Several years ago,  a lawyer I had coached came to advise other lawyers in her firm how to get the most out of our coaching program.

She told them to focus on the three Ps.

  • Persistence,
  • Perseverance and
  • Patience

I know from experience that lawyers who focus on the three Ps are more concerned with learning how to become better at client development than they are with getting early results.

I know many lawyers who are focused on results rather than focused on striving to get better. They fear failure to such a degree that they are unwilling to get outside their comfort zone.

They are not learning about how to become better at client development. Instead they are focused on techniques that may help them get business from the low hanging fruit. When their efforts do not produce results, they give up.

What should you do instead? Work on getting better at things that are outside your comfort zone.

If you want to learn how to network, go to events where you can practice. In fact, go to a networking event and approach strangers and introduce yourself.

If you want to become a better public speaker, speak in public. Consider joining a Toastmasters International club, or starting your own speaking club.

If you want to become a better writer, write articles or blog posts and have someone review them and offer a critique. There are plenty of retired editors and senior lawyers, who would gladly critique your writing.

Finally, remember the three P’s: Persistence, Perseverance and Patience.

Seth Godin wrote a blog several years ago: Mentoring, platforms and taking a leap. It is worth reading. I appreciate this point he makes:

And yet most mentors and coaches and teachers will tell you that few of their students ever do, not in comparison with their potential. A few break through and change everything, and we celebrate them, but what about everyone else?

I agree with his point. Only a few lawyers I have coached truly reached their potential. So, what about everyone else?

How can I encourage or push them to come closer to their potential? In this post, I want to ask you six questions. I believe figuring out the answers to these questions will give you ideas on how you can create a successful program in your own firm and reach those lawyers.

When I coach a group of lawyers in a firm, we frequently set a group goal and decide on action items to achieve the goal. Each member of the coaching group sets individual goals and prepares a plan to achieve them.

Members of the group share their plans with me and in some cases with the other members of the group. Each month, each member of the coaching group reports on what he or she has done that month. Some firms put the reports on a coaching group portal page and other firms send an email with the photo of each person in the group and his or her report by the photo.

Here are questions for you to ponder:

  1. Why do I have the coaching group set a group goal?
  2. Why do I ask the participants to agree on  action items to achieve the group goal?
  3. Why do I begin the first individual coaching session learning about the lawyer’s family and what he or she enjoys doing when not working?
  4. Why do I have each person to set his or her own goals and create a business plan?
  5. Why do we create 60 days or 90 days action plans each time I meet with each lawyer?
  6. Why do I have each member of the group to share with me what his or her client development plans are?
  7. Why do I encourage firms to have each member of the group report monthly what client development activities he or she has done, and why do I suggest the report be published?

If you answer these questions you will have some good thoughts on how to make client development coaching successful in your firm.

If you start a coaching program in your firm, the senior lawyers who will be coaching need to know as much as possible about the lawyers they will coach. When I start coaching  a new group, I send these coaching questions to help me better understand their practice.
  1. What kind of work do you do? Be specific.
  2. Describe your target market (e.g. who do you want to hire you?)
  3. What do you want the target market to hire you or your firm to do?
  4. What do you consider to be your major strengths as a lawyer (e.g why should your target market hire you or your firm rather than the competition?)
  5. What areas of your client development would you most like to improve in the coaching program?
  6. Have you written and published any articles or books? In what publications? How did you get the articles published? What was the topic? Are you blogging? Please give me the link to your blog.
  7. Have you made presentations at any conferences, conventions or meetings? If so, identify them and describe each presentation.
  8. Are you active in the Bar or in your community? Describe what you are doing and if it has resulted in any business.
  9. How many non-billable hours did you spend in 2016 for your career development and client development and what were the major activities you did with those non-billable hours?
  10. What have you done to expand relationships with your existing clients?
  11. What are your client development goals for 2017?
  12. Have you put together a development plan or business plan to achieve your goals? If so share it with me.
  13. Suppose you plan to spend 20 hours a month on your own development and client development. How do you think you can best spend that time?
  14. What do you think you can do with the other firm members that would contribute to client development?
  15. What is the one thing you can do that you are not doing now that would have the greatest impact on your client development efforts and how can Cordell Parvin help you do it?

Even if your firm does not start a coaching program, these questions are good ones for you to answer to better understand your own practice and the steps you can take to enhance your efforts.

If you have been reading my recent posts, you know I am working out with a fitness trainer. I never look forward to going, but afterwards I feel invigorated. He kicks my behind for an hour twice a week and I’m getting back in better shape.

I should be able to work out without a fitness trainer. I know what to do. I have a place to do it. But, I need the trainer to kick me in the rear and push me to do more.

My fitness training reminds me of a lawyer I coached a few years ago.

Years ago, a lawyer I was coaching  sent me an invitation to put in my calendar. No, it wasn’t an invitation for lunch or anything like that. When I put it in my calendar for Wednesday October 12, here is what came up on my screen:

Kick me in the rear if you haven’t heard from me!!

What did she need a kick in the rear to do?

We had an in person coaching session the week before, during which we went over how she was doing on the 90 Days Goals she had established the last time we had met in person.

The first goal she had set was to publish a blog once a week. She shared with me she was in a slump. I told her all of us get in slumps, but she is a potential superstar and superstars get out of slumps. Her invitation to me was her way to work out of the slump.

As you may know I wrote about a superstar lawyer working her way out of a slump in my book Rising Star: The Making of a Rainmaker. You can download it to your Kindle or iPad from Amazon or iTunes.

Gina, the main character, had a record year with a big case for one client. She worries about being a “one hit wonder.” I know many lawyers like Gina, who get into a slump and want to find a way to get out of it.

If you want to take it to the next level I urge you to read the book, or alternatively send me an email invitation to kick you in the rear.

As I concluded a program on planning for New York associates a few years ago I asked for questions. One lawyer asked:

How do you define success?

I thought the question was outstanding. I told her I could not define success for her. She, and only she, can define what success means to her and that requires looking inward. I can only define what success means to me.

Some dictionaries define success as the attainment of wealth, power, favor, or eminence. I have watched young lawyers seeking those things become disillusioned, even when they are doing well. When they earn more money, someone else is earning even more. When they become more powerful in their firm, someone else has even greater power. When they are recognized as a great lawyer, someone else gets even greater recognition.

Long ago, I decided that success was continual learning to become the best lawyer I was capable of becoming. I have to confess, I also defined success as being recognized by the industry as the most knowledgeable transportation construction lawyer in the United States.

I also decided that career success means nothing without life fulfillment. For that I wanted to follow my passions. Several years ago, after working with young lawyers in my firm, my passion evolved into coaching, mentoring and teaching highly motivated lawyers. So, in January 2005, I left my successful law practice to work full time with lawyers in the United States and Canada.

Nancy frequently tells me that I cannot retire because I have no real hobbies, and I have very few friends outside of my work. (Spoiler alert: If you have read this far, my spoiler is that unless more law firms ask me to coach lawyers in 2018, I’ll retire at the end of this year.)

In a way she is right. My “hobbies” are not the normal ones. As you may know, I want to learn to speak Spanish, and I want to write novels about lawyers. So, I’ve studied Spanish at home and in Mexico and I’ve taken creative writing courses at one of our local colleges.

I recently finished the novel I’ve been working on since 2014. It is the 10th version and is so different than earlier versions that I am going back to edit those versions for a second novel. My story is about a young lawyer called upon to defend a billionaire Texan who discovers how difficult it is for a rich man to get a fair trial in 2017.

I admit I haven’t really taken time to make many friends outside of my work. Where we play golf, there are several opportunities to play with the other guys during each week. I’ve only played once.

When I practiced law, my clients were my friends and my friends were my clients. They still are my best friends. Over the weekend, Nancy and I visited one of my first clients and his wife and went to the Virginia Tech v. Duke football game.

Now, my friends also include many of the lawyers with whom I have worked over these last few years. Whenever we are in their city, we make a point of visiting them.

I hope the lawyer who asked the question has looked inward to define what success means to her. How about you? Have you thought about how you define success? What are you doing to find fulfillment in your career and life?

 

I suspect that I have coached the vast majority of lawyers who read my blog. If you are one of those lawyers, I have recently been thinking about you.

When we had a coaching session scheduled, did you ever not look forward to meeting with me? Did you ever hope I would not show up, or would show up late so our session would be less time?

If so, I understand.

I recently wrote that I am working out with a trainer for the first time in about 20 years. It has been a grueling one-hour, twice a week experience.

I remember when I started starting to dread going for my one hour session for several hours. I remember hoping my trainer would not show up, or at least show up late to shorten the training session. (Keep in mind I’m paying for an hour session, twice a week.)

Then, all of a sudden, I experienced progress. I could feel a difference from all the time we spent on core exercises. I could feel I was getting stronger. My training sessions were still challenging, but I didn’t feel beat to death afterwards.

I don’t understand endorphins, but I think they were kicking in.

So, what’s my message to you? When you were not experiencing success or progress, you may not have looked forward to our time together. But, once you saw you were making progress, that likely changed. It just might have been those endorphins kicking in.

I was young. Even though I had four years experience litigating government contract cases as a United States Air Force Captain, I truly had no inkling of what it would take to succeed in a law firm.

I had no real “connections” to potential clients and referral sources, but I did not think that mattered. After all, a senior lawyer in my firm had told me:

Just do good work, get a Martindale AV rating, be active in the community or Bar, and you will be successful.

That was the common thought among many senior lawyers in those days.

I wish I could remember the exact time I had my first aha moment. My mentor (we never used that term) always shared his philosophy on life and law practice. He was a young partner in my first law firm.

On this one particular day, among the many things he said, there was one gem that changed my career forever. He said:

Cordell, any firm can hire smart lawyers. They graduate from law school every year. Firms are looking for smart lawyers who have a confidence inspiring personality. Those lawyers will over time develop and expand relationships with clients.

While he didn’t say it directly, I got the message: If I was just a smart lawyer I was expendable. There would be another smart lawyer following after me.

On the other hand, if over time I was able to develop and expand relationships with clients, I would have the greatest asset a lawyer can have-clients.

I almost immediately began focusing on how to attract and become more valuable to clients. It didn’t come easy at first. I worked hard. I tried hard. But, nothing happened. Then, all of a sudden there was a breakthrough. I got that first call from a new client.

What’s my message? What was my first mentor’s message? Just like patients who need surgery, your clients want to hire lawyers who they believe can handle their problem or help them with an opportunity. Before you can become that lawyer, you have to belief in yourself. Start there.

 

I am happy that for the most part when I practiced law the only ratings were Martindale-Hubbell and the raters were peers or judges.

With the internet, have the ratings become as meaningless as they are for other businesses.

In the last two months, I have been told by my doctor, my pharmacist and my car dealer repair service that I would likely be called on to give a review either by phone or writing.

My doctor said she was embarrassed to say that she needed for me to give her a 10 rating, or something bad would happen. I understood. She also told me that not completing the form and returning it was tantamount to not giving a 10 rating.

My pharmacist was more blunt. Somehow, the pharmacy would lose standing in the chain-store if I didn’t give a 10.

My car dealer service department was even more blunt. They gave me a sheet with my invoice that had drawings by each number rating. The only one with a smile was a 10. The young man who helped me that day said if I was going to give a rating of anything lower than a 10, I needed to call the dealership and talk first.

My doctor is outstanding. She deserves a high rating. But, if every doctor has to get 10s, what is the value of the survey?

My pharmacist is also great. But, I’m not sure I would know the difference between a pharmacist who is worth a 10 rating and one that is only worth a 9.

Same is true of my car dealer repair service. They take care of my car, and always wash it.  The price is fair and their coffee isn’t bad. But, do they deserve a 9 rating because some other dealership serves Starbucks Lattes just the way I like them?

I’m not sure I ever deserved a 10 rating. Even if I did, I wouldn’t have wanted it. I suspect I may have quit striving to learn and get better.

I always perceived 10s to be perfection. In other words, the performance or the service was so outstanding that nothing can be done to make it any better. That sense of perfection  goes back to Mary Lou Retton in 1984. I watched live that night and saw perfection. I had goose bumps watching, especially knowing she was injured just six weeks before.

If you weren’t around in those days to watch, take a couple of minutes and watch the video below.

Earlier this year a law firm marketing director asked me:
Cordell, what should be included in our client development training program?
Almost 10 years ago, I wrote a Practical Lawyer article Unlocking The Secrets To Developing Your Future Rainmakers. It has some ideas for the marketing directors.
I practiced law and learned about client development from the seat of my pants. I probably learned more from my mistakes than I ever learned from my successes.
In 2017, you don’t have time to learn from your mistakes. That was one reason I left my law practice to coach lawyers.
In my firm I found many lawyers were motivated to develop business and client relationships, but gave up when their efforts weren’t productive.
Since 2005, (seems like a long time ago now), I have worked with young associates, junior partners and senior partners, just like you.
Based on my own client development efforts and the work I have done with lawyers, I have a good idea what you need to learn to be successful.  Here is my list of Planning and Motivation activities to incorporate now:
Planning and Motivation
  1. Discover the attributes of successful lawyers/people and incorporate them into your own career
  2. Decide what you want to achieve
  3. Set motivating stretch goals
  4. Prepare a yearly plan to achieve those goals
  5. Break down your plan into shorter time frames (90 Days, or 60 Days and weekly)
  6. Take StrengthsFinder and determine what kind of client development will best work for you (See this blog post with my strengths.
  7. Make time for client development (you will never find it)
  8. Get organized for a more productive day (See this blog post for discussion of David Allen’s book: Getting Things Done)
  9. Stay motivated and accountable…even when you are not seeing results
  10. Patience and persistence (It took two years before I received the first call from my client development efforts)

The beauty of coaching is you can get feedback when you are working on each of the 10 activities above.

P. S. I have finally finished a complete draft of my novel. I’ve worked on it since 2014, and I have written 10 different versions. This one is the last version. But, some of my earlier versions tell a story so different from this one that I may go back and create a second novel with different characters.

This novel is about a young Hispanic lawyer who is best known for her beauty and defending refugee children who is called upon to defend the richest man in Texas against Department of Justice Prosecutors who know no bounds when it comes to their desire to convict the defendant and destroy the defendant’s lawyer’s reputation.

If you are interested in reading the draft, send me an email.

I recently posted a blog about developing a niche practice, and included one of my favorite quotes:

If you market to everyone, you market to no one.

A lawyer I coached a few years ago asked that I expand on why he should consider an industry based practice. Here are the reasons I shared with him:

Industries.jpg

  • Your business clients repeatedly say they want you to understand their industry and their business
  • Industries have industry publications to read to stay on top of what is going on in the industry
  • You may also have the opportunity to write for the industry publications
  • Industries have associations who meet regularly and discuss what is impacting their business
  • You may also get the opportunity to speak at industry association meetings
  • When you build a relationship with an association executive you have also built a relationship with members of the association
  • When you focus on an industry it is easier to find out who the influencers are
  • Potential clients might google “Their industry (e.g. highway construction) and law
  • You have a better chance to become a “go to” lawyer by narrowing your target market