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

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

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

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

I replied,

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

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

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

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

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


If I have learned one thing in my recent recruiting career, or better said, if I have been reminded of one thing in my recent recruiting career, it is this:

Law firms are looking for lawyers with clients they can bring and a book of business

For some firms, the cutoff is $1 Million annual fees. For other firms, it’s even more. So it’s natural for lawyers and law firms to focus on revenue. But, as Seth Godin recently wrote, that may not be the best place to focus.

Seth Godin posted a blog recently titled: Entrepreneurship is not a job. To provide an analogy, I would say: Practicing Law is not a job.

In his blog, Godin writes:

Bragging about how much money you’ve raised or what your valuation is a form of job thinking.

When I practiced law, some lawyers bragged about the size of their book of business. I understand. As I wrote above, it is how we get measured in the marketplace. But, it is, as Godin writes, a form of job thinking.

He then writes:

Entrepreneurship is a chance to trade a solution to someone who has a problem that needs solving.

Solve more problems, solve bigger problems, solve problems more widely and you’re an entrepreneur.

If you are a long time reader, you know this is how I think. I’ve written many times about identifying your clients’ problems, opportunities, and changes and then providing a solution.

Seven years ago I gave some advice on how to do it. How You Can Find Client Problems, Opportunities and Changes.

I recently read: Definition of Entrepreneur from 15 Successful Business Owners and was struck by how the definitions apply also to successful lawyers and rainmakers any law firm would want to have.

For example, here is Mark Cuban’s definition:

Someone who can define the business they want to create, see where it is going, and do the work to get there.

If you are a lawyer I coached, or if you are a lawyer who I mentored in my old law firm, you have heard words similar to those from me many times. I urged you to define what success you want to achieve, create a plan to get there in 3-5 years, work the plan and create a system to be accountable.

I urge you to take a couple of minutes and read the other definitions and find one to print and put someplace you will see it to motivate yourself to action.

Remember: Plan Long Term and Act Short Term

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.

I’ve been working as a legal recruiter for a couple of months, and one thing I have learned is I only want to place lawyers with firms when I know enough about the lawyer and know enough about the firm to believe the fit is one that both will thank me for later.

I posted this five years ago. Now, that I am helping law firms find the right candidates to join their firms, I wanted to share with you what I would look for in a potential candidate.

It’s the same thing I looked for when I was hiring lawyers to work with me in Construction Law.

Last week I posted: Want to know what it takes? I mentioned three main points:

  1. Knowing what you want.
  2. Believing you can achieve it.
  3. Taking action and persisting until you achieve it.

Today, I want to share with you a concrete example. My daughter Jill posted something on Facebook that made clear to me she paid great attention to what I was teaching her when she was growing up.

She also inherited some important traits from her mother. Nancy does nothing just half-way. She was all-in when she went to college and became the first in her family to graduate. She was all-in when she ran the blood bank at the local hospital and the Red Cross. She was all in when she was running and bicycling. She was all in when she took up golf when she was 40 (and still is today). She was all-in when she recently took up needlepoint.

I am very proud of Jill. I also feel she has expressed what I hope lawyers I coach take away from our work together. I asked if I could share what she wrote with you and she gave me permission.

I earned two stripes on my belt at jiu jitsu today. I was a little upset because my knee is messed up and I couldn’t roll. I just keep telling myself that God did not grant me with natural athletic ability so I have to work harder than most of the guys. I will show up and train every day no matter how tired I am. My goal is not to earn a black belt (although I believe that will happen) or win any tournaments ( got to enter them first), but to be better than the jiu jitsu player I was yesterday. I am not competing against other guys but against myself and my own self doubt and my fear of failure. I can’t bench press as much as Réne (her husband) and I do not have the skill of more seasoned players, but I will win in the long run because I am going to work harder through the tears, blood and sweat and I believe my passion will help me to overcome my physical short comings. I will be the best I can be. No excuses! I will be better than I was yesterday. It’s me vs. me.


What are the main points for you? There are several in her short paragraph. I love coaching lawyers who have Jill’s attitude about striving and working hard each and every day. More importantly for you, I think the takeaways are:

  1. Have clarity on what you want to accomplish.
  2. “Life is a journey, not a destination.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
  3. If you are following your passion, it is easier and more enjoyable to work hard at it.
  4. John Wooden correctly defined success as: “peace of mind, attained only through self-satisfaction and knowing you made the effort to do the best that you are capable.”
  5. Truly successful people are never content when they reach plateaus. I know far too many lawyers who reach a certain point in their career and stop learning and striving to be a better lawyer.
  6. To be successful you have to have “grit,” that determination to persevere in pursuit of a long-term goal. (See my post: Grit: The One Trait that Lawyers Need to Break Through.)
  7. Too many lawyers believe they will never be successful at client development because they do not have the natural skills (the gift of gab or schmoozing). In truth, for almost every lawyer, the quality of the effort made trumps natural ability.

Suppose you wanted me to help you find the right firm for you. I might ask you these questions:

  1. What are you doing to become a more valuable advisor for your clients?
  2. What are doing to become the best lawyer you are capable of becoming?

Nancy and I have a friend who knows no strangers. She has a knack for starting a conversation with a stranger and building rapport. Then, more importantly, she remembers their names and what they told her. I’ve watched and I can tell she makes a positive impression on the people she meets.

I, on the other hand, rarely strike up and conversation with a stranger and I struggle to remember names.

I recognize my weakness and I am on the 12 step active listening program working to do better. Years ago I practiced remembering names each week in church when we were asked to greet someone sitting near us. Even though I really tried, when I returned to church the following week and sat near the same people, I rarely remembered their names.

More recently, I type the names in the Notes on my iPhone. Over time, having this crutch helps me remember the names of our fellow church members.

Several years ago I was a speaker at a contractors association annual meeting. One of the other speakers was a Canadian named Bob Gray. He taught the audience how to remember names and some other facts. Here is what I got from his program:

  • Ask if you did not hear the name
  • Use the name in the conversation as often as you appropriately can
  • Picture the name on the person’s forehead
  • Associate the name to something else. The more exaggerated the something else is the better. I am not so good at the exaggerated something else so I usually tie it to a famous sports or entertainment figure
  • Use alliteration techniques like “Sassy” Sally “Cocky” Kevin
  • End the conversation using the person’s name
  • Remember the name an hour, a day and a week later

I recently learned for the first time that there are Apps to help remember names. I read 8 APPS TO HELP YOU REMEMBER PEOPLE’S NAMES. I may have to try one of them to see if it helps me.



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.



As you know, I grew up playing sports and I still enjoy sports. I have often wondered how the top coaches motivate star athletes. When I think of college sports, the top programs in any sport recruit the greatest number of 5-star athletes.

But, what about teams like the Loyola Ramblers?  

They made it to the final four without 5-star recruits. In 1963, while I was a teenager growing up in the Chicago suburbs, and listening to their games on the radio, the Ramblers won the national championship without the top recruits.

I recently read an article about how coaches motivate players Motivation and Coaching – A Misunderstood Mental Matter. 

I found this statement to be true:

Inspiration is something that comes the outside: from listening to another person or being involved in an event or through observing something which triggers an emotional response.

Motivation, however, comes from within. Motivation is a fire: a fire which is ignited by a dream and fuelled by passion.

Three years ago I made a presentation at the IADC/FDCC Joint Law Firm Management Conference.

I spoke on business succession and motivating and developing the next generation of law firm leaders and rainmakers. The title of our panel discussion was LIGHT MY FIRE: It’s Not ALL About Money. It’s About Passion, Purpose, and Fulfillment.

Here is a link to my slides. As you will see, I included a short clip from the Doors appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.

Have you ever thought about why your lawyers are not transitioning from being associates whose main function is to get the work done to partners whose main function is to bring in business, build and expand relationships with clients and supervise the junior lawyers?

Bwoman business presentation SS 77534098


When I practiced law, I had an aha moment the day I realized I could not motivate the unmotivated. My aha moment came when I was the partner in charge of attorney development at my old firm, I spoke at our new partner orientation each year. I began my presentation by asking:

How many of you have written goals and a written plan to achieve them?”

The first year I asked this question, I was astonished when no hands were raised. Here I was addressing our very best young lawyers and not one of them had written goals and a plan.

I wanted to understand why. I discovered:

  • I had greatly underestimated the challenge of getting lawyers to change.
  • The carrot and stick approach did not work and
  • Client development training and coaching should start before the lawyers were promoted to partner.

But, this group of lawyers didn’t have the fire and there was no way I could light it for them. I suspect that now, 15 years later, most if not all of those lawyers have not become top lawyers.

Having coached over 1500 lawyers in the United States and Canada, I came to the point that I knew during our first coaching session if a lawyer was self-motivated. That experience will likely serve me well in recruiting.

Recently scientists have done considerable research on the brain’s role in both learning and performance. They have found that we have both a “hard-wired” part of our brain and a “working memory” part of our brain.

For the learning and training, you offer lawyers to be effective, you must seek to move it from the working memory part of the brain to the hard-wired part of the brain. In other words, you want your young lawyers to develop habits.

In a nutshell, what does this scientific information mean? Your young lawyers are “hard wired” to get their hours. But, they are not hard-wired to develop their profile as a “go-to” lawyer and build relationships with contacts and clients.

What should you do?

  • Start training early in your associates’ careers
  • Work on bite-sized pieces. Let your young lawyers learn something and implement it before moving to the next subject.
  • Get them to focus on client development ideas and solutions, not on the problems they have to overcome to do client development.
  • Let them come to their own answers. Studies have shown that when people experience an “ah ha” moment on their own there is a sudden adrenaline energy rush that is conducive to making changes.
  • Finally, training by itself will not likely be successful. However, training with follow-up mentoring or coaching will way more likely be successful.

Get started now. There is no better time to help self-motivated lawyers “Light Their OwnFire.” I have done it and found it rewarding.


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.