Years ago, I read a great book titled: “Charisma: Seven Keys to Developing Magnetism That Leads to Success” by Tony Alessandra.

In the chapter on vision, Alessandra tells the story of a kindergarten teacher who asked a student what she was drawing:

I’m drawing a picture of God,

the child quickly answered.

But sweetheart,” said the teacher, “no one knows what God looks like.”

The young girl replied:

They will in a minute!

Alessandra notes:

Charismatic people possess a similar, almost childlike faith in their vision and their ability to create change. People will follow leaders (and clients will rely on lawyers) whose vision inspires them and makes their lives more meaningful.

Do you have a clear vision for your future? Do you convey to your clients a clear vision of how you can help them?

If you are a regular reader, you know that at the end of last year I mentioned I planned to retire. Afterward, Larry Scott, a former partner of mine suggested I consider becoming a recruiter.

At first, I was skeptical, but I received many encouraging messages from law firm leaders and lawyers I have coached. So, in January I met with my former partner and the Managing Member of the recruiting firm.

One lawyer wrote:

You see, I don’t see your role as a recruiter as being the guy out there hustling to make the sale at all costs regardless of whether the move would really be good for the attorney, the attorney’s family, or the target firm. I see you as the guy you have always been, the trusted advisor, the one who takes the time to get to know the firm that is hiring, the candidate, the candidate’s family, lifestyle, goals and then, if the move would be a good move for them holistically, telling them so, but if it wouldn’t, also telling them so. You may not make as many “sales” that way, but the sales you do make, will add value to the firms, the candidates, and the people’s lives — as you’ve always done in your other work. So really, you’re still coaching, you’re just coaching with an option for movement if it is justified and, in such cases, you make some money along the way.

Fast forward. I’ve decided to join Lateral Link, a Division of Mainspring Legal. I hope if you ever need help, you will consider contacting me.

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.

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. 

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.

I was in Phoenix last Friday. I very likely coached my final lawyer. I very likely made my last presentation to a group of lawyers. I very liked worked for the last time.

When you reach a certain aga, (I believe it is 65), you receive a report from the Social Security Administration which shows what you earned every year you worked. I looked at mine when it came to me and was reminded I had worked and had income every year from age 14. It reminded me that I was first employed by the Lombard, IL Park District to teach baseball and umpire Pony Tail league softball games.

I went to law school year-round from September 1969 to September 1971. Even then, I worked at the law school and at the Virginia State Prison.

So, 2018 will be a different kind of year for me and I know it will take time to get used to the idea that I am no longer working.

I have not recently written anything specifically focused on law students. Before I quit writing, I want to share with students my thoughts on positioning themselves to be hired.

If you are a law student, graduating in 2018, your school’s placement director has likely given you advice on how to position yourself to be hired. Having hired many graduating law students, I want to give you my two cents on the subject.

Other than your performance in law school, what sets you apart? How can you demonstrate you went to law school because you REALLY want to be a lawyer?

Here is a partial list, in no particular order, of things that might set you apart:

  • You worked in a particular industry or worked in a law firm between college and law school
  • You served in the military doing_____
  • You were a leader in college, law school
  • You were active in the bar as a student
  • You juggled many responsibilities while you were a student
  • You studied abroad or you speak a foreign language
  • You performed well in Moot Court
  • You have written books, short stories, poetry
  • You played a sport, played in the band or acted in plays while in college
  • You volunteered or you were active in a charity
  • You grew up in a family business in some particular industry
  • You interned in some particular industry

One final thought: If you were planning on working with a large law firm and that hasn’t worked out, open your search to smaller firms. Many of those firms are thriving and, even though you may be paid less, there is a good chance you will have more valuable experiences.


A lawyer I coached sent a blog post Seth Godin posted yesterday: Two Kinds of Practice. If you have 30 seconds, read it.

When I read Two Kinds of Practice I thought about a blog about my own failure that I posted in 2014, and I thought it might be a good time to repost it.

What is your biggest marketing failure? If you haven’t had one, then either you are not doing much marketing, or you are doing it significantly better than I did.

Years ago, I read a very short Seth Godin Blog: Nothing. Here is the entire blog post:

The only thing worse than starting something and failing… is not starting something.”

Have you ever not started a client development activity because you were afraid of failing? Don’t let fear of failing stop you. I have had many client development failures. Let me share one with you.

My Biggest Marketing Failure

When professional video first gained acceptance, I decided to create a video for contractors. I spent days creating the script and two days in front of the camera with Dr. Michael Vorster at Virginia Tech.

I was confident I had created a masterpiece and I decided to market the tape along with a book on linear scheduling at a price of $495. I believe I sold at most 20 sets of the tape and most of those were to my mother and her friends. (I just recently tossed the last boxes of tapes I was storing in my garage.)

When I realized that my attempt to become a paid movie star was not working effectively, I came up with Plan B. After spending hours going through the program and deciding what to include, I went back to the editor, and paid him more money to create a one-hour summary of the eight-hour tape. I decided strategically to give the one-hour tape away and offer a special price for the full eight hours to those contractors who were intrigued enough to see more.

There came a point when I just wanted to give the tapes away. By then, I laughed at myself, picked myself up off the stage and pressed on with other ideas. Later I mentioned using linear scheduling in one of my Roads & Bridges monthly columns and found it was a better way to reach out to my target market.

My Failure did Not Stop Me from Starting Again

Just to show I am either willing to take another chance, or I didn’t learn my lesson from the first tape experience, I created a three-hour streaming video coaching program with a detailed workbook. Have you seen it? You can find it here on my webpage. If you are interested, in watching and using the workbook, contact Joyce

So, what is something you haven’t started because you fear you might fail? If you try something that doesn’t work. Don’t fret about it. Instead, think of it as successfully learning what didn’t work.  If you need more support, watch the famous Michael Jordan Nike Commercial video.

Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly. ~Robert F. Kennedy

On Tuesday, I posted The 3 P’s. One of those P’s is persistence. Let’s explore that one further today.

Have you ever thought of giving up on client development because you were not getting the results you wanted?

I know many young lawyers who enthusiastically start a client development program and then get frustrated because they do not see instant results.

I experienced that frustration. I had put my heart and soul into my business development by writing articles and speaking at industry meetings and had not gotten the first client. Many times I wondered whether it was worth all the time I was putting in.

A couple of senior lawyers in my firm also kept putting me down for taking time they wanted me to spend helping them. I kept on because I wanted to control my own destiny and not be totally dependent on senior lawyers.

So, whenever I got discouraged I would picture myself five years later with $500,000 in business. I also made client development a habit and tried to do something no matter how small each and every day. There came a time about two years after I started, when it started raining with new clients and business.

Recently I read that two very important virtues are persistence and flexibility. The writer said:

Persistence beckons you with eternal hope, while flexibility enables you to get through the obstacles that stand between you and your dreams.

I love a quote from Calvin Coolidge:

    • Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Genius will not. Education will not. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

Woody Allen once said:

80% of success is just showing up.

That means taking actions. Many lawyers have no plan for client development. Others have a plan, but do not take the actions necessary to be successful.

Flexibility means thinking about a variety of options to achieve a goal. It means being resourceful and changing tactics when appropriate while maintaining the values that are important to you.

Have you ever heard of the book: “Who Moved My Cheese” by Spencer Johnson?

Cheese is the metaphor for what we want in life. The maze in the story represents how we spend our time looking for what we want. You will learn a great deal about persistence and flexibility in the book.

Check the short summary of the book.