This is the second in my series of posts on life and career lessons from John Wooden. They say Coach Wooden’s highest annual salary at UCLA was $36,000. It is hard to imagine that today.

Recently I posted a blog What is Success: Listen to John Wooden. As you might recall Coach Wooden said:

Success is the peace of mind which is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing that you made the effort to become the best at what you are capable of becoming.

Coach Wooden loved to tell the story of Bill Walton’s hair.

Coach had a rule that hair could be no longer than two inches and there could be no facial hair. Walton, the star of the team showed up for the first practice one year  with long hair and a beard and announced it was his right to have long hair. Wooden agreed and said:

“That’s good Bill. I admire people who have strong beliefs and stick by them, I really do. We’re going to miss you.”

Walton raced to a barber shop to get his hair cut and beard shaved. I loved watching this video of the story.

When I went back to Coach Wooden’s webpage, I found a tribute from Bill Walton. Walton said:

I thank Coach Wooden every day for all his selfless gifts, his lessons, his time, his vison and especially his patience.

That seemed fitting because one of Coach Wooden’s famous quotes was:

You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you

I can now look back and remember some perfect days, those days when I helped someone who I knew could never repay me.

This really leaves two questions for you to ponder:

  1. Are you making the effort to become the best you are capable of becoming?
  2. When was the last time you lived a perfect day, doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you?

I feel fairly certain I will focus on recruiting lawyers in much the same way I focused on coaching lawyers. Since I haven’t coached associates recently, I suspect I will rarely help associates find a new firm. But, if you are a regular reader and you want my help, contact me, let me get to know you, and if I can help, I will try my best.

Whether you are planning to stay put or make a move, here are some questions I asked myself while reflecting on my future. Hopefully they will help you reflect.

The Who Questions:
Who is important in my life?
Who do I want to benefit from what I am doing?

The What Questions:
What are my strengths?
What are my challenges?
What do I want to accomplish?
What do I want to learn?
What do I want to experience?
What contribution do I want to make?
What are my most important core values?
What do I want to earn?
What am I most passionate about?
What do my clients need the most?
What do I need to do to accomplish my goal?

The When Questions:
When do I want to accomplish each goal?

The Where Questions:
Where do I want to live?
Where do I want to visit?

The Why Questions:
Why is each goal important to me?
And why is that important to me?

The How Questions:
How do I want to accomplish my goals?
How do I want to live?

When I was in college and law school, I hated UCLA’s basketball team because they were winning the NCAA every year.

I remember being at a college party in 1968 and everyone cheered when Houston upset UCLA in the Astrodome before a record-setting crowd of 52, 693 fans. It was the first regular season NCAA basketball game televised on national TV, and it was called the “Game of the Century.

Later that year UCLA routed Houston 101-69 in the NCAA tournament. (So much for the game of the century.) You can read about the game here.

As fate would have it, my first assignment in the Air Force after law school was at a base in Southern California. Each night, I watched John Wooden being interviewed by the media. Within a very short time, I came to realize why he was not only the greatest coach of any sport ever, but also why he was a great leader and a great person.

A few years ago, I was interviewed. See: 5 minute Interview with Cordell Parvin.  I was asked what man had been my role model. I answered my father and Coach Wooden.

John Wooden’s character and principles always showed through whether his team won, or when it infrequently lost. After leaving Southern California, I have read many books about him and listened to him speaking. I have been frequently inspired by his approach to life and building a team.

Lawyers and law firms can learn a great deal from “The Wizard of Westwood.” Take a look at his website and his “Pyramid of Success.

On his website home page you will find one of my favorite Coach Wooden quotes: “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”

If you have time, watch this John Wooden TED Talk, or at least the first couple of minutes where he describes his definition of success.

The reason that this quote was so important to me, and hopefully to you, was my realization that measuring my success based on what others achieved would either cause me to give up, thinking I could never achieve what some of them had achieved, or alternatively cause me to not reach as high as I might, thinking I had achieved more than some of them had achieved.

Work each day to serve your clients and to become the best lawyer for your clients you are capable of becoming. That will bring you the peace of mind and satisfaction Coach Wooden speaks about.

I knew it while I practiced law. Now that I am recruiting every day I am reminded that law firms want partners who have already attracted clients or are have clear potential to attract clients.

So, if you are a young lawyer and you want to have a long law career in a law firm, it is never too early to work on attracting clients.

Several years ago I was a member of a LinkedIn Group on Sales. Many of the discussions on the group page had little value to lawyers. But, some I found very valuable.

One day I saw a discussion that began with this question:

What are the core competencies for a salesperson trying to sell a “concept” like training?

We could edit the question:

“What are the core competencies for a lawyer selling legal services?”

Several of the comments intrigued me because they could be applied to selling legal services. Here are a couple of them:

This is semantics but all sales involve selling an idea or a “concept” whether the item is intangible or not… So, one core competency is the ability to understand the buyer’s need/desire. Maybe this is empathy but certainly the ability to listen and to probe for meaningful insight. Another is the ability to identify how your service can fulfill that need. Competency here is the ability to see connections that are not always obvious. Finally the ability to synthesize need and ability to fulfill need into a cohesive and attractive plan that demonstrates to the buyer that his or her objectives will be met and that these objectives will have a meaningful impact on the business or enterprise.

People who sell “training” or widgets eventually fail. Only people that sell value succeed. So the question is, “What competencies does a seller need to possess in order to articulate the value that is derived from the training?” And better yet, “Can the seller link that value to the prospect’s context, business or problem and communicate it effectively enough to close the sale?”

Can you see why I believe the two comments above can be applied to selling legal services?

You are not selling litigation or transactions. You are providing a solution to a potential client’s problem, facilitating the client taking advantage of an opportunity or helping a client deal with a change they are facing.

As expressed above, the core competency is the ability to ask questions and listen, see things your client may be missing, empathize and finally articulate a solution the client finds valuable.

In July of 2000, Seth Godin wrote an article in “Fast Company” titled: “Unleash Your Ideavirus.” In the article Godin says:

Ideas are driving the economy, ideas are making people rich, and most importantly, ideas are changing the world.”

He suggests that to win we need to unleash an ideavirus, which I interpret as a high-powered word of mouth marketing.

Later, he published a book, and then a book with audio and video.

I doubt any of you quarrel with the importance of ideas in 2018, and I doubt any of you question the value of having clients and referral sources telling others that you are a great lawyer. But, many of you likely wonder how you can create great ideas and a high-powered ideavirus, word of mouth campaign.

Seth Godin gives some suggested techniques that you can use to identify, launch, and profit from ideas that can be turned into viruses. First, he suggests that you concentrate the message.

You can only win when you dominate and amaze the group you have targeted.”

That means as lawyers you cannot create an ideavirus by marketing to everyone. Depending on your field, you will want to narrow your market either geographically or by industry.

The more narrow your market, the more likely you can develop an idea that will resonate with that market and the more likely the idea will spread.

How do you figure out the right idea?

Quit thinking about selling yourself or your firm or what you do as a lawyer. Instead, focus on understanding what your clients are thinking and what will potentially impact their business.

  • Think of your most important client.
  • Then think about what is impacting that client. What does that client need to achieve its goals? What are the obstacles that client is trying to overcome?
  • How can you help?

Someone has to be the “go to” lawyer in your field. If you are willing to work hard to become a valuable resource for your clients, potential clients and referral sources, it might as well be you.

Keep in mind. Seth Godin wrote this 18 years ago. It would be an understatement to say the landscape has changed since then.

I recently heard a discussion I would describe as “what some big law firms doing to be thought of as cool by young lawyers.”

I listened intently and learned that a high percentage of associates working in big law firms are seeking to leave their law firm and go in-house at a company.

I gathered that some of the big law firms are seeking to retain those lawyers. I heard that one firm allows young parents to bring their children to work. (I assumed but wasn’t sure that they weren’t supposed to bring their children every day).

I learned that several well-known firms are providing alcohol as a way of being thought of as a cool place to work. I’m not sure I understood, but apparently, some firms believe they can demand many hours of work from young lawyers if they make working at the firm more fun.

At my old firm, beer was brought in on Friday afternoons to what was called the attorneys’ lounge. Over 10 years I went once and drank one beer as I didn’t want to be pulled over or cause an accident while driving home on the North Dallas Tollway.

Ok, I confess. I am old fashioned. I was the guy who didn’t think our firm should go to everyday business casual. Keep in mind that when I went to law school, male students were required to wear coats and ties. Also, keep in mind that when our firm went to business casual, I didn’t own any clothing that would meet what I defined as business casual.

So, I could be old fashioned when I say I don’t believe providing alcohol in the office is a great way to attract and retain talented young lawyers. Is there another way?

If you haven’t read or heard about Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, you likely have not heard of “Fed Ex” Days.

In the book, Pink talks about Atlassian, an Australian company that once a quarter allows their developers to work on anything they want, any way they want and with whomever they want. Atlassian calls them “Fed Ex” days because the developers have to deliver something overnight.

I urge you to read the book. If you want an introduction, read this CNN article Big bonuses don’t mean big results. You will see in the article that if you want to implement “Fed Ex” days in your office, there is only one rule: “The group must deliver something.”

How can you implement the program in your firm?

Give your associates the chance to do a project for a client or for an organization in your community. Let them select the project and who will be on their team. I believe your associates will come up with many creative ideas that will be a public relations coup for your firm, and just maybe your firm will be considered a cool place to work.

Seth Godin recently posted: Mass personalization is a trap. For those of you whose firms send email blasts designed to make clients and potential clients think it actually came from you, I suggest you take a moment to read what Seth Godin has written.

I still get emails every day from law firms, from consulting firms for law firms and from others. I think those emails which are sent to thousands at the same time actually annoy potential clients rather than draw them to a firm or lawyer. I am tired of opting out and then receiving more emails.

If I don’t want email blasts, just imagine how your clients are more busy than I feel about receiving email blasts.

Seth Godin not only posted the recent blog but a few years ago he expressed his thoughts in an interview:

Marketing is no longer about interrupting the masses with unanticipated spam: ads about average products for average people. Instead, marketing is about leading tribes – groups of people who want to go somewhere.

One of the lawyers I coached shared with me a story about an experiment one of her partners had conducted with an alert. Here is the story:

I decided to try something. I picked 40 clients that I thought might be impacted by the new I-9 forms.  I drafted a general email text about the client alert. I took the general email text and personalized it in some way for each client so that it did not appear as a mass email blast. It took about 45 minutes to send out these emails.

The result:

Fifteen clients emailed to thank me and four specifically mentioned that they were unaware of the changes.

One client used return email to schedule a call regarding an unrelated matter that directly resulted in billable work.

In 2018, the competition to attract and retain clients could not be greater. Adding a personal touch to any contact with clients will set you and your firm apart.

When I practiced law, I wanted the lawyers who worked with me to not be content. I wanted them to not think they had arrived. I wanted them to strive to become a better lawyer each day.

Now that I am recruiting lawyers for firms that I know and respect, I hope to find lawyers who share those traits.

I was never content. Over my many years, I would wake up in the middle of the night and worry about continuing to create a pipeline of work to keep myself and others in my practice group busy.

I always had matters in the works, but my practice generated a few very large matters rather than many small ones. So the development of these matters came at their own pace, not always the pace I wanted.

I told my friends and colleagues I had “healthy paranoia.” I believe most super successful people have it.

They are successful in part because they feel the strong need inside to be successful and they worry when things are not going just the way they want them.

If you look at the quote above, you will likely see the connection. Having healthy paranoia is a key to greater success. It will cause you to think more creatively. But, paranoia goes from healthy to unhealthy easily and unhealthy paranoia will cripple you. Don’t let that happen to you.

As you may know, I wrote a book called Rising Star about a lawyer who had healthy paranoia.


I met with a friend recently who shared with me the challenge of thinking about the future beyond this year. I understood because I coached lawyers who rarely thought about the future beyond the next week unless it was about a planned vacation.

Way back in 2006, I gave a presentation to the Texas State Bar Young Lawyers Association (TYLA). The title of the program was “Crossroads, Mapping out the Rest of Your Career.”

I liked the title because for me “crossroads” meant a defining moment and “mapping” meant the young lawyers would focus on a destination and the road to get there. I also wrote an article on the same subject for the Texas State Bar Journal. Here is the link.

I began by asking how many in the audience were completely satisfied with where they were in their career. Very few raised their hand. Then I talked about the future and what would be the appropriate map.

For too many of us, the road and the destination would be clear if we would simply take the time to consider our future.

So, take some time today and figure out if you’re working towards a goal, or being called to it. You might be happily surprised with your answer.

If you have several million dollars in originations each year, you likely won’t need a business plan when you are seeking to change firms. (I suspect not many of those lawyers are regular readers of this blog, but…)

If you are like most other potential lateral partners, you want to able to demonstrate your potential. The first step in that effort is your business plan. You should prepare a business plan even if you are happy and content with your present firm. It will help you be more successful.

Why and how? In 2018, your time is really important, and for your own professional success and personal fulfillment, you should use your time wisely.

Preparing a business plan will help you prioritize how you spend your time, focus your attention on the important things and execute. With no plan, you will find it easy not to do anything other than the billable work that is on your desk.

If we worked together, you may recall I said that many lawyers spend more time planning a vacation than they spend planning their careers. Interestingly, the approach to planning can be similar.

What can we learn from our 30th Anniversary Trip to Ireland in 2000? (Can’t believe we are honing in on the big number 50 in two years.)

Start with Answering What and Why

Nancy, spent at least 20 hours planning this trip for us. She decided she wanted us to go to Ireland and she knew why.

Her family came to the United States from Ireland and she also knew she would enjoy the people, the scenery, the golf courses, the Irish beef cooked by French Chefs and the Irish Pubs serving Irish beer. So, she knew what and why. Then she planned where we would stay, where we would play golf and the itinerary for each day.

I like to say she did a top-down and bottom-up plan. Her top-down plan was looking at what she wanted us to do and where she wanted us to go. Her bottom-up plan looked at how many days we would spend and what we could do in that number of days. Then she had a plan for each day we were there.

When I practiced law, I prepared my business plan the same way and you should also.

I started with one major goal. My goal long ago was to become the “go to” lawyer for transportation construction contractors.

Why was that important to me?

First, I was far more comfortable knowing a lot about a little than I would have been knowing a little about a lot. I wanted to be a specialist and have a niche industry based practice.

I also wanted the recognition of being the “go to” lawyer for contractors. While I always had financial goals and wanted to earn a good living, the money really didn’t drive me. It was simply a way of keeping score.

My plan for each year had many, many action items. If did not reach my yearly financial goal, I knew I had come closer than I would have with no goal or if I had set a lower goal.

My bottom-up planning began with an estimate of how many non-billable hours I felt I could spend on client development. I usually planned to spend between 240-300 (20-25 a month). Then I outlined what would be the best use of those hours.

I have a short attention span. Knowing that caused me to break my action items down into smaller pieces. Each month I outlined the actions I wanted to accomplish that month and at the end of the month, I could track how I had done.

So, what do you want to achieve? Why is achieving it important to you? What is your plan to achieve it?