Yesterday, I posted a Pele (The Brazilian super-star soccer player) quote that I particularly like on social media sites.

After posting, I received a comment:

Very true, but we may add that luck also is one factor.

Luck is indeed a factor, but I have always believed

Successful people make their own luck.

I also like:

Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.

You might enjoy reading: 5 Things People Who Make Their Own Luck Always Do.

If you are a long-time reader, you know I contend I owe my legal career success to luck. But, in most cases, it was luck meeting preparation. I’ve told these stories before. They illustrate my point.

I had been practicing law 12 years and I was in Roanoke, Virginia, when I received a call from the general counsel of what was then the third largest construction company in the United States. He said:

We have a $30 million problem in Atlanta and we’ve been told you are the lawyer to help us.

At the end of the call, I asked who recommended me. He told me it was a Federal Highway Administration lawyer who had been on a panel with me on the subject of the problem in Atlanta.

Was it luck? Yes. If the general counsel had talked to the lawyer in the office on either side of the lawyer who recommended me, they wouldn’t have known me. I can’t begin to tell you how many non-billable hours I had spent studying, writing and speaking on that subject. The preparation I did months before being asked to be on the panel is what gave me the opportunity.

If you can bear with me, I’ll give one more example.

It was Thanksgiving weekend in 1990. I was still practicing law in Virginia. I watched national news coverage of a bridge collapse on the west coast. Later that evening I received a call from the Transportation Secretary of the state where the collapse occurred. He asked if I could fly to the west coast on Monday and meet with his team.

At the end of the call, I asked: How did you find me? He told me the name of a famous bridge designer who had recommended me.

Was it luck? Yes. The Transportation Secretary talked to a famous bridge designer who had heard me speak and read what I had written on bridge design and bridge failures. Once again, I can’t begin to tell you how many non-billable hours I spent studying those subjects, including documents from a FOIA request of the Federal Highway Administration. My preparation over many, many months before is what gave me the opportunity.

 

 

A friend of mine reminded me of a riddle:

When was the last time a lawyer could be successful in a law firm without having clients?

His response was:

When Houston had a football team called the Houston Oilers.

Having watched the Dallas Cowboys lose to the Houston team that moved to Tennessee, I could have said: The last time the Cowboys won the Super Bowl. That was actually the year before the Oilers moved to Tennessee.

I recently discovered that several of my Lateral Link colleagues focus on recruiting associates. I am reposting this blog with some edits to update for those recruiters and the associates with whom they work. But, if you are a law firm associate this is also for you, and if you work with associates, I hope you will share it with them.

If you read the entire post, you will find that it includes slides from a presentation I did for senior associates and slides from a presentation I did for junior associates. I hope to also include handouts I gave for those presentations.

In a podcast interview with Dallas lawyer Tricia DeLeon, I asked: What is One Piece of Advice for Young Lawyers? When you listen you will hear her say “start your client development efforts now”. 

Are you an associate in your firm? Have you begun learning about client development and implementing what you are learning? Does your firm have a program on client development for associates?

Every partner I coach tells me they wish I had coached them earlier in their career. The time to learn, to practice and to ramp up client development activities is significant. By the time you are eligible to be promoted to partner, your firm leaders expect you to have the skills to attain, retain and expand relationships with clients.

I gave presentations for Junior Associates and Senior Associates on client development. Click on Client Development in a Nutshell: Junior Associates for the Junior Associate slides. Click on Client Development in a Nutshell: Senior Associates for the Senior Associate slides. Here is the handout for Junior Associates.  Here is the handout for Senior Associates.

I am frequently asked for ideas for these two groups. Here are a few.

Junior Associates:

  • Focus on learning your legal skills
  • Treat your supervising partner like a client
  • Make a list of 50 people you know who you think will be successful in the future and stay in contact with them
  • Each time you work on a project do research on the client’s industry
  • Get to know client’s business by reviewing the company website and setting up Google Alerts on the client
  • Develop a system to remember names
  • Develop a plan with written goals
  • Send hand written notes to contacts
  • Dress for success

Senior Associates:

  • Find a client development mentor
  • If the firm has blogs, contribute posts
  • Practice public speaking in front of groups
  • Become visible in the firm
  • Visit other offices if your firm has more than one
  • Start to think about a niche
  • Find a sub niche within the niche
  • Consider working toward leadership positions in bar associations
  • Be a mentor for a junior lawyer
  • Join industry organizations your clients belong to and go to the meetings
  • Read industry publications your clients read
  • Create a business plan with goals
  • If it is appropriate to help develop your practice, be active in your community
  • Get outside your comfort zone

Law Firms: When was the last time your law firm did any kind of program to help associates get started on learning and practicing good client development habits?

Associates: Take my word, if you start learning client development skills now, you will enjoy your career more in the future. I did it and had a blast practicing law.

A friend of mine recently asked me what has been my biggest surprise since starting my legal recruiting efforts in January.

I thought about it for a very short time. Then I said:

My biggest surprise is how much more money I would have made at some well known regional or mid-sized firms.

Why? I guess there are two reasons.

  1. Lower overhead
  2. Fewer senior lawyers on cruise control making lots of money, but not really working very hard.

I was never motivated by money, (if I had been I would have never left my law firm), but looking back now making more money at the pinnacle of my career would have certainly made Nancy and me more secure at this point.

When I was coaching lawyers, I got to know a great deal about each law firm where I coached. I was extremely impressed with many firms that I doubt I would have considered during my rising career. I really didn’t know much about those firms and now I do.

Several years ago I met with Thomas, a lawyer I was coaching. He said:

“Cordell, whatever you do, please don’t tell me I have to write or speak at industry meetings for client development.”

I told Thomas:

“You can be really successful and never write one article or give one industry presentation.”

Fast forward to a couple of years ago. I received an email from Thomas. In the email, he told me he had originated over $3 million in business that year. Near the end of the email, he told me he had given his first presentation.

What is the point of sharing that short story with you?

Each lawyer I coached is unique. Each lawyer I place now is unique.

Each lawyer has unique talents, goals, and challenges. So do you.

The point of individual coaching is one size does not fit all and my job was to help the lawyers I coached uncover their unique talents. As a recruiter, part of my job is to discover each lawyer’s unique talents

You may have a senior lawyer who is advising you. He may think what worked for him is exactly what will work for you. It may, but just as likely it may not.

While each lawyer I meet is unique, I believe rainmakers have certain attributes and do certain things. I wrote about it in my column in The Practical Lawyer.

How you can best spend your time will be determined by a variety of things, including:

  • The kind of work you do
  • Your experience
  • The amount of non-billable time you have
  • Your interests and talents
  • Your personality type
  • What you want to accomplish

Some lawyers like Thomas should be out in the community networking and/or active in the Bar.  Other lawyers do not have the time or desire and would rather go home and be with their family.

Some lawyers should spend time developing a social media presence and relationships. Others should spend time meeting with clients and referral sources in person.

Some lawyers should spend time developing new clients. Other lawyers should spend time focusing on their existing clients.

Some lawyers should market externally. Other lawyers should market internally.

Some lawyers should focus on being a subject matter expert. Other lawyers should focus on being a “trusted advisor.”

If you want to build your practice, you should focus on the attributes in my article and figure out your unique talents, goals, and challenges and spend your time most appropriately.

 

Suppose you came to me seeking to join a new law firm. And, suppose during our discussion I asked:

What can you tell me about your career and life habits?

Years ago I read Jack Canfield’s book: “The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be.”

In the book he reports that psychologists tell us that 90% of our behavior is habitual. I absolutely agree based on my own experience. If that is true, what are your habits? Are they contributing to your success?

If you are interested in Canfield’s list of principles you can find it here.

Canfield begins Principle 35 with a quote from Ken Blanchard.

There is a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you are committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.

That’s a powerful stuff.

For years I was committed to my personal fitness. I woke up the same time every morning and went to the fitness club.

Lately, I have only been interested, but not committed, in my physical fitness. I can find many excuses for not working out. Needless to say, working out is no longer part of my daily habits and I am not feeling as well as when it was.

What are your commitments? Are you committed to becoming a better lawyer? Are you committed to providing extraordinary service to your clients? Are you committed to making client development efforts part of your every day habits?

I have been thinking about what the most important habits lawyers should have if 90% of our behavior is habitual. I am considering writing a book describing these habits and why they are important. Here are the habits I believe are important:

  1. Healthy eating and regular exercise
  2. Positive self-talk and attitude
  3. Focus on learning and becoming a better lawyer
  4. Goal setting
  5. Planning non-billable time and using it wisely
  6. Focus on relationships
  7. Understanding client needs
  8. Extraordinary client service
  9. Leading, supervising, delegating and motivating lawyers and staff
  10. Making and keeping commitments

I plan to blog further on habits. Stay tuned if you are interested.

I am making my Video Coaching Series available for free for the first time. If you want to learn about client development and get off to a great start in 2019, I urge you to watch the series and before you start, download the Client Development Participants Guide that you will want to use to get the most out of the program or contact me at cparvin@cordellparvin.com and I will send you a copy.

When I was a young lawyer, I learned about client development by the seat of my pants and trial and error. It all worked out for me in the end, but looking back now I think about how much time I could have saved if I had some coaching at the beginning.

As you likely know, I coached close to 1800 lawyers in the United States and Canada, in big firms, medium-sized firms, and small firms. In my 13 years, I learned that I could not coach the unmotivated lawyers. I told two law firms that they were wasting their money on the lawyers they had selected for me to coach.

I worked with one law firm and the first group of lawyers I coached set a goal of doubling the fees the group originated in two years. They doubled originations in one year and tripled originations in two years.

Their success led to the second group of lawyers who started with double the amount of fees originated of the first group. They doubled their originations in two years. For the third group, firm leaders asked office managing partners and practice group leaders to select lawyers who “needed coaching.” It was a disaster. I can’t coach lawyers who “need coaching.”

When I was being considered by one large law firm, I met with the firm’s management committee members who were located in the home office. One member asked me to describe the type of lawyer I wanted to coach. I said I wanted to coach lawyers who were like Tiger Woods.

The member who asked the question laughed and said: Tiger Woods doesn’t need a coach. I replied, leave aside the fact he has several coaches, I wasn’t describing ability, I was describing his burning desire to constantly get better and his work each and every day to that end.

So, if you are not motivated, or you really “need coaching” you won’t likely gain much from the videos and workbook.

On the other hand, if you have that burning desire to get better and are willing to work at it each and every day, download the Participant’s Guide with the link in the first paragraph and here is the link to the videos.

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 this first 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 area code 404. I rarely answer unknown callers, but I answered this one.

The person on the other end told me his name, Mark Musick, 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 Mark I was honored to be asked and I would serve.

When I was a student at Virginia Tech they started The Old Guard. (Click to read about it.) The Old Guard members were the graduates of 50 or more years before. I remember over the years that on homecoming Saturday at half-time, the oldsters walked out onto the football field, if able, and were 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. Some of them may have fought in World War l. 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, IBM Mag Card typewriters (Current students won’t recognize that one), home and office computers, iPods, iPads, cell phones, streaming video, social media…and the great divide in our country today.

If you are interested and have time, I found this website How The Average American Has Changed Since The 1960s.

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.