Not all lawyers admit it, but every lawyer is afraid at some point in his or her career.

For some, the fear is crippling. For others the fear is overcome. For me, my fear  motivated me.

Now that I am recruiting lawyers, I prefer to recruit those who are afraid far more than those who are complacent. As a coach and recruiter I can help a lawyer effectively deal with his or her fear, but I can’t help a lawyer deal with his or her complacency.

I love this quote attributed to Intel’s Andy Grove:

Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.

Andy Grove later wrote a book titled: Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company

I wasn’t aware of Andy Grove’s quote during my career, but I frequently said I had “healthy paranoia.”

What was my biggest fear? I always put it in harsh terms. I was always afraid my clients would find out I was a “fraud.” I was afraid they would figure out I didn’t know nearly as much as I appeared to know.

How did this fear motivate me?

Put simply, I worked harder to be the lawyer my clients perceived I was. I wanted to learn as much as I could about construction. So, I was a member of the Civil Engineer’s Book Club and created a library and read book after book on highway design and construction, bridge design and construction and construction management.

I read books and listened to tapes on trial skills and trial lawyers. I still have many of the books about famous trial lawyers.

What are your fears? Are your fears holding you back, or are you using fear to motivate you to become the best lawyer you can be?

I’ve coached well over 1000 lawyers since I left my law firm and started coaching in other firms in 2005. I believe most, if not all the lawyers I have coached would like to attract, retain and expand relationships with clients.

Why are some of the lawyers I’ve coached successful and others are not? Many who do not succeed are really only saying they wish they could attract more clients.

Those who succeed do it a variety of ways. In some cases there’s luck of being in right place at the right time. In some cases there is luck of being born in the right family, marrying into the right family or having a friend who created a billion dollar company.

But, for most of lawyers I have coached who attracted major clients, they did it the old fashioned way.

They were motivated and worked hard, like an athlete training each and every day, and not seeing immediate results.

Fitness woman


I read an interesting Psychology Today article titled: Don’t Let Your Thinking Sabotage Your Goals, written by David Ludden, Ph.D. Please take a look because the writer treats the motivation to lose weight as I just explained above about the motivation to attract clients. Then, Ludden writes:

According to University of Chicago psychologist Oleg Urminsky, a sense of connectedness to the future self is essential for achieving long-term goals. (My emphasis)…

Urminsky considers his idea of connectedness to the future within the larger context of a well-documented phenomenon in behavioral economics known as time discounting. This occurs when people discount the value of a resource when there’s a delay in receiving it. For instance, if I offer you $120 now or $180 a year from now, you’ll most likely take the smaller-but-sooner option over the larger-but-later one.

Therein lies the problem, client development and attracting clients is a long term process. It requires lots of hard work for which there is no pay, and no immediate benefit. I know it took me two years of work, work, work before the first construction client called me.

I’ll leave you with one final example. I coached a lawyer 10 years ago. When I began coaching her, she had a very small amount of business in her column.

Recently she wrote to me and told me that a few years ago, she had set a goal of originating $3 million by the time she was a certain age. She told me she had reached and even exceeded her goal in 2016.

How did she achieve this awesome goal? Just as the motivation article suggests, she saw herself as a $3 million originator by a certain age, then she broke it down into smaller chunks and worked each year to get closer and closer to her long term goal.


In my 38 years practicing law, and 11 years coaching lawyers, I’ve been around incredibly smart lawyers. You know that type of lawyer. They finished near the top of their law school class without even trying.

Years ago, my last law firm was hiring law students who were in the Top 10% of their class. If a lawyer was in the 11 or 12 % of his or her class, he or she didn’t get an interview.

I railed against being so focused on class rank. Finally, our head of HR came to me and asked:

What are you looking for when you hire an associate?

If you are a long time reader, you may remember my response:

Give me the Young Lawyer

Recently I read a short piece by Michael Pietrzak from Success Magazine. The title hit home with me: How to Develop an Insatiable Hunger. Without looking at the article, how do you suppose you can develop an insatiable hunger?

Now look at the five tips. For me they are right on target. It begins with having clarity on what you want to achieve.

Going all the way back to when I was a kid playing sports, I set some kind of clear goal and visualized achieving it. I also knew why I wanted whatever it was.

I invite you to check out the other four suggestions.

If you are a regular reader for any number of years, or if I have coached you, I believe you could write on this subject for me and you likely know what I am going to say.

Whenever a lawyer tells me he or she has not had time for client development, more often than not I find it is not a time issue. Instead, it is a motivation issue. They are not striving to do better.


They aren’t motivated to make the time. But, why aren’t they motivated?

I find it is usually one of these two issues.

  1. They have not found a great answer to the “why” question. They may set a goal, but don’t have an answer on why achieving it is important. Usually this is because they are content with where they are at the time. See Success: You Can’t Be Content.
  2. They want to become a rainmaker, but they are not convinced they can actually do it. Back in 2012, I told the story of a lawyer I coached who needed me to convince her. Take a look at: Client Development: Change What You Think it Takes to Succeed.

If you want to read more on this topic, check out Research: Your Reasons for Change Make all the Difference

Recently I gave a presentation to lawyers on Time Management. I included ideas from this video clip.

I looked back at a blog I wrote in 2012 and decided to share it with you again.

You are certainly making time for your billable work and I hope you are making time for your family, but are you making time for client development?

If you are a regular reader, you may have read my blog: Cordell’s Top 15 Time Management Tips for Client Development. It was one of my most read posts that year.

I frequently do presentations for law firms and lawyers on making time and I thought I would share the approach I used practicing law with you here visually.

As you will see above, my approach is really pretty simple. I began years ago by asking myself, what do I want to accomplish in my career, and why is it important to me.

Once I figured out the “what” and the “why,” I wrote down actions I needed to take to accomplish my major definite purpose. That was the “how” I would accomplish it. Then, I thought about how I wanted to live my life and puruse my career. Those were my core values.

That was too big so I needed to start breaking things down to more manageable pieces. Then I decided what I wanted to accomplish each year. That was still too big, so I broke it down further to 90 days and ultimately to what I planned to do next week.

In a previous post, What Stephen Covey Taught Me, I wrote about Stephen Covey’s big rocks story. I learned from that story that I could not do everything and I had to prioritize my activities so the big rocks were done first.

My friend and colleague Cindy Pladziewicz gave me the idea of the matrix on return and investment. Lawyers I coach have found it very helpful to put their proposed actions into that matrix.

Next, I figured out both the best days of the week and the best time during those days to write articles and prepare presentations. For me that was Saturday morning and Sunday morning from 6AM to 9AM. For you it will likely be different days and different times, but you should figure out what is best for you.

Finally, I found ways to repurpose what I was creating. My billable work became an article. My article became a presentation. A collection of articles became a guide. A presentation later in my career became a webinar and so forth.

Greetings from Montreal, where it is freezing temperature this morning (a Montreal friend said better to say it is not as warm as Dallas) and of course I did not bring a coat. I’m speaking at noon today to associates and one subject I will discuss is motivation.

What does science tell us about the impact of praise on motivation?

I write about it frequently here, in part because I witness it in my coaching lawyers.

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Take a look at this 2014 article: The power of praise and recognition. Also take a look at Entrepreneur Magazine article: The Power of Praise in Business — and How to Do it Right. There are many important points made in the articles:

  1. Praise involves very little effort and usually no money, but it produces significant increases in revenue.
  2. Praise triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the reward and pleasure centres of the brain. As well as making us feel good, dopamine can also contribute to innovative thinking and creative problem-solving at work.
  3. Praise should be for genuine achievements.
  4. Specific praise has greater impact than general kudos “great job on handling the Henderson case” is more effective than “keep up the good work.”
  5. Personalize praise. While one associate may respond well to a public back patting in an office corridor, another might be more appreciative of a handwritten note.


I have coached 100s of women lawyers from the US and Canada and I mentored many women lawyers when I practiced law. Many of them have become top rainmakers and leaders in their law firms.

I hope many of those top rainmakers and leaders will read this and pass it on to younger women in their law firm.

Have you ever heard of Heidi Grant Halvorson? Yesterday, I wrote and included a video clip about Stanford Professor Carol Dweck. She was Heidi Grant Halvorson’s graduate advisor. They both give me great tips I can apply coaching lawyers.

In 2011, Heidi Grant Halvorson published: The Trouble With Bright Girls. I found it very helpful for my coaching and my novel.

You would think there would be no problem for a “bright girl.” But, if you are a dad or mom with little girls, I urge you to read the article and see how you can help your girls overcome the baggage that comes with being a ‘bright.”

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To help with your own career, I recommend that you read Heidi Grant Halvorson‘s Nine Things Successful People Do Differently. Don’t just read her blog with the list, spend $3.47 and get the short book on your Kindle, iPad or other digital reading device.

While you are reading, figure out how each of the 9 things applies to practicing law in a firm.

Here is the list of 9 things:

  1. Be Specific To be successful, you have to specifically define what success means to you.
  2. Seize the Moment If you are creating goals that is super, but by itself it is not enough. You must take the actions necessary to achieve your goals.
  3. Know Exactly How Far You Have Left to Go That means you should focus on what you have left to do, not what you have already done.
  4. Be a Realistic Optimist I love what I read in Success Magazine: Super Achievers think optimistically and plan purposely. So should you.
  5. Focus on Getting better Get up each and every day and try to become a better lawyers and more valuable to your clients.
  6. Have grit Client development is a marathon not a sprint. You need to stick with it even when you are not getting the benefits and even when you just don’t feel like it.
  7. Build your Willpower Muscle Have the willpower to do the things that will give you energy (like exercising regularly) and giving up the things that rob you of energy (like overeating or drinking too much or too often.)
  8. Don’t Tempt Fate You will likely be more successful if you work on achieving one goal at a time. Accomplish that goal and then move on to the next one.
  9. Focus on What You Will Do, Not What You Won’t Do Put everything in positive terms. If you play golf what happens when you tell yourself not to hit the ball into the water?

I would like to post 9 guest blog posts. If you send me how you are implementing any of the 9 things, I will post the ideas here.

In the meantime, if you have just a few minutes, take a look at this Heidi Grant Halvorson video on achieving goals. You will see four of the tips above.

When I finished reading Heidi’s short book, I went to Amazon and ordered the Kindle version of her book: Success: How We Can Reach Our Goals. I am reading it now and highly recommend it. I will share some ideas from the book with you in future blog posts.

Recently I received an email from a firm that was proudly announcing the lawyers who had been promoted to equity partner. I had coached all but one of those lawyers.

When I coached those lawyers, I was struck by four things.

  1. They are passionate about their work and clients.
  2. They are very competitive, but they are also very collaborative and want to be a part of a firm team.
  3. They are open to new ideas and willing to try them.
  4. They are very focused on excellence in their work and service to clients.

So, in many ways this blog post on excellence is written for that group of lawyers I coached. I want to make sure they know that becoming an equity partner in their firm is an awesome achievement, but it is only a step in their pursuit of excellence.

Some time ago, I wrote about Vince Lombardi’s suggestion to pursue perfection because in the process you will likely achieve excellence. That quote and my time with the new coaching group reminded me of a point Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) made in his book Leading with the Heart  This morning I took the book off my bookshelf looking for the quote:

My hunger is not for success, it is for excellence. Because when you attain excellence, success follows.

You might be wondering what the difference is. To me success is comparing how I am doing with how others are doing. Excellence, on the other hand, is comparing how I am doing with my potential. It is funny how great coaches think alike. When he passed away, I wrote a series of blogs about John Wooden. He said:

Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.

It is interesting that three of the greatest coaches in history essentially said the same thing. It is  also interesting how well their players, and how well the really outstanding lawyers I get to coach respond to becoming the best they can be.

Are you doing your very best to become the best lawyer you are capable of becoming? Or, are you comparing yourself to others?

P.S. For additional reading I think you will find: 10 Mistakes That Make You Unable To Reach Life Goals helpful.

Whether you have written them down or not you have goals. It is just easier to keep track if you write them down.

Nearly every expert recommends writing down your goals – from once a year to several times during the year.  I recommend it also.

But it takes more than pen, paper and good thoughts to reach your goals.  You must also do something!  It may take more – or less – time than you thought to reach your goals, but one thing’s for certain: you will never reach them if you don’t take action.

Map.pngYour written goals are like a map – directions for traveling from Point A to Point B.  But you have to commit – and start driving – if you expect to reach your destination. How can you do that?

  • Tell your spouse, a colleague or friend what your goals are.
  • Report to that person regularly on what you have done.
  • Break down your goals into smaller actions.
  • Plan your actions for each week, estimate the time each action will take and put it on your calendar.
  • Keep a journal.

If you haven’t done this for 2012 and feel like you have not accomplished what you had hoped, please give the suggestions above a try for the second half of 2012.

I have written before about the importance of developing self confidence. I know from my own career because I faced fear and lack of confidence on more than one occasion.

Now, I have watched lawyers I coach experience a breakout success in client development when they accomplish something challenging and outside their comfort zone. Those readers I have coached know what that major breakthrough was for them.

I want to share two examples that are outside law practice. At the outset, I want you to know that I would have never watched Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition, but I was bored and flipping channels in my Toronto hotel room on a Sunday night a couple of weeks ago. Even being bored and flipping channels, I still would not have watched had I known the show was on for TWO hours.

But, I started watching the story about Jacqui McCoy, the young wife who weighed 355 pounds at the beginning of her year of training and eating healthy and ended the year weighing 148 pounds. I continued watching  for two reasons:

  1. I knew I could learn something about coaching and motivation watching how Trainer Chris Powell pushed Jacqui and did not let her give up. read Motivation Tips from Celebrity Trainer Chris Powell to get some motivation his motivation secrets.
  2. I could see the transformation in Jacqui’s eyes and face as she realized she could actually accomplish what she had never been able to do before,

You do not need to watch the entire show, but if you just watch this video clip, you will see a confident young woman. You can also read about Jacqui.

My second example comes from reading: What Climbing a Mountain Taught Me About Confidence by Jen Waak. I enjoyed reading the story, but one quote made the point with me. Jen said:

By accomplishing something that was squarely outside of my belief system of who I was, my belief system had no choice but to change – radically.

That quote really applied to both Jen and Jacqui. Both changed their belief systems-radically.

You are not an extreme makeover weight loss candidate and you will not likely climb a 19,000 foot mountain, but, there is bound to be an audacious goal you can accomplish in your law practice that will change your belief system-radically. What is your 19,000 f00t summit of Kilimanjaro?