Now that I am recruiting, lawyers have asked whether they should be in a big firm or a small firm. I suppose the typical lawyer-like answer might be, “that depends on…”

During my career in the United States Air Force I was most fortunate to have the best job available for preparation to join a law firm or company. I was a government contract litigator. During my tenure, I handled cases against the top government contract lawyers in the United States.

It was somewhat comical. I remember one hearing. At one table sat a 25 year old Air Force Captain. At the other table sat perhaps the top government contract lawyer in his 50s, a more junior partner in his early 40s. Seated behind them was a 25 year old associate whose sole job that day was to carry their briefcases to the hearing and sit, listen and learn.

Because of my great experience, when I left the Air Force in 1976 I was offered in-house jobs at top government contractors and associate jobs at large law firms with a government contracts practice. I could have been that young lawyer carrying the senior lawyers’ briefcases to the trial.

At this point, I’m not sure I analyzed my choices as well as I can now looking back. In any event, I turned down the in-house jobs and the associate jobs with large firms. Instead, I chose a small law firm in Roanoke, Virginia.

Assume for the moment I was thinking ahead and made the choice on my future. Starting in a small firm gave me the opportunity to development my own practice and clients. Years later, I was generating over $1 million in fees annually (when highest hourly rate was $195). At that point I was offered partner positions by several national law firms.

So, the answer to my question depends on you want to practice as a partner in a law firm or go in-house. In 2020, law firms hire partners with clients and a substantial book of business. If you are a go-getter, you can attract business in a large firm, but it will be more challenging for a variety of reasons.

This could be the shortest blog I have posted in the last 15 years. Here are three ideas I shared with lawyers I coached. Try these for 2020 and let me know if you see more successful client development in 2020.

  1. Create a plan for your non-billable time for each day and each week. Create your daily plan at the end of the previous workday. Prepare your weekly plan on Friday before you leave the office.
  2. Write down each non-billable activity you do each day just like you would if it was billable to a client.
  3. Share your plan and what you accomplished with a coach or colleague

If you are a long time reader, you’ve likely read blogs I posted in December about making the next year your best year ever. We’ve finished 2019 and now you have a new year and decade to take your career to the next level. Here are questions for you to ponder and my suggestions.

As you know, I coached over 1500 US and Canadian lawyers. Some lawyers I coached had not given a lot of thought to what they want. Instead they had focused on what they didn’t want.

Some lawyers I coached knew what they wanted, and even had a fair idea of what they needed to do to get it, but they did not have the commitment or the discipline to actually go after it. It reminds me of people who start diets and join workout facilities in January, and, even though they know better, they are back to their old eating habits and skipping exercise by March 1.

Here are my questions:

  1. What would be a homerun for you in your career and your personal life for 2020?
    If you are challenged answering this, think about what you want to accomplish in your career this year, what you want to learn, what would be enriching relationships with family and friends and how you want to live your life.
  2. Picture in your mind, you in January 2025. What is happening in your career, your family and your personal life? Write down what you picture yourself doing then.
  3. What is the one thing you could do in 2020 that you have not done before, that would have the greatest impact on your career and your life? Several years ago, I decided that the one thing for me was to use my time more wisely. I also decided that I needed to plan my time each week and write down what I planned to do.
  4. If you know what you want, what is holding you back? Don’t say your firm or other things over which you have no control. Instead, focus on what you can control. In my case, I know I lack self discipline, and more than anything else, I waste time on things that don’t lead me toward my professional or personal priorities.
  5. What are you willing to do to achieve what you have described is important to you?
    I like the quote attributed to a wide variety of college football and basketball coaches, and I wrote a book Prepare to Win, using part of the quote as a title.

“Most people have the will to win, few have the will to prepare to win.”

Here are my top career tips for 2020:

  1. Write down what you want to accomplish in 2020. Then prioritize your list of what you want to accomplish.
  2. Prepare a Plan with written goals so you use your non-billable time wisely. I can provide you with two different templates to consider. Break the plan down to a monthly, weekly and daily plan.
  3. Decide on one area to learn that will enable you to be a more effective lawyer in your field. One year I decided to focus on communication to juries. I bought every book I could find on the subject, listened to every tape and read every article.
  4. Get a group of your colleagues together to talk about the main points of leading business books that will make you more effective. If you send me an email, I would be happy to send you my list of books that will make the biggest difference in your career and life. If you read any of the books, write down your takeaways and how you can implement them.
  5. Use your time more wisely and effectively. Time is your most valuable resource. Whether you care to admit it or not, your challenge is not that you do not have enough time. Instead, your challenge is that you do not use the time you have based on our priorities. Occasionally, I challenge myself to write down things I do – or things I should do that by not doing them – wastes my time.
  6. Think of ways to apply the 80-20 rule. Let me give you examples so you can think about it. Twenty percent of the things you do create eighty percent of your success. What is that twenty percent for you? Eighty percent of a typical lawyers’ business comes from twenty percent of his or her clients. Which of your clients generate eighty percent of your business?
  7. Decide how much non-billable time you plan to spend developing your career and client base in 2020 and divide by 50. Each week give yourself a report card on whether you spent the number of planned hours and how well you spent it.
  8. Get more face time with clients and prospective clients. One of the lawyers I coached discovered that each and every time he met in-person with a client, he came away with a new matter either right then or shortly thereafter.
  9. Develop your elevator speech. Send me an email that tells me all I need to know about you to recommend that a potential client hire you. Why am I suggesting this? First, if you do not know why a client should hire you, the clients clearly won’t know either. Second, this will cause you to think about your elevator speech. How many times have you met people who ask what you do? Telling them you are a litigator, or a corporate lawyer or a tax lawyer may be absolutely accurate, but it will not likely get you very far.
  10. Get a friend in your firm or outside your firm who will be like a success workout partner. Why do this? It is just one good way you can hold yourself accountable. When I had a workout partner, I was way more likely to show up at the fitness center even when I did not feel like it.
  11. Make client development a habit. Do something each and every day, no matter how small and write down what you did. The lawyers in one firm I coached came up with a list of 33 potential small client development activities they could do each day. Can you come up with your own list?
  12. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, spend more quality time with your family without feeling guilty. When you are with your family, be in the moment with them. Focus on them both externally and internally. Do not let your mind wonder. One of my first mentors was known as a hard worker. Yet he spent more time with his family than any of the partners in the firm. How did he do it? Put simply, he did not waste time on things that were not his priorities. You can spend more time with your family, if you spend your billable and non-billable time more efficiently and more effectively based on what is most important to you.


I am starting my third year with Lateral Link. I’ve learned a lot about what makes some recruiters stand out from the rest of the pack.

Several 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?

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 is 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 commitments are you making in 2020?

  1. Are you committed to learning to become a better recruiter?
  2. Are you committed to studying what is going on in the legal profession?
  3. Are you committed to making a plan for every day and holding yourself accountable to your plan?
  4. Are you committed to spending 10% more time on recruiting each day or making 10% more contacts with clients and candidates?
  5. Are you committed to writing and/or speaking to raise your visibility?

Questions about your commitments to the team

  1.  How do your individual habits align with best practices?
  2. Do you take time every week to share legal intel with your colleagues?
  3. Do you share searches with other recruiters on a regular basis?
  4. Do you keep your commitments to your colleagues, especially in a split situation?
  5.  Do you take the time to help, other recruiters, when they ask for advice?

I have been thinking about what the most important habits recruiters should have if 90% of our behavior is habitual. Here are the habits I believe are important:

Top Recruiter Habits

  1. Healthy living
  2. Positive self-talk and attitude
  3. Focus on continuous learning and becoming a better recruiter
  4. Setting Stretch goals
  5. Planning each and every day
  6. Focus on relationships, making connections and conversions
  7. Understanding what clients and candidates want and need
  8. Keeping track of how you are doing
  9. Staying resilient when you are not achieving success
  10. Making and keeping commitments

Years ago I was asked who had the greatest influence on my life. I first mentioned my dad. He taught me so many great lessons.

But, the writer wanted me to speak about a person outside my family. I chose Coach John Wooden. I chose him, not only because he was the greatest coach in any sport, but rather because of how he lived, and taught his players to live.

If you are a regular reader, you likely know I have written about him more than anyone else. You also likely know I have read every book I can find about him. Here is one of them.

If you have about 18 minutes, watch this Ted Video from 2001. I love the many poems he recites in the video. When you get to the one about the teacher, you will have a greater sense of why I love teaching and coaching lawyers:

You might also enjoy this 2 minute video about Coach Wooden convincing star player, Bill Walton to get a shave and haircut.

I want to share with you some of my very favorite John Wooden quotes:

  • Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are. (This one really resonated with me because I had focused on what others thought of me).
  • Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming. (This was so very important to me. I always wanted to push myself to be the best I was capable of becoming.)
  • Never mistake activity for achievement. (Sometimes the right less is better than the wrong more).
  • Adversity is the state in which man mostly easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then. (This hit home whenever I lost a case.)
  • Be quick, but don’t hurry. (Obviously this is important in sports, but I saw the connection doing my legal work).
  • You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you. (I get such a great feeling when I do this. Imagine what it would feel like to try and do it every day.)
  • A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment. (I hope the lawyers I coach would say this about me.)
  • Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do. (I have written many blogs about this point. Now you know where I got the idea).
  • Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability. (The lawyers I coach now know where I got this idea and why I push them.)
  • It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts. (This is one of my favorites. One of my core values is to always be learning.)
  • It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.(This was one of the most important points early in my career. It caused me to pay greater attention to the small things that produce the big things over time.)

That is 11 quotes. Believe me I could go on and on with many more that taught me how to be successful and to live a fulfilling life. Which of these quotes most resonates with you?

Have you ever seen John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success? He talks about it in the Ted Video and pulls it out of his pocket. You can buy the poster of it here.

I would love to hear from you. Who has had the greatest influence on your life?

As you know, I posted a collection of my most read posts of the decade on Tuesday. Then I heard the debate whether we started a new decade yesterday or if we’ll start a new decade January 1, 2021. I guess it doesn’t make a lot of difference, but it is an interesting debate.

If I were coaching you, I would ask you these questions. If you want to coach yourself and motivate yourself, I encourage you to write or type answers for each question. Some of these questions I found from other experts on motivation.

  1. What have you learned about your own motivation?
  2. What are you most passionate about?
  3. Is there a work discipline you follow each week?
  4. What changes can you make to your daily routine that will increase your energy level?
  5. What if anything do you want to get better at doing this year?
  6. I want you to make an important decision for your work this year that you are committed to achieving. What action steps will you make to achieving it?
  7. What action can you take today to start implementing that decision?
  8. What limiting excuses do you make that keeps you from achieving your career goals?
  9. What actions have you said you will do “some day?”
  10. What is the primary focus of your life?
  11. What do you really want to change this year?
  12. What will be the impact if you don’t make the change?
  13. If you are able to make the change how will you feel?
  14. What are your most important strengths that will help you achieve the goal?
  15. What are some rewards you can give yourself when you make progress?
  16. Who in your law firm do you think is most motivated?
  17. What does that lawyer do that causes you to say he or she is most motivated?
  18. How will you hold yourself accountable for 2020?

It’s hard for me to process that tomorrow we start a new decade. I look back and 50 years ago, I would finish my first semester of law school and surprise myself with the high grades I earned. On New Years Eve 20 years ago, I was on top of the Magnolia Hotel in Dallas to watch the restart of the Pegasus. For those not from Dallas, here is a Dallas Morning News article: Why is Dallas so obsessed with Pegasus?

If you have read my blog for the last 10 years, what do you suppose the most read posts were? Several posts were by far the most popular and were most tweeted. Here are a few:

  1. 20 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I was a First Year Lawyer. This was by far the most popular blog I posted in 2010. I came to realize that lawyers like lists and want to avoid other people’s mistakes. When I discovered how popular this post was, I wrote what turned out to be the second most popular post that year.
  2. 15 Additional Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I was a First Year Lawyer. It was fun to think of 15 additional things. I thought I might be on to something, but 35 things was about all I could could come up with that I wish someone had told me.
  3. What Would Law Firms Be Like If They Were Led By Women. I read a satirical blog post by UConn professor Gina BarrecaRun by Women the World Would Be Better and More Fun. I realized it was ok for a woman to do a satire, but my blog post could not be a satire. I must have drafted it  20 times and I received advice from at least 10 women I coached. I was blessed to coach many successful women lawyers who moved into leadership positions in their firms. It has been great to see the results of their leadership.
  4. Six Client Development Myths That Hold Most Associates Back. Why do so many lawyers waited until they became partners, when the pressure was on them to bring in business? I say there are what I call client development myths.
  5. Law Firms: Some Keys to Successful Client Development Coaching
    I know from experience that only a few law firms offer their young lawyers client development coaching. If your firm wants to develop the next generation of rainmakers, here are some tips. T
  6. My 5 Clues to Asking for Business/Closing the Sale. This series was popular because so many lawyers feel uncomfortable asking for business.
  7. 16 Things Law Firms Expect of New Lawyers. I posted this when new lawyers were arriving at their law firms and I got a sense someone in the firms suggested the new lawyers might want to take a look at the ideas.
  8. My Top 12 Tips for Law Firm Client Development Professionals. I worked with dozens of marketing professionals in my old law firm and in the law firms where I coached lawyers. Here are some thoughts for the marketing professionals.
  9. 2015 Planning: Organize into Categories of Your Life. If you are thinking about your 2020 plan, this blog post might help you.
  10. Are You Pursuing Excellence or Success? A few years ago I received an email from a firm that was proudly announcing the lawyers who had been promoted to equity partner. I had coached all but one of those lawyers. I wrote this blog for those lawyers.

Happy New Year to you. I hope 2020 will be your best year ever. And, I hope 2020-2030 will be your best decade ever.


I hope you enjoy time with your family today. Have you ever spent Christmas away from your family? Nancy and I spent Christmas 1971 all by ourselves in sunny Southern California. It was the first time we had not been with our family in Lombard, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. I want to share that experience with you. I haven’t found any photos from that year.

As you will see in the photos below, for Christmas 1972, we were able to fly back to Chicago and spend it with our families there.

These Photos are from Christmas 1972, when we came back home to Lombard

It was 1971. Nancy and I had arrived in San Bernardino, California in early December for my first USAF assignment. (I wrote about our trip across America a few years ago: For Greater Happiness, Slow Down, Create and Enjoy an Experience.) We had secured a wonderful two bedroom apartment.

Christmas that year was unusual for many reasons. It was our very first Christmas alone, just the two of us. We also were in a place very different from the Chicago suburbs or Richmond, Virginia where we had lived.

We thought it was cool to be in sunny Southern California. We played tennis in the morning and skied at Big Bear in the afternoon. After all, where else in the United States could you do that?

That year I bought Nancy a brown knit dress at a local store. The young woman who helped me said it was the style for the year. I learned an important lesson about Christmas gifts for Nancy that has lasted until this very day: If she hasn’t tried it on, it really doesn’t matter how stylish the dress is. Nancy wore the dress and said all the right things about it, but I could tell it wasn’t her perfect gift.

Nancy also created a special treat for me. I had been introduced to “real” Mexican food at Lucy’s, a wonderful restaurant that became our favorite. Lucy’s is still in the same location, now 49 years later. In December of 1971, I ate my first Chile Rellenos that were part of a special combination plate at Lucy’s that cost $1.75 at the time and $8.75 today.

Hearing me rave about the dish, Nancy had bought a Mexican cookbook and surprised me on Christmas Eve with Chile Rellenos. Unfortunately, the cookbook did not include photos of the dishes.

When I looked at the plate, I knew there was something wrong. There were 12 of Chile Rellenos on the plate, 11 more than I had ever eaten at Lucy’s. They were small chiles, unlike the Anaheim chiles that Lucy used.

When I took my first bite, it was more spicy than anything I had ever eaten at the time. Instead of using Anaheim chiles, Nancy had used jalapeño peppers without removing the seeds. Since that time, I decided Nancy had inadvertently invented Jalapeño Poppers.

(PS: This was not our last Christmas disaster dining experience. In 1976, I decided to make Peanut Soup for our family. Nancy and I had eaten it earlier that month at the Hotel Roanoke.  I did not put enough stock in the soup. So, it ended up being only slightly thinner than peanut butter. Everyone ate it and when they finished they were so full that we had to wait several hours to serve the rest of the meal.  As only a mother would do, my mom thanked me and said she hoped I would serve it next year. Nancy had a far different view. So, I have not made the peanut soup ever since.)

I hope you enjoy your holiday with your family and friends.




I grew up in a Chicago suburb. One summer, my parents decided I should take the train to Richmond, Virginia to visit my grandparents who lived about 25 miles away in Chester.

I boarded the train in Chicago and changed trains in Cincinnati. In the early morning, I got up and left my seat. In the short time I was up, the train had stopped and a large group of boy scouts boarded, leaving no seats. I stood the rest of the way. It was a long, long trip.

During my stay with my grandparents I was  bored beyond belief. I didn’t really know anyone other than my cousin and his friends and there were no parks with baseball fields like there were at home.

My grandfather had an entire wall with shelves filled with old books. The majority of the books were either historical or self-help books. My grandfather had lost everything in the depression and I think he read the self-help books in the hopes of making a comeback.

I remember reading books by Dale Carnegie including, How to Win Friends and Influence People (here is a good summary.) and I especially remember reading books by Napoleon Hill, including Think and Grow Rich (here is a good summary).

Hill was born in poverty in the coal fields of Wise County, Virginia. I once tried a case in Wise County. It was a unique experience.

Hill started as a news reporter and later went to law school. As a reporter, Hill was given the assignment to write stories about successful people. Andrew Carnegie was one of the people Hill interviewed.

According to the legend, Carnegie believed there was a formula for success and he commissioned Hill to interview successful people and write a book about what they shared in common. The project took over 20 years. In the midst of the depression, Think and Grow Rich was published.

Reading Napoleon Hill’s book influenced my thinking about my future. Hill convinced me there was a formula for success and I was determined to follow it.

In the very first chapter, Napoleon Hill told readers they needed to have a clear major definite purpose. He said:

There is one quality which one must possess to win, and that is definiteness of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants, and a burning desire to possess it.

He wrote:

When your desires are strong enough you will appear to possess superhuman powers to achieve.

So, the starting point for your life and career success is knowing definitely what you want at this point in your life and having a burning desire to achieve it. I am living proof that kind of focus can motivate you.

Many years ago when I was the Construction Law Practice Group Leader at my firm, we had a practice group retreat at a ranch about an hour from Dallas. After dinner, one of my junior partners, who had been drinking a great deal, paid me what he believed would be the ultimate insult.

He said:

Cordell, you are not a real lawyer, you are nothing but a salesman.

I wanted to respond, saying something like:

That’s a good thing. If I wasn’t a salesman, you wouldn’t have any legal work to do.

I bit my tongue. . Instead, I thought about what he said. I thought that in his eyes real lawyers are ones who do excellent work and then wait for the phone to ring.

I hate any sentence that includes the words sales and lawyers. I hate to be sold anything and I know clients do not want to be sold.

Yet, as a lawyer you are salesman. In the end, you are selling yourself and your firm.

How can you do it?

I believe a lawyer has to build his or her profile or brand. I also believe it is important to be the “go to” lawyer in some area.

One of the books I recommended the lawyers I coached read was: Never Eat Alone written by Keith Ferrazzi.

In chapter 23, Ferrazzi talks about building your brand. He argues and I agree that perception drives reality. He further suggests that good personal brands do three highly significant things for your network of contacts:

They provide a credible, distinctive, and trustworthy identity. They project a compelling message. They attract more and more people to you and your cause, as you’ll stand out in an increasing cluttered world.”

Then, Ferrazzi says:

In terms of branding, then the bottom line for everyone comes down to a choice: to be distinct or extinct.

How can you be distinct and build a brand?

You can’t sell legal services by “cold calls.” The only way to build a brand and approach a potential client without an invitation is to find a way to add value and give it away. You could write a book, an article, or create a blog post on a topic the potential client would value and would likely show up in a Google search of the topic and cause the client to come to you.

Seth Godin wrote a book called: “The Dip. Can you create a “dip” between you and lawyers with whom you compete that is so wide that it is more likely they will quit before they catch you?

There are many other valuable ideas in Never Eat Alone and I recommend you read it, or find a summary of it. For now, what is your brand as seen through the eyes of your clients?