If you enjoy what you are doing, and you’re good at it, but you want to change law firms, you are in the minority and you are the type of lawyer I would like to recruit.

Much has been written about unhappy lawyers. I’ve even written about it myself. Earlier this year I posted: How to go from burnout to balance?

I also posted: Activities and Relationships: Key to your happiness.

I’ve been working on my second novel for several months now. One of my characters is a 30 something-year-old lawyer named Carina. She is incredibly successful. She sets goals, works hard, figures out things others miss and she is credited for her great work for her client.

Yet, in the course of the novel, Carina realizes she is not very happy. I did some research and found an Atlantic article: Why So Many Smart People Aren’t Happy.

In the interview with University of Texas professor, Raj Raghunathan who authored a book titled:  If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? 

I especially liked this rather long quote from the interview:

When you don’t need to compare yourself to other people, you gravitate towards things that you instinctively enjoy doing, and you’re good at, and if you just focus on that for a long enough time, then chances are very, very high that you’re going to progress towards mastery anyway, and the fame and the power and the money and everything will come as a byproduct, rather than something that you chase directly in trying to be superior to other people.

For lawyers, comparing ourselves with others begins in law school. I was either third or fourth in my law school class. I can’t remember now, and to be honest, it never made any difference in my career.

I did some research and found the University of Richmond Law School is ranked number 50 by US News and World Report. I’m sure it was not ranked that high when I attended, but to be honest that never made any difference in my career.

When I was busy practicing law, my least happy times came once a year when I compared how much I was being paid to how much my partners were being paid. I was happiest when I was away from the office helping contractors get fairly paid for the large complex projects they were constructing.

I believe the lawyers in my old firm were fairly happy (other than the one time a year when they learned how much they and their colleagues would be paid), until we discovered our Am Law ranking. We were in the Top 100 and later the Top 50, but some leaders wanted a higher ranking.

I remember receiving a 15-page manifesto written by one leader on how we could move up the Am Law rankings. Other than the prospect of being paid more money, I found nothing valuable in the manifesto.

I want to recruit lawyers who are not comparing themselves to others. It’s a no-win game. As soon as you climb one mountain, there’ll be another one right in front of you.

 

Over the years when I coached lawyers, several Professional Development and Client Development/marketing professionals contacted me asking for subjects to cover in client development teaching and training.

If I wanted to take just 30 minutes or less at lunch each month, here are the topics I might cover:

  • What makes client development in 2018 and soon 2019 different and more challenging than 10 years ago – the economy (it’s roaring now), clients and the tools available
  • How to develop a business plan
  • How to determine individual goals that will challenge and stretch your lawyers
  • How to determine what activities to undertake to meet their goal
  • Methods you and your lawyers can use to hold the lawyers accountable
  • How to raise their visibility and credibility to their target market
  • How to write articles, blog posts and give presentations that will enhance their reputation and increase their chances of getting hired
  • Networking
  • Building relationships
  • How to work more effectively as a team
  • “Beyond Selling”- How to get business without coming across like a used car salesman
  • Extraordinary client service and expanding relationships with existing clients

Actually, I would put the last session first. I think one of the most important things you can teach your lawyers is how to provide extraordinary service to existing clients.

 

When I retired from my law practice to coach lawyers, people (including some close to me) asked why I would give up my law practice at the very peak of my career. There were many reasons. One was I simply wanted to do something different and new.

When I retired from coaching at the end of last year, people asked why I was giving that up. I told one friend that either I was considered too old by law firms, or as I had thought for some time, they did not want to invest in the future.

Now that I am recruiting lawyers, I’m not surprised to find how few young partners have a portable book of business that would be attractive to a law firm. I’ve been told that law firms do not want to invest in young lawyers because firm leaders believe those lawyers will leave the firm. I believe the opposite is true. I believe investing in young lawyers will give those lawyers a reason to stay.

A few years ago I read Seth Godin’s blog: Cost Reduction for High End Markets.

The essence of the post is that if you cut costs, you become less remarkable and more like firms trying to serve the middle of the market. Seth says:

Go through all the ways you serve your customers and make them more expensive to execute, not less. Your loyalty and your market share will both grow. People who can afford to pay for service often choose to pay for service.

I rarely meet lawyers in a firm of any significant size who want to compete on price. Your law firm would likely want to increase revenue from your firm’s largest clients. Why would a client want to pay more (either higher rates or giving your firm more work) when they are getting less from your firm?

If you want to stand out from all the other law firms, take Seth Godin’s advice. If you are sitting around with lawyers in your practice group or office, brainstorm on what you can offer that will be more expensive for your firm to execute, but will make your firm more valuable to your clients, and in the end, increase revenue.

Did you watch the women’s final of the US Open on Saturday? I watched it all and became a huge fan of Naomi Osaka. She played against Serena with grit, focus and power.

She outplayed and defeated her hero, the hero she had dreamed of playing from the time she was a child, the hero who had provided her the motivation to work hard to become the very best she could be.

While her tennis against Serena and Madison Keys in the semi-finals was awesome, I was more impressed by her grace, authenticity and humility in victory.

You may have read or heard that in third grade she did a report for school about Serena including drawing a picture of her and coloring it in.

You may have heard or read about her post match interview:

“Your question is making me emotional,” said Osaka, when she was asked to explain her podium apology at her post-match press conference.

“Because I know she really wanted to have the 24th Grand Slam, right? Everyone knows this. It’s on the commercials, it’s everywhere.

“When I step onto the court, I feel like a different person. I’m not a Serena fan. I’m just a tennis player playing another tennis player.

“But then when I hugged her at the net (tearing up) … when I hugged her at the net, I felt like a little kid again.”

I read many, many articles about Naomi and her victory. This one struck a chord with me. Japanese hail a ‘humble and serene’ Naomi.

The Japanese public have also been charmed by Osaka’s off-court humility and genuineness as much as her on-court ferocity.

Yesterday morning, I watched her interview on the Today Show and talked about how it felt to play the title match after writing her third grade paper and having watched her win grand slam matches before.

Having Heroes Motivated Me

When I was a kid growing up in Lombard, IL, I played baseball, basketball and football. I idolized players in each sport and imitated their motions.

Our next door neighbor had a chicken coop. He allowed me to draw a strike zone on the back that faced our yard. With a red rubber ball I did my best Early Wynn (White Sox pitcher) imitation. I also became each of the White Sox infielders catching ground balls and throwing to first.

If you looked at photos of our vacation the summer I was 10 years old you would see in every photo I had on a White Sox hat and a big wad of Topps baseball card gum in my mouth, wanting to look like the White Sox second baseman, Nellie Fox.

When I played the outfield, I tried to imitate my hero, Willie Mays.

Sometime when I was young my dad put up a basketball hoop for me. I shot baskets year round, including in the winter in the snow with gloves on. I tried to shoot jump shots like Jerry West and layups like Elgin Baylor.

In football, I wanted to be like Johnny Unitas. I even tried to have a flat top like he had. My only problem was my hair was so curly, instead of standing straight up it went all over the place.

In my dreams, I never thought about playing with or against my heroes. In my real life, I never played professional sports and only got as far as freshman basketball and baseball at Virginia Tech.

But, trying to be like my heroes taught me something that turned out to be far more valuable. I set high goals and worked hard to achieve them. It was the journey that became important in my life.

When I decided to become a lawyer, I had heroes. They were lawyers like Clarence Darrow, Earl Rogers, Louis Nizer, and F. Lee Bailey. I read books about them. (I still have many of the books). I worked hard to become as good as they had been. I doubt I ever achieved it. But, my desire to achieve goals and hard work served me well.

Did you have heroes when you grew up?  Did they motivate you to strive to become better than you thought you could be?

It was 1976. After five years practicing law on active duty in the United States Air Force, I excitedly began my life in private practice as a general commercial litigator in what was by 1976 standards a medium sized firm in Roanoke, Virginia.

I was open to just about any idea that would help me become successful. So, when I was advised that I “needed” to join the North Roanoke Rotary Club, I jumped at the chance. After attending several of the weekly dinner meetings and participating in the club’s bingo fundraising events, I discovered no one in the club was a potential client or referral source.

By 1978, I had figured out I was not making the progress I had hoped as a general commercial litigator, so I narrowed my focus to government contracts and construction contracts. I became active in the state and local division of the ABA’s Public Contract Law Section.

By 1980 I had been on a task force that helped redraft Virginia’s Public Contract Law Statutes. That year I was asked to speak at the ABA Annual Meeting in New Orleans. After speaking on state highway construction contract disputes, I realized that not one person in the audience was a potential client or referral sources. The best I could hope from that audience was to be a mail drop if any lawyer had a case in my area.

Photo taken after a presentation to National Asphalt Pavement Association

In 1981, I spoke at the Virginia Road and Transportation Builders’ Association Annual Meeting. (I still have my presentation materials). An executive from the American Road and Transportation Builders’ Association heard me speak and asked me to speak at their Contractor’s Meeting the next summer. Executives from other state chapters heard me speak that summer and all of a sudden I was speaking to contractors all over the country.

What does my story have to do with you? I hope the title of this post gave it away. You have to hang out where your clients and referral sources hang out.

Where do your clients and referral sources hang out? What organizations do they belong to? What meetings do they go to? What are they reading?

Hang out in those places.

I coached Shawn Tuma in 2011. Back then I thought Shawn was the most innovative lawyer I had coached.

Shawn recently joined Spencer Fane where he is co-chair of the firm’s data privacy group. I spoke with him recently and discovered that over the last several months he had done many interviews and over next month he had several additional TV and radio interviews scheduled.

Here is a link to one of his interviews.

How did Shawn get these opportunities?

Put simply, he has built his practice using the social media tools available to all of you. I checked the morning I wrote this and he had 9998 followers on Twitter, just two short of 10,000. I’m betting he has over 10,000 as you are reading this.

If I was hiring lawyers for my law firm, I would prefer to hire lawyers who are on the cutting edge of reaching clients and potential clients. But, how many of those lawyers are there?

Lawyers and law firms are so slow to change. Some time ago I was doing research on change and I found these statistics:

Five  kinds of attitudes about change:

  1. Early innovators (2.6%), run with new ideas
  2. Early adaptors (13.4%), influenced by (1) but not initiators
  3. Slow Majority (34%), the herd-followers
  4. Reluctant Majority (34%)
  5. Antagonistic (16%), they will never change

You might think these statistics were collected in 2018. In fact, these statistics came from the clerk of Abbington Presbytery, outside of Philadelphia, over 100 years ago.

There have been more changes in the way you practice law and do client development in the last 18 years than in the 29 years I practiced law before that. Think about these changes that just cover connecting and staying in touch:

 

  • Smartphones and other mobile devices to stay in touch
  • Email alerts
  • Blogs
  • Podcasts
  • Webinars
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Youtube
  • Skype

Which category of attitude about change describes the lawyers your firm is hiring?

 

 

Have you ever received an offer you thought was just too good to be true? If you have there’s probably a good chance it is.

Now that I am putting together lawyers who want to change firms with firms I know and trust, I am reminded of the time when I was the leader of a group of lawyers ready to leave Jenkens & Gilchrist at the end of 2003. I won’t bore you with the history other than to tell you the firm closed its doors March 31, 2007.

Our group was heavily recruited by two mega international law firms seeking to create a greater presence in Dallas. (Now it seems every big firm wants a Dallas office.) I was offered $250,000 more than I was making by one of the firms and I was offered $150,000 more than I was making by the other firm. These offers were too good to be true…

I can’t remember if I thought the offers were based on my legal talent and the clients I would bring with me. Looking back now, I realize the offers took into account that neither firm would have to pay a consultant or recruiter for putting together the deal. I was the recruiter/consultant and my value to either firm was that I was bringing with me so many rainmakers.

If you ever receive an offer that seems really great, before accepting it figure out what’s behind the offer. Oh, also make sure to find out how long you will receive that compensation before any “adjustments.”

 

Knowing that many first-year lawyers will be starting with their law firms in September, I want to share questions  I suggest associates ask the more senior lawyers who give them assignments.

 At the Beginning of a Project:

  1. When would you like me to complete this project?
  2. Describe what you have been told to do and then ask: Have I missed anything?
  3. How many hours are you expecting me to take on the project?
  4. Are there any materials I should review?
  5. Would it be helpful if I gave you my initial findings/conclusions?

At the end of the project:

  1. Have I covered all the areas you wanted?
  2. Is there anything more I can do to help you with this?
  3. Can you give me some feedback on my work?
  4. Are there any areas where you think I could improve?
  5. Can I help you with any other projects now?

If you called me and told me you were thinking about changing law firms and wanted my help, after learning more about you, what do you suppose I might ask?

“Do you have a written plan with goals?”

Why do you suppose I think you should have a plan?

Any law firm that might consider you will want to have some sense of your past performance and even a greater sense of how you see your future.

But, even if you are happy at your current firm, I strongly suggest you prepare a written plan with goals. If you do, you will take control of your future. In addition, if your plan and written goals are focused on something you truly value, you will feel energized, committed and disciplined to achieve it. Finally, having a plan enables you to best use your two most important resources-your time and your energy.

To not plan is to risk what Yogi Berra once said:

“If you don’t know where you are going, you are likely to end up somewhere else.”

I learned early in my career that without a focus, I could easily get distracted So, it was important to me, to not only know where I was going but also to have a map to show me if I was on course for my destination. If I had not identified what I wanted in my future and charted a written course, I would not have had the discipline to take the actions necessary to get there.

When I speak to lawyers on planning, I share ideas from the first three habits in Dr. Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  Dr. Covey’s first three habits are:

  • Habit 1: Be Proactive
  • Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
  • Habit 3: Put First Things First

What do these habits mean to your law career? First, being proactive means that each of you is responsible for your own career. Where you are now in your career is a product of the cards you were dealt and the decisions you have made to date. Where you go from here is up to you. Your firm can help, but you are the one who is ultimately responsible.

Beginning with the end in mind means you must have some idea of what you want to accomplish and what you to become as a lawyer in the future. In planning your career you must have a vision of where you want to go and what you want to accomplish.

Putting first things first means establishing priorities. You can’t do it all. You have to make choices.

Your plan will be of little value if it is not implemented. So how can you hold yourself accountable?

  1. I suggest you break down your plan into 90 Days Goals. Make a list of what you want to do the next 90 days.
  2. Get a colleague in your firm or a friend and share your plans and 90 Days Goals with each other.
  3. Plan each week by listing what you plan to do, estimating how much time it will take and put it on your calendar.

If you take my suggestions to heart, you will be a better candidate for any law firm, and I promise you will make your career more rewarding.

Someone recently asked what kind of lawyers I hoped to recruit. I believe the person wanted to know what practice areas, what locations, whether I wanted to recruit associates or partners.

I answered that I want to recruit lawyers who are hungry and dreaming big dreams about what they can become.

A few years ago Sherman Smith posted a blog: You Got To Be Hungry!!!. He began the post with three great questions:

  1. How HUNGRY are you in order for you to have longevity in your business?
  2. What are you willing to give up in order to achieve success?
  3. Are you unsatisfied with how things are and want to make a change for the better?

How hungry are you to become a successful lawyer with clients who appreciate your help?

If you are really hungry to learn, I can assure you from experience that nothing is more fun professionally than figuring out how you can be a more valuable lawyer and better serve your clients.