Over the many years that I mentored, taught and coached young lawyers, I wondered why it was so difficult to change and why young lawyers got discouraged so quickly when their client development efforts do not produce immediate results.

Over many years scientists have been studying how our brain affects our ability to make changes. Knowing that none of you have any time to study this, I thought I might give you a short lesson.

Do you remember when you were learning to drive. I bet you put a death grip on the wheel, paid way more attention to what you were doing, and if you were on a two lane road driving with your dad, he was scared to death you were going to plow down a row of mail boxes. Now, when you get into a car you do not even think about technique. You just do it.

What happened?

When you are learning something for the first time you are using your short term memory part of your brain. It requires significantly more energy and is able to hold fewer ideas. Also, just trying to change what we are doing sends out a strong message that something isn’t right and brings on anxiety and stress.

Ok, so now you may understand why change is difficult and why you may easily get discouraged. What can you do about it?

Learn client development in bite sized pieces and implement what you are learning until it becomes part of your habits. Your goal should be to get client development from your short term memory to the hard wired part of your brain.

How can you accomplish this?

  • Start with what you want to accomplish long term and why it is important to you.
  • Set a time period. Let’s say five years from now and an end result goal on where you want to be then.
  • Create a 2021 Business Plan that is based at least in part to what you want to accomplish this year to get you on the right course for your five year goal.
  • Create quarterly or monthly action plans and measure how you are doing towards your one year plan goals
  • Create a weekly action plan and share it with your husband or wife, your friend, your mentor or someone who will hold you accountable.
  • Grade yourself each week on how you did on the actions in weekly plan and create an action plan for the following week
  • Plan what actions you want to take each day

That approach, my friend, will break down your efforts into bite sized pieces. What do you want to learn next? What actions do you want to take next?



I am reading a book on creative writing. Having practiced law for 38 years I need to exercise the right side of my brain.

Literally in the first chapter I saw two quotes that apply to your efforts on client development. The first I had not seen before. Ursula K. Le Guin said:

It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters in the end.

Take a moment. Read it a couple of times. It is good for you to have an end result goal; but it is the actions you take each and every day that will matter in the end.

The second quote you likely have seen before. Woody Allen once said:

80% of success in life is just showing up.

In your client development efforts 80% of your success will be just doing something regularly to attract, retain and expand relationships with clients.


Are you a young litigator and not doing as well as you would like with client development? If so, do you likely fall into one, or more of these four categories:

  • You do great work, you’ve gotten or will get a Martindale A-V rating and you wait for the phone to ring.
  • You do not want to be “pigeon-holed.”
  • You are focused on “selling” what you do as a litigator.
  • You write or speak to other lawyers.

These approaches are ineffective for a variety of reasons.

First, everyone you compete against is selling the same thing-litigation. As a result, the only lawyers who can successfully  just wait for the phone to ring are the top “go to” litigators in your city, or lawyers who have big clients who are constantly in court.

Litigators who do not want to get “pigeon holed” either do not market at all, or they market to everyone. If you market to everyone, you essentially market to no one. You will be more successful narrowing the focus of your marketing efforts.

Litigators who are selling what they do tend to focus on clients who have an immediate need. They scour the docket sheets looking for companies that have been sued. When a friend casually mentions that his company has been sued, the first question from the lawyer is: “Has your company hired anyone to defend it yet?” Unfortunately, unless the company is already a client, they will be competing with lots of other talented lawyers.


Very few litigators will actually get work from writing and speaking to other lawyers. While it may build your reputation to speak at an ABA Annual Meeting or State Bar meetings, it will be challenging to get work from other lawyers. I know. I spoke at the ABA Annual Meeting in 1981 and I am still waiting for a call from a lawyer who saw me speak.

I encourage you to change your mindset. Narrow your focus and then become visible and credible to potential clients that are not looking for a lawyer now. Do your homework and think about their potential problems or changes they will face that may result in litigation.

How can you figure out what your will be an issue for your clients in the future? The best way is to keep up with the news and what is happening in your city, state, country and the world. Also keep up with what is going on in your client’s industry by reading trade publications and newsletters.

When you see something that might impact potential clients,  come up with a solution and write about it, or give a presentation. When you write or speak, you will likely be more successful if you focus on ways to avoid litigation.


What is client development coaching?

It is a program designed to help lawyers succeed in their efforts to attract, retain and expand relationships with clients.

Why does it work?

Do you workout? If you are like me you achieve more when you have a fitness trainer pushing you. Client development coaching works the same way.

A client development coach helps lawyers set stretch goals, create action plans to achieve those goals and hold the lawyers accountable to make sure they take the actions they’ve planned.

Whether you have written them down or not, you have goals. It is just easier to keep track if you write them down.

Nearly every expert recommends writing down your goals – from once a year to several times during the year.  I recommend it also.

But it takes more than pen, paper (or a computer) and good thoughts to reach your goals.

You must also do something!

It may take more – or less – time than you thought to reach your goals, but one thing’s for certain: you will never reach them if you don’t take action.

Map.pngYour written goals are like a map – directions for traveling from Point A to Point B.  But you have to commit – and start driving – if you expect to reach your destination. How can you do that?

  • Tell your spouse, a colleague or friend what your goals are.
  • Report to that person regularly on what you have done.
  • Break down your goals into smaller actions.
  • Plan your actions for each week, estimate the time each action will take and put it on your calendar.
  • Keep a journal.

If you haven’t done this for 2021, please give the suggestions above a try.

In 2021 I am posting client development planning activities I worked on with lawyers I coached. Here are a few more activities for you.

Think about your roles, priorities, commitments and lifestyle, what is the best day and time of day for you to schedule your client development activities?


List business development activities that can be done in 15-minutes or less.

Identify your daily and repetitive activities that provide the opportunity to fill the dead time (like waiting to catch a plane, waiting in line to pick up your children at school) with client development activities.



Think of content you have created and list ways you can repurpose that content.



What are activities that will help you be more accountable?

Are blogging? Are you are using social media? if you are using those tools to benefit your clients, that will also benefit you. Because we tend to think in the present, let me give you a little history.

I have to confess. After, 2020, if I had my way I would like to go back to the Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best days.  Many of you never watched either show, but if your parents, or maybe grandparents are still alive, you can ask them about the shows.

One thing that seems funny now is the men wore ties and the women wore dresses while at home.

I liked it when I didn’t have a computer on my desk, a tablet and a smart phone.

I liked four channels on my tv, no 24 hours news stations and when I didn’t know whether Walter Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley or Peter Jennings were democrats or republicans.

I liked it when republicans and democrats put the country first by for example passing the civil rights bill. I fear those days are gone for the rest of my lifetime.

Life was more simple and more civil then. But, clients in those days had no idea what they were getting when they needed to hire a lawyer or a law firm.

When I began practicing law clients were pretty much in the dark about lawyers and law firms. I suppose the sophisticated clients who had access to Martindale Hubbell books could do limited research and at least determine the peer ratings of lawyers and law firms they were considering. Even then, how would a client distinguish one A-V rated lawyer from another?

I always thought that when clients were left to guess which lawyer or firm would be best for them, business clients at least would tend to select larger firms, or firms from certain cities, assuming they must be better.

In the 90s law firms began to create websites. At the beginning, lawyers merely copied the bio they had provided Martindale Hubbell and placed a photo on their website bio.

At the beginning, clients were not any better informed than they had been before law firms created websites. Later, websites were upgraded and there came a time when lawyers could actually add links to articles they had written or presentations they had given.

At that point law firms began sending email client alerts using the software that permits several hundred to go out at once. So, business clients were inundated with unwanted alerts from many law firms.

Around 2005 or so lawyers and law firms started blogging, giving webinars, doing podcasts and using social media tools for client development. Here are some of the ways clients benefitted from this advancement. Business clients could:

  1. More effectively and more efficiently do research on the lawyer or law firm they are considering.
  2. More effectively determine what the lawyer knows about the client’s industry and their business.
  3. More effectively determine the lawyer’s background and experience in the specific legal area of interest.
  4. Get a sense of the lawyer’s personality and better determine whether the client will have rapport with the lawyer.
  5. More readily and easily compare lawyers and law firms.
  6. Make determinations on whether a smaller firm or a younger lawyer can handle a matter as well as a larger firm or more senior lawyer.
  7. Choose what to read or review rather than receiving unwanted emails from law firms.
  8. Learn from the content provided by the lawyer how to avoid certain problems or what opportunities may be out there.
  9. Receive a legal slant on a business topic of interest.
  10. Engage in a discussion by providing a comment on a blog or social media page.
  11. Determine what others are saying about the lawyer or law firm.
  12. Most importantly, make a more informed decision when hiring a lawyer or law firm.


Yesterday I read an ABA post: Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, law firms are starting to embrace virtual offices—but will it last?

I found this interesting quote:

Some have even ditched physical offices altogether and don’t plan on returning to the traditional setting again. But before contacting your landlord, you need to consider how this will affect clients—and whether there really is a need for your law firm to have a physical office.

I wrote this post in 2009. I believe it may be even more relevant as your firm prepares for 2021 while COVID cases are rising and the vaccine has started.

I have a feeling that many lawyers will continue to work from home in 2021 and meetings will be virtual rather than in person.

We live in a rapidly changing world and businesses, including law firms, must regularly scan the environment to determine how we remain effective in meeting our client’s needs. Those that don’t effectively respond to the changing environment find themselves weakened or out of business.

I was thinking about this a while back. My thinking on the subject started when I was reading The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More, an article and later a book by Chris Anderson.

The “Long Tail” is about the shift from hits to niches. In the book, Anderson discusses an entirely new economic model for media and entertainment industries, and its application to other businesses. Anderson points out that online retailing done by Amazon, iTunes and Netflix have changed forever the economics of selling books, music and rental movies because of the wider selection they can offer and the lower cost structure.

While I was reading the book, I thought about my old law firm. We had around 15,000 clients, which for a firm our size was a long tail. Consultants told us we needed to get rid of many of the less profitable clients and focus our attention on the top 1000 clients that were very profitable.

That was before Amazon, iTunes and Netflix became successful. That was also before many of the largest potential clients in the United States failed, were bailed out or went out of business.

So, my thoughts centered on whether the Amazon, iTunes and Netflix model applies to law firms in 2009, and if so, how does it apply?

There are still blue chip clients, but I believe the new economic model is already changing how law will be practiced in the future. In the last couple of years, there have been two emerging trends.

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog reports that outsourcing legal work to India is a booming business because experienced Indian lawyers bill between $75 and $100 an hour.

The Washington Post reports that the boom in outsourcing legal work to India started because of the “E” discovery rules. Neither article mentions that another economic advantage is no office space is necessary for those lawyers.

The second trend, which also seems based on the Amazon, ITunes and Netflix economic model, is the virtual law firm. Law.com reported that last year 15 lawyers started a virtual law firm called Virtual Law Partners. In May of this year, Law.com reported that virtual law firms are benefiting from the current economy.

Do you see a trend developing for our profession?

In the future, relatively large law firms might have offices in major cities with only a receptionist and conference rooms. The vast majority of its lawyers may either work from their homes or in very inexpensive space elsewhere.

The firm will outsource commodity work to India. This economic approach will enable the firm to be competitive and profitable doing more work for smaller clients. Is your firm ready for this change?

Hopefully by 2021 you and your colleagues are blogging. If not, here are reasons why you should be blogging:

  1. You will become more visible to your target market. A firm for whom I coached lawyers was not on the first ten pages of a Google search for a niche they specialized in until they started blogging. Now the firm’s blog is the second listing on the first page.
  2. You will be able to listen and engage your target market: You will listen for topics and listen for what your clients want to read.
  3. You will create more “weak tie” contacts. Your will have a wider variety of readers than those you send email blast alerts to.
  4. You will be forced to keep up with what is going on that impacts your  clients: You have to keep up to find topics.
  5. You can get material to your clients the moment they want it. When I wrote a monthly magazine column it would take two months from an event happening until my column on it was published.
  6. You will learn to be a better writer. It is humbling if no one is reading what you are writing.
  7. You will learn to be more concise. If you don’t, no one will read what you are writing.
  8. You can blog any time of day and any place including home.
  9. You provide a tool someone referring business to you can give to a potential client.
  10. Your readers will get to know you on a personal level.
  11. It is inexpensive to blog.
  12. You can link to your blog posts on social media sites.


Many of  you are uncomfortable selling yourself and potentially acting like a salesman. I understand. I never wanted a client to think I was acting like a salesman.

Let me share a story of a partner who paid me what he thought was the ultimate insult.

When I was the Construction Law Practice Group Leader there were two partners who, to put it kindly, were not on the same page with me. They helped me understand the meaning of the phrase:

“Leading lawyers is like herding cats.”

One year we held a practice group retreat at a ranch outside Dallas. After dinner and a few beers, one of the partners paid me what he believed would be the ultimate insult. He said:

“Cordell, you are not a real lawyer, you are nothing but a salesman.”

Sales commercialYou could have cut the tension with a knife. Other partners waited patiently for my response. I had not been drinking and I wanted to say something that would have included swear words. You likely know some of the words that I held back.

Then, I thought I should say something like:

“It’s a good thing I am a salesman because if I wasn’t you wouldn’t have anything to do when you come to the office each day.”

I decided nothing could be gained in our retreat from pointing this out. Instead, I just let his insult pass.

Later, I thought about his point. I hate any sentence that includes the words sales and lawyers. I hate to be sold anything and I know my clients and potential clients hated lawyers selling their services.

Many lawyers who struggle with client development tell me that they did not go to law school to become a salesman. I didn’t go to law school to be a salesman either. Yet, we are salesmen and saleswomen. In the end, we are always selling ourselves and our firm.

When you meet with potential clients, they are judging whether they can trust you to handle their legal matter and what it will be like working with you. They are also judging whether you are putting their interests ahead of your own.

So, the question is:

How can you instill trust, serve and build a relationship without coming across as a “salesman?”

  1. Build your profile or brand. If possible become the “go to” lawyer in some niche practice or some targeted industry market.
  2. View everyone you meet as a potential client. Treat them respectfully and become sincerely interested in them.
  3. Work on building relationships and serving, not on getting business.
  4. Think of ways to serve, help and add value at no charge.

Over the years I’ve written about stays at Ritz Carlton hotels. When I worked and could choose, I chose Ritz Carlton.

Years ago I stayed at the Philadelphia Ritz Carlton. When I checked in the person behind the desk asked:

“Mr. Parvin would it be ok with you if I gave you a room upgrade to a larger room with a view of city hall?”

I think that is a pretty effective sales approach. After all, who would say no to that?

What do you suppose your best client would say if you asked:

“Fred, would it be ok if I gave your company a day of my time at no charge?”

I believe you will get a great response.