A lawyer I coached recently reached out to me and asked that I help her make a change. One of the first questions I asked her took her by surprise. My question:

Why are you practicing law?

Have you ever heard of Simon Sinek? He created a simple model of the Golden Circles and the idea to: Start with Why. If you get a chance watch the Ted video on his page.

He actually mentions lawyers and law firms in his presentation and shares that successful enterprises, like Apple start with why. He says:

Most computer companies start by telling you they make great products. Apple does the opposite. It starts by telling you why it makes computers.

Substitute law firms for computer companies and provide outstanding legal services to make great products and you have what most law firms are selling.  His idea is consistent with what I have taught for lawyers, except he adds one more point, which I paraphrase:

Clients don’t buy what you do. Clients buy why you do it.

When I practiced construction law, there came a time I changed my focus from what I was doing to how what I was doing benefitted my contractor clients. My purpose practicing law was to enable my clients to build magnificent projects safely and profitably.

Later, when I worked with associates in my firm, I suggested they answer these questions:

  • Why did you decide you wanted to become a lawyer?
  • Why do you want to be a lawyer now?
  • Who is the lawyer you admire most and why do you admire that lawyer?
  • How would you define your own career success and when will you know you have achieved it?
  • What values are most important to you?
  • What do you want to be working on and for whom five years from now?

In a presentation I gave to the Texas Young Lawyers Association (TYLA) members, I talked about finding your purpose. Take a look at this video clip.

If you know what your purpose is being a lawyer, you will be a greater value to your clients. Like Apple, you will also do a better job marketing yourself.

I’ve written this post mostly about me and what I am thinking about this week. So, when you read the title, and this sentence, you may have asked yourself:

What does any of this have to do with me?

For those of you not likely to read all of this post, let me answer the question up front.

You never know where your career and life will take you, and it’s best to be open to new ideas.

I received a call last week on my cell phone. When I looked at the caller ID I saw it was from the Atlanta, Georgia area code. I rarely answer unknown callers, but I answered this one.

The person on the other end told me his name, which sounded vaguely familiar. He said he was calling to ask me to be on the Virginia Tech Class of 69 50th Reunion Committee. I had just returned from watching the Hokies lose to Notre Dame, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back next year for a game, but I told the caller I would serve.

When I was a student at Virginia Tech they started The Old Guard. (Click to read about it.) The Old Guard were the graduates of 50 or more years before. At homecoming, the oldsters walk out onto the football field, if able, and are recognized.

When I was sitting in the stands in 1967, the Old Guard members were those who graduated in 1917 and before. I thought at the time they really looked old. My father, who was born in 1914 was only three when those Old Guard members graduated from Virginia Tech.

I remember thinking: They look old. They graduated from Virginia Tech before the Roaring 20s, the Great Depression and World War II.

When the current Virginia Tech students see the Class of 69, I doubt they will give it much thought, but they could think: They graduated before Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, before CDs, DVDs, video cameras, bank ATM machines, home and office computers, iPods, cell phones, social media…and the great divide in our country today.

I never gave one thought to the possibility that there would come a time when I would become a member of the Old Guard. I’m not sure I even gave thought to what it would be like to practice law for 38 years, and I certainly never thought I would complete my legal career practicing law with a big law firm in Dallas, Texas. I also never thought that just after my best year practicing law I would give up my legal career to coach younger lawyers.

Most importantly, I didn’t think that literally a week after graduation, I would see this beautiful, vibrant, radiant  young woman, named Nancy and over that summer of 1969, we would both work the graveyard shift 12AM to 8 AM, we’d get engaged and the next year we’d get married on June 6.

Over the years young lawyers have asked, how did you know Nancy was the one? Nancy and I have both said “we didn’t know what we didn’t know,” meaning in many ways we were lucky. But, we connected in part because we each felt our lives would be enriched being together. We were both striving to accomplish something in our lives, and we continue with our efforts today.

But, looking back to when the first Old Guard was introduced at Virginia Tech in 1967, I didn’t know I would meet Nancy, and I didn’t know many things about my future.

  • I wasn’t sure I would be accepted at a law school
  • I wasn’t sure the United States Air Force would give me a deferment to go to law school
  • I didn’t know I would have the opportunity to become a government contracts litigator while on active duty in the USAF
  • I didn’t know that after my tour of duty in the USAF, I would start with a law firm in Roanoke, Virginia
  • I didn’t know I would create a niche law practice representing highway and bridge construction contractors
  • I didn’t know I would move my niche practice and family to Richmond, Virginia and later to Dallas, Texas
  • I never dreamed I would represent some of the largest, most successful contractors in the United States
  • I never considered the possibility that when I was the very top of my law career I would give it all up to coach and teach younger lawyers
  • It never entered my mind that in 2018, the year before becoming a member of the Old Guard, I would be living in Prosper, Texas, recruiting lawyers I know for law firms I know and I would be writing my second courtroom novel

When a lawyer comes to me seeking to change law firms, sometime during our discussions I ask:

When it comes to legal work, what do you believe is most important for your potential clients?

I believe most law firm leaders know what business clients expect and want from outside lawyers and firms. But, I wonder if law firms effectively use what they know. The vast majority of business clients report:

  • They hire lawyers rather than law firms. What are you doing to develop your next generation of outstanding lawyers?
  • A lawyer makes final consideration based on recommendations, his reputation, and profile. Do you have a plan for your lawyers to raise their visibility and credibility to their potential target market
  • A lawyer gets hired based on his or her ability to connect and generate trust and rapport with the client’s decision makers. Are you teaching your lawyers how to build trust and rapport?
  • Approximately 75% of the Fortune 1000 General Counsel’s are dissatisfied with their present law firm and would replace the firm if they thought any other firm would do better. What are you doing to make sure your client service exceeds expectations?
  • They are generally not dissatisfied with the quality of the work or the hourly rates of the senior lawyers. How are you making sure that clients will value the quality of work done by your junior lawyers?
  • Instead, they are dissatisfied with the lawyers’ lack of knowledge of the industry, company and decision makers, the lack of innovation and the lack of quality service including responsiveness. Do your junior lawyers understand and know the client’s industry? Are you looking for ways to be more innovative? Have your figured out how your clients define responsiveness and do you have a plan to make sure they receive it?

Over the 13 years I coached lawyers, I was frequently asked what are the most important things lawyers I coach are getting out of the coaching program.

I want to share my thoughts with you because even if you are not in any coaching program you can use these ideas. If you are interesting in having me find the right firm for you now, this is also a pretty good list for you.

  • They think about client development opportunities.
  • They have a long-term and short-term plan with goals.
  • They have become more confident in themselves.
  • They have become more focused on what they want to do and the potential clients in their target market.
  • They are building their profile by writing, speaking and becoming more known as a “go to” lawyer in their field.
  • They are way more focused on their clients’ industry, business and client representatives.
  • They are getting out from behind their computers and making client visits.
  • They have become more active in their communities.
  • They are learning from each other and getting to know each other.
  • They have taught other lawyers in the firm.
  • They are having fun. (They don’t look at client development as something they have to do.)

I urge you to think about how you can personally implement each of these ideas.

 

Not all lawyers admit it, but every lawyer is afraid at some point in his or her career.

For some, the fear is crippling. For others the fear is overcome. For me, my fear  motivated me.

Now that I am recruiting lawyers, I prefer to recruit those who are afraid far more than those who are complacent. As a coach and recruiter I can help a lawyer effectively deal with his or her fear, but I can’t help a lawyer deal with his or her complacency.

I love this quote attributed to Intel’s Andy Grove:

Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.

Andy Grove later wrote a book titled: Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company

I wasn’t aware of Andy Grove’s quote during my career, but I frequently said I had “healthy paranoia.”

What was my biggest fear? I always put it in harsh terms. I was always afraid my clients would find out I was a “fraud.” I was afraid they would figure out I didn’t know nearly as much as I appeared to know.

How did this fear motivate me?

Put simply, I worked harder to be the lawyer my clients perceived I was. I wanted to learn as much as I could about construction. So, I was a member of the Civil Engineer’s Book Club and created a library and read book after book on highway design and construction, bridge design and construction and construction management.

I read books and listened to tapes on trial skills and trial lawyers. I still have many of the books about famous trial lawyers.

What are your fears? Are your fears holding you back, or are you using fear to motivate you to become the best lawyer you can be?

Have you bought a Groupon or Living Social certificate to get a discount at a restaurant?

On the one hand, I’ve gone to restaurants I didn’t even know about before buying the discount certificate. On the other hand, I rarely have gone back and paid the full price.

What happens when law firms give discounts?

Giving discounts reminds me of Jos A. Bank. There is always a sale going on. A few years ago, I could have bought one sports coat or pair of slacks and gotten two for free. Over the years, when I bought something at the Jos A Bank store I was never sure I got the best deal.

If you give discounts, your clients will wonder if they are getting the best discount you give.

I never gave discounts. Instead, I gave extra services away at no cost.

For example, I offered to do workshops for my clients at no charge. I occasionally put associates in their office for a week at no charge.

I believe giving value for free is better than discounting fees. I also gave budgets for the work we were asked to do because I believed it was important for the client to be able to budget the outside fees.

I believe that:

  • 10% of legal work is bet the company and it goes to the best lawyers
  • 30% of work is commodity work and it goes to the lowest cost provider
  • 60% of legal work is based on relationships and it goes to the lawyer who is known, liked and trusted by the decision maker

Focus on either being the best in the world at something so you get the bet the company work, or focus on building relationships.

If you are doing commodity or routine work you better be able to do it cheaply.

Finally, if the economy demands it, lower your standard rate rather than giving a discount. If you do give a discount, you should anticipate your client will want a further discount when they receive your bill.

Take a moment from your work and determine if you think you are on the right track. Want some help? Think of five questions to ask yourself.

A few years ago I read a short Entrepreneur Magazine article by Richard Branson: Five Secrets to Business Success and it made me think of five questions to ask to determine if you are on the road to a successful career.

What five questions would you ask? Here are questions I would ask:

  1. Have I identified the priorities in my life?
  2. Have I found the kind of legal work or kind of clients that I am passionate about?
  3. Am I raising my visibility and credibility to those clients?
  4. Am I building high trust relationships with clients and referral sources?
  5. Am I am exceeding my clients’ expectations?

What would you add to this list?

 

In my new role as a legal recruiter, the first question law firms ask when considering partner candidates is:

Does he/she have clients? (Code for what is the amount of his/her portable business?)

In my role as a recruiter, more often than not I am not placing the lawyers who have $1 million or more in portable business. More often I am placing lawyers who have the potential to have $1 million in business.

So this post is aimed at those lawyers and at the firms that might consider them.

I recently read Jim Connelly’s Marketing blog post: You have no clients. Seriously. Not even one!

Connelly wrote:

Once you’ve earned someone’s custom, trust or attention, it’s just the beginning. If you want to retain their custom, trust and attention, you then need to keep on re-earning it. The moment you begin to think otherwise, you risk becoming complacent.

To put it in lawyer-client terms, Connelly is suggesting that you not focus on obtaining the client, but instead focus on developing the relationship.

I suspect that a natural question may be how do you develop relationships with potential clients and referral sources.

I have always suggested that it was about building trust and rapport. I believe that building trust means demonstrating you are the right lawyer for the legal matter. I believe building rapport means you demonstrate you genuinely care about the person and become interested in him or her beyond the work.

With my own ideas in mind, I went searching for a how-to article/blog post. I found a 2017 Forbes article titled: How To Build Strong Business Relationships. The first thing that struck me was the results of a study:

An essential part of business success is having a strong network. In fact, a Harvard study found that 85% of professional success comes from people skills.

I’m just curious:

  1. What is your firm doing to improve the people skills of your lawyers?
  2. If your firm is doing nothing, what are you doing?

If you enjoy what you are doing, and you’re good at it, but you want to change law firms, you are in the minority and you are the type of lawyer I would like to recruit.

Much has been written about unhappy lawyers. I’ve even written about it myself. Earlier this year I posted: How to go from burnout to balance?

I also posted: Activities and Relationships: Key to your happiness.

I’ve been working on my second novel for several months now. One of my characters is a 30 something-year-old lawyer named Carina. She is incredibly successful. She sets goals, works hard, figures out things others miss and she is credited for her great work for her client.

Yet, in the course of the novel, Carina realizes she is not very happy. I did some research and found an Atlantic article: Why So Many Smart People Aren’t Happy.

In the interview with University of Texas professor, Raj Raghunathan who authored a book titled:  If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? 

I especially liked this rather long quote from the interview:

When you don’t need to compare yourself to other people, you gravitate towards things that you instinctively enjoy doing, and you’re good at, and if you just focus on that for a long enough time, then chances are very, very high that you’re going to progress towards mastery anyway, and the fame and the power and the money and everything will come as a byproduct, rather than something that you chase directly in trying to be superior to other people.

For lawyers, comparing ourselves with others begins in law school. I was either third or fourth in my law school class. I can’t remember now, and to be honest, it never made any difference in my career.

I did some research and found the University of Richmond Law School is ranked number 50 by US News and World Report. I’m sure it was not ranked that high when I attended, but to be honest that never made any difference in my career.

When I was busy practicing law, my least happy times came once a year when I compared how much I was being paid to how much my partners were being paid. I was happiest when I was away from the office helping contractors get fairly paid for the large complex projects they were constructing.

I believe the lawyers in my old firm were fairly happy (other than the one time a year when they learned how much they and their colleagues would be paid), until we discovered our Am Law ranking. We were in the Top 100 and later the Top 50, but some leaders wanted a higher ranking.

I remember receiving a 15-page manifesto written by one leader on how we could move up the Am Law rankings. Other than the prospect of being paid more money, I found nothing valuable in the manifesto.

I want to recruit lawyers who are not comparing themselves to others. It’s a no-win game. As soon as you climb one mountain, there’ll be another one right in front of you.

 

Over the years when I coached lawyers, several Professional Development and Client Development/marketing professionals contacted me asking for subjects to cover in client development teaching and training.

If I wanted to take just 30 minutes or less at lunch each month, here are the topics I might cover:

  • What makes client development in 2018 and soon 2019 different and more challenging than 10 years ago – the economy (it’s roaring now), clients and the tools available
  • How to develop a business plan
  • How to determine individual goals that will challenge and stretch your lawyers
  • How to determine what activities to undertake to meet their goal
  • Methods you and your lawyers can use to hold the lawyers accountable
  • How to raise their visibility and credibility to their target market
  • How to write articles, blog posts and give presentations that will enhance their reputation and increase their chances of getting hired
  • Networking
  • Building relationships
  • How to work more effectively as a team
  • “Beyond Selling”- How to get business without coming across like a used car salesman
  • Extraordinary client service and expanding relationships with existing clients

Actually, I would put the last session first. I think one of the most important things you can teach your lawyers is how to provide extraordinary service to existing clients.