When I was busy practicing law, there came a time when I had an Ah Ha Moment. It was the day I discovered that some of the lawyers who were working for me were pessimists who were not very motivated to succeed. It seems obvious now, but at the time I was surprised.

If you have read my recent posts, you know that when I coached lawyers, I frequently told firm leaders I could not help pessimists or unmotivated lawyers.

Now that I am recruiting lawyers, I have been asked how I can tell if a lawyer I am helping is optimistic and motivated. It’s really pretty simple. I listen to the lawyer.

Less Motivated Pessimists Say: “Yes, but…                     Motivated Optimists Say: “Sure how…”

Less Motivated Pessimists Say: “My problem is…          Motivated Optimists Say: “My opportunity is…”

Less Motivated Pessimists Say: “I need to…”                  Motivated Optimists Say: “I want to…”

Less Motivated Pessimists Say: “I will try my best…”      Motivated Optimists Say: “I will achieve…”

Less Motivated Pessimists Say: “I can’t find time to…”   Motivated Optimists Say: “I will make time to…”

Less Motivated Pessimists Say: ” I want realistic goals” Motivated Optimists Say: “I want goals that challenge me”

I’m sure you know that I gave many presentations about career success and life fulfillment. If you are interested in taking a look at one of them, check out: Secrets to Career Success and Fulfillment. 


I recently heard a discussion I would describe as “what some big law firms doing to be thought of as cool by young lawyers.”

I listened intently and learned that a high percentage of associates working in big law firms are seeking to leave their law firm and go in-house at a company.

I gathered that some of the big law firms are seeking to retain those lawyers. I heard that one firm allows young parents to bring their children to work. (I assumed but wasn’t sure that they weren’t supposed to bring their children every day).

I learned that several well-known firms are providing alcohol as a way of being thought of as a cool place to work. I’m not sure I understood, but apparently, some firms believe they can demand many hours of work from young lawyers if they make working at the firm more fun.

At my old firm, beer was brought in on Friday afternoons to what was called the attorneys’ lounge. Over 10 years I went once and drank one beer as I didn’t want to be pulled over or cause an accident while driving home on the North Dallas Tollway.

Ok, I confess. I am old fashioned. I was the guy who didn’t think our firm should go to everyday business casual. Keep in mind that when I went to law school, male students were required to wear coats and ties. Also, keep in mind that when our firm went to business casual, I didn’t own any clothing that would meet what I defined as business casual.

So, I could be old fashioned when I say I don’t believe providing alcohol in the office is a great way to attract and retain talented young lawyers. Is there another way?

If you haven’t read or heard about Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, you likely have not heard of “Fed Ex” Days.

In the book, Pink talks about Atlassian, an Australian company that once a quarter allows their developers to work on anything they want, any way they want and with whomever they want. Atlassian calls them “Fed Ex” days because the developers have to deliver something overnight.

I urge you to read the book. If you want an introduction, read this CNN article Big bonuses don’t mean big results. You will see in the article that if you want to implement “Fed Ex” days in your office, there is only one rule: “The group must deliver something.”

How can you implement the program in your firm?

Give your associates the chance to do a project for a client or for an organization in your community. Let them select the project and who will be on their team. I believe your associates will come up with many creative ideas that will be a public relations coup for your firm, and just maybe your firm will be considered a cool place to work.

Earlier this year a law firm marketing director asked me:
Cordell, what should be included in our client development training program?
Almost 10 years ago, I wrote a Practical Lawyer article Unlocking The Secrets To Developing Your Future Rainmakers. It has some ideas for the marketing directors.
I practiced law and learned about client development from the seat of my pants. I probably learned more from my mistakes than I ever learned from my successes.
In 2017, you don’t have time to learn from your mistakes. That was one reason I left my law practice to coach lawyers.
In my firm I found many lawyers were motivated to develop business and client relationships, but gave up when their efforts weren’t productive.
Since 2005, (seems like a long time ago now), I have worked with young associates, junior partners and senior partners, just like you.
Based on my own client development efforts and the work I have done with lawyers, I have a good idea what you need to learn to be successful.  Here is my list of Planning and Motivation activities to incorporate now:
Planning and Motivation
  1. Discover the attributes of successful lawyers/people and incorporate them into your own career
  2. Decide what you want to achieve
  3. Set motivating stretch goals
  4. Prepare a yearly plan to achieve those goals
  5. Break down your plan into shorter time frames (90 Days, or 60 Days and weekly)
  6. Take StrengthsFinder and determine what kind of client development will best work for you (See this blog post with my strengths.
  7. Make time for client development (you will never find it)
  8. Get organized for a more productive day (See this blog post for discussion of David Allen’s book: Getting Things Done)
  9. Stay motivated and accountable…even when you are not seeing results
  10. Patience and persistence (It took two years before I received the first call from my client development efforts)

The beauty of coaching is you can get feedback when you are working on each of the 10 activities above.

P. S. I have finally finished a complete draft of my novel. I’ve worked on it since 2014, and I have written 10 different versions. This one is the last version. But, some of my earlier versions tell a story so different from this one that I may go back and create a second novel with different characters.

This novel is about a young Hispanic lawyer who is best known for her beauty and defending refugee children who is called upon to defend the richest man in Texas against Department of Justice Prosecutors who know no bounds when it comes to their desire to convict the defendant and destroy the defendant’s lawyer’s reputation.

If you are interested in reading the draft, send me an email.

I’ve coached well over 1000 lawyers since I left my law firm and started coaching in other firms in 2005. I believe most, if not all the lawyers I have coached would like to attract, retain and expand relationships with clients.

Why are some of the lawyers I’ve coached successful and others are not? Many who do not succeed are really only saying they wish they could attract more clients.

Those who succeed do it a variety of ways. In some cases there’s luck of being in right place at the right time. In some cases there is luck of being born in the right family, marrying into the right family or having a friend who created a billion dollar company.

But, for most of lawyers I have coached who attracted major clients, they did it the old fashioned way.

They were motivated and worked hard, like an athlete training each and every day, and not seeing immediate results.

Fitness woman


I read an interesting Psychology Today article titled: Don’t Let Your Thinking Sabotage Your Goals, written by David Ludden, Ph.D. Please take a look because the writer treats the motivation to lose weight as I just explained above about the motivation to attract clients. Then, Ludden writes:

According to University of Chicago psychologist Oleg Urminsky, a sense of connectedness to the future self is essential for achieving long-term goals. (My emphasis)…

Urminsky considers his idea of connectedness to the future within the larger context of a well-documented phenomenon in behavioral economics known as time discounting. This occurs when people discount the value of a resource when there’s a delay in receiving it. For instance, if I offer you $120 now or $180 a year from now, you’ll most likely take the smaller-but-sooner option over the larger-but-later one.

Therein lies the problem, client development and attracting clients is a long term process. It requires lots of hard work for which there is no pay, and no immediate benefit. I know it took me two years of work, work, work before the first construction client called me.

I’ll leave you with one final example. I coached a lawyer 10 years ago. When I began coaching her, she had a very small amount of business in her column.

Recently she wrote to me and told me that a few years ago, she had set a goal of originating $3 million by the time she was a certain age. She told me she had reached and even exceeded her goal in 2016.

How did she achieve this awesome goal? Just as the motivation article suggests, she saw herself as a $3 million originator by a certain age, then she broke it down into smaller chunks and worked each year to get closer and closer to her long term goal.


In my 38 years practicing law, and 11 years coaching lawyers, I’ve been around incredibly smart lawyers. You know that type of lawyer. They finished near the top of their law school class without even trying.

Years ago, my last law firm was hiring law students who were in the Top 10% of their class. If a lawyer was in the 11 or 12 % of his or her class, he or she didn’t get an interview.

I railed against being so focused on class rank. Finally, our head of HR came to me and asked:

What are you looking for when you hire an associate?

If you are a long time reader, you may remember my response:

Give me the Young Lawyer

Recently I read a short piece by Michael Pietrzak from Success Magazine. The title hit home with me: How to Develop an Insatiable Hunger. Without looking at the article, how do you suppose you can develop an insatiable hunger?

Now look at the five tips. For me they are right on target. It begins with having clarity on what you want to achieve.

Going all the way back to when I was a kid playing sports, I set some kind of clear goal and visualized achieving it. I also knew why I wanted whatever it was.

I invite you to check out the other four suggestions.

If you are a regular reader for any number of years, or if I have coached you, I believe you could write on this subject for me and you likely know what I am going to say.

Whenever a lawyer tells me he or she has not had time for client development, more often than not I find it is not a time issue. Instead, it is a motivation issue. They are not striving to do better.


They aren’t motivated to make the time. But, why aren’t they motivated?

I find it is usually one of these two issues.

  1. They have not found a great answer to the “why” question. They may set a goal, but don’t have an answer on why achieving it is important. Usually this is because they are content with where they are at the time. See Success: You Can’t Be Content.
  2. They want to become a rainmaker, but they are not convinced they can actually do it. Back in 2012, I told the story of a lawyer I coached who needed me to convince her. Take a look at: Client Development: Change What You Think it Takes to Succeed.

If you want to read more on this topic, check out Research: Your Reasons for Change Make all the Difference

In December last year, the New York Times published: Big Law Firms Bring Back Hefty Bonuses for Associates. I found this interesting:

“This year’s bonuses reflect a premium being paid to experience,” said David Lat, founder and managing editor of Above the Law. “There are big bumps at the midlevel and the senior level.”

If law firms are once again focused on retaining the best and the brightest, are bonuses enough to do it? I don’t think so.

Achieve Dream SS 63866632

As a young second year lawyer told me the last time associates were in high demand:

Of my law school friends, I would say that I only know a few who are going to stay where they are working. The vast majority sees this as a blip on the way to something else, and that’s mainly because they are dissatisfied with the work, find the environment stifling and do not feel appreciated by the senior lawyers.

On the other hand, a lawyer I coached at the same time told me: 

Now, I enjoy being a lawyer primarily because of the people I work with and the clients for whom I work. The clients and the other attorneys in my section are all motivated individuals. My senior attorneys seem interested in my success and make an effort to patiently help me through my mistakes.

The environment is up-beat, fast-paced and pleasant. As I tell the head-hunter who calls me about once a month, “I wouldn’t think of doing anything else, anywhere else.”

Is the atmosphere in your firm “upbeat, fast paced and pleasant” enabling associates to be “in the zone?” Or, is it “dissatisfying and stifling and you are trying to use the “carrot” of bonuses to retain your top young lawyers?”

If you have a Kindle or Kindle App on your iPad, my books are on sale on Amazon. Each book is only $2.99. Just go to Amazon and search my name to find them.

I recently received a phone call from a law firm asking me about my coaching program. During the call I was asked:

Cordell, how do you motivate the lawyers you coach?

That was a great question. I told her I cannot motivate lawyers who are not motivated. But, I have the secret to help motivated lawyers become more successful. In this short blog, I will share my secret with you and give you some material from professionals supporting my premise.

When I am coaching lawyers, I ask lawyers to grade themselves, not on their successes, but rather on their efforts.

Why do I approach it that way? I learned long ago how the feeling of making progress motivates us to do more and stick with it.

Recently I read a Fast Company article that supported this thought: 3 MOTIVATIONAL MIND TRICKS DESIGNED TO POWER PROGRESS. I urge you to take a couple of minutes and read it, including what studies have shown. I like this quote:

Countless game, app, and website designers grasp this potency of visible progress. Managers can leverage that motivating effect by communicating progress to their team and showing how their work interacts to move the needle. Everyone gets a boost by showing their work, keeping track of and recording their accomplishments.

I hope I have you convinced. Even so, I also think you will find valuable this HBR article: The Power of Small Wins. Here is a Ted Talk clip of Psychologist Teresa Amabile, one of the authors of the paper:

In the talk, she focuses on engagement and shares how every organization can improve work place performance. Inner work life drives performance.  She found that the single most motivating event in the workplace is making progress on meaningful work.

If I have coached you, then you likely have experienced a breakthrough. It wasn’t necessarily securing a new client. It could be as simple as posting a blog that someone on Twitter retweeted. Hopefully you now understand why when I am coaching you, I am focusing on your small wins.

You can start your own client development networking group. That is what Holly Draper did after a presentation I gave to the Collin County Bar Association.

I wrote about the presentation in my blog: Small Firm and Solo Lawyers: This One is for You and I posted my slides from the presentation on SlideShare: Client Development for 2014 and Beyond.

Holly is a family law lawyer and writes a Family Law Blog. Holly and her husband Rob, have two children, Abby and Jake, and a golden retriever, Sophie. She is active in her church, enjoys playing and watching sports and loves to travel.


After learning about the coaching group she started, I asked Holly to share her idea with you.

Back in January, I attended the Collin County Bar Association’s “Making Your Practice Work” seminar. I’ll admit that I did not have the highest of hopes for the seminar, but everyone needs their CLE credit, right? So, I went, and boy was I glad I did!

Overall, the speakers were fantastic, with a lot of great information on such topics as using technology in the courtroom, e-filing and Cordell’s presentation on client development.

I started my own practice back in 2008, and things have gone just fine. I never had a business plan, and I puttered along with just enough business to pay the mortgage and take the occasional vacation. My business never soared, though. After listening to Cordell’s talk, I left the seminar really motivated to put a plan into action and make my business flourish.

One of the ideas that Cordell suggested was to brainstorm 25 ideas for client development. Twenty-five ideas should be a piece of cake, right? Wrong. The first five ideas came easily, but I really had to dig to get even close to 25. (I confess, I actually only came up with 22 ideas.)

Cordell’s next suggestion was to put those ideas into categories based on the amount of work required and the potential return for each idea. Several of my ideas were to get involved with various networking groups, but in the past, the return for my time just was not there. Those ideas made it to the scrap heap.

I realized that most of my quality referrals came from other attorneys, but I was not aware of any networking groups specifically for attorneys besides the bar associations. Nothing against the bar associations, but they usually have family law attorneys coming out of the woodwork. I really was not sure that would be the greatest place for me to grow my business.

Out of my brainstorming, I came up with the idea to start an attorney networking group, with the membership limited to one attorney per practice area. I put a post on Facebook to see if anyone else might be interested. Immediately, several attorneys said they wanted in.

Next, I had the receptionist at my virtual office e-mail the other attorneys at the office to see if they were interested. Sure enough, several of them were. As I put the word out through various avenues, the response was overwhelming. Attorneys loved the idea!

On March 6, we had the first meeting of North Texas Attorney Networking, and it was a smashing success!

Group members all agreed that we would get to know each other personally and professionally, and we would look to each other first when we needed to make a referral. Not only would this lead to more business for each of us, but it would also allow us to refer family, friends and clients to excellent attorneys that we actually know in other areas of law.

This idea is just in its infancy, and we are still working out the kinks and figuring out the best way to move forward. But, after just one meeting, I can confidently say that this brainstorm generated a winner!

Holly has created both a networking group and a coaching group. I am convinced that the lawyers in her group will share their successes, their challenges and their opportunities. In the process, they will get to know each other, help each other stay focused and have fun together. If you can’t participate in one of my coaching groups, try this and I will be happy to help you.



When I meet with senior lawyers in firms, some share with me that the junior lawyers in their firm are not as motivated as they should be. I tell those senior lawyers that their firm is likely causing, or at least contributing, to the problem.

Do you have 11 minutes, actually 10:48 to be more precise? If you have that time, watch this animation of a Daniel Pink presentation on points from his book: Drive.

When I am coaching lawyers, I find that most of them are not motivated by money.  In the video you will find that the science supports that point.

In the presentation, Daniel Pink suggests that employers (law firms) should pay their employees (lawyers and professional staff) enough money so that is not an issue. I agree and I believe most law firms do pay young lawyers and professional staff reasonably well.

I believe law firms make a mistake when, after setting a reasonable salary, they continue to try and motivate their young lawyers and professional staff with more money. It really doesn’t motivate them, or at least only motivates a small minority of young lawyers.

As you will see in the video, and in Daniel Pink’s book, after you have set a decent salary, these three things will motivate your young lawyers and professional staff.

  1. Autonomy
  2. Mastery
  3. Purpose

If you want some scientific research to support this conclusion, read: Two-factor theory, discussing well documented research done by Frederick Herzberg. As you will see, money is not a motivator, but the lack of it can be a de-motivator.

Unfortunately, many law firms spend more time, and more money, focused on financial rewards as a motivator. In comparison to financial rewards, what is your firm doing to help your young lawyers become more autonomous? What is your firm doing to help your young lawyers become the best they can become? What is your firm doing to provide a meaningful purpose for your young lawyers and professional staff?