Some of you who regularly read my Blog do not know that I am a Hokie, a Virginia Tech alum. 

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With Daughter Jill before the Independence Bowl 2015. We stayed home because of Tornadoes

This Sunday is Easter, but it also is the 10 year anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre. At the time, news reporters asked how such a tragedy could take place on a college campus, how such a tragedy could take place at Virginia Tech, how such a tragedy could take place in a small town, Blacksburg, Virginia.

At the time, many Virginia Tech grads felt numb, even if we had never known any of the people who were needlessly shot and killed or shot and injured that Monday. There was a lot of soul searching. If you want to learn more about those people, take a look at the We Remember Virginia Tech Website

As I thought about the terrible tragedy that occurred that Monday, I thought of Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankel‘s book “Man’s Search for Meaning.” In the book Frankel tells readers that we can find meaning by creating a work or doing a deed, by experiencing something or encountering someone, or by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

Frankel asserts that this unavoidable suffering “can bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.”

It was with those thoughts that I watched the convocation in Cassell Coliseum that followed on  Tuesday. It was a very somber and quiet group. One newspaper reported that when a minister asked for a moment of silence, there was already silence.

Then, after all others had spoken, including the President of Virginia Tech, the Governor of Virginia, and President Bush, University Distinguished Professor Nikki Giovanni came to the podium and presented a poem “We are Virginia Tech” that transformed the crowd and anyone who saw her deliver it, including me. If you haven’t heard it, I invite you to watch and listen.

Dr. Giovanni, was well known long before her moving and inspiring message: We are Virginia Tech. She is a living legend. I only wish I could have studied writing in one of her classes.

If you have a few minutes, you might enjoy her Muhammad Ali interview:

If you have more time and interest, watch her presentation at the Point Loma Writer’s Symposium by the Sea 2016. Her story of meeting Rosa Parks and her poem about Rosa Parks are inspiring.


As lawyers, I hope we do not have to wait for unavoidable suffering to find meaning in our careers and our lives. Can’t we find meaning by creating a work or doing a deed, or by experiencing something or encountering someone? I have learned that while I may be inspired by the words of someone like Dr. Giovanni, my real inspiration and meaning in my life must come from within. So must yours.

As you likely know, during my career I made presentations to contractors, and now to lawyers, I have always tried to “work the room” before the presentation. I showed up early and went around meeting the audience members as they came in the room.

If you have ever heard me speak, you know I had lots of energy. When iPods came out, I would get ready for a presentation by listening to Tina Turner Live at Wembley Stadium. Today, if I want to ramp up my workout, listening to TT can do it for me.

But, there is more to giving a great presentation and there are some mistakes you want to avoid. Here are my thoughts.

I am frequently asked what was my most important client development effort, I always answer that speaking to contractors was by far the best return on investment for me.


In my work with many lawyers, I have discovered that many do not know how to make presentations that will result in new business. They make these mistakes:

  1. They pick a topic that interests them rather than one that addresses the need of their audience.
  2. They are unable to explain succinctly why the audience should be interested in their presentation.
  3. They do not research their audience.
  4. They do not rehearse/practice their presentation in advance.
  5. They do not spend enough time in the actual room and with the IT staff to make sure everything is going to work.
  6.  They stand behind the podium, which blocks them from their audience.
  7.  They do not spend the first 90 seconds answering the most basic audience question: “What’s in this for me?”
  8. They tell lame jokes that no one cares about.
  9. They use their PowerPoint slides as a crutch, with bullet points and many words. Even worse read what is on the slides.
  10. They weakly close by asking if there are any questions or by saying: “in conclusion.”

Want to improve your presentations? Check out this Forbes article: Making An Effective Presentation.

The first–and most important–part is to make an emotional connection with the audience, because without it the presenter’s message will not be fully heard. The second is to generate and maintain a high level of energy to hold the audience’s attention through the whole presentation. The third is to focus the content on the payoff for the audience.

I have taught the lawyers I coach how to get business and clients from presentations. I call the program: “Anatomy of a Presentation: How to Get the Opportunity and Give One That Will Get You New Business.”

I demonstrate how and why I was able to generate new business and clients using an actual presentation I gave several times to Construction industry groups.

Do you have a presentation coming up that could make a big difference in your career? Want some help? Want some feedback?

You might even want to find someone to put your slides in Prezi.

Did you read the blog I posted yesterday? My friend Craig, a University of Nebraska grad read it and sent me this email:

Thanks for allowing me to waste 10 minutes of my morning watching your team come out onto the field. Looks like fun.

It is fun indeed. I didn’t tell Craig that according to Real Clear Sports it’s number 1 entrance in college football: 1. Exit Light, Enter Night. Why is it number 1? I think it is because of the energy in the stands.

Then the bass line from Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” starts. Fans begin jumping up and down. The band is lined up outside of the tunnel. The music hits the crescendo, the team rushes out of the tunnel, the fireworks explode, and Lane Stadium becomes one of the loudest stadiums in college football – and they haven’t even started playing yet.

We, of course hope that the team entering the stadium is not the best thing that happens Monday night.

So, “Exit light. Enter night”. Monday night 8:00 PM EDT ESPN. See you back here on Tuesday.

Nancy and I are flying east today. On Monday, will drive to Blacksburg, Virginia to watch my alma mater, Virginia Tech play the national champion Ohio State Buckeyes.

Just in case you missed it, my Hokies shocked the world last September when we beat the Buckeyes in Columbus.

Unfortunately for us, that was the highlight of our season. For, Ohio State it was there only loss. I have several Ohio State friends who have vowed things will be far different this year.

There is one thing I know for sure: When Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” is played and Lane Stadium is rocking, I will be excited to be back again.

If you have never seen it, and even if you don’t like football or Virginia Tech, you’ve got to watch the Virginia Tech players enter the stadium at least once. Here is ESPN’s Chris Fowler describing it from a game I attended a few years ago.

After having said in the video that “this is an entrance unlike any other in college football, I read recently that last year Chris Fowler suggested that Virginia Tech no longer play Enter Sandman until “home field dominance is restored.” See:  ESPN’S CHRIS FOWLER SUGGESTS SHELVING ENTER SANDMAN.

Fowler is right about one thing. Virginia Tech has struggled the last three years. Every Virginia Tech grad would love to see home field dominance restored and would love to restore the 10 win seasons that became a regular expectation. But, doing away with something that unites the school, brings joy and energy to the fans, and inspires the team, makes no sense.

At Virginia Tech Enter Sandman has even been played to bring the fans to their feet at the end of an important game.

A few years ago I came to Virginia to watch Virginia Tech and I gave a presentation to the Washington and Lee Law students. I told them that in 2010 it is more important than ever for law students and beginning lawyers to stand out from the crowd.

While it is a few months old at the time, the National Law Journal article: Tough Times for Law Firm Associate Market Not Over accurately describes the current market. It is even more true in 2015.

I agree with Kevin Donovan, head of the University of Virginia School of Law’s career services office, who suggests that students consider judicial clerkships, government agencies, nonprofits and smaller firms as ways to pick up experience on the longer road to securing a position at a larger firm.

I stood out from the crowd and was recruited as a partner to join a large firm in just the way Kevin Donovan describes. I believe the best thing that ever happened to me was being required to serve in the United States Air Force and starting my law firm career in a small Roanoke firm.

I gained experience trying government contract cases while in the Air Force that I would have never gotten in private practice. Starting in a small firm made it necessary for me to learn how to attract, retain and expand relationships with clients at an early stage of my career.

I will suggest that when students, or first year lawyers  have time, they read my book Prepare to WIn. If you would like to read a sample click here.

P.S. If you want to know what kind of mood I will be in next week, all you have to do is watch the game on ESPN on Monday, or check your sports page Tuesday morning.

Sorry for inundating you, but I wanted to share just one more ESPN Enter Sandman Thursday night entrance from Lane Stadium. This one is from another game I attended.


Short blog post today on self reflection and dealing with difficult times.

I read a David Brooks New York Times column published last week: The Moral Bucket List and I just want to make sure you see it.

In the column he talks about the person I know that I would like to be. I think about that more at this time in my life than the many years I spent focused on becoming a successful lawyer. Here is the opening paragraph:

ABOUT once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.

David Brooks says those people are not born that way they are made. Think about what you and I can do to make ourselves more that way. Many of us wanted to become lawyers because we wanted to serve people who need our help.

In the column Brooks describes “The Call within the Call.” What is your “Call within the Call?” Are you doing anything about it?

His final paragraph begins with:

The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be…

Please read the rest of the last paragraph and think about what simple things in life you are grateful for and put his new book: The Road to Character on your reading list. It will be the next book read by my book club.

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I also want to write as a Virginia Tech grad. Yesterday, April 16 was the 8th anniversary of the mass shooting on the Virginia Tech campus. I saw a couple of things on Facebook yesterday morning and it changed my whole mood. I had been very upbeat about presenting to a large group, but all of a sudden I was sad.

I went to Youtube and searched for Nikki Giovanni. I needed her words of reassurance. A great writer and speaker is able to pick the right words, deliver them in the right cadence and move people. Professor Giovanni’s 3 minute speech accomplished all of that and more.

Do you have 3 minutes? If so watch it.

I am starting coaching a group of partners today. I will ask them and I will ask you: Do you have goals? That is likely not  the most appropriate question because we all have goals. Perhaps better questions might be:

  • Can you identify your goals?
  • Are your goals written?

Why should you write (type) your goals and commit them to paper? The easy answer is because scientific studies tell us that people who commit their goals to paper are far more likely to persist and stick with it to achieve them.

According to Dr. David Kohl, professor emeritus at my alma mater, Virginia Tech:

  • 80% of Americans say they don’t have goals.
  • 16% do have goals but don’t write them down.
  • Less than 4% write down their goals and fewer than 1% review them on an ongoing basis.

Read: Are you part of the 1%? I have always created written goals. Early in my career I wrote them on legal paper, folded the paper and carried it in my inside suit pocket. I frequently reviewed what I had written. So, I guess I fit into the 1%.

I have been reading Charles Duhigg’s book: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. In the book he writes about a study done on patients who had hip surgery and their recovery. Since I am getting my hip replaced on December 13, I read with great interest.

Duhigg describes a 1992 British study involving lower-class elderly patients – averaging 68-years-old – who were recovering from recent hip or knee replacement surgery. A psychologist was examining ways to increase the patients’ willpower to keep up with the arduous rehabilitation process. Patients were given a booklet with their rehab schedule. In the back were 13 blank pages one for each week of rehab with instructions and: “My goals for this week are_____.” Those patients who filled in the blanks with detailed plans for each week were back walking twice as fast as those who had not.

You can read more in this blog about the book: Small habit-forming advice, via “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg .

I wanted to find other studies supporting the importance of written goals. I did a Google search and found: Goals Research Summary. Here is a visual depiction from the summary:

As you can see from the visual, those who did best included those with written goals, those who shared their goals with a friend, and those who sent written reports each week to their friend. This undoubtedly sounds very familiar to those of you who have participated in my coaching program. Each time we meet in person, you create written goals, you share those with me and you keep me up to date on your progress.

It was Thanksgiving Day, 1965, 46 years ago. It seems so very long ago now. I was a Virginia Tech freshman in the Corps of Cadets. It was my first Thanksgiving 900 miles away from home, family and my high school girl friend. Early that morning I boarded a bus with the Corps and we traveled to the train station in Roanoke. A few hours later, we marched from there on Jefferson Street to Victory Stadium for the annual Thanksgiving game against VMI. I was unable to find a photograph or video, but I found a video from an earlier time.

After the game I went to the Roanoke Airport (Woodrum Field) and boarded a prop plane on Piedmont Airlines. I remember we landed twice in West Virginia and then finally landed in Cincinnati. I switched airlines to a Delta Airlines and ultimately landed in Chicago close to midnight.

My first Thanksgiving away from home was a long, long day.

My visit with my family and girl friend was far too short for a guy who was homesick. On Sunday morning my dad told me it was time to go back to the airport. I told him I wasn’t going back to Virginia Tech. Instead, I planned to transfer to Elmhurst College, where I could play football. I never saw my father so upset with me. He grabbed me with two hands and told me in no uncertain terms that I was going back to Blacksburg. I went back that Sunday, graduated in 1969, and the rest is history.

I am stilling trying to get warm after sitting outside last night watching Virginia Tech play North Carolina. Even with hand and foot warmers, I was shaking cold. If you happened to watch the game on ESPN, you likely learned just how cold it was.

I can remember when very few college football games were televised. I always felt in those days that the players reacted differently because they knew they were on camera. I think the same is true of lawyers who are on camera for trials.

As you likely know I have Apple computers. A few years ago I shot video from the camera on my iMac and I thought I looked like a deer (with short hair)  in headlights. I still feel uncomfortable looking at the video.

After learning the cost to shoot video in a studio, I purchased an HD camera and shot video again. I discovered the lighting wasn’t good enough so I purchased two umbrella lights. Then, I wasn’t satisfied with the microphone so I purchased a professional microphone.

Call me a perfectionist, but I am still not 100% satisfied. Here is a link to one of the videos:

Why does this matter to you? I believe everyone agrees that video will play an increasingly important role in legal marketing and client development. I urge you to start practicing in front of a camera with no audience.

I know actors speak to a camera, but acting is different. I always use President Reagan and President Clinton as an examples of speakers comfortable speaking to directly to a camera. Both Presidents had a magic way of making their television audience feel like they were speaking directly to each person.

If you believe Bill Clinton and Ronald Regan were naturally gifted, read:What Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and You Have in Common Hint: It’s Not Natural Ability and then find a video clip of Bill Clinton’s nomination speech at the 1988 Democratic Convention. It was not his finest moment. He was so bad that when he appeared on the Johnny Carson show a week later, Johnny introduced him mimicking his speech at the convention. I still laugh when I listen to Johnny Carson at his best: Introducing Clinton

Like President Reagan and President Clinton, it takes a lot of work to be a gifted communicator. Time to get a camera and start practicing. You will need this skill sooner rather than later.



Most lawyers I know in private practice have had an outstanding partner or the most promising associate leave their firm. Most have wondered why. I think I may have an answer.

A few months ago, I was out of town flipping channels in my hotel room and when I got to ESPN. The show was 30 for 30: Marcus Dupree The Best That Never Was.

I watched amazed at the talent I saw on the screen. I have never seen a college running back like Marcus Dupree. He was remarkable during his freshman season at University of Oklahoma.

In the 30 for 30 segment, Barry Switzer described Dupree as the most gifted player he ever coached. He also acknowledged that the biggest mistake he made as a coach was the way he coached Marcus Dupree. In a recent Tulsa World article I particularly enjoyed The real Marcus Dupree: Former OU running back at peace with his life, Marcus Dupree describes that communication was the problem.

I guess you could say the message is communication,” he (Dupree) said. “No matter what it is. If it’s marriage, if it’s being a good friend, if it’s a coaching staff, communicate.

As a sports fan, I am saddened that the young man who could have become the greatest running back ever, instead became “The Best that Never Was.”

Having practiced law for more years than I care to mention, I have seen first hand many of the very best lawyers leave a firm because of a lack of communication. What are you doing to improve the communication in your firm?

Can you believe college football begins this weekend? Last year after my college, Virginia Tech lost to Boise State in the opener, I wrote a blog: Your Career May Ride on How You Respond to a Big Loss. Little did I know when I wrote the blog that the next week I could have added: … and how you respond to a totally unexpected loss. The Hokies responded well winning 10 straight games. There are some life lessons that could be learned from how the team bounced back.

Nancy likes to tell friends that my most serious sports injuries have occurred getting up from my chair while watching Virginia Tech on television. Here is hoping I am injury free this fall.

I guess you could say the message is communication,” he said. “No matter what it is. If it’s marriage, if it’s being a good friend, if it’s a coaching staff, communicate.
Read more from this Tulsa World article at



Yesterday I posted a blog What is a Collaborative Law Firm and…Does It Matter? and linked to HBR blog posts suggesting that great people are overrated. At the end I mentioned I would write today about how law firms can determine whether a student or lateral will become a great lawyer.

After Bill Taylor wrote his controversial Great People are Overrated, he wrote How Do You Know a Great Person When You See One? In that post he referenced a New York Times article describing how the medical school at my alma mater, Virginia Tech, screens applicants.

As you will see, they conduct “speed” interviews to determine whether applicants have people skills, how well they think on their feet and how well they work in teams. Aren’t those the same skills law firms should determine when hiring first year lawyers and laterals?

We are trying to weed out the students who look great on paper but haven’t developed the people or communications skills we think are important,” said Dr. Stephen Workman, the school’s associate dean for admissions and administration. “Our school intends to graduate physicians who can communicate with patients and work in teams,” added Dr. Cynda Ann Johnson, the school’s dean. “If people do poorly on the M.M.I., they will not be offered positions in our class.

If you are a regular reader, you know I have written more than once that it takes more than good grades to be a great lawyer. In what turned out to be a controversial post, I wrote Are You Hiring the Law Students Who Will Succeed? In that post, I discussed two lawyers we hired many years ago and how the one who worked hard for B’s did much better than the lawyer who coasted through law school with straight A’s.

In August, 2010 I wrote 16 Things Law Firms Expect of New Lawyers. Arguably, only a couple of the listed expectations have anything to do with getting good grades.

A few months ago I wrote:16 Reasons Why Some Really Smart Lawyers Do Not Make Rain. If you read that post you will see I was addressing some of the very points that the Virginia Tech medical school is seeking to determine.

It costs any law firm a great deal of money to hire a new or lateral lawyer. Doesn’t it make sense to look beyond grades to determine which of the candidates will be in the next generation of great lawyers?