Observe yourself to improve


Just a few copies left! 

Special Moving Sale on Books!

I often hand out copies of my books when I speak, so I keep a bunch on hand. But I’m preparing to move, and I’d rather sell these extra copies than box and move them… So if you’d to pick up copies of The Reluctant Rainmaker or Legal Rainmaking Myths for yourself or colleagues, this is your chance!

The Reluctant Rainmaker is $25 per copy (regularly $49.95) and Legal Rainmaking Myths is $10 (regularly $12.95), both with free shipping. I have limited copies (16 of The Reluctant Rainmaker and 10 of Legal Rainmaking Myths, at last count), so if you’d like to take advantage, click on the links below for the book(s) you would like to purchase.

The Reluctant Rainmaker

Legal Rainmaking Myths


As a young litigation associate (about a million years ago!), I found tremendous benefit in getting feedback from a more senior lawyer who routinely observed my performance. The same was true as I moved into coaching, and even now, after more than ten years of coaching others, whenever I get feedback following observation, I always have new insight that helps me to improve.

Observation by supervisors is built in some way into almost every kind of professional role. Whether it’s business development skill, performing the responsibilities of your job, your leadership presence, or anything else, feedback is one of the fastest possible routes to improvement…

But getting feedback on business development activities can be tricky. Much of the time is spent in solo pursuits that make it difficult for anyone to have access to real-time performance. Fortunately, you can become your own observer and provide your own feedback.

Being both actor and observer can be difficult, but if you identify a single behavior that you want to improve and focus on that, you’ll likely find it easier than you might imagine. For example, let’s imagine that you’ve noticed (or someone has told you) that you have a habit of getting excited and interrupting other speakers. Your motivation may well be good, but the behavior is disruptive and can come across as disrespectful, so breaking it will likely improve your performance. You might decide to make a tick mark on your notepad each time you catch yourself interrupting in a meeting, with the goal of seeing a declining number of marks over time. Once you get a handle on that behavior, then you can identify and move on to something else.

If you have an opportunity to get external feedback, do. Meanwhile, try this exercise: choose one discrete aspect of your business development skills or habits that you’d like to improve. Then identify ways to get clear on your current performance level and ways to track improvement. Track yourself for a week to a month, depending on the magnitude of the behavior you’re observing, and see what changes you notice.

Identify people to contact


Just a few copies left! 

Special Moving Sale on Books!

I often hand out copies of my books when I speak, so I keep a bunch on hand. But I’m preparing to move, and I’d rather sell these extra copies than box and move them… So if you’d to pick up copies of The Reluctant Rainmaker or Legal Rainmaking Myths for yourself or colleagues, this is your chance!

The Reluctant Rainmaker is $25 per copy (regularly $49.95) and Legal Rainmaking Myths is $10 (regularly $12.95), both with free shipping. I have limited copies (16 of The Reluctant Rainmaker and 10 of Legal Rainmaking Myths, at last count), so if you’d like to take advantage, click on the links below for the book(s) you would like to purchase.

The Reluctant Rainmaker

Legal Rainmaking Myths


Cultivating relationships is central to business development. After all, whether you represent individuals or the largest corporations, it’s people who will retain you, and it’s people who will decide how effective your work is.

Have you ever felt like you need to bring some new people into your network but not known where to find them? Consider relationships you already have that could be revitalized and developed. Although results are never guaranteed, it’s often easier to start with someone you know and to work on taking that relationship to a deeper level than to find the right place to meet the right person and then grow the relationship.

Try this exercise to identify a handful of people you should contact today…

  1. Think of three of your professional or social circles. These could include your law school classmates, former colleagues, former clients, other parents at your child’s school, members of your running club, etc.
  2. List three people in each of those circles. Think about the people in each circle who have some connection to your area of practice. Preferably, your list will include people you know well enough to call and have a conversation. Closer connections are better (especially potential clients or referral sources), but don’t agonize to find the “perfect” contact to include on your list. If you can list more than three, even better… Just don’t call your exercise complete until you’ve listed a minimum of three people in each circle.
  3. Identify the one person in each circle who seems to have the most potential, and reach out to those people as soon as you can, in the most personal way you can. An in-person visit is better than a phone call, a phone call is better than an email, and an email is acceptable but not ideal. Your opening can be as simple as saying that you were just thinking about them, and you wondered how they’re doing. Friendly catch-up conversations that touch on business can lead to some interesting opportunities. Before you reach out, think about what you’d like to get across (are you looking to speak more often? have you recently changed firms?) and during the conversation, be on the lookout for how you can help your contact.

Use this approach once a quarter or whenever your contact list could use an infusion. The key is that you’re renewing relationships, not trolling for business. If you’re desperate for new work, this is not the right approach for you. This is an opportunity to invest in strategically-selected relationships, which will likely pay off somehow, sometime, with no certainty about when or how that will happen.

Design meaningful follow-ups


Special Moving Sale on Books!

I often hand out copies of my books when I speak, so I keep a bunch on hand. But I’m preparing to move, and I’d rather sell these extra copies than box and move them… So if you’d to pick up copies of The Reluctant Rainmaker or Legal Rainmaking Myths for yourself or colleagues, this is your chance!

The Reluctant Rainmaker is $25 per copy (regularly $49.95) and Legal Rainmaking Myths is $10 (regularly $12.95), both with free shipping. I have limited copies (27 of The Reluctant Rainmaker and 14 of Legal Rainmaking Myths, at last count), so if you’d like to take advantage, click on the links below for the book(s) you would like to purchase.

The Reluctant Rainmaker

Legal Rainmaking Myths


You know that one-off meetings are likely to do little, so you always plan your follow-up strategy, right? It doesn’t matter whether you meet someone through formal networking, at a CLE seminar, or while you’re waiting for hours at the DMV… The best connections mean nothing if you can’t cultivate a relationship. (Unless, of course, you get business immediately and cultivate a relationship while you’re serving the client, but that’s rather uncommon.)

So, how do you prepare yourself to follow up with the people on your A-List—the top-priority people with whom you follow up with most frequently and with the most personalization? (If you’re not sure what an A-list is or how to use it, review Chapter 12 of The Reluctant Rainmaker.) In other words, how do you know what your new contact will find interesting enough that they’ll welcome your efforts to stay in touch?

Prepare yourself with these three steps:

  1. Immediately after you meet someone who has a high probability of fitting your A-list, make notes about where you met and what you learned. I like to use Evernote to maintain these notes so that I’ll have access on any device, in any location. You never know when information will matter, so if you learn that her son Fred plays volleyball at the University of Iowa, note that. You’ll thank yourself when you drop your contact a note to congratulate her on her son’s performance in the national semifinals.
  2. Set up Google alerts on your new contact’s name and/or company. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get an email whenever your key contacts are mentioned online? That’s exactly what Google Alerts does. (Be sure to set up a Google Alert on your own name, too.) You can also set Alerts on relevant topics. Consider sending these to a secondary email address so that your critical emails aren’t hidden in a flood of alerts.
  3. Connect with your new contact on LinkedIn.  Depending on how complete his profile is, you may pick up useful information right away. And if your new contact is active on LinkedIn (liking and sharing news stories, for example), you’ll get an idea of what catches his attention.

Use these three steps to determine what your new contact will find valuable or interesting, as well as what will demonstrate that you’re paying attention. That’s the secret to follow-up contacts that build relationships.

Is it about them… Or you?

I had a conversation with a new acquaintance recently, to discuss opportunities for collaboration and to explore the potential for making referrals to her. I was looking forward to learning more about this person and her work. What I got was almost a monologue about what she’d done and how well things had turned out for her. Collaboration? Not so much. Interest in the clients I might refer? No. Further conversation? Probably not.

We all want to make a good impression with potential clients and referral sources, and part of that is telling them how we can help. We need to know something about a service provider, of course, but getting a barrage of information is rarely useful in making a decision to move forward.

So, how do you get information across without running the risk of an off-putting “me me me” conversation? These tips should help.

  1. Lead with questions. Whether it’s a sales conversation or exploring referral opportunities, knowing what the decision maker needs and finds valuable will let you frame your comments. What are her concerns? What qualities or qualifications matter to him? Once you know this information, you know how to talk about yourself in a meaningful way. (For more on how to do this, see Chapter 16 of The Reluctant Rainmaker.)
  2. Talk about your experience in terms of benefits, not features. Features are facts like the school you attended, how many years you’ve been in practice, or how many patents you’ve prosecuted, etc. Benefits are the reason someone should care about the facts.

    If you feel stuck, try stating the fact that you find relevant and connecting it to the reason that fact should matter to a client or referral source. An example might be, “I worked in my family’s small business for eight years and experienced the business’s chaos when my mother died, so I understand family business continuity issues and know how to avoid the things that can go wrong.”
  3. After you’ve been talking for a bit, pause and ask a question to gauge whether your comments are landing. Whether it’s a simple “does that help?” or a more in-depth question designed to deepen the conversation, simply shifting the focus to the person with whom you’re talking will help to ensure the conversation is relevant and helpful.

If you follow these three steps, you’ll likely find business development dividends in conversations, and you’ll avoid the dreaded drone-on. You can also turn them around if you find yourself listening to someone going on and on about himself, and perhaps rehabilitate a conversation.

Why billable work outweighs biz dev work (but shouldn’t)

You are likely aware of the distinction between urgent and important tasks in the context of time management.

Assuming you have enough work to keep you reasonably occupied and compensated (even if that means doing work for someone else’s clients rather than your own), business development tends to be an important task, but not an urgent one. The activity that will lead to new work falls to the bottom of the priority list.

Improving your practice is important, but unless there’s some pain or dire need involved, that desire is less immediate than doing what’s necessary to maintain your practice. Wouldn’t you rush to replace a broken window in your home more quickly than one that might better conserve energy? You’ll do what you must to fix the broken window, but everything from social plans to routine housework to downtime might pull you away from a home improvement project. The same goes for practice maintenance vs. practice improvement.

That’s why the feast/famine cycle is so dangerous: once business development activity has resulted in a “feast” of billable work, the temptation is to focus on that work and to back off the business development activity… Until the billable work is completed and the famine hits. By working to maintain the new level of work, you not only stop working to improve it but you may even unintentionally let the improvement slip away.

Seth Godin recently offered another explanation of why recognizing the distinction between urgent and important matters. Casting the distinction in terms of competence and confidence, he concludes that “[i]mportant… is fraught with fear, with uncertainty and with the risk of failure.” Read the rest of his post for a nuanced view of how viewing business development as urgent vs. important may reveal (and validate) your expectations about the likelihood of success.

Next time you catch yourself putting off business development activity because you have too many urgent tasks (read: billable work), revisit this urgent vs. important question. Do you need to address it in the context of time management or confidence?

Innovation for the sake of what?

Like many people these days, I’ve been reading a wide variety of sources about politics over the last several months. It’s in this context that I ran across an article in Forbes magazine discussing lawyers’ duty to society in upholding the rule of law, specifically in the context of the recent (and currently stayed) executive order on immigration.

Don’t worry: I’m not going political here. I have my opinions, you have yours, maybe we agree and maybe we don’t, but that isn’t the purpose of the conversation you and I have each week via this newsletter. (As a side note, a comment along those lines, followed by a shift in topic, is likely enough to avoid political conversation if you’re networking or even advising clients on the effects, actual or anticipated, of legislative changes.)

The article caught my eye in part because of this paragraph:

To those who engage in the popular parlor game of predicting the extent to which technology, new delivery models, and other professionals will marginalize lawyers, consider that they will never substitute for the essential work performed by lawyers– this past weekend and going forward. Only lawyers will be on the front lines of protecting the rule of law–as well as representing their individual clients. Technology, new delivery models, and other professionals and paraprofessionals will enable lawyers to function more effectively to serve the interests of their individual clients and society.

Unquestionably true: although innovation is important for effective and efficient delivery of legal services (and thus for client retention and client attraction), the services provided and the value of those services is the key. That’s a good measuring stick to use when you consider making a change in the way you practice: does the contemplated change benefit your client, or is merely change for the sake of something new? Some lawyers started sending video messages in email, for example, thinking that more personal and likely to build a better connection with clients. Did it? Maybe. But was it useful to clients? Unless the visual was necessary, probably not. In contrast, a litigator might provide a video discussing preparation for and conduct during a deposition, which might well be useful to a client who hasn’t been through the process before.

Ask yourself periodically, “for the sake of what or whom am I considering making this change?” Even if you aren’t making a change that rises to the level of practice innovation, keeping this question top-of-mind will provide you with a check to ensure that you’re making changes for the right reasons.

The Romance (or Not) of Practicing Law and Getting Business

More than 10 years ago now, David Maister (a now-retired advisor to professional services firms) wrote a brilliant article distinguishing the relational and transactional views of client relations. Here’s the crux of Maister’s argument: 

In The Trusted Advisor (Free Press, 2000), my coauthors and I pointed out that building trusting relationships with clients leads to many benefits: less fee resistance, more future work, more referrals to new clients, and more effective and harmonious work relationships with the clients.

However, many people have built their past success on having a transactional view of their clients, not a relationship one, and it is not clear that they really want to change. Stated bluntly, professionals say that they want the benefits of romance, yet they still act in ways that suggest that what they are really interested in is a one-night stand.

. . .

Most professional-to-client interactions involve little if any commitment to each other beyond the current deal. The prevailing principle is “buyer beware.” Mutual guardedness and suspicion exist, and the interaction is full of negotiation, bargaining, and adversarial activity. Both sides focus on the terms, conditions, and costs of temporary contact. Each side treats THEM as “different,” as “other.”

. . .

Moving from a one-night-stand (transactional) mentality to a romance (relationship) mindset is not about incremental actions, but requires a complete reversal of attitudes and behaviors. One approach is not necessarily “better” than another, but there is a real choice to be made.

In today’s post-recession legal economy, clients have more options than ever before. They can choose from a wide range of law firms (the size of firm and perceived expertise becomes only one factor to consider rather than the deciding factor in every instance), from numerous individuals, and even from outsourcing options that may rely on non-lawyers or technology. While transactions can be valuable, client relationships are the only certain route to building a strong foundation for a practice.   

Consider this quote from the article: 

The real challenge, however, is for all of us as individuals, not as firms. Transactions are common because they involve less hard work and demand fewer skills. Ultimately, however, they are not in the best long-term interests of either professional or client. (emphasis added) 

Mutual trust will allow both sides to get more of what they seek than continued mutual suspicion. Relationships are not more “noble” than transactions, but where they can be created they are much more profitable.

If you’ve never asked yourself whether you want relationships or transactions with clients, go read Maister’s article and ask yourself now. The topic was ripe in 2005, but it’s absolutely critical today.

Not seeing desired results? Check these.

Business development can sound so easy: make a plan, execute the plan, land the business, rinse and repeat. And sometimes it might even work that way, or perhaps you may discover that plans need to be tweaked to account for unanticipated opportunities. That’s what a dear friend calls a nice problem to have.

Other times, though, it feels like you’re head down, plowing ahead with business development, and making no headway at all… Maybe even losing ground. You might interpret that as a sign that you’re just not meant to be a rainmaker. Chances are reasonably good, though, that there’s a correctable problem in that way you’re approaching business development.

If you aren’t seeing the results you want, check this list to see what might be going wrong:

  1. Do you have a business development plan? If you’re doing business development activity without a coordinated strategy, you’re unlikely to see great results. The Reluctant Rainmaker.
  2. Are you actually using your plan? If you created a plan and then put in on the shelf (literally or metaphorically), your results are likely to be as random as your activity. Not surprisingly, it’s important that you actually implement your plan. This sounds so obvious as to be pointless to say, but it’s amazing how often someone will overlook this step.
  3. Do you have the skills you need? If you have a plan but execute it poorly, you won’t get the results you want. This breaks down into a sub-checklist of skills, such as networking skills (are you developing relationships with the right people?), content-generation or content-placement skills (if you’re writing or speaking, are you doing so in an effective way on appropriate topics to a desirable audience?), communication skills (does all of your marketing and business development activity work together to generate attention and to inspire confidence?), and more.
  4. What do you believe about business development that isn’t accurate? Several years ago, I came to realize that lawyers who fail at business development have accepted as true myths about how and whether to engage in rainmaking activity. The myths usually center on the necessity or urgency for taking on business development activity, on the mechanics of that activity, or on the beliefs that surround the activity or the idea of working to get new clients. As a result, they touch on every aspects of business development, from the need for rainmaking activity to the professionalism and ethics of such activity. I’ve identified and explained a number of these myths in Legal Rainmaking Myths: What You Think You Know About Business Development Could Kill Your Practice.
  5. How are you getting in your own way? I’ve seen lawyers undermine themselves in business development in a variety of ways, such as:
  • building a business development plan around tasks that you dislike (and will therefore find reasons to avoid)
  • lacking sufficient time or focus to engage consistently in your business development activity
  • fighting internal conflicts (for instance, about whether you actually want to bring in new business if you’re contemplating changing firms or leaving practice altogether, for example)
  • dressing in a way that undercuts your professionalism or authority 

These problems are especially vexing because they’re hard to see without outside input. At times, we buy into our own stories without critical reflection, which makes it difficult to identify those stories or find a way out of them. That’s why it’s important to you get help from a friend, colleague, or coach who will show you what you can’t see.

Work on your habits

So you want to grow your practice… What’s your focus? You could answer that question with many different right answers.

I recently read a short blog post from Chris Brogan that offers one answer: Focus on your habits. It isn’t rocket science to understand that your likelihood of success (in business development or otherwise) increases substantially if you have a good plan in place and you execute on your plan with consistent activity. 

Brogan’s post is unique in that it will help you quantify the habits you need to develop. That’s important because (as the old saw states) what gets measured gets done. The post covers what it means to focus on “the number before the number” to reach your goals. Reading the post will take less than 2 minutes, and you will find it’s time well spent.

Up for a challenge?

Happy New Year! January always feels like a fresh start to me, just like September does, after so many years of school. I love to harness the power of possibility that comes with a fresh start.

Every January, I choose one activity that I’d like to make a habit or incorporate more fully into my life. It might be purely a business activity, or a personal activity that has broad benefits.

And then I practice the heck out of that activity for the month.  My results vary with this approach, but it’s always useful. Sometimes I do build a habit (that’s how I went from drinking more Diet Coke each day than any sane person ever should to drinking only water a couple of years ago). Other times, my concentrated activity just gives me a big boost even though I don’t continue with the same level of activity. That’s how I wrote my third book, Legal Rainmaking Myths: I didn’t finish it in January, but working on it every day got me over the starting-is-hard hump.

If you’ve done your planning for 2017, you’ve identified a handful of activities that you want to begin or to do more consistently. Choose one, and make January your month of that activity. If you want to increase one-on-one contact, for example, make a plan to schedule a meeting in person, by video conference, or by telephone every weekday. If you want to raise your profile by speaking, spend some time each day researching speaking opportunities (relevant community groups or conferences, for example), contacting organizers, and working on topic ideas. You may not get to speak in January, but if you’re diligent, you can get a lot done to set yourself up for speaking later in the year.

If you’re up for the challenge, choose your activity, decide on an appropriate commitment, and block out the time. Get your year off to a powerful start.