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.


Earlier this year a law firm marketing director asked me:
Cordell, what should be included in our client development training program?
Almost 10 years ago, I wrote a Practical Lawyer article Unlocking The Secrets To Developing Your Future Rainmakers. It has some ideas for the marketing directors.
I practiced law and learned about client development from the seat of my pants. I probably learned more from my mistakes than I ever learned from my successes.
In 2017, you don’t have time to learn from your mistakes. That was one reason I left my law practice to coach lawyers.
In my firm I found many lawyers were motivated to develop business and client relationships, but gave up when their efforts weren’t productive.
Since 2005, (seems like a long time ago now), I have worked with young associates, junior partners and senior partners, just like you.
Based on my own client development efforts and the work I have done with lawyers, I have a good idea what you need to learn to be successful.  Here is my list of Planning and Motivation activities to incorporate now:
Planning and Motivation
  1. Discover the attributes of successful lawyers/people and incorporate them into your own career
  2. Decide what you want to achieve
  3. Set motivating stretch goals
  4. Prepare a yearly plan to achieve those goals
  5. Break down your plan into shorter time frames (90 Days, or 60 Days and weekly)
  6. Take StrengthsFinder and determine what kind of client development will best work for you (See this blog post with my strengths.
  7. Make time for client development (you will never find it)
  8. Get organized for a more productive day (See this blog post for discussion of David Allen’s book: Getting Things Done)
  9. Stay motivated and accountable…even when you are not seeing results
  10. Patience and persistence (It took two years before I received the first call from my client development efforts)

The beauty of coaching is you can get feedback when you are working on each of the 10 activities above.

P. S. I have finally finished a complete draft of my novel. I’ve worked on it since 2014, and I have written 10 different versions. This one is the last version. But, some of my earlier versions tell a story so different from this one that I may go back and create a second novel with different characters.

This novel is about a young Hispanic lawyer who is best known for her beauty and defending refugee children who is called upon to defend the richest man in Texas against Department of Justice Prosecutors who know no bounds when it comes to their desire to convict the defendant and destroy the defendant’s lawyer’s reputation.

If you are interested in reading the draft, send me an email.

I recently posted a blog about developing a niche practice, and included one of my favorite quotes:

If you market to everyone, you market to no one.

A lawyer I coached a few years ago asked that I expand on why he should consider an industry based practice. Here are the reasons I shared with him:


  • Your business clients repeatedly say they want you to understand their industry and their business
  • Industries have industry publications to read to stay on top of what is going on in the industry
  • You may also have the opportunity to write for the industry publications
  • Industries have associations who meet regularly and discuss what is impacting their business
  • You may also get the opportunity to speak at industry association meetings
  • When you build a relationship with an association executive you have also built a relationship with members of the association
  • When you focus on an industry it is easier to find out who the influencers are
  • Potential clients might google “Their industry (e.g. highway construction) and law
  • You have a better chance to become a “go to” lawyer by narrowing your target market

Ok, suppose you and I had an in person coaching session today: What might we cover?

In advance of our coaching session, I would ask you to send me agenda topics you want to brainstorm with me. I ask for those topics in case I need to do any research. A lawyer I coach recently sent me this agenda of items he wanted to brainstorm:

I would like to discuss time management issues that I’ve been experiencing lately.

Lately, I feel like I am running on a treadmill from the moment I get in until 4:00 in the afternoon – I am running around but feel like I am not getting anything done until the early evening, when I get my best work done. I was wondering what works for you and if you have any time management techniques/maneuvers that might help.

So, now I would be able to prepare for our session together. During the session I would also ask you some questions:

  1. What have you worked on since we last met?
  2. What do you have planned for the next month?
  3. What client development activities do you want to accomplish the second half of this year to feel you are moving toward your goals?
  4. How do you feel you are doing compared to what you had hoped to be doing?
  5. What  causes you to feel like you are running on a treadmill until 4:00? How does that affect your work? What have you tried to do to solve the problem?

After getting your answers to the treadmill questions, I might say:

Have you given any thought to actually scheduling client development activities?

When I felt I was struggling for time, I would prepare a weekly plan. I would list the client development activities I wanted to do, estimate how long each one would take and then I would put them on my calendar. I also had a list of small client development activities I could do each and every day. When my time was very tight if I just did one of those actions, I felt I was keeping my head in the game.

You have a couple of months to focus on what you want to accomplish next year. If you will answer my coaching questions above, you will be on your way to a focused, purposeful 2018.

Put simply business development doesn’t work because it is focused on what is in it for the law firm or the lawyer rather than what is in it for the client.

If you are like most lawyers, including me, you are uncomfortable with “selling” yourself or your firm to a client.  I might have  chosen the word “hustling” clients, to express what you feel you are doing. You also know that potential clients do not want to be “sold.” You might have been told:

  • You need to “get out there” more.
  • You need to get more work from existing clients.
  • You need to take more contacts to lunch.

That may seem like a numbers game. It may also seem like your hand is always out looking for something.

Have you ever considered the definition of business development?

 Business development comprises a number of tasks and processes generally aiming at developing and implementing growth opportunities.

You see the problem is that BD is about selling tasks and processes.

When you engage in client development, instead of selling, you are focused on building trust and rapport. Instead of  focusing on the numbers, or on the process, you are focused on serving, finding ways to add value and genuinely putting the clients’ interest ahead of my own. You do not have to be that person you prefer not to be.

So, what is the takeaway? Stop doing random business development (BD) activities that make you uncomfortable and start doing activities that your clients and potential clients will value. I will leave you with a Seth Godin point that speaks to how clients decide to hire lawyers and law firms:

People don’t believe what you tell them.
They rarely believe what you show them.
They often believe what their friends tell them.
They always believe what they tell themselves.

To engage in client development, work on becoming the lawyer or law firm that is recommended, and work on building trust and rapport with your potential clients.


My best clients always became my best friends and vice versa. I have vacationed with them, gone to sporting events with them, visited them, gone to their children’s weddings and done legal work for their companies. I never viewed our time spent together as marketing. Instead, it was all about relationships and being a good friend.

One of the books I recommend lawyers read is The Sales Bible by Jeffrey Gitomer. When I read it, I came to the heading: “More sales are made with friendship than salesmanship.” Gitomer says there is an old business adage: “All things being equal, people want to do business with their friends.” “And all things being NOT so equal, people STILL want to do business with their friends.”

I believe more lawyers are hired because of friendship and trusted relationships than because the lawyer has some specific legal skill. I believe that about 10% of legal work is bet the company and it goes to the lawyer or law firm perceived to be the best to handle that specific matter. I believe that about 30% of the legal work is commodity work and it goes to the lawyer or firm that is willing to do if for the lowest fee. That leaves 60% of the legal work that all things being equal or not so equal, the client would rather do business with friends.

Gitomer makes another really important point: “Competition is eliminated. Your best competitor couldn’t blast you away from a customer who is also a friend.” That second point is the one that made me think. Looking back at my career, when my clients were also my friends, they were intensely loyal clients.

How about you? Are your friends also your clients? Are your clients also your friends?

A month ago I met with a group of lawyers I coach and we discussed “closing the sale.” If you are like me, you are uncomfortable asking for business.

It’s understandable because you and I fear how we will be perceived. We do not want to come across like the guy in the visual below. We also do not like being rejected. For those and other reasons,  you don’t ask for the business. You aren’t alone, I went through an entire career and never asked for business.

As you may know, I subscribed to Success Magazine. I found a very interesting article a few years ago: Let’s Make a Deal: Sales SuccessIf you are stuck on asking for business, I  think you will find it valuable.


So how do you ask for business?

First, change your mindset. Instead of thinking about what having the business will do for you and your firm, think about how you can help your potential client succeed or successfully deal with a problem. Try this: Next time you are at the point where you are thinking about asking for business, say:

I would love the opportunity to work with you and help you on this.

Before you are at that point consider saying:

What can I do to help you?

Do you have a really challenging goal you want to accomplish either in your career or personal life? If so, I want to help you by sharing a story and putting you on to some reading I know will help you.

I coached an outstanding associate who, at the time, was eligible for promotion to partner in three years. He was with an entrepreneurial law firm, so he was be expected to be bringing in business by that time. I asked him:

I want you to honestly answer this for me, ok? Assuming you make your very best effort, do you honestly believe that you can bring in $500,000 in business in the year  you will be considered for promotion? Be honest with me.

He answered: Yes.

I then asked him to share with me what it will feel like to have succeeded in attracting $500,000 in business in 2017. Yes, this is the year we set out with the three year goal.

Then, I asked him to share with me, the first obstacle he sees to achieving that goal. Then, I told him to share with me something else positive about successfully attracting $500,000 in business. Then, I asked for the second obstacle he saw to achieving that goal.

I was using an approach called “Contrasting.”  This process can be both motivational and helpful in that it forces you to face the reality and be prepared for the challenges you will face.

I first learned of this approach reading Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson’s book Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals. I recommend the book. She also discussed the idea in this Psychology Today article: The Motivational One-Two Punch for Overcoming Bad Habits. In the article, she says:

Daydreaming about how great it will be to land that job can be a lot of fun, but it won’t get you anywhere. Mental contrasting turns wishes and daydreams into reality, by bringing into focus what you will need to do to make it happen.

After going through the contrasting process, I asked the lawyer to set up intermediate goals working backwards. To get to $500,000 in 2017, what did he think he would need to generate in 2016? 2015? Then we focused on what actions to take the rest of 2014 that will start him down the path of success.

What do you suppose I plan to do at the end of this year? Yes, I want to find out if he achieved his goal. A lot of it will depend on if he made the same efforts after the coaching program that he made while we worked together.

Try the contrasting approach. Think of a goal that achieving would be really important to you. Then think about obstacles.

I’ve started working out with a trainer again. I am working far harder and far more focused than I ever did on my own. I confess that I am amazed how out of shape I am compared to earlier times in my life when I was regularly running 5 miles.

When I feel like I can’t do any more reps of an exercise, Michael pushes me and I keep going. Yesterday, when I finished one exercise near quitting time, I wanted to say, “Let’s call it a day.” But, I kept going.

So, what does my new workout regimen have to do with client development coaching? Put simply, in both cases, the person receiving the coaching or the training must be highly motivated and willing to try new things.

Do you know which lawyers in your firm will get the most out of client development or career coaching? After coaching well over 1000 lawyers in the US and Canada, I can usually tell after one meeting with the lawyers.

In two instances, I told the law firms they would be wasting firm money if I coached the lawyers they had selected for coaching.

Suppose for a moment I asked your lawyers for their reaction to the following:

Client Development has never been more difficult than it is today.

I would likely be able to tell from their response whether they will be a good candidate for Client Development Coaching.

Fixed or Learning Mindset

Why? Put simply, it might tell me if your lawyers have a fixed mindset: “Lawyers either have the ability to get business or do not have the ability to get business,” or a learning mindset: “I can learn to get better at client development.”

Lawyers with a fixed mindset believe that effort is for those who are not talented. Their greatest fear is really trying hard to develop business and failing at it. As result, they will not make the effort to learn how to do client development and will give up if they do not have immediate success.

Lawyers with a learning mindset will keep striving to learn more and get better even if they were fairly successful when they started the coaching program.

Do You Have Lawyers Like This One?

When I told one of the lawyers I coach that client development has never been more difficult, her response was:

That’s fantastic because very few lawyers will be willing to pay the price to really get good at it. I plan to be one of those lawyers who will pay the price.

A Law Firm Management Committee Question

Ten years ago, I met with a large well known law firm’s management committee about my client development coaching program. Near the end of the meeting, a senior partner asked me to describe the ideal candidate for my coaching program. I quickly replied:

Tiger Woods.

He said:

Tiger Woods doesn’t need a coach.”

I told the group:

Leave aside that Tiger Woods actually has a coach, I am referring to his desire to get better rather than his great talent.

Why I Chose Tiger Woods as the Example

At the time I had watched Ed Bradley interview Tiger Woods. During the interview Bradley asked why when Tiger was the number one golfer in the world, he changed his swing. Tiger responded: “To get better.”

Bradley reminded Tiger that he was doing pretty well with the old swing. Tiger once again said he knew he could get better. Bradley then pointed out that Tiger changed his swing a second time and asked why. By now anyone could guess that Tiger answered once again “to get better.”

If you have even the slightest interest in golf, you have watched the dramatic shot on the 16th hole at the Masters. That is the shot Nike loves because the “swoosh” on the golf ball was visible for a full two seconds before the ball rolled in and CBS announcer Verne Lundquist exclaimed: “In your life have you ever seen anything like that.”

Lessons from Stanford Professor Dr. Carol Dweck

On July 6, 2008 the New York Times published an article titled: If You’re Open to Growth, You Tend to Grow.

The writer describes three decades of research done by Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck on why some people reach their creative potential in business while equally talented others do not. Dweck believes it is how people think about intelligence and talent. Those who believe their own abilities can expand (get better) over time. They “really push, stretch, confront their own mistakes and learn from them.”

The writer concludes that, while talent is important, people with the growth mind-set tend to demonstrate the kind of perseverance and resilience required to convert life’s setbacks into future successes.

If you are a regular reader you know I frequently recommend Carol Dweck’s book: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Her studies are amazing. You can also find many important articles on her website Mindset.

In the first chapter, she refers to a study she did early in her career. She brought grade school children in one at a time and gave them a series of puzzles to solve, each one getting increasingly more difficult.

She watched the reactions of the students and saw something she never expected. One ten-year old boy when confronted with hard puzzles, rubbed his hands together, smacked his lips, and cried out:

I love a challenge.

Others with growth mindsets had similar reactions. They did not see themselves as failing. They believed they were learning and getting smarter. Those young children with fixed mindsets believed they could not learn to do the tough puzzles and didn’t try to do them.

So, give me the lawyers in your firm who have a burning desire to get better. You may not think some of those lawyers need coaching, but I can assure you they will get the most out of it, because they will put the most into it.

Even lawyers for whom client development is anything but natural get a lot out of the coaching if they have the learning mindset. After all, there is great energy around trying to get better.

Seth Godin posted a blog recently titled: On being discovered. In it he said something that describes my strategy and approach to developing business.

Instead of hoping that people will find you, the alternative is to become the sort of person these people will go looking for.

I was meeting with a group of lawyers I coach over dinner when one of them asked me what was the most important client development step I took.

I narrowed my focus.

Why? One reason was my healthy paranoia. I was far more comfortable knowing a lot about a little than a little about a lot.

But, I also narrowed my focus to attract clients. To borrow Seth Godin’s line,

to become the sort of person construction contractors will go looking for when they need a lawyer.

I discovered early in my career that marketing yourself as a commercial litigator or as a corporate lawyer is a challenge.

If you are marketing to everyone, you are marketing to no one.

How do you distinguish yourself from the hundreds of other commercial litigators or corporate lawyers in your city?

When I narrowed from commercial litigation, to government contracts, to construction government contracts, to transportation construction government contracts, I better understood my potential clients needs and I received many more speaking and writing opportunities. In a few years, I was well known throughout the United States.

How can you narrow your focus?

You can either have a niche practice which is based on your specialty or you can have a targeted industry practice which is based on what your clients do. Even if you are a connector and networker, you can narrow the focus of the events you attend and become more focused on your best contacts.

If you are interested in learning more, take a look at my slides from a program: Developing a Niche Portable Practice.