A lawyer recently complained about young lawyers who were working on projects for her. She said:

They grew up getting trophies for participation and now they think they deserve praise for mediocre work. They just touch the surface and I have to spoon feed them to go deeper.

I don’t know whether that is a fair criticism of lawyers in their 20s. During my 37 years practicing law, senior lawyers always criticized the next generation.

Having said that, I am an example of a lawyer who was forced to become a better lawyer by a client who pushed me.

Businessman wearing black suit and red boxing gloves

I once represented a client I will call Frank (not his real name). Frank was a tireless, brilliant businessman who started with nothing and built a thriving, successful business.

As some of you know, over my career I discovered I was a “big picture” lawyer. I frequently was able to see things others missed. But, I hated the details. Frank was the most detailed client I ever represented. He asked thorough, tough questions, and I had to be prepared to anticipate what he would ask and answer his questions. Frank forced me to become a better lawyer.

I recently read a Guy Kawasaki Article: Guy Kawasaki: At Apple, ‘you had to prove yourself every day, or Steve Jobs got rid of you’. Kawasaki writes:

In the Macintosh Division, you had to prove yourself every day, or Jobs got rid of you. He demanded excellence and kept you at the top of your game. It wasn’t easy to work for him; it was sometimes unpleasant and always scary, but it drove many of us to do the finest work of our careers.

Doing legal work for Frank was sometimes unpleasant and always scary, but it drove me to focus on details I would have missed if he hadn’t demanded excellence.

Do you have a client or a partner for whom you work who demands excellence? If so, years from now you will thank him or her for making you a better lawyer.

Greetings from Los Angeles. I am here for the 5th and final coaching session this year with a group of lawyers who started in January.

We’ve covered a lot of territory in our group meetings. One topic was writing and speaking to get hired.

Are you writing and speaking to become more visible to your potential clients? If so, how is it working for you?

Because I developed my practice by writing and speaking, I am asked to teach lawyers how to write and give presentations to get hired. In this post I will share with you some of my teaching points.

If you are not achieving the success you have been hoping for, you likely have one of two potential problems:

  1. You may not have chosen the right topic, or
  2. You may not have structured your presentation in an effective way.

Your clients do not care about what you do. They do not care about the background and history of a case, law or regulations.

All they care about is their problems, opportunities, internal changes and external changes. So, if you write an article that does not address one of those items, it will not result in attracting existing or potential clients.

Your clients do not have much time. So, they want to find out the answer to their problem or how they can achieve their opportunity without having to search for it.

Blogging and Twitter have become popular in part because of the time shortage. The time your potential clients will spend also means you should not write a linear article or give a linear presentation.

Clients Ahead Sign SS 68217166

As noted communication expert, Nick Morgan suggests in his book: Give Your Speech, Change the World:

The problem-solution approach works best because it is easy for the audience to digest.

Readers and audiences begin reading or listening asking why will reading or listening to this be important to me. Morgan writes:

Stating a problem first answers that question right away.

When I write, I pay special attention to the title and to the first sentence because I know potential readers will look at the title and may read the first paragraph to decide whether the article will be valuable to them.

When I speak, I know I have only 90 seconds to get the attention of my audience. I must answer the “What’s in it for me” question. I know I need to start and finish with high energy.

Years ago I was in the hallway getting ready to speak at a large firm retreat. I had my headphones. The managing partner who asked me to speak came by and looked. Finally he asked:

You’re going on in five minutes. What are you listening to?

My simple answer:


If you want to start a presentation with high energy, or if you want to cut a minute off your mile run, put on your headset and listen and watch Tina, Elton John and Cher. Guarantee you won’t bore your audience with your opening.

So, if you are getting ready to write or speak, what problem or opportunity are you addressing and how will you frame it so the readers or audience will want to read or hear your solution?

P. S. Do you have 7 minutes? Watch Carmine Gallo video on Make a Presentation Like Steve Jobs. Watch particularly how he verbally opens and closes each segment of his presentation to make it easy for your listeners to follow his story.


Paula Black  posted a wonderful blog titled: Legal Business Development: What Business Are You In?  I urge you to read Paula’s post.

When asked lawyers in most firms would likely say:

We are in the business of providing legal services to clients.

businessman older bored.jpgWhile that answer would be accurate, as Paula points out, it likely would not generate much enthusiasm either by the firm’s clients or the firm’s lawyers and staff.

As you know, I recently read The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs: Insanely Different Principles for Breakthrough Success by Carmine Gallo. A few weeks ago I read:

Apple is not in the business of selling computers; Apple “enriches lives.” Zappos is not in the business of selling shoes; Zappos “delivers happiness.”

Paula gives other great examples of what business well-known companies are in. What business is your law firm in?

Here is the bottom line:

Your firm will be more successful if the business you are in is about your clients and helping them achieve their goals rather than about what you do as lawyers.

Do your lawyers and staff know what business you are in?


Happy President’s Day if you are in the US and Happy Family Day if you are in Canada. I was not aware of Family Day before visiting Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta last week.

I wish I someone had shot a video of me, as I trudged through the hard pack snow under a full moon in Edmonton last Wednesday night. I certainly must have been a sight pulling my carry-on suitcase behind me with the wheels mostly not moving. I could have taken a cab, but I chose to walk to experience the “brisk” winter evening air. It turned out the wind on my face was more “biting” than brisk, but that was ok.

In the 3/4 of a mile, I passed four other people. I doubt any looked at me and said to themselves: “This guy must be from Texas.” But, I am confident they knew I was from a more southern location.

I loved my time in Calgary and Edmonton. I spent time with enthusiastic lawyers and I purposely ordered meals I would not likely find in Dallas. And, I learned about Family Day.

I really like the idea of taking a day from work with the specific purpose of spending it with your family. So, if I could choose, I would rather celebrate Family Day than Washington and Lincoln’s birthday. If your office is not open today, make your President’s Day, a day for family time.

Have you ever sat at your desk and wondered how you could do your billable work, career and client development and still have quality time for your family? I was asked that question on Twitter last week. I decided to re-post this blog that I posted in November. I hope you will find it valuable on Presidents/Family Day.

Yesterday I posted: Lawyer Career Fulfillment: Change the way you look at what you do. I want to continue sharing thoughts on career fulfillment.

Last year I wrote Mapping Out the Rest of Your Career: Think About Vision, Purpose and Core Values. I have spoken on this subject for many years at law firm retreats and to young lawyer groups at Bar Meetings. I frequently urge lawyers I am coaching to think about these things.

Several years ago I coached a very successful young partner. We spent more time on purpose, vision. core values and planning time based on priorities than we spent on client development.

After a few months of coaching, I shared with her this Steve Jobs quote and told her to think about it in the context of narrowing her focus to what was most important to her:

I’m as proud of many of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done. Innovation is saying no to a thousand things.

In our next coaching session, she shared her top four life priorities in this order.

  1. Her family, including her lawyer husband and her two children
  2. Her church and faith, including leading the children’s choir
  3. Her health and fitness, including regular workouts
  4. Her legal career, including client development

Once she figured that out, setting goals and planning her time was far more focused. Her personal and professional goals were all tied to her priorities. If a potential opportunity to spend time did not meet one of the priorities, and sometimes more than one priority , she graciously said no to the opportunity.

In that one bit of reflection, she became far less stressed, far more focused and far more fulfilled.

Are you willing to take time to reflect? If so, what are your top priorities in life? You might have more than four or less, but you certainly have them. Are you spending your time based on your priorities?

I want to leave you with a video clip I found inspiring. It is titled: Be Remarkable. I hope you will find it inspiring also.

Most lawyers think logically and linearly. It certainly is no surprise since that is how we were taught to think.

Yet, to take client development to the next level, I must convince lawyers I coach to exercise the right side (the creative side) of their brain. So, we focus on exercising the right side of their brain.

Several years ago, Seth Godin posted a Blog titled “Creativity and stretching the sweatshirt.” It resonated with me.

In the post, he said:

Creativity is the stuff you do at the edges. But the edges are different for everyone, and the edges change over time.

He also suggests that if you are not creative, then watch the creative things other people have done.

I ask lawyers I coach what they can do around the edges to attract and be valuable to potential clients. They frequently ask me to share examples. Here are some ideas I have shared.

During my career some of the things I did around the edges were:

  1. Write a monthly column in a leading construction magazine.
  2. Compile my monthly columns each year into a booklet and send it to highway and transportation contractors.
  3. Speak annually to highway and transportation construction contractors.
  4. Create a newsletter before any of my competitors.
  5. Create a video for contractors when VHS first came out.
  6. Create guides for contractors.

What are the edges now? I think if I was still practicing law today and could do anything I wanted, I would:

  1. Create a professional looking video for my website bio.
  2. Have a professional videographer shoot video of each of my presentations and edit them into short video clips for Youtube.
  3. Develop a regular video podcast for contractors.
  4. Develop the Transportation Construction Law Blog.
  5. Create a Transportation Construction Law LinkedIn page.
  6. Use Twitter as a tool to keep up with high profile Transportation Construction projects.
  7. Conduct monthly webinars for contractors.

I like this Steve Jobs quote, in part, because it describes what I did and would do now:

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, the just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.

What does this quote mean in the legal profession? Connecting things is the ability to take what is going on in the world of your clients and see the potential legal issues or opportunities.

How was I able to connect things when I practiced law? I was insatiable to learn and experience everything I could about the transportation construction industry. By doing that, I was able to see connections other people missed.

So I end this post by asking you two questions:

  1. What can you do around the edges that will attract new clients and benefit existing clients?
  2. What are you connecting?

I meet lawyers who tell me they wish they were not practicing law. When I ask why, as often as not they tell me they are not enjoying what they are doing.

I think part of the problem we have as lawyers is how we view our work.

(Photo taken by Nancy from a house where we stayed in Kohala Ranch on the Big Island of Hawaii.)

When you are working on a matter for a client, what are you thinking? What is the context of the work you are doing?

William James, a 19th century American philosopher and psychologist  once said:

Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.

Over 100 years later, Steve Jobs shared an inspirational thought on this subject:


I want you to think for a moment about what the William James quote and Steve Jobs’ thought means in the legal profession.

At times, the work you do for clients will be boring. At times, the work you do for clients will be stressful. At times, the work you do for clients will take you away from something you would far rather be doing. At times, you will wonder why you ever decided to become a lawyer.

I know, because while I loved practicing law, and would not have traded it to do anything else, (well maybe coaching college basketball), I experienced being bored, being stressed out, times when I preferred to be home, and even times when I wondered why I became a lawyer.

At any of those times, remember this: Everything you do for a client makes a difference for that client. Everything your client does makes a difference to those that client serves, and so on…


You have been invited to give a presentation to an industry group with large potential clients with legal work in your field. Your presentation topic is one that is critically important for your audience. You have spent hours preparing and you really know your material. Even though the topic is important and you really know the material, your presentation could be a flop. Why?

  • It might be that you had words and bullet points on your slides and when each slide came up you turned your back to the audience.
  • It might be that you stood behind a podium with your hands glued to each side of it and you kept looking down at your notes.

What are two must have presentation skills you need to learn?

  1. If you will have slides, they should be visual and there should be few or no words on the slides. You need to learn how to present with visual slides.
  2. You must learn how to present with charisma, meaning how you look to your audience.

Many studies have been conducted on communication skills. The best known conclude there are three components:

  1. The words spoken
  2. The tone
  3. The body language
While there is some dispute, over the percentages given to each, there is no dispute that non-verbal communication is extremely important.
When I presented, if given the choice, I never stood behind a podium. I rarely presented from the stage. I focused on making eye contact and connecting with the audience. Here is an example from a Texas Young Lawyers presentation I did several years ago.

Carmine Gallo is the author of The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience . I urge you to read the book. To peak your interest, watch this short video clip to see just how different a Steve Jobs presentation is compared to one that is, at best, average.

As Carmine Gallo reports, Steve Jobs spent hours preparing and practicing his presentations. That is the number one secret of presenting in a way that will be “insanely great” in front of any audience.


I wrote this several years ago as an exercise when I was brainstorming with myself what was most important in my life. I feel I must have borrowed some of the things below from someone else, but I have not been able to trace any on the list to anyone.

I thought about this list while listening to Steve Jobs biography written by Walter Isaacson, and more specifically to this part about his Stanford Commencement Address in 2005.

In his speech he described three stories about his life. The third story was about death. He told the graduates:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

To help you figure out what is REALLY important, list five things:

  1. You are grateful for in your life.
  2. You can do as a family.
  3. You can do to help your community, church or synagogue.
  4. You want to learn.
  5. You want to experience.
  6. You can do to feel more healthy.
  7. You can do to feel less stressed out.
  8. You can do to help someone in need.
  9. You think are important and you can give away.
  10. You can do to be more valuable to your clients.
  11. You can do to become a better lawyer.
  12. You want to do before you die.


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.

I am listening to the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson. It is the third book about Jobs that I have read or listened to over the last year. As I listen or read, I try to imagine Steve Jobs in law school or practicing law in a law firm. I am sure law schools and law firms never had students or lawyers like Steve Jobs.

Now that Steve Jobs has passed away, many who knew him have written articles and blogs about him being a very demanding boss. Some have been critical of that attribute, referring to him very negatively. Read: Bad Bosses Can’t Hide Behind Entrepreneurial Success to get the idea. Others have been complimentary. I recently read a Washington Times article : Why Steve Jobs Matters by Peter Bella. It was actually written before he passed away. I loved this quote:

Like earlier builders, Steve Jobs was an exacting and demanding boss. He is described as “impatient” and “nasty.” So? If respecting tender sensitivities were part of the American business plan, America would be the most backward nation in the world. Excellence isn’t built on “I’m okay, you’re okay.” Excellence is demanding.

Steve Jobs demanded and got excellence from his employees.

In this July 16, 2010 photo shows Apple’s Tim Cook, left, and Steve Jobs, right, during a meeting at Apple in Cupertino, CA. Cook took over as CEO for Apple after Jobs resigned. (Image: Associated Press)

My very best clients were like Steve Jobs. They demanded excellence from me. They made me a better lawyer.

When I was a young lawyer, a partner assigned me to work for a business owned by Warren. I could tell this was no ordinary handoff. The partner was excited to pass Warren on to me.

As it turned out, Warren was one of the most interesting client I ever represented. Warren had grown up in the furniture business in New York. When he decided to strike out on his own he toured the east looking for the best workers. He found them in Southwest Virginia and started his own furniture manufacturing company there. Warren’s company made furniture that the Government purchased. Back in the day, if you were sitting in a chair in Federal Court there was a good chance it was manufactured by Warren’s company.

SInce Warren’s company did GSA government contract work, he was an ideal client. After all, I had spent four years in the United States Air Force handling government contract disputes. (I quickly learned that GSA does business differently than DOD).

Warren was likely the smartest client for whom I ever worked. Even though he never set foot in a law school, he likely knew more about the law that impacted his business than I would ever know. A meeting with Warren was unlike any meeting I ever had with a client. I learned at our first meeting that I would need to be extremely prepared for each meeting and actually do a great deal of unbillable homework to be able to answer Warren’s questions.

At a very early stage of my career Warren forced me to be prepared and to be a better lawyer. It was one of the best lessons ever. Do you have a client like Steve Jobs who is demands your best? I hope so.