A few weeks ago I received a call from a really outstanding lawyer I coached eleven years ago in 2010 and the call reminded me about what made him outstanding.

When I was working with his group, I was caught in an east coast snow storm. It was so intense that there were only a few cars on the streets.

When I went to breakfast I asked the two women who greeted me if they had spent the night. They told me they had gotten up at 3 AM and shoveled for a couple of hours to be able to get to work. Clearly they went the extra mile to be at the hotel to serve guests.

Snow scene

While I was caught in the storm, I received an email from the lawyer. He was excited that a court had bought his theory in a case meaning he was going to trial for his client with the chance of a nine digit recovery.  Many other plaintiffs had settled their cases for substantially less because their lawyers had not thought of the theory.

The email made me think what separates the best lawyers. In a nutshell they see their clients’ problems and opportunities other lawyers do not see. They also see creative solutions to those problems and strategies for achieving the opportunities that other lawyers do not see.

Part of this skill is God given, just being smart and intuitive helps. I believe the majority of this skill is being far more curious than other lawyers.

Being curious is right brain focused, so you might be interested in the book The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: A Course in Enhancing Creativity and Artistic Confidence by Betty Edwards.

I learned of it reading Daniel Pink’s book: A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. To get the idea read this blog post: Nature Study and Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by HollyAnne Dobbins.

While nature study has little or nothing to do with practicing law, you will still get the idea of how learning to draw will make you a better lawyer.

Most lawyers I know in private practice have had an outstanding partner or the most promising associate leave their firm. Most have wondered why. I think I may have an answer: The lack of good communication.

I’ve enjoyed watching several 30 for 30 shows on ESPN. One of the best was 30 for 30: Marcus Dupree The Best That Never Was.

I watched amazed at the talent I saw on the screen. I have never seen a college running back like Marcus Dupree. He was remarkable during his freshman season at University of Oklahoma.

Here are some highlights:

In the 30 for 30 segment, Barry Switzer described Dupree as the most gifted player he ever coached. He also acknowledged that the biggest mistake he made as a coach was the way he coached Marcus Dupree. In a Tulsa World article I particularly enjoyed The real Marcus Dupree: Former OU running back at peace with his life, Marcus Dupree describes that communication was the problem.

I guess you could say the message is communication,” he (Dupree) said. “No matter what it is. If it’s marriage, if it’s being a good friend, if it’s a coaching staff, communicate.

As a sports fan, I am saddened that the young man who could have become the greatest running back ever, instead became “The Best that Never Was.”

Having practiced law for more years than I care to mention, I have seen first hand many of the very best lawyers leave a firm because of a lack of communication. What are you doing to improve the communication in your firm?

I guess you could say the message is communication,” he said. “No matter what it is. If it’s marriage, if it’s being a good friend, if it’s a coaching staff, communicate.
Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/sportsextra/OU/article.aspx?subjectid=92&articleid=20110214_92_B1_Thirty442488


  1. Create a yearly Business Plan-If you need a template for a business plan just ask me.
  2. Breakdown Your Plan-Create 90 days or monthly goals (actions).
  3. Plan and Schedule Client Development Activities Each Week-Decide what you plan to do, estimate how much time it will take and then schedule it on your calendar.
  4. Keep a Client Development Journal-Keeping track makes it more likely you will actually do the activities.
  5. Have a Client Development Partner-Like a workout partner, a client development partner makes it more likely you will do the activities.
  6. Join Industry and/or Community Associations/Organizations and Seek Leadership Positions-Join just a few organizations and be active to raise visibility.
  7. Stay in Contact-Use multiple means (notes, calls, lunches, coffee, blogs, email, LinkedIn).
  8. Conduct Workshops and Seminars for Clients-(Get CLE credit if doing it for in-house lawyers)
  9. Put Links to Published Articles on Your Website Bio-You want prospective clients to read what you have written.
  10. Create a Blog-I feel certain you know that blog posts are shorter than articles and they are more timely and more easily shared.
  11. Create a Guide-This can be a handout at industry presentations. Make it short and concise.
  12. Read What Your Clients Read-Find out their industry publications and subscribe to them
  13. Identify Referral Sources-Referral Sources expand your network to prospective clients.
  14. Write Thank You Notes-Let clients know you appreciate the opportunity to serve them.
  15. Get to Know Assistants-A client representative’s assistant can be a great source of goodwill.
  16. Joint Venture Programs with Client Representatives-They will enjoy being asked and working together will help build the relationship.
  17. Become involved in your clients’ favorite charities-This is another way to build the relationship and let the client know you care about what is important to them.
  18. Return phone calls and emails promptly-Clients do not want to wait.
  19. Build database of information on your clients including spouse’s name, children’s names and ages, hobbies etc.-This helps you find reasons to be in contact with clients
  20. Go to events you would rather skip-You never know where you will run into opportunities.
  21. Have your elevator speech ready-Create several so you can use the appropriate one
  22. Have your elevator questions ready-People want you to be interested more than they want you to be interesting.
  23. Call, email and write clients-Just to see how they are doing.
  24. Do something no matter how small each and every day-Make a list of potential things you can do each and every day.
  25. Read books about sales and service-Figure out how other businesses do it effectively by reading about them.


When some of you my age read the title to this blog post, you thought it was going to be about George Carlin’s 1972 monologue Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.

No, it’s not George Carlin. It’s a blog post I read several years ago  7 Words That Can Transform Your Business And Life. As you will see when you read it, the 7 words are in a sentence. They are:

What can I do to help you?

I have seen lawyers use those 7 words in a sentence very effectively. They do it effectively because of their sincerity. Jonathan Cole, a Baker Donelson Nashville partner I coached way back in 2006-2007, ended each conversation with me with those 7 words.

I will always remember him because of those 7 words and his sincere desire to help me. Your clients will remember you for the same reason.

You likely know the Maya Angelou quote. I’ve used it in other blog posts:


Your clients want to feel appreciated. Here are some initial thoughts on how you can do it:

  1. Saying to a client: “I want to know more about your company because the more I know the better I will be able to help you.” Or, you might say: “Tell me a little about the history of your company, where you are now and where you are going.”
  2. Keeping up with what is going on in your client’s industry, including what its competitors are doing and offering ideas on any implications.
  3. Helping the client obtain more valuable business. If ever you are able to actually expand the client’s business by introducing the client to other clients or to other lawyers in your firm who can do the same, that is always a plus.
  4. Conducting training of some sort or a workshop at no charge.
  5. Putting an associate in the client’s office for a week at no charge.
  6. If your client is local, inviting the client and spouse to your house for dinner.
  7. Finding out about the client’s children and keeping up with them.
  8. Simply saying at the end of every conversation “Is there anything else I can do to help you.”
  9. Saying “thank you” after finishing a matter.‚Ä®
  10. Getting to know your client representative’s assistant and treating that person as well as you treat the client representative.

When it is considered safe to visit, I recommend you spend a day with your clients with no charge. This is especially important if COVID has kept you from seeing clients in person.

I did that frequently as a lawyer and even put associates in my clients’ offices or out on a construction project and did not charge for their time. I remember at least two of my visits were to bridge construction projects like the one pictured here.

I thought of this recently when Nancy and I went to Best Buy to buy a new dishwasher. After deciding on the one we wanted we began speaking with Jacob, our young salesperson about making our home smarter. After a few minutes our young sales representative gave us a brochure for a free home consultation.

A couple of days later our home consultant spent at least an hour helping us figure out options for making our home smarter. It was time well spent and I believe brilliant marketing by Best Buy.

When I was coaching I shared the give away a day idea with many of the lawyers I coached. Each one who did it found it valuable and many came back to the office with one or more new projects.

A law firm leader once asked me if I would suggest questions to ask junior lawyers to determine if they would be the best suited for client development coaching. At the time I didn’t have questions, but at his request I suggested these.

  1. What do you believe you will get out of the coaching program?
  2. You would consider the coaching program a success if________.
  3. What do you want to learn?
  4. What client development efforts have you made the past year and how have they worked for you?
  5. What are your major client development strengths?
  6. What areas in your client development efforts do you want to improve?
  7. Did you create a business plan for last year?
  8. How much time will you commit each month to the coaching program and your client development efforts?

I have written on this subject many times. But, I suspect after COVID-19 fewer law firms than ever have client development coaching programs for their young lawyers.

You will hear baby boomer lawyers say:

When I was a young lawyer, no one coached me.

True. No one coached me either and I can’t begin to tell you how many hours I wasted trying to figure out by trial and error what would work most effectively for me. It was also harder for me to devote quality time on client development because no one was holding me accountable.

So, here are some benefits your firm might realize coaching your up and coming lawyers.

  1. Increase firm revenue and profitability
  2. Make its next generation of partners and firm leaders more focused on client development
  3. Develop individual and group responsibility and accountability
  4.  Make client development a greater part of the firm’s culture
  5. Help each lawyer in the program determine the client development efforts that will work most effectively for him or her
  6. Ensure that each lawyer in the program is taking action
  7. Ensure that each lawyer in the program feel like they are in control of their future
  8. Client development will become part of the daily habits of lawyers in the coaching program
  9. Increase business with existing clients and to bring in new clients
  10. Enable lawyers within the program to get to know each other better, to work effectively as a team, and to collaborate on their client development efforts
  11. Increase opportunities for cross-selling among the lawyers coached
  12. Make client development go from an activity dreaded to one enjoyed

When I was building my law practice, I never thought about branding. I likely never heard the word used in connection with practicing law.

A few years ago, I was asked by the Boston Bar Association to be the keynote speaker of a day long program they titled: “Brand Yourself: Business Development for New Associates Conference.” At the time I wondered if the young lawyers who attended wondered what it meant to brand yourself.

If you want to review the slides from Boston Bar presentation you can find them here. If you are interested in my workbook handout, send me an email.


If you give it much thought, isn’t your brand or your law firm’s brand what your clients think of you or your firm?

What do you want your clients to think of you?

To give you some ideas, here is what I wanted my clients to think about me.  I wanted to be perceived by transportation construction contractors as:

  1. The preeminent transportation construction lawyer in the US
  2. Able to anticipate and identify their potential problems and provide innovative solutions before they thought of the problem
  3. The lawyer with the greatest construction business savvy
  4. Trustworthy
  5. Ethical
  6. Likeable
  7. Empathetic and Caring
  8. Responsive
  9. Focused on helping contractor clients succeed

How did I make these ideas come to life?

When I first started I spent about as much time reading about construction and the construction business as I did reading about legal issues. By understanding how my clients made or lost money, the challenges they faced building complicated projects and how their industry was changing, I was better positioned to help them.

My goal was to take what I learned and distinguish myself from other lawyers.

Then, for 25 years I wrote a column for Roads and Bridges magazine titled “Law: The Contractor’s Side.”

When I wrote the column I spent more time figuring out what to write about than actually writing it. Why? Because each month I wanted to demonstrate I was anticipating and identifying potential problems and offering a solution. Because the column was so well read, it enabled me to build my brand more than any other client development activity I did.

How do you want your clients to perceive you? When you answer that question you will be on your way to building your brand, or whatever other term you choose to describe it.

I remember coaching an outstanding young associate who soon thereafter became a partner in her firm.

On thing she wanted to focus on was preparing a plan for the year that would work for her. So as we got started I asked for her to share her goals  with me.

She started with a goal of bringing in a certain amount of business from her own clients. I then asked how she had estimated the amount of business. She replied she had based the estimate on what she had in the pipeline for her one big client.

I then asked is she felt she was limiting herself by setting a goal she was pretty certain she would reach. I told her she might be focused on not failing rather than focused in succeeding.

Are you like the lawyer I coached ? Are you limiting yourself to what you feel confident you can achieve?

When I practiced law I can’t tell you exactly why but I started setting financial goals that other lawyers said I would not be able to achieve. I wanted to push myself. I wanted to be able to visualize something really big.


Have you ever heard of James Allen, an English author in the late 1800s? I bet most of of you haven’t.  He was a self-help guru when self-help gurus weren’t cool.

Here are just a few of his quotes on self-motivation.

“You will become as small as your controlling desire; as great as your dominant aspiration.”
“To desire is to obtain; to aspire is to achieve.”
“For true success ask yourself these four questions: Why? Why not? Why not me? Why not now?”
“All that you accomplish or fail to accomplish with your life is the direct result of your thoughts.”
If you want to learn more about self motivation, I recommend reading: Self-Motivation Explained + 100 Ways To Motivate Yourself. In the meantime, don’t limit yourself. Think about your own definition of success and then ask: Why? Why not? Why not me? Why not now?