WRA 12/1/09: Are you doing it wrong?

I recently spoke with a lawyer who had tried a variety of business development activities, all to no avail.  She’d written articles, she’d taught seminars, she’d advertised, she’d attended some networking events, she’d posted her profile on various social networking sites, and so on.  But after all of that, she didn’t have any results to report at all, and she was about to conclude that she just wasn’t meant to be a rainmaker.

That reaction is so common.  It’s so discouraging to work at something — especially something as important as business development — and to see no results.  But three mistakes often come clear when I talk with someone who has worked hard at rainmaking without meaningful results.

  1. The lawyer is measuring the wrong thing.  Sure, new business is the clearest measurement of rainmaking success, but that’s like starting a diet and measuring success only by reaching goal weight.  There are all sorts of midpoints that indicate success: making new contacts, developing relationships, building a strong reputation in your field, and so on.  These “interim successes” indicate forward movement — assuming, of course, they’re measured as progress toward the ultimate goal of bringing in new business and not as an end in themselves.
  2. The lawyer hasn’t brought in new business. . . Yet.  “Patience & perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish,” John Quincy Adams observed.  In other words, don’t give up before an activity has had time to produce results.  Networking is a key place where lawyers fall short here.  A single conversation is incredibly unlikely to generate new business.  Mere membership in a group, or attending a meeting once or twice, is equally unlikely to be successful in any measure.  Hopping from one activity to another generates a lot of motion but very little forward movement.  Choosing one or two marketing tactics is almost certain to bring better results — unless. . .
  3. The lawyer is doing the wrong things, or doing them in the wrong way.  No matter how persistently the task is undertaken, if it’s fundamentally flawed, it won’t work.  Let’s take networking again.  If your idea of networking is attending meetings, talking incessantly about yourself, your skills, your qualifications, and your experience, plus pressing your business card on anyone who happens within an arms’ length, you are destined to fail.  That’s networking at its worst and it’s unattractive to just about everyone.  In the example that opened today’s post, the lawyer was doing a lot of good activities, but none of them involved actually talking with potential clients and referral sources.  Good activity done wrong does’t work.

Your task this week: are you making any of these mistakes?  Check to see how you’re measuring your success especially.  Because lawyers are trained to focus on the end game (here, landing the new business), this is one of the key mistakes that I often see among new clients.


Discovering my inner “hot worm”.. And changes for 2008

Perhaps you’ve heard this: “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life!”  I’ve seen that quote, or similar ones, attributed to everyone from Confucius to Harvay MacKay.  Now, here’s my corollary:  even so, you will nevertheless sometimes need to adjust priorities, to take time off, and to shift what you do.

On occasion I’ll read something that will really stick with me and change the way I think about things.  Stephanie West Allen’s December 2006 “hot worms” blog post is one of those.  In that post and other related posts, she discusses the danger in prescribing a “one size fits all” work/life balance, especially for those “hot worms” who love what they do and choose to work more hours than “experts” consider advisable.  As I’ve written over and over, I’m uncomfortable with the idea of “work/life balance” because it implies that there is a single balance that everyone should attain, and that’s clearly wrong to me.  So, I took Stephanie’s post as more evidence that each person must find his or her own balance or, to use Cali Yost’s term, work+life fit.

I enjoyed practicing law, but I was admittedly not a “hot worm” lawyer.  Some of my clients are, though, and coaching them on work/life integration is interesting because it’s hard to reduce hours or attention to something that’s thoroughly enjoyable and nourishing.  The focus of the coaching is on finding what works best for the individual, and sometimes cutting back on work is necessary (though difficult) to achieve other goals.  The process is challenging and rewarding, and my clients generally end up with a lifestyle that pleases them deeply.  As I coached these clients, I came to discover something about myself.

I’m a “hot worm” coach.

Perhaps that’s why I work so well with lawyers who are passionate about and devoted to their practices.

You see, I often wake up thinking about an article or a resource or an approach to use with a client.  I read constantly, and until last week, I’m not sure when I last read fiction or non-fiction that isn’t related to law or business.  I couldn’t sleep one night while I was out of town and I got sucked into watching Legally Blonde, not because it’s a good movie (in my opinion, it isn’t!) but because I was mentally drafting a blog post that would discuss Reese Witherspoon’s character and what lesson she might illustrate.  When I catch up with friends, I tend to talk about my business and the ideas I’m reading or hearing or creating — to the point that a friend recently asked if my husband and I had divorced because I hadn’t mentioned him!  (Sorry about that, honey.)  I’m not unduly frazzled or bedraggled; I just love what I do and choose to do a lot of it!  I am doing what I truly love, and it doesn’t feel like work.

And yet…

I get run down when I don’t sleep enough.  I get stiff when I sit all day.  Although I enjoy the work I do, I miss seeing friends.  And I know that I sometimes come up with more and better ideas when I’m working  physically (gardening, walking, whatever gets my body going and lets my brain wander) than I do when I’m sitting at my desk and intending to think.

These are signs that it’s time for a change.

I started this blog in January 2006 and began writing regularly in March of that year.  This is post #365.  Although I never announced it, I’ve aimed to post three times a week, and I recently expanded to include a fourth weekly post.  Since I started the blog, though, things have changed in my business.  I have more clients (as well as some openings), I’m writing more articles for formal publication, I’m doing more speaking, and I’m doing more face-to-face networking.  I’m also traveling dramatically more.

It’s time for a shift.

Change #1…  I plan to post twice weekly going forward, though I may include additional “shorts” posts that will offer links and brief news items, trends, or ideas.

Change #2…  On January 15, I will be launching a new email newsletter, titled Leadership Matters for Lawyers.  Each issue will include a feature article on leadership development, a relevant book review, summaries of recent posts on the Life at the Bar blog, and information about upcoming programs and presentations.  Leadership is an important topic for every lawyer, whether it’s self-leadership, leading within a bar or civic organization, being a thought-leader in your practice area, or serving as a leader of a team, a practice group, an office, or a firm.  Leadership Matters for Lawyers will reveal insights, research, and resources that will help you to create and benefit from leadership opportunities for yourself and your practice.


Thank you for your input — and happy new year!