If you played a sport, or played an instrument, or  created art while you were growing up, think back about your own experience “in the zone.” If you have ever done yoga, you were likely in the zone during class.

Professor Mihalyi Czikszentmihalyi (pronounced `Me-hi Chicksent-me-hiee’) introduced the concept of flow (in the zone) in the 70s and wrote many books on the subject including a book titled: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Dr. Czikszentmihalyi sought to explain what makes some experiences enjoyable and others not and what makes some people enjoy activities and others not.

He defined “flow” as: “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost for the sheer sake of doing it.”  Czikszentmihalyi interviewed more than 100,000 people over many years and came up with several key states or elements that enable people to experience “flow.” Those elements include:

  1. Clear goals with immediate feedback
  2. Balance between challenges and skills-If it is too easy it is boring. If it is too difficult it is frustrating.
  3. Action and awareness merge-When there is a balance between the challenges of the activity and our skills, we must focus on the activity.
  4. Concentration on task without being distracted-This is closely aligned with the merging of action and awareness.
  5. Sense of control
  6. Loss of self consciousness-focus is on the activity not on anyone’s evaluation of your performance.
  7. Altered sense of time-In large part because doing the activity is so enjoyable people lose track of time.
  8. Autotelic experience-auto (self), telic (goal). Motivation is from the self rather than from external sources administered as rewards and punishment.

Dr. Czikszentmihalyi later subdivided these elements into characteristics of flow and conditions of flow. Characteristics of flow refer to what people feel at the time and conditions of flow refer to what the environment must be like to be conducive to flow.

Looking at the list above, the characteristics of flow would include merging of action and awareness, concentration on the task, sense of control, loss of self consciousness, and altered sense of time. The conditions of flow include clear goals with immediate feedback and a balance between challenges and skills.

Are you in the zone when you are practicing law? If not, what could you do to get “in the zone.”


Are you a junior partner developing your practice? If so, you might listen to a Delegating and Supervising Podcast you can download from iTunes on how I delegated and supervised a star associate who worked for me.

Wmentoring.jpghy is delegating and supervising so important? Put simply, without younger lawyers providing excellent work, no matter how great you are at bringing in business, you will be limited to what you can do yourself.

Even in this economy, the cost of losing a star associate is $200,000 to $500,000, and that doesn’t even account for the impact on the relationship with the client or the loss of morale in your firm.

Want some simple ideas? Okay, here are three.

  1. Treat your associates with the same respect that you treat your clients. Without them, you may not have your clients.
  2. LISTEN to the lawyers who work for you, get to know them and understand what motivates them. Then, each chance you get tap into what motivates them.
  3. Provide not just project-by-project feedback, but hands-on training and advice that helps your younger lawyers learn to become “masters.” If you help them work to become better lawyers, everyone wins.

Institutionalized “mentor-by-the-numbers” programs rarely work. True mentors take their associates under their wings, provide”shadowing” opportunities and help them to discover, step-by-step, case-by-case, deal-by-deal, how the real world of the law actually works.

I think that many young lawyers find client development daunting. A few years ago, I gave a presentation to new partners at a firm who at the end were likely overwhelmed. Their firm had given me two hours to give an overview. By the end I am sure many of the young partners wondered where to start.

Are you in that same position? If so do what star athletes do – train by learning one thing at a time and begin by taking small steps so you feel you have accomplished something. I suggest you do something, no matter how small to get started.

It might be as simple as:

  • Calling a friend or referral source and asking them to lunch or to meet for coffee
  • Sending an article with a handwritten note
  • Setting up Google Alerts for your clients and their specific industry topics
  • Making sure to return all client calls or emails by end of day if at all possible to show responsiveness, even if very busy or away from office
  • Putting  client development tasks on your calendar just like business appointments
  • Committing to read one book about client development before the end of the year (Here is a list of what I have on my Kindle)
  • Sending a book to a client, referral source or friend on a topic you know they care about
  • Joining my Facebook Coaching Page or following me on Twitter

Don’t feel like client development is climbing Mt. Everest. Take just one small step and get started.

P.S. During these last two months of 2011 and in January of 2012,  I am teaching lawyers how to prepare a business plan for 2012. I would love to teach lawyers in your firm or city.



As you likely know, I love music in part because of the emotion and the story in the song. A few weeks ago I posted: Life Lessons I Learned from Harry Chapin. I rarely receive emails about posts, but I received 10 that day. I even received a telephone call from a lawyer who shares my passion for Harry Chapin’s music.

Long before I wrote that post, I wrote a letter to a young lawyer who was essentially burned out. In the letter I wanted to let him know that he was not the only lawyer who has experienced that feeling.

Knowing that each of you will have those times in your career, I wanted to paraphrase what I told my young lawyer friend.

Each of us will experience times in our career when the old Peggy Lee song “Is That All There Is” will apply to how we feel. You likely never heard the song. The lyrics I have in mind are these:

Is that all there is, is that all there is? If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing, Let’s break out the booze and have a ball, If that’s all there is.

I experienced those Peggy Lee moments and you will also. How can you break out of them?

I can’t tell you what will give you a “Rocky Mountain High,” but I can offer some ideas on how to discover it.

  1. Discover your purpose. At one point in time, law was a calling for you. Re-examine why that was the case.
  2. Focus on being a whole person, not just a lawyer. As Stephen Covey suggests, Plan your week around both your personal and professional positions or roles. You are a father/mother, a husband/wife, a son/daughter, a brother/sister. What is the most important thing you can do next week for each of those roles?
  3. Make time to do personal things you enjoy and value.
  4. Keep track of what you really love to do and the clients for whom you love to work. Once you are clear on the type of work and clients you love, work on a plan designed to getting more of those opportunities.
  5. Finally, make sure you are defining career success and enjoyment correctly and prioritize the things that matter most to you.

Here is a John Denver clip from 1974. Watching it picks me up and hopefully will do the same for you.

Colorado Rocky Mountain High. I’ve seen it rain a fire in the sky.

I was fortunate to see John Denver in concert three times. Each time I left with great feelings. Isn’t John Denver telling us to get out of our office, look around and seek out the beauty in the world?


I have heard from several lawyers that I am a “motivational” speaker. A few years ago, the ABA Young Lawyers Division asked me to speak at their spring meeting. Specifically I was told that my task was to “motivate” the young lawyers attending the meeting. They chose the title of my presentation:


If you are struggling right now at the beginning of 2011 to “light your fire,” click on the title above and you will find my handout materials.

I began the presentation by playing 20 seconds of the Doors singing on the Ed Sullivan show in September of 1967. Those of you my age remember the stir caused by Jim Morrison not changing the lyrics: “Girl we couldn’t get much higher.” Ed Sullivan refused to shake Morrison’s hand and The Doors were never invited back.

Then, I told the young lawyers that if I did a really outstanding job, I could probably motivate some of them for a short time. But, when they got back to the office on Monday, my motivation would have worn off. As Stephen Covey has said:
Motivation is a fire from within. If someone else tries to light that fire under you, chances are it will burn very briefly.
When you find your inner motivation, it will burn forever. That comes from doing work you love to do and focusing on the journey more than the destination. I have always loved the journey that practicing construction law gave me. Each and every day, I found joy in helping my construction clients achieve their goals and build some of the most magnificent projects in the world. I have walked out on incredible bridges under construction and have been in tunnels under mountains and under cities. I also loved to challenge myself to become a better lawyer and advisor. Those things motivated me.
So, what is the best way for you to find your inner motivation? Zig Zigler has a good starting point:
People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.
Here are my ideas:
  • Focus on the journey each day, not the destination.
  • Do not compare how you are doing with others,
  • Focus on your clients and think about how the work you are doing is helping your clients and maybe helping your community.
  • Finally, work each and every day to become the best lawyer you can be. At the end of your day ask yourself if you gave it your best effort that day.

If you get a chance, take a moment and let me know how you are doing.

    I had a coaching session last week with an outstanding young associate who will soon become a partner. We were focused on her plan for 2011. I asked for her to share her goals  with me. One goal she shared was the amount of business she thought she could bring in from her own clients. When she finished I asked how she had estimated the amount of business. She replied that she felt certain she would get that amount based on what she had in the pipeline for her one big client. I then asked is she felt she was limiting herself by setting a goal she was pretty certain she would reach. I told her I thought she might be focused on not failing rather than focused in succeeding.

    Are you like the lawyer I am coaching? Are you limiting yourself to what you know you can achieve? I always set goals that other lawyers said I would not be able to accomplish. I wanted to push myself. I wanted to be able to visualize something really big.

    Have you ever heard of James Allen, an English author in the late 1800s? I bet most of of you haven’t.  He was a self-help guru when self-help gurus were not cool. Here are just a few of his quotes on self motivation.

    “You will become as small as your controlling desire; as great as your dominant aspiration.”
    “To desire is to obtain; to aspire is to achieve.”
    “For true success ask yourself these four questions: Why? Why not? Why not me? Why not now?”
    “All that you accomplish or fail to accomplish with your life is the direct result of your thoughts.”
    If you want to learn more about James Allen and download his most famous book As a Man Thinketh, check out James Allen – An Unrewarded Genius website devoted to his writing and teaching. If you open the link to the book, you will find some very thought provoking writing.
    Don’t limit yourself. Think about your own definition of success and then ask: Why? Why not? Why not me? Why not now?

    Craig Martin is a Lamson Dugan and Murray lawyer I coach from Omaha. I particularly enjoy working with Craig because he is so interested in learning. I believe he has listened to all my podcasts, including ones in the archive. If you want to listen you can go to this website and listen or download from iTunes there. Here is what Craig recently told me:

    I had a few hours of windshield time recently and downloaded a number of your podcasts for the drive.  I particularly enjoyed the podcasts in which you interviewed past and current clients about the growth of their practice.  Their passion consistently shone through and in turn made the podcasts memorable.

    I particularly enjoyed the discussion about how the participants discovered their practice niche.  I purposefully used the term discovered, but for each person the experience seemed unique.  For some, they went into the law passionate about an industry and knew what they wanted to do.  For others, they knew what they loved, but didn’t know how to practice in that area.  It was fun to hear the “ah ha” moment when they discovered how to pursue a practice area about which they were passionate.

    I have been asked why I chose to focus on transportation construction contractors. The answer is really pretty simple: I loved the people in the industry and I marveled at the magnificent projects they constructed.

    Contractors who build complex construction projects have to have a “can do” attitude. Occasionally they are building a project that has never been built before. It is one thing to draw it up and another to actually design and construct it.

    I am reminded of what I have read, seen and heard about the design and construction of the Brooklyn Bridge in the 1800s. For many years people wanted to build a bridge between Brooklyn and Manhattan, but the idea was always thought to be impractical. When it was completed in 1883,  it was the world’s longest suspension bridge. Thirty men, including the bridge designer, lost their lives during the construction. If you want to learn more take a look at this short video clip. I wanted to work for people who built projects like the Brooklyn Bridge.


    Many of you are like me in that you went to law school with the idea that as a lawyer you would be able to help people and make a difference in your community. Then you started your law practice with a firm and rarely have the feeling that you are actually helping people and making a difference in your community. So you look for non-billable ways to get involved.

    Recently I had a coaching session with Matt Siegel, a Cozen O’Connor attorney. He was recently named to the Board of the Philadelphia Support Center for Child Advocates. Every time Matt talks about his work with the support center I can hear the passion in his voice. Matt and other members of his firm represent abused and neglected children in Philadelphia.

    During the last two years I have experienced the joy of speaking at career day at the school where my daughter Jill teaches. It is one of my favorite experiences.  I have spoken to  3rd and 4th grade classes, competing with the fireman who brought trucks. Instead of anything they could climb on, my tools were an iPhone and AirMac computer. Each year the students thought those tools were pretty cool.
    Last year, I decided to teach them about contracts. I brought eight books and asked who wanted to enter into a contract with me to get one of the books. To my surprise, every student in the first class raised a hand. Before the day was over, I committed to buy 90 additional books. This year I told them about The Rule of Law using some of the materials available at the Virginia Bar Association Rule of Law Project. You might remember my blog Service Idea for Your Bar Association where I discussed how Michael Pace’s passion to help middle school students understand the importance of the rule of law had played an instrumental part in getting the project off the ground.
    If you do not feel your billable time is helping people or making a difference in your community, think about what you are most passionate about and then get involved.


    On Monday I suggested that giving bonuses based on billable hours is counterproductive and is actually a de-motivator. You get what you reward. When you reward billable hours you get more billable hours and you give a direct message that associates should focus on billable hours.

    I received a comment from Anon that shows how lawyers who are rewarded for billable hours think. The comment makes my point, or at the very least makes the point Daniel Pink made in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. When I reviewed the comment, I struggled with which came first: How Anon views being a lawyer, or how her law firm views its associates. Here is what Anon said:

    How about this scenario:  An associate is ahead in hours, such that if she billed the monthly-minimum she would be 300 hours ahead at the end of the billing year (which ends in four months).  Her backlog could support working more than the minimum. Her firm does not pay hours-based bonuses.  

    Why should she work even the minimum?  Doesn’t it benefit the firm greatly for her to keep working at the rate her backlog will allow?  An hours bonus may not motivate her, but it would keep her from feeling like she has wasted a significant amount of time on work for which she will never be paid.

    I want to thank Anon for a very thoughtful comment. It should give law firm leaders great insight into the thinking of lawyers who are rewarded for hours. The associate she writes about is focused on her pay, not on the work she is doing for clients. She is focused on her pay, not focused on becoming the best lawyer she can become. She is focused on the short term not focused on the long term. Her way of taking control of her career is to go home when she reaches her desired number of hours. It is the same mindset as a seamstress who is paid based on piecework basis.

    If you don’t have time to read Drive, at least read this review: Motivating Employees: How to Spark Creativity Without Boosting Pay. To take a point Pink makes in the book and apply it to lawyers: Bonuses for hours may be effective when a lawyer is doing boring, repetitive work that she hates getting up each day to do. Law firms who base bonuses on hours billed send the message to their associates that the law firm values them only for the hours they bill–not for their creativity, their problem solving skills, their efficiency or their innovation.

    Ask your clients how they feel about your firm rewarding associates for more billable hours. Your clients don’t want more hours. They want lawyers who are creative, innovative, know how to analyze their problems and they want it done efficiently, with fewer hours.

    Associates paid for hours billed respond like Anon. They will bill the required hours and go home. Over time, they will resent firm platitudes about teamwork and a commitment to excellence in client service, because they will see that while the firm talks about those values, it lives by very different values. 

    In the best of all worlds, Anon would recognize that she could get greater satisfaction by finding ways to bring great skill and creativity into her work because it will help her firm’s clients.  In fact, older attorneys who have "made it" in her law firm probably did just that. Yet, for a young associate rewarded for hours, it becomes increasingly difficult to find satisfaction that way.

    I don’t believe associates come out of law school thinking their career will be focused on "getting their hours." I believe they begin their career focusing on helping clients succeed. How quickly they change in the face of pressure to get their hours.  For that reason, law firms should consider restructuring how they compensate their associates in a way that shows associates that they are valued for a lot more than their ability to churn out billable hours.

    If you don’t have ideas on how your firm could do this, read Drive. Daniel Pink discusses how to bring out the best using better approaches. 

    In my post yesterday, I shared that a carrot and stick approach with bonuses based on hours billed is not a great motivator. An associate wrote me and said she agreed, but also asked that I share with senior lawyers what actually does motivate associates and how to tap into it. As you will see below, there is a lot of consistency on what motivates people and it isn’t money or bonuses. The real challenge is to figure out how a law firm can provide it.

    I blogged about motivation a few weeks ago and in 5th Key to Career Success and Life Fulfillment: How to Motivate Yourself I talked about three points Dan Pink made in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.   He believes that intrinsic motivation comes from autonomy, mastery and purpose.

    Those are not new concepts. Several years ago I read Selling with Emotional Intelligence. Chapter 14 of that book is titled: “Finding Motivators that Last.” The essence of the chapter is that successful people are intrinsically motivated because extrinsic material motivation loses its power over time.

    So, what would motivate you to develop, build and expand relationships with clients? Mitch Anthony lists six categories of lasting intrinsic motivation:

    1. Competitive nature-it is the desire to become better than competitors.
    2. Desire for excellence-it is the desire to become the best you can be.
    3. Curiosity and desire to grow-it is the lifelong desire to continuously learn and become a better lawyer
    4. An attitude of gratitude-it is appreciating the opportunities we have been given rather than complaining about our circumstances
    5. Desire for building relationships-it is spending a lifetime doing work and helping people we like.
    6. Noble purpose and goal-it is the feeling that what you are doing to help clients is noble and helpful.

    These concepts have even been discussed in the context of professional services firms. Jay Lorsch and Thomas Tierney in their book, Aligning the Stars: How to Succeed When Professionals Drive Results, say that most young professionals want:

    • to learn;
    • career options;
    • affiliation and teamwork;
    • autonomy; and’
    • flexibility to better balance their professional and personal lives.

    Ok, I think you probably can agree that there is clarity on what motivates younger lawyers. The more difficult question is how a firm, and its more senior lawyers can provide it. We will be brainstorming creative ways a law firm can tap into their associates’ intrinsic motivation If you are interested, send me your ideas.