I was young. Even though I had four years experience litigating government contract cases as a United States Air Force Captain, I truly had no inkling of what it would take to succeed in a law firm.

I had no real “connections” to potential clients and referral sources, but I did not think that mattered. After all, a senior lawyer in my firm had told me:

Just do good work, get a Martindale AV rating, be active in the community or Bar, and you will be successful.

That was the common thought among many senior lawyers in those days.

I wish I could remember the exact time I had my first aha moment. My mentor (we never used that term) always shared his philosophy on life and law practice. He was a young partner in my first law firm.

On this one particular day, among the many things he said, there was one gem that changed my career forever. He said:

Cordell, any firm can hire smart lawyers. They graduate from law school every year. Firms are looking for smart lawyers who have a confidence inspiring personality. Those lawyers will over time develop and expand relationships with clients.

While he didn’t say it directly, I got the message: If I was just a smart lawyer I was expendable. There would be another smart lawyer following after me.

On the other hand, if over time I was able to develop and expand relationships with clients, I would have the greatest asset a lawyer can have-clients.

I almost immediately began focusing on how to attract and become more valuable to clients. It didn’t come easy at first. I worked hard. I tried hard. But, nothing happened. Then, all of a sudden there was a breakthrough. I got that first call from a new client.

What’s my message? What was my first mentor’s message? Just like patients who need surgery, your clients want to hire lawyers who they believe can handle their problem or help them with an opportunity. Before you can become that lawyer, you have to belief in yourself. Start there.