Watch Your Attitude

An excerpt from The Reluctant Rainmaker:  A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling

Take note of the attitude you bring when you engage in client development activities. Do you dread them?  If so, identify specifically what you dislike and find a way around it or a way to make the prospect more palatable.

For example, John, a self-identified “nice but introverted guy,” detested the idea of business development because he felt like a fish out of water.  When we began to explore the reasons for those feelings, John recognized that he believed that the goal of business development activities is to target people and use connections to get business, and he was uncomfortable with that approach.

He wanted to be thoughtful to those with whom he came into contact and could not see a way to engage in rainmaking activity while meeting that objective.  When we discussed what he did for clients and the appreciation he sometimes received (as well as the satisfaction he felt in a job well done, even when it went unacknowledged by the client), John recognized that he was not using anyone and that providing legal services was in fact helping his clients. Moreover, he came to see that withholding his skill from someone who needed it would be destructive, not thoughtful.

Instead of viewing potential clients and referral sources as a “target” that, if “bagged,” would generate extra income and other benefits for him, John began to view them as individuals who have or know others who have legal needs that he could meet. This recognition, while it might appear elementary, was a significant shift for John.  It changed the attitude with which he approached client development activity from an uncomfortable “what can I get” to a thoughtful “what can I give” attitude.

John even altered the methods he used for business development to focus more on education and resource provision, in essence marketing his services by giving a taste for them. He felt aligned with this content-focused approach, which in turn made him feel more comfortable, which in turn made others feel more comfortable with him, and in the period of a few months John began to view rainmaking through an entirely different lens.

John continued to struggle with some activities, such as networking among strangers when he felt a pressure to uncover their needs, so he focused on activities that were a better fit for him. When I last spoke with John, he had developed a reputation as a client service provider par excellence and had brought in several new matters from and through existing clients.

What attitude are you bringing into your business development efforts? If it’s a positive one, terrific!  If not, take a few minutes to examine your attitude, see where it comes from, and how you might shift it.  While attitude alone won’t ensure success (or failure), it may well impact both what you do and how you do it, which will impact your success.  (For more on mindset and sales success, check this article from Inc. magazine.)

Set Yourself Apart

Sometimes I review lawyers’ marketing materials and get bored because “professional” is so often misinterpreted as a straightjacket. Everyone has “years of experience” that will “create value” for their clients through “excellent client service”. Important, necessary, but oh-so-very-dull, isn’t it? In today’s economy, if that’s all you can say about yourself and your practice, you’re in trouble.

Do you ever feel that you’re just one lawyer in a large sea of clones? Many lawyers wonder how to distinguish themselves from the hundreds or thousands of other lawyers occupying the same niche. Though the question may fade through development of specific expertise in a niche, it almost always re-emerges when a lawyer is preparing to grow her practice or is considering some shift in substantive areas.

Differentiation from other lawyers and law firms is important in marketing and business development conversations. (A copywriter friend who’s helping me to prepare a new website has the fantastic tagline: It’s ok to fit in, but it’s better to stand out. So true!) As professionals, there are certain rules to follow and certain statements you must include, but looking like everyone else will do you no favors.

How can you differentiate yourself? While the options are potentially limitless, three examples may help you create your own ideas.

1.  Blog. My background is in patent litigation, and when in practice I often referred to the Patently-O Blog by Dennis Crouch. Patently-O is know for, among other things, its full coverage of every patent case decided by the Federal Circuit. It is the go-to reference for patent law developments. I was astonished to learn that Dennis started the blog less than a year after being admitted to practice. Crouch has since moved on to academia, a move that was quite likely assisted by his blogging efforts as well as his other credentials

It is overstatement to say, “blog it and they will come,” but blogging provides a platform through which a lawyer may share resources, analysis, and enough personal content to become known to readers. Blogging is a good way to build your reputation as an expert in your field. It’s also a good way to begin to form relationships with other bloggers and, perhaps, with your readers. Of course, there’s work to be done (in defining the scope of the blog, writing the posts, and engaging with others) but if done correctly, it’s a fabulous avenue. Read more here from the masters of legal blogging, LexBlog.

2.  Create a unique experience for your clients.What can you offer clients that other lawyers can’t, or don’t? The opportunities vary widely by practice area, but any value-added service is a good step toward differentiation.

And remember: How you practice is just as important as what you do in practice. Be attentive to the habits that may set you apart from others. Opportunities to set yourself apart abound: quick responses to telephone calls and emails, regular case updates, and educational resources on topics such as how to prepare to give deposition / trial testimony or what to consider when getting ready to make estate plans, to give a few examples.

Another idea: introduce your client to every member of your legal team who will be involved with the representation. Even something as quick as an introductory letter identifying other lawyers, paralegals, and office assistants (complete with contact information) that is signed by each member of the team can offer a client comfort when contacting your office. Consider, of course, what is appropriate for your practice: what will impress a family law client may be radically different from what will impress the CEO or general counsel of a multi-million dollar corporation. (Or it may not. Think!)

3.  Beyond adding value for your clients, look for ways to create value for them.If your clients’ children often accompany them for visits to your office, have some books and toys in a kid-friendly corner. If you become aware of a new issue or development that your clients need to understand better, create a presentation or an article that you can use to educate them, about the development and (more importantly) what it means for your clients and what they need to do in response. What can you bring to an engagement that others can’t or don’t?

4.  Become active and visible in the community. Volunteering, serving on boards, or working with non-profits in other capacities is a good become known. It provides a context and opening for conversations that reluctant networkers may find more comfortable. Your pro bono work may even present you the opportunity to offer guidance and suggestions that serve as a taste of the service you offer clients. Moreover, you may have opportunities to speak or write through these channels, both of which will serve to raise your profile.

Get clear about what makes you different and communicate that. If you want to differentiate yourself from other practitioners, it’s imperative to connect with an internal compass that will point to what does indeed make you different. If you don’t know what that is, you won’t be able to convince anyone else.

Lead Yourself First

We often discuss leadership as if it is a state or quality that either exists or doesn’t.  But the truth is that whether one seeks to become a leader or whether one is already serving in that capacity, leadership develops over time.

A leader’s development tends to proceed through three stages. The first stage is self-management.  The second is individual achievement.  The third is leading others.  Although these three stages are distinct from one another, they may coexist and a leader may move back and forth through these stages at various times.

Today’s discussion focuses on the first stage:  self-management or leadership of oneself. Executive coach Sharon Keys Seal, founder of Coaching Concepts Inc., refers to this stage as “leader in the mirror”.  John Maxwell has written, “[h]e who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk.”

One of the quickest ways to walk alone is to neglect the importance of self-management.  In contrast, leaders who have a solid grounding in self-leadership tend to inspire confidence in those whom they seek to lead.

We all have the opportunity to be the “leader in the mirror,” and those who seek to excel individually or to lead others must manage that first leadership challenge. Self-management underlies individual achievement as well as leadership of others because the two later stages can’t exist (at least not in a mature, lasting form) without some measure of self-leadership.

Think about a talented but undisciplined athlete.  Raw talent and some measure of discipline often allows him to succeed to a point, perhaps through high school or college.  But at some point, the athlete goes down in flames despite his talent and despite a coach or manager or family urging him to do better, thanks to involvement in crime or violence or immature stupidity.  Some of those athletes reform their behavior through self-management, and others become the stereotypical “has been” who revels in past glory but never achieves what he might have.  The road an athlete walks depends not only on his physical talent, but also on the self-discipline he musters when he’s no longer subject to the control of a parent or coach.

Is the same true for lawyers and other professionals whose talent lies in intellectual capacity?  You bet.

One who has mastered self-management has developed a strong capacity to manage his or her beneficial and destructive tendencies. Self-discipline refers to the ability and willingness to buckle down and do what must be done even (perhaps especially) when one would prefer to do something else.  Self-management is a similar attribute, though it also calls for recognition of what must be done in a variety of contexts.

Self-management prompts a professional to recognize that he or she will be more effective if well-rested, properly nourished, and revitalized with physical activity even though he or she might prefer to eat junk food and watch bad TV to “relax” after work.  Self-discipline is what prompts that lawyer to eat a balanced dinner and to go to bed early enough to get adequate rest, and then to get up early enough to take a walk.

A lawyer who knows what research must be done for a client and who completes that research meticulously exhibits self-management. One who relies on doing just enough or on doing it at the 11th hour has room to grow.

Self-leadership also impacts your clients and business development. Some lawyers routinely fail to get work product to clients with enough time for their review and input.  That’s a failure in self-management.  It’s also a leadership failure, because it subtly undermines a client’s confidence in the lawyer’s professionalism and abilities.

The fruit of self-management lies in creating the freedom to achieve to the extent of natural and developed ability, not being held back by a self-sabotaging tendency to cut corners, delay, or burn out.

Must a lawyer exhibit flawless self-management to be an effective leader?  No.  The more developed a leader’s capacity for self-management and self-discipline, the more effective a leader is likely to be. However, each individual is likely to be better in managing certain areas than others.  A leader may be strong in self-management in the use of working hours, but be deficient in setting aside time for his or her own renewal.

How does your self-management rate this week? (What would those whom you seek to lead say?)  What can you do to improve it, thereby improving your productivity and practice?

The Start-Up Of You

The Start-Up of You:  Invest In Yourself And Transform Your Career
By Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha

Styled as a career development book, the central thesis of The Start-Up of You is that a successful career requires an entrepreneurial approach.

Authors Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, and Ben Casnocha, a young serial entrepreneur, assert that career advancement worked like an escalator in years past: you got an entry-level job, you were mentored and groomed, and as long as you did well enough and weren’t unlucky, you could expect steady advancement until roughly age 65, when you’d move off the escalator to enjoy a comfortable retirement funded by a pension and Social Security.

But now, “that elevator is jammed at every level.” Employers now expect their new hires to be ready to do the job right away. No more employer-guided professional development; employees today must train and invest in themselves. If this doesn’t sound familiar in the law firm context, you must have spent the last few years living under a rock. Some firms will train, even train well, but finding real mentors? That’s up to you. You must set your goals, and you must be prepared to invest your own time and money to position yourself to reach them.

Adaptation is the name of the game in this environment, and the entrepreneurial approach is the only one suitably flexible to thrive in today’s economy. As the authors explain,

Entrepreneurs…take stock of their assets, aspirations, and the market realities to develop a competitive advantage. They craft flexible, iterative plans. They build a network of relationships throughout their industry that outlives their start-up. They aggressively seek and create breakout opportunities that involve focused risk, and actively manage that risk. They tap their network for the business intelligence to navigate through tough challenges. And, they do these things from the moment they hatch that nascent idea to every day after that — even as the companies go from being run out of a garage to occupying floors of office space. To succeed professionally in today’s world, you need to adopt these same entrepreneurial strategies.

Follow the ideas, and you’ll likely be quite successful — using the incremental improvements of your Plan A until you can pivot to a more appealing Plan B, if both fall apart, you’ll have a predefined Plan Z that offers a failsafe backup tailored to your needs. The Start-Up of You is a good book for career development.

What I found exciting, though, is the degree to which the strategies for career advancement dovetail with strong approaches for business development. The authors urge you to balance your strengths, your goals, and market realities to develop a brand that sets your apart from your competitors. When you can give a satisfactory answer to the question why someone should retain you rather than others who practice in your field, you’ll have a competitive advantage over the others. This is true whether you’re being hired for a job or hired to represent a client.

The chapter It Takes a Network offers valuable tips on how to build a series of professional relationships that include close allies as well as weaker ties, all designed for mutual benefit. The authors offer tips and observations such as:

  • “Relationship builders, on the other hand, try to help other people first. They don’t keep score. They’re aware that many good deeds get reciprocated, but they’re not calculated about it. And they think about their relationships all the time, not just when they need something.”
  • “Relationship builders start by understanding how their existing relationships constitute a social network, and they meet new people through people they already know.”
  • “[A]s you meet your friends and new people, shift from asking yourself the very natural questions of ‘What’s in it for me?’ and ask instead, ‘What’s in it for us?'”

Not surprisingly, given that Hoffman is the co-founder of LinkedIn, he emphasizes the usefulness of a broad network composed of close allies and weak ties. Hoffman describes the research that led to the theory that we are all connected by six degrees of separation, the offers that it’s important to stick within three degrees of separation so that all introductions are brokered by intermediaries who know at least one of the two individuals being introduced. He makes persuasive points that may have you looking afresh at your LinkedIn account.

While the book’s themes aren’t truly fresh or groundbreaking, their applications may be, and their examples are instructive. If you doubt that your career success is entirely up to you, Hoffman and Casnocha will give you food for thought. If you’re ready to take on an entrepreneurial approach even if you work in a megafirm, the book will offer some useful pointers.

Ultimately, the value of the book depends on your starting point. If you already understand that you need to act as an entrepreneur no matter your professional setting, you’ll pick up some pointers and reminders that will be helpful. If this is a new concept to you, you need to buy the book right away.