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?

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.

Nancy and I recently went to the Florida Transportation Builders’ Association 2018 Annual Convention. We went because the FTBA was honoring our long-time friends, (and one of my very first clients) Bob and Beverly Burleson, who are retiring this year after 30 years of serving Florida Contractors.

Technically Bob is retiring, but if you ask any Florida contractor, Beverly played a huge role in making the association vibrant and strong.

It was an incredible tribute over two days. There were photos of Bob and Beverly from the previous conventions. There were video tributes that started with the tribute by the Florida governor.

Nancy and I were included in the family photo below.

I suspect that I have known Bob longer than any of the people who shared their thoughts about him, but I was amazed at how accurately they painted a picture consistent with what I had always known about him.

Contractors, a State DOT, and legislators rarely get along. They each have different interests. Among the many things that make Bob truly unique is his ability to create a consensus among people with competing interests. (I know he wouldn’t go, but just think what a consensus builder might be able to accomplish in Washington.)

Another thing that Bob has done so well is to focus less on what he does and more on who he is serving.

When I listened to people share their thoughts about my friend, it reminded me of what George Bernard Shaw said:

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; …I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can… Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is sort of a splendid torch, which I have a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to future generations.

The 2018 FTBA convention is the last one Bob will attend as the leader of the FTBA, but he will always be remembered. Bob and Beverly’s work with FTBA was no brief candle, but rather a splendid torch which they made burn ever so brightly before handing it over to future generations.

Dave Walton is a successful Pennsylvania lawyer I coached 10 years ago. He is successful in part because he is self-motivated.

Dave shared his ideas with other lawyers I coached back then in a webinar that younger lawyers found valuable. During the webinar, Dave included a slide that said;

“Think Big and Act Small.”

I like that approach.

I know many lawyers do not know where to start on developing business. It seems daunting and mysterious to them.

Are you in that same position?

If so do what elite star athletes do. They train by learning one thing at a time. So, begin by taking small steps so you feel you have accomplished something.

When I first met with lawyers I coached, I suggested that they review and revise their plan and their goals after our coaching session. I asked them to consider whether there is anything we discussed that has changed their thinking?

Then I suggested that they do something, no matter how small to get started. It might be as simple as updating their firm website bio, inviting a client or potential client to lunch, sending an article with a handwritten note, or setting up Google Alerts for their clients.

Don’t feel like client development is climbing Mt. Everest. Take just one small step and get started.

I ate lunch and had a coaching session recently with a really sharp associate in a well-known law firm. During our lunch she asked:

What if I really don’t care to become a partner?

She continued that many of the partners in her firm and other firms did not appear to be happy. I immediately thought of Stephen Covey and said:

Maybe those partners aren’t focused on the big rocks.

Having never heard the story, the young associate looked confused. She told me she wanted to have more “work-life balance” in her life.

Are you striving for work-life balance? Put simply, you will never find it and even if you could it would be incredibly boring. I have never sought balance instead I have sought to live my life based on my priorities.

If you want to strive to spend quality time on your priorities, I suggest you read “First Things First” by Stephen Covey, A. Roger Merrill, and Rebecca Merrill. It is filled with many suggestions I know will help you, including planning your life around your roles. I particularly enjoy Dr. Covey’s story about the “big rocks.”

Dr. Covey describes that when he was teaching he pulled out a wide-mouth gallon jar and placed it next to a pile of fist-sized rocks. After filling the jar to the top with rocks, he asked, “Is the jar full?”

The students replied, “Yes.” He then got some gravel from under the table and added it to the jar. He jiggled the jar until the gravel filled the spaces between the rocks. Again, he asked, “Is the jar full?”

This time, the students replied, “Probably not.” Dr. Covey then added sand and asked, “Is the jar full?” By then the students had figured it out and replied “No!”

Finally, Dr. Covey filled the jar to the brim with water and asked his students the point of what he had done. One student replied: “you can always fit more things into your life if you really work at it. “No,” countered Dr. Covey.

“The point is, you have to put the big rocks in first.”

Billable work for clients is clearly a big rock. But, there are many other big rocks that must be put in the jar. Your big rocks likely include being a father/mother, husband/wife, son/daughter, being fit, being active in church/community.

I coached an outstanding lawyer, now 11 years ago. At the beginning of our coaching, we didn’t focus on client development. Instead, we focused on what were the big rocks for her. In our second coaching session she told me hers were:

  1. Family
  2. Her Faith
  3. Her Health and Fitness
  4. Her Work and Client Relationships

From that point on when she was evaluating an opportunity, she considered whether it fell into one or more of her big rocks.

She frequently repeated her version of something Stephen Covey had said:

When you say yes to something that is not a priority, given your limited time, it is the same as saying no to something that is a priority.

If you were asked to list your priorities, what would they be?

P.S. One point I made to the lawyer with whom I ate lunch was simply that it is better to have the opportunity to become a partner and then make a choice than it is to never be considered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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