Someone recently asked what kind of lawyers I hoped to recruit. I believe the person wanted to know what practice areas, what locations, whether I wanted to recruit associates or partners.

I answered that I want to recruit lawyers who are hungry and dreaming big dreams about what they can become.

A few years ago Sherman Smith posted a blog: You Got To Be Hungry!!!. He began the post with three great questions:

  1. How HUNGRY are you in order for you to have longevity in your business?
  2. What are you willing to give up in order to achieve success?
  3. Are you unsatisfied with how things are and want to make a change for the better?

How hungry are you to become a successful lawyer with clients who appreciate your help?

If you are really hungry to learn, I can assure you from experience that nothing is more fun professionally than figuring out how you can be a more valuable lawyer and better serve your clients.

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?

When I was at the top of my legal career and the word was spreading that Jenkens & Gilchrist was in trouble, I received more than one call a week from legal recruiters. I’m sad to say that I was pretty turned off by those calls.


  1. They were cold calls
  2. The recruiter didn’t know me.
  3. The recruiter didn’t ask me questions to get to know me.

The legal recruiters may have looked at my website bio, and someone must have told them I had lots of business, but they didn’t know anything else about me,…and they didn’t ask to learn more about me.

So, you might ask, why did I decide to become a recruiter? I would ask that same question, so I get it.

To me recruiting is an extension of the work I did coaching lawyers. When I coached lawyers before our first meeting I sent out questions as a starting point to get to know the lawyer. When we met for the first time, I started by asking questions about the lawyer’s family, his or her interests outside of practicing law and what the lawyer hoped to achieve in our work together.

I loved practicing law. I enjoyed my clients and my work. But, I only worked for a few clients. I coached over 1500 lawyers. While my compensation was a fraction of what I made practicing law, my joy in personally witnessing the lawyers succeeding made up for it.

A few weeks ago I received an email from a lawyer I coached over 10 years ago. When we first started working together she was generating $200,000 in originations. In her email, she shared with me that in her firm’s last fiscal year she had generated over $4 million in originations.

She gave me too much of the credit in her email. She was a superstar before I ever met her. I think I just helped her realize that.

So, what does this have to do with my current work recruiting lawyers for law firms?

I am working for a great, well-known firm, Lateral Link. I’m surrounded by talented people who genuinely care about the lawyers who are candidates and the law firms with whom they work. They take the time the recruiters who recruited me did not take.

When I coached lawyers in the US and Canada I worked with some really great firms. I know the culture of those firms. I worked with some really outstanding lawyers. I got to know what they wanted in their career. Recruiting for me is putting together law firms with lawyers who will succeed and help the firm succeed.

Some time ago I read an article titled: “The Big Secret to Success in Anything You Do.” The secret: the ability to concentrate.

In other words, the ability to focus all of your mental powers on one important task until that task is completed and completed well.

When I was a younger lawyer it was really easy to stay focused on the work I was doing for a client. That was before I had a computer at my desk, received 200 plus emails a day and had a Blackberry to make sure I could stay connected 24/7.

I was on a team at our firm trying out the first Blackberries. My first one was quite small about the size of a pager. I remember thinking how incredibly cool it was when I received an email from a client while eating dinner with our daughter. My client was amazed I was at work so late. Little did he know.

When I first docked my new Blackberry to my computer,  I remember working at my desk and hearing a buzz from my docked Blackberry signaling the arrival of a new email. I frequently turned my head to the computer screen, read the summary and then frequently read the entire email and responded. Does that sound familiar?

You likely experience being in the zone occasionally. I certainly experienced it when in court trying a case. The most successful lawyers experience it every day and you should strive to achieve it every day.

How can you experience the lawyer equivalent of being in the zone? I love a quote from Peter Drucker:

What you have to do and the way you have to do it is incredibly simple. Whether you are willing to do it, that’s another matter.

How to be focused is relatively simple. First, get your mind focused on your clients. When you put yourself in their world, you will be better able to anticipate your clients’ needs before they have expressed them. You can really differentiate yourself from other lawyers when you are looking ahead in that way.

Second, stay focused on the work you are doing for the client. To be focused on your work, you have to stop doing several things at the same time, like opening emails and responding, or chatting with someone who interrupts you.

If staying focused is a challenge for you, come up with a system that will work for you.

To get more ideas, read the US News and World Report article about David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done” and if you haven’t read the book do so.

When I coached lawyers, I frequently heard

Cordell, I’ve been too busy to do any client development

When I practiced law unless I was in the middle of a trial out of town, I was never too busy to do client development. In fact, I did more client development work when I was busiest than when I wasn’t busy.

Now that I’m recruiting lawyers if a lawyer candidate told me he or she was too busy to do client development activities, I would likely not recommend that person to a great firm.

Why? It is really pretty simple:  I believe it is because they don’t have a strong enough motivation to cause them to “make” time for client development. And, the law firms I try to help don’t need that kind of lawyer.

Years ago, a lawyer I was coaching told me he had heard a sales seminar where the presenter said:

Time management is a waste of time.

The lawyer asked what I thought.  Here is how I replied:

Interesting. I did a Google search and saw this article: How Managing Your Time Is a Waste of Time.  I noted the writer said:

It’s the compulsive aspect I find problematic. Our national obsession with self-improvement and personal productivity bears remarkable similarities to the self-help genre and our endless pursuit of quick fixes, miracle cures and wonder pills.

I don’t view time management or pursuing excellence to be an “endless pursuit of quick fixes, miracle cures and wonder pills.” If anything it is the opposite of a quick fix.

Then I saw this article by a guy who said he used to think time management was a waste of time: How To Get More Done: Time Management For The Rest Of Us. He wrote:

I now rank everything that is important to me–both professionally and personally–on one piece of paper. They are the most important things I want to accomplish written done in list form.

I personally feel I am better able to focus on my top priorities by doing what he suggests.

To me, saying time management is a waste of time is similar to saying creating a business plan is a waste of time.

Some successful lawyers in my old firm told me they didn’t need a business plan. They kept their plan in their head.

I suspect they did not want anyone able to judge whether they were doing what they put in their plan. I wondered how much better they might have done simply by thinking through a plan and putting it on paper.

Time and energy are your two most important resources and I don’t think you can waste either.



Now that I am a recruiter, I can make judgments on candidates for law firms that might be more persuasive than my judgments were when I practiced law.

One summer I was given the task of getting to know our Dallas summer associates and recommending which ones to hire. Although I was busy, I took my task seriously and I took each one to lunch, hosted a summer associate in-home dinner, and I looked over some of their work. When it came time to offer associate jobs, firm leaders ignored my recommendations and offered jobs almost exclusively based on class-rank and the prestige of their law school.

While those criteria were important, I didn’t believe they gave us as good an indicator of the students’ future success. How was I looking at it differently and why?

Psychologists have found that in the workplace, emotional intelligence is an 85 percent predictor of employee success, as opposed to only 15 percent for IQ.

The concept of Emotional Intelligence, made popular by Daniel Goleman, who wrote a bestselling book by the same name, was conceived in the mid-1990’s as the ability to perceive, access, generate, and reflectively regulate emotions to promote emotional and intellectual growth.

Emotional intelligence (EI) is essentially the measure of someone’s skills, which Goleman says can be more critical to success than IQ.

A person’s level of emotional intelligence is not dependent on his or her innate personality. In other words, a person who is introverted could have a high emotional intelligence.

Mitch Anthony, author of Selling With Emotional Intelligence tells the story of a best-in-nation mutual fund salesman who almost didn’t get hired because he failed a personality assessment. The company wanted results-driven, high-energy go-getters.

“But, he was soft-spoken, more of an analyzer and togetherness personality,” Anthony says. The man convinced managers he could be successful, telling them, “I may not have that rah-rah personality, but I build relationships and am good at servicing clients.” Within three or four years, he was the number one producer in the country.

So, if personality alone is not an indicator of selling success, what characteristics of emotional intelligence do rainmakers share? Anthony says there are five traits that are common to the top salespeople in any profession.

1. Optimism
Optimistic people are generally more pleasant to be around than their gloomy counterparts, so clients are attracted to lawyers who are upbeat. Lawyers may be trained to think in terms of worst-case scenarios, but the ones who exude confidence will retain and attract more business.

2. Resilience
Anthony calls resilience the “spinal column” of emotional intelligence in sales. It’s the ability to hear 15 “no’s” before you get a “yes.” In law practice, winning a client can be a matter of timing. Some relationships take awhile to develop, and the needs of clients change. The business owner who didn’t need your services in January might feel differently in June or October, and you will be remembered favorably if you’ve kept in touch during the intervening months.

3. Self-Motivation
Some experts say self-motivation is difficult to teach, and this may be true when it comes to reaching external goals like a sales quota or billable hours. But everyone has a desire to meet personally devised goals that really matter to them. If you take responsibility for your future, designing an action plan with your goals in mind, your internal motivation will propel you to meet those goals. You will also attract the clients whose needs are aligned with yours.

4. Personability
Clients gravitate to lawyers they like. A friendly, sociable associate will attract more clients than a surly lawyer who finds meeting people an unpleasant chore. Although some people may be naturally more outgoing than others, anyone can improve their social skills through coaching or simply observing

5. Empathy
This is the underpinning of all emotional intelligence skills. Using emotional radar to discern what makes a person “tick” is essential. If you’re a good listener, if you study body language, and if you communicate well, you’re an empathic person. In Myers Briggs tests, the vast majority of lawyers are thinkers rather than feelers. For this group, listening and trying to see the world from the client’s perspective is even more important.

So, is your firm like my old firm and focused only on class rank and quality of a candidate’s law school. or are you thinking more long term and seeking to determine the EQ of your candidates?

In this post, I try to answer the question, what is possibly the best firm for you if you are looking for a change. If you are busy and want my idea right away skip to the bottom. Otherwise, here is some background information from my experience.

In 1976, when I left the United States Air Force after spending four years and eight months on active duty, I had many options.

  • I was offered two positions on the west coast in-house with government contractors (One of my best friends took one of the two offers and spent the rest of his career as an in-house lawyer.)
  • I was offered a position as an associate with a government contracts practice group in a large DC firm. (I turned it down, having spent the last few years litigating against lawyers in that firm and discovering the role of the junior associates.)
  • An associate position with what was then considered a mid-sized law firm in Roanoke, Virginia. (I took this one even though it paid far less than the other two opportunities and even paid less than I was making as a Captain in the Air Force.)

I took the opportunity in Roanoke, in part because I graduated from Virginia Tech, just 37 miles away. That was only a small part of my decision. I took the opportunity in Roanoke because I believed it offered me the greatest opportunity to control my own destiny.

For 20 years I proclaimed I would never be part of a large law firm because I didn’t want to be told what to do. Then, I joined one. In my first year, I doubled my collections because the firm had lawyers who could help my clients with work I could not do myself. By my third year, I had tripled my collections.

Our firm leaders were super conscious about where we stood in the AM Law 100. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I could say that the higher we rose, the more each of us was making. I guess that part was nice, but the so-called prestige of our ranking was something that did not resonate with me.

Fast forward to my coaching career. In my 12 years coaching lawyers in US and Canada firms, I discovered there are many firms out there that have the resources I would have needed to serve my clients but have far lower overhead. I discovered I could have made almost double what I was paid in the big Am Law 100 law firm.

I know many of those firms and many of the managing partners of those firms. If you are a partner in an Am Law 100 firm, looking to make a change, take a look at firms half your size. Look at the bios of lawyers who would help serve your clients, or bring your current colleagues with you.

How do you feel when you get a cold call from a recruiter? I am wrestling with that because I sense I will have to call lawyers I have never met and who have never heard of me.

I’m reluctant to make those cold calls, meaning I may never place a lawyer with a law firm.

Why am I reluctant?

It’s not because I’m afraid of being turned down. It’s because I’m afraid of being perceived in the same way I perceived the recruiters who called me again and again when I was at the top of my law practice, and everyone knew Jenkens & Gilchrist was in trouble.

They did not know me. Many didn’t understand my practice. None understood what motivated me, or what kind of law firm would be a good fit for me. I don’t want to be perceived like that. I want to know the lawyers I place and know the law firms they might be joining.

It’s the approach I have used throughout my career(s).

When I was building my book of business as a lawyer, I was focused on identifying problems, opportunities and changes my clients might face. Then, I wrote articles and made presentations on those issues with the goal of convincing clients to call me when a problem, opportunity or change created a legal issue.

I wrote a monthly column for Roads and Bridges magazine. I created guides for contractors on a variety of issues that impacted them and I made presentations regularly to national and state construction highway and transportation construction associations. I even created a video as shown below.

My strategy worked. I became well known and was sought after by some of the top contractors in the United States.

When I gave up my legal career to help lawyers, I pursued the same strategy. I started blogging in 2006. I wrote a column in The Practical Lawyer. I made presentations at ABA meetings, state and local bar meetings and for professional development directors, marketing directors and others.

I put the slides from many of the presentations on SlideShare. I created YouTube video presentations. I was also active on Twitter, LinkedIn and I created a Facebook coaching page.

Way back in 2006, I even made a presentation for the National Association of Legal Search Consultants, (NALSC), never dreaming that I would eventually become one.

At first, creating content with the hope that law firms would watch, read or listen and then call me worked very well. In 2010 I coached 128 lawyers throughout the United States and Canada. But, by the end of 2017, no firms had contacted me to coach their lawyers in 2018.

When I started recruiting, my friend sent me a link to a podcast created by a recruiting guru. I listened to the first one and the guru said, while blogging and social media may be fine, you have to pick up the phone and call strangers who aren’t specifically looking to make a change and let them know about a great opportunity.

I know people who are great at making those calls and know no strangers. So far, I’m not one of them. I could only coach lawyers that I got to know first. When I got to know them, I understood what motivated them and what was their definition of success.

I believe I can only be an effective recruiter if I get to know the candidate in the same way. Will it take a cold call for me to start that process? I’ll have to see. All I can say is so far, no one has reached out seeking my help.


Imagine for the moment that I am helping you find the right firm. I want you to go through this exercise:

Describe what makes you different or unique in 25 words or less

I picked this exercise because what makes you unique is a common interview question. If I was interviewing a partner who had a $1 million book of business, I might ask:

Why do your clients hire you?

Where did I get the idea? Years ago I am read a great book on communication titled: “10 Simple Secrets of the World’s Greatest Business Communicators.

Author Carmine Gallo has captured secrets that every lawyer should consider. You should also check out his other books on communication.

Simple secret 6 is brevity. Gallo references “What Clients Love” where Harry Beckworth writes:

If you cannot describe what makes you different and excellent in twenty-five words or less, don’t fix your copy. Fix your company.

By the way, if you are interested in learning more about how clients select lawyers, you might find David Maister’s article: How Clients Choose, valuable.

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?