A friend of mine reminded me of a riddle:

When was the last time a lawyer could be successful in a law firm without having clients?

His response was:

When Houston had a football team called the Houston Oilers.

Having watched the Dallas Cowboys lose to the Houston team that moved to Tennessee, I could have said: The last time the Cowboys won the Super Bowl. That was actually the year before the Oilers moved to Tennessee.

I recently discovered that several of my Lateral Link colleagues focus on recruiting associates. I am reposting this blog with some edits to update for those recruiters and the associates with whom they work. But, if you are a law firm associate this is also for you, and if you work with associates, I hope you will share it with them.

If you read the entire post, you will find that it includes slides from a presentation I did for senior associates and slides from a presentation I did for junior associates. I hope to also include handouts I gave for those presentations.

In a podcast interview with Dallas lawyer Tricia DeLeon, I asked: What is One Piece of Advice for Young Lawyers? When you listen you will hear her say “start your client development efforts now”. 

Are you an associate in your firm? Have you begun learning about client development and implementing what you are learning? Does your firm have a program on client development for associates?

Every partner I coach tells me they wish I had coached them earlier in their career. The time to learn, to practice and to ramp up client development activities is significant. By the time you are eligible to be promoted to partner, your firm leaders expect you to have the skills to attain, retain and expand relationships with clients.

I gave presentations for Junior Associates and Senior Associates on client development. Click on Client Development in a Nutshell: Junior Associates for the Junior Associate slides. Click on Client Development in a Nutshell: Senior Associates for the Senior Associate slides. Here is the handout for Junior Associates.  Here is the handout for Senior Associates.

I am frequently asked for ideas for these two groups. Here are a few.

Junior Associates:

  • Focus on learning your legal skills
  • Treat your supervising partner like a client
  • Make a list of 50 people you know who you think will be successful in the future and stay in contact with them
  • Each time you work on a project do research on the client’s industry
  • Get to know client’s business by reviewing the company website and setting up Google Alerts on the client
  • Develop a system to remember names
  • Develop a plan with written goals
  • Send hand written notes to contacts
  • Dress for success

Senior Associates:

  • Find a client development mentor
  • If the firm has blogs, contribute posts
  • Practice public speaking in front of groups
  • Become visible in the firm
  • Visit other offices if your firm has more than one
  • Start to think about a niche
  • Find a sub niche within the niche
  • Consider working toward leadership positions in bar associations
  • Be a mentor for a junior lawyer
  • Join industry organizations your clients belong to and go to the meetings
  • Read industry publications your clients read
  • Create a business plan with goals
  • If it is appropriate to help develop your practice, be active in your community
  • Get outside your comfort zone

Law Firms: When was the last time your law firm did any kind of program to help associates get started on learning and practicing good client development habits?

Associates: Take my word, if you start learning client development skills now, you will enjoy your career more in the future. I did it and had a blast practicing law.

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.

 

I am making my Video Coaching Series available for free for the first time. If you want to learn about client development and get off to a great start in 2019, I urge you to watch the series and before you start, download the Client Development Participants Guide that you will want to use to get the most out of the program or contact me at cparvin@cordellparvin.com and I will send you a copy.

When I was a young lawyer, I learned about client development by the seat of my pants and trial and error. It all worked out for me in the end, but looking back now I think about how much time I could have saved if I had some coaching at the beginning.

As you likely know, I coached close to 1800 lawyers in the United States and Canada, in big firms, medium-sized firms, and small firms. In my 13 years, I learned that I could not coach the unmotivated lawyers. I told two law firms that they were wasting their money on the lawyers they had selected for me to coach.

I worked with one law firm and the first group of lawyers I coached set a goal of doubling the fees the group originated in two years. They doubled originations in one year and tripled originations in two years.

Their success led to the second group of lawyers who started with double the amount of fees originated of the first group. They doubled their originations in two years. For the third group, firm leaders asked office managing partners and practice group leaders to select lawyers who “needed coaching.” It was a disaster. I can’t coach lawyers who “need coaching.”

When I was being considered by one large law firm, I met with the firm’s management committee members who were located in the home office. One member asked me to describe the type of lawyer I wanted to coach. I said I wanted to coach lawyers who were like Tiger Woods.

The member who asked the question laughed and said: Tiger Woods doesn’t need a coach. I replied, leave aside the fact he has several coaches, I wasn’t describing ability, I was describing his burning desire to constantly get better and his work each and every day to that end.

So, if you are not motivated, or you really “need coaching” you won’t likely gain much from the videos and workbook.

On the other hand, if you have that burning desire to get better and are willing to work at it each and every day, download the Participant’s Guide with the link in the first paragraph and here is the link to the videos.

A lawyer I coached recently reached out to me and asked that I help her make a change. One of the first questions I asked her took her by surprise. My question:

Why are you practicing law?

Have you ever heard of Simon Sinek? He created a simple model of the Golden Circles and the idea to: Start with Why. If you get a chance watch the Ted video on his page.

He actually mentions lawyers and law firms in his presentation and shares that successful enterprises, like Apple start with why. He says:

Most computer companies start by telling you they make great products. Apple does the opposite. It starts by telling you why it makes computers.

Substitute law firms for computer companies and provide outstanding legal services to make great products and you have what most law firms are selling.  His idea is consistent with what I have taught for lawyers, except he adds one more point, which I paraphrase:

Clients don’t buy what you do. Clients buy why you do it.

When I practiced construction law, there came a time I changed my focus from what I was doing to how what I was doing benefitted my contractor clients. My purpose practicing law was to enable my clients to build magnificent projects safely and profitably.

Later, when I worked with associates in my firm, I suggested they answer these questions:

  • Why did you decide you wanted to become a lawyer?
  • Why do you want to be a lawyer now?
  • Who is the lawyer you admire most and why do you admire that lawyer?
  • How would you define your own career success and when will you know you have achieved it?
  • What values are most important to you?
  • What do you want to be working on and for whom five years from now?

In a presentation I gave to the Texas Young Lawyers Association (TYLA) members, I talked about finding your purpose. Take a look at this video clip.

If you know what your purpose is being a lawyer, you will be a greater value to your clients. Like Apple, you will also do a better job marketing yourself.

Over the 13 years I coached lawyers, I was frequently asked what are the most important things lawyers I coach are getting out of the coaching program.

I want to share my thoughts with you because even if you are not in any coaching program you can use these ideas. If you are interesting in having me find the right firm for you now, this is also a pretty good list for you.

  • They think about client development opportunities.
  • They have a long-term and short-term plan with goals.
  • They have become more confident in themselves.
  • They have become more focused on what they want to do and the potential clients in their target market.
  • They are building their profile by writing, speaking and becoming more known as a “go to” lawyer in their field.
  • They are way more focused on their clients’ industry, business and client representatives.
  • They are getting out from behind their computers and making client visits.
  • They have become more active in their communities.
  • They are learning from each other and getting to know each other.
  • They have taught other lawyers in the firm.
  • They are having fun. (They don’t look at client development as something they have to do.)

I urge you to think about how you can personally implement each of these ideas.

 

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

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

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

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

Photo taken after a presentation to National Asphalt Pavement Association

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

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

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

Hang out in those places.

You are looking to make a change. Your law firm has a brand. Maybe the senior lawyer you work for has a brand, but do you have a brand? I wouldn’t ask the question that way. Instead, I might ask:

What makes you different (and better) than the dozens or hundreds of lawyer in your practice area?

Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time by Keith Ferrazzi is a book I have recommended to lawyers for many years.

In chapter 23, Ferrazzi talks about building your brand. He argues that perception drives reality. He further suggests that good personal brands do three highly significant things for your network of contacts:

They provide a credible, distinctive, and trustworthy identity. They project a compelling message. They attract more and more people to you and your cause, as you’ll stand out in an increasing cluttered world.” Then, Ferrazzi says: “in terms of branding, then the bottom line for everyone comes down to a choice: to be distinct or extinct.

You might also find some great ideas in The Personal Branding Blog. In this post, the writer focused on building your brand by giving using Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and off-line networking. Take a look at it and write how you might apply the ideas to build your brand as a lawyer.

How can you be distinct and build a brand? If you are a long time reader you know that I believe a powerful way you can build a brand and approach a potential client without an invitation is to be intently focused on finding a way to understand your client’s industry and business, identify their problems and give away a solution.

In my day, I gave away solutions in books, articles, presentations, and workshops. Fortunately for you, today you can brand yourself using blogs, podcasts, webinars, and posting your ideas and solutions on social media websites.

What can I tell a law firm about you?

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 wrote recently that in-house lawyers are looking for law firms that are innovative and efficient.  It reminded me of a speaker at a law firm retreat I attended many years ago

Barry J. Gibbons, the former Chairman, and CEO of Burger King spoke at our firm’s partner retreat. He spoke to us on Saturday morning just after a speaker from Fidelity showed us at least 100 PowerPoint slides while explaining our 401K program.

Gibbons used no PowerPoint slides, so the focus was on him rather than the screen. He also told vivid stories to make his points stick with the audience. He made them in a way that I could easily remember them.

For example, the way he presented innovation was to say that he had always been fascinated by what happened when a man for the very, very first time got milk from a cow.

Gibbons asked:

“Just what was that guy thinking? What kind of mind says to itself: ‘I’m going over there to that beast, and I am gonna pull on those things, and drink what comes out.’”

He said that kind of mind changes the world’s diet. When I think of innovators, I think back to that description of an innovator.

After hearing Mr. Gibbons speak, I had to buy his books. I especially enjoyed his book: “If you want to make God really laugh, show him your business plan: The 101 Universal Laws of Business.” I found that Mr. Gibbons universal laws apply to law firms and lawyers, but many of us do not realize it.

One of his laws focuses on branding. He suggests that branding has moved away from supply-side (as lawyers what we do) thinking to a demand-led (as lawyers what our clients need) approach.

Gibbons says we are moving from an era of mass marketing to an era of mass-customization. He describes this as

“an era in which winning companies will know as much about their customers (clients) as they would if they were dating agencies.”

That means your law firm’s webpage and your own website bio should be less focused on what you do and more focused on your clients. The idea is to have a potential client look at your webpage and conclude: “That lawyer really understands my issues.”

How much time are you and your firm spending on what you do compared to how much time you are spending on understanding your clients’ individual and unique needs and figuring out how you can add value?

Even clients in the same industry will be unique and have needs differing from other companies in the same industry.

Over many years I spoke often about the “targeted differentiators.”

It is how you differentiate yourself and your services in the eyes of your clients and potential clients. Just suppose one of your targeted differentiators was that you know each of your clients’ industries, their unique and individual needs and you provide value based on those needs far better than any other lawyer or law firm.

My guess is that your firm would be more innovative and more efficient….what in-house lawyers are demanding.

In November 2017, BTI posted: Law Firms to Add Big to Marketing Budgets in 2018—Here’s How to Get Yours. It began :

13% of law firm CMOs are trying to hide their smiles. They snagged big increases in their budgets—just over $1 million per firm.* Their goal is simple—keeping clients, growing clients, and getting new ones. Their success in justifying their new budgets comes from emphasizing the risk of not spending the money.

More recently I read: 5 TOP TAKEAWAYS FROM ACKERT’S 2018 LEGAL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT TRENDS STUDY.

It asked:

So, what are those business development strategies and which ones generate the most revenue?

Number 1 on the list was Sales/Business Development Coaching.

The unanswered question is how can client development training and coaching produce more revenue. Here’s how:

One-shot business development training will not produce more revenue because it will not change the actions lawyers should take to produce revenue.

Business development training should be combined with individual and group coaching. Your firm can either hire an outside consultant, or create your own internal program. Either way, to produce more revenue the firm, the lawyers and the coach must make commitments and keep them.

The Law Firm Commitments:

  1. Select lawyers who have the inner drive to be more successful. Your lawyers who need coaching the least, will put the most into it and get the most out of it.
  2. Leadership commitment and involvement. When your firm leaders are champions for the program, there is greater energy and a buzz around the firm.
  3. Aligned and active involvement of professional development and marketing professionals. Client development training has both a training component and a marketing component. Your professionals from both groups have a role to play.
  4. Sharing unique firm strategies and issues with the coach. Each firm is different. For an outside coach to be successful he or she needs to understand your firm’s goals, strategy, and culture.
  5. Funding for the program. Shows you are investing in your lawyers.

The Lawyer Participant Commitments:

  1. Active involvement in the group and individual coaching activities.
  2. An open mind to change.
  3. Create a business development plan with goals.
  4. Willingness to be held accountable.
  5. Preparation for coaching sessions.
  6. Monitoring client development activities.
  7. Sharing best practices and successes with the group.
  8. Identifying challenges and working to overcome them.
  9. Commitment to spend around 20 non-billable hours a month on client development activities.

The Coach/Consultant Commitments:

  1. Helping participants with planning and goal setting.
  2. Pushing each member and the group to attain group and individual goals.
  3. Role-playing and experiential learning.
  4. Ideas for client development.
  5. Teaching and applying client development techniques.
  6. Referral to source materials on career and client development.
  7. Team coaching.
  8. Creating opportunities for teambuilding.
  9. Providing candid feedback and suggestions.
  10. Making firm leadership aware if any participant is not meeting his or her commitments.

I know from my experience leading a program in my old firm and working with lawyers and law firms for 13 years that if your firm, your lawyers, and your internal or outside coach/consultant makes and keeps the commitments described above, the firm will generate a return on investment that is a multiple of the program cost.