Holland and Hart partner Andrea Anderson and I are serving as the panel for an ABA Women Rainmaker Webinar today at 1:00 CDT. It’s not too late to sign up. You can sign up here.

As of yesterday 143 lawyers had signed up and some were men so I assume the webinar is open to any ABA member.

We asked for questions and received many in advance of the program. Before I left for the airport yesterday I tried to share my thoughts on as many questions as possible. I wrote responses to 18 questions that I will share with you here.


1. How valuable is online marketing?

Answer: Very valuable. On-Line marketing has leveled the playing field for younger lawyers. In 2019 it’s not what you know. It’s not who you know. It’s who knows what you know. On-line marketing, especially including a blog, has geometrically increased the number of potential clients who can know what you know.

2. What is the proper balance between individual relationship outreach and profile building?

Answer: It depends on your strengths (are you a “people person” or a maven who likes to share information?) It also depends on your stage of career. Early in my career, I spent 80% of my client Development time on profile building. Later I spent 80% of my time on relationship building, especially with existing clients.

3. How to make sure you get the clients referred to you?
4. How to get client referrals?

Answer: One way is to anticipate problems, opportunities and changes that impact potential clients and get that information to the influencers. My construction law practice was an industry based practiced. The executive directors of contractor associations were influencers.

5. How to bring up partnership tracks in a firm that has no specific track.

Answer: Let the managing partner and/or executive committee know you want to become a partner and ask how you will be judged and how you will know if you are on the right track.

6. Do you have an example of a business plan you can share?

Answer: The blog I posted on Tuesday includes a link to a webinar I did on preparing a business plan that works and it includes the template used in the webinar. https://www.cordellblog.com/law-firm-leadership/challenge-for-fast-growing-law-firms/

7. New partners in firms where most clients are institutional and deeply personal to older partners. Ideas?

Answer: Do something the older partners are not doing. A lawyer I coached several years ago created an internet radio show. Create a niche within the older partner’s niche and become the “go to” lawyer in that sub-niche. Figure out new areas of law. Lawyers I coached became “go-to” lawyers in data privacy, equine law, fashion law IP, sports law, and most recently marijuana law.

8. How should I structure remuneration for new partners? Which business model is best?

Answer: It depends on what the firm wants to reward and why rewarding it is important to the firm. When I coach law firm lawyers, we have group and individual coaching. In Andrea’s law firm almost all of the group I coached are still with the firm and they still get together at firm retreats. Her firm valued teamwork and group effort. I believe many lawyers do not want an eat what you kill compensation system, but at the same time those lawyers want to be compensated for bringing in the clients.

9. My client base is mostly insurance carriers. Do you have suggestions?

Answer: I have two. First, be a speaker at as many insurance events as possible. Second, build a personal relationship with the insurance men and women and help make their job easier.

10. Can you share any advice on navigating gender stereotypes while trying to network and bring in business?

Answer: Andrea might be the better person to answer this one. That said, my advice is to be authentic, be genuine, be the person you really are. My second piece of advice is to believe in yourself. I’ve coached hundreds of women lawyers. Many have outperformed the male lawyers in their firm once they believe in themselves. I’ve written about it here: https://www.cordellblog.com/career-development/women-lawyers-self-confidence-key-to-your-success/ and here https://www.cordellblog.com/client-development/how-the-super-lawyers-keep-getting-better/

11. Any advice on responding to RFPs.

Answer: Read carefully and make sure to respond to what the potential client believes is important. Figure out some way you can add value beyond what is expected.

12. When law is a second career, how can you leverage your relationships from your first career and turn them into clients?

Answer: You have a competitive advantage. Clients want lawyers to understand their business. That is your advantage. Now you have to demonstrate you are also a great lawyer. Write for industry publications and speak at industry events.

13. How do you convert contracts and colleagues into clients?

Answer: Anticipate their legal problems, opportunities, and changes before they have thought about them and write or speak on the subject.

14. Does the same advice apply to women who are already partners but need to rebuild or reinvigorate their practice?

Answer: To reinvigorate yourself, I believe you have to answer the “what” and “why” questions and then think creatively about the “how.” What do you want to accomplish now? Why is accomplishing it important to you? What do your potential clients need now? Why is it important to them?

15. How do you continue to make rain when a lot of your referral sources are retiring?

Answer: One way is to write and speak on the most current legal topics. Another way is to hang out where the younger referral sources hang out. In my experience, younger referral sources would rather be at home with their families than to be at events and dinners. So, creating content and using social media to distribute it is another alternative.

16. What are the most “bang for your buck” marketing activities? What are the must do?

Answer: It depends on your strengths. Take the StrengthsFinder survey. I wrote about it here https://www.cordellblog.com/client-development/client-development-what-kind-of-client-development-efforts-suit-you-best/ including a report on my top five strengths. Had I known my top five strengths I would have politely declined when an older partner told me I had to be in Rotary Club.

17. How do I identify the business development activity with the highest return so I can prioritize that?

Answer: I always made a list and attempted to identify high return low investment of time. For each lawyer it is different. For me, it was writing a monthly column for 25 years in an industry publication. A lawyer I coached found sports and sporting events was the highest return. A lawyer I coached in Canada uses social media to share information in his field of law. Each of you will figure it out. Sometimes it will be by trial and error.

18. How much time should be spent on business development v. billable work?

Answer: I always tried to spend 500 hours a year on business development and my own development and I counted everything, including seven hours to take a group to a Cowboys football game, an hour reading a book on marketing while the TV was on in the background.

Before we get to the challenge fast-growing firms face, let me ask: Are you watching my FREE Lateral Link Rainmaker Series? It’s available on YouTube. My latest program will teach you how to prepare a business plan that works. If you are interested you can use my 2019 ATTORNEY BUSINESS PLAN TEMPLATE.

When I was being heavily recruited, I wanted to join a firm that was on the move. I wanted to be part of a firm striving to get better. I found what I thought was the perfect firm-and it was for a few years. But, then…

A few years ago I read a Harvard Business School Working Knowledge interview with Thomas J. DeLong: New Challenges in Leading Professional Services:

Professionals in professional service firms are reporting greater frustration, unmet needs, lack of shared purpose, poor morale, etc.

I believe those issues are even more true in fast-growing law firms. I have some first-hand experience.

It was 1998, my old law firm was on the front page of the National Law Journal as the fastest growing firm in the United States.  I was the lawyer who told the reporter:  “At Jenkens & Gilchrist you can dream Texas-sized dreams.”

To be noted as the fastest growing firm was very positive, but there were some underlying challenges our firm leadership either did not see or saw but didn’t address. Jenkens lost its shared purpose. If your firm is growing fast by adding lateral lawyers, you may encounter the same challenges.

In 1999, the Dallas Business Journal published an article: Jenkens & Gilchrist has `never been stronger’. If you have a few minutes, the article is worth reading. We had recently added the Chicago office that would ultimately lead to the demise of the firm.

You might also read a Dallas Morning News Article: How Jenkens Lost Its Way.

Your firm might be a collection of very talented independent contractors, each with a unique story, unique challenges, and unique dreams. If so, you have fiefdoms. A lack of trust/experience will cause partners to hoard their client’s work and will prevent partners from abandoning their own interest in favor of your clients and your firm.

As your firm grows and adds lateral partners you may be challenged to maintain or even identify your constantly changing core values. For example:

  • What does your firm stand for?
  • When you talk about the (name of your firm) culture, what is it?
  • How does your culture or the way you serve clients differ from your competitors?
  • What do you want to be?
  • How does each practice group and office fit into the what your firm stands for and what you want to be?

Years ago I read:

The foundation of cooperation is not really trust, but the durability of the relationship. It is readily evident that firms which have grown through mergers and senior level lateral hires always have less internal cooperation than those which have grown from within.

I remember going to a Jenkens & Gilchrist firm retreat where the theme was “One Firm.” I should have saved the tee shirt and hat with that catchphrase on it. It was a nice theme, but simply not true. A more accurate theme would have been Jenkens & Gilchrist will give you “the platform to build your own independent practice.”

Is it any wonder a fast-growing firm struggles with cross-selling and a lack of office/lateral integration? You won’t achieve success as a fast-growing firm by accident. You have to be very purposeful in your efforts to build trust, collaboration and shared values.

I received an email last week from a marketing director asking me to describe what I would do if I was coaching lawyers in his law firm. I was pleased when he expressed the desire to have both individual coaching and group coaching. I believe group coaching is an important component of the coaching program.

For many young lawyers I coach, client development is not a habit. They can rationalize reasons not to be actively doing what is needed to build a book of business or expand relationships with existing clients.

The most common thing I hear is:

“I have been so busy with billable work that I have not been able to…”

Thus, I have to find ways to get those lawyers to do something they do not regularly do and create an environment that will most likely enable or facilitate the lawyers to keep up their client development efforts, even when they are not seeing immediate results.

When I coach a group of lawyers in a firm, we set a group goal and decide on 25 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.

From the beginning, I work on developing a personal relationship with each lawyer I am coaching. I want to know about his or her family, interests outside of work and what motivates him or her.

I coached two lawyers whose outside interest was trapeze. I coached one lawyer whose two daughters were highly recruited soccer players. I coached a young woman associate who was a pilot.

I want that kind of relationship to have a better idea of what buttons to push to best enable the lawyer to achieve more success.

My approach is based on both my own experience and more importantly, scientific studies on what is most likely to encourage people to actually take actions on client development, work together as a team and have fun in the process.

Before I get to the meat of my blog post.  Join me Thursday at noon central daylight time for our second Rainmaker Series Webinar. Sign up here.

Also, although for some strange reason the ABA Women Rainmakers chose not to identify the panelists, if you are a young woman associate or partner, here is the link to a program that Holland and Hart partner, Andrea Anderson, and I will be presenting. Becoming A Partner . . . And Then What? Business Development for Aspiring and New Partners.

Andrea is a rainmaker. If you want to learn more about her do a search of her name in my blog and you’ll find posts about her. You can also click below, wait a few seconds for it to load and listen to an interview I did with Andrea.

Why is it important for law firms to provide client development coaching for senior associates and junior partners now?

There are several reasons. Here are two:

Developing business now is more challenging than it was in the 90s and before.

Today, perhaps more than ever before the competition for good clients is greater, clients have greater expectations, and the time available for business development has decreased.

When I was a young partner, most lawyers developed business by doing excellent work and waiting for the phone to ring. Most clients in those days were both local and loyal. It’s way more complicated now. Through consolidation and mergers, clients that were locally owned are now part of national and international companies. So, it is more difficult to become visible to those clients.

Coaching helps lawyers transition from associate to partner.

Let’s face it. young lawyers do not learn about client development in law school. When they are associates most law firms prefer they not make any client development efforts.

Many senior associates and junior partners are in the transition stage of their career, moving from being solely service providers to being responsible for developing and building client relationships.

For many, that is a daunting task. They do not know where to start. As a result, they do not start, or they give up quickly when some of their efforts do not work. To the extent there is any effort at all, it is unstructured, unfocused and ultimately unsuccessful. Many lawyers procrastinate, are undisciplined, have no written plan and ultimately little or no execution.


When I was actively practicing law, I spent time helping our junior lawyers with business development, but that time was very limited. Frankly, I did not have time to analyze why some things worked for me, while others did not. Now that I am no longer busy practicing law,  I have taken time to analyze what worked for me and why it worked.

Before I left my old law firm, I went to the leaders and told them I had peaked in my own business development efforts and offered to take 15 brand new partners and work with them on their client development. I bragged I could help the group double the collective business volume in two years.

They accomplished that goal in one year. I enjoyed working with our pilot group so much that I decided to leave my law firm so I could work with lawyers in other firms. I coached lawyers 15 years, and I continue to coach and mentor a select few.

If you have someone in your firm who will take the time to coach and work with your senior associates and junior partners, I think you will see both a benefit to the lawyers coached and a benefit to your firm.

Here are some thoughts on what you might do.

The person who volunteers to coach should be like a fitness coach. In other words, he or she should help the participants be accountable to themselves and to the “team.”

I love a quote I read several years ago in a book by Jack Canfield. The quote was from a 1998 Fast Company magazine article: WANNA BE A PLAYER? GET A COACH!

Executive coaches are not for the meek. They are for people who value unambiguous feedback. If coaches have one thing in common, it’s that they are ruthlessly results-oriented. Executive coaching isn’t therapy. It’s product development, with you as the product.

Put simply, the most important factor in the success of any coaching program is the burning desire of the participants to get better at client development and their willingness and openness to being coached. Selecting the right people to be coached is the most important decision your firm will make. I’ve told many law firm partners, marketing directors, and attorney development professionals that I can’t motivate the unmotivated.

Second, I suggest you create both an individual effort and a team dynamic. Participants will learn what activities will provide the greatest benefit to them and then will have regularly scheduled sessions with the coach to report on activities and learn more. I have been amazed by the group dynamic. No one in the group wants to let the rest of the team down and they feed off of each other’s ideas.

In an effective coaching program, young lawyers will:

  • Develop a Business Plan
  • Determine both group and individual goals that will challenge, energize and stretch them
  • Determine what activities to undertake to meet their goals
  • Spend non-billable time more strategically and wisely
  • Learn how to write articles, or blog posts and give presentations that will enhance their reputation and increase their chances of getting hired.
  • Become more focused and strategic with their contacts
  • Become more client focused
  • Be held accountable

Do you play golf or tennis? If you play golf or tennis, do you take lessons? If working with a professional helps you develop your game, I bet the same principles will help you become a more successful lawyer.

If you are a regular reader, you know that for the next several months I will be creating video client development programs. They’re called: The Lateral Link Rainmaker Series. On June 13 I will be discussing: How to Create a Business Plan that works. If you missed the first program you can find the streaming video here.


This is a rather long blog post, so let me remind you that on June 13, I will be presenting Month 2 of the Lateral Link Rainmaker Series. I will show you how to prepare a business plan that works.

Today is an important day for me and for Nancy. 49 years ago today Nancy and I got married. You can do the math. It was June 6, 1970.

Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, once famously said:

“A Wedding is an event, a marriage is an achievement.”

I recently read that the face of marriage is changing and the risk of divorce is higher than ever before, so I have not been surprised when in my work with young lawyers I’m asked:

“Cordell, you and Nancy have been married 49 years this year, what is your secret to a long and happy marriage?

The first time I was asked, I thought:

“Great question. I hadn’t really thought about it.”

Now, I tell lawyers, there really isn’t one secret, but in our case, our crazy, out of the norm, weird courtship, wedding and honeymoon, and adjusting to married life made us appreciate each other in ways other couples might miss. We learned to not judge each other, but rather to accept that each of us was giving 100% of our capacity to give.

If you’re curious, let me tell you the story. I doubt you know anyone who started off like we did.


We formally met for the first time when I was a groomsman at the wedding of my high school best friend and my high school girl friend. I say formally because we really met when I worked for the park district and umpired girl’s softball games and Nancy was the star 12-year-old player in the ponytail league. I noticed that even at that young age, she was all-in on whatever she was trying to accomplish.

When I saw her at the wedding, it was love at first sight. If you were to think of a photograph you have seen from that era, you would be able to picture her. Her hair was long and reached to her waist and she wore the shortest miniskirts you could buy at the time. She was a Chicago suburbs version of a Haight Asbury, summer of love, flower child.

Immediately after the wedding, we started dating. Sounds normal so far, right? You’re likely thinking we went out to dinner, took in movies, sat at home in the evening and watched some TV together.

Our summer dating was nothing like that. We both worked on the graveyard shift from midnight to 8 AM, earning money for college and law school. We never had a date in the evening. Our dates consisted of breakfast, bowling at a place open 24 hours and driving downtown to Lake Michigan to sit on the beach. Since neither of us ever got used to being awake all night and sleeping during the day, we were like zombies when we were together. We did a lot of sleeping together, as that term was originally intended.

At the end of the summer, after our whirlwind courtship and to the shock of our parents, we got engaged. As soon as we were engaged I headed off to law school in Virginia and Nancy stayed in the Chicago area for her second year of college. During our engagement, we only saw each other during the Christmas Holiday season and spring break.

The Wedding

When my law firm semester ended in early June, I, along with three classmates who were in our wedding party took off in my VW Beetle bound for Chicago. We arrived on June 5, just in time for the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner.

On that Saturday, Nancy and I were married. After most weddings, there is a reception and the newly married couple goes on their way somewhere for a nice honeymoon.

That wasn’t the way it worked for us. Since I had to be back in class on Monday, our honeymoon consisted of staying in a no-tell motel at one of the Ohio Turnpike exits and our first dinner as a married couple was at the truck stop next door.

Our First Year

When most couples return from their honeymoon, they settle in at a new apartment and start making their life together. By now, you likely know that was not exactly how it worked for us.

We lived with my grandmother, my 100 plus-year-old great-grandmother, and a law school classmate, whose bedroom was five feet away from ours. We were an interesting household, to say the least. Picture what it was like for us being newly married with virtually no privacy.

Nancy and I both went to school, leaving at about 6 in the morning. After class, I worked at the Virginia State Penitentiary from 2-10 PM, during which I learned two things.

  1. I never wanted to become a criminal lawyer
  2. Not one of the convicts admitted he had committed the crime.

By the time I got back to my grandmother’s house, at 10:30, I was exhausted.

First Christmas on Our Own

When I finished law school, passed the bar exam, I received orders from the USAF to report to Norton AFB, in San Bernardino, CA, on December 6. So, in December of 1971, 18 months after we were married, Nancy and I finally had an opportunity to take what we described at the time as our honeymoon when we left Virginia in our VW beetle with no air conditioning for sunny Southern California.

As we crossed the country, I couldn’t get the Simon and Garfunkel song: “America.” Out of my head.

It begins with:
Let us be lovers we’ll marry our fortunes together
I’ve got some real estate here in my bag
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner pies
And we walked off to look for America

We treated our trip like a honeymoon and a great adventure. We spent time along the way in small towns and big cities. We saw fields, streams, and mountains. Each morning when we started we had no idea where we would spend that night. To quote a line from another Simon and Garfunkel song:

Slow down, you move too fast, you’ve got to make the moment last.

Nancy and I arrived in San Bernardino, California in early December, and we secured a wonderful two-bedroom apartment, the first place of our own. It’s hard to put in words how excited we were. I started work, and Nancy started her study, at the University of California, Riverside, her fourth college. Later, she would become the first college graduate in her family when she received her degree from Wright State University.

Because we had just arrived, we only knew the few Air Force people with whom I was working. And, even though we would be alone on Christmas, we were excited about it.

We spent a lot of time planning. If Facebook had been around that Christmas, our friends would have seen photos of us playing tennis in the morning and skiing at Big Bear in the afternoon. They would have seen photos on New Year’s day from the Rose Bowl parade in Pasadena.

But, the most interesting Facebook photos would have been taken on Christmas Eve. That night Nancy served a special dinner for me and I gave her what I believed was the greatest Christmas gift ever. Neither gesture went exactly as planned and we still laugh about it.

A week earlier I bought Nancy a brown knit dress at a local store. I confess I was a pretty naïve husband to think I could pick out a dress for Nancy. But, the young woman who helped me said it was very California, whatever that meant. and was the style for the year.

When Nancy tried it on, I thought she looked fantastic. She wore the dress to church and said all the right things about it, but over time I noticed she never wore it a second time. When I finally asked why she told me that it cupped her hips.

I’m sure other women would understand, but I wasn’t exactly sure what the problem was. I thought that’s what made it attractive. If you can picture Jaylo in any clinging outfit, or if you know the Shakira song “Hips Don’t Lie, that’s how Nancy looked in the brown dress.

Nancy also had a special treat for me. I had been introduced to “real” Mexican food at Lucy’s, a wonderful restaurant still in business at the same location. In early December, I was introduced to Chile Rellenos that were part of a special combination plate that cost $1.75 at the time and $8.75 today. In California, Chile Rellenos are deep fried, different from the way they are cooked in Texas.

Hearing me rave about the dish, Nancy bought a Mexican Cookbook and surprised me on Christmas Eve with Chile Rellenos. When I looked at the plate, I knew there was something wrong. There were 12 of Chile Rellenos on the plate, 11 more than I had ever eaten at Lucy’s. They were small chiles, unlike the Anaheim chiles in Lucy’s dish.

When I took my first bite, it was hotter than anything I had ever eaten at the time. Instead of using Anaheim chiles, Nancy had used jalapeño peppers and had left the seeds in. Since that time, I wondered if Nancy had inadvertently invented Jalapeño Poppers.

In the last 49 years, I have never given Nancy another dress, and she has become a Chile Relleno aficionado, making them both the California way and the Texas way. We’ve learned a lot, moved a lot and now live in Prosper, Texas.

As you know, I am presenting webinars each month as part of the Lateral Link Rainmaker series.  As you will discover in our series, each of you is different and as a result, you may follow a different path to becoming a rainmaker in your firm. But, here are some traits, I hope you share in common. 


  • Are optimists and believe in themselves
  • Have a clear idea of what they want
  • Are good lawyers always striving to get better
  • Really care about their clients
  • Are empathetic and understand their clients’ needs
  • Are likable
  • Are focused
  • Set goals, develop a plan and use their non-billable time to invest in their future
  • Are patient and don’t give up
  • Choose their clients wisely
  • Are team players

If you want more information on the Rainmaker series, check out this article: Lateral Link Presents the Rainmaker Series.

I hope you will be able to join me on June 13 for my second Lateral Link Rainmaker webinar. In this one, I will share with you how to prepare a business plan.

Several years ago I gave a presentation on career planning to over 200 associates in a large law firm. As I often do, I began by asking how many in the room had prepared a Personal Performance and Development Plan or Business Plan with written goals. Surprisingly only a handful had a prepared a plan.

I then asked how many had begun planning their summer vacations. Far more hands were raised. Many lawyers spend more time planning their vacations than they spend planning their careers.

Why should you have a plan? I believe when you prepare a plan with written goals, you will take control of your future. In addition, if your plan and written goals are focused on something you truly value, you will feel energized, committed, and disciplined to achieve them. Finally, having a plan enables you to best use your two most important resources: your time and your energy.

Not to plan is to risk what Yogi Berra once said:

“If you don’t know where you are going, you are likely to end up somewhere else.”

I learned early in my career that without a focus, I could easily get distracted. So, it was important to me, to not only know where I was going but also to have a map to show me if I was on course for my destination. If I had not identified what I wanted in my future and charted a written course, I would not have had the discipline to take the actions necessary to get there.

When I speak to lawyers on planning, I share ideas from the first three habits in Dr. Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Dr. Covey’s first three habits are:

  • Habit 1 — Be Proactive;
  • Habit 2 — Begin with the End in Mind;
  • Habit 3 — Put First Things First.

What do these habits mean to your law career? First, being proactive means that each of you is responsible for your own career. Where you go from here is up to you. Your firm can help, but you are the one who ultimately is responsible.

Beginning with the end in mind means you must have some idea of what you want to accomplish and what you want to become in the future. In planning your career, you must have a vision of where you want to go and what you want to accomplish. For each of you this will be different and your ability to see the future will be different.

Putting first things first means establishing priorities. You can’t do it all. You have to make choices. A lawyer I coached several years ago decided her priorities were:
• Her family;
• Her church;
• Her health; and
• Her clients and law firm.

I recommend you prepare a list of 10 things you want to accomplish. Then, rank each
goal on your list and to identify the one goal which, if accomplished, would have the greatest impact on your career and life.

For each one, I suggest you answer why accomplishing it would be important to you. Without a good answer to the “why” question, you will not have the discipline or commitment to stay with it.

Your Business Plan will be of little value if it is not implemented. So how can you hold yourself accountable?

First, I suggest you break down your plan into 90-day goals. Make a list of what you want to do in the next 90 days.

Next, get a colleague in your firm or a friend and share your plans and 90-day goals with each other.

Finally, plan each week by listing what you plan to do, estimating how much time it will take and put it on your calendar.

There are 168 hours in a week.  If you sleep 56 hours and bill 40 hours a week and plan and use 10 non-billable hours a week for your own development and client development, that leaves you with 62 waking hours a week for personal time.

How well you plan and use the 10 non-billable hours will ultimately determine the quality of your career and how well you plan and use the 62 personal hours will determine the quality of your life.

I was recently asked:

Cordell, why are you giving 12 monthly presentations on rainmaking for free?

Great question: My simple answer is I want to help young lawyers achieve the success and career fulfillment they are seeking in a law firm.

Years ago when I was responsible for attorney development in my firm, I gave a business development presentation to a group of brand new partners at their orientation.

As I surveyed the crowd, I realized that not one of the new partners had given any thought to business development. Not one had prepared a business plan with written goals.

Instead, each of the new partners was only concerned with pleasing the senior partner who had lobbied to get them promoted. That strategy might have worked years ago. It certainly no longer works. If over the years those income partners did not develop clients of their own, they likely were let go. Even the partner with all the business who lobbied to get them promoted could no longer protect them.

I thought of the old school thinking as I was reading Seth Godin’s book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? Early in the book, Godin describes the old American Dream and the New American Dream. His list of each seems very close to the old dream for young lawyers and the new dream for young lawyers.

Here is my take on old and new dreams:

Old dream for young lawyers:

  • Get your hours
  • Do your assignments
  • Put in face time at the office
  • Keep the lawyer feeding you business happy
  • Suck it up

Lawyers in the old dream never worried about client development. Instead they worried about keeping the senior lawyer for whom they worked happy and hoped he never got hit by a bus when he crossed the street.

The old dream worked because work was plentiful, seniors lawyers did not want younger lawyers they developed to have clients on their own and leave the nest. Young lawyers were told:

“You don’t need to worry about client development. We have all the work for you that you will ever need.”

New dream for young lawyers:

  • Develop a unique skill that will be needed for many years
  • Become a people person and build relationships
  • Get to know your clients’ businesses and industries
  • Create remarkable articles, blog posts, podcasts and webinars your clients will value
  • Be generous with your non-billable time
  • Become involved in your community/bar
  • Stay in contact with people you know both in person and using social media

Getting your hours, working hard and sucking it up is not enough in 2019 to achieve what is needed to continue practicing in a law firm.

What are you doing to create and accomplish your New American Dream?

If you want to learn more about presentations take a look at this post: Top ten tips for incredibly successful public speaking by David Meerman Scott. I like all ten of the tips.

The third tip is to tell stories. That was one of the primary tips I gave Dave when he was preparing his presentation. Recently I was going through some of my old presentations. I found one I gave in 1982 about the Hyatt Disaster in Kansas City. That well-known tragedy provided me with a story to tell contractors and engineers about potential liability.

Today, many have forgotten that two skywalks crashed to the lobby floor killing 114 people and injuring 186 others. If I had just done a presentation on liability, the audience would not have paid much attention. Presenting the legal points as part of a story, a well-known story, made them more interested.


Client development is about becoming a “go to” lawyer and developing relationships. For many of you, becoming a “go to” lawyer is much easier than developing the relationships. After all, if you bill 2000 hours a year in your niche, over time you will know your legal specialty well.

How many hours a year are you spending developing your people skills?  How can you learn and practice those skills? First, you need to have an intense interest in people. Only through having that interest will you focus on learning about them, understanding their needs and listening with a sensitive ear.

In my own case, long ago I decided to teach senior high Sunday School at our church. One reason I volunteered was teaching would force me to read and understand the Bible. A second reason was I wanted to get to know the teenagers, most of whom had no desire to get up Sunday morning and come to class, and then figure out ways to make the lessons meaningful from their perspective rather than my own.

I really worked hard to understand what it was like to be a teenager in the early 80s. I met with them and listened. I read books and searched for different ways to reach them. Each week I wrote handwritten letters to each one of them, letting them know I missed them if they had missed the last class, or letting them know I enjoyed our time together if they had attended the last class.

I think more than anything else, I conveyed that I cared about them. I cannot describe how valuable this experience was for me. Because the mindset of teenagers was so different from my own, understanding the mindset of my construction clients was less a challenge.

I tried other experiments to develop my people skills. Since I traveled by myself on business, I took opportunities to talk and mostly listen to strangers I met while flying or while eating my dinner by myself at the hotel bar. I purposely engaged them in conversation and asked open ended questions without making judgments or offering unsolicited advice. I tried to develop my emphatic listening skills.

What are you doing to learn and practice your people skills?