I loved practicing law in a law firm. Why? I wanted to be part of a team striving to get better. Now that I am recruiting lawyers, I want to place highly motivated lawyers in law firms that are striving to be the best the firm can be.

Several years ago, I wrote a The Practical Lawyer column Leadership For the Recession and Beyond focusing on leadership and how the recession changed law firms and the practice of law forever.

Nine years later, the economy is booming, but what I wrote back then still applies.

Is your law firm striving to become the best it can be?

If so, my bet is your firm leader has integrity, articulates a purpose other than profits per partner, clearly has a vision for the firm’s future, makes sure the firm is acting consistently with its values and holds people accountable. These answers are fairly obvious.

But, if they are so obvious why isn’t every leader doing what it takes for the firm to be successful?

1. Integrity

A law firm leader must be honest, ethical and credible. In their book Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It, James Kouzes and Barry Posner reported the results of 1500 interviews with managers across the United States. When asked to identify the characteristics and attitudes they believed to be most important for effective leadership, the number one response was: integrity (leaders are truthful, are trustworthy, have character, have convictions).

2.  Purpose Beyond Profits Per Partner (the Why)

A law firm leader must be able to express the firm’s purpose. James Collins and Jerry Porras in Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies Built to Last define purpose as “the set of fundamental reasons for a company’s existence beyond just making money.”

3.  Vision for the Future (the What)

A law firm leader must be able to express his or her vision for the firm in a way that creates excitement in the firm. Almost nothing energizes people more than feeling they are part of building something special. When President Kennedy expressed the vision that the United States would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade, people were energized and inspired.

4.  Culture and Core Values (the How)

A law firm leader must be able to both articulately express the firm’s culture and core values and to make sure the firm acts consistently with those core values. In Aligning the Stars, Jay Lorsch and Tom Tierney describe culture as “a system of beliefs that members of an organization share about the goals and values that are important to them and about the behavior that is appropriate to attain those goals and live those values.”

5. Accountability (the What is Expected)

A law firm leader must clearly articulate minimum standards. Actually, “minimum” is not the best word because the standards should actually be very high. Each person should know clearly what is expected of him or her and then must be held accountable with consequences for non-performance.

Several years ago I met with Thomas, a lawyer I was coaching. He said:

“Cordell, whatever you do, please don’t tell me I have to write or speak at industry meetings for client development.”

I told Thomas:

“You can be really successful and never write one article or give one industry presentation.”

Fast forward to a couple of years ago. I received an email from Thomas. In the email, he told me he had originated over $3 million in business that year. Near the end of the email, he told me he had given his first presentation.

What is the point of sharing that short story with you?

Each lawyer I coached is unique. Each lawyer I place now is unique.

Each lawyer has unique talents, goals, and challenges. So do you.

The point of individual coaching is one size does not fit all and my job was to help the lawyers I coached uncover their unique talents. As a recruiter, part of my job is to discover each lawyer’s unique talents

You may have a senior lawyer who is advising you. He may think what worked for him is exactly what will work for you. It may, but just as likely it may not.

While each lawyer I meet is unique, I believe rainmakers have certain attributes and do certain things. I wrote about it in my column in The Practical Lawyer.

How you can best spend your time will be determined by a variety of things, including:

  • The kind of work you do
  • Your experience
  • The amount of non-billable time you have
  • Your interests and talents
  • Your personality type
  • What you want to accomplish

Some lawyers like Thomas should be out in the community networking and/or active in the Bar.  Other lawyers do not have the time or desire and would rather go home and be with their family.

Some lawyers should spend time developing a social media presence and relationships. Others should spend time meeting with clients and referral sources in person.

Some lawyers should spend time developing new clients. Other lawyers should spend time focusing on their existing clients.

Some lawyers should market externally. Other lawyers should market internally.

Some lawyers should focus on being a subject matter expert. Other lawyers should focus on being a “trusted advisor.”

If you want to build your practice, you should focus on the attributes in my article and figure out your unique talents, goals, and challenges and spend your time most appropriately.

 

Before I begin, I want to share that I’m still looking to coach lawyers in two more law firms this year. If your firm is considering a client development coaching program for 2017, reach out to me.

I received an email this week from a lawyer I am coaching. He said:

Cordell, I know it’s important for me to have a 2017 Business Plan, but I’m stuck. I’m not sure where to start and I want to make sure my plan will help guide me.

I shared with him this blog that I posted in 2012. If you’re also stuck, I hope it will help you.

I have always learned from seeing what other lawyers were doing and then adapting the best I saw to my own situation. I believe most lawyers learn the same way.

This month I have received several requests from law firms and lawyers asking for workshop materials and plan templates I have created for lawyers.

If you or lawyers in your firm are still stuck on how to create your 2012 Business or Personal Performance Plan I hope you will find the workshop materials, plan templates, articles and workshop slides valuable.

If you haven’t read it, you can read my Practical Lawyer article: Making 2012 Your Best Year Ever. You can also go through the slides from my 2011 Planning Webinar.

If you’ve been stuck, I hope you find these materials valuable.

Are you blogging? If so, how much attention are you paying to your headline? Are you burying your main point? Your headline and first paragraph are the most important writing you do because they determine if your readers continue reading.

Suppose your potential clients are receiving your blog as an RSS Feed. All they will see is your headline. When they look at it, they will ask: “What’s in it for me to read on?” Suppose your potential client  clicks on the link to your blog and reads your first paragraph. They will ask again: “What is in it for me to read further?”

So what does this mean? You have to write a compelling headline and first paragraph to persuade your clients to read further.

When I wrote my monthly column for Roads and Bridges magazine, I did not appreciate it when the editor changed my headline. In many instances the editor thought plays on words, or being cute, would capture the readers’ attention.

Instead of letting you look at a few blog posts and decide whether the lawyer writer has captured their readers attention, I thought I would take a couple of headlines and first paragraphs of my Roads and Bridges columns and let you decide.

The first is a column the editor titled: Bridge Project Marred in Contract Misrepresentations. While I think the headline could have been better, I do believe bridge builders would want to read on. I think my first paragraph was pretty effective. Here is what I said:

“Do you clearly understand the contract requirements that affect the work prior to bid? Sometimes knowing what your obligations are should cause you not to bid. Unfortunately, some contractors just have to bid anyway. That was what happened in D.C. McClain, Inc. v. Arlington County, 452 S.E.2d 659 (Va. 1995).”

What made that first paragraph effective? I believe more than anything else, it was my use of the word “you” and asking a question for the reader to answer.

Now let’s look at one that I did not do as well. In this column, the editor chose Over Done as the title. While that is cute, it is not compelling. In the column I discussed a really important case for contractors, but here is how I began the column.

Long ago, there was no requirement to have a differing site condition or significant change in the character of the work clause in the state standard specifications. As some contractors know, Congress left a loophole under which states could “opt out” of having the clauses, and some states have done so.

While everything I said was true, contractor readers do not want a history lesson. They want to know how the new case impacts them and what they need to do. I did not get to those points until later in the column. So, I buried the lead, to use the journalism phrase.

How effective are your headlines? Will your potential clients want to read further? How effective is your first paragraph? Are you burying your lead by giving history lessons? If so, your potential clients may never get to your main point.

Want to learn more about creating a blog that will attract new clients and benefit your existing clients?  Take a look at my latest Practical Lawyer column: Practical Tips To Make Your Blog More Valuable. Also, consider coming to visit me in Dallas, where we can spend a Saturday morning (or another morning), working on your blog posts.

 

I recently posted: Top 10 Ways to Really Increase Profits Per Partner.I want to expand on what I suggested.

Every law firm wants to increase revenue and profitability. Many do so by raising rates and increasing the hours billed expectations. That, at best, has limited value and it presupposes that clients are willing to pay higher rates and provide more work without the firm adding any value.

Expanding business with existing clients and bringing in new clients has a far more significant and lasting value. Which lawyers in your firm are best positioned to do this?

In most surveys, the vast majority of business clients report:

  • Female Atty.pngThey hire lawyers rather than law firms.
  • They have confidence in their law firms’ senior lawyers, but either do not know or do not have confidence in their law firms’ junior lawyers.
  • A lawyer gets considered by a client based on recommendations and his or her reputation and profile.
  • A lawyer gets hired based on his or her ability to connect and generate trust and rapport with the client’s decision makers.
  • Approximately 75% of the Fortune 1000 General Counsels are dissatisfied with their present law firm and would replace the firm if they thought any other firm would do better.
  • They are generally not dissatisfied with the quality of the work or the hourly rates of at least the senior lawyers.
  • Instead, they are dissatisfied over the lawyers’ lack of knowledge of the industry, company and decision makers, the lack of innovation and the lack of quality service including responsiveness.

Most senior partners are well-known by their clients and their target market. Clients have either decided to hire them or have hired senior partners in other law firms. As a result, their revenue from business generation has flattened out. As important, those senior partners are reaching retirement age.

Your firm’s real chance for a dramatic increase is to build your next generation of rainmakers by teaching younger lawyers how to build their profile and reputation, and how to build trust and rapport with clients and potential clients. If your firm teaches your younger lawyers how to build relationships with clients and provide extraordinary service, you are more likely to retain and expand relationships with existing clients.

If you want my ideas on how to do it, take a look at my article Building The Next Generation of Rainmakers in The Practical Lawyer.

Every law firm wants to increase revenue and profitability. In the past many firms did so by raising rates and increasing the hours billed expectations. That, at best, had limited value and it presupposed that clients were willing to pay higher rates and provide more work without the firm adding any value.

In the current economy clients are in control. Firms cannot simply raise rates or raise billable hour expectations. It is more important than ever before to expand business with existing clients and bring in new clients. Which lawyers in your firm are best positioned to do this?

In most surveys, the vast majority of business clients report:

  • Female Atty.pngThey hire lawyers rather than law firms.
  • They have confidence in their law firms’ senior lawyers, but either do not know or do not have confidence in their law firms’ junior lawyers.
  • A lawyer gets considered by a client based on recommendations and his or her reputation and profile.
  • A lawyer gets hired based on his or her ability to connect and generate trust and rapport with the client’s decision makers.
  • Approximately 75% of the Fortune 1000 General Counsels are dissatisfied with their present law firm and would replace the firm if they thought any other firm would do better.
  • They are generally not dissatisfied with the quality of the work or the hourly rates of at least the senior lawyers.
  • Instead, they are dissatisfied over the lawyers’ lack of knowledge of the industry, company and decision makers, the lack of innovation and the lack of quality service including responsiveness.

Most senior partners are well known by their clients and their target market. Clients have either decided to hire them or have hired senior partners in other law firms. As a result, their revenue from business generation has flattened out. As important, those senior partners are reaching retirement age.

Your firm’s real chance for a dramatic increase is to build your next generation of rainmakers by teaching younger lawyers how to build their profile and reputation, and how to build trust and rapport with clients and potential clients. If your firm teaches your younger lawyers how to build relationships with clients and provide extraordinary service, you are more likely to retain and expand relationships with existing clients.

If you want my ideas on how to do it, take a look at my article Building The Next Generation of Rainmakers in The Practical Lawyer.

My December column in The Practical Lawyer is titled: Some Practical Thoughts on Conquering Career Burnout. It is based on two books I co-authored about Tony and Gina Caruso.

In Say Ciao to Chow Mein: Conquering Career Burnout, Christina Bost Seaton and I focused on Tony, who after finishing his first year as an associate in a large Texas law firm is burned out and struggling to find meaning in his career. In Ciao, Gina loves her work as a clerk for a Federal Court judge. At the conclusion of Ciao, Tony has just been promoted to partner and he and Gina have two children.

In Rising Star: The Making of a Rainmaker, Kristi Sebalj and I focused on Gina. In this book Gina is now a partner in a mid-sized firm. She is the talk of the firm, having brought in $1 Million of business. Yet, she feels like a one-hit wonder because her success was a result of one big case from one big client.

I have known and worked with lawyers like Tony and Gina throughout my law career and lawyer coaching career. Their characters are a composite of lawyers who have worked for me and lawyers I have been blessed to coach and mentor. Many of those lawyers have caused me to study and examine differences between lawyers who are successful and happy and lawyers who are not. Interestingly, many of the people who are truly successful also have a great personal life and are very family oriented.

What does it take? Based on my experience, lawyers who are truly successful and happy:

  • Feel like they control their destiny
  • Know what they want
  • Have a plan to accomplish it
  • Build relationships
  • Work on making a contribution to a cause greater than themselves.

If you have the time, get to know Tony and Gina. You will see some of the same challenges you face and some of the same opportunities you have. As you will see, you can conquer career burnout by following the ideas above.

 

Ok, I confess. I enjoy reading that inspires me and gets me more motivated. When I was a young lawyer, I discovered and subscribed to two magazines that inspired and motivated me. The first was: The Practical Lawyer. I liked it because it gave me “real world” practical advice. Now, many years later, I write regular column called Practical Success.

I also subscribed to Success magazine. In each issue I would find something that either inspired me or gave me an idea. I remember years ago reading that I should write down my goals and fold up the paper and carry it with me in my suit pocket. I did that for many years. Recently I subscribed again to and recommended it to many lawyers I coach.  Interestingly I still find something valuable in each issue and so do the lawyers I coach. Each issue also includes a CD that is valuable.

What magazines are you reading that will help you become a more successful lawyer and a more fulfilled person?