I am under the impression that law firms are not developing the next generation of law firm leaders. I am also under the impression that leadership isn’t something that most lawyers have in their DNA, meaning it needs to be developed.

I recently read a Forbes Magazine article: Why Leadership Training Doesn’t Work. I found the article interesting, in part because it supports my contention that one shot workshops are insufficient to develop the next generation of leaders or rainmakers.

If you are interested in developing your next generation, I urge you to read the article.

Here is a quote:

After two or three weeks, you might remember the concept but not how to implement the idea, and you’ll be lucky if you retain even two of the ten key points from the session. According to a Mckinsey & Company survey, adults typically retain just 10% of what they hear in classroom lectures. Cramming all the key learnings into one lengthy training makes logistical sense, but it greatly restricts learning retention…

Simply learning what to do over the course of one to two days doesn’t lead to acting differently in the long run.

Those of you I coached, or in firms where I coached know we worked together over 12-18 months. In our first group session, I taught you the concepts we would be working on in the future. You likely recall one of our goals was to make client development part of your habits.

You likely know there are well-respected leadership training programs out there.

Harvard and Columbia both have a program. I became online friends with the lawyer responsible for creating the University of Santa Clara leadership for lawyers program. I worked with a lawyer who is now a Global Senior Advisor with The Center for Creative Leadership.

I believe all the programs are truly excellent, but I’m not sure any of them change habits as envisioned in the Forbes article. So, suppose you wanted to develop your own program. Where would you start?

Years ago a well-known law firm asked me to help develop the initial leadership training for new partners. In my work with the firm, I created a Leadership Training Workbook. 

My workbook was in large part based on what I learned from reading many, many books on leadership. If you want to get started in your firm, or if you are a junior partner and want to start learning more on leadership, I hope you will find my workbook helpful.

Have you bought a Groupon or Living Social certificate to get a discount at a restaurant?

On the one hand, I’ve gone to restaurants I didn’t even know about before buying the discount certificate. On the other hand, I rarely have gone back and paid the full price.

What happens when law firms give discounts?

Giving discounts reminds me of Jos A. Bank. There is always a sale going on. A few years ago, I could have bought one sports coat or pair of slacks and gotten two for free. Over the years, when I bought something at the Jos A Bank store I was never sure I got the best deal.

If you give discounts, your clients will wonder if they are getting the best discount you give.

I never gave discounts. Instead, I gave extra services away at no cost.

For example, I offered to do workshops for my clients at no charge. I occasionally put associates in their office for a week at no charge.

I believe giving value for free is better than discounting fees. I also gave budgets for the work we were asked to do because I believed it was important for the client to be able to budget the outside fees.

I believe that:

  • 10% of legal work is bet the company and it goes to the best lawyers
  • 30% of work is commodity work and it goes to the lowest cost provider
  • 60% of legal work is based on relationships and it goes to the lawyer who is known, liked and trusted by the decision maker

Focus on either being the best in the world at something so you get the bet the company work, or focus on building relationships.

If you are doing commodity or routine work you better be able to do it cheaply.

Finally, if the economy demands it, lower your standard rate rather than giving a discount. If you do give a discount, you should anticipate your client will want a further discount when they receive your bill.

I coached Shawn Tuma in 2011. Back then I thought Shawn was the most innovative lawyer I had coached.

Shawn recently joined Spencer Fane where he is co-chair of the firm’s data privacy group. I spoke with him recently and discovered that over the last several months he had done many interviews and over next month he had several additional TV and radio interviews scheduled.

Here is a link to one of his interviews.

How did Shawn get these opportunities?

Put simply, he has built his practice using the social media tools available to all of you. I checked the morning I wrote this and he had 9998 followers on Twitter, just two short of 10,000. I’m betting he has over 10,000 as you are reading this.

If I was hiring lawyers for my law firm, I would prefer to hire lawyers who are on the cutting edge of reaching clients and potential clients. But, how many of those lawyers are there?

Lawyers and law firms are so slow to change. Some time ago I was doing research on change and I found these statistics:

Five  kinds of attitudes about change:

  1. Early innovators (2.6%), run with new ideas
  2. Early adaptors (13.4%), influenced by (1) but not initiators
  3. Slow Majority (34%), the herd-followers
  4. Reluctant Majority (34%)
  5. Antagonistic (16%), they will never change

You might think these statistics were collected in 2018. In fact, these statistics came from the clerk of Abbington Presbytery, outside of Philadelphia, over 100 years ago.

There have been more changes in the way you practice law and do client development in the last 18 years than in the 29 years I practiced law before that. Think about these changes that just cover connecting and staying in touch:


  • Smartphones and other mobile devices to stay in touch
  • Email alerts
  • Blogs
  • Podcasts
  • Webinars
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Youtube
  • Skype

Which category of attitude about change describes the lawyers your firm is hiring?



Last November Above the Law published an article titled: IN-HOUSE COUNSEL New Study: GCs Have Brought The Majority Of Work In-House.

I found this quote interesting:

51% of in-house legal teams report that more than half of their legal activities are now conducted internally. The biggest challenge in-house legal teams are trying to solve by bringing more legal services in-house is controlling costs, followed by completing tasks efficiently.

I am not surprised by the survey results. In 2018, the majority of clients want more and want to pay less. At the same time, they perceive their law firms are focused on what’s in it for the law firm rather than focused on what’s in it for the client.

In May, The American Lawyer published: Managing Partners’ Frustration Mounts as Law Firm Innovation Stagnates. 

A record 68.6 percent of leaders said the No. 1 reason they aren’t doing more to change their legal service delivery model is because partners resist efforts to change. That number has jumped from 44 percent in 2015, which made it the third most-cited reason that firms aren’t doing more to change.

Many law firm partners have made enough money to be content. They are not focused enough on what their clients want, need and in 2018, demand. I laugh at the vision of a law firm web page with the branding slogan:

“We Aren’t Innovative Or Efficient, But We Are No Worse Than Other Law Firms.”

So what can law firm leaders do about this?

Begin by focusing on your clients. Ask them to share with you ways you can deliver greater value. Listen to what they say and ask further questions.

When you are finished, gather a group of lawyers in your firm and brainstorm ideas on how to deliver greater value to clients. When you come up with a plan, figure out a way to make sure you are delivering greater value and continually ask for feedback from your clients.

And, finally…Reward Innovation and Efficiency.


Many law firms will find a lawyer who has clients with a variety of needs to be a great candidate for their firm. It makes great sense, but most law firms don’t take advantage of the opportunity. Why?

In a nutshell, most firms do a poor job of cross-selling. There are a variety of reasons cross-selling is challenging. One reason is most firms have no plan or strategy for cross-selling. As a result, at best it is done on an ad-hoc basis. At worst, clients resent they are being “sold.”

When I was practicing law, we hired a consulting firm to help us with our strategic plan and paid them more money than I ever imagined. One of the consultants told me,

Cordell, you need to ‘cross-sell’ your firm’s labor and employment lawyers and environmental lawyers to your construction clients.

I replied,

I think that really makes great sense, but you have it backwards. Our labor and employment lawyers and our enviromental lawyers need to demonstrate they understand construction labor and employment issues and construction enviromental law issues.

Later, at a partners’ meeting, the consultants said our marketing cross-selling strategy should be to “further penetrate” our clients.

I raised my hand, stood up and said: “I had taken a survey and my clients unanimously had reported that they did not want to be ‘penetrated’ much less ‘further penetrated.’

I had never heard penetration used in the context of marketing or cross-selling.

I later learned that “penetration selling” means increasing current client revenues through increased usage or additional types of legal work. The problem with it is that it focuses on client revenues rather than client valuable service.


Now that I am helping lawyers find the right firm and helping law firms find the right lawyers, I am reflecting more on what would motivate me to join a particular law firm if I was still practicing. I know what some of you are thinking:


If that was all that motivated me, I would still be practicing law.

I was a practice group leader in my old firm. Once a month I was required to attend a meeting of practice group leaders and office managing partners.

I rarely thought what we covered was valuable. For the most part, we talked about economics and how we were doing financially. We did not brainstorm ideas on how we could better lead and motivate our lawyers, which in the end would make us more valuable to clients and more profitable.

In his book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? Seth Godin references a poll of 20,000 creative professionals done by Richard Florida. He gave the professionals 38 factors to choose from on what motivated them at work.

Here are the top ten ranked in order:

  1. Challenge and responsibility
  2. Flexibility
  3. A stable work environment
  4. Money
  5. Professional development
  6. Peer recognition
  7. Stimulating colleagues and bosses
  8. Exciting job content
  9. Organizational culture
  10. Location and community

Godin points out that only one of the above is a clearly extrinsic motivator.

I am sure many law firms focus on it like a laser beam. In those firms, the popular notion is that the only thing that motivates partners is higher profits per partner and the only thing that motivates associates is compensation and bonuses. The survey would suggest there are motivators that have little to do with money.

Looking at the survey, what can your firm do to attract top talent? I know-compensation matters, but what else can your firm do?

It’s difficult to provide exciting job content all the time. I have done my fair share of legal work that was not exciting. I am sure you have as well. The location of the firm is where it is. So, not much can be done with those two motivators.

At the same time, law firms can easily provide challenge and responsibility, flexibility, a stable work environment, professional development, peer recognition, stimulating colleagues and bosses, and organizational culture.

Top lawyers old and young want to be challenged.

What else do young partners want?

  • They want the flexibility to be able to spend more time raising their children.
  • They want to feel secure knowing they will have a job.
  • They want to learn and develop their skills.
  • They want feedback when they need to improve and when they have done an outstanding job.
  • They want to work with lawyers they respect and trust.
  • They want to work for a firm that lives what it says is its culture.

As I attempt to help lawyers find the right firm for them, I wonder why so many law firms are not focusing on those motivators.

Is your firm? When was the last time you talked about any of these topics at a firm leaders/management meeting?

How do you recruit lawyers of the Millennium (or Y) Generation and how do you retain them?

Those were the questions I was recently asked by a recruiting coordinator of a major law firm. I think it begins by understanding them and how they are different from lawyers in my generation.

When I was in charge of attorney development at my old law firm, I sought to better understand the Y Generation lawyers. Here is my list of Top 10 things that are important to this group:

  1. They want to work for firms whose leaders do not take themselves too seriously.
  2. They want to work in a comfortable atmosphere, one in which they can be themselves.
  3. They want to work for firms where they have an essential contribution to the success of their firm and their clients.
  4. They want to work for a firm that values – and practices – community service.
  5. They want to work on teams and to make friends at a firm.
  6. They want their work to be interesting, and will get easily bored if unchallenged.
  7. They want their firms to provide them with the most up-to-date technology to better perform their work.
  8. They want and will seek constant and continuous feedback from their supervising attorneys.
  9. They want to be treated fairly – as they define it – and will place a very high value on it.
  10. They want – demand – sincerity from firm leaders.


I remember working with associates in my old law firm and helping them decide what they wanted to accomplish in their work and careers and helping them prepare a plan with written goals.

I had great intentions and enthusiasm, and so did the majority of associates. But, over time I discovered that my large law firm was, perhaps inadvertently, contributing to our associates not following through.

Here is what I concluded happened. Maybe it is happening in your firm.

  1. The firm leaders don’t make clear that the firm values the associates setting goals;
  2. The partners don’t set their own goals;
  3. The firm seems to only value billable hours;
  4. There are no benchmarks identifying what associates are learning;
  5. Associates are made to feel they are not doing what they should when they do non-billable activities outside the office;
  6. Associates are not encouraged to participate in attorney development programs;
  7. Associates are not given meaningful feedback;
  8. Associates who set goals are put down when they share their goals with the partners for whom they work;
  9. Partners do not share credit with associates when they help with an article or presentation;
  10. Mentoring in the firm is just talk and not meaningful.





Many law firms/practice groups remind me of a quote from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree.

Which road shall I take? She asked.

His response was a question:

Where do you want to go?

I don’t know, Alice answered.

Then, said the cat, it doesn’t matter.

While most of your clients seem to have no trouble articulating where they want to go, why is your  law firm or practice group like Alice?

Lewis Carroll

Most law firm web pages look alike.

  • They are “full service firms” who represent both large companies and small ones.
  • They are experienced and responsive, and provide exceptional service (usually as defined by them).
  • They are typically strategically located to better serve those large and small clients.
  • They all provide “innovative solutions” to business problems.

I could go on, but my point is to simply say, they all look alike.

Let’s look at other service entities for ideas.  When I stay at a Four Seasons Hotel, I am amazed by the level of service at all levels in the hotel.

Years ago, I was in Houston for a meeting. As I ate my dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel bar, I looked down I noticed the hem on my suit pants had come undone.

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I went to the front desk and asked if for safety pins, or a sewing kit. I was told the hotel seamstress had finished her workday. That took me by surprise. I had never imagined the hotel would have a seamstress.

The manager told me to go to my room and wait for someone to bring me a sewing kit. A few minutes later an older Mexican American lady knocked on my door. She greeted me with a big smile. When she saw my trousers, she gave me that knowing grin as if to say: “I know you are a man and you don’t know how to sew worth a darn.”  She pointed and asked me for my trousers.

Twenty minutes later she returned to my room with the cuff to my trousers sewn to perfection. That is service.

Afterward, I wanted to better understand how Four Seasons did it and I found the Four Seasons philosophy:

A Shared Spirit: Four Seasons strategy is simple. Hire motivated people, train them to be the best they can be, and offer them an environment in which to flourish.

Take a look at the Four Seasons Mission Statement.

As Practice Group Leader of a Construction Law Practice Group, I made sure our group clearly understood what we wanted to become.

Because of the experience and background of our lawyers we decided to focus on representing contractors primarily engaged in constructing large civil construction projects; including highways, airports, mass transit, power, dams, stadiums, etc.

Our purpose was to enable or to help our clients build great projects while achieving their business objectives. We have hired lawyers who had a construction background, civil engineering or construction management undergraduate degree, or who exhibited a passion for the construction industry.

Our legal assistants included civil engineers or construction management graduates with construction experience.

We sought ways to differentiate ourselves from our competitors, including making efforts to be “first to market” on whatever happened to be the cutting edge legal issue affecting the industry.

We were among the first construction practice groups to have newsletters for clients and to conduct in-house workshops for clients. Several of us have written legal columns in trade magazines or for association newsletters. These were all things we decided we wanted to be.

I mention all these things, not to suggest that any other law firm or practice group adopt any of them, but to simply point out the importance of deciding what you want your practice group or law firm to become.

Without thinking about what you want, deciding and then articulating what you want, you will likely be like Alice and it won’t really matter which way you go.

10 Years ago I was asked to speak at the annual meeting of new Texas State Bar leaders. I really enjoyed that experience.

If you are interested in my presentation slides, you can find them here.

Many lawyers are active in the Bar because they want to make a difference and further the purpose and values of the legal profession. Each Bar is unique but share a common mission.

The mission of the State Bar of Texas is to support the administration of the legal system, assure all citizens equal access to justice, foster high standards of ethical conduct for lawyers, support and provide services to its members, enable its members to better serve their clients and the public, and educate the public about the rule of law. Members of the bar commit time, energy and resources towards achieving this goal.


The following 10 ideas are meant to assist Bar leaders in their service to the Bar and its members:

  1. Identify one major goal you want to accomplish during your leadership and ask yourself how accomplishing it will make a difference.
  2. Develop a plan to accomplish your major goal.
  3. Identify the “inspirational lawyers” within your bar and find ways to use them to provide inspiration to others.
  4. Reflect on what it means to be a lawyer and how lawyers have contributed to our society.
  5. Find a way to publicize the contributions lawyers have made to our society and your local community.
  6. If there is a law school in your area, develop a mentoring program for law students, helping them learn to be lawyer and to think like a client.
  7. Develop a mentoring program for young lawyers.
  8. Develop programs for your members on career development, work-life integration and client service.
  9. Develop programs on “professionalism” that go beyond ethics.
  10. “Think outside the box” and try something that has not been done before.

Hopefully each Bar leader will find at least some of these ideas useful. I am sure that some of the Bar leaders reading this blog are “inspirational” leaders and could provide other worthwhile ideas.