passion, it is easier and more enjoyable to work hard at it.
  4. John Wooden correctly defined success as: “peace of mind, attained only through self-satisfaction and knowing you made the effort to do the best that you are capable.”
  5. Truly successful people are never content when they reach plateaus. I know far too many lawyers who reach a certain point in their career and stop learning and striving to be a better lawyer.
  6. To be successful you have to have “grit,” that determination to persevere in pursuit of a long-term goal. (See my post: Grit: The One Trait that Lawyers Need to Break Through.)
  7. Too many lawyers believe they will never be successful at client development because they do not have the natural skills (the gift of gab or schmoozing). In truth, for almost every lawyer, the quality of the effort made trumps natural ability.

Suppose you wanted me to help you find the right firm for you. I might ask you these questions:

  1. What are you doing to become a more valuable advisor for your clients?
  2. What are doing to become the best lawyer you are capable of becoming?

Nancy and I have a friend who knows no strangers. She has a knack for starting a conversation with a stranger and building rapport. Then, more importantly, she remembers their names and what they told her. I’ve watched and I can tell she makes a positive impression on the people she meets.

I, on the other hand, rarely strike up and conversation with a stranger and I struggle to remember names.

I recognize my weakness and I am on the 12 step active listening program working to do better. Years ago I practiced remembering names each week in church when we were asked to greet someone sitting near us. Even though I really tried, when I returned to church the following week and sat near the same people, I rarely remembered their names.

More recently, I type the names in the Notes on my iPhone. Over time, having this crutch helps me remember the names of our fellow church members.

Several years ago I was a speaker at a contractors association annual meeting. One of the other speakers was a Canadian named Bob Gray. He taught the audience how to remember names and some other facts. Here is what I got from his program:

  • Ask if you did not hear the name
  • Use the name in the conversation as often as you appropriately can
  • Picture the name on the person’s forehead
  • Associate the name to something else. The more exaggerated the something else is the better. I am not so good at the exaggerated something else so I usually tie it to a famous sports or entertainment figure
  • Use alliteration techniques like “Sassy” Sally “Cocky” Kevin
  • End the conversation using the person’s name
  • Remember the name an hour, a day and a week later

I recently learned for the first time that there are Apps to help remember names. I read 8 APPS TO HELP YOU REMEMBER PEOPLE’S NAMES. I may have to try one of them to see if it helps me.

 

 

When I coached lawyers, I frequently heard

Cordell, I’ve been too busy to do any client development

When I practiced law unless I was in the middle of a trial out of town, I was never too busy to do client development. In fact, I did more client development work when I was busiest than when I wasn’t busy.

Now that I’m recruiting lawyers if a lawyer candidate told me he or she was too busy to do client development activities, I would likely not recommend that person to a great firm.

Why? It is really pretty simple:  I believe it is because they don’t have a strong enough motivation to cause them to “make” time for client development. And, the law firms I try to help don’t need that kind of lawyer.

Years ago, a lawyer I was coaching told me he had heard a sales seminar where the presenter said:

Time management is a waste of time.

The lawyer asked what I thought.  Here is how I replied:

Interesting. I did a Google search and saw this article: How Managing Your Time Is a Waste of Time.  I noted the writer said:

It’s the compulsive aspect I find problematic. Our national obsession with self-improvement and personal productivity bears remarkable similarities to the self-help genre and our endless pursuit of quick fixes, miracle cures and wonder pills.

I don’t view time management or pursuing excellence to be an “endless pursuit of quick fixes, miracle cures and wonder pills.” If anything it is the opposite of a quick fix.

Then I saw this article by a guy who said he used to think time management was a waste of time: How To Get More Done: Time Management For The Rest Of Us. He wrote:

I now rank everything that is important to me–both professionally and personally–on one piece of paper. They are the most important things I want to accomplish written done in list form.

I personally feel I am better able to focus on my top priorities by doing what he suggests.

To me, saying time management is a waste of time is similar to saying creating a business plan is a waste of time.

Some successful lawyers in my old firm told me they didn’t need a business plan. They kept their plan in their head.

I suspect they did not want anyone able to judge whether they were doing what they put in their plan. I wondered how much better they might have done simply by thinking through a plan and putting it on paper.

Time and energy are your two most important resources and I don’t think you can waste either.