I confess: I find it difficult to write and post anything that is relevant while young lawyers are likely working from home while looking after their kids who are not in school. I sense that the Coronavirus will change client development forever, or at least for the rest of this year.

I generally write these blog posts days or weeks in advance of posting. Now, I have to look and see if what I wrote is relevant at this moment in time. I’m considering suspending posting, in part because my thoughts are in a different place. So, stay tuned.

When I was in charge of attorney development in my old law firm I was asked, how I knew when an associate was ready to be considered for partner. I answered that when an associate quits thinking like an employee and starts thinking like a partner he or she is ready. 

Have you read: The Impact Equation by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith?

In the book the authors write:

Owners, for example, search out opportunities, while employees wait for opportunities to come to them.

Isn’t that a good criteria to determine whether an associate is ready to be considered to become a partner?

Suppose I asked you to finish this post by providing examples of how partners look for opportunities. What would be on your list?

Sadly, our lives have drastically changed, even since my post last Thursday. I’m trying to catch up with the “new normal.” I think it will take me some time.

In this time of “social distancing” you are not likely to attend an in-person client development program. As a result, I want to once again make my video coaching program available at no cost to lawyers and law firms.

Here is the link to the video program. And, here is a link to the workbook you should use while watching the program. SRE Participant’s Guide 15

Let’s move on to my post today. Several years ago a friend sent me a link to a fascinating New Yorker article titled: Personal Best: Top athletes and singers have coaches. Should you? written by surgeon, Atul Gawande. The article was aimed at surgeons, but many points also apply to lawyers. In the article, Gawande discusses when a person peaks in a given profession.

Even if you are not an athlete, you know that many athletes peak early in their life.

I’m sure most of you watched the Super Bowl. Did you know that Patrick Mahomes is only 24 years old? I recently read: Patrick Mahomes’ high school classmate predicted Super Bowl win in yearbook entry

So even back in high school, Patrick Mahomes projected something that caused a class mate to predict he would play in the NFL and win a Super Bowl.

Unless you are a tennis fan, you may not know of CoCo Gauff. She is a 15 year old star. In the Australian Open she beat title holder Naomi Osaka. Check out: Oh My Gauff: Serena Williams Loses Match at Australian Open, 15-Year-Old Coco Gauff Beats Naomi Osaka.

Young athletes are taking their place in their sports. Surgeons, on the other hand peak much later in their career. The doctor writer suggests it is at about 45 years old. He then states:

Jobs that involve the complexities of people or nature seem to take the longest to master.

Business man win.jpgWhen do lawyers peak?

I often say rainmakers peak between 50 and 60. That 10 year period is when they have the greatest success. I know that was certainly true of my career.

If you get a chance to read the New Yorker article you will certainly get a better idea of what coaching is and why it works. I will leave you with a paragraph from the article about coaching teachers. It most definitely applies to client development coaching for lawyers:

California researchers in the early nineteen-eighties conducted a five-year study of teacher-skill development in eighty schools, and noticed something interesting.

Workshops led teachers to use new skills in the classroom only ten per cent of the time. Even when a practice session with demonstrations and personal feedback was added, fewer than twenty per cent made the change.

But when coaching was introduced—when a colleague watched them try the new skills in their own classroom and provided suggestions—adoption rates passed ninety per cent. A spate of small randomized trials confirmed the effect. Coached teachers were more effective, and their students did better on tests.

Have you made any changes in your client development efforts during this year?

When I am asked what I most enjoyed about coaching, I always respond that I most enjoyed seeing younger lawyers succeed, and knowing I had some small role in their success. I hope I inspired them. I know they inspired me.

Are you inspiring your next generation of lawyers? Here are some suggestions.

  • Get to know them. Get to REALLY know them. I am not just referring to knowing their legal skills. Get to know them on a personal level.
  • Let them really know you.
  • Ask good questions and actively listen to their answers.
  • Help them discover the intersection of their passion, talent and a client need.
  • Help them focus on their strengths and what makes them unique and special.
  • Be open to the idea that they may take a different path to reach success than your path.
  • Encourage them to stretch and get outside their comfort zone. Real development as a lawyer comes from gaining confidence after doing challenging things.
  • Realize that you will actually learn as much, if not more, from them as they will learn from you.

You have the opportunity to inspire the next generation of great lawyers in your firm.

Suppose for the moment you are a a breakfast, lunch a ball game or an event and you meet a potential client or referral source. What is your goal?


Next time you have this kind of meeting opportunity set some goals for the meeting. I know many lawyers whose goal is to get business from this meeting. If that is your goal, you will likely come across as either being needy or greedy. Neither leaves positive feelings with your potential client.

Take some advice from Stephanie Palmer Taxy the author of Good in a Room. She writes that “Professionals think, ‘my goal is to be asked back for another meeting.’”

Palmer suggest three goals:

1. To learn.
2. To build rapport.
3. To get the buyer (potential client) to agree to one and only one request.

She reports that the third goal is the toughest to achieve and that it is most likely to be achieved when you focus on the first goal.

When you are at an event and meet a potential client or referral source, the important thing is to build your relationship. You can do it without ever talking about business. As Stephanie Palmer suggests take time to learn as much as you can, just have fun and build rapport. If you do that really well, you might be able to follow up in a meaningful way.

Consider this dichotomy: On the one hand, according to a January, 2020 Gallup Poll, lawyers are ranked 14th on honesty and ethical standards. (Nurses are most trusted for the 18th year in a row).

That’s not so bad. Congressmen were ranked 21st, only beating out car salesmen.

On the other hand the American Film Institute’s number one movie hero for the 20th century is Atticus Finch.

gregory-peck-to-kill-a-mockingbird.jpgIf your client made a movie of your work with them or their company, would you be more like the lawyers in the Gallup poll or more like Atticus? What about other American Film Institute movie heroes? Would you be like them?

When I looked at the American Film Institute’s list of movie heroes, the number four movie hero of all time was a character named Rick from one of the film classics. Rick was not a lawyer, and he was certainly a flawed character, but he did share many Atticus Finch attributes that our clients are seeking. Here are a few I noticed:

  • He was competent
  • He was confident
  • He was a strong individual
  • He was a risk taker
  • He was compassionate and empathetic
  • He helped without even being asked and without expecting anything in return
  • He clearly put the interests of others ahead of his own
  • He sacrificed

Do you know the movie character?  Even if you have never seen the movie, you might be able to guess the title from two of the hero’s famous lines:

We’ll always have Paris.

Here’s looking at you, kid.

“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

Almost every movie hero has many of the attributes listed above.

As you might imagine, your clients expect you to have most, if not all of those attributes. Think about how you would appear in the movie your client might make of you.

P.S. If you haven’t seen Casablanca, it is worth watching.

Have you ever heard of Gary Vaynerchuck (Gary Vee)? My bet is most of you have never heard of him. You can learn more about him on his website here.

You can learn a great deal about wine from Gary Vee. Check out his Monthly Wine Club.

More importantly, you will learn how to successfully reach potential clients using social media from Gary. He recently posted How to Create 64 pieces of content in a day.  It includes slides for each idea.

He took his family-owned business from $4 million a year to $60 million in a relatively short time. He did it by creating valuable “content” that brought customers to him and getting that content widely spread using social media. Gary correctly points out that content has never been worth less, yet never been more important.

Years ago I read Gary’s book Crush It! on my Kindle. It is a short book well worth reading. I suggest as an assignment you read it and send me a report on how you can apply the principles to your law practice. To get you started here is a book review.

Gary Vee has many video clips that explain how you can become more successful. Here is one you might find valuable:

You likely are thinking that marketing wine is much different than marketing legal services and without the ethical rules. While marketing wine is different, there are principles Gary writes about that also apply to your law practice.  The most successful people who sell wine or lawyers who practice law will:

  • Be passionate about what they are doing,
  • Be insatiable to learn what their customers or clients want and need,
  • Create content their customers and clients find valuable and give it away.
  • Get the content out to the people who want it, and finally,
  • Use social media as a tool to teach rather than sell.


I’ve invited two of my Lateral Link Colleagues, Kristina Marlow and Stephanie Ruiter, to share with you why your 5th year is so important.

Kristina Marlow is a senior director in Washington, DC. She is one of the few recruiters to have both practiced law and later recruited for Big Law.

Stephanie Ruiter is a director in the New York City office. Stephanie practiced law with two small DC law firms before becoming a recruiter.

They both are tops when it comes to helping young lawyers find the firm that will be best for their careers.

You’ve done it. You’ve made it to your 5th year at a law firm.  You should be proud of how far you’ve come.  Chances are you got where you are by keeping your head down and working hard.  You got into the right schools, which led to the right law firm.

You’re done, right? Unfortunately, wrong.  What firms don’t tell you is that you’re on a ticking clock in terms of marketability and ability to lateral to another firm.  It’s never too early to decide you’d like to move to another firm, but it can be too late.  By the time you reach your 6th year, firms no longer have interest in bringing you on as a lateral, no matter your reputation or your pedigree.

You may wonder why a firm would be reluctant to bring you on as a senior associate, counsel position, or “service partner,” or even at a more junior level.  This comes as a shock to many experienced attorneys, who assume that their years of work have made them more desirable, not less.  But the reality is a firm will rarely hire a senior attorney who does not have portable business.

The main reason is the pyramid shaped Biglaw business mode, which depends on the attorneys at the top to bring in business.  The firm needs you to bring enough business to keep yourself busy. Do a quick perusal of open listings and you’ll see that the majority, if not all, associate openings are for 5th year associates and below.

This makes your 5th year the most pivotal of your career.  At this point, chances are you’ve evaluated your career and your future.  Maybe you’ll realize you do want to work at a law firm, but that the one you’re at isn’t “right” for you in the long term.  Or maybe the firm will let you know that you are not “right” for partnership.


  • If you’re a junior associate, conduct regular evaluations of your career and goals to determine whether you should make a change. If lateraling to an equivalent firm is not an option, you can consider moving to a smaller firm or relocating to a market where your expertise will be more valued.
  • Work to learn new skills and stay current on legal market developments;
  • Keep your resume up to date. It’s always a worth it to have a conversation with a firm that is looking for someone with your background.  Even if you’re not sure you’re ready to move, the conversation will build your network as well as provide you with a clearer view of the opportunities available in your practice area.
  • Find an established partner to serve as your mentor/sponsor through the partnership process. If your firm has an established mentor/mentee program and your mentor is not providing guidance, speak up!  The squeaky wheel gets the grease and your request will be viewed favorably as coming from someone who cares about their future at the firm.
  • Think strategically about your career development. Consider hiring a coach to help with business development or career development

Thanks to Kristina and Stephanie for their insights. If you are a law firm associate, I hope you will find their thoughts valuable. You can learn more about them and contact them using the links in the first paragraph.





In November, 1981, I gave a presentation to the Virginia Road Builders. I knew this presentation would shape the future of my career, and I prepared and prepared and prepared. I wrote every word I intended to say and then made the presentation with no notes. (We didn’t have PowerPoint presentations then and I didn’t want to use an overhead projector.)

Presentations I gave made my career. I sensed that if I could get in front of a group of contractors, I could demonstrate my knowledge of their business. Presentations may make your career. In this blog and others, I want to share how to deliver a remarkable presentation.

When possible, I liked to arrive early. I did it for several reasons. First, I wanted to know how the room would be set up. Second, I wanted to make sure the technology was working for the video and audio I usually included in my presentation.

Once I was confident everything was working, I went out into the audience and introduced myself as people arrived early. I did this to create a connection with the audience. I did my very best to remember the names of people I met.

I rarely if ever used a podium and you shouldn’t either. You do not want the podium to block you from the audience. A podium also can be a crutch for you to lean on holding it with both hands. If you are not planning to use the podium let the event coordinators know that in advance and ask for a lavalier microphone.

I urge you also to speak on the floor level rather than on the elevated stage. Why? You will get better eye contact and engage the audience more effectively when you are on their level and walking around. It is nice to be able to advance the slides with a remote when you speak from the audience level. So, find out if they have a remote, or if you will need to set up your computer on a table.

Here is an example of me speaking at a Bar Meeting on the floor level with a lavalier microphone.


The first 90 seconds of your presentation are critical. During that time the audience is asking themselves: “What is in this for me?” You need to give them an answer. I urge you to spend a great deal of time creating an answer to what is in it for me in those first 90 seconds.

Engaging your audience keeps their interest. When I spoke to contractor groups, I frequently used short little case studies and I would say: “You be the judge. How should this come out?” I wanted to create a discussion with my audience. In the video clip above I asked the audience a question to engage them.

Lawyers tend to use a linear structure to their presentation, giving background information first and then leading up to the main point. Your audience does not want to know the history of Swiss watch making, they just want to know the time. Giving background information also violates my 90 Seconds rule. The better structure is to pose a problem and then offer a solution.

Do you have an opportunity to make a presentation to your target market? Take time, make it the best they have ever heard from a lawyer.


My birthday is today. If you are a long time reader you may know I keep track of my age by the most famous football player to ever wear the jersey number reflecting my age. This year that player is John Hannah. You can read about him and see his jersey number with the link on his name.

Today, I begin by asking: Have you defined what success is for you? Why should you?

In my law career I mentored, coached and led as a practice group leader dozens of young lawyers. Over the years, I noticed that many unhappy young lawyers let others define success for them, or they compared how they were doing with how others were doing. Both approaches led to dissatisfaction.

Several years ago I listened and read the book: “The Highest Goal: The Secret That Sustains You in Every Moment.” I became interested in this book for a couple of reasons.

First, the book is based on experiences in the Personal Creativity in Business Class at Stanford University.

Second, I wanted to learn how I can best help young lawyers discover their own highest goal and find the fun and joy practicing law and helping clients that I experienced.

After listening and reading the book, I shared ideas that enabled young lawyers to focus on their highest goal. If you want to learn more about Professor Ray and his Stanford class take a quick look at a Fast Company article: The Most Creative Man in Silicon Valley.

Here is a short video clip discussion of The Highest Goal.

Professor Ray lets us know that it is challenging for us to figure out our highest goal and that is ok. Take a look at the Fast Company book review and I think it will give you some ideas on how to figure out your own highest goal.

Think back to when you were young and had a meaningful experience. What was it for you?

For me it was teaching and coaching young kids 8-10 years old to become better baseball players. I believe that is why I gave up my law practice after my best year to teach and coach young lawyers.

At the beginning of chapter 3, he asks a very thought provoking question:

What is the one recurring problem, issue or obstacle in your life that if you solved it, overcame it or dealt with it would lead to an immeasurable improvement in your life?

Professor Ray says that in decades of teaching creativity at Stanford and asking this question, he finds the source to be one of the following life challenges:

  1. Finding prosperity
  2. Dealing with time and stress
  3. Developing relationships that work
  4. Achieving balance
  5. Bringing creativity into the world

I think he has accurately identified the potential sources of many issues young lawyers face.

So, what is your highest goal and what are you doing to achieve it?

I want to recruit lawyers who have given those questions a great deal of thought. If  you want to send me and email and share your highest goal.

A young associate asked:

Which extracurricular / community activities would be the most beneficial in my overall client development and how such activities can lead to client development (specific examples and/or stories would be great?

Do something that you are passionate about so that you are motivated to participate and stick with it long enough that you ascend to a position of leadership within the organization.

When I was a young lawyer I was told I had to be in Rotary. I hated every Thursday night when I had to go to the weekly dinner meeting. I also hated the bingo fund raising project, in part because most bingo players smoked. So get involved in a community service activity for which you are passionate.

During my career I taught Sunday School to high school students and Nancy and I were in charge of our church high school youth group. I didn’t do it to get business. I did it because I was passionate about teaching and I wanted to find ways to reach high school students who would rather be somewhere other than church.

I do not recommend that you get involved in community service or charitable organizations to get business. I believe you should get involved because of the joy you feel serving the cause. You may get business because members of the group get to know your character and your leadership skills, but that should not be your motivation.

Neil Carrey, one of my former partners generated lots of legal work from people he met while serving several charities. You can see from his website bio that community service has been an important part of his life. Neil never asked for business or did anything to promote himself. He got the business because business leaders in the charities concluded he was the type of lawyer they respected and trusted.