A friend of mine once shared his “10 Characteristics of Successful Law Firms” and gave me permission to share his list with you.

  1. Have a comprehensive business plan (“play book”) and review and update the business plan on an ongoing basis.
  2. The client comes first. Without clients, there is no reason for a law firm to exist.
  3. Sell solutions (“provide value”) to clients, not sell time as expressed in billable hours.
  4. Manage client expectations on a daily basis.
  5. Utilize Rigorous Financial Management for all client assignments. Prepare budgets for each matter: tasks, events, timing and resources to be used for the benefit of the client. This requires early analysis and client signoff.
  6. Inventory is not “billable hours,” it is the cash those hours represent, and they focus on collecting accounts receivable and maintain a high realization rate.
  7. Practice effective cash flow management by getting funds into the bank as quickly as possible.
  8. Recognize that technology—emails, blogs, cell phones and voice mail—cannot replace personal relationships, personal integrity, and rapport with clients. (Note: I would have added social media)
  9. Value and reward “Team Effort” aligned with a pre-determined Strategy.
  10. Have in place a disaster plan and a management succession plan and keep them current. Business survival and succession cannot be left to chance.

My friend’s  ideas were right on target back then, and perhaps even more important for 2021. Is your firm doing what my friend suggests?

 

Let’s face it, 2020 has been the most unusual year in my life and also in your life. That being the case, my bet without knowing for sure is that client development has been at the bottom of priorities this year.

But, 2021 should be better for all of us. If you are a young lawyer, I hope you will renew your efforts to build a book of business.

Some young lawyers I met while coaching were impatient. One associate I coached several  years ago sent me an email after one month of coaching. Here is what she said:

Cordell, I have been doing everything we talked about when we had our first coaching session and everything you talked about to our coaching group and I haven’t gotten a new client yet. Am I being too hard on myself?

I let her know that if she had actually gotten a new client in a month, she needed to take my place. To her credit, she stuck with it and became a partner in her firm.

I experienced frustration when I was a young lawyer. I had put my heart and soul into my business development and had not gotten results.

Many times I wondered whether it was worth all the time I was putting in. A couple of senior lawyers in my firm routinely put my efforts down. I think they just wanted me to work on their clients. I also realized that some of my efforts were not fruitful.

I kept on because I wanted to control my own destiny and not be dependent on senior lawyers. Whenever I got discouraged I pictured myself five years later with $500,000 a year in business.

I discovered later that it took less time to get from $500,000 a year to $1 million, and less time to get from $1 million a year to $2 million and even less time to get from $2 million a year to $ 3 million. The point I want to make to you is that many of your friends and colleagues will give up in the initial climb.

I made client development a habit and tried to do something no matter how small each and every day. There came a time about two years after I started to see results. Then I discovered that each of my client development efforts built on previous efforts I had made. That was the reason it took less time to get to the higher numbers.

Here is something to consider. I contend that less than 3% of young lawyers are making focused efforts at client development. If you are one of the 3% and you are frustrated that you are not seeing results yet, that is ok.

Think about why you are frustrated. It is because you are not content being average. The fact you are frustrated, just as I was many years ago, is the reason you will be successful.

When I experienced the impatience you are experiencing, I did two things:

  • I evaluated each of my efforts and decided which ones were most effective and which were not effective.
  • I made an even greater effort and tried harder.

As we reach the end of this crazy year, I recommend you make plans for 2021. If you want to share your plan with me, send it to me.

 

A few years ago I wrote a Practical Lawyer article: How a Law Firm Can Provide Ritz Carlton Service.

I  I believe it is no accident Ritz Carlton is known for its outstanding service. The hotel hires the right people, trains them better than any other hotel, and  empowers them to do something extraordinary for a guest.

In a book every lawyer should read: The New Gold Standard: 5 Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company the author writes:

In the culture Ritz Carlton, which emphasizes Service Values like ‘I am empowered to create unique, memorable, and personal experiences for our guests’ and ‘I own an immediately resolve guest problems,’ the choice to shift responsibility to someone else is not an option.

When I was coaching Canadian lawyers,  I stayed at a hotel in Calgary. When I checked in I was given two breakfast certificates. I knew I would not be able to use the second one because I had to be at the airport before the restaurant opened and I would be eating breakfast on the flight. So, as an experiment, I asked the front desk clerk if I could possibly apply the amount of the breakfast certificate (about $12) to my dinner at the same restaurant.

She looked at me and said:

“I am sorry Mr. Parvin, these are breakfast certificates and can only be used for breakfast.”

Now, I was just trying an experiment to see what the response would be. It wasn’t really a big deal for me or the hotel. After all it was only $12. But, it pointed to one of the reasons Ritz Carlton shines. and other hotels do not.

At a Ritz Carlton hotel the person at the front desk would have had the authority to do something. She might say:

“We can’t let you use the certificate towards dinner, but how would you feel if we upgraded your room?”

Here is the sad thing: I believe if you asked clients which of these two experiences would best describe their experience working with your law firm, the majority, and perhaps the vast majority, would say my experience in Calgary is closer to the experience they have with their law firms.

I wonder what would happen to profits per partner at a law firm that matched Ritz Carlton’s approach to hiring, training and empowering their lawyers and staff?

How many times have you been told that to differentiate your firm you need to “add value?”

Have you ever asked your clients for suggestions on ways you can add value?

When I practiced law, I did. I asked: “What is most effective way we can, at our expense, invest in our relationship with you?”

Here is what they told me. I want you to think about whether your clients would respond differently in 2020.

thumbs up business.jpgGC Client 1: Provide memos explaining new court cases/laws/regulations that would affect our business.

GC Client 2: Don’t charge for learning about our company.

GC Client 3: Willingness to help train, share forms and answer simple questions without opening a file and recording time.

GC Client 4: Meet with us at your expense and find out what we need.

GC Client 5:  Coming back after completion of a project and sharing with us any lessons learned and asking for our feedback.

I do not think there is anything unexpected in these responses. I received these answers over 15 years ago. My question for you is: Are the answers still valid in 2020?

I’ve known lawyers who sometimes make assumptions before reading an entire document or hearing their client’s entire story. In The Trusted Advisor, authors  David H. Maister, Charles H Green and Robert M. Galford  end their discussion of the art of listening with a story.

In a criminal trial, the defense lawyer is cross examining a pathologist. Here is what happened:
Attorney: Before you signed death certificate had you taken pulse?
Coroner: No
Attorney: Did you listen to the heart?
Coroner: No.
Attorney: Did you check for breathing?
Coroner: No.
Attorney: So, when you signed death certificate, you weren’t really sure the man was dead, were you?
Coroner: Well, let me put it this way. The man’s brain was sitting in a jar on my desk. But, I guess it’s possible he could be out there practicing law somewhere.
How many times have you made an assumption without reading an entire document, or before your client finished telling you the story? I know I have done it. Like many of you, I wanted my client to  know how how smart and experienced I was, having handled another matter just like the one he was describing. Next time you are tempted to do it, slow down and think about the lawyer cross-examining the coroner in the story..

What do novels written, baseball games played and commercials produced 40-50 years ago, and more, have to do with what experienced lawyers should know about blogging? It turns out there is a lot senior lawyers can learn.

During the pandemic this year I am reading and listening to more novels than ever before. As an experiment I decided to download novels written by well known authors including John Updike, Robert Caro, John Steinbeck and others. Many of the books I read years ago and remembered enjoying them.

What have I discovered? It is difficult to read or listen to the end. They move too slowly for me know. There is too much description or back story.

When I grew up I played baseball through my sophomore year in college. I regularly watched the Cubs and White Sox on WGN in Chicago with Jack Brickhouse announcing. In 2020 I didn’t watch one game even a World Series game. Why? I get bored watching because it moves too slowly.

When I grew up TV commercials were 60 seconds, later 30 seconds and now most commercials are 15 seconds? Why? Because those who write and produces commercials know viewers will not sit through 60 seconds or even 30 seconds.

A few years ago I was asked by a national law firm to do programs in several of their offices  across the country on blogging for experienced lawyers. The firm asked me because I was an experienced lawyer myself, and they thought older lawyers might find me more credible. I sought to convince experienced lawyers that they are prime candidates to blog for client development.

When I presented my thoughts on blogging, I told them rule number 1 is they cannot bore their readers. I then explained how to avoid that problem:

  • You have to pick a topic your clients and potential clients care about
  • You have to write the blog post in a way they will want to read it. Don’t bury the lead. The headline and first sentence must capture the readers’ attention.
  • You should find every way possible to get what you have written in the hands of as many clients, potential clients and referral sources as will value having the materials. Do not “push” your blog to them. Instead, “pull” those interested to it.

Social media, among other things is a distribution tool that allows you to broaden who reads your materials by “pulling” them to it.

 

My mom’s birthday was last month. On her birthday, I thought about our times together and apart. She and my aunt had moved back to Virginia when we lived there and had followed us from Roanoke to Richmond. Years later we moved to Dallas.

The picture is from Jill’s wedding in 2005, the second to last trip my mom made to Dallas.

On December 30, 2008 she passed away in a hospital room. I spent the night with her. It was one of the most emotional experiences in my life. She was blind and not doing well, but she knew I was there.

That night, I thought about the times she called me at my office. Each time she said:

“Cordell, I hope I am not troubling you…”

Each time I replied:

“Mom, you are never troubling me when you call.”

Even though I was sincere, she never really believed me. She obviously thought a busy lawyer like me could not possibly have time to talk to his mom. Her opening line told me I was not conveying very well that her place in my life was as important as any client for whom I was working.

My mother’s opening also reminded me of a story in Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s book: Leading with the Heart: Coach K’s Successful Strategies for Basketball, Business, and Life .

Even if you are not a Duke grad and do not even like basketball, it is a book worth reading. Coach K describes his mother’s call which started:

“Hi Mike, I don’t want to bother you or take up too much of your time.”

Coach K writes that he did not remember anything else about the call and only remembered that when he hung up the phone he cried.

If you are a young married lawyer with children, you are likely very family focused. You likely want to spend more time with your children than your parents spent with you. But, I ask these questions:

  1. How much time are you spending with your mom and dad?
  2. Do they think you are so busy with your law practice and children that you do not have time for them?

I ask these questions because I know from my own personal experience that when they are gone, you will wish you had spent more quality time with them.

In 2007, I bought a Mac PowerBook for myself and for Joyce with the intention of converting my entire office to Mac. But, I continued to use my PC. It was simply easier to use the PC because I did not have to think about how to use the various programs. I had done it for years.

Realizing that merely owning the Mac was not going to be enough, I bought a book titled Switching to the Mac. But, simply reading the book was not enough. Several times, I almost gave up on my Mac conversion. It was just too challenging and stressful to learn something so different and change the way I was doing business.

Mac Computer.jpgThen, I discovered two things. At the time, for a very modest annual fee, I could get one-on-one lessons as often as once a week at my local Apple store. Second, I discovered that at the time Apple produced a weekly one-minute video podcast on topics that were really helpful to me.

These are both examples of how Apple coached its customers. I learned by doing not by watching or listening to a speaker. As a result of this learning by doing, in January of 2008, I went cold turkey and completely switched over to Mac. Each day using the programs on my Mac became more of a habit and far less stressful.

Years later, I could go to my local Apple store for free classes on a wide variety of subjects, and every time I bought a new Apple product, I was able to spend thirty minutes on the telephone learning how to use it more effectively.

In 2020, I am working on my third iMac, my third MacAir, and I am waiting to receive my new iPhone 12.

So, what does my Mac experience mean to your law firm lawyers?

I have written many times that just having a speaker come in and teach how to develop business will likely not cause the lawyers in your firm to change what they are doing. When your lawyers learn by doing client development becomes a habit.

Over many years I gave dozens of presentations at law firm retreats on client development. I believe I motivated and inspired young lawyers and gave them practical tips they could implement to bring clients into the firm. But, I quickly realized that no matter how well I presented, very few lawyers would retain the information and even fewer would actually make the changes necessary to apply what they had learned.

To get your young lawyers more involved in client development, I recommend learning by doing.

If you want to teach lawyers how to write effective blog posts, have them write several and then work with them to make the post more effective.

If you want to teach lawyers how to give presentations, have them give mock presentations, shooting video and then work with them to help them become more effective presenters.

If you want to teach lawyers how to interact with clients, create a scenario and have senior lawyers play the role of the client and then go over how your lawyers interacted with the make believe clients.

 

There are many highly skilled lawyers who have little or no business. You may know some of them. I certainly do. I know they can become successful at client development by working on it.

Here is the interesting thing: In 2020 in part because of COVID and the economy, law firms have cut back on training and developing their lawyers’ “people skills” and other “soft skills.” Has your firm cut back?

I believe that learning  “people skills” is even more important now because eventually your lawyers will be able to meet with clients in person. I also fear that kids who have not been to school in person since March are missing out on learning how to interact with classmates.

Business people casual.jpgLaw firms spend a substantial amount of money for CLE and development of substantive legal skills. They do it primarily because their State Bar requires a certain number of CLE hours for lawyers to remain active in the Bar. Law firms spend very little to develop soft skills. Why? In part, because the State Bar does not require it. In other words, training and development costs are not spent to help firm lawyers be better lawyers and be more valuable to clients.

What are soft skills? According to a Wikipedia article:

Soft Skills are behavioral competencies. Also known as Interpersonal Skills, or people skills, they include proficiencies such as communication skills, conflict resolution and negotiation, personal effectiveness, creative problem solving, strategic thinking, team building, influencing skills and selling skills, to name a few.

Is your firm helping your next generation of lawyers become proficient in any of those “soft skills.” If not wouldn’t it make sense to invest in them? While you will never be able to directly measure the return on your people skills investment, I happen to believe the return will be substantially greater than your return on your CLE investment.

P.S. When I finished writing this, I did a search and found an interesting 2017 article I want to share with you. Read 10 Things They Don’t Teach You in Law School (But Should).

I confess. When I grew up my heroes played baseball, basketball and football. I spent hours trying to make my pitch look like Don Drysdale’s or my jump shot look like Jerry West’s or Oscar Robertson’s. At the time there was only one quarterback who was about my height. His name was George Mira.

I also grew up reading biographies. I started with heroes in history. At 13 I read Clarence Darrow’s autobiography. Later I read about top lawyers going all the way back to Earl Rogers who defended Darrow in Los Angeles, and whose daughter wrote Final Verdict about her father. You can read about Rogers in this Tennessee Bar Association Blog Post: The Triumph and Tragedy of Earl Rogers.

I wanted to discover common themes and see if I could follow them. I still have several lawyer biographies in my bookcase even today. I wrote and gave links to several of those books six years ago: Recommended Reading: Are you reading about the great ones?

Forbes posted an article a few years ago about a book titled: The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well.

Here is the list:

  1. Dedication to a Vision
  2. Intelligent Persistence
  3. Fostering A Community
  4. Listening and Remaining Open
  5. Good Storytelling
  6. Testing Ideas in the Market
  7. Managing Emotions
  8. Constantly Evolving
  9. Practicing Patience
  10. Pursuing Happiness

If you want a different perspective, years ago I read an article titled: Becoming A Super Achiever: The Requirements of Success by Thomas D. Meyerhoeffer and George Vasu. (It apparently is no longer available on line.) They listed 10 strategies. Which of these 10 do you believe apply to super achiever lawyers?

  1. Stay Physically Fit for Life
  2. Confidence and Courage
  3. Persist Until You Achieve
  4. Respect Everybody
  5. The Ultimate Team Player
  6. The Relentless Pursuit of Excellence
  7. Take Personal Responsibility
  8. The Three C’s of Power Speaking
  9. Study the Masters
  10. Self-Reflection

Look at both lists. Ask yourself which of those in each list you are doing.

One final thing: Read Seth Godin’s blog (you should subscribe if you haven’t. Years ago he  posted: Are you a scientist?  After reading, ask yourself whether you are a scientist or an analyst. To be the best, you need to become a scientist.