A law firm leader once asked me if I would suggest questions to ask junior lawyers to determine if they would be the best suited for client development coaching. At the time I didn’t have questions, but at his request I suggested these.

  1. What do you believe you will get out of the coaching program?
  2. You would consider the coaching program a success if________.
  3. What do you want to learn?
  4. What client development efforts have you made the past year and how have they worked for you?
  5. What are your major client development strengths?
  6. What areas in your client development efforts do you want to improve?
  7. Did you create a business plan for last year?
  8. How much time will you commit each month to the coaching program and your client development efforts?

I have written on this subject many times. But, I suspect after COVID-19 fewer law firms than ever have client development coaching programs for their young lawyers.

You will hear baby boomer lawyers say:

When I was a young lawyer, no one coached me.

True. No one coached me either and I can’t begin to tell you how many hours I wasted trying to figure out by trial and error what would work most effectively for me. It was also harder for me to devote quality time on client development because no one was holding me accountable.

So, here are some benefits your firm might realize coaching your up and coming lawyers.

  1. Increase firm revenue and profitability
  2. Make its next generation of partners and firm leaders more focused on client development
  3. Develop individual and group responsibility and accountability
  4.  Make client development a greater part of the firm’s culture
  5. Help each lawyer in the program determine the client development efforts that will work most effectively for him or her
  6. Ensure that each lawyer in the program is taking action
  7. Ensure that each lawyer in the program feel like they are in control of their future
  8. Client development will become part of the daily habits of lawyers in the coaching program
  9. Increase business with existing clients and to bring in new clients
  10. Enable lawyers within the program to get to know each other better, to work effectively as a team, and to collaborate on their client development efforts
  11. Increase opportunities for cross-selling among the lawyers coached
  12. Make client development go from an activity dreaded to one enjoyed

When I was building my law practice, I never thought about branding. I likely never heard the word used in connection with practicing law.

A few years ago, I was asked by the Boston Bar Association to be the keynote speaker of a day long program they titled: “Brand Yourself: Business Development for New Associates Conference.” At the time I wondered if the young lawyers who attended wondered what it meant to brand yourself.

If you want to review the slides from Boston Bar presentation you can find them here. If you are interested in my workbook handout, send me an email.

 

If you give it much thought, isn’t your brand or your law firm’s brand what your clients think of you or your firm?

What do you want your clients to think of you?

To give you some ideas, here is what I wanted my clients to think about me.  I wanted to be perceived by transportation construction contractors as:

  1. The preeminent transportation construction lawyer in the US
  2. Able to anticipate and identify their potential problems and provide innovative solutions before they thought of the problem
  3. The lawyer with the greatest construction business savvy
  4. Trustworthy
  5. Ethical
  6. Likeable
  7. Empathetic and Caring
  8. Responsive
  9. Focused on helping contractor clients succeed

How did I make these ideas come to life?

When I first started I spent about as much time reading about construction and the construction business as I did reading about legal issues. By understanding how my clients made or lost money, the challenges they faced building complicated projects and how their industry was changing, I was better positioned to help them.

My goal was to take what I learned and distinguish myself from other lawyers.

Then, for 25 years I wrote a column for Roads and Bridges magazine titled “Law: The Contractor’s Side.”

When I wrote the column I spent more time figuring out what to write about than actually writing it. Why? Because each month I wanted to demonstrate I was anticipating and identifying potential problems and offering a solution. Because the column was so well read, it enabled me to build my brand more than any other client development activity I did.

How do you want your clients to perceive you? When you answer that question you will be on your way to building your brand, or whatever other term you choose to describe it.

I remember coaching an outstanding young associate who soon thereafter became a partner in her firm.

On thing she wanted to focus on was preparing a plan for the year that would work for her. So as we got started I asked for her to share her goals  with me.

She started with a goal of bringing in a certain amount of business from her own clients. I then asked how she had estimated the amount of business. She replied she had based the estimate on what she had in the pipeline for her one big client.

I then asked is she felt she was limiting herself by setting a goal she was pretty certain she would reach. I told her she might be focused on not failing rather than focused in succeeding.

Are you like the lawyer I coached ? Are you limiting yourself to what you feel confident you can achieve?

When I practiced law I can’t tell you exactly why but I started setting financial goals that other lawyers said I would not be able to achieve. I wanted to push myself. I wanted to be able to visualize something really big.

 

Have you ever heard of James Allen, an English author in the late 1800s? I bet most of of you haven’t.  He was a self-help guru when self-help gurus weren’t cool.

Here are just a few of his quotes on self-motivation.

“You will become as small as your controlling desire; as great as your dominant aspiration.”
“To desire is to obtain; to aspire is to achieve.”
“For true success ask yourself these four questions: Why? Why not? Why not me? Why not now?”
“All that you accomplish or fail to accomplish with your life is the direct result of your thoughts.”
If you want to learn more about self motivation, I recommend reading: Self-Motivation Explained + 100 Ways To Motivate Yourself. In the meantime, don’t limit yourself. Think about your own definition of success and then ask: Why? Why not? Why not me? Why not now?

  1. If you are blogging start by finding a topic that addresses a timely client problem, opportunity or change.
  2. Spend more time deciding on a topic than writing the blog post.
  3. Remember your readers don’t care about what you do. They only care about how what you do solves their problems.
  4. When writing it is better to appeal to a  “narrow” target market than trying to write something that will be less valuable to a bigger audience.
  5. You must consistently post new blog posts not hit or miss.
  6. Make sure your blog gets the widest distribution using social media and other tools.
  7. Potential clients reading your blog prefer bullet points or lists. My clients never wanted to know the history of Swiss watch making they wanted to know the time.
  8. Your firm may want group blogs. That is fine except you lose the voice of the blogger.
  9. Your blogging may lead to speaking opportunities. The writing gives you a “calling card” to get asked to speak.
  10. Pretend your readers will only read the first line of your blog because if you don’t grab their attention there you will lose them.
  11. Business clients skim blog posts they do not read them word for word.
  12. To be a thought leader you have to see things others do not see and be first to write about those things.

 

When I coached lawyers in a firm, I told the managing partners that it is incredibly important to select the right lawyers for the coaching program. I said:

I can’t motivate the unmotivated.

I also said:

The lawyers in your firm who will get the most out of coaching are those lawyers who you believe don’t need coaching

I knew that from my own personal experience. In one well-known firm I coached the first group of lawyers and they did incredibly well. The second group of lawyers also did very well For the third group the firm reached out to practice group leaders and office managing partners  to identify the lawyers they believed most “needed” coaching. It was by far the worst experience I had coaching, and was the last group of lawyers I coached with that firm.

I would not recommend coaching these young lawyers in your firm:

  • Lawyers who believe they just have to do good work to attract clients
  • Lawyers who think they are too young, too inexperienced or any other too…to attract clients
  • Lawyers who have no interest in developing their own book of business
  • Lawyers who are content with their client development success
  • Lawyers who believe client development is a God given talent and cannot be learned and developed
  • Lawyers who claim to be too busy to do client development
  • Lawyers who just want to work on a senior’s lawyer’s clients
  • Lawyers who are not open to new ideas
  • Lawyers who believe you have to be an extravert or go to networking events to attract clients
  • Lawyers who believe the only way to attract clients is to do it the way his or her senior lawyer did it
  • Lawyers who say “My problem is…,” “I can’t…,” “Yes, but…”

A lawyer I coached once asked  how I could possibly leave a secure, successful law practice in a large firm to go out on my own to coach, mentor, and help lawyers.

I told her that Nancy had asked me the very same question when I told her in 2004 that I planned to make the change.

It was a logical question for the lawyer and for Nancy given that my construction law practice was thriving, my clients were happy, my last trial resulted in a a great result. I loved practicing construction law and I loved my clients. I finally answered her question this way:

Coaching lawyers was the intersection of my talent, my passion and a need.


Simply put, I discovered when I worked with lawyers in my old law firm that helping those lawyers achieve success and fulfillment was the intersection of my passion and talent.

It also fulfilled a need. The lawyers I coached appreciated the help I gave them.

Finally, it was a new challenge. Long ago I discovered that I easily got bored doing things I had done many times before. While my law practice energized me, and I loved working with my favorite clients, I was even more energized by my efforts to help young lawyers and I felt I was making a greater contribution.

I can look back on that decision now. Had I continued practicing law I would have been far more financially secure than I am now. I didn’t make as much money as I had hoped I would make coaching lawyers. Even in my best years, I made only a fraction of what I made practicing law.

That said I doubt I would change anything. I worked with awesome young lawyers. Many of them are leading rainmakers or firm leaders now. Many share their success stories with me by email or handwritten notes. I discovered my passion when practicing law and later when coaching was helping others succeed…and having a feeling I had some part to play in their success.

What does my career change mean to you? I believe it is important to find your passion, talent and a client need. The lawyers I coach who are most successful have found that sweet spot. I saw a quote from the late Herman Cain. He said:

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you’ll be successful.” ~ Herman Cain

So naturally the question I ask is: Do you love what you do?

Our neighbors across the street were on vacation for spring break. We were getting their mail and any packages left on their doorstep. One night they called to ask if a box had been delivered and we went over and found it.

When they got back home, they came over to get the mail and packages and it turned out the box included several bottles of Cakebread wine. That week their company hosted a virtual wine tasting on Zoom with a member of the Cakebread family discussing each bottle of wine.

I believe what made the event unique and special was having a member of the family talk about the wine. I say this in part because a lawyer I coached told me last month he didn’t want to participate in another virtual wine tasting event.

Back in September of last year, Seth Godin wrote a blog titled:  A New Normal. In February Godin wrote: Tilting at Windmills. I especially liked the last sentence where he said:

Every normal is a new normal, until it is replaced by another one.

I could tell you what the new normal in client development was 20 years ago. One example is that law firms had finally developed websites.  Those of you who were practicing then, can think about what it was like in 2001 what is no longer normal in 2021.

In 2021 I believe you have to figure out what is important to each individual client to know, why it is important for that client and how can you best communicate it to that specific client.

Have you heard of individualization marketing? If not take a look at this discussion: Marketing evolution: From personalization to individualization.

 

To accomplish the what, why and how, what is the new normal for lawyers? I believe in 2021, you must:

  1. Narrow your market of potential clients and become visible and credible to them.
  2. Know your clients’ industry, business and the client representative’s special needs.
  3. In 2021 it is more important than ever to anticipate client problems, opportunities and changes resulting from COVID, the 2020 election and other new issues or changes  before other lawyers and even before your clients.
  4. When you successfully anticipate a legal issue that will impact your clients figure out how your clients can best deal with the legal issue and blog or create an on-line program to share your knowledge.
  5. If you or your firm is doing any kind of virtual client development event, make it unique and special.
  6. Find new ways to personalize any client development activities by knowing the needs of each individual client.
  7. Discover what each individual client believes is extraordinary service and deliver that and more.

I published many of these tips years ago and decided it was worth bringing it back now.

When I coached groups of lawyers at law firms, I shared with the lawyers ideas I wish someone had told me when I was a young lawyer. Here are some of those tips.

  1. Create goals and actions to achieve the goals-It’s fine to create end result goals, but don’t stop there. Create action plans.
  2. Breakdown your action plan-Create 90 days or monthly action plans. Lawyers who prepare a business plan for the year tend to put it in their desk and don’t look at it again.
  3.  Plan and schedule client development activities each week-Decide what you plan to do, estimate how much time it will take and then schedule it on your calendar
  4. Keep a client development journal-Keeping track makes it more likely you will actually do the activities and it will enable you to figure out what was the best use of your time.
  5.  Have a client development partner-Like a workout partner, a client development partner makes it more likely you will do the activities.
  6. Join industry and/or community associations/organizations and seek leadership positions and speaking opportunities-Join just a few organizations and become visible by leading or speaking.
  7. Stay in contact-Use multiple means (notes, calls, lunches, coffee, blogs, email, LinkedIn).
  8.  Conduct workshops and seminars for clients-(Get CLE credit if doing it for in-house lawyers)
  9.  Put links to published articles on your website bio-You want perspective clients to read what you have written
  10.  Create a blog-Blog posts are easier to write and more timely than writing articles that are published weeks or months later.
  11. Create a guide-This can be a handout at industry presentations. Make it short and concise.
  12. Create video and post to YouTube-If you are creating a program for clients hire a videographer to shoot video and then post it.
  13.  Read what your clients read-Find out their industry publications and subscribe to them
  14.  Identify referral sources-Referral Sources expand your network to perspective clients
  15. Write thank you notes-Let clients know you appreciate the opportunity to serve them.
  16. Get to know assistants-A client representative’s assistant can be a great source of goodwill.
  17. Joint venture programs with client representatives-They will enjoy being asked and working together will help build the relationship
  18. Become involved in your clients’ favorite charities-This is another way to build the relationship and let the client know you care about what is important to them.
  19. Return phone calls and emails promptly-Clients do not want to wait.
  20. Build database of information on your clients including spouse’s name, children’s names and ages, hobbies etc.-This helps you find reasons to be in contact with clients. I used an excel spreadsheet
  21. Go to events you would rather skip-You never know where you will run into opportunities.
  22.  Have your elevator speech ready-Create several so you can use the appropriate one
  23.  Have your elevator questions ready-People want you to be interested more than they want you to be interesting.
  24. Call, email and write clients-Just to see how they are doing
  25. Do something no matter how small each and every day-Make a list of potential things you can do each and every day.
  26. Read books about sales, service and relationship building-Figure out how other businesses do it effectively by reading about them. Tell me a topic of interest, I will suggest a book for you.

When I was young, we couldn’t afford the best. So frequently I bought something that wasn’t the best.

When I was in the US Air Force trying government contract cases, we received $25 a day for a hotel and meals in Washington, D.C. Even back then, we could not stay in a hotel for $25, much less have money for meals. So, we stayed in a no-tell motel on Jefferson Davis Highway in Alexandria. I vowed then to never stay in that kind of hotel again.

Ok, here is a list of some things and services I buy because I think they are the best:

  1. Caffè Latte from Starbucks (I recently had a latte from another coffee company and did not recognize the taste)
  2. Mac computers and iAnything from Apple
  3. Hotel stays at Ritz Carlton, with special emphasis on the Club Level
  4.  Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet from Heitz Cellar winery. (The first fine wine I ever drank was from Heitz Cellar. We bought a bottle to celebrate our 50th anniversary last year.
  5. Central Market Nancy and I shop at Central Market because we think they have by far the best produce in Dallas-Fort Worth.

I could go on with more favorites, but I think you get the idea.

Seth Godin posted a really interesting blog a few years ago. The title was It’s Just Better Ketchup. He said that in a discussion of why Heinz Ketchup has such a large market share in Pittsburgh, one commentator said: “It’s just better ketchup… When you go to a restaurant and they have a different kind, it feels you are eating at some cheap cafeteria.”

I  found the quote interesting because I feel the same way when I go to a restaurant that does not have Heinz Ketchup. I urge you to read the blog post. You will see that Seth Godin says our attachment to a product, and I would add a lawyer or law firm, is not necessarily because the product is the really the best.

Why am I attached to the products and services listed above? It is because I trust the quality of what I am getting and I value the relationship. So, whether or not the provider is actually “the best,” they are the best for me.

“She is just a better lawyer or that firm is just a better law firm?”

Do your clients have a good reason to say that about you or your law firm? They will if they believe you are the “go to” lawyer in your field and they trust the quality of your service and value the relationship with you.