For many years I have said lawyers focus too much on what they do and not nearly enough on what their clients need. How can you learn what your clients need? Put simply, if you do some research and listen intently, they will tell you.

In law school, you  were taught to

think like a lawyer.

Imagine if you had also been taught to

think like a client.

You would be in a far better position to help your clients. To “think like a client” you must work on being empathetic and walking in your clients’ shoes and you must build trust and rapport with them.

According to Wikipedia, empathy is defined as

one’s ability to recognize, perceive and feel directly the emotion of another.

For you, it is the ability to look at things from your client’s perspective. It is very important for you to understand how your client or client representative views the matter you are handling and what is important to them. Keep in mind that for a business client, your legal work is in the context of their business and for an individual client, your legal work is in the context of their life.

Habit Five, in “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen Covey, is:

Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood..

That is a great habit for lawyers to follow. Covey points out that only a small percentage of people engage in empathetic listening. Most of us are figuring out what we will say instead of listening intently to what our clients are telling us.

Covey also urges readers to diagnose before prescribing. Far too many lawyers want to demonstrate their brilliance before the client has finished describing the situation.

How do you diagnose? We need to ask questions and listen intently. Here are some questions or statements you can use:

  • Tell me about…
  • What is it like…
  • Tell me more…
  • Help me understand…
  • Can you give me an example of…
  • How did you…
  • Bring me up to date on…

Sometimes your clients will tell you one thing, while their body language is telling us something different.

In his book “The Likeability Factor,” Tim Sanders points out that the first step to understanding how others feel is to recognize their emotions which, with practice, can be read on their faces long before they tell us how they feel. Sanders references the work of Dr. Paul Ekman and includes a quote:

Facial expressions, even quickly passing, signal emotional expression. The face is the mind’s involuntary messenger.

How can you build your empathy skill set?

There is plenty of information on the internet. I recently found a blog that included: 15 Questions to become more empathetic. 

Dad’s: What will you be doing with your children during the holiday break from school?

There are two stories about fathers and sons that I believe illustrate the difference between how fathers interacted with their children.

Father-Son Fishing

My minister related the first story to our congregation a few years ago. It was about a day of fishing long ago.

Charles Francis Adams, the son of John Quincy Adams took his son, Brook fishing. Brook kept a journal and his entry for that day was:  “Went fishing with my father–the most wonderful day of my life!” It turns out that Charles Francis Adams also kept a journal. His entry for the very same day was: “Went fishing with my son today–a day wasted.”

That entry might seem incredible today, but I do not think so.  I remember Harry Chapin’s wonderful song “The Cat is in the Cradle” and the lyrics:

My son turned ten just the other day
He said, “Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let’s play”
“Can you teach me to throw?”
I said, “Not today, I got a lot to do”
He said, “That’s ok”
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah”
“You know I’m gonna be like him”

I read  about a Cornell University study from several years ago that found the average father spends 38 seconds per day being totally attentive to his children’s needs and about 20 minutes a day being partially attentive. The same children spend 54 hours per week watching television.

I am hopeful things have changed since that study. I recently saw an article: Today’s parents spend more time with their kids than moms and dads did 50 years ago.

Green and Clean

The second story is “Green and Clean” and I read it many years ago in Stephen Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

Stephen Covey told about giving his seven year old son responsibility for the yard work and making the yard “green and clean” and volunteered to be his son’s helper.

For several days, Stephen Covey looked at the yard and nothing had been done. Stephen Covey asked his son: “How’s the yard coming?” The son replied: “Fine, Dad.”

After dinner Stephen Covey suggested they take a look at the yard. As they walked out in the yard his son began to sob and said: “It is so hard, Dad.”

Stephen Covey asked if there was anything he could do to help. That broke the ice.

His son went in the house and got a bag for Stephen Covey to use to pick up garbage from a barbeque. According to Covey, his seven year old son only asked for help a couple of more times that summer and the yard was greener and cleaner than ever before.

You can watch Dr. Covey tell the story in the video below.

Do you have the patience to be your children’s helper and teach them to take responsibility, or would you just take over the task? 


Nancy and I recently bought something I didn’t think we would buy. I marveled at the saleswoman’s no pressure sales technique. I’ve seen the same saleswoman use it before, but I was still pretty amazed.

She knew we were happy with what we already had, but she ever so softly let us know that one important feature may not be available in the future. Then she showed us the new products, which were much nicer than what we had. Then she showed us the price of the new products, which were more than we would spend. Then, she said:

Suppose cost is not a factor, which would you choose?

If we weren’t willing to buy, we should have said something like:

If you gave it to us we still would not want it.

But, we picked out the one we would buy if cost was not a factor. You know what happened next: She made us a “deal” we couldn’t refuse.

I want you to think about whether anything she did applies to client development and persuading a client to use you.

On the other hand, I have told this story about a financial advisor many times. It taught me what it feels like when someone is selling me.

Tom is a financial advisor I know here in Dallas. His wife and Nancy are friends and we have played golf as couples a few times. Tom is really, really a nice guy, but, in my view he has made many cardinal mistakes in trying to get my business.

A few years ago, Tom’s assistant called me and said: “Mr. Smith would like to know if you would like to play golf with his group on Saturday.” My first thought was: “If Mr. Smith really wanted me to join him, wouldn’t he have called me himself?” I decided Mr. Smith was having his assistant call a “prospect” list.

Fast forward to 2007. I no longer work downtown. I discover my office is in the same building as Mr. Smith’s and that he is most anxious for me to join him for lunch. I knew it would not be a social lunch between friends. Tom was looking for the opportunity to sell me his financial services.

I immediately thought:

I can run, but now that we are in the same building, I can’t hide forever.

Sure enough, in January of that year, Tom finally had me cornered. He and his son had joined Nancy and I during a round of golf. During the round he asked when I would next be in my office so I could join him for lunch. Knowing I could not say: “never,” I told him I would in be in office on Tuesday.

I went downstairs Tuesday at noon for what I anticipated would be a sales lunch. Because I teach lawyers how to interact with potential clients, I thought that at the worst I would see an experienced sales professional in action.

The lunch was very nice. We sat in Tom’s office where he had a flat screen TV tuned to a financial station and I thought that was very cool. I expected the small talk about golf and our spouses and waited to see how Tom would transition to business. Here is how he did it:

Let me tell you about my company.

He proceeded to give me a bit of a history lesson and talked about how the company is full service and can handle all my financial services.

It was all the stuff that was on the firm’s webpage that I had read, But, the one advantage of having Tom tell me all this is I could eat rapidly and just keep nodding my head.

Finally Tom popped the big question:

Cordell, would you like to be able to put away more for retirement that would not be taxed?

That is like asking if I would like to have someone give me a million dollars. Knowing Tom expected me to say: “Yes, tell me how.” I, instead said:

Yes, and I have been talking that over with MY financial advisor.

I put the emphasis on the word MY purposely to let him know I already had someone with whom I was happy. Not to be deterred, Tom spent the next 15 minutes telling me what I already knew about Defined Benefit Plans for small businesses.

When I got home, I told Nancy that even though I made clear I did not need a new financial advisor, I knew I would receive an email from Tom…the follow up. Sure enough, I got this email:

Cordell, please let me know if you want any assistance in designing a qualified retirement plan for you—many times we can maximize the benefits for the principal and minimizing the same for other employees. Most principals want to obtain at least 80% of contributions so that the IRS tax savings pays for the other employees. I’m available to assist you..Tom

Put, yourself in Tom’s position. How would you have handled this differently?


I remember the year our firm offered jobs to two students. The first was about the smartest young student I had ever met in my life. He was a straight A student. I don’t think he ever got a B in anything in his life. I was a little concerned about him because he was so smart he rarely attended class. He didn’t stay with us very long and it is difficult for me to picture him or remember his name today.

The second student was a young man who grew up poor, worked very hard to even get into law school and mostly got Bs. He never missed a class and was like a sponge trying to learn more each day. He stayed with us and worked as hard as a lawyer as he had as a student. I still remember Tyler, and he still asks me questions.

I thought of these two law students recently when I spoke to 4th graders on career day at the school where my daughter teaches. The parents of the kids in the school do not have much. They work hard and struggle when things don’t go exactly as planned. Many of their kids are like the sponge, anxious to learn every day. In one of the classes I noticed two young girls sitting there taking notes on everything I was telling them.

Several years ago, Seth Godin posted a blog On Self Determination. He makes two interesting points. The second of his two points reminded me of the two law students I hired so many years ago. He talks about the A students who took mainstream courses and did the minimum amount of work they needed to do to get an A. They learn for the test.

Those students who didn’t need to work for their A’s are joining law firms every day and they are a challenge to supervise. Why you ask? Put simply, they do not see things that are not immediately obvious. They don’t dig deeper than the exact assignment. They mess up and do not even understand how they messed up. They also do not take criticism very well. After all, they have been told their entire life how smart they are.

Give me the student who should have gotten C’s but worked so hard she got B’s. She has the emotional intelligence it takes to be successful and she will see things her all A’s classmate misses.

Over all these past 12 plus years that I have coached lawyers, the most familiar refrain I have heard has been:

I wish I had started my client development efforts earlier

Why have so many lawyers waited until they became partners, when the pressure was on them to bring in business?

I say there are what I call client development myths.Here are the most common myths I see and my response:

  1.  You either have it (skills to develop business) or you don’t. I can tell you from my personal experience that I did not naturally have it. Knowing that drove me to work at it and develop my skills. So, you can learn to successfully attract clients if you are open to ideas and willing to work at it.
  2. Just do good work, get a Martindale A-V rating and wait for the phone to ring. I was told that when I was an associate. The problem is there are thousands of lawyers in your city or state who do good work. Client development is a contact sport. It is about building relationships and adding value beyond the good work
  3. I’m “too young, and inexperienced to…” You are never too young to start learning client development skills. You may not bring in business right away, but that is ok. This is a marathon not a sprint, you are building towards doing so later. If you wait until you are a partner to start making the efforts, you may have the same learning curve.
  4. You have to be an extravert and know how to work a room. I know lawyers who are very outgoing and do poorly because they talk about themselves and do not listen. I know introverted lawyers who ask great questions and listen who do very well.
  5. You have to “ask” for business. Some lawyers are good at asking for business. Others who ask come across as needy or greedy. I was never comfortable asking for business. Instead, I tried to be the “go to” lawyer who would be sought by clients in my target market.
  6. Associates in big firms do not need to learn client development. At the very least, associates in big firms with institutional clients need to learn about those clients and find ways to become more valuable to those clients. In the current economy institutional clients are no longer loyal and they are looking more for value in their outside legal expenditure. As a result, learning the skills to get new clients is more important today than before.

I shared much more with the associates I coached. If you are interested, you can find some of my thoughts in my e-book: Client Development in a Nutshell.

I was in Phoenix last Friday. I very likely coached my final lawyer. I very likely made my last presentation to a group of lawyers. I very liked worked for the last time.

When you reach a certain aga, (I believe it is 65), you receive a report from the Social Security Administration which shows what you earned every year you worked. I looked at mine when it came to me and was reminded I had worked and had income every year from age 14. It reminded me that I was first employed by the Lombard, IL Park District to teach baseball and umpire Pony Tail league softball games.

I went to law school year-round from September 1969 to September 1971. Even then, I worked at the law school and at the Virginia State Prison.

So, 2018 will be a different kind of year for me and I know it will take time to get used to the idea that I am no longer working.

I have not recently written anything specifically focused on law students. Before I quit writing, I want to share with students my thoughts on positioning themselves to be hired.

If you are a law student, graduating in 2018, your school’s placement director has likely given you advice on how to position yourself to be hired. Having hired many graduating law students, I want to give you my two cents on the subject.

Other than your performance in law school, what sets you apart? How can you demonstrate you went to law school because you REALLY want to be a lawyer?

Here is a partial list, in no particular order, of things that might set you apart:

  • You worked in a particular industry or worked in a law firm between college and law school
  • You served in the military doing_____
  • You were a leader in college, law school
  • You were active in the bar as a student
  • You juggled many responsibilities while you were a student
  • You studied abroad or you speak a foreign language
  • You performed well in Moot Court
  • You have written books, short stories, poetry
  • You played a sport, played in the band or acted in plays while in college
  • You volunteered or you were active in a charity
  • You grew up in a family business in some particular industry
  • You interned in some particular industry

One final thought: If you were planning on working with a large law firm and that hasn’t worked out, open your search to smaller firms. Many of those firms are thriving and, even though you may be paid less, there is a good chance you will have more valuable experiences.


If you have been reading my recent posts you know I am working out with a trainer. I tell him I don’t look forward to the training during my drive to the fitness facility, I sometimes look at the clock hoping our hour will go by faster, and I always feel energized afterwards.

Is it just me, or do some of you do far more when someone is pushing you than you do on your own?  I’ve worked out at the same facility, done the same routine, but I rarely do as many reps.

I know I “need” to work out, even with no trainer. I’ve “got to” do it at the same level as with the trainer. I “have to,” but I don’t.

Over the years, lawyers I’ve coached have told me they “needed to” …(in one case start a blog). Lawyers I’ve coached have told me they’ve “got to”…(same lawyer get started drafting entries to create a backlog he would later post when his blog went live.) And, lawyers I’ve coached have told me they “have to.”

After listening to many need to’s, got to’s and have to’s, I finally replied:

If you feel like you need to, got to or have to, you won’t. When, your need to, got to and have to turns into “want to,”  I know you will actually do it.

What client development activities are you contemplating? Do you need to do them or do you want to do them?

P.S. The blogger I coached has written one of the most read energy law blogs in the country, and he loves writing it.


I was once asked:

Everyone tells you to network. Are there any new strategies for networking that actually work and don’t make you feel like a loser always trying to sell yourself?

First, I argue that networking is not for everyone, and there are many other ways to attract business. So, just because “everyone” tells you to network does not necessarily mean it is a good use of your time.

Second, I don’t think there are any new strategies. I think the old ones work.

I have never enjoyed going to what would be described as “networking” events because the perception of every one there is you are trying to sell yourself.

I remember speaking at a construction law conference several years ago. After I spoke I was surrounded by people. None of them were clients or potential clients. Instead they were all consultants trying to convince me to hire them to help on two big cases they knew I was handling. I never attended that annual conference when I was not asked to be a speaker.

I think the strategy for networking is to build trust, rapport and find common interests. You need to genuinely focus on the person you are speaking to at the time. Ask good questions (ones you have given thought to before you arrived) and then actively listen. When you part, make sure to call the person by his or her name. Finally, find some meaningful way to follow up with the person you met.

Experts tell us we will be quickly judged and you want to show you are sincere very quickly. There are many books written on this subject. If you want any titles of ones I like, send me an email.


I’m retiring December 31. ” It’s possible my last post here will be on December 28 or December 29. Is there anything you want me to write about before I quit posting?

“Why am I retiring?” you ask. It’s a great question since I’ve said many times I love my work and I don’t want to play golf every day with the guys.

Law firms are not hiring outsiders to coach their young lawyers on client and career development. Or, at the very least, they aren’t hiring me. In 2010 I coached 125 lawyers. In 2017, I’ve coached only 10.

I was recently asked if I had it to do all over again, would I have left my law practice? That’s also a good question. I enjoyed my law practice and we would be more financially secure, but there’s more to it than that.

I’ll miss my work, and more importantly the outstanding men and women I have coached and mentored over the last twelve years. I coached some of you who were single, got married and now have children. (One lawyer, was single and now has three children).  I coached many of you when you were expecting a new baby. (Actually several lawyers I coached became parents of twins when I coached them). I coached many of you who had young children, who are now off to college.

When someone asks me why I care anything about Facebook, I tell them it enables me to keep up with high school friends, and I have the opportunity to keep up with many of you and your families.

I’ve been to some of your homes. I’ve been to dinner with some of you and your spouses. I’ve eaten meals with some of you, your spouses and your children. I’ve been to events with you in your city, including the Sugar Shack festival in Montreal pictured below.

Some of you after the coaching program came to Dallas for a follow-up weekend of coaching, including dinner out with Nancy and me. Some of you came to Dallas for the Annual Outstanding Women Lawyer’s Roundtable and got the opportunity to meet other outstanding women I coached. Some of you participated with a group of lawyers I coached from other cities for telephone coaching or group book studies.

Many of you have gone on to become firm leaders, or top firm rainmakers in your firm. Some of you were considered so valuable by clients that they made you an offer you couldn’t refuse to come work with them.

That’s enough reminiscing about the great times and great relationships. All I can say is please feel you can keep in touch with me if you have a question or want to brainstorm.

Here are some parting tips for firms who are contemplating creating a coaching program in 2018.

If you are contemplating starting a client development coaching program in 2018, I have one important suggestion: Do not include lawyers who “need” coaching. They likely do not want to be in your coaching program and will drag down your other lawyers.

I always admired Vince Lombardi. In When Pride Still Mattered : A Life Of Vince Lombardi, historian David Maraniss talked about what happened when Vince Lombardi arrived in Green Bay.  I learned that early in his first season, Lombardi gathered the players and told them:

With every fiber of my body I’ve got to make you the best football player I can make you. And I’ll try. And I’ll try. And if I don’t succeed the first day I’ll try again. And I’ll try again. And you’ve got to give everything that is in you. You’ve got to keep yourself in prime physical condition, because fatigue makes cowards of us all.

In that one statement, Vince Lombardi let the players know that the right people for the Green Bay Packers were the ones who wanted to become the best football players they could be and were willing to give everything they had to accomplish that goal. I loved coaching lawyers who share that burning desire.

A lawyer I coached sent a blog post Seth Godin posted yesterday: Two Kinds of Practice. If you have 30 seconds, read it.

When I read Two Kinds of Practice I thought about a blog about my own failure that I posted in 2014, and I thought it might be a good time to repost it.

What is your biggest marketing failure? If you haven’t had one, then either you are not doing much marketing, or you are doing it significantly better than I did.

Years ago, I read a very short Seth Godin Blog: Nothing. Here is the entire blog post:

The only thing worse than starting something and failing… is not starting something.”

Have you ever not started a client development activity because you were afraid of failing? Don’t let fear of failing stop you. I have had many client development failures. Let me share one with you.

My Biggest Marketing Failure

When professional video first gained acceptance, I decided to create a video for contractors. I spent days creating the script and two days in front of the camera with Dr. Michael Vorster at Virginia Tech.

I was confident I had created a masterpiece and I decided to market the tape along with a book on linear scheduling at a price of $495. I believe I sold at most 20 sets of the tape and most of those were to my mother and her friends. (I just recently tossed the last boxes of tapes I was storing in my garage.)

When I realized that my attempt to become a paid movie star was not working effectively, I came up with Plan B. After spending hours going through the program and deciding what to include, I went back to the editor, and paid him more money to create a one-hour summary of the eight-hour tape. I decided strategically to give the one-hour tape away and offer a special price for the full eight hours to those contractors who were intrigued enough to see more.

There came a point when I just wanted to give the tapes away. By then, I laughed at myself, picked myself up off the stage and pressed on with other ideas. Later I mentioned using linear scheduling in one of my Roads & Bridges monthly columns and found it was a better way to reach out to my target market.

My Failure did Not Stop Me from Starting Again

Just to show I am either willing to take another chance, or I didn’t learn my lesson from the first tape experience, I created a three-hour streaming video coaching program with a detailed workbook. Have you seen it? You can find it here on my webpage. If you are interested, in watching and using the workbook, contact Joyce

So, what is something you haven’t started because you fear you might fail? If you try something that doesn’t work. Don’t fret about it. Instead, think of it as successfully learning what didn’t work.  If you need more support, watch the famous Michael Jordan Nike Commercial video.

Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly. ~Robert F. Kennedy