July Reading

Let’s close July with some articles and posts you should not miss.

Every lawyer knows something about the pressures that surround the practice of law. And because business development is meaningless unless it moves you closer to a future you actually want to live, here are two articles and posts you should not miss about being a lawyer.

  • The Lawyer, the Addict This article about one lawyer who, like so many others, fell to drug and alcohol addiction, has been making the rounds. If you haven’t read it yet, stop and do so now. Your practice and life, or that of a friend or colleague, could depend on it.
  • Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Lawyers. A brief post by Cliff Tuttle, on the right reason to be a lawyer.

On the business development side…

  • Still using LinkedIn like a virtual Rolodex? That’s a mistake. Check this article for a better approach: 10 Reasons to Share Articles to LinkedIn:
  • Read Consistency and Sustainability in Selling for a refresher on some fundamentals of business development. Don’t be thrown by the “sales” language: recast this brief post into the language of business development plus client service and retention, and you’ll get the benefit. My favorite tip? “ABP” or “Always Be meeting People” – I revised the acronym’s expansion. 

What did you read this month that made you sit up and take notice? I’d love to hear!


How can you revive a neglected professional relationship?

Despite the best of intentions, it’s easy to let a relationship slide. You get busy, you lose track of your contact schedule, you run out of ideas for keeping in touch… And next thing you know, your relationship has atrophied.

But, like muscle, an atrophied relationship can be rebuilt. 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. If you find yourself about to write off a relationship, you need to be sure that the relationship 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 write off 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 the relationship. The deeper the relationship, the more likely it can be resurrected.  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

So, what can you do to 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.

If, like many lawyers, you’d rather do nine hours of painstaking document review without a coffee break than pick up with 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 or 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 is 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.

What to do when you don’t get the matter

One of my clients (let’s call her Renée) had a major disappointment recently. She had been courting a potential client (let’s call it ABC Corp.) for quite some time, and all the signs indicated that she would be tapped to handle a major piece of litigation. And then, instead of returning the engagement letter, ABC Corp. called Renée to share the news that another lawyer had landed the matter instead.

Certainly a painful moment.

To her credit, Renée took the opportunity to ask what she could have done differently. ABC Corp. was pleasant and gave some answers that were plausible but didn’t quite ring true to Renée, and then the call was over.

Now what? What should you do next when you’ve lost a potential client?

  1. Find out why, if possible. Since the answers Renée received didn’t ring true to her, we stepped back to consider what the real reasons might be. Money is always a likely suspect, so we discussed how the competitor lawyer may have structured the winning fee proposal and whether/how that should affect what Renée does. We also discussed other possibilities like a long-term relationship between the GC, a perception that the other lawyer has more experience, and a few other factors.
  2. Evaluate your own performance. Would you, with the benefit of hindsight, change anything about the way you approached the potential client and matter? Would you change the make-up of your pitch team? Were there any awkward moments you would seek to avoid next time? Did you spot a way to improve your marketing materials?
  3. Determine your next steps with the would-have-been client. How far has this ship sailed? In other words, do you expect a future opportunity to arise with this client? (For Renée, there’s always the possibility of more litigation; if the matter was the sale of a business, what potential might exist with the successor?) Based on how the process proceeded and completed, should you continue to court the would-be client, should you consider asking for a referral, or should you let things lie for the time being?

    Whatever your answer, unless you decide to take no further action (which in the majority of cases is not the best decision), sketch out your next steps and put dates or time-frames on your calendar.

  4. If you’re taking the loss hard, remember this quote from Pat Summit: “Left foot, right foot, breathe.” In other words, keep going. Don’t let one loss, even a painful one, knock out your drive to build your practice.

Rejection of any kind is unpleasant, so make sure you learn as much as you can from losing a matter to help you improve your business development skills.

Happy Independence Day!

July marks Canada Day as well as Independence Day in the United States and numerous other countries.

This time of year always prompts me to ask two questions:

First, what do freedom and independence mean to me personally, professionally, politically, and culturally?

Second, what do I need to do to increase my freedom and independence, and what do I need to do to support others in doing the same?

There are many answers to these questions, but let’s limit the conversation to the professional context. This is a great time to ask where you feel free or constrained in your practice, in the way you work, in your collegial relationships, and even in the way you approach business development. If you don’t like your answer, perhaps you should choose to declare your own independence this July. Questions to consider might include:

  • Do you like your practice? If not, how might you shift your focus? 
  • Do you like your clients? If not, where could you find clients you’d enjoy? 
  • Do you like your colleagues—or do you wish you had colleagues? Is it time to build better relationships or seek out new ones? 
  • Does your business development plan fit you? If not, come up with one that does. A brilliantly conceived plan that you don’t want to execute wont help you reach your goals. 
  • Does your schedule give you the freedom you want and need as a professional, a family member, as a community member, as a professional? If not, can you find ways to use your time differently, perhaps incorporating the approach espoused by the book Total Leadership (which I reviewed here) to identify activities that serve multiple domains of your life at once? 
  • Does your life reflect your values? If not, exercise the freedom to change.

Once you’ve asked the questions and determined your answers, make a clear plan for any necessary follow-up activity. Your professional freedom deserves determined and consistent action.