Client Development Training

A friend of mine reminded me of a riddle:

When was the last time a lawyer could be successful in a law firm without having clients?

His response was:

When Houston had a football team called the Houston Oilers.

Having watched the Dallas Cowboys lose to the Houston team that moved to Tennessee, I could have said: The last time the Cowboys won the Super Bowl. That was actually the year before the Oilers moved to Tennessee.

I recently discovered that several of my Lateral Link colleagues focus on recruiting associates. I am reposting this blog with some edits to update for those recruiters and the associates with whom they work. But, if you are a law firm associate this is also for you, and if you work with associates, I hope you will share it with them.

If you read the entire post, you will find that it includes slides from a presentation I did for senior associates and slides from a presentation I did for junior associates. I hope to also include handouts I gave for those presentations.

In a podcast interview with Dallas lawyer Tricia DeLeon, I asked: What is One Piece of Advice for Young Lawyers? When you listen you will hear her say “start your client development efforts now”. 

Are you an associate in your firm? Have you begun learning about client development and implementing what you are learning? Does your firm have a program on client development for associates?

Every partner I coach tells me they wish I had coached them earlier in their career. The time to learn, to practice and to ramp up client development activities is significant. By the time you are eligible to be promoted to partner, your firm leaders expect you to have the skills to attain, retain and expand relationships with clients.

I gave presentations for Junior Associates and Senior Associates on client development. Click on Client Development in a Nutshell: Junior Associates for the Junior Associate slides. Click on Client Development in a Nutshell: Senior Associates for the Senior Associate slides. Here is the handout for Junior Associates.  Here is the handout for Senior Associates.

I am frequently asked for ideas for these two groups. Here are a few.

Junior Associates:

  • Focus on learning your legal skills
  • Treat your supervising partner like a client
  • Make a list of 50 people you know who you think will be successful in the future and stay in contact with them
  • Each time you work on a project do research on the client’s industry
  • Get to know client’s business by reviewing the company website and setting up Google Alerts on the client
  • Develop a system to remember names
  • Develop a plan with written goals
  • Send hand written notes to contacts
  • Dress for success

Senior Associates:

  • Find a client development mentor
  • If the firm has blogs, contribute posts
  • Practice public speaking in front of groups
  • Become visible in the firm
  • Visit other offices if your firm has more than one
  • Start to think about a niche
  • Find a sub niche within the niche
  • Consider working toward leadership positions in bar associations
  • Be a mentor for a junior lawyer
  • Join industry organizations your clients belong to and go to the meetings
  • Read industry publications your clients read
  • Create a business plan with goals
  • If it is appropriate to help develop your practice, be active in your community
  • Get outside your comfort zone

Law Firms: When was the last time your law firm did any kind of program to help associates get started on learning and practicing good client development habits?

Associates: Take my word, if you start learning client development skills now, you will enjoy your career more in the future. I did it and had a blast practicing law.

What is the phrase?

What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave our law firm?

‘What happens if we don’t, and they stay?

Some of you are afraid to give presentations. If you are, you are certainly not alone. Here are 10 Causes of Speech Anxiety that Create Fear of Public Speaking. Your goal should be to make public speaking natural for you. The best way to do it is speak in public.

When I was growing up I played baseball just about every day in the summer. I remember going to the local park each day with my glove, bat, ball and lunch and playing with my friends until dinner time. I continued playing baseball through college.

I haven’t swung a baseball bat in probably 30 years or more. Yet, if I went to a batting cage today, I could swing without giving any thought to technique. I probably would find hitting the ball challenging, but I would swing naturally.

I never played golf growing up. As a result, I rarely am able to swing a club without thinking about technique. I haven’t grooved the swing like I did my baseball swing. I know that if I want to groove my swing, I need to practice more.

In 1981, I made my first presentation to a group of contractors (clients and potential clients). There is no way to describe how nervous I was the night before. I could not sleep. I visualized my presentation and visualized the audience. I must have given the presentation at least 10 times in my head that night.

The next day I stood before over 100 contractors and delivered the presentation. I was still nervous, and I know I must have focused on my technique, but it went well.

I have probably given over 1000 presentations since that day and when I give one today, it is natural, even when things do not go as planned.

A few years ago I made a presentation to contractors. I was supposed to speak for an hour, but the speaker before me took 30 minutes of my time. I decided to skip the PowerPoint slides and take the 30 minutes to hit the most important points.

Why should we begin training young lawyers in client development? I hope the answer is clear. The earlier they start and the more opportunities they have, the more likely it will become natural to them. 

Prior to posting this blog, I shared my thoughts with an attorney development professional and here is her response:

This makes good sense, Cordell. I would also add that the more you do something, the better able you are to handle the unusual occurrences, in your language – the curve ball or the change up. I think of the times I’ve presented a program I’m very familiar with and something comes up or someone asks a question that I’ve never encountered. Just being more relaxed allows me to focus on this new development and handle it with ease.


If you do not live in Dallas, you may not know that the parade for the NBA champion Mavericks is in just a few hours. After the Mavericks miraculous comeback in the second game of the series, there was a segment about Dirk Nowitzki and his coach, Holger Geschwindner. If you watched it, you got a sense of why Nowitzki has confidence in himself when the game is on the line. He practices, perhaps harder and more deliberate than any player in the NBA, and he constantly gets feedback from his coach.

To me it is interesting that the same way a pro basketball player gains confidence applies to lawyers. I have written many times that to be successful at client development you have to believe in yourself and project self confidence. In January of 2010 I wrote what turned out to be one of my most read posts: If You Want to be a Rainmaker, “You Gotta Believe”. If you have a moment go back and read that post again.

I have worked with lawyers throughout my career that lacked self-confidence, not in their legal skills, but rather in their ability to generate business. For many lawyers I coach when they realize they can actually be successful, their business generation takes off.

Too many lawyers believe you either have self-confidence or you don’t. I believe self-confidence can be developed. I believe I developed it. 

How do you develop it? Take a look at this Harvard Business Review article: How to Build Confidence. I believe that it is important to practice, practice, practice. I also believe it is important to get feedback. I owe my own development of self confidence to those two efforts.

I am a confident public speaker today, in part because I practiced in front of a mirror, and videotaped myself speaking and got feedback from friends, including my wife Nancy. What are the things you can practice and get feedback? How about:

  • Public Speaking
  • Writing articles
  • Writing blog posts
  • Client interviews
  • Client pitches
  • Networking

Does your firm provide opportunities for lawyers to practice these kind of things and get feedbacK? I know the firms for whom I am doing coaching provide it because it is part of the client development coaching program. Your firm can provide these opportunities internally if you actually create practice opportunities and have senior lawyers willing to provide the feedback.

If by chance you missed the segment about Dirk and Coach Holger Geschwindner, you can watch it here.

http://youtu.be/OYlI7J_LDkI