Practicing law has changed dramatically since I started now long ago. We made far less money, ($12,000 when I started), but we never worried about making partner and the law firms demanded less of us. If we worked hard, it was more a choice we made not a demand from our law firm.

Years ago I read an Am Law Daily article: To Dream the Impossible Dream: Making Partner Increasingly Out of Reach.

More recently, I read a Bonnie Marcus interview of Elizabeth Anne “Betiayn” Tursi, Global Chair and Co-founder of the Women in Law Empowerment Forum (WILEF) in Forbes: Forget The Glass Ceiling. Female Attorneys Now Face A Concrete Wall.  Before the interview, reference was made to a Law360 report which included this statistic.

At the top of private firms, four-fifths of equity partners are men, ‘showing a continuing dearth of women at the highest firm level’.

Tursi identified two reasons for this:

I think that the partnership pie is less likely to be cut up than it was years ago. They don’t make as many partners in law firms anymore. And most firms have two tiers. They have non-equity and equity.

I am pleased to say that many of the law firms where I coached didn’t have a concrete wall for female lawyers. Many of those firms are among the Working Mother 60 Best Law Firms for Women. I coached women in the Best Law Firms for Women who are equity partners, top rainmakers and firm leaders.

What would the percentage of women equity partners be if those best firms for women were not considered?

What about the large law firms not on the list? I wondered what percentage of the male equity partners are over 50 in those firms. Then, I wondered what will happen to those law firms when those male equity partners finally retire?

If you are a non-equity partner or senior associate you must not only have significant billable hours, but you also must develop your own book of business. That is tough for any young lawyer.

Tursi described why some women are leaving law firms.

I think it’s the work-life integration. I think it’s about wanting a better life, wanting more balance.

I can relate to wanting a better family life. My work required that I travel almost every week. (I have over 5 million miles on American and over 1 million miles on Delta.) Years after our daughter grew up, got married and started teaching special ed, I found a journal she had written when she was a girl. In one entry she lamented that her father was not home for her birthday.

When I coached lawyers, I discovered that both fathers and mothers wanted a better and more balanced life. I recently completed the first draft of my second novel about a husband/father and wife/mother who are both lawyers. I decided that the mother would be the one more driven to succeed than wanting more balance, and the father would give up his work at a law firm so he could spend more time with their son.

So, is there any possible way to become an equity partner in a law firm while maintaining a more balanced life? In the Am Law Daily article, writers suggested you must pass what they called the “Cleveland Airport Rule.” The rule itself is simple: would a partner at your firm be comfortable getting stuck at the Cleveland airport with you and not want to self-immolate?

If you have hours, clients and pass the Cleveland Airport Rule, Seth Godin would likely say you are a Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

When I was a young associate, a partner in my first firm unknowingly gave me about the best piece of advice I have ever received. He said:

Cordell, you are a very smart lawyer. You finished third in your law school class. But, smart lawyers graduate from law school every year and they are easily replaced by other smart lawyers. Your success in this firm will depend more on how well you attract, retain and expand relationships with clients. Lawyers with those skills are indispensable.

Are you busy doing the work for senior lawyers in your firm and hoping they appreciate your work so much that it will be ok for you to never have clients of your own? I hope not. If you want to become indispensable:

  • What are you learning about client development?
  • What are you doing to attract new clients?
  • What are you doing to exceed your clients’ expectations and create value for them?
  • What are you doing to build relationships with your clients and with partners in your law firm?

 

Why are you afraid of attempting to attract new clients?

If you are like me, it is because of the pain you feel when you don’t win the client. Sometimes it is just easier to not try rather than to try and lose.

Seth Godin talks about the “Lizard Brain” (Click for a blog)in his book Linchpin. Here he talks about it. He says:

It’s safer to fail small.

 

I have been trying to place what happened to me that created my “Lizard Brain.” It could have been falling off my bicycle when I was learning, but I don’t think so. It could have been missing a fast break lay up in a close game in high school, but again I don’t think so.

I believe I was cruising along really well, feeling confident, when all of a sudden I was rejected by one of the most beautiful and cool girls I met while in high school.

We lived in Lombard, a Chicago suburb and I went to Glenbard East High School. She was the daughter of my mother’s Longwood college (Farmville, VA) classmate and lived in Glen Ellyn, where she attended Glenbard West High School.

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Photo of Glen Ellyn

It seems our mothers thought it would be really neat for us to go on a blind date. I thought the idea was awful, and looking back I bet she thought the same. But, our mothers insisted.

I remember driving to her house fully expecting to meet someone I would immediately not like. Then I expected we would make the date a short one, make a report to our mothers and go on our merry way.

I was 17, at the time, but I still remember standing near the stairs in her house and watching this beautiful, sophisticated high school junior walk down the stairs. If someone had taken a photo of me, I am sure I looked like I had never seen a pretty girl before.

I can’t remember ever being nervous while dating in high school, but that night I was. I had not expected the date to matter, but all of a sudden it did. I REALLY wanted to make a good first impression.

You know how this story ends, right? After that first date, I called and tried to get a second one. It took some time, but eventually I figured out she wasn’t interested.

Well, that’s my story. I’ve confessed. I think that one rejection created my “Lizard Brain,” that made me fear being turned down.

Want to learn more about your Lizard Brain? Do a search on Google for quotes from Linchpin, or just read the book. I like this quote:

The secret to being wrong isn’t to avoid being wrong! The secret is being willing to be wrong. The secret is realizing that wrong isn’t fatal.

What’s your story? When did your “Lizard Brain” stop you from taking chances?

 

In 2012, I posted a blog You are Never Too Young, Too Inexperienced, Too... I argued that If you are hungry to become more valuable to your potential clients and if you are willing to do what older lawyers are not doing, you have a real opportunity.

Because many senior lawyers are not creating content for their clients and potential clients or not using the web to distribute it widely, there are great opportunities for young lawyers to differentiate themselves from more senior lawyers. I read and recommend you read Seth Godin’s book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? I found a great quote about the power of the web by Hugh MacLeod:

The web has made kicking ass easier to achieve, and mediocrity harder to sustain. Mediocrity now howls in protest.

Seth Godin points out that the internet has raised the bar because it’s so easy for word to spread about great stuff. So, if you are a young lawyer you want to produce great stuff and then get it into the hands of people who will share it with others including your potential clients.

Seth Godin also says there is more junk than ever before. I agree and believe lawyers are creating more junk than ever before.

I read a lot of blog posts that are not well written and not aimed at helping clients and potential clients.

If you are a young lawyer and you want to “kick ass,” you must create content that your target market will value reading or hearing and then you must write it or present it in a way that grabs their attention.

 

Were you born with It? If not, can you develop It? 

A 60 something year old managing partner at a law firm once told me:

Rainmaking, you either have It, or you don’t

I have coached hundreds of lawyers that managing partner would have said didn’t have It. I am sure he is not aware, but I included his thoughts in my book: It Takes a Team. Here is some dialogue from the book:

“Before we get into that, let me ask you this: when associates come to work for you, are you able to pick out right away whether they have star potential?

“Absolutely,” replied David. “Usually after working with them on one assignment I know whether they have It or not.

What do you mean by It?

“It is something I remember from an old interview with Jackie Gleason. While talking about ‘star quality,’ he said, ‘If you have it and you know you have it, then you have it. If you have it and don’t know you have it, you don’t have it. If you don’t have it but you think you have it, then you have it.’ It’s an ephemeral and elusive combination of talent, skill and charisma that separates outstanding members of a profession from all the rest. It is the difference between a Cary Grant and a capable B actor.”

“I see,” said Bruce. “So you’re either born a star, or you’re not.”

“Yes. Of course, you need to work on developing your inner potential. But you have to be born with a certain ‘critical mass’ of talent to succeed in a certain field. Michael Jordan was born to be a basketball player. He was born with It. If he’d never picked up a basketball, and pursued a career in baseball instead, he’d have wasted his potential, because as he showed when he played baseball, he didn’t have It.”

“I can see where you’re coming from,” Bruce said. Jordan had natural ability. At the same time, I think Larry Bird was not born with It. He wasn’t a natural athlete. “

“Even Larry Bird had It,” David argued. His It may not have been the same as Jordan’s, but he had eye hand coordination and a the natural ability to become a great shooter.”

Bruce was a disappointed. He had hoped that the Larry Bird analogy would work. After all, Larry Bird probably worked harder on his shooting than any NBA star in history. “So let me get this straight, you believe that if you don’t have It, but decide to pursue a particular interest …”

“—Then you are wasting everyone’s time,” David interrupted.

I know many senior lawyers who think the same way that David and the managing partner think about “It.” I have coached many, many young lawyers who David and the managing partner would put aside because they did not see  It in them. Many of those lawyers, including some of you reading this blog have become top rainmakers and/or leaders in their law firm.

I recently saw a Forbes article: The ‘It’ Factor: How To Have Executive Presence In A Meeting. I liked this quote from the article:

In business, this is called executive presence. While it may seem like some people “just get it,” executive presence is actually something that they’ve probably worked very hard to achieve.

What’s the bottom line? Don’t pre-judge who you think has It and who you think does not have It and remember that most of us were not born with It. We worked very hard to develop It.  You can also.

One final quote for you. In his book Linchpin, Seth Godin made the point:

Being tall helps you become a star in basketball, but how many of us have a shot at playing in the NBA? It’s not about what you’re born with; it’s about what you do.

So, if you are like me and were not born with It, what are you doing?

I coached a lawyer recently who is doing well. I asked what challenges he was facing. His response was:

I feel too content.

I have seen many content lawyers over my career, but rarely are they willing to admit it. When they are not moving forward, they are being caught from behind by those who are not content.

I love the famous Steve Jobs ending to his commencement speech at Stanford:

Stay hungry. Stay Foolish.

I realize many large, well established law firms do not want lawyers to “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”  It is hard to picture how someone like Steve Jobs would have done practicing law in one of those firms.

Over the weekend, think about what “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish” means in the context of your law practice, (and your law firm). How can you use it to push yourself and stay motivated? If you would like to do more reading, read Linchpin by Seth Godin. Here is one quote from the book:

Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo, and changing people.

How do I ask for the business and close the sale? That is among the questions I am most frequently asked. The lawyers I coach frequently add that they have built their profile and relationships, but they simply have not found a way to convert it to business.

Do you have the same question? I could give you and the many lawyers who ask the question an answer, but I think you will find it way more helpful to answer the question on your own with me giving you clues along the way. So, for the next few days, I will give you parts of the puzzle. If you find the thoughts helpful, share the blog with your friends and discuss what you get out of each post.

So, here is your first clue: If you don’t know how to ask for business, think about why you don’t know. Many lawyers I coach will say: "I want the business, but I don’t want to come across to my friend/contact like I am exploiting our relationship." Other lawyers I coach say: "I want the business, but I do not want to come across like I am a used car salesman." Think about your reason for not knowing how to ask for the business. Think about the two reasons I shared with you. Does that give you a clue?

I will give you a second clue: If you have read Seth Godin’s book Linchpin, you will likely have a good idea. Although the book does not address lawyers and clients and does not specifically answer how to ask for business, it does give you clues you can use.

So the first clue to answer how ask for business is to ask and answer why you uncomfortable doing it.

Years ago when I was responsible for attorney development in my firm, I gave a business development presentation to a group of brand new partners at their orientation. As I surveyed the crowd, I realized that not one of the new partners had given any thought to business development. Not one had a prepared a business plan with written goals.

Instead, each of the new partners was only concerned with pleasing the senior partner who had lobbied to get them promoted. That strategy might have worked when the economy was so good that even the worst law firms were doing well. It certainly no longer works. If over the years those income partner did not develop clients of their own, they likely were let go. Even the partner with all the business who lobbied to get them promoted could no longer protect them.

I thought of the old school thinking as I was reading Seth Godin’s book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? on my Kindle . Early in the book Seth describes the old American Dream and the New American Dream. His list of each seems very close to the old dream for young lawyers and the new dream for young lawyers. 

Here is my take on old and new dreams:

Old dream for young lawyers:

  • Get your hours
  • Do your assignments
  • Put in face time at the office
  • Keep the lawyer feeding you business happy
  • Suck it up

Lawyers in the old dream never needed to worry about client development. Instead they needed to worry about keeping the senior lawyer for whom they worked happy and hope he never got hit by a bus when he crossed the street. The old dream worked because work was plentiful, seniors lawyers did not want younger lawyers they developed to have clients on their own and leave the nest. Young lawyers were told: "You don’t need to worry about client development. We have all the work for you that you will ever need."

New dream for young lawyers:

  • Develop a unique skill that will be needed for many years
  • Become a people person and build relationships
  • Get to know your clients’ businesses and industries
  • Create remarkable articles, blog posts, podcasts and webinars your clients will value
  • Be generous with your non-billable time
  • Become involved in your community/bar
  • Stay in contact with people you know both in person and using social media

It takes way more than getting your hours, working hard and sucking it up to achieve what is needed in the new economy. What are you doing to create and accomplish your New American Dream?