As I concluded a program on planning for New York associates a few years ago I asked for questions. One lawyer asked:

How do you define success?

I thought the question was outstanding. I told her I could not define success for her. She, and only she, can define what success means to her and that requires looking inward. I can only define what success means to me.

Some dictionaries define success as the attainment of wealth, power, favor, or eminence. I have watched young lawyers seeking those things become disillusioned, even when they are doing well. When they earn more money, someone else is earning even more. When they become more powerful in their firm, someone else has even greater power. When they are recognized as a great lawyer, someone else gets even greater recognition.

Long ago, I decided that success was continual learning to become the best lawyer I was capable of becoming. I have to confess, I also defined success as being recognized by the industry as the most knowledgeable transportation construction lawyer in the United States.

I also decided that career success means nothing without life fulfillment. For that I wanted to follow my passions. Several years ago, after working with young lawyers in my firm, my passion evolved into coaching, mentoring and teaching highly motivated lawyers. So, in January 2005, I left my successful law practice to work full time with lawyers in the United States and Canada.

Nancy frequently tells me that I cannot retire because I have no real hobbies, and I have very few friends outside of my work. (Spoiler alert: If you have read this far, my spoiler is that unless more law firms ask me to coach lawyers in 2018, I’ll retire at the end of this year.)

In a way she is right. My “hobbies” are not the normal ones. As you may know, I want to learn to speak Spanish, and I want to write novels about lawyers. So, I’ve studied Spanish at home and in Mexico and I’ve taken creative writing courses at one of our local colleges.

I recently finished the novel I’ve been working on since 2014. It is the 10th version and is so different than earlier versions that I am going back to edit those versions for a second novel. My story is about a young lawyer called upon to defend a billionaire Texan who discovers how difficult it is for a rich man to get a fair trial in 2017.

I admit I haven’t really taken time to make many friends outside of my work. Where we play golf, there are several opportunities to play with the other guys during each week. I’ve only played once.

When I practiced law, my clients were my friends and my friends were my clients. They still are my best friends. Over the weekend, Nancy and I visited one of my first clients and his wife and went to the Virginia Tech v. Duke football game.

Now, my friends also include many of the lawyers with whom I have worked over these last few years. Whenever we are in their city, we make a point of visiting them.

I hope the lawyer who asked the question has looked inward to define what success means to her. How about you? Have you thought about how you define success? What are you doing to find fulfillment in your career and life?


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.

How big are your dreams for your career? I ask because I encounter many lawyers whose dreams are smaller than they could be. They are limiting their own success in the process.

I have always valued this quote, attributable here to Ray Kroc.

Press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. –Ray Kroc


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A few years ago, I read an interesting blog post titled: This mindset will crush your business by Jim Connolly. His post made me think of those many lawyers. I urge you to read it. Connolly talks about people who work really hard, but focus their work on things they are comfortable doing. He says the fear of failing guarantees failure.

On the other hand, Connolly describes those who have the mindset of success this way:

Their mindset, if that doing just enough is never enough. They constantly wonder; how far can I take this? Their passion and energy is contagious.  It not only powers them forward, it encourages others to join them and invest in their ideas.

When I finish coaching lawyers I like to ask:

What did you get out of our coaching?

You might be surprised that one of the most common answers is:

Confidence that I can be more valuable to my clients and achieve more than I ever dreamed. Confidence that I can be successful developing business my way.

Do you remember this blog I posted in 2012? Client Development: Change What You Think it Takes to Succeed. I told two stories about lawyers I coached who once they believed they could attract clients became far more successful.

Put simply, those lawyers started dreaming bigger dreams. You can and should also. When you do, your passion and energy will be contagious, not only for other lawyers in your firm, but more importantly for your clients and potential clients.

I have never been content and I’ve always felt I had more I could learn.

I recently saw a short video clip of a younger Steve Jobs talking about life and striving to make a difference. Take a look.

As you may know, I’ve been working on a novel now for two years. I’m working on my 8th version now. I use Scrivener (which I highly recommend) and can look back at other versions.

Looking back now, I never dreamed two years ago just how much there was to learn about writing a novel.

I know I am getting better, but it’s still not ready for primetime. Let me give you just one example. If you by chance write fiction, you might laugh when you read this.

In an earlier version, done by the seat of the pants, I in essence told my protagonist’s life story. I wanted readers to know how she got to where she was now.

A professor grinned and told me in a nice way that all the backstory stuff was a great exercise for me to better understand my character, and maybe I could find a way to weave some of that into my story, but I needed to start with my inciting incident that I had written as a prologue.

Will I ever publish my novel? I don’t know. But, I’ve had a blast learning.

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I’m not sure really why, but I get energy “pumped up” when I am learning something and I greatly value people from whom I feel like I am learning something.

Recently I was researching why it is important to never be content. I found an interesting blog by Steve Olson: WHY REACHING YOUR GOALS WILL NEVER MAKE YOU HAPPY.

If you have a minute, take a look at it. Olson tells an interesting story about his four year old son playing Spyro 1. Olson’s son had accomplished a great deal in the game, but told his father:

The fun part is doing all the stuff in the different lands. Getting the gems and dragons is the fun part. Not the end. I don’t like the end.

Then the writer turns to Minnesota high school hockey which he compares to Texas high school football. He describes what the moment is like for players who have spent 13 years focusing on winning the state championship.

But in that instant – from that split second before victory occurs to the fleeting emotional moments afterward – the ultimate goal passes from the future through the present and becomes history – never to be experienced again. The actual experience of winning only lasts a few seconds! After that, it’s just a memory.

Then Olson makes his point.

You really want to be where you are right now. That’s why once you reach a goal you always set a new one. Happiness does not lie in accomplishment; it lies in the act of accomplishing.

That really resonated with me. It helped me better understand why I loved learning so much.

Have you ever been on a roll, everything going your way, and then all of a sudden, you make a mistake? How do you “come back?” How do you get your self confidence back?

I had this happen more than one time while practicing law. I was reminded about the issue recently.

As you know, Nancy and I spent 10 days in Cabo San Lucas before Christmas. We played golf 7 times, a whole lot of golf for me.

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On our last day, I was warming up on the driving range. All of a sudden I felt “it.” Every time I was hitting the sweet spot on the club. The ball was going the distance and direction I wanted. I just stood there and hit ball after ball and watched the ball flight with glee.

I didn’t dare tell Nancy how I was feeling. I didn’t want to ruin my luck. I remained “in the zone” on the front nine. I shot 39 on the front from the number IV (old men’s tees.)

You know where this is going, right? I somehow lost my great tempo on the back. I tried, but I never got it back. In fact, the harder I tried, the more erratic I became.

I wanted to get it back, but unfortunately we were heading for home. When I got home, I looked on line. I found: HOW DO I REGAIN MY CONFIDENCE WHEN I AM PLAYING GOLF POORLY?

I also found an article by noted author, Bob Rotella: Inside the Golfer’s Mind. He says:

There is no such thing as “muscle memory.” Your muscles have no capacity to remember anything. Memory resides in your head.

I want to get that memory back in my head as soon as possible.

What does this have to do with practicing law?

Some time ago, I wrote about losing a jury trial: Being Number 1, Career Dips and Quitting. If you read the post, you know I was seriously in the tank. I thought maybe I was just not cut out to try cases to a jury.

How did I get my mojo back? I read books and articles and listened to audio tapes on communicating to juries. I wanted to learn from the masters. Then, I practiced. I practiced opening statements. I practiced closing arguments. I practiced cross-examining witnesses.

Over the next several years, I won several cases in a row, all in federal court. I got to the point where I could feel “it” again.

If you practice law long enough, you are going to have a setback. The real key to your success is how you respond, how you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and prepare to do it again.

Greetings today from Montreal. At 8:00 AM this morning, just a couple of hours from now I will be speaking to law firm associates. One thing I will tell them is to think bigger. In other words, visualize becoming more than they may think possible.

As I am thinking about this topic, I’m reminded of what Walt Disney once said:

If you can dream it, you can do it.

Recently I read a post titled: How To Be Successful In Life: 13 Tips From The World’s Most Successful People.

The first tip: 1.Think big, jumped out at me because I have written about it here. I even created a magnet I give to lawyers I coach with the quote under that tip.



When I am coaching, I focus on helping the lawyers “think bigger.” Are you thinking big enough, or are you limiting your success?

I remember the day in 1978 when I shared with partners in my Roanoke, Virginia law firm that I wanted to build a national transportation construction law practice working for construction clients who were building  the biggest, most complex, transportation construction projects in the country. My partners smirked.

I guess that is understandable since at the time I had no experience working on transportation construction projects.

I like this quote I recently saw:

I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough. Marissa Mayer

On the other hand, I never one time doubted I could accomplish this big goal. Over time, I worked on some of the most complex cable stayed bridges constructed in the country and many other well known transportation construction projects throughout the US.

Ok, think about 2016, what is the something you are not 100% ready to do, but if you do it you will have a major breakthrough?

I remember speaking to groups of associates in two law firms a few years ago. The topics generally covered the secret of being a successful lawyer and having a fulfilling and active family life.

When I was billing 2000 hours I did not have time to study or understand why some lawyers were successful and had a great family life and why others did not.

I also did my client development instinctively and some things worked very effectively, while other things did not work quite as well. I didn’t have time then to sit down and analyze why.

For the last 10 years, I have coached well over 1000 lawyers and made dozens of presentations to law firms and bar associations. (For those of you who are young lawyers in Boston, I will be speaking to you on October 23 at the program “Brand Yourself.” I hope to see you there.)

I have witnessed first hand the attributes of the most successful lawyers I have coached.

While each lawyer I have coached has unique talents, weaknesses, ambitions and practices, and there is no magic pill or formula, there are principles that I urge you to think about and try.

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As I have outlined on this page before, it all begins with your attitude. The top lawyers I have coached have an incredible attitude. When you talk to yourself do you say:

“Yes, but…” or “Sure. How…?”

Do you say;

“My problem is…” or “my opportunity is…”

Clarity on What You Want

Next, you must have clarity on what you want in your career and life. Your time and energy are your most important assets. The top lawyers I coach are focused and strategic and as a result do not waste time. If you do not have clarity by having a written plan and written goals you waste precious time.

Focus on What Your Clients Need

Next, you need to focus on what your clients need. They do not want to be sold. They do not care about what you do. They hire you to solve their problems, help them achieve opportunities or deal with internal or external changes.

If what you do does not address those issues, the client will not hire you, no matter how good you are.

Build Your Profile

You need to build your profile. Over time it really helps to focus on a niche and become the “go to lawyer” in that niche. How do you pick a niche? Start by finding an area that is growing in importance,  something your clients need and you are passionate about.

One lawyer coached a few years ago sent me her revised plan. She identified clients and potential clients, what she could do for them, two specific areas she wanted to focus on and become the “go to lawyer” and a game plan to become recognized by the clients she wants to serve. Once she figured this out, she was off to the races.

Build Relationships Through Trust and Rapport

Building your profile gives you the opportunity to build relationships with clients and potential clients. All things being equal, clients want to do business with lawyers they know, like and trust.

At the end of the day, you get the opportunity to be considered based on your reputation and recommendations. That gets you a meeting. At the meeting, you will ultimately get hired based on how well you connect with your  potential clients and build trust and rapport.

Keep Clients by Understanding Their Industry, Business and Them

Assuming you do high quality work, you can keep those clients by understanding their industry, their business and their personal needs. You can also keep them by deepening the relationship with them. Are your friends your clients? Are your clients, your friends?

Build Your Practice by Building Your Team

At some point you need to build a team. Young lawyers who will later work with you will be thinking “what is in this for me to work with…?”

You need to treat them as if they are as important as your most important client because without their help you will not retain your most important clients.

I recommend that you align their goals with your own goals and your client’s goals, provide sufficient information in a timely way for them to do their work and then constantly give feedback.

Stay in the Moment 

Finally, I recommend you plan your personal time as well as you plan your work time.

For me, Saturday afternoon starting with lunch was always Jill’s time when she grew up. We called it father-daughter time. Before having a Blackberry/iPhone it was much easier to stay focused on her.

After she got married and came to visit, we had lunch together. While chatting, I received an email. Quick on the draw, I pulled my Blackberry out of its holster, read the email and then responded.

When I looked up, Jill said:

Dad, I feel like you are billing me by the hour. Is it possible to turn off your Blackberry for an hour while we eat lunch?

That story was passed around so far and wide that it became an example in this Boston Globe article: Business’s new task: turning off.  Sadly, you have to be a subscriber to read the entire article.

Find Out What Superachievers Do Differently

Do you want more ideas? Take a look at the Selling Power magazine article: How Superachievers Outperform Others by Dr. Donald J. Moine. I found it very supportive of what I have learned and written about how super lawyers outperform others.

Every year there are various lists of “Super Lawyers.” Here is the link to the TOP 50: 2014 WOMEN TEXAS SUPER LAWYERS – TOP LIST.


In my career I have been blessed to work with some really outstanding lawyers. So, I have ideas you can implement to keep getting better and take it to the next level.

Here is a list of what outstanding lawyers do to keep getting better:

  1. They are never content with their achievements and are always striving to get better.
  2. They focus on what they do not know and are willing to reinvent themselves if the situation requires it.
  3. They regularly do things that others do not enjoy doing.
  4. They are focused on the long term.
  5. They persist until they succeed.
  6. They are intrinsically motivated and do not get caught up in comparing themselves to others.
  7. They strive to become comfortable outside their comfort zone.
  8. They are comfortable under pressure.
  9. They have set and achieved hundreds of goals and have confidence they will achieve more.
  10. They focus on the process that produce the end results rather than the end results themselves.
  11. They know their health is essential to their success and make time to stay healthy.
  12. They are focused on their priorities (especially family) and do the most important things each and every day without getting distracted.
  13. They genuinely enjoy their clients and their work.
  14. They anticipate their clients’ and potential clients’ legal problems, create a solution and call them.
  15. They work at becoming both an outstanding lawyer and trusted advisor.
  16. They think optimistically and plan their non-billable time purposely.
  17. They have healthy paranoia, which causes them to focus more intently on adding value for their clients.
  18. They view everyone they meet as a potential client.
  19. They are always playing to win.
  20. They share credit and build their team as a result.
  21. They look for other work the firm can do that their clients will value.
  22. They help their associates succeed in their own right and are constantly rebuilding their team.
  23. They are willing to fail and they rebound from disappointments or setbacks.
  24. They are on the cutting edge of change, including technology changes.
  25. They are always seeking new ideas and feedback from coaches and mentors.

If you have more time and want to better understand the strengths of top women lawyers, take a look at Patricia Snyder‘s University of Pennsylvania article: Super Women Lawyers: A Study of Character Strengths.

I have coached 100s of women lawyers from the US and Canada and I mentored many women lawyers when I practiced law. Many of them have become top rainmakers and leaders in their law firms.

I hope many of those top rainmakers and leaders will read this and pass it on to younger women in their law firm.

Have you ever heard of Heidi Grant Halvorson? Yesterday, I wrote and included a video clip about Stanford Professor Carol Dweck. She was Heidi Grant Halvorson’s graduate advisor. They both give me great tips I can apply coaching lawyers.

In 2011, Heidi Grant Halvorson published: The Trouble With Bright Girls. I found it very helpful for my coaching and my novel.

You would think there would be no problem for a “bright girl.” But, if you are a dad or mom with little girls, I urge you to read the article and see how you can help your girls overcome the baggage that comes with being a ‘bright.”

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To help with your own career, I recommend that you read Heidi Grant Halvorson‘s Nine Things Successful People Do Differently. Don’t just read her blog with the list, spend $3.47 and get the short book on your Kindle, iPad or other digital reading device.

While you are reading, figure out how each of the 9 things applies to practicing law in a firm.

Here is the list of 9 things:

  1. Be Specific To be successful, you have to specifically define what success means to you.
  2. Seize the Moment If you are creating goals that is super, but by itself it is not enough. You must take the actions necessary to achieve your goals.
  3. Know Exactly How Far You Have Left to Go That means you should focus on what you have left to do, not what you have already done.
  4. Be a Realistic Optimist I love what I read in Success Magazine: Super Achievers think optimistically and plan purposely. So should you.
  5. Focus on Getting better Get up each and every day and try to become a better lawyers and more valuable to your clients.
  6. Have grit Client development is a marathon not a sprint. You need to stick with it even when you are not getting the benefits and even when you just don’t feel like it.
  7. Build your Willpower Muscle Have the willpower to do the things that will give you energy (like exercising regularly) and giving up the things that rob you of energy (like overeating or drinking too much or too often.)
  8. Don’t Tempt Fate You will likely be more successful if you work on achieving one goal at a time. Accomplish that goal and then move on to the next one.
  9. Focus on What You Will Do, Not What You Won’t Do Put everything in positive terms. If you play golf what happens when you tell yourself not to hit the ball into the water?

I would like to post 9 guest blog posts. If you send me how you are implementing any of the 9 things, I will post the ideas here.

In the meantime, if you have just a few minutes, take a look at this Heidi Grant Halvorson video on achieving goals. You will see four of the tips above.

When I finished reading Heidi’s short book, I went to Amazon and ordered the Kindle version of her book: Success: How We Can Reach Our Goals. I am reading it now and highly recommend it. I will share some ideas from the book with you in future blog posts.

After my WHAT IS THE SECRET TO A PRODUCTIVE AND SATISFYING LAW CAREER presentation yesterday at the University of Nebraska  law school, a student asked:

What should I focus on to be a successful lawyer?

I thought it was a great question. I especially liked that she included “what should I focus on..”

I could have given an entire presentation just answering that one question. But, I had very little time and had to come up with a “sound bite” short answer. So, I replied:

Success does not come from focusing on success, happiness and money. Instead it comes from focusing on your passion, developing your talent, and identifying the needs of those you want to serve.

What do you think?

P.S. If you would like to check out the slides from the presentation, you can find them here.