I believe that how you spend your time has never been as important as this year during COVID-19. Some of you are working from home. Some of you have young children going to school at home. Spending time most wisely is a challenge for everyone of you.

Many years ago I gave a presentation for associates in a medium sized firm. Prior to speaking to them, I asked them to give me 1-3 questions I could help answer for them. Several questions I received focused on work-life balance. One associate asked how to add hours to her day. I thought my reply might be helpful to you.

There is no way to add more hours to your day. Other than the weekend when daylight savings time falls back to standard time, there are only 168 hours each week. The real question is how well you use those hours to achieve your priorities.

Suppose you sleep 8 hours a night, or 56 hours a week. Suppose you bill 40 hours a week and you invest another 10 hours a week on your career development, client development and other firm activities. That leaves 62 waking hours of personal time for family, fitness, community, church, recreation, hobbies, commuting and other activities.

How you spend the 10 hours a week (or whatever number) of investment time will ultimately determine the quality of your career. How you spend the 62 hours (or whatever number) of family and personal time will ultimately determine the quality of your life and family relationships.

I have also always believed that it was more important for me to plan my personal time than work time because if I did not plan it, I could easily find a work excuse not to do the important things. For example, if I did not have a time set aside for working out, I could find any number of excuses not to go to the fitness center where I worked out.

I have never liked the concept of work-life balance. To me it is both boring and unachievable. Instead, I prefer the concept of priorities based on your roles. I learned long ago through reading books by Stephen Covey that if you plan your week around your roles and priorities, you have the best chance of having the proper focus between your work roles and your personal roles. For example it will help you focus on the most important thing you can do each week as a father/mother, husband/wife, son/daughter, brother/sister and so forth.

Your priorities are unique and they will change with your circumstances. One size does not fit all. If you are a single lawyer with no family responsibilities, your priorities may be focused almost exclusively on work, community service and having fun. If you later marry and have children, your priorities will most likely be very different. When your children are grown, your priorities may change again.

So, plan next week around your personal and work roles. Figure out the most important thing you can do in each role, estimate how much time you will spend doing it and then put it on your calendar.

Nothing is more critical to any law firm’s success than having clients who perceive they are receiving valuable services. Those clients come back, find ways to give other work to the firm and speak highly of the firm when asked by others.

How can that relationship be developed?

First, there must be a clear understanding of the client’s needs.

Second, the lawyers must ask the right questions, listen beyond the responses, offer effective solutions, and deliver exceptional results.

Third, the firm must focus on providing extraordinary service. To do so requires every person in the firm to be focused on service because everyone who comes in contact with the client affects the client’s perception of the firm and their relationship with the firm.

Based on my experiences and what I have read, here is a list of things I believe clients value:

  1. Putting the client’s interest first
  2. Responsiveness
  3. Team players
  4. Lawyers who ask great questions and actively listen to answers
  5. Innovative thinking and solutions
  6. Anticipation of problems
  7. Stability of representation team
  8. Responding to feedback
  9. Technology proficiency and resulting efficiency
  10. Comprehension of the client’s business goals and challenges, its industry, its reputation within the industry, its products and services, its market share, and its competitors
  11. Availability of mutually beneficial alternative fee arrangements when appropriate
  12. Billing with clarity and accuracy

How well are you doing on each of the items above? Are there others that should be considered?

I recently read a 2019 Forbes article in which Seth Godin shared: The Only Two Things That Matter—And How To Get Them

The only two things that matter are:

  1. Attention and
  2. Trust

When describing trust,  Godin said:

I think that people tend to trust folks who step up before they have to, and

They trust people who keep their promises, especially when it’s not convenient. They trust people who tell them the truth.

When talking about keeping promises and telling the truth,  lawyers frequently use the word credibility. But, what do your clients think it means?

When I did research years ago I found an excerpt from the book Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000: Running a Business in Today’s Consumer-Driven World by Pete Blackshaw. In the first chapter Blackshaw states:

Credibility in today’s marketing environment is the product of six core drivers. Most of them are interrelated, but they require different strategies and tactics to fully realize. These critical credibility drivers are:

  1. TrustSatisfied Customers.jpg
  2. Authenticity
  3. Transparency
  4. Listening
  5. Responsiveness
  6. Affirmation

Aren’t these the drivers that clients are looking for when they hire lawyers?

Clients want to trust you. They want to trust that you can handle their legal matter and that you will be candid with them. You earn trust as a lawyer over many transactions or cases and you can lose it very quickly.

You are authentic as a lawyer when you act consistently with the commitments you make make and you demonstrate repeatedly that you put your clients interest first.

You demonstrate transparency by being open with your clients.

To be a good listener you must begin by asking good questions. Then listen for not only what your client is telling you, but also what it means to your client.

You are responsive when you meet or exceed your client’s expectations of responsiveness. It begins by timely returning telephone calls and emails.

Affirmation is conveying your understanding of how your client feels about a particular situation. It is also letting your clients know that you appreciate the opportunity to serve them.

You have content you created that you could give away in blogs, articles, and presentations. You may wonder whether you are “giving away” too much. Lawyers I coached asked me:

  1. When you created content for clients and gave it away, weren’t you worried about your competitors stealing it?
  2. When you created content and gave it away weren’t you worried your clients and potential clients would use the free information and not hire you?

I am sure you know my answer: NEVER. Not one time did I ever worry about competitors stealing my stuff or clients getting what they can for free and not hiring me.

Design-Build.pngLet’s just take an example of a topic I have written about many times. There came a time when highway and bridge construction contractors needed to know about design-build method of project delivery. I wrote a lengthy guide and made presentations across the country.

I was hired by contractors to work on design-build projects all over the United States. It would have never happened if I had not given away content.

I will leave you with a point I have made several times. I believe the first time I read it was in a book by Scott Ginsberg.

Today, it is not what you know. It is not who you know. It is about who knows what you know.

Giving away content and using social media tools to give it away increases the number of people who know what you know.

Is your law firm  REALLY committed to what is on your firm website?

Years ago when I was still practicing law our firm claimed to be most committed to our clients, our lawyers and our staff. I thought the claim was only true if we were continuing to increase our profits per partner (PPP) I received far fewer memos about serving our clients and helping our lawyers and staff achieve their goals than the memos I received on PPP.

Many law firms talk about the commitment to their people and clients, but few actually walk the walk. Just suppose your firm was REALLY committed to:

  • Recruiting lawyers and staff based in part on their emotional intelligence
  • The highest quality training and development for lawyers and staff
  • Opportunity to succeed in the firm based solely on the quality of one’s performance not just on the number of billable hours
  • Promoting an entrepreneurial spirit
  • Mutual respect of all firm personnel
  • A focused effort to increase the diversity of backgrounds and perspectives of firm lawyers and staff
  • Providing the highest level of service and responsiveness to clients, and consistently exceeding their expectations
  • Monitoring and adapting to the changing demands of clients, markets and lawyers
  • Availability of the highest quality resources to support service to firm clients
  • Integration of technology to add value to clients and enable firm lawyers and staff to work more effectively and efficiently
  • Innovative use of social media to connect with clients

Then just suppose your lawyers and staff were encouraged to work together to achieve the commitments described above. How do you think your firm would do compared to your competitors?

 

I got to know Miranda Ganguly when I was recruiting. I use that title about myself very loosely as I managed to place a grand total of three lawyers.

Miranda, on the other hand is one of the top, seasoned recruiters I met and if any of you are looking to make a change she is someone you should contact. Miranda recently joined Aspire Legal Search Group. You can find her bio here.

I asked Miranda to write a guest post about how things are different in 2020. I hope you find her thoughts valuable. BTW, in the post Miranda says she could write a novel. The truth is she has written novels under a pen name.

I’m so very pleased to write a guest post here today. Many thanks to Cordell for having me!

On to our subject for today: The process of a law firm movement in 2020 and how things have changed… a lot.

To be very frank about it, moving from one law firm to another, particularly as a partner, can be and often is a logistical nightmare. Between the extended interview process, open exchange of information (LPQ’s, firm financial documents), resigning/gently disentangling from the old firm, and notifying clients of the change etc., let’s just say it is a process. A big one.

2020 has brought with it many new challenges and life changes, and these, of course, have impacted the process of changing firms. After over twelve years of legal recruiting including during two very different recessions, I could write a novel on how things have changed in 2020 but for purposes of providing an overview, I’ll stick with three major points:

1. Meeting Logistics

I’ll admit this one is probably fairly obvious, but it bears mentioning because it has a tremendous impact. In the good ol’ days (8 months ago), a partner and firm might start their conversation with just that – a fairly casual and discreet cup of coffee or meal with a hiring partner or office managing partner to see if there is mutual interest in moving forward. This allowed for a low-pressure, social situation to allow both parties to see if there is a basic practice, personality, and culture fit and whether it’s worth the time investment on both sides to continue.

While these casual first meetings are still happening, the medium has certainly changed. It varies quite a bit based on the comfort level of the candidate and how the firm is handling the pandemic. Some firms are not in their offices at all, while others are almost fully staffed in person with precautions. Many folks choose to meet in-person, but often “al fresco” in a discreet location. Others choose to meet in-person indoors with social distancing and other precautions in place. Still, others are focusing on technology to meet their needs – Zoom and other video-conferencing software.

It’s hard to assess how these have impacted the hiring process, but I think it’s safe to say many feel a bit of discomfort without the in-person element. It’s in our nature to read expressions, body language, and other non-verbal cues which can be a challenge to do via video conferencing or even with a mask on. It’s not to say it’s a bad thing, just a different thing.

These “logistical” differences continue through the hiring process. Instead of flying to another office to meet the executive committee, it might be done by phone or Zoom. Instead of meeting with the head of a group in-person, it might be virtual. Instead of having a drink or meal with your future coworkers, it might be a Zoom. You get the idea.

Some firms are moving ahead, leaning on virtual and socially distanced meetings to continue the process. Others have simply hit pause, particularly on more opportunistic hires, waiting to continue the process until important in-person meetings and travel are feasible again.

2. Timing

Timing has always been tricky for partners actively seeking to move. Ideally, most partners would like the opportunity to compare platforms. This requires them to move along at roughly the same speed at the firms they are considering, hopefully gaining enough information to know which firms are not the right fit and possibly receive more than one offer so they can make an informed decision.

The disparity in the timing of the lateral partner hiring process has become very pronounced in 2020. As previously mentioned, some firms have certain processes on hold. Other firms are finding it takes longer to get through the logistics of scheduling interviews and meetings with many of their hiring partners, recruiting personnel, and conflict checkers abruptly pivoting to working from home and all that entails. Still, other firms have been able to recalibrate their hiring processes quickly to keep things moving at a good clip.

Spoiler alert: the firms that are the most agile are getting the best talent.

3. Change in the “Value Proposition”

Firms are evaluating partners in a new light. We’ve seen larger firms with higher PPP and RPL taking a closer look at historical metrics, relationships, and originations, often looking for partners with a higher portable book than they have in years past. To put it another way, they are looking for a safer bet and taking less risk, which is completely understandable given the current economic situation.

Many firms are also focusing on specific, strategic needs rather than looking at partners opportunistically.

From the candidate’s perspective, they are evaluating firms differently. I’ve had many partners tell me that working from home and all the shifts they made in the past six months caused them to personally recalibrate what they need and want from their platform. Things like true rate flexibility, culture, technological and cultural support for remote working, financial performance and health of the firm, and degree and extent of pay cuts and holdbacks are now on the forefront. Many are less concerned (or not at all concerned) about taking a perceived “step down” to smaller, lower AMLAW100 ranked, or regional firms than in years past. Partners are looking for financially stable, supportive and flexible platforms so they can retain and grow their client base during these unique and difficult times.

There are many other subtle and not so subtle differences in the anatomy of a partner move, but the underlying process is still aimed at the exchange of information. It looks different this year, but partners are still moving and law firms, particularly the agile ones, are making great, strategic hires in 2020.

Have you ever asked yourself or your clients why they hired you rather than the many other good lawyers they could have chosen?

I had not given it too much thought until a lawyer I coached asked me.

What are the top 2 reasons you think that clients sought you out and retained you . . . . :

        a)  During the first 1-10 years you began practicing law? 

        b)  During the years following year 10?

        c)  And during the final years you were actively practicing law?

In the beginning clients found me and hired me because I started specializing and took the time to learn things that less specialized lawyers did not know.

For example, each State Department of Transportation has what is called The Standard Specifications for construction. They are contained in a book (you can get them on line now). I remember one of my very first clients said:

Cordell you are the first lawyer who we do not have to explain the Standard Specifications to. We resent being charged by others for something they should already know.

So, having done my homework was at least one reason. I also got hired because I wrote a law review article and made sure all my potential clients received a copy.

After 10 years clients hired me because I was writing and speaking all over the country. I wrote a monthly column for Roads and Bridges magazine.

I also created content in booklets, Guides and Workshops. I even created a video.  So, I had became more visible and more credible to a greater number of “weak ties” who recommended me.

I believe clients also hired me during that time period because I had built relationships. My friends were my clients and my clients were my friends. Finally, clients hired because I got results and got them quickly.

Even though you only asked for two reasons, there was an important third reason. After 10 years I knew a great deal about the the transportation construction business. I gained this knowledge by reading books, engineering journals and magazines.

In the last few years of my practice, I worked for fewer clients who sent more work. Over years I had   achieved  favorable results for those clients and became friends with the client representatives.

I also spent a great deal of non-billable time with my best clients teaching and acting as a trusted advisor. The few new clients who hired me did so because they believed (right or wrong) that I was the number one lawyer they needed to help them. In some cases, out of state clients recommended me to their local law firms. So, I acted as the subject matter expert.

Are you in your first 10 years, second, or near the end of your career. Have you thought about why clients are hiring you? What can you learn and apply from my experience?

 

At the beginning of my career, I never heard of profits per partner. For most of my career I didn’t know what the profits per partner were in other law firms. The American Lawyer was founded in 1979. I’m not sure what was the first year they started publishing the PPP Top 100.

As I was writing this I found: Early Reports: The 2020 Am Law 100/200 Firm Financials.

In 2020, is your firm focused on “profits per partner?” If so, I bet you cut costs by laying people off and increase profits per partner by reducing the number of equity partners. My old firm did both, leaving many associates with no jobs and many former equity partners feeling they were no longer wanted.

Years ago, I told my partners that focusing on increasing profits per partner is like a basketball player looking at the scoreboard and not the basket.

Scoreboard-Basket

I have often wondered why firms are so focused on profits per partner rather than on what produces profits per partner. What produces greater profits per partner? Here is what I would put on my list.

  1. Focus on hiring the right people, training and motivating them
  2. Be responsive and timely
  3. Under promise and over deliver
  4. Use technology  to provide extraordinary service to clients.
  5. Create industry and client based service teams
  6.  Learn to add value and find creative billing that is not based on hours. Value will be based on results first and efficiency in obtaining the results. (Clients do not value services as law firms do (hours x rate = value). Most clients do not have “cost plus” arrangements with their customers and they resent having to pay their law firm on that basis.
  7. Adapt to ever changing environments and client needs, including new practice areas and new ways to provide service to clients.
  8. Develop web sites, blogs, podcasts and webinars in niche practices and targeted markets that provide valuable information to clients in those markets.
  9. Most importantly, provide reliable service at competitive prices delivered efficiently
  10. What would you have as number 10? Let me know your thoughts.

As I write Nancy and I are at Dimanté Los Cabos where we would be playing golf, but for Hurricane/Tropical Storm Genevieve!

The view went from this:

to this:

The staff at Diamanté started preparing for the storm earlier this week. Their anticipation of the storm made me reflect once again on anticipating client needs in the face of the most unusual year of my lifetime and with an election in November.

Your clients expect you to understand their industry, their business strategy and them. In his book “A Whole New MindDaniel Pink included a chapter titled: “Symphony.” He described symphony as “the ability to put together the pieces. It is the capacity to synthesize rather than analyze; to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields; to detect broad patterns rather than to deliver specific answers; and to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair.”

If you are a long time reader you know that Daniel Pink suggested that one of the best ways to develop this skill is to learn how to draw. Pink went to a class based on Betty Edwards book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.” He discovered that drawing classes are not about learning to draw but rather about learning to see relationships. That is a skill lawyers must have.

Could you make a list of issues your clients are facing that are different in 2020 than 2019? Could you make another list of issues your clients will face if the Biden/Harris ticket is elected and another list your clients will face if the Trump/Pence ticket is re-elected?

I’m unsure how first year lawyers will start this year, but no matter how you or they start, it will likely not be with the miscues I experienced when I left the USAF and became an associate in what was then a mid-sized, now a tiny law firm in Roanoke, Virginia.

Given how appropriate dress for lawyers has changed, I doubt the young male lawyers will make any of my embarrassing faux pas in my attire.

Nancy and I arrived in Roanoke, Virginia in July of 1976, where I started my career with a law firm and Nancy began her career as a medical technologist in charge of the blood bank for the Red Cross.

Almost immediately I learned a couple of valuable things. First, I learned I had no earthly idea how a real lawyer was supposed to dress. And, second, I learned that no one in my law firm had a clue about trying cases in court, and I was to be the one to take on that responsibility.

When I showed up at the office the first day, I believe I broke every rule of appropriate attire. First, I wore a short sleeve shirt. It was July, and in the Air Force, we wore short sleeve shirts in the summer. I learned that lawyers wear long sleeve shirts and do not leave the office without their suit coat.

If that discovery wasn’t embarrassing enough, I learned that same day that lawyers wear over the calf socks. I was told, “no one wants to look at your calves. Having never worn over the calf socks, I didn’t even know they existed.

Third, I learned that a lawyer never wears loafers with a suit or even with any kind of dress pants. I was told loafers looked like bed room slippers.

Thankfully, there was a Men’s Store was right next door to our office. I spent the better part of my first day at work, setting up my new account and purchasing underwear, socks, long sleeve shirts, wing tip and cap toe shoes, and a new suit.

So, my second day I was at least dressed appropriately, or at least so I thought. That day I learned that off the shelf shirts never fit both the neck and the body. Therefore, I should buy custom made shirts. If I did that, I could also get my initials either on my sleeve or shirt pocket and everyone would know my shirts were custom made.

For those of you who will become future litigators, picture trying cases with no discovery. When I first started lawyers were just starting to file interrogatories and depositions weren’t taken in every case.

During my first or second week with the firm I was asked to sit in on an interview of a mother who was accused of stabbing her abusive husband to death in front of her children. I had very little criminal experience and no jury trial experience. The mother showed up with her children who were with us in the conference room.

Soon thereafter I sat in the courtroom and expected to sit silently at the counsel table, while the senior lawyer defended her.

Much to my surprise, when it came time for final argument, he looked over at me and said, “Cordell, why don’t you deliver the final argument.” I was shocked, having nothing prepared. By now I can’t remember how nervous I must have been, But, I stood up and made the argument that she was defending herself from a violent man. Thankfully, the jury saw it that way also.

At this point I can’t tell you for sure when it happened, but at some point after that trial I decided I wanted to focus on representing construction contractors.