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A Friday Coaching Session with Cordell: What More Than Anything Else is Holding You Back

A lawyer worked for me many years ago. I doubt he reads my blog, but even so, I will call him Pete rather than his real name. Pete was a really bright lawyer. He was a litigator. When a case would come in Pete might tell the client it was a very strong case. As time passed and it was time to actually go try the case, all of a sudden the case needed to be settled. To be honest, Pete was so afraid of losing that he felt compelled to settle every case.

All of us do not want to lose. All of us are afraid of looking like a fool. All of us fear something. Yet, it is our fear of failing that holds us back. I have been afraid of failing many times in my career. I have also failed several times in my career. I wrote about one of my client development failures in my Find Success by Risking Failure blog post in April 2009. Each time I failed it was like putting a dagger in my heart. Yet, I believe my failures made me a better lawyer. They also helped me clarify what I would focus on and become.

I was thinking about the fear of failing while watching a video clip of J.K. Rowling speaking at a Harvard graduation. As you will see and hear, she failed early in her career. But, that failure in part made her the well-known author she is today. In her presentation she said:

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.

As some of you know, when I turned 21 Robert Kennedy was running for President. I strongly believed he could bring the country together at a time when we were very divided. I watched many of his speeches during his short campaign that ended in his assassination. I repeat many of his quotes from those speeches. One I particularly like is: “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”

Don’t let your fear of failing hold you back.

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Rainmaking in the Recession: 16 Ideas

I read this morning that profits per partner were down in 2008 and expected to get worse in 2009. So it is no surprise that the question I have been asked most frequently during the last few months by the lawyers I coach is: “What should I be doing to develop business during the recession?” The answer to that question depends on many variables, but there are points that you should consider:

1. Clients hire lawyers, not law firms. Even when clients say they are hiring a law firm, they really choose the firm because of the people in the firm.

2. Even though it is fun to get a new client, it costs at least fives time more to get a new client than to keep an existing client happy. When I use the word cost, I am including the time commitment.

3. Solicit feedback from your clients. Ask: “How can I serve you better?”

4. Search for ways to save your clients money. For example, what could they be doing in-house that would save money?

5. At least 60% of the legal work available is based in large part on relationships. I believe 10% of legal work is bet the company and whoever is perceived to be the best will be hired. I believe 30% is commodity work that goes to whomever is willing to do it most cheaply. That leaves 60%. Go after that work.

6. Everything else being equal, clients want to work with lawyers they like and trust. Work on building rapport, trust and friendship with your clients.

7. Most clients do not read unsolicited alerts from law firms and in fact, they resent getting them. So, email blasts of client alerts may even be hurting the firms sending them. Sending a personal note to a targeted market explaining specifically how the client can benefit from reading the alert is way more effective.

8. Reach out to client/client representatives who clearly do not need your services now. This demonstrates you value more than just their business.

9. If you are short of work, this is the best time to build your profile by writing and speaking. Pick topics that address client and potential client problems, opportunities, and changes.

10. If your budget has been cut back, conduct Webinar sessions. While presenting in person is preferable, Webinars are inexpensive and can potentially reach a larger audience.

11. Offer to do something at no charge for your clients and their industry associations as a way of adding value. You have to “give” to “get.”

12. Do something no matter how small each and every day. It is easy to get into a funk over what is going on with the economy. By doing something to build your profile or relationships you will feel more in control of your destiny.

13. Engage your clients in something that has nothing to do with law, but something they value (e.g. work on a charitable event with your client.)

14. If you haven’t already done so, set up Google Alerts for your clients and their industry so you can keep up with what is going on in their world.

15. Go to events even when you would prefer not to go. It is important to get away from your computer and be “out there.”

16. Be patient and persistent. Most lawyers give up when they do not have immediate success from their efforts.

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The Strength of Weak Ties

Yesterday I wrote how social media is an efficient and effective way to strengthen weak ties and stay on their radar screen. The strength of weak ties concept was first discussed by Mark Granovetter.

I recently looked back at my own career and recalled just how powerful weak ties can be. I have shared this story before but it is worth sharing again. In early 1983, President Reagan signed into law the Surface Transportation Act of 1982. It included a provision that for the first time by statute required that 10% of the federal highway funds be expended with Disadvantaged Business Enterprises. That created new and complicated legal issues for highway contractors. I wrote a guide and spoke on the subject all over the country. One presentation was a panel in Washington, DC. A lawyer from the Federal Highway Administration was on the panel with me. I had never met him before we spoke that day.

About six months later I received a call from the general counsel of one of the country’s largest contractors. They had a $30 million issue with the City of Atlanta. The general counsel told me he heard I was the one to call for help. Later in the conversation, I asked how he had heard of me. He said he had called the Federal Highway Administration about the problem and a lawyer there told him that Cordell Parvin was the lawyer who could help them. Fortunately, I was able to help the client solve the problem and that led to a long lawyer-client relationship.

I look back now and almost every major matter or every new client came to me as a result of recommendations from weak ties. Who are your weak ties? What are you doing to stay on their radar screen?

Yesterday I wrote how social media is an efficient and effective way to strengthen weak ties and stay on their radar screen. The strength of weak ties concept was first discussed by Mark Granovetter.

I recently looked back at my own career and recalled just how powerful weak ties can be. I have shared this story before but it is worth sharing again. In early 1983, President Reagan signed into law the Surface Transportation Act of 1982. It included a provision that for the first time by statute required that 10% of the federal highway funds be expended with Disadvantaged Business Enterprises. That created new and complicated legal issues for highway contractors. I wrote a guide and spoke on the subject all over the country. One presentation was a panel in Washington, DC. A lawyer from the Federal Highway Administration was on the panel with me. I had never met him before we spoke that day.

About six months later I received a call from the general counsel of one of the country’s largest contractors. They had a $30 million issue with the City of Atlanta. The general counsel told me he heard I was the one to call for help. Later in the conversation, I asked how he had heard of me. He said he had called the Federal Highway Administration about the problem and a lawyer there told him that Cordell Parvin was the lawyer who could help them. Fortunately, I was able to help the client solve the problem and that led to a long lawyer-client relationship.

I look back now and almost every major matter or every new client came to me as a result of recommendations from weak ties. Who are your weak ties? What are you doing to stay on their radar screen?

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A Friday Coaching Session with Cordell: 10 Great Ways to Let Your Clients Know You Appreciate Them

I was recently asked by a young partner I am coaching what I would do to make my clients feel appreciated.

Here are some initial thoughts:

  1. Saying to a client: “I want to know more about your company because the more I know the better I will be able to help you.” Or, you might say: “Tell me a little about the history of your company, where you are now and where you are going.”
  2. Keeping up with what is going on in your client’s industry, including what its competitors are doing and offering ideas on any implications.
  3. Helping the client obtain more valuable business. If ever you are able to actually expand the client’s business by introducing the client to other clients or to other lawyers in your firm who can do the same, that is always a plus.
  4. Conducting training of some sort or a workshop at no charge.
  5. Putting an associate in the client’s office for a week at no charge.
  6. If your client is local, inviting the client and spouse to your house for dinner.
  7. Finding out about the client’s children and keeping up with them.
  8. Simply saying at the end of every conversation “Is there anything else I can do to help you.”
  9. Saying “thank you” after finishing a matter.
  10. Getting to know your client representative’s assistant and treating that person as well as you treat the client representative.

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Why You Should Start Client Development Coaching Program in Your Firm

It was 2002. That year I brought in more business to our firm than ever before. I woke up one day and realized that I was probably the best-known transportation construction lawyer in the country. I had become so well known because I had written a monthly column in Roads and Bridges magazine for 20 years and I had given presentations every year to transportation construction contractors throughout the United States. That day I realized that every potential transportation construction contractor client knew me and knew how to find me. They had either decided to hire me or not.

While I loved the work I was doing, I was getting bored. I did not need to take another expert witness deposition to feel fulfilled. I needed a new challenge. I believed I could help increase firm revenue by teaching client development skills and coaching and motivating our younger lawyers.

I conducted client development workshops for the lawyers in each of our offices. I taught our lawyers how to build their profile and reputation. I also taught them how to build trust and rapport with clients and potential clients. I discovered that our lawyers did not make many changes after my one shot client development workshops. So, I began a coaching group of new partners. As I expected, our lawyers made great strides with the combination of coaching and workshops. The coaching group set a goal to double their collective revenue in two years. When they doubled their revenue in just one year, I decided to work with lawyers on a full-time basis.

I have read many client surveys done for my old firm and other firms. I am amazed at how consistent they are. Clients are generally satisfied with the senior lawyers with whom they work. They are less satisfied, and in many cases dissatisfied, with the junior partners and associates with whom they work. Those surveys point out the importance of developing those lawyers legal skills and client development skills. They will become a more valuable resource to clients and they will enjoy practicing law.

I often wonder why so few firms are building the next generation of rainmakers. Is yours? Whether your firm is one of the largest in the country or a small firm, you should consider client development coaching and workshops. If you have a partner who is both a rainmaker and a great mentor, consider having that partner work with a group of your highly motivated young lawyers. You will not only take steps to create the next generation of rainmakers, but you will also begin creating a client development culture in your firm.

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Marketing 101: Brand Yourself Like a President

Last Thursday I posted a blog Build Your Own Brand to Become a “Go To” Lawyer and I told you I would write about a great branding story this week. I actually want to write about two great branding stories. I have always been interested in how political candidates sell themselves because in many ways you can use some of the same branding and marketing principles. President Obama and Sarah Palin are two striking examples. Neither was well known just three short years ago. Since then, they both have revolutionized branding and marketing. So, even if you don’t like the President or former Alaska Governor, there is plenty you can learn.   I recently searched and found three interesting and balanced articles on Sarah Palin’s marketing and branding success. I will share those articles with you tomorrow.  I also re-read a Fast Company article The Brand Called Obama by Ellen McGirt and found a book Brand It Like Barack!: How Barack Obama sold himself to America and what you can learn from this. written by Gary Kaskowitz. If you are interested, Kaskowitz has created a website and blog I found interesting.

I urge you to read the entire Fast Company article and learn from Ellen McGirt how President Obama revolutionized political campaigns by using social media. Here are my ideas on important points she makes.

  • New, different and attractive are three things you want in a brand. So, being a young lawyer can actually be an advantage.
  • The internet is a great marketing place and making your website more dynamic than other firms will get you ahead. That means using the internet to listen and then making frequent updates and engaging in a conversation.
  • Traditional top down marketing no longer works effectively. Your website should be for your clients rather than a one-way sales tool.
  • Your clients are more empowered than ever before by the internet. They use it to do research on you and your firm.
  • You can actually lead by listening.

Kaskowitz points out that one of the main things you can learn from Barack Obama is the importance of telling the story. In a recent blog, he says:

Mastering the art of appealing to people’s core stories is one that will serve you well and create incredibly loyal fans.

You and I both know that candidates can easily market compared to elected officials. Lloyd Grove recently wrote about this and interviewed Harvard branding expert John A. Quelch in Obama’s Tarnished Brand. Quelch gives you a final point you must always keep in mind. I will change what he said so it applies to lawyers:

After you are hired, you are only as good as the performance you deliver, and the brand promise has to be lived up to. If the promise has been very substantial and the performance has been average, that’s going to put you in a bigger hole than if the promise was modest and the performance has been average. Clients will measure your performance based on their initial expectations.

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5 Reasons Law Firms Are Not Providing Extraordinary Service

Last week Nancy and I were in Los Angeles and we stayed at my favorite hotel The Peninsula Beverly Hills. It is probably one of the more expensive hotels in the area, but I am willing to pay more because the service is far superior. The rooms are nice, the mattress and pillows are nice, but it is the service that brings me back each time. What can you learn from the Peninsula?

In my last post-One Sure Way to Stand Out from the Crowd: Provide Better Service, I pointed out that while most all law firms talk about client service, a high percentage do not deliver it. Since law firms know their clients are not enthused by the service they receive, it should be a top priority for every law firm. Why isn’t service a top priority? From my experience in my own firm, I think I know some of the reasons:

  1. Client service is not an integral part of the firm, office or practice group strategy.
  2. Client service is not financially rewarded in compensation or bonuses.
  3. Client service is not part of the firm, office or practice group culture.
  4.  Senior lawyers don’t teach junior lawyers client-focused strategies.
  5.  No systems ensure client service is carried out.

At my old law firm, I went to monthly practice group leader meetings. Client service was never mentioned at any meeting. I went to our annual retreats. Client service was never mentioned at any retreat. We did client surveys to determine what our best clients wanted. We never formulated a plan to implement what our clients told us.

Your clients expect your lawyers to do good work. You and every law firm you compete with does good work. Like The Peninsula, you can differentiate your firm by providing extraordinary service.

When was the last time your firm brainstormed ideas and formulated a plan to improve client service? When was the last time your firm asked its best clients to share one client service idea that would most benefit them? You have a huge chance to differentiate your firm if you make client service a priority.

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Have You Answered the Why Question on Client Development?

Time management is the most frequent agenda item for lawyers I coach. More specifically, I am asked how to find time for client development when the lawyer is busy with billable work and wants quality family time. Do you also wonder how you can find the time?

You might think this is a time management issue. Way more often than not, it is really a self-motivation issue. Donald Latumahina wrote an interesting post on self-motivation last year. His first suggestion for building self-motivation is to “Have a Cause.” He says: “While other causes could inspire you temporarily, a cause that matters to you can inspire you indefinitely.”

His third suggestion is to “Be Hungry.” He says: “To be truly motivated, you need to have hunger and not just desire. Having mere desire won’t take you through difficult times since you don’t want things badly enough.”

If you are struggling to make time for client development ask yourself the “why” question. Write down why developing a client base and book of business is important to you. It will help get you have a cause. Let me share my answers with you. Developing a client base and book of business would:

  • Provide security for my family
  • Enable me to help clients achieve their goals
  • Make my work more interesting

If you find it challenging to make time for client development, you might want to read Rising Star, which I co-authored with Kristi Sebalj. Here is some of what I said in the introduction:

This is the second book I have written about Tony and Gina Caruso. In “Say Ciao to Chow Mein: Conquering Career Burnout” Christina Bost Seaton and I focused on Tony, who after finishing his first year as an associate in a large Texas law firm is burned out and struggling to find meaning in his career. Rising Star: The Making of a Rainmaker is about Gina, who is now a partner in a mid-sized firm. She is the talk of the firm, having brought in $1 Million of business. Yet, she feels like a one-hit wonder because her success was a result of one big case from one big client…

I have known Tony’s and Gina’s throughout my 35 years practicing law. Their characters are a composite of lawyers who have worked for me and lawyers I have been blessed to coach and mentor. Many of those lawyers have caused me to study and examine differences between lawyers who are successful and happy and lawyers who are not…

As you read Rising Star, think about what you really want in your career and how you can most effectively and efficiently achieve it. That will be a good starting point to motivate you to achieve your goals.

Order Rising Star now at a reduced rate or purchase a book set for as much as 70% off regular price – or you may find it on Amazon.com.

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Why Lawyers Need to Be on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter

Does your firm have a social media game plan? If not, you should. A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog on why law firms need to be on Twitter which included suggestions for how law firms could use Twitter effectively. I received more comments on that post than I have ever received. So, obviously, lawyers are interested and have opinions on the value of social media. Senior lawyers in your firm may not see the value of it. I didn’t see the value at first either. Then, I discovered the opportunity.

I believe most clients consider lawyers and law firms for a first project based on recommendations from friends, colleagues, and others who influence them. When your practice is local and is in a small town, the word is passed on to person. If your practice is in a larger city or covers a larger geographical area, in person word of mouth is more challenging.

On recent flights, I have been reading “The Anatomy of Buzz Revisited” by Emanuel Rosen. In the book, Rosen mentions a study on how people found their jobs done by Mark Granovetter, a graduate student at Harvard. To his surprise, Granovetter found it was rarely from recommendations from one of the closest friends. People more likely found their jobs based on recommendations by acquaintances. This phenomenon he called “the strength of weak ties.” Importantly, for lawyers, it goes well beyond just the job market.

What should lawyers and law firms get from this study? Strong-tie buzz will spread the word through a certain cluster, whereas weak tie buzz spreads the word from one cluster to another. In other words, people with whom you have strong ties, likely run into the same people and go to the same places you go. People with whom you have weak ties see people in different groups and go to different places than you go.

Lawyers and law firms need to consider the possibility and even likelihood they will be recommended to potential clients based on the strength of weak ties. Every lawyer I know who has gotten on Facebook or LinkedIn has found weak ties he or she had not heard from in many years. Those who have gotten on Twitter have likely connected with people they have never met personally.

Two blog posts worth reading that explain how social media can expand and leverage weak ties are The Strength of Weak Ties: Why Twitter Matters in Scholarly Communication and Facebook and the Strength of Weak Ties.

If a law firm or lawyer creates content that their weak ties find really helpful and insightful, those weak ties are likely to pass it on to others. For example, if a lawyer tweeted about an article or blog post she had written and those following her on Twitter found it valuable, they will likely retweet it to the people following them.

Social media provides a really great opportunity for savvy law firms and lawyers who take the time and make the effort to figure out what is happening that will impact potential clients and create helpful content that can be easily spread. If you are a managing partner or a department head, have you thought about the value in creating a social media strategy and marketing plan? If you get there before your competitors, your message will be spread first.

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Making Time to Write for Success

When I was a young lawyer, I made time on Saturday and Sunday mornings from 6:00 to 9:00 to write articles for client development. I also worked on client development while I was on airplanes. I did very little client development, or other nonbillable activities when I was in the office during the week and when I went home to be with my family.

Jason Cornell is a lawyer I am coaching who has a family and a substantial workload in bankruptcy. In our first coaching session, Jason asked me what I thought would give him the greatest return on his investment. I told him Blogging and creating guides for his potential clients. He did both and has gotten great results. Check out Jason’s Blog. His first guide is titled: “Ten Things EveryCommercial Landlord Should Know About a Tenant in Bankruptcy. ” Commercial landlord clients have found the guide very helpful.

When I spoke with him recently he told me that when the coaching program started he was concerned that the program and his client development efforts would interfere with his family life. To his surprise, it has not worked out that way, but it has made it necessary to make choices. I asked Jason to share with me how he is doing it. He did and gave me permission to share his thoughts with you.

“Below are some thoughts on balancing out work, personal life, and business development.

“In order to make my “hours bonus” this year, the majority of my time in the office is pre-occupied with billable hours. However, about twice a week, I cut my billable hour time short so that I can focus on writing an article or researching topics for an article. Later in the week, I make-up the lost time by working on billable work from home on Sunday evening.

“About three to four nights per week, once the kids are asleep, I research and write on my laptop. Sometimes I do this in the family room while the TV is on. Jen does not seem to mind … when I am on the laptop, she gets free rein over the remote control. It is actually a win-win. She gets to watch what she wants and control the remote and I write instead of watching television. Other nights, when Jen wants to read, I convince her to read on the sofa in my study while I work on the computer at my desk. This has turned out to be good quality time.

“I have had to give up a lot of my pleasure reading. However, finding an article that relates to a subject I am writing on can be just as interesting. My exercising is limited to running with my kids while they ride their bikes and jumping on the trampoline with the kids when I get home from work. Both wear me out, however, they provide me with more than enough exercise.”

Figuring out the best time to work on client development is important. It will be different for each of you. I like how Jason has included his wife in his efforts. I have always felt a great connection when Nancy and I are sitting in a room, each working on something and talking every so often.

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