When I was busy practicing law, there came a time when I had an Ah Ha Moment. It was the day I discovered that some of the lawyers who were working for me were pessimists who were not very motivated to succeed. It seems obvious now, but at the time I was surprised.

If you have read my recent posts, you know that when I coached lawyers, I frequently told firm leaders I could not help pessimists or unmotivated lawyers.

Now that I am recruiting lawyers, I have been asked how I can tell if a lawyer I am helping is optimistic and motivated. It’s really pretty simple. I listen to the lawyer.

Less Motivated Pessimists Say: “Yes, but…                     Motivated Optimists Say: “Sure how…”

Less Motivated Pessimists Say: “My problem is…          Motivated Optimists Say: “My opportunity is…”

Less Motivated Pessimists Say: “I need to…”                  Motivated Optimists Say: “I want to…”

Less Motivated Pessimists Say: “I will try my best…”      Motivated Optimists Say: “I will achieve…”

Less Motivated Pessimists Say: “I can’t find time to…”   Motivated Optimists Say: “I will make time to…”

Less Motivated Pessimists Say: ” I want realistic goals” Motivated Optimists Say: “I want goals that challenge me”

I’m sure you know that I gave many presentations about career success and life fulfillment. If you are interested in taking a look at one of them, check out: Secrets to Career Success and Fulfillment. 

 

In my new recruiting work I don’t place a lot of law firm associates because the associates I coached are now partners in their law firms. Some now have leadership positions in their law firms and others have become top rainmakers.

But, when I was coaching, I loved working with law firm associates. Why?  The associates with whom I worked were eager to learn and open to new ideas.

Some of my Lateral Link colleagues focus on associates. I have shared with them, it is important for their candidates to prepare a Personal Development Plan. I  have shared with my colleagues an idea on how their candidates can get started and I want to share it with you also. If you are not a law firm associate, please pass this on to one you know.

Here are steps to get you started on your plan:

  1. Define success for you at the end of 2023 (5 years from now). It could be a number $1 million in business. It could be recognized as go to lawyer in_______ field in _____ (for me Transportation Construction Law in the US.) It could be a variety of other things. The important thing is it must be something that will motivate you.
  2. Next, ask yourself why achieving that goal is important to you. It might be family security. (For me, it was wanting to be recognized as being the best at something.)
  3. Next, write down 10 (it could be 8, it could be 15) stream of conscious things you want to do in 2019 to work toward achieving your 5-year goal. (For my 5-year plan writing articles and speaking at contractor meetings topped my list.)
  4. Then review your list and combine those that are really the same. Then, rank the items on your list 1- (if you could only do one, it would be … if you could only do 2 you would add…).
  5. Once you have ranked the items, ask for each one why you think it will lead you toward your 2023 goals. Write down the reasons.

With this background, you are ready to create your 2019 Development Plan. You can click on the Development Plan for a link to a template.

One final note: Your plan will be worthless if you don’t put it into action and hold yourself accountable.

 

 

Yesterday, I posted a Pele (The Brazilian super-star soccer player) quote that I particularly like on social media sites.

After posting, I received a comment:

Very true, but we may add that luck also is one factor.

Luck is indeed a factor, but I have always believed

Successful people make their own luck.

I also like:

Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.

You might enjoy reading: 5 Things People Who Make Their Own Luck Always Do.

If you are a long-time reader, you know I contend I owe my legal career success to luck. But, in most cases, it was luck meeting preparation. I’ve told these stories before. They illustrate my point.

I had been practicing law 12 years and I was in Roanoke, Virginia, when I received a call from the general counsel of what was then the third largest construction company in the United States. He said:

We have a $30 million problem in Atlanta and we’ve been told you are the lawyer to help us.

At the end of the call, I asked who recommended me. He told me it was a Federal Highway Administration lawyer who had been on a panel with me on the subject of the problem in Atlanta.

Was it luck? Yes. If the general counsel had talked to the lawyer in the office on either side of the lawyer who recommended me, they wouldn’t have known me. I can’t begin to tell you how many non-billable hours I had spent studying, writing and speaking on that subject. The preparation I did months before being asked to be on the panel is what gave me the opportunity.

If you can bear with me, I’ll give one more example.

It was Thanksgiving weekend in 1990. I was still practicing law in Virginia. I watched national news coverage of a bridge collapse on the west coast. Later that evening I received a call from the Transportation Secretary of the state where the collapse occurred. He asked if I could fly to the west coast on Monday and meet with his team.

At the end of the call, I asked: How did you find me? He told me the name of a famous bridge designer who had recommended me.

Was it luck? Yes. The Transportation Secretary talked to a famous bridge designer who had heard me speak and read what I had written on bridge design and bridge failures. Once again, I can’t begin to tell you how many non-billable hours I spent studying those subjects, including documents from a FOIA request of the Federal Highway Administration. My preparation over many, many months before is what gave me the opportunity.

 

 

Several years ago I met with Thomas, a lawyer I was coaching. He said:

“Cordell, whatever you do, please don’t tell me I have to write or speak at industry meetings for client development.”

I told Thomas:

“You can be really successful and never write one article or give one industry presentation.”

Fast forward to a couple of years ago. I received an email from Thomas. In the email, he told me he had originated over $3 million in business that year. Near the end of the email, he told me he had given his first presentation.

What is the point of sharing that short story with you?

Each lawyer I coached is unique. Each lawyer I place now is unique.

Each lawyer has unique talents, goals, and challenges. So do you.

The point of individual coaching is one size does not fit all and my job was to help the lawyers I coached uncover their unique talents. As a recruiter, part of my job is to discover each lawyer’s unique talents

You may have a senior lawyer who is advising you. He may think what worked for him is exactly what will work for you. It may, but just as likely it may not.

While each lawyer I meet is unique, I believe rainmakers have certain attributes and do certain things. I wrote about it in my column in The Practical Lawyer.

How you can best spend your time will be determined by a variety of things, including:

  • The kind of work you do
  • Your experience
  • The amount of non-billable time you have
  • Your interests and talents
  • Your personality type
  • What you want to accomplish

Some lawyers like Thomas should be out in the community networking and/or active in the Bar.  Other lawyers do not have the time or desire and would rather go home and be with their family.

Some lawyers should spend time developing a social media presence and relationships. Others should spend time meeting with clients and referral sources in person.

Some lawyers should spend time developing new clients. Other lawyers should spend time focusing on their existing clients.

Some lawyers should market externally. Other lawyers should market internally.

Some lawyers should focus on being a subject matter expert. Other lawyers should focus on being a “trusted advisor.”

If you want to build your practice, you should focus on the attributes in my article and figure out your unique talents, goals, and challenges and spend your time most appropriately.

 

Suppose you came to me seeking to join a new law firm. And, suppose during our discussion I asked:

What can you tell me about your career and life habits?

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?

If you are interested in Canfield’s list of principles you can find it here.

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’s 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 are your commitments? Are you committed to becoming a better lawyer? Are you committed to providing extraordinary service to your clients? Are you committed to making client development efforts part of your every day habits?

I have been thinking about what the most important habits lawyers should have if 90% of our behavior is habitual. I am considering writing a book describing these habits and why they are important. Here are the habits I believe are important:

  1. Healthy eating and regular exercise
  2. Positive self-talk and attitude
  3. Focus on learning and becoming a better lawyer
  4. Goal setting
  5. Planning non-billable time and using it wisely
  6. Focus on relationships
  7. Understanding client needs
  8. Extraordinary client service
  9. Leading, supervising, delegating and motivating lawyers and staff
  10. Making and keeping commitments

I plan to blog further on habits. Stay tuned if you are interested.

I’ve written this post mostly about me and what I am thinking about this week. So, when you read this first sentence, you may have asked yourself:

What does any of this have to do with me?

For those of you not likely to read all of this post, let me answer the question up front.

You never know where your career and life will take you, and it’s best to be open to new ideas.

I received a call last week on my cell phone. When I looked at the caller ID I saw it was from area code 404. I rarely answer unknown callers, but I answered this one.

The person on the other end told me his name, Mark Musick, which sounded vaguely familiar. He said he was calling to ask me to be on the Virginia Tech Class of 69 50th Reunion Committee. I had just returned from watching the Hokies lose to Notre Dame, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back next year for a game, but I told Mark I was honored to be asked and I would serve.

When I was a student at Virginia Tech they started The Old Guard. (Click to read about it.) The Old Guard members were the graduates of 50 or more years before. I remember over the years that on homecoming Saturday at half-time, the oldsters walked out onto the football field, if able, and were recognized.

When I was sitting in the stands in 1967, the Old Guard members were those who graduated in 1917 and before. I thought at the time they really looked old. My father, who was born in 1914 was only three when those Old Guard members graduated from Virginia Tech.

I remember thinking: They look old. Some of them may have fought in World War l. They graduated from Virginia Tech before the Roaring 20s, the Great Depression and World War II.

When the current Virginia Tech students see the Class of 69, I doubt they will give it much thought, but they could think: They graduated before Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, before CDs, DVDs, video cameras, bank ATM machines, IBM Mag Card typewriters (Current students won’t recognize that one), home and office computers, iPods, iPads, cell phones, streaming video, social media…and the great divide in our country today.

If you are interested and have time, I found this website How The Average American Has Changed Since The 1960s.

I never gave one thought to the possibility that there would come a time when I would become a member of the Old Guard. I’m not sure I even gave thought to what it would be like to practice law for 38 years, and I certainly never thought I would complete my legal career practicing law with a big law firm in Dallas, Texas. I also never thought that just after my best year practicing law I would give up my legal career to coach younger lawyers.

Most importantly, I didn’t think that literally a week after graduation, I would see this beautiful, vibrant, radiant  young woman, named Nancy and over that summer of 1969, we would both work the graveyard shift 12AM to 8 AM, we’d get engaged and the next year we’d get married on June 6.

Over the years young lawyers have asked, how did you know Nancy was the one? Nancy and I have both said “we didn’t know what we didn’t know,” meaning in many ways we were lucky. But, we connected in part because we each felt our lives would be enriched being together. We were both striving to accomplish something in our lives, and we continue with our efforts today.

But, looking back to when the first Old Guard was introduced at Virginia Tech in 1967, I didn’t know I would meet Nancy, and I didn’t know many things about my future.

  • I wasn’t sure I would be accepted at a law school
  • I wasn’t sure the United States Air Force would give me a deferment to go to law school
  • I didn’t know I would have the opportunity to become a government contracts litigator while on active duty in the USAF
  • I didn’t know that after my tour of duty in the USAF, I would start with a law firm in Roanoke, Virginia
  • I didn’t know I would create a niche law practice representing highway and bridge construction contractors
  • I didn’t know I would move my niche practice and family to Richmond, Virginia and later to Dallas, Texas
  • I never dreamed I would represent some of the largest, most successful contractors in the United States
  • I never considered the possibility that when I was the very top of my law career I would give it all up to coach and teach younger lawyers
  • It never entered my mind that in 2018, the year before becoming a member of the Old Guard, I would be living in Prosper, Texas, recruiting lawyers I know for law firms I know and I would be writing my second courtroom novel

When a lawyer comes to me seeking to change law firms, sometime during our discussions I ask:

When it comes to legal work, what do you believe is most important for your potential clients?

I believe most law firm leaders know what business clients expect and want from outside lawyers and firms. But, I wonder if law firms effectively use what they know. The vast majority of business clients report:

  • They hire lawyers rather than law firms. What are you doing to develop your next generation of outstanding lawyers?
  • A lawyer makes final consideration based on recommendations, his reputation, and profile. Do you have a plan for your lawyers to raise their visibility and credibility to their potential target market
  • A lawyer gets hired based on his or her ability to connect and generate trust and rapport with the client’s decision makers. Are you teaching your lawyers how to build trust and rapport?
  • Approximately 75% of the Fortune 1000 General Counsel’s are dissatisfied with their present law firm and would replace the firm if they thought any other firm would do better. What are you doing to make sure your client service exceeds expectations?
  • They are generally not dissatisfied with the quality of the work or the hourly rates of the senior lawyers. How are you making sure that clients will value the quality of work done by your junior lawyers?
  • Instead, they are dissatisfied with the lawyers’ lack of knowledge of the industry, company and decision makers, the lack of innovation and the lack of quality service including responsiveness. Do your junior lawyers understand and know the client’s industry? Are you looking for ways to be more innovative? Have your figured out how your clients define responsiveness and do you have a plan to make sure they receive it?

Take a moment from your work and determine if you think you are on the right track. Want some help? Think of five questions to ask yourself.

A few years ago I read a short Entrepreneur Magazine article by Richard Branson: Five Secrets to Business Success and it made me think of five questions to ask to determine if you are on the road to a successful career.

What five questions would you ask? Here are questions I would ask:

  1. Have I identified the priorities in my life?
  2. Have I found the kind of legal work or kind of clients that I am passionate about?
  3. Am I raising my visibility and credibility to those clients?
  4. Am I building high trust relationships with clients and referral sources?
  5. Am I am exceeding my clients’ expectations?

What would you add to this list?

 

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.

 

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?