Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson

I want to share two stories with you about how changing what you think it takes to succeed can make a difference in your client development success.

Years ago I coached a lawyer as part of a dozen lawyers in the coaching program at a well known regional firm. She was struggling with her client development, in part because she was not comfortable doing what the senior lawyers in her firm suggested that she do. She was not particularly optimistic that she could become a rainmaker.

Fast forward: For several years now this lawyer has been one of the top rainmakers in her law firm. This dramatic change was not because I was a great coach, it was because I was able to get her to change her idea of what it takes to succeed.

My second story is about a lawyer I coached a few years ago. She was a young partner in her law firm at the time. She is now in-house with her old law firm’s largest client.

At the end of our coaching program, each participant sent a report to firm leaders.

Here is an excerpt from the lawyer’s report:

 Cordell once told me: “I have to make you believe you can have a seven figure book of business.” He believed in me. It took quite awhile, but now I believe in myself. Not only as a quality lawyer, but also as a business developer. Prior to working with Cordell I secretly enjoyed not having to be responsible for attracting clients. Now it is my goal.


I enjoyed reading Heidi Grant Halvorson’s book: Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals (a great book I have recommended to lawyers I coach). Near the end of the book Dr. Halvorson writes:

Americans believe in ability. East Asians believe in effort.

I suspect she is right. I know for sure that many lawyers believe client development is about ability and you either have it or you don’t. While a lawyer must be a good lawyer and must have some ability to communicate, client development is more about effort.

Take a look, you might find this short video valuable.

Before the coaching, each of the two women thought that ability was the key to becoming a successful rainmaker. Each looked around her firm and concluded she did not have the same kind of ability she saw in the older lawyers (near my age), who were extroverted, great at networking, played golf with clients and took them to dinner and football games.

During our coaching, a lightbulb went off. I convinced each lawyer that successful rainmaking is based less on ability and based significantly more on the level and quality of her effort, and on using her strengths most effectively.

Lawyers who believe client development success is based primarily on ability typically come to a point when they quit trying to develop business. Lawyers who figure out success can be obtained based on the level and quality of their effort persist until they succeed and constantly strive to get better. The very most successful are able to recognize their strengths and their ability and constantly strive to use them and develop them further.

Do you have a really challenging goal you want to accomplish either in your career or personal life? If so, I want to help you by sharing a story and putting you on to some reading I know will help you.

I coached an outstanding associate who, at the time, was eligible for promotion to partner in three years. He was with an entrepreneurial law firm, so he was be expected to be bringing in business by that time. I asked him:

I want you to honestly answer this for me, ok? Assuming you make your very best effort, do you honestly believe that you can bring in $500,000 in business in the year  you will be considered for promotion? Be honest with me.

He answered: Yes.

I then asked him to share with me what it will feel like to have succeeded in attracting $500,000 in business in 2017. Yes, this is the year we set out with the three year goal.

Then, I asked him to share with me, the first obstacle he sees to achieving that goal. Then, I told him to share with me something else positive about successfully attracting $500,000 in business. Then, I asked for the second obstacle he saw to achieving that goal.

I was using an approach called “Contrasting.”  This process can be both motivational and helpful in that it forces you to face the reality and be prepared for the challenges you will face.

I first learned of this approach reading Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson’s book Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals. I recommend the book. She also discussed the idea in this Psychology Today article: The Motivational One-Two Punch for Overcoming Bad Habits. In the article, she says:

Daydreaming about how great it will be to land that job can be a lot of fun, but it won’t get you anywhere. Mental contrasting turns wishes and daydreams into reality, by bringing into focus what you will need to do to make it happen.

After going through the contrasting process, I asked the lawyer to set up intermediate goals working backwards. To get to $500,000 in 2017, what did he think he would need to generate in 2016? 2015? Then we focused on what actions to take the rest of 2014 that will start him down the path of success.

What do you suppose I plan to do at the end of this year? Yes, I want to find out if he achieved his goal. A lot of it will depend on if he made the same efforts after the coaching program that he made while we worked together.

Try the contrasting approach. Think of a goal that achieving would be really important to you. Then think about obstacles.

You likely have potential rainmakers in your firm that you are overlooking. You might even have concluded these lawyers are not motivated to make rain.

I have learned from coaching lawyers that there is more than one way to be be motivated. I will show you by telling you the tale of two lawyers. For purposes of this discussion, I will call one of them Sandra and the other one Jill. I bet you know lawyers who are like each of them.

Sandra is a go getter. She is very upbeat and has high energy. She is obviously highly motivated and very focused on her goals. She is very positive and very competitive. She is creative and willing to take risks on client development, but sometimes she is not very strategic using her time. She sets stretch goals and achieves them. When she achieves a goal she is highly charged. If she finds anything she believes she will not do well, she simply does not try doing it.

Jill, is much different. While she is highly motivated, she is not as positive. She does well and succeeds because she does not want to look like she doesn’t know something. She likes to say that she fears that her clients may come to realize that she is not the expert that she appears to be. She is very focused and not easily distracted. She is very detail oriented. She values getting it right more than getting it done quickly. She struggles with being a perfectionist. When she achieves a goal instead of being charged up, she is actually relieved.

Winston Churchill said it well:

The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

Sandra is the optimist and Jill the pessimist. Some law firm leaders or marketing professionals may believe that Sandra will easily become a rainmaker and Jill will never become a rainmaker.

I am sharing this story simply to tell you that both can become successful rainmakers, but  you cannot coach and motivate them the same way. If you try and use the power of positive thinking with Jill, it will not motivate her.

So, how would you motivate Jill to become a rainmaker in your firm? If you want some ideas read: Getting Others to Embrace Risk by Heidi Grant Halvorson. If you want even more ideas, read her book.

Are you setting goals for your career? I hope so.

How can you make your goals most meaningful and effective? I have written about it here before. Great Lawyers Don’t Just Settle for Realistic Goals. Lawyers who I have met who say they want their goals to be realistic, rarely stretch themselves.

But, on the other hand goals should not be impossible. I read a Seth Godin blog recently Do-able. He writes:

Aiming too high is just as fearful a tactic as aiming too low. Before you promise to change the world, it makes sense to do the hard work of changing your neighborhood.

Do what you say, then do it again, even better.

These thoughts are supported by Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson in her book: Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals. I recommend the book to lawyers I coach.

Screenshot 2015-08-03 19.34.57

Near the beginning Dr. Halvorson states:

Think back to the achievements in your own life—the ones you are most proud of. I’ll bet you needed to work hard, persist despite difficulty, and stay focused, when it would have been much easier for you to just relax and not bother.

How does this apply to practicing law and client development? Work on becoming valuable to one client at a time. When you land one, make sure and serve that client well and go after the next one.

If you have a couple of more minutes, here is another blog post you will find valuable: 7 Critical Keys to Goal Setting Success. When I was practicing law, I had not read this blog, but I actually did the 7 critical keys.

I have coached 100s of women lawyers from the US and Canada and I mentored many women lawyers when I practiced law. Many of them have become top rainmakers and leaders in their law firms.

I hope many of those top rainmakers and leaders will read this and pass it on to younger women in their law firm.

Have you ever heard of Heidi Grant Halvorson? Yesterday, I wrote and included a video clip about Stanford Professor Carol Dweck. She was Heidi Grant Halvorson’s graduate advisor. They both give me great tips I can apply coaching lawyers.

In 2011, Heidi Grant Halvorson published: The Trouble With Bright Girls. I found it very helpful for my coaching and my novel.

You would think there would be no problem for a “bright girl.” But, if you are a dad or mom with little girls, I urge you to read the article and see how you can help your girls overcome the baggage that comes with being a ‘bright.”

Screenshot 2015-05-27 20.57.30

To help with your own career, I recommend that you read Heidi Grant Halvorson‘s Nine Things Successful People Do Differently. Don’t just read her blog with the list, spend $3.47 and get the short book on your Kindle, iPad or other digital reading device.

While you are reading, figure out how each of the 9 things applies to practicing law in a firm.

Here is the list of 9 things:

  1. Be Specific To be successful, you have to specifically define what success means to you.
  2. Seize the Moment If you are creating goals that is super, but by itself it is not enough. You must take the actions necessary to achieve your goals.
  3. Know Exactly How Far You Have Left to Go That means you should focus on what you have left to do, not what you have already done.
  4. Be a Realistic Optimist I love what I read in Success Magazine: Super Achievers think optimistically and plan purposely. So should you.
  5. Focus on Getting better Get up each and every day and try to become a better lawyers and more valuable to your clients.
  6. Have grit Client development is a marathon not a sprint. You need to stick with it even when you are not getting the benefits and even when you just don’t feel like it.
  7. Build your Willpower Muscle Have the willpower to do the things that will give you energy (like exercising regularly) and giving up the things that rob you of energy (like overeating or drinking too much or too often.)
  8. Don’t Tempt Fate You will likely be more successful if you work on achieving one goal at a time. Accomplish that goal and then move on to the next one.
  9. Focus on What You Will Do, Not What You Won’t Do Put everything in positive terms. If you play golf what happens when you tell yourself not to hit the ball into the water?

I would like to post 9 guest blog posts. If you send me how you are implementing any of the 9 things, I will post the ideas here.

In the meantime, if you have just a few minutes, take a look at this Heidi Grant Halvorson video on achieving goals. You will see four of the tips above.

When I finished reading Heidi’s short book, I went to Amazon and ordered the Kindle version of her book: Success: How We Can Reach Our Goals. I am reading it now and highly recommend it. I will share some ideas from the book with you in future blog posts.

If you are a long time reader, you might recall a post I wrote years ago after meeting the managing partner of a law firm who is about my age. He said:

Client development coaching: What’s the value of that. A lawyer either has it or doesn’t.

Wow, I had to hold my tongue. I understood why he believed  what he said. Client development came easy to him, He was likeable, enjoyed playing golf and entertaining and he was a very capable litigator.

After I had finished coaching the first group of lawyers in his firm, the managing partner thanked me and said I may have changed his mind about lawyers either “having it or not.”

I have written about books and articles written by Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson. A year ago I wrote: Client Development: Change What You Think it Takes to Succeed.

Recently I read a very interesting, and thought provoking piece written by Dr. Halvorson, titled: THE TROUBLE WITH BRIGHT GIRLS. I urge you to read it, especially if you have children. In the article she writes about research on how bright 5th grade girls and boys see a difficult problem. She writes:

Researchers have uncovered the reason for this difference in how difficulty is interpreted, and it is simply this: more often than not, bright girls believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice.

She goes on to share that most likely this difference results from the feedback given to girls and boys by their parents.

Long before I learned of this study, I wrote Rising Star. Gina, the main character in my book was a composite of several lawyers I had coached. At the beginning of the book she is thinking about quitting her law practice. The year before she had brought in over $1 million in business, most of which came from one client. Since that matter was completed, she is very concerned that she will not be able to duplicate her success and as a result she will let down the partners who supported her promotion.

If you get a chance to read the book, which is available as a hard copy and also available in a Kindle , Nook or iTunes edition, you will see that Gina bought into the idea that her abilities were innate and unchangeable.

I have coached many lawyers whose parents must have given feedback based on their effort. A hardworking young woman lawyer I coach, recently wrote something very nice about me. She wrote:

Cordell thinks outside of the box and makes everyone believe they can push themselves to achieve their potential – and in doing so makes people shed their limitations, excuses and unhelpful habits — and think in a bigger picture context. Cordell gives people power, and that is unique.

When you read what she wrote, don’t think about me. Instead, think about her.

I can only push lawyers to achieve their potential if the lawyers believe they can develop their ability through effort and practice. I can’t “make” lawyers shed their limitations, excuses and unhelpful habits–and think in a bigger picture context. More accurately, I facilitate those things, but I can only do it with lawyers who believe they can develop their ability through effort and practice.

When I coach lawyers, I frequently ask:

On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate your client development efforts?

It turns out that 7 seems to be the most often chosen rating. I am not sure why, but I don’t believe it is because 7 was Micky Mantle’s number.

After going over what the lawyer is doing well, I ask:

What would it take to get you to a 10?

If we have never worked together, I ask you the same two questions. Your answers will help you become more successful.


There are many traits you must have to be successful. I assume that you have many of them. One of the most important traits that will set lawyers apart in the future is the ability to focus in an age of distraction. You likely have not thought about it, but your smartphone could be your greatest distraction.

If you are an “experienced” lawyer, you remember when we did not have smartphones. We didn’t even have phones that were not smart. If you are even more experienced, you remember when we did not have computers in our offices.

In those days it was much easier to stay focused for hours at a time. Our only interruptions in those days were telephone calls and when someone from down the hall came in your office.

Today is so different. Have you ever unintentionally left your Smartphone device in the office or at home? Did you all of a sudden feel lost because you could not look at it?

Nancy and I sat at a bar recently and I looked around the bar and the majority of people  had their smartphones laying on the bar and almost every minute they picked them up and looked at something. I did not put mine on the bar, but I continually looked at it. Nancy was texting.

I recently found an interesting article that seemed to address this situation: Can’t make new friends? Keep your smartphone off the table.

Letting your smartphone keep you from making friends in a social setting is one thing. Having it on and looking at it while a senior lawyer is giving a presentation, or when you are meeting with a client or potential client, could adversely impact your career.

To be successful you must be able to focus. Leo Babauta is the creator of a blog Zen Habits. You might enjoy perusing this list of all the posts. Leo Babuta also wrote: Focus: A simplicity manifesto in the age of distraction. Babauta points out our addiction:

There’s instant positive feedback to such constant activities as checking email, surfing the web, checking social networks such as blogs, forums, Twitter and Facebook. That’s why it’s so easy to become addicted to being connected and distracted.

Babauta suggests:

Separate your day: a time for creating, and a time for consuming and communicating. And never the twain shall meet.

I found a blog he had written titled: The 7-Step Method to Find Focus for Writing. I think you will agree the 7-Step Method is one lawyers can use.

I absolutely agree with the approach. Can you totally focus on what you are doing for 20-30 minutes at a time without being distracted in any way? I urge you to try because in an age where we are increasingly addicted to consuming and communicating on our smartphones, the most successful lawyers will be able to focus.

P.S. Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson has written a book that will be coming out soon titled: Focus. Check out FOCUS Pre-order Giveaway!!


If you are a regular reader, you know I recently started coaching two groups of law firm associates. It is easy to say that the lawyers who get the most out of the coaching program, put the most into it. That is certainly true, but there is more to it than that.

I recently read the HBR blog: Nine Things Successful People Do Differently by Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson. When I looked at the list, I thought it could have been written about the most successful lawyers I have coached. It also made me think about my own list based on my experience. So here is my list of things the most successful lawyers I have coached do differently.They:

  1. Come into the coaching program with an open mind and willingness to make changes.
  2. Generally have a sense of what they want to accomplish in their career or in the next few years of their career.
  3. Give lots of thought to what they want to get out of the coaching program.
  4. Are open to new ideas and trying something that may not be in their comfort zone.
  5. Tend to lead their coaching group.
  6. Develop a plan that is meaningful to them.
  7. Find a way to hold themselves accountable.
  8. Prepare for our coaching sessions and have specific agenda items.
  9. Want to know books and articles to read to learn more.
  10. Feel an allegiance to other members of their coaching group.