When a lawyer comes to me seeking to change law firms, sometime during our discussions I ask:

When it comes to legal work, what do you believe is most important for your potential clients?

I believe most law firm leaders know what business clients expect and want from outside lawyers and firms. But, I wonder if law firms effectively use what they know. The vast majority of business clients report:

  • They hire lawyers rather than law firms. What are you doing to develop your next generation of outstanding lawyers?
  • A lawyer makes final consideration based on recommendations, his reputation, and profile. Do you have a plan for your lawyers to raise their visibility and credibility to their potential target market
  • A lawyer gets hired based on his or her ability to connect and generate trust and rapport with the client’s decision makers. Are you teaching your lawyers how to build trust and rapport?
  • Approximately 75% of the Fortune 1000 General Counsel’s are dissatisfied with their present law firm and would replace the firm if they thought any other firm would do better. What are you doing to make sure your client service exceeds expectations?
  • They are generally not dissatisfied with the quality of the work or the hourly rates of the senior lawyers. How are you making sure that clients will value the quality of work done by your junior lawyers?
  • Instead, they are dissatisfied with the lawyers’ lack of knowledge of the industry, company and decision makers, the lack of innovation and the lack of quality service including responsiveness. Do your junior lawyers understand and know the client’s industry? Are you looking for ways to be more innovative? Have your figured out how your clients define responsiveness and do you have a plan to make sure they receive it?

Over the 13 years I coached lawyers, I was frequently asked what are the most important things lawyers I coach are getting out of the coaching program.

I want to share my thoughts with you because even if you are not in any coaching program you can use these ideas. If you are interesting in having me find the right firm for you now, this is also a pretty good list for you.

  • They think about client development opportunities.
  • They have a long-term and short-term plan with goals.
  • They have become more confident in themselves.
  • They have become more focused on what they want to do and the potential clients in their target market.
  • They are building their profile by writing, speaking and becoming more known as a “go to” lawyer in their field.
  • They are way more focused on their clients’ industry, business and client representatives.
  • They are getting out from behind their computers and making client visits.
  • They have become more active in their communities.
  • They are learning from each other and getting to know each other.
  • They have taught other lawyers in the firm.
  • They are having fun. (They don’t look at client development as something they have to do.)

I urge you to think about how you can personally implement each of these ideas.

 

Not all lawyers admit it, but every lawyer is afraid at some point in his or her career.

For some, the fear is crippling. For others the fear is overcome. For me, my fear  motivated me.

Now that I am recruiting lawyers, I prefer to recruit those who are afraid far more than those who are complacent. As a coach and recruiter I can help a lawyer effectively deal with his or her fear, but I can’t help a lawyer deal with his or her complacency.

I love this quote attributed to Intel’s Andy Grove:

Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.

Andy Grove later wrote a book titled: Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company

I wasn’t aware of Andy Grove’s quote during my career, but I frequently said I had “healthy paranoia.”

What was my biggest fear? I always put it in harsh terms. I was always afraid my clients would find out I was a “fraud.” I was afraid they would figure out I didn’t know nearly as much as I appeared to know.

How did this fear motivate me?

Put simply, I worked harder to be the lawyer my clients perceived I was. I wanted to learn as much as I could about construction. So, I was a member of the Civil Engineer’s Book Club and created a library and read book after book on highway design and construction, bridge design and construction and construction management.

I read books and listened to tapes on trial skills and trial lawyers. I still have many of the books about famous trial lawyers.

What are your fears? Are your fears holding you back, or are you using fear to motivate you to become the best lawyer you can be?

Have you bought a Groupon or Living Social certificate to get a discount at a restaurant?

On the one hand, I’ve gone to restaurants I didn’t even know about before buying the discount certificate. On the other hand, I rarely have gone back and paid the full price.

What happens when law firms give discounts?

Giving discounts reminds me of Jos A. Bank. There is always a sale going on. A few years ago, I could have bought one sports coat or pair of slacks and gotten two for free. Over the years, when I bought something at the Jos A Bank store I was never sure I got the best deal.

If you give discounts, your clients will wonder if they are getting the best discount you give.

I never gave discounts. Instead, I gave extra services away at no cost.

For example, I offered to do workshops for my clients at no charge. I occasionally put associates in their office for a week at no charge.

I believe giving value for free is better than discounting fees. I also gave budgets for the work we were asked to do because I believed it was important for the client to be able to budget the outside fees.

I believe that:

  • 10% of legal work is bet the company and it goes to the best lawyers
  • 30% of work is commodity work and it goes to the lowest cost provider
  • 60% of legal work is based on relationships and it goes to the lawyer who is known, liked and trusted by the decision maker

Focus on either being the best in the world at something so you get the bet the company work, or focus on building relationships.

If you are doing commodity or routine work you better be able to do it cheaply.

Finally, if the economy demands it, lower your standard rate rather than giving a discount. If you do give a discount, you should anticipate your client will want a further discount when they receive your bill.

Take a moment from your work and determine if you think you are on the right track. Want some help? Think of five questions to ask yourself.

A few years ago I read a short Entrepreneur Magazine article by Richard Branson: Five Secrets to Business Success and it made me think of five questions to ask to determine if you are on the road to a successful career.

What five questions would you ask? Here are questions I would ask:

  1. Have I identified the priorities in my life?
  2. Have I found the kind of legal work or kind of clients that I am passionate about?
  3. Am I raising my visibility and credibility to those clients?
  4. Am I building high trust relationships with clients and referral sources?
  5. Am I am exceeding my clients’ expectations?

What would you add to this list?

 

In my new role as a legal recruiter, the first question law firms ask when considering partner candidates is:

Does he/she have clients? (Code for what is the amount of his/her portable business?)

In my role as a recruiter, more often than not I am not placing the lawyers who have $1 million or more in portable business. More often I am placing lawyers who have the potential to have $1 million in business.

So this post is aimed at those lawyers and at the firms that might consider them.

I recently read Jim Connelly’s Marketing blog post: You have no clients. Seriously. Not even one!

Connelly wrote:

Once you’ve earned someone’s custom, trust or attention, it’s just the beginning. If you want to retain their custom, trust and attention, you then need to keep on re-earning it. The moment you begin to think otherwise, you risk becoming complacent.

To put it in lawyer-client terms, Connelly is suggesting that you not focus on obtaining the client, but instead focus on developing the relationship.

I suspect that a natural question may be how do you develop relationships with potential clients and referral sources.

I have always suggested that it was about building trust and rapport. I believe that building trust means demonstrating you are the right lawyer for the legal matter. I believe building rapport means you demonstrate you genuinely care about the person and become interested in him or her beyond the work.

With my own ideas in mind, I went searching for a how-to article/blog post. I found a 2017 Forbes article titled: How To Build Strong Business Relationships. The first thing that struck me was the results of a study:

An essential part of business success is having a strong network. In fact, a Harvard study found that 85% of professional success comes from people skills.

I’m just curious:

  1. What is your firm doing to improve the people skills of your lawyers?
  2. If your firm is doing nothing, what are you doing?

If you enjoy what you are doing, and you’re good at it, but you want to change law firms, you are in the minority and you are the type of lawyer I would like to recruit.

Much has been written about unhappy lawyers. I’ve even written about it myself. Earlier this year I posted: How to go from burnout to balance?

I also posted: Activities and Relationships: Key to your happiness.

I’ve been working on my second novel for several months now. One of my characters is a 30 something-year-old lawyer named Carina. She is incredibly successful. She sets goals, works hard, figures out things others miss and she is credited for her great work for her client.

Yet, in the course of the novel, Carina realizes she is not very happy. I did some research and found an Atlantic article: Why So Many Smart People Aren’t Happy.

In the interview with University of Texas professor, Raj Raghunathan who authored a book titled:  If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? 

I especially liked this rather long quote from the interview:

When you don’t need to compare yourself to other people, you gravitate towards things that you instinctively enjoy doing, and you’re good at, and if you just focus on that for a long enough time, then chances are very, very high that you’re going to progress towards mastery anyway, and the fame and the power and the money and everything will come as a byproduct, rather than something that you chase directly in trying to be superior to other people.

For lawyers, comparing ourselves with others begins in law school. I was either third or fourth in my law school class. I can’t remember now, and to be honest, it never made any difference in my career.

I did some research and found the University of Richmond Law School is ranked number 50 by US News and World Report. I’m sure it was not ranked that high when I attended, but to be honest that never made any difference in my career.

When I was busy practicing law, my least happy times came once a year when I compared how much I was being paid to how much my partners were being paid. I was happiest when I was away from the office helping contractors get fairly paid for the large complex projects they were constructing.

I believe the lawyers in my old firm were fairly happy (other than the one time a year when they learned how much they and their colleagues would be paid), until we discovered our Am Law ranking. We were in the Top 100 and later the Top 50, but some leaders wanted a higher ranking.

I remember receiving a 15-page manifesto written by one leader on how we could move up the Am Law rankings. Other than the prospect of being paid more money, I found nothing valuable in the manifesto.

I want to recruit lawyers who are not comparing themselves to others. It’s a no-win game. As soon as you climb one mountain, there’ll be another one right in front of you.

 

Over the years when I coached lawyers, several Professional Development and Client Development/marketing professionals contacted me asking for subjects to cover in client development teaching and training.

If I wanted to take just 30 minutes or less at lunch each month, here are the topics I might cover:

  • What makes client development in 2018 and soon 2019 different and more challenging than 10 years ago – the economy (it’s roaring now), clients and the tools available
  • How to develop a business plan
  • How to determine individual goals that will challenge and stretch your lawyers
  • How to determine what activities to undertake to meet their goal
  • Methods you and your lawyers can use to hold the lawyers accountable
  • How to raise their visibility and credibility to their target market
  • How to write articles, blog posts and give presentations that will enhance their reputation and increase their chances of getting hired
  • Networking
  • Building relationships
  • How to work more effectively as a team
  • “Beyond Selling”- How to get business without coming across like a used car salesman
  • Extraordinary client service and expanding relationships with existing clients

Actually, I would put the last session first. I think one of the most important things you can teach your lawyers is how to provide extraordinary service to existing clients.

 

When I retired from my law practice to coach lawyers, people (including some close to me) asked why I would give up my law practice at the very peak of my career. There were many reasons. One was I simply wanted to do something different and new.

When I retired from coaching at the end of last year, people asked why I was giving that up. I told one friend that either I was considered too old by law firms, or as I had thought for some time, they did not want to invest in the future.

Now that I am recruiting lawyers, I’m not surprised to find how few young partners have a portable book of business that would be attractive to a law firm. I’ve been told that law firms do not want to invest in young lawyers because firm leaders believe those lawyers will leave the firm. I believe the opposite is true. I believe investing in young lawyers will give those lawyers a reason to stay.

A few years ago I read Seth Godin’s blog: Cost Reduction for High End Markets.

The essence of the post is that if you cut costs, you become less remarkable and more like firms trying to serve the middle of the market. Seth says:

Go through all the ways you serve your customers and make them more expensive to execute, not less. Your loyalty and your market share will both grow. People who can afford to pay for service often choose to pay for service.

I rarely meet lawyers in a firm of any significant size who want to compete on price. Your law firm would likely want to increase revenue from your firm’s largest clients. Why would a client want to pay more (either higher rates or giving your firm more work) when they are getting less from your firm?

If you want to stand out from all the other law firms, take Seth Godin’s advice. If you are sitting around with lawyers in your practice group or office, brainstorm on what you can offer that will be more expensive for your firm to execute, but will make your firm more valuable to your clients, and in the end, increase revenue.

Did you watch the women’s final of the US Open on Saturday? I watched it all and became a huge fan of Naomi Osaka. She played against Serena with grit, focus and power.

She outplayed and defeated her hero, the hero she had dreamed of playing from the time she was a child, the hero who had provided her the motivation to work hard to become the very best she could be.

While her tennis against Serena and Madison Keys in the semi-finals was awesome, I was more impressed by her grace, authenticity and humility in victory.

You may have read or heard that in third grade she did a report for school about Serena including drawing a picture of her and coloring it in.

You may have heard or read about her post match interview:

“Your question is making me emotional,” said Osaka, when she was asked to explain her podium apology at her post-match press conference.

“Because I know she really wanted to have the 24th Grand Slam, right? Everyone knows this. It’s on the commercials, it’s everywhere.

“When I step onto the court, I feel like a different person. I’m not a Serena fan. I’m just a tennis player playing another tennis player.

“But then when I hugged her at the net (tearing up) … when I hugged her at the net, I felt like a little kid again.”

I read many, many articles about Naomi and her victory. This one struck a chord with me. Japanese hail a ‘humble and serene’ Naomi.

The Japanese public have also been charmed by Osaka’s off-court humility and genuineness as much as her on-court ferocity.

Yesterday morning, I watched her interview on the Today Show and talked about how it felt to play the title match after writing her third grade paper and having watched her win grand slam matches before.

Having Heroes Motivated Me

When I was a kid growing up in Lombard, IL, I played baseball, basketball and football. I idolized players in each sport and imitated their motions.

Our next door neighbor had a chicken coop. He allowed me to draw a strike zone on the back that faced our yard. With a red rubber ball I did my best Early Wynn (White Sox pitcher) imitation. I also became each of the White Sox infielders catching ground balls and throwing to first.

If you looked at photos of our vacation the summer I was 10 years old you would see in every photo I had on a White Sox hat and a big wad of Topps baseball card gum in my mouth, wanting to look like the White Sox second baseman, Nellie Fox.

When I played the outfield, I tried to imitate my hero, Willie Mays.

Sometime when I was young my dad put up a basketball hoop for me. I shot baskets year round, including in the winter in the snow with gloves on. I tried to shoot jump shots like Jerry West and layups like Elgin Baylor.

In football, I wanted to be like Johnny Unitas. I even tried to have a flat top like he had. My only problem was my hair was so curly, instead of standing straight up it went all over the place.

In my dreams, I never thought about playing with or against my heroes. In my real life, I never played professional sports and only got as far as freshman basketball and baseball at Virginia Tech.

But, trying to be like my heroes taught me something that turned out to be far more valuable. I set high goals and worked hard to achieve them. It was the journey that became important in my life.

When I decided to become a lawyer, I had heroes. They were lawyers like Clarence Darrow, Earl Rogers, Louis Nizer, and F. Lee Bailey. I read books about them. (I still have many of the books). I worked hard to become as good as they had been. I doubt I ever achieved it. But, my desire to achieve goals and hard work served me well.

Did you have heroes when you grew up?  Did they motivate you to strive to become better than you thought you could be?