I want to share two stories with you about how changing what you think it takes to succeed can make a difference in your client development success.

Years ago I coached a lawyer as part of a dozen lawyers in the coaching program at a well known regional firm. She was struggling with her client development, in part because she was not comfortable doing what the senior lawyers in her firm suggested that she do. She was not particularly optimistic that she could become a rainmaker.

Fast forward: For several years now this lawyer has been one of the top rainmakers in her law firm. This dramatic change was not because I was a great coach, it was because I was able to get her to change her idea of what it takes to succeed.

My second story is about a lawyer I coached a few years ago. She was a young partner in her law firm at the time. She is now in-house with her old law firm’s largest client.

At the end of our coaching program, each participant sent a report to firm leaders.

Here is an excerpt from the lawyer’s report:

 Cordell once told me: “I have to make you believe you can have a seven figure book of business.” He believed in me. It took quite awhile, but now I believe in myself. Not only as a quality lawyer, but also as a business developer. Prior to working with Cordell I secretly enjoyed not having to be responsible for attracting clients. Now it is my goal.

 

I enjoyed reading Heidi Grant Halvorson’s book: Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals (a great book I have recommended to lawyers I coach). Near the end of the book Dr. Halvorson writes:

Americans believe in ability. East Asians believe in effort.

I suspect she is right. I know for sure that many lawyers believe client development is about ability and you either have it or you don’t. While a lawyer must be a good lawyer and must have some ability to communicate, client development is more about effort.

Take a look, you might find this short video valuable.

Before the coaching, each of the two women thought that ability was the key to becoming a successful rainmaker. Each looked around her firm and concluded she did not have the same kind of ability she saw in the older lawyers (near my age), who were extroverted, great at networking, played golf with clients and took them to dinner and football games.

During our coaching, a lightbulb went off. I convinced each lawyer that successful rainmaking is based less on ability and based significantly more on the level and quality of her effort, and on using her strengths most effectively.

Lawyers who believe client development success is based primarily on ability typically come to a point when they quit trying to develop business. Lawyers who figure out success can be obtained based on the level and quality of their effort persist until they succeed and constantly strive to get better. The very most successful are able to recognize their strengths and their ability and constantly strive to use them and develop them further.

Yesterday, I posted a Pele (The Brazilian super-star soccer player) quote that I particularly like on social media sites.

After posting, I received a comment:

Very true, but we may add that luck also is one factor.

Luck is indeed a factor, but I have always believed

Successful people make their own luck.

I also like:

Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.

You might enjoy reading: 5 Things People Who Make Their Own Luck Always Do.

If you are a long-time reader, you know I contend I owe my legal career success to luck. But, in most cases, it was luck meeting preparation. I’ve told these stories before. They illustrate my point.

I had been practicing law 12 years and I was in Roanoke, Virginia, when I received a call from the general counsel of what was then the third largest construction company in the United States. He said:

We have a $30 million problem in Atlanta and we’ve been told you are the lawyer to help us.

At the end of the call, I asked who recommended me. He told me it was a Federal Highway Administration lawyer who had been on a panel with me on the subject of the problem in Atlanta.

Was it luck? Yes. If the general counsel had talked to the lawyer in the office on either side of the lawyer who recommended me, they wouldn’t have known me. I can’t begin to tell you how many non-billable hours I had spent studying, writing and speaking on that subject. The preparation I did months before being asked to be on the panel is what gave me the opportunity.

If you can bear with me, I’ll give one more example.

It was Thanksgiving weekend in 1990. I was still practicing law in Virginia. I watched national news coverage of a bridge collapse on the west coast. Later that evening I received a call from the Transportation Secretary of the state where the collapse occurred. He asked if I could fly to the west coast on Monday and meet with his team.

At the end of the call, I asked: How did you find me? He told me the name of a famous bridge designer who had recommended me.

Was it luck? Yes. The Transportation Secretary talked to a famous bridge designer who had heard me speak and read what I had written on bridge design and bridge failures. Once again, I can’t begin to tell you how many non-billable hours I spent studying those subjects, including documents from a FOIA request of the Federal Highway Administration. My preparation over many, many months before is what gave me the opportunity.

 

 

Over the 13 years I coached lawyers, I was frequently asked what are the most important things lawyers I coach are getting out of the coaching program.

I want to share my thoughts with you because even if you are not in any coaching program you can use these ideas. If you are interesting in having me find the right firm for you now, this is also a pretty good list for you.

  • They think about client development opportunities.
  • They have a long-term and short-term plan with goals.
  • They have become more confident in themselves.
  • They have become more focused on what they want to do and the potential clients in their target market.
  • They are building their profile by writing, speaking and becoming more known as a “go to” lawyer in their field.
  • They are way more focused on their clients’ industry, business and client representatives.
  • They are getting out from behind their computers and making client visits.
  • They have become more active in their communities.
  • They are learning from each other and getting to know each other.
  • They have taught other lawyers in the firm.
  • They are having fun. (They don’t look at client development as something they have to do.)

I urge you to think about how you can personally implement each of these ideas.

 

When I practiced law, I wanted the lawyers who worked with me to not be content. I wanted them to not think they had arrived. I wanted them to strive to become a better lawyer each day.

Now that I am recruiting lawyers for firms that I know and respect, I hope to find lawyers who share those traits.

I was never content. Over my many years, I would wake up in the middle of the night and worry about continuing to create a pipeline of work to keep myself and others in my practice group busy.

I always had matters in the works, but my practice generated a few very large matters rather than many small ones. So the development of these matters came at their own pace, not always the pace I wanted.

I told my friends and colleagues I had “healthy paranoia.” I believe most super successful people have it.

They are successful in part because they feel the strong need inside to be successful and they worry when things are not going just the way they want them.

If you look at the quote above, you will likely see the connection. Having healthy paranoia is a key to greater success. It will cause you to think more creatively. But, paranoia goes from healthy to unhealthy easily and unhealthy paranoia will cripple you. Don’t let that happen to you.

As you may know, I wrote a book called Rising Star about a lawyer who had healthy paranoia.

 

I recently read: Definition of Entrepreneur from 15 Successful Business Owners and was struck by how the definitions apply also to successful lawyers and rainmakers any law firm would want to have.

For example, here is Mark Cuban’s definition:

Someone who can define the business they want to create, see where it is going, and do the work to get there.

If you are a lawyer I coached, or if you are a lawyer who I mentored in my old law firm, you have heard words similar to those from me many times. I urged you to define what success you want to achieve, create a plan to get there in 3-5 years, work the plan and create a system to be accountable.

I urge you to take a couple of minutes and read the other definitions and find one to print and put someplace you will see it to motivate yourself to action.

Remember: Plan Long Term and Act Short Term

This could be my last post, but…maybe not. I’ve been asked to consider doing legal lateral recruiting and law firm mergers. I’m giving it serious thought, so…who knows?

In my completed draft novel, my protagonist is striving for success. But, she has changed. Her father points out she has become less focused on the person she is and the wants to become.

If you want a little year-end inspiration, take a look at this Lou Holtz commencement speech.

Both my dad and my mom passed away in the month of December. In 1980 on December 20, Nancy, Jill and I were getting ready to fly from Roanoke, Virginia to Chicago to be with our families over the Christmas holiday.

We received a phone call from my dad’s business partner who reported my dad had suffered a heart attack and had passed away. With sadness, we opened the gifts my dad planned to give each of us that year.

My mom passed away nine years ago this week and even now, nine years later,  I reflect on how much she and my dad influenced my life.

When I prepared to speak about her to her church family, I found a quote from poet Robert Frost:

You don’t have to deserve your mother’s love. You have to deserve your father’s. He’s more particular. The father is always a Republican towards his son, and his mother’s always a Democrat.

Using the political analogy, my mom was such a liberal Democrat raising me that she forced my father to be a tough love Republican. When I was grown, he frequently told me, he didn’t particularly enjoy that role. Even so, the combination served me well.

My dad taught me to live, my mom taught me to love. My dad taught me to be successful, my mom taught me to be fulfilled. My dad taught me to be confident and to make my own way, my mom taught me to be humble and faithful.

If you are a lawyer I coached over these last 12 years, you probably see both my dad’s influence and my mom’s influence in my coaching.

I believe lawyers cannot be truly successful and not be fulfilled, but we tend to focus more on our success. I want you to focus on both.

So, as you begin 2018, think about the one most important thing you can do in 2018 to be more successful. Write it on a sheet of paper.

Then, think about the one most important thing you can do in 2018 to be more fulfilled (it might be something to make your family life even more fulfilling). Write it on a sheet of paper. Put the paper in desk drawer, so every time you open the drawer you see what you wrote.

Finally, make sure you actually do both things.

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.