As you know, I taught, mentored, and coached law firm associates in my own firm and when I left the firm to coach lawyers. Now that I am recruiting lawyers, I’ve placed only one associate and the firm which hired him only did so because he worked for the partner I placed.

Firms do not encourage associates to learn about client development. Why? Maybe because they believe a successful associate might leave the firm. Maybe because they believe an associate can’t possibly attract the kind of clients the firm desires.

Whatever the reason, I believe law firms make a mistake by not providing top notch career and client development training. Here are 6 reasons associates need to learn those skills.

  1. Law schools brag that students are taught to “think like a lawyer.” Unfortunately students are not taught to “think like a client.” As a result, young lawyers do not appreciate the business context of their legal work.
  2. Law students are taught “the law,” but not taught how to to be a lawyer who helps clients.
  3. Law students are taught to speak and write, but not taught to ask good questions and actively listen.
  4. In law school, establishing goals is easy. Most law students want to finish near the top of their class, pass the bar and get a good job. As associates, setting goals is more complicated because the potential choices are infinite. So, most associates do not have a plan for their career or for client development. Many who do have a plan do not have the discipline or commitment necessary to stay with it during “dips.”
  5. In many firms associates are told to do great work and not worry about client development. Yet, in those same firms, the path to partnership generally includes the associate’s potential to develop business, or in some cases their actual success developing business.
  6. The learning curve for developing business and expanding relationships with clients is the about  the same no matter when the learning begins. Associates who begin learning about client development early in their careers are better prepared to be valuable partners.
I talked about many of those things in a LexBlog Client Development for Associates webinar I did years ago when I answered questions from participants. After the webinar LexBlog blogged Following up on today’s webinar with Cordell Parvin: a few helpful materials. Click on the link and you will be able to download the materials.

If you just want to find the answer to the question in the title, skip down to the end of this post.

Did you get a chance to see it?  In early December, A &E presented a four hours biography titled: Garth Brooks: The Road I’m On. If you missed it, you can stream it and I urge you to watch.

If you watch you will discover that at the very height of his career Garth Brooks “retired” from 2001 to 2009 to help raise his three girls. As you might imagine, when he came back, he wondered if anyone would care.

Forbes magazine published an article titled: A&E Profiles Garth Brooks in Two-Part Biography Special.     I like this quote from the article:

When Brooks agreed to do the special, it’s clear he wanted to be open and honest about all aspects of his life. It’s a rousing, often emotional, in-depth look at the Oklahoma-native who would go on to become the best-selling artist in U.S. music history, and make country music popular around the globe.

If you are not a fan, but you want to have a sense of why Garth Brooks became the best-selling artist in U.S. Music history, take six minutes and watch this video of one of his six concerts in Minneapolis in 2014

I have long tried to understand the charisma Garth Brooks has when performing before audiences in huge stadiums. I did some research and found: Garth Brooks takes Notre Dame by storm.

The two writers describe Garth Brook’s charisma this way:

For one night, Notre Dame Stadium wasn’t the home of the Irish; it was the temple of country music, and Brooks was the presiding minister preaching his gospel of authenticity and charisma. There is no artifice with this man; he is all Garth all the time…It is with this humility and self-awareness that he was able to make the large and impersonal stadium feel like a small bar where he was singing to you, and only you.

So, what can you learn from the number one solo artist of all time? People connect and like people who are:

  1. Authentic
  2. Empathetic
  3. Humble
  4. Self-Aware
  5. Charismatic

I originally posted this in 2012, and I thought as we approach the end of the year it would be worth updating and posting again.

Suppose your firm doesn’t want to pay an outsider like me to come work with your lawyers. How could you set up your own firm coaching program?

I wrote an eBook you can get for free either on iTunes or SlideShare. I also have slides from a presentation.

If you want to create a 2020 monthly client development program in your firm, here are monthly topics you might consider. I recommend starting in December so that your January topic is preparing a plan.

  1. December: StrengthsFinder 2.0 A lawyer’s business plan should take into account his or her strengths. If you are interested, here is a blog I wrote about my own strengths:
  2. January: How to Prepare Plan and Goals. To get some ideas check out my blog: Want an Example of a Really Good Business Plan?
  3. February: Client Development 2017 and Beyond. Principles of client development that will always be important and what is changing.
  4. March: Motivation, Time Management, Hold Yourself Accountable.
  5. April: How Business Clients Select Lawyers and Law Firms.
  6. May: Raising Your Credibility and Visibility.
  7. June: Writing and Speaking to Get Hired.
  8. July: Blogging: What and How to Write a Blog for Clients. Check out my iBook on Blogging and Social Media.
  9. August: Relationship Building.
  10. September: Social Media.
  11. October: Client Meetings, Client Pitches, Getting Selected.
  12. November:  Client Service. Check out my iBook on Client Service.
  13. December: What Sets Rainmakers Apart or What Separates Stars from Superstars.

My colleague, Abby Gordon is back with another guest post. In this post, Abby shares why you need to prepare a business plan. Begin working on your 2020 business plan after reading Abby’s post.

Start early:

A persuasive business plan can make or break your next career move.

Many lawyers do not think about crafting a business plan until they make partner at a firm. Starting this process sooner, even as a mid-level associate, will at worst be a superfluous intellectual exercise. Having a well-thought out business plan can mean the difference between landing your dream position and missing the chance to lateral at all. It can also mean the difference between success and lost opportunities at any stage in your career. Here’s why.

A Good Business Plan Takes Time

Designing a solid business plan is not just about putting your ideas on paper. A business plan is a process, it’s an ever-evolving organism, not just an end product. It’s about stretching your brain to the max, being creative, thinking outside the box, connecting dots and engaging in analytic reasoning. It takes time to get it right.

You’ll want to seek feedback from multiple trusted advisors and put the plan aside at some stage so you can return to it with fresh eyes. For this reason, I believe it is never too early to start working on your business plan, even if it’s for your eyes only. You want to start the process well before you start thinking about making a move.

Your Business Plan Can Highlight a Key Skill or Specialty

A business plan is not just a summary of your résumé and deal sheet. It goes above and beyond a list of your legal skills and your contacts. Through a business plan, you have the opportunity to convince a prospective employer that you will add value to the new firm as a business generator and not just as a legal practitioner. You should explain how your particular specialties will lead to business the firm is not currently able to secure. The more specific the better.

I recently worked with a counsel-level litigator who was asked by a top firm where he was interviewing to give a presentation to a group of partners on a niche specialty that he proposed to develop at the new firm. The litigator’s niche specialty only came to light through his in-depth business plan.

A Business Plan Is Also a State of Mind

A business plan must have substance. A horribly crafted business plan is worse than none at all. But your only excuse for a bad business plan is not starting the process early enough.
Substance is important, but a business plan is not solely about the substance. The fact that you have a business plan at all shows a firm you are serious about the process of lateraling and that you understand that to be a value to the firm, your business development skills are as important as your legal skills. It is hard enough to lateral as a senior associate without business. Having a business plan helps overcome presumption that you don’t have what it takes to bring in business.

A business plan also puts you in the right mindset to interview well and hit the ground running in a new position. The exercise of compiling and refining a business plan is a fantastic preparation for interviews. You have your recent work, contacts, and historical metrics right at your fingertips.

A Business Plan Is Necessary to Succeed, Not Just to Switch Jobs

Isn’t a business plan a waste of time if you’re not looking to lateral? Absolutely not. As I argue also regarding deal sheets, a business plan is a great way to take stock of your experience and your connections, and to visualize where you have holes in your skills and your network and where you can best build.

Even if you could lateral without a business plan, you’re going to need one eventually to succeed as a counsel or partner. Give yourself the best chance at success by having a roadmap before you make the move so you can hit the ground running. And don’t be afraid to revisit the business plan frequently throughout your career. Remember, it’s not a static document. It’s an adaptable roadmap.

Even if you go in-house, the exercise of crafting a business plan can prove to be useful. In-house, you are not subject to hourly billing requirements. Success is more results-driven. You’ll need to learn to work closely with your business counterparts and understand their mindsets, pressures, and perspectives. Highlighting your strengths and contemplating potential business strategies for your own “brand” can help you rise to the next level.
***
You should seek feedback on your advanced draft business plan from as many trusted sources as you can—in and outside of your specific field. If you work with a recruiter, that recruiter can help. A good recruiter can provide you with sample business plans to get you started. I usually share with my candidates a one-page template, as well as some longer examples.

I review my candidates’ drafts and give them suggestions as to tone, style, and substance. We often go through multiple drafts of the document before sending it to any prospective employers. Where I do not have the necessary level of expertise in a particular legal field to give detailed substantive suggestions, I may call upon one of my colleagues to help out; this is one benefit of working with a recruiting firm composed of multiple recruiters who are former practicing attorneys in a range of fields. I cannot stress this enough: start early. A persuasive business plan can make or break your next career move.

Please reach out to me at agordon@laterallink.com to learn more about the best lateral opportunities for your specific skills and experience, and to give me the green light to start nagging you for your business plan draft.

In 2019:

Its not what you know, it’s not who you know. It’s who knows what you know.

I didn’t come up with that idea, but I have used the thought for many years. The idea is to increase the number of people who know what you know and find a way to stay in contact with them. Several years ago I posted: Contacts: Are You Focused or Is It Random Lunches? I urge you to go back and read that post because you will see some of the ideas I share with you below.


Here are eight ideas on staying in contact.

  1.  Make a list of all of your contacts.
  2. Rate them 1-10 three ways: How often in contact; nature of contact (email only is a 1, in-person is a 10); how important they are (someone who you will never do business with is a 1, a client is a 10).
  3. For each contact, what do you know about him or her on a personal level?
  4. Who are your “strong ties?” (close friends, family)
  5. Who are your “weak ties?” (people you have met at an event, people who read your blog)
  6. Who are your “dormant ties?” (people you know, but have not been in contact in some time)
  7. How can you create more “weak tie” relationships with people who will learn what you know?
  8. How can you reconnect with your “dormant ties?”

I was once asked to speak to newly promoted partners in an entrepreneurial law firm. Those new partners were expected to generate their own business over time.

I started by sharing with the group where to start. In their handout, I included this list:

  1. Define your target market.
  2. Decide what you want your target market to hire you to do.
  3. Identify potential clients’ targets problems, opportunities and changes.
  4. Draw clients, targets to you by identifying problems and providing creative solutions.
  5. Become visible and credible to your target market.
  6. Become visible and credible by adding value.
  7. Join, lead, and speak at client organizations.
  8. Determine your best referral sources. .

Law firms that create a “buzz” about client development find their lawyers are energized to attract, retain and expand relationships with clients. I know because I have witnessed it in my old firm and in several firms where I have coached.

How can you create the “buzz?” Have you ever put together a panel of your firm’s top rainmakers to share their ideas with your next generation?

Years ago an associate asked me to be on a panel of partners to discuss client development for an associate quarterly meeting beamed by video to all of our offices.  I had a blast sharing what worked for me, listening to my partners and taking questions from associates.

Our associates learned that there were certain client development principles, but each of us approached our client development efforts differently, meaning there was no one way to become successful.

When I began coaching, I suggested the panel idea to firm leaders who wanted the lawyers I coached to share their experiences with associates.  I suggested that they let me moderate two panels:

  1. Associates I was coaching at the time
  2. Firm rainmakers.

The program was a great success. The rainmakers were impressed by what the young lawyers in the coaching program were doing, and everyone who attended gained new ideas about client development.

Afterwards there was a buzz around the firm with associates and partners asking to participate in the next coaching program.

Here are the questions I asked the senior associates who were participating in the coaching program:

  1. What have you learned about client development from the coaching program so far?
  2. What are you doing differently as a result?
  3. What do you think of the idea of having a business plan and goals? How does that help you?
  4. Where do you expect to be five years from now as a result of your new focus on client development?
  5. What do you wish you had done as a younger lawyer you think would be paying off for you now?
  6. What is the single most important piece of advice you can offer young associates?

Here are the questions I prepared for the rainmakers:

  1. Think back when you were an associate. Other than just doing great work, what steps did you take that later paid off for you in your client development?
  2. What do you know now about client development that you wish you had known then?
  3. How did you make client development part of your habits?
  4. In a firm that strives to have institutional clients, why should an associate want to learn about client development?
  5. How much non-billable time do you spend on client development and how do you spend that time?
  6. What is the one piece of advice you would offer the associates that you think they could do that would have the greatest impact on their future success?
I have moderated panels in five firms where I have coached and seen the “buzz” created in those firms. Give  it a try in your firm, and if you have any questions touch base with me.

I have coached 100s lawyers from the US and Canada and I mentored many lawyers when I practiced law. Many of the lawyers I coached and mentored have become top rainmakers and leaders in their law firms.

I hope many of those top rainmakers and leaders will read this and pass it on to younger lawyers in their law firm.

Have you ever heard of Heidi Grant Halvorson? Recently, I wrote and included a video clip about Stanford Professor Carol Dweck. She was Heidi Grant Halvorson’s graduate advisor. They both give me great tips I can apply coaching lawyers.

In 2011, Heidi Grant Halvorson published: The Trouble With Bright Girls. I found it very helpful for my coaching and my novel.

You would think there would be no problem for a “bright girl.” But, if you are a dad or mom with little girls, I urge you to read the article and see how you can help your girls overcome the baggage that comes with being a ‘bright.”

Screenshot 2015-05-27 20.57.30

To help with your own career, I recommend that you read Heidi Grant Halvorson‘s Nine Things Successful People Do Differently. Don’t just read her blog with the list, spend $3.47 and get the short book on your Kindle, iPad or other digital reading device.

While you are reading, figure out how each of the 9 things applies to practicing law in a firm.

Here is the list of 9 things:

  1. Be Specific To be successful, you have to specifically define what success means to you.
  2. Seize the Moment If you are creating goals that is super, but by itself it is not enough. You must take the actions necessary to achieve your goals.
  3. Know Exactly How Far You Have Left to Go That means you should focus on what you have left to do, not what you have already done.
  4. Be a Realistic Optimist I love what I read in Success Magazine: Super Achievers think optimistically and plan purposely. So should you.
  5. Focus on Getting better Get up each and every day and try to become a better lawyers and more valuable to your clients.
  6. Have grit Client development is a marathon not a sprint. You need to stick with it even when you are not getting the benefits and even when you just don’t feel like it.
  7. Build your Willpower Muscle Have the willpower to do the things that will give you energy (like exercising regularly) and giving up the things that rob you of energy (like overeating or drinking too much or too often.)
  8. Don’t Tempt Fate You will likely be more successful if you work on achieving one goal at a time. Accomplish that goal and then move on to the next one.
  9. Focus on What You Will Do, Not What You Won’t Do Put everything in positive terms. If you play golf what happens when you tell yourself not to hit the ball into the water?

I would like to post 9 guest blog posts. If you send me how you are implementing any of the 9 things, I will post the ideas here.

In the meantime, if you have just a few minutes, take a look at this Heidi Grant Halvorson video on achieving goals. You will see four of the tips above.

When I finished reading Heidi’s short book, I went to Amazon and ordered the Kindle version of her book: Success: How We Can Reach Our Goals. I am reading it now and highly recommend it. I will share some ideas from the book with you in future blog posts.

Over the years I have come up with a strong opinion. It is

Client Development is not rocket science.

If I am right, why are lawyers not just doing it? Maybe I can explain and convince you.

What is the Power of “Not Yet?” If you are a senior lawyer mentoring younger lawyers, a junior lawyer trying to develop business, or a parent with children growing up, I invite you to read this post and watch the Carol Dweck video.

If you are a regular reader, you know that I am a fan of Stanford Professor Carol Dweck.  Go back and read:

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 3.43.39 PM

I recently came across a TED Talk she did in 2014. Carol Dweck: The power of believing that you can improve.

It is only about 10 minutes long, but well worth watching. If you are making client development efforts without success so far, don’t think you are failing. Instead think of it in terms of “not yet.”

Client development is more natural for some than others, but I strongly believe client development skills can be developed. I have shared it was not natural for me. I developed it.

Carol Dweck asks:

How can we build the bridge to “yet?” If you work with me, you know that we work on the process. We work on constantly making progress. I praise the lawyers I coach based on their effort.

Lawyers I coach who are focused on making progress are more engaged, more strategic and more likely to stretch themselves and get outside their comfort zone.

Those of you who are young lawyers will not even recognize what it took to become a successful lawyer back in the day. Under the old formula, you:

  1. Billed lots of hours
  2. Got a Martindale AV rating
  3. Worked for loyal institutional clients
  4. Did not make waves
  5. Were told not to worry about client development
  6.  Made partner even if you had no clients
  7. Worked at your firm until you retired

What are the new rules for lawyers? At the risk of repeating what I have written here before, here goes. You must:

  1. Narrow your market of potential clients and become visible and credible to them
  2. Know your clients’ industry, business and the client representative’s special needs
  3. Get out from under the senior partner’s shadow
  4. Anticipate client problems, opportunities and changes before other lawyers and even before the client
  5. Figure out “remarkable” solutions and give them away in articles, blogs, presentations, webinars, podcasts etc.
  6. Connect with referral sources and weak tie connections and help them succeed
  7. Make your clients your friends and your friends your clients
  8. Leave your desk and spend more quality time with your clients
  9. Become more efficient
  10. Provide extraordinary service