Some law firms are only looking for lawyers with over $1 Million, or more, in business. Many mid-sized firms are looking for lawyers who give their personal best and are capable of attracting $1 Million, or more, in business. I prefer to work with those firms and those lawyers.

Are you someone who wants to give your personal best to client development as you have done to other aspects of your career and personal life?

If so, how can you know if you are giving your personal best?

Here’s my thought: A defining ability is the willingness to get outside your comfort zone to be comfortable being uncomfortable. If you are emotionally comfortable, it keeps you from being as creative as you might be.

I owed a great deal of the success and enjoyment of my law practice to being creative and willing to take risks and believing I could achieve a stretch goal.

If you can make it to the edge of your personal or professional abilities, then you know you are giving your personal best. Hope this helps.

Harry Chapin wrote and sang a song: As Dreams Go By.

I urge you to listen to the lyrics. It is the story of a couple who had dreams about their future but never acted on those dreams. Near the end of the song:

You say you should have been a ballerina, babe
There are songs I should have sung
But I guess our dreams have come and gone
You’re ‘sposed dream when you are young

I owed at least part of my success practicing law to the fuel coming out of my dreams. Unlike the couple in the song, I acted on those dreams.

In my case, when I was a junior partner, my dream was to become the best lawyer on transportation construction projects (highways, rail, airports, mass transit) in North America. I was told by other lawyers that my dream was stupid and that I should stick to commercial litigation.

When I left my law firm in 2004 to become a coach and mentor to lawyers and law firms my dream was to reach out and inspire young lawyers on what they could achieve and coach them to achieve it. Again I wanted to become the best in North America. My partners at Jenkens & Gilchrist told me I was crazy to be giving up my lucrative law practice at the peak of my career.

I understood their point, but I followed my dream of teaching and coaching young lawyers. While my dreams focused on becoming the best at something, in truth the I was focused on the journey of striving to be the best, not reaching the end result.

Years ago when I was coaching I read a great book titled: Overachievement by John Eliot.

Eliot believes that all great performers have extraordinary dreams. He says:

Dreams make you click, juice you, turn you on, excite the living daylights out of you. You cannot wait to get out of bed to continue pursuing your dream. The kind of dream I am talking about gives meaning to your life. It is the ultimate motivator.

He describes the story of Michael Dell fixing computers in his garage with a dream of competing with IBM in the computer market. When Michael thought of dropping out of the University of Texas and told his parents what he wanted to do, imagine what they said. His father did not think that was funny.

Eliot describes the story of Richard Branson. What do you think people told Richard Branson when he decided to compete with British Air? Elliot ends the chapter by saying:

The kind of dream I am talking about is a feeling that excites you, that sticks, that propels you and gives meaning to your life.

For me, that was powerful stuff. I had those kinds of dreams long before reading the book, but reading it helped me understand what enabled me to persist when I wasn’t seeing results.

So, Dream big dreams.  As an unknown author once said,

“The bigger you dream, the higher you go.”

When a young partner comes to me wanting to change law firms, among other things, I ask:

  • What is the most important thing you want to accomplish in your career?
  • Why is accomplishing it important to you?

Years ago, a lawyer I was coaching was struggling with developing specific actions in his plan. He asked me to help him.

I told him he was going at it backwards. You and he will have a difficult time figuring out how if you haven’t figured out what and why.

I know I am not the first person to use these words, but I have always found them incredibly powerful and inspirational. If you can figure out the WHAT, and you know the WHY you will creatively figure out the HOW.
Have you figured out WHAT you want to become both as a lawyer and in your personal life? Do you know WHY it is important to you? If so, let your creative mind come up with HOW to achieve it.
Want more thoughts on this subject? Check out the Fast Company post: 5 Career Questions To Ask Yourself Instead Of, “What’s My Passion?”

My old law firm held a retreat one year. The theme was “one-firm.” We even had tee shirts with the slogan on the back and firm name on the front. There was only one slight problem-The tee shirts told a lie. Our firm was a bunch of very talented lawyers operating independently from one another.

I was always fond of saying just suppose as a way of prompting thought of what we could become as attorneys, individuals and in terms of firm development. Here is the just suppose I thought we could become in my old law firm that would make it more like the slogan on the tee shirts.

Just suppose, your law firm’s purpose was: 

To enable our clients to achieve their business objectives and to provide maximum opportunities for our lawyers and staff to achieve their career dreams and goals.

Just suppose your standards (core values) included:

  • Our firm put clients and the firm ahead of our own personal interests.
  • Each lawyer is expected to invest a minimum of 2500 hours in billable and non-billable (investment) activities unless he or she is a part of the firm’s flex-time policy.
  • We will recruit lawyers and staff who have a burning desire to be the best they can be and we will invest in, energize and inspire them and provide them with the tools to be successful.
  • We will seek clients who have interesting work, significant needs for outside legal services and who can afford to pay for the services of our firm.
  • We will provide extraordinary service to our clients, working together as a team and supporting each other whenever possible.
  • We will seek to be the most innovative law firm to more effectively serve our clients.
  • Finally, if we are able to accomplish the above, in doing so we will build economic stability and profitability.

Just suppose your firm made decisions and judged conduct and performance on the basis of the purpose and standards/core values. In other words, just suppose these were not just hollow words and your lawyers and staff walked the walk each and every day and when it came time to make decisions on compensation, bonuses, and promotion.

I believe the key to success in any organization is to have a clearly stated purpose and set of core values and expectations that then become the basis for decisions and actions.

I read some time ago:

When clarity exists, everyone knows the guiding principles and the core competencies that most directly contribute to organizational and individual vitality and success.

You could build a strong firm around the concepts, have a heck of a lot of fun working together and build a sense of community that I feel is lacking in many firms now.

I’ve been in recruiting now for a year. As of one year, I have made no cold calls (so if you want my help, you will have to contact me). I have placed lawyers only in firms I admire. As a result, I have passed several opportunities to make placements.

I was recently asked: What is my “sweet spot” for lawyer placements?

It is not the lawyer already generating millions in business unless I coached that lawyer when he or she was a young partner or associate.

I like working with the highly motivated young lawyers who in the right setting are capable of generating more business and feeling more fulfilled in their careers.

When I was coaching lawyers I worked with dozens of senior associates and junior partners in large law firms who now have some clients but could take control of their future and develop much more business in a more entrepreneurial law firm.

 

Over the last year, several of the young law firm partners who sought my help told me they did not feel they were being fairly compensated.

Some time ago while working out I was listening to Daniel Pink’s book Drive. One of the parts I listened to was a discussion of fair compensation both internally and externally.

It’s funny, I never thought about whether I was fairly compensated until I learned what my partners were being paid and when other firms offered me substantially more money to join their firm. They say that ignorance is bliss and that was surely true for me.

Even if your law firm strives to keep it secret, you will learn what your colleagues are making. One way or another you will also figure out what lawyers are making in other firms.

With that knowledge, you will then evaluate whether you are being fairly compensated.

In 2003, the year before I left my law firm, two huge international law firms made offers to me that were more than $200,000 than I was making at the time. You might ask why didn’t I join either of those firms. While the money was great, I believed I would be giving up control of my destiny.

In my year of recruiting, I have never placed a lawyer in a firm where I believed the lawyer would be giving up control of his or her destiny. If all you are looking for is the firm that will pay you the most money, don’t call on me. I don’t want to place any lawyer in a firm they will likely leave just a few years later.

Here are some things you might want to know about a firm you are considering:

  • Does the law firm adjust compensation every year?  If your potential firm adjusts compensation every year, you and several of your new partners will find a reason to feel they are not fairly compensated.
  • Does the law firm you are considering have significant intervals between the levels of partner compensation? If your potential firm’s intervals are as low as $5000-$10,000, you and your new partners might easily get upset about a colleague making $5000 more than you. It is harder to be upset when the difference is $50,000
  • Do you understand the criteria your potential firm is to establish compensation?
  • Is your compensation competitive with other firms that would like to have you?
  • Does your potential firm adequately compensate its junior partners? If not, you will have a problem finding lawyers to help you.).

Do you feel you are fairly compensated in your present law firm? Do you feel like you have the maximum opportunity to choose your destiny, take control of your future, and achieve what motivates you in your career?

A lawyer I am helping find a firm asked me a question I know is a common one.

“We hear all the time that we need to reach out to our clients. Pick up the phone, email, etc. I often find that I am hesitant in doing so when it’s not related to an ongoing piece of work.

The question is…

‘What do I say?’ I feel silly calling to just say hello.” What are some talking points I can use during these ‘casual’ catch-up conversations?

Here are some ideas: Unless a reason exists for the contact either:

  1. By circumstance ~ something reminded you of the client, their child, something they care about.
  2. By you ~ you track their press, their company/industry data or something they care about.

Be real and tell the truth.

Hi, we haven’t talked in a while, so I thought I’d call and see what’s new/how you’re doing/how things are going.

And then ask:

What’s new? How are you doing? How’s it going?

The subtle difference is that you are asking for direct feedback, as opposed to just saying “hello” or “just calling to catch up with you,” which might not start a conversation.

The most important thing to remember is that you’re developing your relationship, not your sales pitch. That should take some pressure off. And if you’re not already, you should be putting systems in place to create reasons for you to follow up like those mentioned above. Then it’s a non-issue.

The key is to genuinely care. That way, whether you have a reason or not, you’re authentic. So put a smile on your face and pick up the phone. The more you do it, the easier it gets.

I rarely, and maybe never, have written about anything religious, but I wanted to share some thoughts with you after listening to our pastor’s message (aka sermon) titled: Explore God: Does Life Have a Purpose?

It was a message that resonated with me, in part because it was only late in my career that I began thinking about my life purpose. For many years, I was more simply focused on becoming a better lawyer, generating more revenue, and making my clients “Raving Fans.”

Some of you know I have written on this subject several times. Here is a link to a blog post from 2013-Say Ciao to Chow Mein: Finding Your Purpose, Vision and Values.

You may also be aware that I addressed these subjects in a presentation to the Texas Young Lawyers Association.

 

I haven’t recently looked at the videos above, even when drafting this post, but I bet I didn’t mention God during my presentation.

In his message, our pastor said:

You know, if you look up the word “purpose” in the dictionary, you’ll find it speaks to intentionality, and I wonder if that’s any clarity for the question today…is there any intention to life? Any meaning?

Later, he put the message in the context of those of us living in the United States in 2019

The United States is perhaps the most advanced, affluent, and comfortable culture in all of human history, but at the same time it is arguably the most depressed, medicated, and directionless culture in all of human history.

Sitting in church, listening to our pastor, I knew God would be mentioned at some point. Sure enough, our minister finally put the concept of purpose in our relationship with God. He said:

God is love, and by definition, needs something to love that is capable of loving Him back And we are made in that image, requiring to give love and be loved …otherwise we’re miserable and we start asking, “why are we here? What’s the point?”

As some of you know, I recently spent several days in a hospital with doctors and nurses fighting an infectious bacteria that came up all of a sudden several weeks after surgery. I felt really, really lousy and I was too tired to work, write or even read books.

I will end by first saying I saw three doctors yesterday and I am making great progress. Second, I will say how thankful I am I did not have this problem when I was a busy lawyer.

Finally, I will simply confess that while I had reflected a great deal on my purpose, vision, and core values as a lawyer, I was not seeking God in those things or in the day to day mundane work I was doing. If I had it to do over, I believe I would have found even greater joy in my career and life had I sought to seek God.

When I was coaching lawyers I was frequently asked for my top tip on attracting new clients. Over the last year, while I have been recruiting lawyers, I’ve been asked the same question. Put simply, my answer is:

You want to increase the number of “weak ties” who influence your target market and know what you can do to help those potential clients.

I’m a big believer of the “6 degrees of separation.” Click on the link to learn more about the concept.

While we were at Diamante Los Cabos in December, I introduced a young real estate executive I know to a very successful Virginia Tech grad. My fellow Virginia Tech grad has a huge network of friends. Now, the young real estate executive may get to meet people in that network.

Lawyers I coached over the years know I introduced them to other lawyers I coached and to people I know. Those connections were “weak ties,” and in many cases, one lawyer referred business to another lawyer.

Do you know what “weak ties” are? You can read the science behind it here: The Strength of Weak Ties. My simple definition is:

Contacts that are not in your inner circle of family and friends.

I owe the success I experienced in my legal career to recommendations by “weak ties.” My most important client found me in 1984 when a government lawyer with whom I had spent three hours on a panel recommended me to handle a matter on the subject of my presentation.

How do you increase the number of “weak ties” who know what you know? You need a strategy aimed at giving them a greater opportunity to find you.

I suggest you create content they will value and find important. More specifically, I suggest you provide information your target market does not know and needs to know.

Once you create the valuable content, use the platforms where your “weak ties”  hang out to publish and distribute it. Those platforms might be social media sites, or it might not be.

So,

  • Who is in your target market?
  • Who influences them?
  • What does your target market need to know right now?
  • What platforms can you use to get the answer to the target market and their influencers?

I still know a number of you who are not setting goals. I am hopeful that if you read what scientists have written, it might give you an idea of why setting goals is important and how to do it.

Edwin A. Locke and Gary P. Latham, both professors, have summarized 35 years of empirical research on goal-setting theory in a professional paper titled: Building a Practically Useful Theory of Goal Setting and Task Motivation. Here is what they found:

  1. The highest or most difficult goals produced the highest levels of effort and performance until the limits of ability are reached. I have found very few lawyers set goals that are beyond the limits of their ability. So, coaches should encourage junior partners to set goals that “stretch” them.
  2. It is very important to have goals that are specific rather than something general like to do one’s best. In their view when people are asked to “do their best” they generally don’t do it, in part because there is no external reference point.

How do goals affect performance? For me, setting goals always helped me set priorities on my non-billable time. Locke and Latham recognize this function of goals. They say: “…they direct attention and effort toward goal-relevant activities and away form goal-irrelevant activities.”

As illustrated in the scientific research, the problem many people have is setting their goals too low. I like what Evertt Bogue recently wrote How to Succeed by Being Completely Unrealistic. Check out his list of 13 ways to start thinking.

The young lawyers I coached over the years were in big firms and smaller firms, different parts of the United States and Canada, different practice areas, different personality types and a variety of other unique characteristics. The lawyers I am helping find new law firms also differ in many ways.

Yet, to the person, the most successful young lawyers I coached shared these attributes, and I look for these attributes in lawyers seeking my help now.

  1. They were patient, persistent and persevered
  2. They knew their strengths and focused their client development efforts on things that suited those strengths
  3. They developed a plan for their non-billable time and written goals
  4. They worked regularly and consistently on client development
  5. They were seeking to become more visible and credible to their target market
  6. They were getting feedback on their ideas and how they are doing
  7. They found ways to hold themselves accountable
  8. They found meaningful ways to stay in touch with their contacts
  9. They all wished they had started their efforts earlier in their career
  10. They were willing to get outside their comfort zone

Law firms look for lawyers with those attributes. I know, I looked for those lawyers when I was practicing law.