When I was coaching lawyers I was frequently asked for my top tip on attracting new clients. Over the last year, while I have been recruiting lawyers, I’ve been asked the same question. Put simply, my answer is:

You want to increase the number of “weak ties” who influence your target market and know what you can do to help those potential clients.

I’m a big believer of the “6 degrees of separation.” Click on the link to learn more about the concept.

While we were at Diamante Los Cabos in December, I introduced a young real estate executive I know to a very successful Virginia Tech grad. My fellow Virginia Tech grad has a huge network of friends. Now, the young real estate executive may get to meet people in that network.

Lawyers I coached over the years know I introduced them to other lawyers I coached and to people I know. Those connections were “weak ties,” and in many cases, one lawyer referred business to another lawyer.

Do you know what “weak ties” are? You can read the science behind it here: The Strength of Weak Ties. My simple definition is:

Contacts that are not in your inner circle of family and friends.

I owe the success I experienced in my legal career to recommendations by “weak ties.” My most important client found me in 1984 when a government lawyer with whom I had spent three hours on a panel recommended me to handle a matter on the subject of my presentation.

How do you increase the number of “weak ties” who know what you know? You need a strategy aimed at giving them a greater opportunity to find you.

I suggest you create content they will value and find important. More specifically, I suggest you provide information your target market does not know and needs to know.

Once you create the valuable content, use the platforms where your “weak ties”  hang out to publish and distribute it. Those platforms might be social media sites, or it might not be.

So,

  • Who is in your target market?
  • Who influences them?
  • What does your target market need to know right now?
  • What platforms can you use to get the answer to the target market and their influencers?

I still know a number of you who are not setting goals. I am hopeful that if you read what scientists have written, it might give you an idea of why setting goals is important and how to do it.

Edwin A. Locke and Gary P. Latham, both professors, have summarized 35 years of empirical research on goal-setting theory in a professional paper titled: Building a Practically Useful Theory of Goal Setting and Task Motivation. Here is what they found:

  1. The highest or most difficult goals produced the highest levels of effort and performance until the limits of ability are reached. I have found very few lawyers set goals that are beyond the limits of their ability. So, coaches should encourage junior partners to set goals that “stretch” them.
  2. It is very important to have goals that are specific rather than something general like to do one’s best. In their view when people are asked to “do their best” they generally don’t do it, in part because there is no external reference point.

How do goals affect performance? For me, setting goals always helped me set priorities on my non-billable time. Locke and Latham recognize this function of goals. They say: “…they direct attention and effort toward goal-relevant activities and away form goal-irrelevant activities.”

As illustrated in the scientific research, the problem many people have is setting their goals too low. I like what Evertt Bogue recently wrote How to Succeed by Being Completely Unrealistic. Check out his list of 13 ways to start thinking.

The young lawyers I coached over the years were in big firms and smaller firms, different parts of the United States and Canada, different practice areas, different personality types and a variety of other unique characteristics. The lawyers I am helping find new law firms also differ in many ways.

Yet, to the person, the most successful young lawyers I coached shared these attributes, and I look for these attributes in lawyers seeking my help now.

  1. They were patient, persistent and persevered
  2. They knew their strengths and focused their client development efforts on things that suited those strengths
  3. They developed a plan for their non-billable time and written goals
  4. They worked regularly and consistently on client development
  5. They were seeking to become more visible and credible to their target market
  6. They were getting feedback on their ideas and how they are doing
  7. They found ways to hold themselves accountable
  8. They found meaningful ways to stay in touch with their contacts
  9. They all wished they had started their efforts earlier in their career
  10. They were willing to get outside their comfort zone

Law firms look for lawyers with those attributes. I know, I looked for those lawyers when I was practicing law.

 

 

I was admitted to the hospital on Monday, December 31, New Year’s Eve. It was an emergency, and all began when my doctor’s professional assistant agreed to see me without an appointment and after everyone else had gone home. She took one look, took a culture and sent me directly to the hospital.

Now, a week later we are still working on taking care of the emergency that sent me to the hospital. It will be a long haul.

I have never been in the hospital for five days. I have never been in the hospital on a holiday. I have never been in the hospital where caregivers were racing against the clock trying to determine exactly what had attacked my body, weeks after surgery, and then figure out how to get rid of it.

The nurses and patient care specialists taught me more than I expected. There is a difference between patient care and caring for patients.

TAKING CARE OF PATIENTS emphasizes objective, professional care, such as the medical and psychological aspects of nursing. CARING FOR PATIENTS, on the other hand, is a humanistic way of interacting with patients that demonstrates sincere care and concern for patients simply because they are human beings.

If any of this interests you, I urge you to read: Nurses’ Compassionate Care Affects Patient Outcomes.I found many quotes: Here is one:

“Patients want to feel cared for and listened to and [whether they feel that way] is based on the actions of the nurses,” said Kelly Hancock, RN, MSN, NE-BC, chief nursing officer at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “It begins with nurses providing compassionate, patient-centered care.”

The nurses and the patient care team took care of me 24/7. More importantly, they each cared for me. I could see it in their eyes.

Are you taking care of your clients, or caring for your clients? Hopefully, you are doing both.

 

It was late fall 2001. The internet bubble had burst. A stock I owned that had traded at a record $130 per share was on it way to single digits where it remains today. I foolishly bought shares all the way down.

I remember a conversation with our law firm’s financial officer. He told me and a member of our board that based on hours the lawyers were producing, we had 38 lawyers more than we had work available for them to do. Each month that fall, our firm leaders found other ways for us to cut expenses, I tried to suggest we focus on increasing revenue, but my suggestion was never considered.

Think about your own firm. Whether it is a very large firm or only 3-4 lawyers, what would happen if you were able to increase revenue by 15%? I thought of this idea again when I read Seth Godin’s blog post several years ago, 15% Changes Everything. In a law firm, a 15% decline in revenue or a 15% increase in revenue really does change everything.

How can your firm increase revenue by 15%?

  1. Get your highest producers together quarterly and come up with an action plan for them to implement.
  2. Create a client development coaching program for your junior partners/senior associates to get them more focused on client development.
  3. Get each of your lawyers to prepare a business plan for their non-billable time. If you would like a template, click here.
  4. Create a Cross-Serving Plan.
  5. Get each of your practice groups to prepare a plan. In my old firm, we created “Targeted Differentiators.”.

I loved practicing law in law firms. Then I loved coaching lawyers. Now I love recruiting lawyers, in large part because I am still coaching in the recruiting process.

As you may remember, I graduated from law school, passed the bar exam and was admitted to practice law in 1971. Plenty has changed since I started practicing law in 1971, but I know one thing that has not.

The key to success in private practice with a law firm is the ability to attract, retain and expand relationships with clients.

Many of you became lawyers, less because of loving”the law” and more because you could use your knowledge and skills to help your clients achieve their goals.

If attracting, retaining and expanding relationships with clients motivates lawyers, why aren’t more lawyers doing what it takes to have that opportunity?

As you know, several years ago I wrote a book titled: “Prepare to Win.”  It is available from us, Amazon and is available for your Kindle, Nook or iPad.

Screenshot 2015-08-02 09.44.27

I picked the title based on a quote I had seen many times attributed to various famous coaches.

The essence of the quote is:

Many have the will to win, but only a few have the will to prepare to win.

I encourage you to read my book. Many lawyers have the will to attract, retain and expand relationships with clients, but only a few have the will to do the hard work that leads to getting, retaining and building relationships with clients.

How many lawyers in your firm have a written plan including goals and a method of holding themselves accountable? Do you have one?

How many lawyers in your firm are making a concerted effort to build their profile or build relationships? Are you?

Regardless of your law school, your class rank, your family situation, your age, your firm, your boss, your firm’s clients, you and only you are responsible for your success and only you can define what success is for you.

Over time you will also have to inspire yourself, motivate yourself, hold yourself accountable, stick with it when it is challenging and pick yourself up when things do not go as you had hoped. But, if I have coached you, then you know that encouragement at the right time is also helpful.

I was thinking about my work with lawyers years ago when I read Forbes article: The 3 Most Powerful Ways To Change People Who Don’t Want To Change,

If we worked together you might notice some things in the article that we did in our coaching sessions. I encourage you to read the article and think back to our time together. If anything you read resonates with you, drop me a note.

When I worked with lawyers in my old firm, I learned a very important lesson. I could make an inspiring presentation on career and client development. But, if it was a one-shot program, very few lawyers changed. That was the reason I started coaching.

What will it take for you to win in 2019?

I loved practicing law in a law firm. Why? I wanted to be part of a team striving to get better. Now that I am recruiting lawyers, I want to place highly motivated lawyers in law firms that are striving to be the best the firm can be.

Several years ago, I wrote a The Practical Lawyer column Leadership For the Recession and Beyond focusing on leadership and how the recession changed law firms and the practice of law forever.

Nine years later, the economy is booming, but what I wrote back then still applies.

Is your law firm striving to become the best it can be?

If so, my bet is your firm leader has integrity, articulates a purpose other than profits per partner, clearly has a vision for the firm’s future, makes sure the firm is acting consistently with its values and holds people accountable. These answers are fairly obvious.

But, if they are so obvious why isn’t every leader doing what it takes for the firm to be successful?

1. Integrity

A law firm leader must be honest, ethical and credible. In their book Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It, James Kouzes and Barry Posner reported the results of 1500 interviews with managers across the United States. When asked to identify the characteristics and attitudes they believed to be most important for effective leadership, the number one response was: integrity (leaders are truthful, are trustworthy, have character, have convictions).

2.  Purpose Beyond Profits Per Partner (the Why)

A law firm leader must be able to express the firm’s purpose. James Collins and Jerry Porras in Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies Built to Last define purpose as “the set of fundamental reasons for a company’s existence beyond just making money.”

3.  Vision for the Future (the What)

A law firm leader must be able to express his or her vision for the firm in a way that creates excitement in the firm. Almost nothing energizes people more than feeling they are part of building something special. When President Kennedy expressed the vision that the United States would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade, people were energized and inspired.

4.  Culture and Core Values (the How)

A law firm leader must be able to both articulately express the firm’s culture and core values and to make sure the firm acts consistently with those core values. In Aligning the Stars, Jay Lorsch and Tom Tierney describe culture as “a system of beliefs that members of an organization share about the goals and values that are important to them and about the behavior that is appropriate to attain those goals and live those values.”

5. Accountability (the What is Expected)

A law firm leader must clearly articulate minimum standards. Actually, “minimum” is not the best word because the standards should actually be very high. Each person should know clearly what is expected of him or her and then must be held accountable with consequences for non-performance.

Several years ago, I presented a program Success: Determining and Achieving Your Purpose, Values and Goals for the ABA YLD fall meeting. 

Before I finished I asked for questions. One lawyer asked:

Cordell, in your experience, what separates the superstar young lawyers from the rest of the pack?

I did not hesitate:

The very best young lawyers I know have a “burning desire” to be the best at something they have chosen, and they work hard achieve it. I call it the “fire in the belly.”

I coached several of those lawyers and I recently helped one connect with a great firm. In each case, the lawyer put more into the coaching program, and his or her other learning, than just about any other lawyer I have ever met. Within minutes of meeting those lawyers for the first time, I knew they had a burning desire to learn and serve her clients.

I receive emails and letters from those lawyers sharing with me their great success-the success I believed they would have right from the beginning.

I learned about burning desire one summer while visiting my grandparents in Chester, Virginia. I didn’t know many teenagers in Chester so I spent more time at my grandparents home than I would have liked. One day I discovered that the sliding doors in their hallway opened to shelves and shelves of historical books.

One of the books I found that summer was “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. I included the book in my post: 18 Business and Law Books that Changed My Life.

As a teenager, I had never read a “self-help” book. I doubt I would have read this one if I had anything else I could do. Reading Think and Grow Rich really did change my life, in part, because I learned the concept of having a DEFINITE MAJOR PURPOSE. When I decided to become a lawyer, I asked myself why I wanted to practice law. That was a helpful exercise for me. 

Napoleon Hill was born into poverty in the coal fields of Wise County, Virginia in 1883.  You can learn more about his life by reading: Rich Man, Poor Man. As you will see, Hill accomplished some great things as an attorney and journalist but also had many failures along the way.

His big break came when he interviewed the wealthy steel baron, Andrew Carnegie. As you will see in the article, later Carnegie convinced Hill to write the book:

He issued a challenge to Hill: Commit the next 20 years, without compensation, to documenting and recording such a philosophy of success, and he would introduce him to the wealthiest and most successful men of the time. Hill jumped at the opportunity.

Because the book copyright has expired, there are many places where you can download the book at no charge. Here is one site to download Think and Grow Rich.

I have read the book many times over the last 50 years. I like to read it to re-energize myself. I believe the 13 principles he outlined in the early 1900s still apply today, almost 100 years later.

Consistent with my answer to the young lawyer’s question at the ABA YLD meeting, Hill’s first principle was “Desire.” He believed desire is the starting point of all achievement.

I was inspired by this statement in the chapter:

Every person who wins in any undertaking must be willing to burn his ships and cut all sources of retreat. Only by so doing can one be sure of maintaining that state of mind known as a BURNING DESIRE TO WIN, essential to success.

As you know, I love working with young, motivated lawyers, I focus on career success through taking control, setting energizing goals and planning. Each young lawyer with whom I work has unique talents, opportunities and challenges. 

I know that if the lawyers I coach set goals that will inspire them and energize them, they will be successful (as they choose to define success). Why? Put simply they will succeed because they have the BURNING DESIRE to achieve their own unique goals.

I think you will find this book extremely valuable just as I did, because it will give you a foundation it the 13 principles that can lead you towards achieving what you desire.

If you have 5 minutes, watch this video to get a preview of what you might learn from the book.

Have I convinced you? What do you have a BURNING DESIRE to achieve and become?

I want to share two stories with you about how changing what you think it takes to succeed can make a difference in your client development success.

Years ago I coached a lawyer as part of a dozen lawyers in the coaching program at a well known regional firm. She was struggling with her client development, in part because she was not comfortable doing what the senior lawyers in her firm suggested that she do. She was not particularly optimistic that she could become a rainmaker.

Fast forward: For several years now this lawyer has been one of the top rainmakers in her law firm. This dramatic change was not because I was a great coach, it was because I was able to get her to change her idea of what it takes to succeed.

My second story is about a lawyer I coached a few years ago. She was a young partner in her law firm at the time. She is now in-house with her old law firm’s largest client.

At the end of our coaching program, each participant sent a report to firm leaders.

Here is an excerpt from the lawyer’s report:

 Cordell once told me: “I have to make you believe you can have a seven figure book of business.” He believed in me. It took quite awhile, but now I believe in myself. Not only as a quality lawyer, but also as a business developer. Prior to working with Cordell I secretly enjoyed not having to be responsible for attracting clients. Now it is my goal.

 

I enjoyed reading Heidi Grant Halvorson’s book: Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals (a great book I have recommended to lawyers I coach). Near the end of the book Dr. Halvorson writes:

Americans believe in ability. East Asians believe in effort.

I suspect she is right. I know for sure that many lawyers believe client development is about ability and you either have it or you don’t. While a lawyer must be a good lawyer and must have some ability to communicate, client development is more about effort.

Take a look, you might find this short video valuable.

Before the coaching, each of the two women thought that ability was the key to becoming a successful rainmaker. Each looked around her firm and concluded she did not have the same kind of ability she saw in the older lawyers (near my age), who were extroverted, great at networking, played golf with clients and took them to dinner and football games.

During our coaching, a lightbulb went off. I convinced each lawyer that successful rainmaking is based less on ability and based significantly more on the level and quality of her effort, and on using her strengths most effectively.

Lawyers who believe client development success is based primarily on ability typically come to a point when they quit trying to develop business. Lawyers who figure out success can be obtained based on the level and quality of their effort persist until they succeed and constantly strive to get better. The very most successful are able to recognize their strengths and their ability and constantly strive to use them and develop them further.

I am into my 11th month as a legal recruiter. So, I can’t say I have lots of experience.

However, I may have even more valuable experience. I was heavily recruited for many years and my experience with legal recruiters was not very positive. Most, if not all legal recruiters did not do their homework, and none of them asked great questions. They asked what I was being paid, what my portable book of business was, what my working attorney numbers were, and what my billing rate was.

But, here is a list of questions I can’t remember ever being asked:

  1. What do you want to accomplish during the rest of your career?
  2. When do you want to retire?
  3. Other than compensation what are you looking for from a law firm?
  4. What core values in a law firm are important to you?
  5. How did and how do your clients find you?
  6. What would you like to see a firm do to help you expand your practice?
  7. How many young lawyers are working for you, and do you want them to come with you?
  8. Do you have a written business plan with goals?
  9. What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?
  10. Other than your book of business, your hard work, and your great personality, is there anything else you have to offer a new firm?