Want to take a couple of classes that will help you get better at client development? Suppose I told you that the two I would take would be Creative Writing and Drawing. What would your reaction be? My guess is that you would wonder what in the world either of those courses has to do with client development. The answer is those two courses will better enable you to see the big picture and better enable you to be empathetic and understand your clients’ points of view.
I have been thinking about this for almost a year. I had read “Making Rain” by Andrew Sobel a few years ago. Then about a year ago I read “A Whole New Mind” by Daniel Pink. Both books in their own way focused on the importance of synthesis or symphony. As lawyers we are taught to analyze things. Synthesis or symphony is about how well you assimilate the pieces of information affecting your client to see the bigger picture. Daniel Pink attended a week long class in New York “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.” http://www.drawright.com/
I look back now and realize that some of the best efforts I have made at client development came from assimilating pieces of information affecting my clients and seeing the bigger picture. Here are three examples:
1. In 1982 Congress enacted a statute funding highway construction that also quadrupled the required amount that was required to be expended with Disadvantaged Business Enterprises. Unfortunately there were not enough of those firms with resources and experience to do the construction and even though the program was supposed to be goal based it was a quota in most states. In early 1983 I wrote a guide for contractors on how to comply with the new law and thereafter I made presentations all over the country.
2. For many years highway construction was funded by the gas tax. Also, federal and state statutes required contracts for highway construction be awarded to the low bidder. In the early 90s the Federal Highway Administration asked Congress for legislation that would enable “experimental” construction practices including design-build and public private financing of road construction. I knew this was the first step towards changing funding and the process to construct highways, so I wrote two guides and made presentations throughout the country on design-build and public-private financing.
3. When Enron and WorldCom became news, I decided that the construction industry would face increased scrutiny and investigations. I wrote about corporate ethics and compliance and made presentations throughout the country. Sure enough, investigations, indictments, convictions and fines rose dramatically and ultimately contractors doing business with the federal government were required to have ethics programs.
A few months ago I also read a Harvard Business Review Blog http://conversationstarter.hbsp.com/2008/04/the_mfa_is_the_new_mba_1.html
and listened to a Harvard Business Review Podcast on MFA being the new MBA http://blogs.bnet.com/intercom/?p=1771.
Katherine Bell posted the Blog and was interviewed in the Podcast. She had left the business world for a time to study creative writing. She says she learned persuasion and empathy from writing fiction. She also mentions four lessons that she believes MBAs can learn from MFAs. I believe lawyers could learn these also:
1. How to take criticism.
2. What motivates people.
3. How to engage your audience.
4. When to let go of good ideas.
If you want to start thinking about the big picture, think about what is going on in the world and how it impacts your clients. More specifically, read your clients’ industry publications and attend your clients’ industry meetings.