Four years ago this week I posted a blog titled: If I write a novel about a law firm…I need your ideas. As you will see, on that day I was starting a novel writing class. In January of 2014, I began writing a novel.

Four years and nine drafts later, I have finally published it. The title is The Billionaire’s Lawyer. It is available here in both softcover and e-book versions. You can also find it on Amazon. I understand the Kindle version will be available on Amazon in a few weeks.

Why did it take four years to write and why did it take 10 versions until I was willing to publish it? There are two reasons. First, I was never satisfied with my work. I always thought, and still believe, I could make it better. Second, I’ve been able to incorporate events that have taken place over the last four years. Several times, I have thought,

What’s happening in real life is far stranger than anything I could possibly make up.

When I began writing, I hadn’t considered that the government might have hacked into a news reporter’s computer, corporations and political groups might use social media in ways no one ever thought of to sway opinion, and I had never heard of the term “fake news.”

My original protagonist was the great-granddaughter of a Galveston Mafia boss. Why did that character interest me? I didn’t know the Galveston history of the Free Galveston era, and was fascinated when I studying it. You can check it out here. (My second novel will likely be about this character.)

Gabriela Sanchez is the protagonist of The Billionaire’s Lawyer. She grew up in the Rio Grande Valley and moved to Dallas to prove to herself, and perhaps her father, that she could make it on the big stage. Why did I want the protagonist to be a Hispanic woman from the Rio Grande Valley?

There are many reasons: First, I wanted to write about someone different than me. I decided the protagonist should be a woman because, having coached and mentored hundreds of young women lawyers, I know women face different challenges while striving to be successful.

Why did I want my character to be a Hispanic woman? While doing research I discovered that Hispanic women make up around 7% of the US population, but less than 1/2 of 1 percent of the partners in law firms. I also recognized in my research that because of movies and television shows, Hispanic women have been unfairly stereotyped. I’m sure you know this, but if you are interested here is a Latina Magazine article: 10 Latino Stereotypes We’ve Heard All Our Lives That Are Completely False.

Why did I decide my character had grown up in the Rio Grande Valley? There were many reasons. Our daughter taught school there. Our son-in-law grew up there. Sadly, the Rio Grande Valley is one of the poorest and most corrupt regions in the country. See: Rio Grande Valley Tops List of “America’s Poorest Cities” and Corruption On The Border: Dismantling Misconduct In The Rio Grande Valley.

More important than all of those reasons, I mentored a young lawyer who grew up in the Rio Grande Valley. I learned a great deal from her. She told me her mom was a teacher and her dad was a principal. She went to both college and law school on scholarships. At Notre Dame Law School she was the only Hispanic student and other students believed she was there only because of “affirmative action.” She later proved them wrong when she outperformed most of them.

She once told me that many times she wondered if she measured up and sometimes believed someone would figure out she was not as smart or not as capable a lawyer as them. Those feelings motivated her to work harder and probably contributed to her success.

I’m not sure if the lawyer I mentored will see this, but I have to thank her for sharing ideas that became the inspiration for my protagonist.

So, what’s the story about?

Gabriela Sanchez is a young lawyer who grew up in the Rio Grande Valley watching her father in court. After clerking for a federal judge and working with her father, Gabriela moves to Dallas to prove she can make it in the big city. At first, much to her dismay, Gabriela becomes known for being named one of the Top 10 Most Beautiful Women in Dallas by D Magazine (There was an annual list. Check out 2015 here.).  and for an award from Catholic Charities for her work helping refugee and immigrant children.

Then, a trial consulting firm (think of Dr. Jason Bull TV character) recommends Gabriela to defend the richest man in Texas in the most highly publicized white collar criminal case since Enron. At the beginning, Gabriela believes the poor have little chance to defend themselves, but during her defense of Sparks Duval, she discovers how tough it is for a rich man to get a fair trial when the DOJ is hellbent to convict the defendant at any cost including destroying his lawyer.

I enjoyed writing the book and incorporating what was happening in real life. I strongly considered not publishing it because I was writing it for my own education. I’m still not sure it is ready for prime-time, but if I can borrow words from a Seth Godin blog titled: Art is what we call...

What matters, what makes it art, is that the person who made it overcame the resistance, ignored the voice of doubt and made something worth making. Something risky. Something human.

Art is not in the eye of the beholder. It’s in the soul of the artist.


This could be my last post, but…maybe not. I’ve been asked to consider doing legal lateral recruiting and law firm mergers. I’m giving it serious thought, so…who knows?

In my completed draft novel, my protagonist is striving for success. But, she has changed. Her father points out she has become less focused on the person she is and the wants to become.

If you want a little year-end inspiration, take a look at this Lou Holtz commencement speech.

Both my dad and my mom passed away in the month of December. In 1980 on December 20, Nancy, Jill and I were getting ready to fly from Roanoke, Virginia to Chicago to be with our families over the Christmas holiday.

We received a phone call from my dad’s business partner who reported my dad had suffered a heart attack and had passed away. With sadness, we opened the gifts my dad planned to give each of us that year.

My mom passed away nine years ago this week and even now, nine years later,  I reflect on how much she and my dad influenced my life.

When I prepared to speak about her to her church family, I found a quote from poet Robert Frost:

You don’t have to deserve your mother’s love. You have to deserve your father’s. He’s more particular. The father is always a Republican towards his son, and his mother’s always a Democrat.

Using the political analogy, my mom was such a liberal Democrat raising me that she forced my father to be a tough love Republican. When I was grown, he frequently told me, he didn’t particularly enjoy that role. Even so, the combination served me well.

My dad taught me to live, my mom taught me to love. My dad taught me to be successful, my mom taught me to be fulfilled. My dad taught me to be confident and to make my own way, my mom taught me to be humble and faithful.

If you are a lawyer I coached over these last 12 years, you probably see both my dad’s influence and my mom’s influence in my coaching.

I believe lawyers cannot be truly successful and not be fulfilled, but we tend to focus more on our success. I want you to focus on both.

So, as you begin 2018, think about the one most important thing you can do in 2018 to be more successful. Write it on a sheet of paper.

Then, think about the one most important thing you can do in 2018 to be more fulfilled (it might be something to make your family life even more fulfilling). Write it on a sheet of paper. Put the paper in desk drawer, so every time you open the drawer you see what you wrote.

Finally, make sure you actually do both things.

I must share with you at the outset that when Alabama plays Clemson, I will be cheering for Clemson. As a Virginia Tech grad, I want to cheer for the ACC team.

I also confess I wasn’t a huge Nick Saban fan. It’s a long story, but it stems from when he was the head coach at LSU and they came to Blacksburg Labor Day weekend, 2002. I wouldn’t mention it had Virginia Tech lost the game. The game summary is here.

But, after watching a 60 Minutes segment, I understand why he is an outstanding coach.

I was looking for something and found this quote attributed to him:

It’s not human nature to be great. It’s human nature to survive, to be average and do what you have to do to get by. That is normal. When you have something good happen, it’s the special people that can stay focused and keep paying attention to detail, working to get better and not being satisfied with what they have accomplished.

In this last week of 2017, if you haven’t already started planning what you want to accomplish in 2018, this would be a really good time to start. Think about getting better, and don’t be satisfied with what you have accomplished.

If you have been a regular reader for a long time you won’t find anything new here. I’ve said it all before. But, perhaps you will find the reminder valuable.

When I was billing 2000 hours I did not have time to study or understand why some lawyers are successful and have a great family life and why others are not. I also did my client development activities instinctively and some things worked very effectively while other things did not work quite as well.

Now, that I’ve spent the last 12 years coaching and working with lawyers, I have a much better idea of the attributes of the most successful lawyers who also have a family life and I understand better why certain client development efforts work.

While each of you have unique talents, weaknesses, ambitions and practices, and there is no magic pill or formula, there are principles that I urge you to think about and try. If you are a long-time reader, each point below should be familiar to you.


I believe it starts with your attitude.  When you talk to yourself do you say: “Yes, but…” or “Sure, how…” do you say: “My problem is…” or “my opportunity is…” do you say: “I don’t have time to…” or do you say: “I will make time to…”


Next, you must have clarity on what you want in your career and in your life. Your time and energy are your most important assets.

If you do not have clarity, you will likely waste precious time. For me to have clarity, I think on paper with written goals and a plan for using my time.

Client Needs

Next, you need to focus on what your clients need. They do not want to be sold on how good you are or how good your firm is, and they do not care about what you do. They hire you to solve their problems, help them achieve opportunities or deal with internal or external changes.

To be relevant, what you do has to address those issues or it doesn’t matter. The best way to figure out what potential clients need, is to identify your target market and make sure you understand their industry.

Become the “go to lawyer’

You need to build your profile, so clients find you when they need a lawyer in your field. To borrow my favorite Seth Godin quote:

Being the best in the world is seriously overrated.

Over time think about what you can be the “go to lawyer.”  It should be something clients need and you are passionate about.

Building your profile gives you the opportunity to build relationships with clients and potential clients. Client development is all about relationship building.

Build your team

When you become more successful you need to build a team. Young lawyers who will later work with you will be thinking “what is in this for me to work with…?”

MAKE time for your family

Finally, you need to plan your personal/family time at the very least as well as you plan our work time. You need to be in the moment, not answering emails or texts on your iPhone X.  I learned from Dr. Stephen Covey that when you are with your kids, do things with them rather than for them.

Most clients assume you have the legal skills necessary to handle their matter. In surveys they say they are less are less concerned about your legal skills, your billable rate and your track record.than they are about how much you care.

How do you show you care about what you are doing for a business client? I think it begins with a thorough understanding of the client’s industry, business and strategies. After that, it is small things like:

  1. Asking good questions
  2. Being empathetic
  3. REALLY listening
  4. Being responsive
  5. Doing something beyond what is expected
  6. Being appreciative

What would you add to this concise list?

Back when I was practicing law,  we held a client roundtable discussion as a kick-off for our Construction Law Practice Group retreat.  Five of our clients’ in-house lawyers came to Dallas to share their ideas with us.. We had the opportunity to ask questions and get their candid responses.

I asked: What is most effective way we can, at our expense, invest in our relationship with you?
GC Client 1: Provide memos explaining new court cases that would affect our business.
GC Client 2: Don’t charge for learning about our company.
GC Client 3: Willingness to help train, share forms and answer simple questions without opening a file and recording time.
GC Client 4: Meet with us and find out what we need.
GC Client 5: Coming back after completion of a project and asking for feedback.

When I practiced law, I was asked by our HR director, what attributes I looked for in associates. I think he assumed honesty and integrity and expected beyond that I would say hard-working, great attitude and all the normal things.

When I told him that curiosity was very high on my list he looked confused. He asked me to explain and I told him about how my curiosity helped me attract business. I want to share what I told him so you can find a way to make it work for you.

During my career, I was very blessed to have helped contractors who were building very complex and difficult bridge construction projects, including a design-build bridge project in Maine and a bridge that sunk while under construction in Washington state.

I was blessed to have helped contractors who were constructing many complex tunnel projects including the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel (I-664) in Virginia, Metro Tunneling for the Green Line in Washington, DC, and a copper mine tunnel in Libby, Montana.

How did I get the opportunity to work on those complex construction projects and why should it matter to you? I hope I got those opportunities because the clients thought I was a good lawyer. But, I know there was more to it than that.

Contractor clients hired me to advise them and help them with contract issues on complex bridge and tunnel projects because I was insatiable learning how bridges were designed and constructed and how tunnels were bored or placed in deep water, or underground in a metropolitan area.

In the 80s I worked on a big contract claim for additional compensation involving the construction of a complex segmental bridge in Richmond, VA. I started reading books on bridge design and construction, and American Society of Civil Engineering (ASCE) articles.

I sensed that bridge was not the only one with time and cost overruns, so I made a Freedom of Information Act request of the Federal Highway Administration on all cable-stayed and segmental bridges constructed that had either time or cost overruns. After I gained greater knowledge, I wrote about the construction of bridges and tunnels in a way that demonstrated I had spent time learning. That led to speaking opportunities

I was not a better lawyer than the many others who could have been hired, but I anticipated there would be bridge construction contract disputes before other lawyers, and I worked very hard to learn about design and construction.

So, what about my experience can help you?

You can create your own client opportunities by outhustling the competition. You read what they are not reading and see the problems your clients will encounter. Many, if not most, lawyers with whom you compete think they are too busy to spend the time it takes to be more valuable to clients.

So, here’s the key marketing tip.

if you are willing to make the effort to learn what your clients expect you to know, you don’t have to sell yourself, clients will find you.

For many years I have said lawyers focus too much on what they do and not nearly enough on what their clients need. How can you learn what your clients need? Put simply, if you do some research and listen intently, they will tell you.

In law school, you  were taught to

think like a lawyer.

Imagine if you had also been taught to

think like a client.

You would be in a far better position to help your clients. To “think like a client” you must work on being empathetic and walking in your clients’ shoes and you must build trust and rapport with them.

According to Wikipedia, empathy is defined as

one’s ability to recognize, perceive and feel directly the emotion of another.

For you, it is the ability to look at things from your client’s perspective. It is very important for you to understand how your client or client representative views the matter you are handling and what is important to them. Keep in mind that for a business client, your legal work is in the context of their business and for an individual client, your legal work is in the context of their life.

Habit Five, in “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen Covey, is:

Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood..

That is a great habit for lawyers to follow. Covey points out that only a small percentage of people engage in empathetic listening. Most of us are figuring out what we will say instead of listening intently to what our clients are telling us.

Covey also urges readers to diagnose before prescribing. Far too many lawyers want to demonstrate their brilliance before the client has finished describing the situation.

How do you diagnose? We need to ask questions and listen intently. Here are some questions or statements you can use:

  • Tell me about…
  • What is it like…
  • Tell me more…
  • Help me understand…
  • Can you give me an example of…
  • How did you…
  • Bring me up to date on…

Sometimes your clients will tell you one thing, while their body language is telling us something different.

In his book “The Likeability Factor,” Tim Sanders points out that the first step to understanding how others feel is to recognize their emotions which, with practice, can be read on their faces long before they tell us how they feel. Sanders references the work of Dr. Paul Ekman and includes a quote:

Facial expressions, even quickly passing, signal emotional expression. The face is the mind’s involuntary messenger.

How can you build your empathy skill set?

There is plenty of information on the internet. I recently found a blog that included: 15 Questions to become more empathetic. 

Dad’s: What will you be doing with your children during the holiday break from school?

There are two stories about fathers and sons that I believe illustrate the difference between how fathers interacted with their children.

Father-Son Fishing

My minister related the first story to our congregation a few years ago. It was about a day of fishing long ago.

Charles Francis Adams, the son of John Quincy Adams took his son, Brook fishing. Brook kept a journal and his entry for that day was:  “Went fishing with my father–the most wonderful day of my life!” It turns out that Charles Francis Adams also kept a journal. His entry for the very same day was: “Went fishing with my son today–a day wasted.”

That entry might seem incredible today, but I do not think so.  I remember Harry Chapin’s wonderful song “The Cat is in the Cradle” and the lyrics:

My son turned ten just the other day
He said, “Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let’s play”
“Can you teach me to throw?”
I said, “Not today, I got a lot to do”
He said, “That’s ok”
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah”
“You know I’m gonna be like him”

I read  about a Cornell University study from several years ago that found the average father spends 38 seconds per day being totally attentive to his children’s needs and about 20 minutes a day being partially attentive. The same children spend 54 hours per week watching television.

I am hopeful things have changed since that study. I recently saw an article: Today’s parents spend more time with their kids than moms and dads did 50 years ago.

Green and Clean

The second story is “Green and Clean” and I read it many years ago in Stephen Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

Stephen Covey told about giving his seven year old son responsibility for the yard work and making the yard “green and clean” and volunteered to be his son’s helper.

For several days, Stephen Covey looked at the yard and nothing had been done. Stephen Covey asked his son: “How’s the yard coming?” The son replied: “Fine, Dad.”

After dinner Stephen Covey suggested they take a look at the yard. As they walked out in the yard his son began to sob and said: “It is so hard, Dad.”

Stephen Covey asked if there was anything he could do to help. That broke the ice.

His son went in the house and got a bag for Stephen Covey to use to pick up garbage from a barbeque. According to Covey, his seven year old son only asked for help a couple of more times that summer and the yard was greener and cleaner than ever before.

You can watch Dr. Covey tell the story in the video below.

Do you have the patience to be your children’s helper and teach them to take responsibility, or would you just take over the task? 


Nancy and I recently bought something I didn’t think we would buy. I marveled at the saleswoman’s no pressure sales technique. I’ve seen the same saleswoman use it before, but I was still pretty amazed.

She knew we were happy with what we already had, but she ever so softly let us know that one important feature may not be available in the future. Then she showed us the new products, which were much nicer than what we had. Then she showed us the price of the new products, which were more than we would spend. Then, she said:

Suppose cost is not a factor, which would you choose?

If we weren’t willing to buy, we should have said something like:

If you gave it to us we still would not want it.

But, we picked out the one we would buy if cost was not a factor. You know what happened next: She made us a “deal” we couldn’t refuse.

I want you to think about whether anything she did applies to client development and persuading a client to use you.

On the other hand, I have told this story about a financial advisor many times. It taught me what it feels like when someone is selling me.

Tom is a financial advisor I know here in Dallas. His wife and Nancy are friends and we have played golf as couples a few times. Tom is really, really a nice guy, but, in my view he has made many cardinal mistakes in trying to get my business.

A few years ago, Tom’s assistant called me and said: “Mr. Smith would like to know if you would like to play golf with his group on Saturday.” My first thought was: “If Mr. Smith really wanted me to join him, wouldn’t he have called me himself?” I decided Mr. Smith was having his assistant call a “prospect” list.

Fast forward to 2007. I no longer work downtown. I discover my office is in the same building as Mr. Smith’s and that he is most anxious for me to join him for lunch. I knew it would not be a social lunch between friends. Tom was looking for the opportunity to sell me his financial services.

I immediately thought:

I can run, but now that we are in the same building, I can’t hide forever.

Sure enough, in January of that year, Tom finally had me cornered. He and his son had joined Nancy and I during a round of golf. During the round he asked when I would next be in my office so I could join him for lunch. Knowing I could not say: “never,” I told him I would in be in office on Tuesday.

I went downstairs Tuesday at noon for what I anticipated would be a sales lunch. Because I teach lawyers how to interact with potential clients, I thought that at the worst I would see an experienced sales professional in action.

The lunch was very nice. We sat in Tom’s office where he had a flat screen TV tuned to a financial station and I thought that was very cool. I expected the small talk about golf and our spouses and waited to see how Tom would transition to business. Here is how he did it:

Let me tell you about my company.

He proceeded to give me a bit of a history lesson and talked about how the company is full service and can handle all my financial services.

It was all the stuff that was on the firm’s webpage that I had read, But, the one advantage of having Tom tell me all this is I could eat rapidly and just keep nodding my head.

Finally Tom popped the big question:

Cordell, would you like to be able to put away more for retirement that would not be taxed?

That is like asking if I would like to have someone give me a million dollars. Knowing Tom expected me to say: “Yes, tell me how.” I, instead said:

Yes, and I have been talking that over with MY financial advisor.

I put the emphasis on the word MY purposely to let him know I already had someone with whom I was happy. Not to be deterred, Tom spent the next 15 minutes telling me what I already knew about Defined Benefit Plans for small businesses.

When I got home, I told Nancy that even though I made clear I did not need a new financial advisor, I knew I would receive an email from Tom…the follow up. Sure enough, I got this email:

Cordell, please let me know if you want any assistance in designing a qualified retirement plan for you—many times we can maximize the benefits for the principal and minimizing the same for other employees. Most principals want to obtain at least 80% of contributions so that the IRS tax savings pays for the other employees. I’m available to assist you..Tom

Put, yourself in Tom’s position. How would you have handled this differently?


I remember the year our firm offered jobs to two students. The first was about the smartest young student I had ever met in my life. He was a straight A student. I don’t think he ever got a B in anything in his life. I was a little concerned about him because he was so smart he rarely attended class. He didn’t stay with us very long and it is difficult for me to picture him or remember his name today.

The second student was a young man who grew up poor, worked very hard to even get into law school and mostly got Bs. He never missed a class and was like a sponge trying to learn more each day. He stayed with us and worked as hard as a lawyer as he had as a student. I still remember Tyler, and he still asks me questions.

I thought of these two law students recently when I spoke to 4th graders on career day at the school where my daughter teaches. The parents of the kids in the school do not have much. They work hard and struggle when things don’t go exactly as planned. Many of their kids are like the sponge, anxious to learn every day. In one of the classes I noticed two young girls sitting there taking notes on everything I was telling them.

Several years ago, Seth Godin posted a blog On Self Determination. He makes two interesting points. The second of his two points reminded me of the two law students I hired so many years ago. He talks about the A students who took mainstream courses and did the minimum amount of work they needed to do to get an A. They learn for the test.

Those students who didn’t need to work for their A’s are joining law firms every day and they are a challenge to supervise. Why you ask? Put simply, they do not see things that are not immediately obvious. They don’t dig deeper than the exact assignment. They mess up and do not even understand how they messed up. They also do not take criticism very well. After all, they have been told their entire life how smart they are.

Give me the student who should have gotten C’s but worked so hard she got B’s. She has the emotional intelligence it takes to be successful and she will see things her all A’s classmate misses.