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.

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.

I knew it while I practiced law. Now that I am recruiting every day I am reminded that law firms want partners who have already attracted clients or are have clear potential to attract clients.

So, if you are a young lawyer and you want to have a long law career in a law firm, it is never too early to work on attracting clients.

Several years ago I was a member of a LinkedIn Group on Sales. Many of the discussions on the group page had little value to lawyers. But, some I found very valuable.

One day I saw a discussion that began with this question:

What are the core competencies for a salesperson trying to sell a “concept” like training?

We could edit the question:

“What are the core competencies for a lawyer selling legal services?”

Several of the comments intrigued me because they could be applied to selling legal services. Here are a couple of them:

This is semantics but all sales involve selling an idea or a “concept” whether the item is intangible or not… So, one core competency is the ability to understand the buyer’s need/desire. Maybe this is empathy but certainly the ability to listen and to probe for meaningful insight. Another is the ability to identify how your service can fulfill that need. Competency here is the ability to see connections that are not always obvious. Finally the ability to synthesize need and ability to fulfill need into a cohesive and attractive plan that demonstrates to the buyer that his or her objectives will be met and that these objectives will have a meaningful impact on the business or enterprise.

People who sell “training” or widgets eventually fail. Only people that sell value succeed. So the question is, “What competencies does a seller need to possess in order to articulate the value that is derived from the training?” And better yet, “Can the seller link that value to the prospect’s context, business or problem and communicate it effectively enough to close the sale?”

Can you see why I believe the two comments above can be applied to selling legal services?

You are not selling litigation or transactions. You are providing a solution to a potential client’s problem, facilitating the client taking advantage of an opportunity or helping a client deal with a change they are facing.

As expressed above, the core competency is the ability to ask questions and listen, see things your client may be missing, empathize and finally articulate a solution the client finds valuable.

In July of 2000, Seth Godin wrote an article in “Fast Company” titled: “Unleash Your Ideavirus.” In the article Godin says:

Ideas are driving the economy, ideas are making people rich, and most importantly, ideas are changing the world.”

He suggests that to win we need to unleash an ideavirus, which I interpret as a high-powered word of mouth marketing.

Later, he published a book, and then a book with audio and video.

I doubt any of you quarrel with the importance of ideas in 2018, and I doubt any of you question the value of having clients and referral sources telling others that you are a great lawyer. But, many of you likely wonder how you can create great ideas and a high-powered ideavirus, word of mouth campaign.

Seth Godin gives some suggested techniques that you can use to identify, launch, and profit from ideas that can be turned into viruses. First, he suggests that you concentrate the message.

You can only win when you dominate and amaze the group you have targeted.”

That means as lawyers you cannot create an ideavirus by marketing to everyone. Depending on your field, you will want to narrow your market either geographically or by industry.

The more narrow your market, the more likely you can develop an idea that will resonate with that market and the more likely the idea will spread.

How do you figure out the right idea?

Quit thinking about selling yourself or your firm or what you do as a lawyer. Instead, focus on understanding what your clients are thinking and what will potentially impact their business.

  • Think of your most important client.
  • Then think about what is impacting that client. What does that client need to achieve its goals? What are the obstacles that client is trying to overcome?
  • How can you help?

Someone has to be the “go to” lawyer in your field. If you are willing to work hard to become a valuable resource for your clients, potential clients and referral sources, it might as well be you.

Keep in mind. Seth Godin wrote this 18 years ago. It would be an understatement to say the landscape has changed since then.

Seth Godin recently posted: Mass personalization is a trap. For those of you whose firms send email blasts designed to make clients and potential clients think it actually came from you, I suggest you take a moment to read what Seth Godin has written.

I still get emails every day from law firms, from consulting firms for law firms and from others. I think those emails which are sent to thousands at the same time actually annoy potential clients rather than draw them to a firm or lawyer. I am tired of opting out and then receiving more emails.

If I don’t want email blasts, just imagine how your clients are more busy than I feel about receiving email blasts.

Seth Godin not only posted the recent blog but a few years ago he expressed his thoughts in an interview:

Marketing is no longer about interrupting the masses with unanticipated spam: ads about average products for average people. Instead, marketing is about leading tribes – groups of people who want to go somewhere.

One of the lawyers I coached shared with me a story about an experiment one of her partners had conducted with an alert. Here is the story:

I decided to try something. I picked 40 clients that I thought might be impacted by the new I-9 forms.  I drafted a general email text about the client alert. I took the general email text and personalized it in some way for each client so that it did not appear as a mass email blast. It took about 45 minutes to send out these emails.

The result:

Fifteen clients emailed to thank me and four specifically mentioned that they were unaware of the changes.

One client used return email to schedule a call regarding an unrelated matter that directly resulted in billable work.

In 2018, the competition to attract and retain clients could not be greater. Adding a personal touch to any contact with clients will set you and your firm apart.

When I practiced law, I wanted the lawyers who worked with me to not be content. I wanted them to not think they had arrived. I wanted them to strive to become a better lawyer each day.

Now that I am recruiting lawyers for firms that I know and respect, I hope to find lawyers who share those traits.

I was never content. Over my many years, I would wake up in the middle of the night and worry about continuing to create a pipeline of work to keep myself and others in my practice group busy.

I always had matters in the works, but my practice generated a few very large matters rather than many small ones. So the development of these matters came at their own pace, not always the pace I wanted.

I told my friends and colleagues I had “healthy paranoia.” I believe most super successful people have it.

They are successful in part because they feel the strong need inside to be successful and they worry when things are not going just the way they want them.

If you look at the quote above, you will likely see the connection. Having healthy paranoia is a key to greater success. It will cause you to think more creatively. But, paranoia goes from healthy to unhealthy easily and unhealthy paranoia will cripple you. Don’t let that happen to you.

As you may know, I wrote a book called Rising Star about a lawyer who had healthy paranoia.

 

I met with a friend recently who shared with me the challenge of thinking about the future beyond this year. I understood because I coached lawyers who rarely thought about the future beyond the next week unless it was about a planned vacation.

Way back in 2006, I gave a presentation to the Texas State Bar Young Lawyers Association (TYLA). The title of the program was “Crossroads, Mapping out the Rest of Your Career.”

I liked the title because for me “crossroads” meant a defining moment and “mapping” meant the young lawyers would focus on a destination and the road to get there. I also wrote an article on the same subject for the Texas State Bar Journal. Here is the link.

I began by asking how many in the audience were completely satisfied with where they were in their career. Very few raised their hand. Then I talked about the future and what would be the appropriate map.

For too many of us, the road and the destination would be clear if we would simply take the time to consider our future.

So, take some time today and figure out if you’re working towards a goal, or being called to it. You might be happily surprised with your answer.