It was late fall 2001. The internet bubble had burst. A stock I owned that had traded at a record $130 per share was on it way to single digits where it remains today. I foolishly bought shares all the way down.

I remember a conversation with our law firm’s financial officer. He told me and a member of our board that based on hours the lawyers were producing, we had 38 lawyers more than we had work available for them to do. Each month that fall, our firm leaders found other ways for us to cut expenses, I tried to suggest we focus on increasing revenue, but my suggestion was never considered.

Think about your own firm. Whether it is a very large firm or only 3-4 lawyers, what would happen if you were able to increase revenue by 15%? I thought of this idea again when I read Seth Godin’s blog post several years ago, 15% Changes Everything. In a law firm, a 15% decline in revenue or a 15% increase in revenue really does change everything.

How can your firm increase revenue by 15%?

  1. Get your highest producers together quarterly and come up with an action plan for them to implement.
  2. Create a client development coaching program for your junior partners/senior associates to get them more focused on client development.
  3. Get each of your lawyers to prepare a business plan for their non-billable time. If you would like a template, click here.
  4. Create a Cross-Serving Plan.
  5. Get each of your practice groups to prepare a plan. In my old firm, we created “Targeted Differentiators.”.

When I retired from my law practice to coach lawyers, people (including some close to me) asked why I would give up my law practice at the very peak of my career. There were many reasons. One was I simply wanted to do something different and new.

When I retired from coaching at the end of last year, people asked why I was giving that up. I told one friend that either I was considered too old by law firms, or as I had thought for some time, they did not want to invest in the future.

Now that I am recruiting lawyers, I’m not surprised to find how few young partners have a portable book of business that would be attractive to a law firm. I’ve been told that law firms do not want to invest in young lawyers because firm leaders believe those lawyers will leave the firm. I believe the opposite is true. I believe investing in young lawyers will give those lawyers a reason to stay.

A few years ago I read Seth Godin’s blog: Cost Reduction for High End Markets.

The essence of the post is that if you cut costs, you become less remarkable and more like firms trying to serve the middle of the market. Seth says:

Go through all the ways you serve your customers and make them more expensive to execute, not less. Your loyalty and your market share will both grow. People who can afford to pay for service often choose to pay for service.

I rarely meet lawyers in a firm of any significant size who want to compete on price. Your law firm would likely want to increase revenue from your firm’s largest clients. Why would a client want to pay more (either higher rates or giving your firm more work) when they are getting less from your firm?

If you want to stand out from all the other law firms, take Seth Godin’s advice. If you are sitting around with lawyers in your practice group or office, brainstorm on what you can offer that will be more expensive for your firm to execute, but will make your firm more valuable to your clients, and in the end, increase revenue.

In July of 2000, Seth Godin wrote an article in “Fast Company” titled: “Unleash Your Ideavirus.” In the article Godin says:

Ideas are driving the economy, ideas are making people rich, and most importantly, ideas are changing the world.”

He suggests that to win we need to unleash an ideavirus, which I interpret as a high-powered word of mouth marketing.

Later, he published a book, and then a book with audio and video.

I doubt any of you quarrel with the importance of ideas in 2018, and I doubt any of you question the value of having clients and referral sources telling others that you are a great lawyer. But, many of you likely wonder how you can create great ideas and a high-powered ideavirus, word of mouth campaign.

Seth Godin gives some suggested techniques that you can use to identify, launch, and profit from ideas that can be turned into viruses. First, he suggests that you concentrate the message.

You can only win when you dominate and amaze the group you have targeted.”

That means as lawyers you cannot create an ideavirus by marketing to everyone. Depending on your field, you will want to narrow your market either geographically or by industry.

The more narrow your market, the more likely you can develop an idea that will resonate with that market and the more likely the idea will spread.

How do you figure out the right idea?

Quit thinking about selling yourself or your firm or what you do as a lawyer. Instead, focus on understanding what your clients are thinking and what will potentially impact their business.

  • Think of your most important client.
  • Then think about what is impacting that client. What does that client need to achieve its goals? What are the obstacles that client is trying to overcome?
  • How can you help?

Someone has to be the “go to” lawyer in your field. If you are willing to work hard to become a valuable resource for your clients, potential clients and referral sources, it might as well be you.

Keep in mind. Seth Godin wrote this 18 years ago. It would be an understatement to say the landscape has changed since then.

Seth Godin recently posted: Mass personalization is a trap. For those of you whose firms send email blasts designed to make clients and potential clients think it actually came from you, I suggest you take a moment to read what Seth Godin has written.

I still get emails every day from law firms, from consulting firms for law firms and from others. I think those emails which are sent to thousands at the same time actually annoy potential clients rather than draw them to a firm or lawyer. I am tired of opting out and then receiving more emails.

If I don’t want email blasts, just imagine how your clients are more busy than I feel about receiving email blasts.

Seth Godin not only posted the recent blog but a few years ago he expressed his thoughts in an interview:

Marketing is no longer about interrupting the masses with unanticipated spam: ads about average products for average people. Instead, marketing is about leading tribes – groups of people who want to go somewhere.

One of the lawyers I coached shared with me a story about an experiment one of her partners had conducted with an alert. Here is the story:

I decided to try something. I picked 40 clients that I thought might be impacted by the new I-9 forms.  I drafted a general email text about the client alert. I took the general email text and personalized it in some way for each client so that it did not appear as a mass email blast. It took about 45 minutes to send out these emails.

The result:

Fifteen clients emailed to thank me and four specifically mentioned that they were unaware of the changes.

One client used return email to schedule a call regarding an unrelated matter that directly resulted in billable work.

In 2018, the competition to attract and retain clients could not be greater. Adding a personal touch to any contact with clients will set you and your firm apart.

If I have learned one thing in my recent recruiting career, or better said, if I have been reminded of one thing in my recent recruiting career, it is this:

Law firms are looking for lawyers with clients they can bring and a book of business

For some firms, the cutoff is $1 Million annual fees. For other firms, it’s even more. So it’s natural for lawyers and law firms to focus on revenue. But, as Seth Godin recently wrote, that may not be the best place to focus.

Seth Godin posted a blog recently titled: Entrepreneurship is not a job. To provide an analogy, I would say: Practicing Law is not a job.

In his blog, Godin writes:

Bragging about how much money you’ve raised or what your valuation is a form of job thinking.

When I practiced law, some lawyers bragged about the size of their book of business. I understand. As I wrote above, it is how we get measured in the marketplace. But, it is, as Godin writes, a form of job thinking.

He then writes:

Entrepreneurship is a chance to trade a solution to someone who has a problem that needs solving.

Solve more problems, solve bigger problems, solve problems more widely and you’re an entrepreneur.

If you are a long time reader, you know this is how I think. I’ve written many times about identifying your clients’ problems, opportunities, and changes and then providing a solution.

Seven years ago I gave some advice on how to do it. How You Can Find Client Problems, Opportunities and Changes.

As you know, I practiced law a long time. I loved most of my work and I loved most of my clients.

Over my years I discovered many lawyers who did not feel the same way. Some knew what they don’t like. Others hadn’t thought about it. Others discovered they did not want to practice law.

In his book Linchpin, Seth Godin wrote:

Transferring your passion to your job is far easier than finding a job that happens to match your passion

To find your passion you must be able to find what intrinsically motivates you. Over the years I came up with 10 questions you can ask yourself to better understand your intrinsic motivation.

  1. Your Law Firm is holding your retirement party. Picture yourself there. The speakers will include a client, a lawyer in town with another firm who has been opposite you in some matters, a young lawyer in your firm, your spouse and one of your children. What would each person say about you?
  2. Imagine you are older and your grandchild asks: “What are you most proud of in your life?” What would you say?
  3. What lawyer do you admire the most and why?
  4. What lawyer is living the life you would most want to live and why?
  5. What lawyer is doing the kind of work you would most like to do and what is that work?
  6. You want people in your firm, or clients to believe you are the “go to person” to_________________.
  7. What is the work you enjoy most as a lawyer? Why?
  8. What client(s) do you enjoy the most and why?
  9. Imagine it is five years from now. Describe your day.
  10. Over the next five years, what do you want to do? What do you want to become? What do you want to earn? What do you want to learn?

 

Now that I am helping lawyers find the right firm and helping law firms find the right lawyers, I am reflecting more on what would motivate me to join a particular law firm if I was still practicing. I know what some of you are thinking:

Money

If that was all that motivated me, I would still be practicing law.

I was a practice group leader in my old firm. Once a month I was required to attend a meeting of practice group leaders and office managing partners.

I rarely thought what we covered was valuable. For the most part, we talked about economics and how we were doing financially. We did not brainstorm ideas on how we could better lead and motivate our lawyers, which in the end would make us more valuable to clients and more profitable.

In his book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? Seth Godin references a poll of 20,000 creative professionals done by Richard Florida. He gave the professionals 38 factors to choose from on what motivated them at work.

Here are the top ten ranked in order:

  1. Challenge and responsibility
  2. Flexibility
  3. A stable work environment
  4. Money
  5. Professional development
  6. Peer recognition
  7. Stimulating colleagues and bosses
  8. Exciting job content
  9. Organizational culture
  10. Location and community

Godin points out that only one of the above is a clearly extrinsic motivator.

I am sure many law firms focus on it like a laser beam. In those firms, the popular notion is that the only thing that motivates partners is higher profits per partner and the only thing that motivates associates is compensation and bonuses. The survey would suggest there are motivators that have little to do with money.

Looking at the survey, what can your firm do to attract top talent? I know-compensation matters, but what else can your firm do?

It’s difficult to provide exciting job content all the time. I have done my fair share of legal work that was not exciting. I am sure you have as well. The location of the firm is where it is. So, not much can be done with those two motivators.

At the same time, law firms can easily provide challenge and responsibility, flexibility, a stable work environment, professional development, peer recognition, stimulating colleagues and bosses, and organizational culture.

Top lawyers old and young want to be challenged.

What else do young partners want?

  • They want the flexibility to be able to spend more time raising their children.
  • They want to feel secure knowing they will have a job.
  • They want to learn and develop their skills.
  • They want feedback when they need to improve and when they have done an outstanding job.
  • They want to work with lawyers they respect and trust.
  • They want to work for a firm that lives what it says is its culture.

As I attempt to help lawyers find the right firm for them, I wonder why so many law firms are not focusing on those motivators.

Is your firm? When was the last time you talked about any of these topics at a firm leaders/management meeting?

Parvin Dad.pngI have posted at least some of this a few times over the years. Now that I am recruiting, I believe it is pertinent for what I will try to look for in candidates I will try to place.

In a nutshell, I believe the lawyer who sees things others miss will be most valuable for a new law firm.

My dad’s birthday was Saturday, March  31. If he was alive he would have been 107. He passed away in 1980.

My dad was an artist, a photographer, a musician, and an entrepreneur. He loved fishing and hunting. He also loved refurbishing sports cars.

I never gave him the chance to teach me to draw, paint or carve. I was too busy playing baseball, basketball, and football. He tried to teach me to play the piano, but I wouldn’t practice so he gave up.

When I was a teenager, my dad frequently towed home sports cars that he refurbished and repaired in our garage and then resold. I remember the first car was a green Jaguar XK 120. He frequently tried to get me to work on the cars with him. I tried, but I got bored quickly and went back to playing baseball.

Looking back now, I can say that while I was passionate about playing baseball, hunting, fishing and working on cars together are father-son experiences we could have shared for a lifetime. I missed an opportunity.

Even though I never gave him the chance to teach me to be an artist, I believe my dad unknowingly taught me about art and drawing in a way that made me a better lawyer, and that is the point I want for you to get from this post.

Seth Godin talks about making art. He says it has three elements:

  1. Art is made by a human being.
  2. Art is created to have an impact, to change someone else.
  3. Art is a gift. You can sell the souvenir, the canvas, the recording… but the idea itself is free, and the generosity is a critical part of making art.

In his book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, Daniel Pink describes taking a week-long drawing class and being taught that drawing is about seeing relationships between positive space and negative space, light and shadow, angles and proportions.

In a  blog posted a few years ago, Pencil as a Power Tool Daniel Pink talked about drawing again. He said drawing:

is a terrific way to develop the aptitude of Symphony, the ability to put together seemingly unrelated pieces to create something new.

Through his art, my dad taught me to see things others did not see. I became a successful lawyer in large part because I anticipated what would impact my clients.  Then I wrote about and gave presentations.

One small example was when I anticipated highway construction would be changed forever by the move from awarding contracts to the low bidder to design-build, and public-private financing. I started writing about it in the 90s.

I had the aptitude of Symphony. Lawyers I coached  heard me suggest many times to:

  1. Identify a client problem, opportunity or change before the client does
  2. Create a remarkable solution
  3. Give it away

That is what making art as a lawyer is all about. If you are not making art, consider taking a drawing class or a photography class and focus on relationships of things to other things. Then, diligently read business news and industry publications.

Are you making art as a lawyer? If so, you can become a valuable resource for any law firm. I would love to help you find the right firm.

Oh, one more thing: If your father is still alive, what experiences are you sharing?

First, I’m back working. I started last week as a Senior Director at Lateral Link and discovered just how much I have to learn.

I am at the moment the least experienced legal recruiter in the firm, and yet in Spanish Soy el reclutador más viejo. (I am the oldest).

My new business email is cparvin@laterallink.com. Please feel free to use that email to reach out to me. One thing I really like about working with Lateral Link is I will be able to help lawyers and law firms throughout the United States and Canada.

If you know me, you likely can easily figure out why I decided to pursue this opportunity to help connect lawyers and law firms.

  • In many ways, I have the opportunity to continue my coaching when working with a candidate. In many cases, the candidate will need a business plan to convince a firm that he or she will be a great addition to the firm.
  • A recruiter connects lawyers with law firms. I loved connecting the lawyers I coached with one another. Some of those lawyers from different parts of the US and Canada have become great friends.

I’m sure you know, especially if I coached you that I am happy to help you with career or client development advice, so feel comfortable contacting me. I receive calls from lawyers I coached almost every week and it is a great feeling to reconnect with them.

Since I’m a beginner again, I thought about The Beatles. I was in high-school when The Beatles arrived in America from Liverpool and were an instant sensation.

Few know how much work the Beatles did before they took the trip across the Atlantic.

Your efforts to become a rainmaker require that same kind of work.

Some time ago, Seth Godin wrote a Blog titled: “When did the Beatles Become THE Beatles?

Malcolm Gladwell discussed how the Beatles became successful in his book “Outliers” and talked about the Beatles in a short video that will help you grasp the point.

Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell describe that at the beginning, the Beatles were playing two or three long sets a day in a Hamburg club, making a few pounds if they were lucky. The Beatles worked on their music in these clubs for years.

What are you working on now to make yourself more valuable lawyer to your clients?

Godin says that as the Beatles got more traction they were marketing in every direction.

After you have done your homework, then you will work at becoming visible by writing for industry publications and speaking to as many industry groups as possible. Before you get there, consider writing for and speaking to Bar groups. Even though you are not likely to be hired by competing lawyers, this stage will provide opportunities to become a more effective writer and presenter.

Seth Godin says the transition stage was brief but essential. When people started noticing them, the Beatles didn’t stop marketing. Instead, they poured it on. At this point, they shifted from being the chasers into being the chased.

During the transition stage, organizations notice you and ask you to write for their publications or speak at their meetings. That is the time for you to “pour it on” to gain momentum.

After all the years playing in clubs and developing their skills, the Beatles came to America. Seth Godin says that many reach this stage and stop.

When you feel you have “arrived,” have some healthy paranoia. That means continuing to learn, continuing to figure out what impacts your clients and writing and speaking on those subjects. It also means continuing to focus on building relationships with each of your clients and becoming their trusted advisor.

At this stage, the Beatles became THE Beatles and you will become THE Rainmaker, and hopefully, I will become THE Recruiter.

Four years ago this week I posted a blog titled: If I write a novel about a law firm…I need your ideas. As you will see, on that day I was starting a novel writing class. In January of 2014, I began writing a novel.

Four years and nine drafts later, I have finally published it. The title is The Billionaire’s Lawyer. It is available here in both softcover and e-book versions. You can also find it on Amazon. I understand the Kindle version will be available on Amazon in a few weeks.

Why did it take four years to write and why did it take 10 versions until I was willing to publish it? There are two reasons. First, I was never satisfied with my work. I always thought, and still believe, I could make it better. Second, I’ve been able to incorporate events that have taken place over the last four years. Several times, I have thought,

What’s happening in real life is far stranger than anything I could possibly make up.

When I began writing, I hadn’t considered that the government might have hacked into a news reporter’s computer, corporations and political groups might use social media in ways no one ever thought of to sway opinion, and I had never heard of the term “fake news.”

My original protagonist was the great-granddaughter of a Galveston Mafia boss. Why did that character interest me? I didn’t know the Galveston history of the Free Galveston era, and was fascinated when I studyied it. You can check it out here. (My second novel will likely be about this character.)

Gabriela Sanchez is the protagonist of The Billionaire’s Lawyer. She grew up in the Rio Grande Valley and moved to Dallas to prove to herself, and perhaps her father, that she could make it on the big stage. Why did I want the protagonist to be a Hispanic woman from the Rio Grande Valley?

There are many reasons: First, I wanted to write about someone different than me. I decided the protagonist should be a woman because, having coached and mentored hundreds of young women lawyers, I know women face different challenges while striving to be successful.

Why did I want my character to be a Hispanic woman? While doing research I discovered that Hispanic women make up around 7% of the US population, but less than 1/2 of 1 percent of the partners in law firms. I also recognized in my research that because of movies and television shows, Hispanic women have been unfairly stereotyped. I’m sure you know this, but if you are interested here is a Latina Magazine article: 10 Latino Stereotypes We’ve Heard All Our Lives That Are Completely False.

Why did I decide my character had grown up in the Rio Grande Valley? There were many reasons. Our daughter taught school there. Our son-in-law grew up there. Sadly, the Rio Grande Valley is one of the poorest and most corrupt regions in the country. See: Rio Grande Valley Tops List of “America’s Poorest Cities” and Corruption On The Border: Dismantling Misconduct In The Rio Grande Valley.

More important than all of those reasons, I mentored a young lawyer who grew up in the Rio Grande Valley. I learned a great deal from her. She told me her mom was a teacher and her dad was a principal. She went to both college and law school on scholarships. At Notre Dame Law School she was the only Hispanic student and other students believed she was there only because of “affirmative action.” She later proved them wrong when she outperformed most of them.

She once told me that many times she wondered if she measured up and sometimes believed someone would figure out she was not as smart or not as capable a lawyer as them. Those feelings motivated her to work harder and probably contributed to her success.

I’m not sure if the lawyer I mentored will see this, but I have to thank her for sharing ideas that became the inspiration for my protagonist.

So, what’s the story about?

Gabriela Sanchez is a young lawyer who grew up in the Rio Grande Valley watching her father in court. After clerking for a federal judge and working with her father, Gabriela moves to Dallas to prove she can make it in the big city. At first, much to her dismay, Gabriela becomes known for being named one of the Top 10 Most Beautiful Women in Dallas by D Magazine (There was an annual list. Check out 2015 here.).  and for an award from Catholic Charities for her work helping refugee and immigrant children.

Then, a trial consulting firm (think of Dr. Jason Bull TV character) recommends Gabriela to defend the richest man in Texas in the most highly publicized white collar criminal case since Enron. At the beginning, Gabriela believes the poor have little chance to defend themselves, but during her defense of Sparks Duval, she discovers how tough it is for a rich man to get a fair trial when the DOJ is hellbent to convict the defendant at any cost including destroying his lawyer.

I enjoyed writing the book and incorporating what was happening in real life. I strongly considered not publishing it because I was writing it for my own education. I’m still not sure it is ready for prime-time, but if I can borrow words from a Seth Godin blog titled: Art is what we call...

What matters, what makes it art, is that the person who made it overcame the resistance, ignored the voice of doubt and made something worth making. Something risky. Something human.

Art is not in the eye of the beholder. It’s in the soul of the artist.