How are dentists like lawyers? Read on, you’ll get my take on the question.

As you are reading this blog, I will be sitting in the chair at my favorite periodontist getting my second surgical implant done, and hoping I won’t need the pain pills he prescribed that I declined.

A few years ago, a young lawyer I was coaching at the time and I met with Tyler, an associate who had worked for me. When Tyler’s wife became a permanent federal appeals court clerk in Kansas City, Tyler left our firm and went in house with a large construction company.

During the conversation the associate asked Tyler a very interesting question:

What do you know now that you wished you had known when you were practicing law with Cordell?

Tyler’s answer took me by surprise. He replied:

Even when you do a really great job handling a litigation matter, your in-house counsel will still not be happy. It is just the nature of litigation.

I’ve spent more time in my life than I would have ever wanted seated in dental chairs.

It all started with braces, then getting two of my teeth loosened beyond repair in a football practice, without pads or helmets. Our fullback went the wrong way and the crown of his head found my mouth.

That, of course, made them look dark when the braces came off and that’s when the serious dental work started. I like to tell my friends that I could own at least one Mercedes Benz or BMW car for the amount of money I’ve paid to dentists.

I believe dentists, thankfully not mine, can give you a greater understanding of Tyler’s point. No one get’s up in the morning and says:

Oh boy, I get to visit my dentist this morning.

I know I didn’t say that this morning. Even when they do a great job with your teeth, you hate paying them.

Some dentists, again thankfully not mine, want feedback. I saw a question one time, with ratings from 1-10.

How happy are you with your smile and the whiteness of your teeth?

I don’t know about you, but if I had responded with anything other than “damn happy,” I’d probably not return to that dentist.



  • Does your dental hygienist tell you that you are not flossing enough, or you aren’t doing it right?
  • Does your dentist discuss your “treatment plan” without ever telling you the cost of the treatment plan?
  • Instead, when you are taken aback by the extent of your “treatment plan” are you then turned over to a “treatment coordinator?” Yes, she’s the one who shields the dentist from telling you the bad news that your treatment plan will cost more than you ever dreamed possible.

If you need substantial treatment, do you feel like you are giving up control of your mouth and pocketbook to professionals you may not really know? (I’ve had work done by a dentist who was not very good. It cost even more to fix his mistakes.)

Aren’t there about 1oo other ways you’d rather be spending the money?

The truth is your clients feel the same way, only for you it is likely worse. You are like the dental hygienist telling your client they didn’t do something right. You are like the dentist telling your client how you can fix the problem. Then, you are like the “treatment coordinator” telling the client it will cost an arm and a leg and be money they would rather spend on at least 1oo other things.

No one gets up in the morning and says:

Oh boy, I get to see my lawyer today.”

Tyler was right. Your clients hate the cost, hate the time it takes, hate the uncertainty and fear they may not have the best lawyer for the job.

One final thought: I recommend that you never tell a client: “If only you had not…” 

Leila Rafi and Elder Marques are two McCarthy Tétrault  Toronto partners I coached a couple of years ago. You might recall they wrote a guest post here a year ago. Fast Forward: What Will You Be Doing in 2020?

Because I greatly value their ideas, I asked them to write another guest post. Here is what they had to say about The Client Revolution.

Leila and Elder

Measuring time by the billable hour has always been a cornerstone of the legal profession – not only for charging clients, but also assessing lawyer productivity and significantly impacting compensation. Accordingly, when clients started to question the billable hour, they raised concerns that have had a revolutionary effect on the way legal work is done, measured and valued. These issues are at the heart of how law firms do work for clients and the methodology used to incentivize their lawyers.

How should law firms respond?

First, they should make sure that they are giving clients more value for their money. For some clients, this may mean complimentary seminars for their business leaders and the use of office space; for others it may mean secondments to help address gaps among in-house legal teams, or entering into creative fixed-fee arrangements that permit ad hoc advice in key areas.

Second, they need to be bold about re-thinking what they do. The lawyers and firms that will truly excel in the profession are those that will think creatively about the way they actually help their clients solve problems. As a starting point, there are three questions that lawyers need to ask themselves in dealing with clients:

  1. What problems do we help our clients solve?
  2. Who do we need to work with to solve those problems?
  3. How can we do it most efficiently?

Understanding Challenges from the Client’s Perspective

Clients have always come to their lawyers for solutions to legal issues. Increasingly, those issues have become more complex depending on the nature of a client’s business. Some of that increasing complexity is because of changes to public policy – for example, regulatory changes – while in other cases it’s caused by technological change or public expectations about transparency and accountability.

The advent of social media has completely transformed the management of reputation, branding and stakeholder relations. Technological changes are disrupting traditional business models in a range of industries. Clients still need legal advice first and foremost, but more than ever lawyers must really understand their clients’ businesses, and the environments in which they operate.

Who Lawyers Work with to Solve those Problems

Never before has playing nice in the sandbox been so important. Many legal problems cross borders or have high-risk shareholder, stakeholder and public relations implications that cause in-house counsel a lot of anxiety. To be equipped to handle such matters, lawyers can’t work in a vacuum.

As a result, depending on the deal, case or issue at hand, lawyers need to consider whether they need to bring in other advisors to provide a client with a comprehensive solution. Such advisors can include colleagues in other practice areas of the same firm, and outside specialists like media and communications specialists, government relations experts, forensic accountants, consultants or other law firms.

Doing it All Efficiently

Expensive”. That’s the phrase typically associated with “lawyers”. Add some more professional advisors, and it only gets worse….. Lawyers must be pro-active in developing workable cross-functional teams where tasks aren’t duplicated and time is not wasted.

Clients should never pay for duplication, so each member of an advisory team (internal and external) needs to have clarity on their role. Project management tools can be applied to create and control budgets and costs and steer the work product towards what the client wants. All the foregoing help to meet a client’s expectations and bring innovation to fee arrangements. Ongoing communication among the team and with the client is key to nurturing the trusted advisory role.

What Next?

If law firms are to be prepared for this future of collaboration and problem-solving, they need to:

  1. Ensure that they truly understand the industries in which their clients operate.
  2. Develop effective relationships with other professional advisory firms and be prepared to collaborate, including by looking at alternative fee arrangements.
  3. Reward lawyers who demonstrate the skill set that fosters collaboration, both internally and externally.

Lawyers need to inspire clients. The way of the future is incentivizing lawyers to be industry-savvy, collaborative and creative in their client focus. Like it or not, the revolution is happening and it’s up to lawyers to ensure that they are ready and remain relevant.

What do you think?


If you haven’t read it, I recommend every law firm leader big firm or small, read the Georgetown Law and Peer Monitor Release 2015 Report on the State of the Legal Market.

There are many important takeaways. Here is one right from the first page, talking about what has happened since 2008:

Perhaps of greatest significance has been the rapid shift from a sellers’ to a buyers’ market, one in which clients have assumed control of all of the fundamental decisions about how legal services are delivered and have insisted on increased efficiency, predictability, and cost effectiveness in the delivery of the services they purchase.

Clearly clients want to reward efficiency, predictability and cost effectiveness. Just suppose a law firm chose to reward its partners and associates based on the same criteria.

In my old firm, for many years we rewarded associates by giving bonuses based on their hours. It was 1950 to stay in the game, 2050 for a bonus, 2150 for a bigger bonus on up to 2650.

If you are a regular reader you likely recall that I had a graph created showing of the number of associates achieving any particular number of hours. The number spiked at the 1950, 2050, 2150… and spiked back down at 1960, 2060, 2160…

I guess we must not have had enough work for associates to bill say 2000 hours or 2100 hours.

Let’s assume for the moment that the hours weren’t manufactured just to reach a bonus point. Do you think an overworked lawyer billing 2650 hours is providing the same quality of work when he or she is tired and would rather be home eating dinner with his or her children?

Bored Business Woman

I recently read in interesting Huffington Post article: My Q and A With Work and Family Expert Joan Williams on When Work Becomes a Masculinity Contest. I hope you have time to read the entire article. After reading the article, I want to ask the next surgeon I need how many hours he or she sleeps each night.

Here is one short quote:

Overwork also has become a way to signal class status: “I am slammed” is a way of saying, “I am important.”

I hear stories of law firms no longer rewarding associates based on their hours. Is your firm still rewarding associates base on their hours?

I coach many lawyers who take potential clients and referral sources to lunch and come away with nothing of value. They ask what they are doing wrong. In many cases they are paying far more attention to themselves than they are paying to the person they hope to persuade. I learned the hard way that the many executives who were considering hiring me were not all just like me. It was a rude awakening but one that served me well.

What is your personality type? What is your potential client representative’s personality type? What do you share in common? What does your potential client representative like or dislike? What does he or she do when not working? If you don’t know, you may be missing the opportunity to connect with your potential client representative. If you are seeking to get hired, that is a disaster.

One mistake I see many lawyers make is not recognizing the differences in each person they meet. Have you ever been in an important meeting and felt you were not “connecting” with the decision maker? If you want some help, I have two short Harvard Business Review articles for you to read. Start with: Change the Way You Persuade by Gary A. Williams and Robert B. Miller.

After you read the article, think about the last person with whom you met who was deciding whether to hire you. Was she charismatic, a thinker, a skeptic, a follower or a controller? How did you try to persuade her to hire you? How would you do it now?

I hope you will bear with me.  I want to use telling the potential client representative the time to compare the five personality types.

  • People who are charismatic are big picture thinkers. They do not want to know the history of Swiss watch making. They simply want you to tell them the time.
  • People who are thinkers do want to know the history of Swiss watch making from the very beginning to the present time.
  • Skeptics do not believe anything you are telling them about Swiss watch making.
  • Followers will decide whether you told them the correct time by asking others they trust to verify the time, or looking at their watch to verify the time themselves.
  • Controllers must be the person to decide and they hate risk, so they will research before they agree with you on the correct time.

I also recommend reading: Harnessing the Science of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini. The article includes Cialdini’s six  principles of persuasion. At the end of the article, Cialdini puts the six points together and writes:

Legitimate expertise, genuine obligations, authentic similarities, real social proof, exclusive news, and freely made commitments can produce choices that are likely to benefit both parties. And any approach that works to everyone’s mutual benefit is good business, don’t you think?

So, what is the bottom line point? Put simply, if you want to get their business, don’t try to sell them, at least until you really get to know them.

A few months ago I met with a lawyer I coached four years ago for a tune-up session. He shared with me that since we worked together he had learned to be more selective in his pursuit of new clients.

If you are a young lawyer trying to bring in business, any business may look good to you. I have been there myself. When I was practicing law at first I was so anxious to bring in business that was my own that I had blinders on.  I thought any business was good business. That was a mistake and after a few bad experiences with clients who really could not afford my services I learned my lesson.

I thought of my early mistakes and how I evolved into making better decisions when I read Seth Godin’s blog post: Choose your customers, choose your future. What he says makes great sense for lawyers. If you are a young lawyer, you may fall into the trap of taking any business. Seth describes that as being “like a sailor on shore leave.” Then he says: “Find great customers, they will eagerly co-create with you. They will engage and invent and spread the word.”

That is what happened to me. When I focused on the right clients rather than any client, the experience was more pleasant, the clients were more satisfied and the clients spread the word which enabled me to get the opportunity to serve more of the right clients.

In a nutshell, client development is about becoming visible and credible to your target market and then about building trust based relationships. If you want to start becoming more visible and credible and build relationships with clients focus on seven important points.

  1. Client development is all about serving and caring for your clients, not about selling them.
  2. You will not become visible and credible and build client relationships merely by being a highly skilled lawyer and doing quality work. Those qualities and efforts are a necessity, but they are only a starting point. Being a highly skilled lawyer is merely the price you pay to get in the game.
  3. Client development is about what your clients need. Find ways to learn what they need and put the work you do in that context.
  4. Strive to differentiate yourself from your competitors. Become known as the best at something and then be focused on your relationship building.
  5. Identify problems and provide solutions to problems before the client realizes there is a problem.
  6. Clients trust lawyers who are both competent and confident. Look and feel confident in yourself.
  7. Strive to always exceed your clients’ expectations.


The election is finally over. I am surprised by the number of lawyers who are using social media sites to express their glee or despair over the results. I am sure they feel good sharing their opinions. In fact, I can tell that many have written their heart felt beliefs about the future of our country. But, like many things that can be written and shared on social media, expressing strong political convictions is not a good client development strategy.

If you think your political advocacy does not matter, consider:

  1. Approximately 49% of the population disagree with you. (See: It’s a 50-50 nation, give or take)
  2. Politics is discussed in conversations more now than ever before. (I personally liked the Leave it to Beaver days.)
  3. We can no longer have a civil conversation on politics with someone strongly affiliated with the other party. (See: Civility in political discourse)
  4. The number and the intensity of the negative political ads reached an all-time high in 2012. (I was happy to live in Texas rather than a swing state.)
  5. More people, including businessmen and women and lawyers are tweeting their strongly held political views. (See: Election Night Hits Record  High: 20 Million Tweets.
  6. The election has not ended the negative political posts (See a Lynchburg, VA TV Station Post: Voters Post Political Opinions & Election Reactions on Twitter & Facebook. I was not aware that defriending is a word.)

If nothing else, the 2012 election has taught us just how divided our country is and how the demographics of the electorate are changing. I saw both an AP Exit Poll Demographics Summary and a  conservative writer’s blog titled: Marriage Gap Around 20 Points Or Greater, More Than Double The Gender Gap.

As best I can put together the demographic divide of the electorate, it appears:

Romney got more votes from:

  1. Men
  2. Whites
  3. Voters 40 and over
  4. People who are married
  5. Protestants
  6. Catholics who attend mass at least once a week
  7. Incomes over $50,000
  8. College Graduates

Obama got more votes from:

  1. Women (but not married women)
  2. Blacks, Hispanics, Asian and other
  3. Voters 18-40
  4. Singles
  5. Catholics who attend mass less than once a week
  6. Religions other than protestants and catholics
  7. Incomes under $50,000
  8. Less than college graduates, plus those with post college degrees

People tend to “know, like and trust” people with whom they share something in common. After this very bitter election I predict that will include sharing political philosophy. In fact, I see the day when clients will decide they prefer not to do business with lawyers who are strong advocates of the other political party. Until that day, I don’t see anything to be gained by letting your potential clients learn your political views.


When I was a young lawyer, my first mentor gave me a great deal of advice about clients. Among the many things he told me:

  • Clients want to work with lawyers who have confidence inspiring personalities
  • Clients do not want lawyers to talk down to them  and tell them (before being asked) what they should do
  • Clients do not want to work with lawyers who are either needy or greedy

Sometimes lawyers do not think about the words they use when speaking to clients. I recently read an American Express Open Forum blog: The 8 Things You Should Never Say to a Client. It is really on point. Before you read it, think about what you would put on that list.

When a client has thanked you, have you ever responded: “No problem?”

Which of those two words do you think the client heard most clearly? What did the client think when hearing “no problem?” At best the client likely thought there was almost a problem. At worst the client thought it was a problem for you to help the client.

When I practiced law, it always drove me crazy when I heard young lawyers tell a client “no problem.” I decided to do some research to find out if I was the only one put off by that phrase.

I found an interesting article by Howard Brinton: 7 Phrases to Avoid with Clients. The article was for realtors, but the phrases also applied to lawyers. I liked the article because not only had Brinton chosen “no problem.” He also included several other phrases that will not help with clients. I will paraphrase some of them.

Phrase 1: “Here’s your problem” Clients generally know they have a problem. They would not be visiting with you if they didn’t. As Brinson suggests, a better phrase might be: “Here’s our challenge.” A challenge is better than a problem and our is better than your because it denotes we are in this together.

Phrase 2: “I’ll Try” Clients do not have confidence in lawyers who try or even try their best. “I’ll try” is code for I won’t succeed. Whenever I hear “I’ll try” from a lawyer I coach I know they will probably not do what they say they will try to do. Instead of “I’ll try” use the phrase “I will.”

Phrase 3: “But” or Yes, But” Once again this is code for it won’t happen. “We can offer that much to settle your case, “but” I can’t guarantee we will be successful.” If you say that you have already decided you won’t be successful. As Brinson suggests use the word “and” instead. “We can offer that much to settle your case “and” if we are not successful we can take another look at it.”

Phrase 4: “You should” My daughter, Jill taught me it is a mistake to use this phrase. She told me that when she was a teenager if I told her what she should do, she decided to prove to me I was wrong. “You should offer $1000.” Instead, Brinson suggests saying: “If we offer $1000…” or “We may be able to settle this for $1000.”

What other phrases do you and other lawyers use with clients that convey the wrong messages?


If you are a regular reader you likely recall that I have shared with you a dirty little secret about your business clients and what they don’t care about. The secret:

Your business clients do not care about you, your law firm, what you do and what your law firm does.

Sadly most lawyers and law firms are still stuck in the old way of thinking, so they focus their marketing and client development on them and what they do. I see it frequently on law firm webpages and lawyer bios.

What do clients care about? I wrote about this recently: Client Development Tip: Figure out what your clients want and deliver it. I want to expand on the points I made in that post.

If business clients do not care about you and your firm and what you and your firm do, what do they are about? They care about their business. They are only interested in how you and your firm can help them:

  • Solve problems
  • Achieve opportunities
  • Deal with internal and external changes
Let me put it another way: Your business clients are only interested in:
  • Increasing profits
  • Decreasing costs
  • Increasing certainty
  • Decreasing risks

Those business clients want you to help them achieve those goals creatively, effectively and efficiently. Finally, your business clients want you to be their lawyer if they know, like and trust you.

Is your marketing and client development focused on you and what you do, or is it focused on your clients and what they need and want?



On Friday I posted: Want Higher Profits Per Partner: Focus on Client Service.

Seems like a “no-brainer.” But,

  • When was the last time you talked about client service at a firm meeting
  • When was the last time you talked to your professional staff about client service.
  • When was the last time your firm did any training on client service?
  • When was the last time you talked to your clients about client service?

BTI Consulting Group surveys reveal that clients are not pleased with the service they receive from their law firms. In a report titled The Declining Client Satisfaction Antidote, BTI reported that 70% of clients will not recommend their law firm to others. According to the report, clients believe their law firms are:

  1. Not keeping up with changing client needs
  2. Doing a poor job of articulating and delivering value
  3. Poor communication between law firms and clients

That means any law firm or lawyer whose service is just slightly better will be unique. Just imagine what would happen to your business if clients gave your firm an A+ on client service?

Here are 10 easily implemented client service actions to improve service.

  1. Be more Responsive. Promptly respond to phone calls, email, and correspondence. Keep your client informed
  2. Be a team player. Figure out ways to help the in-house counsel or other client representative succeed.
  3. LISTEN to not only what is said, but how it is said and what is not said.
  4. Make personal visits. You will learn more things that will give you the business context of the legal matter. You might even bring home a new file.
  5. Bill with clarity, accuracy and based on value. Clients resent paying for inefficiency.
  6. Keep your team together. Clients do not like “breaking in” lawyers who do not know their business.
  7. Get feedback from clients on how you can improve your service and respond proactively, including preparing a client service policy.
  8. Make sure you understand the technology that is available to better serve your clients.
  9. Understand the clients’ industry, company and the needs of the individual client representatives.
  10. Seek to uncover potential client problems, opportunities and changes and develop solutions to handle them.
  11. Provide client service training your lawyers and staff and make client service an agenda item at every firm meeting.
  12. Read books on customer service from other industries. You might start with Joseph Michelli’s book about Ritz Carlton service titled:  The New Gold Standard.

Help me. Have I missed anything that you would add?