Client-centric marketing

Do you ever feel uncomfortable talking about yourself and your practice when you’re networking in hopes of developing new business?  Many lawyers do.  (And some lawyers who don’t feel that way perhaps should — but that’s another post.)  But there’s good news: talking about what you do isn’t the way to generate interest from a potential client.  Of course, clients care that you (and, if applicable, other lawyers in your firm) have strong experience and good skills in the practice area that matches their needs, but chances are, something else sets you apart.

Have you ever considered what makes you different from other lawyers who serve similar clients?  I hope at least one response is that you care even more deeply about your clients than other lawyers do, and that your practice is all about client service.  Assuming that to be the case, shouldn’t you market in the same way?

When you have the experiences and credentials to back you up, the best marketing is client-centric.  It’s all about being interested in the client’s needs, the client’s concerns, and how you can meet those needs and concerns to accomplish the client’s objective.  (In some instances, of course, it may be that the client’s objectives shouldn’t be accomplished — if a parent wants to use child custody to punish the other parent in a bitter divorce, for example — but that, too, is another post.)

Of course, you won’t often be presented with an opportunity to demonstrate this to a potential client, but you can do the next best thing: show interest in each person you meet.  Demonstrate your attitude of service in each networking encounter.  Rather than approaching networking as an opportunity to let people know about you and what you’ve accomplished, focus your attention on finding out about the people you meet and their interests.  Give it a try, and notice how people respond.  You’ll almost certainly be pleased.

Side benefit: this is a terrific strategy for introverts.  The conversation is likely to flow easily and to require little of you (at least initially) other than your genuine interest.


I burn my candle at both ends
It will not last the night.
But ah my foes and oh my friends
It gives a lovely light.
       Edna St. Vincent Millay

What do you think when you read this?  If you’re like many lawyers, you felt a flutter of recognition — perhaps just before you recoiled at the idea that, perhaps, your candle won’t “last the night.”  It’s just the weak who can’t burn and burn and burn, right?

Sustainability isn’t a sexy word, and most of us don’t see it as something to aim for.  After all, we tend to want bigger and better and more, not homeostasis.  What does it mean, though, to have a “sustainable practice”?

According to Merriam-Webster, “to sustain” means (among other things) “to supply with sustenance: nourish” and “to keep up, prolong.”   And sustainable means, of course, “capable of being sustained” or “of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods.”

How do you nourish your practice?  How does your lifestyle support you in keeping up and prolonging your practice?  Ideas that occur to me (aside from the standard work less and play more, which is easy to say and very difficult to do):

1.  Discover what’s meaningful to you and focus your attention and practice on that.  If it’s client service, you will draw a strength and energy from serving your clients that someone who’s in practice because of the intellectual stimulation won’t experience.  Connecting to what matters to you illuminates your purpose.  Having a purpose nourishes your practice.

2.  Delegate.  If you can identify aspects of practice that you personally don’t have to fulfill, you’ll increase your energy by passing it along to someone who can handle it.  If you find yourself thinking that you’ll spend less time doing it (whatever it is) than teaching someone else to do it, consider whether you’ll save time over the long run if you turn it over, even if it requires an investment of time now.

3.  Connect.  If you enjoy socializing, make sure you have a group of lawyers you join for lunch or drinks or a volleyball game on a regular basis.  You’ll increase social contact, have a group of colleagues to use as sounding boards, build a resource for giving and getting referrals, and more.  You can even do this online, but consider whether you’d get more out of interacting with flesh and blood colleagues.

4.  Notice how your body feels when you have adequate sleep, nutrition, and exercise.  Just notice.  If your noticing convinces you that you feel better and have more energy, consider what to do with that knowledge.

5.  Develop discipline.  You can put a schedule in place that will support you.  Plan time when you put your calls on hold and get concentrated work done.  Set time aside for meeting with your support staff, the lawyers you supervise, and those who supervise you.

6.  Take time for outside interests.  Hike, read, act, whatever… But don’t allow yourself to be one-dimensional.

7.  Do you live on adrenaline and caffeine?  If so, chances are that you’re running from crisis to crisis.  Ask yourself whether there’s a way to limit the crunches to times when there’s really a crisis.  What feels good about putting out fires?  Spending some time resolving this will provide support for making changes that leave you working on a non-emergency basis, which facilitates having more energy.  Adrenaline and caffeine are great, but they’re hardly the key to a sustainable practice or life.

8.  Set aside time to check your progress on these and other habits that support you and your practice.  Because it’s easy to get sucked into a hectic schedule (with your candle burning not only at both ends but in the middle, too), arrange a relationship that will hold you accountable to whatever adjustments you may decide to make.  Consider whether coaching might be the appropriate relationship.

The Secret Society of Happy Lawyers

In the discussions that led up to the Lawyers Appreciate…  countdown, Stephanie West Allen mentioned the Secret Society of Happy People to me.  The name captured me – raptured me! — and it kept floating back to the surface as we were choosing the name for the countdown.

Stephanie recently requested authorization from Pamela Gail Johnson, the creator of the Secret Society of Happy People, to establish a Secret Society of Happy Lawyers, and permission was gladly granted.  Visit Stephanie’s Idealawg post for further details.

Now, before we introduce The Secret Society of Happy Lawyers, Stephanie and I are curious: what does that name conjure for you?  Does it bring up images, tales, jokes, dreams?  Please share!  Post your comments here, on Stephanie’s blog, or email Stephanie or me.  Or post something on your own blog, and I’ll add a link here.  We’re eager to hear your thoughts and ideas about the new Secret Society of Happy Lawyers.  And stay tuned: there’s lots to share!

Challenges for female litigators

Yesterday’s WSJ Law Blog pointed to an American Lawyer article entitled Obstacle Course, outlining the challenges female litigators have in “break[ing] through old stereotypes to build top-tier practices” in the “male-dominated world of litigation.”

Referencing one female partner’s internal struggle not to deal with food arrangements for trial prep meetings and another who was asked (15 years ago) by opposing counsel to record a trial transcript when the court reporter failed to show, the article discusses the subtle, subtextual, often subconscious gender role expectations that impact women today.  Challenges include having to make a conscious choice on whether to soft-pedal, thus risking being (or being perceived as) too passive, or being assertive and being perceived as overly emotional or bitchy; issues that arise when a woman’s childbearing years coincide with the years in which she may be pursuing partnership; work/life balance issues that are difficult on their own and perhaps overwhelming when combined with concerns about being thought to be on a “mommy track;” and a need to impress and overcompensate for assumed or perceived  gender differences.

It’s a fascinating article, and the comments on the WSJ blog are equally interesting.  Readers, I invite you to weigh in here.  What do you perceive about gender in litigation?  Do you think it’s different for litigators than for transactional lawyers?  And women, do you feel a need to excel that’s exacerbated by gender?

Get happy!

Are you thinking this is a strange topic for a legally inclined blog?  Perhaps it isn’t…

Yesterday’s New York Times Magazine featured an article titled Happiness 101,  addressing the field of positive psychology.  As described on U Penn’s website Authentic Happiness, positive psychology is the field founded by Dr. Martin Seligman that:

focuses on the empirical study of such things as positive emotions, strengths-based character, and healthy institutions. His research has demonstrated that it is possible to be happier — to feel more satisfied, to be more engaged with life, find more meaning, have higher hopes, and probably even laugh and smile more, regardless of one’s circumstances. Positive psychology interventions can also lastingly decrease depression symptoms.

Sounds appealing, doesn’t it?

Stephanie West Allen has collected many references that promote positivity and the pursuit of happiness and examine the greater success enjoyed by happy lawyers.  Bob Sutton (author of the forthcoming book The No Asshole Rule, which I’ll be reviewing in the next few days) has suggested that smiling can make you happier and encouraging others to smile can cut  down on asshole behavior.

If you haven’t done so yet, do check out the list of “Lawyers Appreciate…” posts for a positive look at the law and those who practice it.

I invite your comments about the relationship between happiness and your professional success/satisfaction.

Diagnosing problems to create effective solutions

Tom Collins, author of the well-respected More Partner Income blog has written a must-read post titled “A Problem Solving Policy for the Law Firm.” (Post is no longer available)

He describes the ordinary approach to problem-solving as the process of identifying and closing the gap between how things are and how they should be, which treats the symptom but not the ultimate cause of the problem.  Tom recommends focusing on opportunities, not problems:

If management is going to concentrate on opportunities, it must avoid problems. That means when you do have to tackle a problem, you should do so with a no-return policy. Look for the conditions that permitted the problem to occur and take steps to prevent reoccurrence.

I’d like to tag onto Tom’s post and to discuss the same approach within the context of individual problem-solving and development.

Suppose you’ve decided that your marketing isn’t producing the results you want.  You assume that the amount of your effort will determine your results: more is better.  Based on that assumption, the simple solution would be to redouble the marketing efforts you’re making now, so you attend two networking events a month, arrange to take a potential client to lunch twice a week rather than just once, and so on.  And that might help you to develop more business — but it also might not, or you might not devote the time to following through on your plans.  Instead, perhaps you might pause to evaluate the effectiveness of your current efforts and discover that every time you attend the [relevant industry] meeting, you walk away with valuable new contacts that bring in business 40% of the time.  Rather than increasing your efforts in marketing generally, perhaps it would make sense to deepen your contacts within that group — perhaps dropping another group altogether.  To find that solution, though, you’d have to examine your assumption that more efforts leads to better results.

Likewise, suppose you decide that you want to communicate more effectively with your assistant to correct a problem that’s developed in which he or she doesn’t deliver things you request ASAP in what you consider to be a timely manner.  You conclude that your assistant doesn’t pay attention when you say ASAP, so you tailor your solution to that issue. You might emphasize that you need the work “ASAP, really, as soon you can get it done.”  You might express disappointment when work isn’t delivered as quickly as you’d hoped.  You might even sit down with your assistant and explain the problem and ask how the two of you might solve it together.  But the problem might well continue until you discover that when you say ASAP, your assistant interprets that to mean “as soon as conveniently possible” rather than “drop everything and do this now.”  Or perhaps the real issue is that you practice as if you were working in an emergency room, running from crisis to crisis so that everything is on an ASAP basis — which means that nothing is a priority.  A shift in your perspective is the only thing that will truly solve the problem here.

What we’re discussing here is single-loop learning, in which we tinker with our strategies in reaction to our results, as compared with double-loop learning, in which we examine the assumptions and perspectives that underlie the problem and, if needed, create new assumptions and perspectives to support a new set of strategies to solve the problem.  For an excellent explanation of single- and double-loop learning, visit Ed Batista’s post Double-Loop Learning and Executive Coaching on his Executive Coaching & Change Management blog.

In short, the task is to stop climbing the same tree harder, faster, or smarter and instead to pause and ask whether this is the tree to be climbing at all and if so, why.  This isn’t navel-gazing; it’s careful analysis of the entire situation at issue and strategizing to meet the actual problem rather than the apparent problem.  Although lawyers tend to be very good at performing this task for our clients, we tend not to take the time to do it for ourselves.

Effective problem solving requires effective diagnosis of the problem, not just the symptoms.  Identifying and challenging our assumptions and expectations is key to creating meaningful and lasting change, whether personal or professional.  Each of us has the ability to do this.  However, recognizing the frame that we use to perceive the world may be difficult simply because we’re so accustomed to it.  That’s why it may be easier to engage in this process with someone who can help with the task of self-observation and challenging perspectives.

Coaching provides assistance and support in finding the truth that underlies a situation and creating the changes necessary to improve performance and results. By working with a coach, you engage not only his or her expertise, but also his or her impartiality to the situation (thus opening the opportunity for an unimpeded view of what’s really going on and why) and dedication in service to the client.  Coaching has often been recognized as a tool for advancing lawyers’ career success.  Is the time right for you to consider hiring a coach?