Protecting the past?

This image is featured in a Leadership Freak blog post on 5 Strategies to Convince Reluctant Leaders to Move Forward,:

Technology has created (or created the opportunity for) disruption in the way that legal services are delivered. Those disruptions have occurred in modes of communication (such as e-mail, which may create the unspoken expectation of near-instantaneous response), in provision of services (such as document preparation services), in efficiency (such as various forms of automation), and in measurement of efficiency and/or effectiveness (such as large corporations’ use of data to track legal services providers), among others.

If you’re struggling to find how you can respond to these disruptions –whether that means working to overcome them and return to “normal” or working to innovate your own ways of creating value for your clients–check out this post. Let it guide your approach to serving your clients. And keep this in mind: small changes can produce big results, so don’t get wrapped up in the idea that you need to produce innovation on a level with introducing e-mail. You can create the future with small improvements, too.

Get productivity help!

If you’ve ever wondered if there’s an “app for that” when it comes to productivity, you’re going to love the resource I’m sharing this week. Visit this page to view a list of apps and websites that help with the following productivity needs:

  • Notes and Capture
  • Journaling
  • Mind Mapping
  • Storage
  • Time Management
  • Task Management
  • Email Management
  • Project Management
  • Team Sharing
  • Team Chat
  • Calendar Management / Sharing
  • Workflow and Automation
  • Writing
  • Markdown
  • Dictation / Transcription
  • Text Expansion
  • Editorial Calendar
  • Research and Organization
  • Time Tracking
  • Social Media
  • Financial and Business
  • Password Management
  • Personal Digital Assistants
  • Environment

When you get to the page, you’ll see an offer for a PDF of the list plus a bonus, but keep scrolling down to see the list itself. 

This is also a great example of how strong content (like the list of resources) can help you to build a mailing list. The post was so helpful that I signed up to get the PDF, and I’m interested to see what the author will send in his upcoming newsletters. Would a potential client who tripped across your website say that?

What’s the story about your value?

I’ve written over and over and over again about creating value for clients. Value matters in business development too, of course. Check this quote from Seth Godin that puts marketing into the context of value:

Marketing tells a story

How do you tell a story about your value? Case studies? Data and statistics? White papers or other kinds of presentations? Consider today how effectively your marketing communications convey your value. It isn’t your potential client’s job to discover the value that you would bring; it’s your job to illustrate it so the potential client understands.

How you revive a neglected professional relationship.

Despite the best of intentions, it’s easy to let a relationship slide.  You may not appreciate the value of maintaining professional relationships, or you may simply get too busy to keep up with an effective follow-up contact schedule and system.  It’s all too easy to allow a relationship to atrophy.

So… Can you resuscitate an atrophied professional relationship? Yes! By focusing time and attention on your relationship and maintaining consistent effort, you’ll often be able to revive a good relationship more easily than you built it in the first place.

But you might feel awkward trying to re-energize a stagnant relationship, especially if you aren’t sure that the relationship can be reinvigorated.  Don’t write off a beneficial or enjoyable relationship is unless you have grounded evidence that it can’t be resurrected!  It’s easy to allow discomfort to lead you into turning a neglected-but-viable relationship into a dead one, and lawyers far too often give up on relationships before they’re truly finished.  But how do you know?  Or, as someone often inquires when I’m presenting a business development workshop,  Is it ever too late to rebuild professional relationships that have languished?

The short answer is that it depends on nature and character of the relationship.  The deeper the relationship was in its heyday, the more likely it can be resurrected later.  If, however, you meet once and fail to follow up, or if you follow up only once or twice, the relationship will lack the firm footing necessary to allow it to flourish following a period of silence.  That said, it never hurts to try to rebuild a relationship, particularly if your sole reason for reconnecting is to re-establish communication and not to seek a favor. (If you haven’t been in reasonably consistent contact with someone, chances are that a request for a favor will be met with silence. Pick your battles accordingly.)

So, what can you to do rebuild a connection that has faded?  The simplest, and often the most effective, approach is to do precisely what you would do with a friend you haven’t seen in a long time:  pick up the phone and say, “I realized it’s been a while since we’ve spoken, and you’ve been on my mind.  Is this a good time to talk for a few minutes?  How are things with you?  What’s new?”  If several months have passed since you were in touch with this contact, you may even begin the conversation by re-introducing yourself.  (This is where my recommendation to maintain a database of contacts proves especially helpful:  you don’t have to try to remember when and where you met.)  You may experience a few awkward moments as your contact gets back into the connection, but most people will pick up relatively quickly. Better yet, leave a warm voicemail expressing your desire to reconnect, giving your contact the opportunity to recognize your name and remember your relationship before getting into conversation with you.

If, like many lawyers, you’d rather do nine hours of painstaking document review without a coffee break than pick up the phone, you do have other options.  For example, you might consider the following:

  • Send an email to reconnect.  You might suggest talking by telephone and either arrange a time to let your contact know you’ll be calling.  While you’ll still have to pick up the phone, you’ve created an expectation that you will call, and chances are good that you’ll avoid an awkward beginning.  If you suggest that you’ll call, though, you absolutely must do so — or run the risk of looking like a flake.
  • Send an article or other resource that will interest your contact.  The resource may address a legal or non-legal issue, but it must be tied in some way to a conversation you’ve had with the contact.  Attach a note that says, “I remember talking with you about [topic of resource] at [wherever you had the conversation] and thought of you when I saw this [resource].  Hope it’s useful!”  By doing so, you not only reconnect by offering assistance, but you do so in a way that will bring your conversation back to your contact’s mind and refresh the relationship.
  • Issue an invitation.  You might invite your contact to an open house or to attend a CLE or other seminar of interest with you.  If you deliver an invitation by mail or email, be sure to attach a note saying that you look forward to reconnecting.  This personal touch will indicate to your contact that your interest in genuine.
  • Seek out news about your contact.  This may be a more challenging approach if you’re seeking to reconnect than to maintain a relationship, but it’s worth a quick search to see whether your contact has been in the news recently.  You may find news of a professional event (an honor awarded, a trial won, a leadership position attained) or a personal event (a new marriage, a new baby, a recreational or community activity).  Such news offers an ideal reason to get in touch again.
Take a few minutes this week to review your list of contacts.  With whom should you reconnect?  Choose three to five people and reach out to them.  Building and maintaining your network is always a valuable activity, and keeping relationships alive will often pay off (often in unexpected ways) over time.

Take time to Work ON your practice.

Lawyers, like other business owners, tend to spend their days working in their business: seeing clients, writing documents for client services, having meetings about client projects, and so on. And that’s good and important work, without which the business that is your practice would cease to exist.

Marketing lives and thrives, however, when you’re working on your business. That’s when you come up with a new way to talk about what you do and identify an under-served client sector that needs your services. That’s when you come up with a great idea for an article, you write that article, and you consider who might help you land a speaking opportunity to develop further and share what you wrote in the article.

So, here’s today’s question: how much time are you spending on your practice? And is the time you’re spending effective?

Effectiveness is driven by not just the degree to which you’re able to raise your professional profile and the business you bring in, but also by the number of smart ideas you have and implement. As Seth Godin writes, “Pretty good ideas are easy. The guts and persistence and talent to create, ship and stick it out are what’s hard.”

Take some time today to work on your business. If you don’t know where to start, start with asking what is your vision for your practice. Consider your practice area, your sub-niche within that area, the clients with whom you work, how you serve those clients, and your practice setting, for starters.


A number of my clients recently seemed to hit a brick wall with their business development plans. Nothing was wrong, exactly; but progress was much slower than it had been in the past, and my clients seemed to have a certain malaise. In each case, problem solving revealed no problem with the plans themselves, but one key issue: uncertainty about the ideal result.

Here’s the issue: without clarity and a certain excitement about the preferred practice setting, the preferred number of clients and matters, the preferred kind of client and matter, and so on, business development is almost destined to fail. That isn’t an airy-fairy “thoughts become things” assertion. Instead, it’s the result of two truths.

  1. Business development is a simple process, but usually not an easy process.
  2. If you don’t know exactly what you want and why, business development challenges that might otherwise be overcome will seem insurmountable because you don’t know clearly what it is or because you don’t want it enough.

Certain telltale signs reveal this lack of clarity.


If your business development progress has slowed, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you a high achiever who’s suddenly feeling meh about the goals you’ve set?
  • Does business development work that seemed doable in the past suddenly seem unusually difficult?
  • Do you find yourself unwilling or unable to make the time for business development activity?
  • Do you know what to do to grow your practice, but find yourself resistant to taking those steps?

If you responded “yes” to more than one of these questions, something is out of kilter. Very often, that something is a mismatch between what you say you want and what you actually want or a lack of clarity about your objectives and how your business development plan will get you there.

To get clear on your objectives, ask yourself what you want from your practice in terms of your subject matter, your practice setting, the kinds of clients with whom you want to work (and those with whom you do not want to work), the kind of matters you enjoy, how much time you want to spend working, how much money you want to make, what you want your day-to-day professional life to look like, and what you want your personal life to look like. You’ll know you’ve got clear objectives when you can describe the practice you’re aiming for and how it fits into your life with clarity, and you’ll know your objectives are right for you when that description gives you a sense of excitement or satisfaction.

If you’re at a standstill, stop beating yourself up and start asking questions. I have yet to meet a lawyer who simply cannot build a practice, but I’ve met a lot who actually don’t want to build a practice or who want something that isn’t likely to result from executing the business development plan they’ve created.

So… What do you want from your practice?


About this time every year, Altman Weil releases the results of its survey of law firms. Those who work in large firms need to read the report – tellingly titled Law Firms in Transition – because it’s a good window into what other firms are doing and why, which is critical information both for firm business purposes (in other words, what’s working?) and for competitive purposes. Those not in large firms need to read it because smaller firms have increasing competitive opportunities that may increase yet further thanks to some of the problems outlined in the report.

A handful of summary points caught my attention:

  • Overcapacity of equity and non-equity partners, especially in larger firms, is endemic and a drag on profitability.
  • Non-traditional competitors are actively taking business from law firms and the threat is growing.
  • In 63% of law firms, partners aged 60 or older control at least one quarter of total firm revenue, but only 31% of law firms have a formal succession planning process.

The upshot from the report is that law firms are taking measured steps to change practice (evolutionary, not revolutionary) and that clients aren’t demanding anything more. In other words (and, to be clear, these are my words, not Altman Weil’s), law firms are like one hunter in a group running from a bear: there’s no need to be the best runner, just better than the slowest hunter. This is not a particularly good sign for large firms, but it may be good for smaller firms that are seeking to innovate and offer more client-appealing alternatives to the norm.

Read more


Last week, I spoke at a national law firm’s annual All-Attorney Meeting, and I also had an opportunity to hear Professor Bill Henderson speak about the challenges facing the legal profession. If you haven’t yet read his recent feature in the ABA Journal, I suggest you start here . A short excerpt from that article describes one of the new competitors facing lawyers: the field of legal operations.

I have gradually concluded that legal operations is not just a job within a legal department. Legal operations is a multidisciplinary field where professionals collaborate to design and build systems to manage legal problems.

A lawyer might say to a client: “Better, faster and cheaper—pick two.” A legal operations professional figures out ways to get all three. To date, the greatest advances in legal operations have occurred in legal departments, yet the same inventive methods and mindsets are cropping up in traditional law firms and sophisticated “New Law” companies funded by non-lawyer investors.

Wondering why you should bother reading the article? Here’s the only reason you should need, offered in Professor Henderson’s words:

In my travels over the last several years, I have talked to hundreds of lawyers, including many law firm partners. One of the strongest impressions I have drawn is that many partners are too immersed in their own practices to grasp the broader changes that are occurring in the profession.This is because maximizing short-term revenue has become a precondition of maintaining one’s status and income.

 . . .

This perspective is not the result of a faulty character. It is a natural feature of an industry undergoing a major transition.

Once you’ve read the article, here’s the critical question you (and all lawyers) should mull: Now what? The answer will be different for every firm and every lawyer, but one thing is for sure… Without a reasonably good answer to that question, the future looks pretty dim.



December begins in 6 weeks. Notice what feelings that simple statement caused in you. Are you anticipating year’s end, and why? Are you concerned about making your hours? Do you feel like this year has been super successful, and you’re ready to take on 2016? Or do you feel that this year hasn’t gone so well, and you may as well throw in the towel and begin again in January? Whatever your immediate reaction was has information for you, so notice that.

But that isn’t the point of today’s newsletter! My point today is action-oriented, and it has the potential to help turn around any disappointment you may be feeling about your 2015 business development progress.

The holiday season starts in 6 weeks, too. Are you ready? Here are some things you might work on now so you’ll be ready to take advantage of the most social time of the year.

  1. Choose gifts (whether and what you’ll send) for your top contacts. (In The Reluctant Rainmaker framework, this is your A list.)Being mindful of any corporate policies that could restrict your options and think about gifts that draw on your contact’s interests. In general, the more important the contact, the more carefully selected the gift should be. If you don’t have time for shopping, contact a concierge service and describe the contacts for whom you need a gift plus a price range, request three options for each, and let someone else do the legwork.
  2. Choose gifts for other contacts. (In The Reluctant Rainmaker framework, this is your B list.) These can be more general, and you might consider something that has a tie-in with you or your practice. For example, a lawyer I know once found a vineyard that shares his name, so he sent wine to a number of contacts.
  3. Make your list and check it twice. Ideally, you will have kept up with your contact list through the year, so sending holiday cards (to all contacts, including your C list) will be a breeze. If not, this is the time to update it, cull out anyone who no longer fits, and add new contacts. Decide (assuming you have the option) whether to send electronic or paper cards, and get the cards ready to go. Sending your cards early reduces the likelihood that they’ll get lost in the mid-December pack.
  4. Make your party plans.  You can’t predict which individuals will have holidays parties, in the absence of long-standing tradition or your own decision to serve as host, but you can check calendars for organizations you’ve joined. You probably won’t be able to attend every gathering, so calendar them early and be clear on which parties are your priority. Then, as other invitations flow in, you’ll know what business-oriented gatherings are already scheduled, and you won’t miss a good business development opportunity for a run-of-the-mill personal party.
  5. Make a date. Because the holidays tend to be so social, it’s often an easier time than usual to line up lunches, coffee meetings, and so on. Again, you can’t do it all (and neither can your contacts), so take some time to identify the people you most want to see and issue your invitations early. These meetings are a good opportunity to develop or rekindle relationships and even to dig into your contact’s upcoming plans to see what help you might offer.

It may feel like a long time before we start issuing “Happy Holidays” wishes, but the season is actually right around the corner. Start planning now so you can make the most of the seasonal opportunities.


Do you ever feel that you’re just one lawyer in a large sea of competitors? Hundreds or thousands of other lawyers may occupy the same niche that you do, and you may wonder how to set yourself apart. The challenge lessens if you have specific expertise in a niche, but re-emerges for everyone at some point in business development.

Here’s the bigger problem: lawyers’ websites often read almost identically.
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.

If you fail to differentiate yourself from other lawyers and law firms, you’ll fail to capture attention—or if you get attention, your audience may not be able to remember who you are. Of course, you must follow certain ethics rules, but looking like everyone else will do you no favors.

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

1. Narrow your niche. You can speak to a specific audience (same sex parents for estate planning purposes), a specific legal need (helping closely held or family businesses navigate sale or purchase), or a specific part of practice (appellate litigation). When you go narrow in scope, you must go deep in focus so that you become a leading voice in your field. Going deep offers strong content marketing opportunities, and you can distinguish yourself by speaking with laser focus.

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.

3. Become active and visible in the community. Volunteering, serving on boards, or working with non-profits in other capacities is a good way to 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. Just a caveat: if you expect this community work to support you in building your practice, make sure there’s a logical nexus between the community work and your practice either by topic or overlapping audiences.

What’s not on this list of ways to set yourself apart from others? General descriptors that suggest you’re smarter or more savvy than other lawyers won’t cut it without something specific to back it up. Your strategic insight may in fact differentiate you from others, but your target audience won’t believe you if you tell them. Demonstrate these qualities by sharing representative matters or an article that displays your strategic approach. 

Successful lawyers are clear about what makes them different from others, and they know how to communicate that persuasively. 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. Get feedback from colleagues, clients, and/or an outside source.