Freedom to choose

It’s been a busy weekend at the Fleming-Brown household.  One of my dogs, Jake, is the most cowardly animal I’ve ever met when it comes to thunderstorms — and the most wily.  Both dogs sleep downstairs in crates, mostly because my cat would become a canape if they were allowed free reign at night.  We’ve been having thunderstorms in Atlanta lately, and Jake has become an escape artist extraordinaire.  Despite latches at the top and bottom of the door and reinforcements added on a daily basis, Jake has learned to escape his crate.  (Had I been his first family, with naming privileges, I would have named him Houdini, since the Crate Escape is just the latest in a long line of breaks.)  I don’t know why he wants to escape, and my guess is that he doesn’t either.  He hears a clap of thunder, and his reaction is, I gotta get out of here!

I’d decided to write on the theme of freedom this week, in honor of July 4, and today’s post is particularly motivated by Jake.

Stephen Covey, perhaps best known as the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, said this about freedom: “Between stimulus and response is our greatest power – the freedom to choose.”

How often do you react, and how often do you respond?

Reaction imples knee-jerk action, with little or no thought — perhaps when you discover that something has gone wrong with a case, that there’s a deadline looming and you’ll have to work all night, or that a client was irritated by a sloppy error, and you react by shooting the messenger?  At the risk of comparing a lawyer with my dog, Jake lives in reaction mode.  Thunder = run for him, period.

Responding suggests allowing enough space to consider the consequences and implications of action and then choosing: given the same bad news, you might respond by swinging into problem-solving mode rather than anger.

Just about everyone is more likely to react when stressed, tired, or otherwise not operating at peak levels.  Fortunately, there’s a single action that you can take to build in a pause and an opportunity to respond, almost regardless of the provocation.  (I’m excluding physical provocation here.)

Take a deep breath.

Just breathing will create a break between action and reaction/response.  During that break, you can choose whether fight/flight/argument/acquiesence and you can consider what response will be likely to move you toward your goal.  You might shoot the messenger anyway, of course: we all make choices we regret even after thinking them through.  But you will have created the opportunity to make a conscious decision, increasing the chances of a response you won’t regret. ◊

Three Obstacles to Rainmaking Success

I’ve been doing a lot of speaking and coaching lately on business development, and someone asked a great question: what are the top obstacles to rainmaking success?

I’ve identified three universal challenges.  Do any of these sound uncomfortably familiar to you?

1.  “I don’t know what to do.”  There’s so much information out there about how to bring in new cases and clients and, even more importantly, how to ensure that your current clients are satisfied — no, delighted — with the service you provide.  Sometimes, having lots of good information is overwhelming.  When I work with someone on rainmaking, one of the first things we focus on (after clearly identifying the goal at hand) is to simplify tasks, according to a targeted plan.  Don’t flail around and try “the latest thing.”  Figure out what works well for you and do it consistently.

2.  Mindset challenges.  The challenges that we create up for ourselves (and please note that I am including myself here!) vary dramatically.  I’ve heard all of the following:

  • Rainmaking is easier for them (men, women, lawyers in big firms, lawyers in small firms, litigators, transactional lawyers, and on and on and on).
  • Everything I do has to be perfect, and I’m busy getting ready to get out there.  (This crops up a lot with lawyers who see speaking, writing, and holding leadership positions in an organization as a good route for business development.)
  • I have to do it all myself, so I’m going to clear the decks and then get started.
  • I’m too young.
  • I’m too old.
  • I tried [insert an activity here] and it didn’t work, so why should I bother?
  • My technical skills are so good, I don’t need to market.

There may be at least a grain of truth to each of these rationalizations (and the infinite variations that exist), but buying into these statements is a huge red flag.  These “reasons” justify a lack of success and perhaps even a lack of effort.  Neither leads to great results.

3.  “I don’t have enough time to get my work done and live, and now I should add on business development activities?  You’ve got to be kidding me.”  This obstacle is the most valid and therefore the most insidious.  It also plays into the mindset obstacles, because very often a lawyer who holds a negative belief about client development will sink more and more time into fruitless rainmaking activity.  Imagine, for instance, a lawyer who polishes an article to the point of “perfection,” only to find that it’s no longer newsworthy.  Fortunately, you can implement three steps to create time for business development: prioritization, systemization, and delegation.

What blocks your rainmaking efforts?

When personal life impacts professional life

One of the ways that I describe the work I do is “professional and personal coaching for lawyers.” Although I occasionally do what amounts to life coaching for someone who happens to be a lawyer, my passion lies in helping lawyers develop their professional lives, which often relates in some way to their personal lives. We are, after all, people first and lawyers second.
Sometimes, the relationship between the professional and personal sides of life becomes blurred. That may be a work/life balance issue that calls for reflection on the degree, if any, to which the lawyer wants to separate the two.

But sometimes, a lawyer will experience a personal problem that he can’t keep entirely separate from his professional life. Serious illness is one example, though the challenge there tends to come when the actual crisis is over, when recovery begins. My take on that situation is rather clear: do whatever is necessary to ensure your reclaimed health, no matter what professional consequences may follow, but conduct your affairs so that your clients don’t suffer. For more on one lawyer’s solution in this circumstance, see The Complete Lawyer article entitled The Healthiest Lawyer.

Then there are the personal circumstances that don’t have the potential for personal life-or-death consequences. Examples are a family member’s prolonged illness or death, or facing the prospect or reality of divorce. Although most of us are practiced at putting on the “game face” and getting on with work, events of this magnitude may make it difficult or impossible to manage that. Each person is, of course, different, and no solution will fit everyone. Here, however, are some ideas of coping mechanisms.

Support. Get the support you need, whether that’s counseling, a support group, a coach, or some blend of the three. Asking for help may not come naturally, but it can help you avoid mental or emotional tunnel vision and help you identify your best options.

Consider whether to share your news. Depending on the situation, you may need to let a colleague or supervisor at your firm know what’s going on. There’s no need to share details, but especially if you suspect that there will be an actual conflict between your professional responsibilities and your personal ones, it’s often best to let someone else know.

Practice centering exercises. Whether it’s meditation, yoga, or just deep breathing, physical activities can help you center yourself so you are better prepared to deal with work while you’re working and less likely to be pulled away mentally or emotionally by whatever is causing you distress. This can be as simple as sitting in silence for 3-4 minutes and paying attention to your breath, gently releasing any thoughts that may come up. The beauty of a practice this simple, of course, is that you can revisit it at any moment, without even letting others know you’re doing it.

Excellent self-care. Get enough sleep. Eat real, healthy food. Don’t drink too much alcohol. Keep your body well-hydrated. When you’re under severe stress, it’s easy to let this go, but the extra effort will serve you well.

Be realistic. You may need to cut back on your hours, take a “vacation,” or even take a leave of absence. Or you may not. Just don’t try to be a hero. A realistic appraisal of your energy will keep you from taking on too much, causing yourself to crash and burn.

Reflect. Journal writing can be a terrific tool for working through difficult issues.

Manage your energy. Take advantage of the days when you have sufficient energy to work hard. Although you can take steps to keep your energy as high as possible (the other steps suggested here, for instance), it’s a reasonably safe bet that your energy will lag at some point, and you’ll be able to work with that rhythm if you maximize your output when you can.

Remember that this, too, will pass. It’s a trite saying that may not offer much comfort in the moments of deepest pain, but the difficult times will not last forever.

Want to make more rain? Be a better leader.

Leaders are better rainmakers.
  Bold statement, isn’t it?  But think about it.  Would you easily place your trust in someone who manages a team of worker bees who don’t make much individual contribution – knowing that if the manager goes down, the team will at best miss a few beats?   Or would you select someone who is skilled in assembling a strong team and evoking high performance from its members?


Clients generally hire lawyers, not firms, but clients count on the lawyers to assemble and run the teams necessary to get the business accomplished.  A leader is more likely to walk into a meeting with a prospective client and present not only his or her own professional experience, but also that of the team, complete with discussion of how the team as a whole would function to meet the client’s needs.  There’s a difference between a team leader who counts on the skill and expertise of team members and a legal hotshot who regards the team as merely a supporting cast.  Clients and potential clients (not to mention the team) will sense that difference.


A leader is more likely to show up for a meeting with a client or prospective  client ready to ask questions.   Which is more impressive, someone who talks nonstop about the cases she’s won and the professional accolades she’s received, or someone who asks questions first to determine what’s needed and then offers how her skill and experience would serve to meet those needs?  Which behavior is more characteristic of a leader?


Leaders have the emotional intelligence to establish strong relationships, even when something goes wrong.  Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, legal matters don’t always go the way they “should.”  Juries are notoriously unpredictable, case law changes, and unforeseeable events happen that derail strategies, no matter how carefully planned or executed.  Leaders tend to have the integrity to take responsibility when appropriate, and they have the discernment to focus on how to make things as right as possible under the circumstances.  By handling problems in this way, leaders tend to become trusted advisors rather than hired guns.


What part of your leadership development path is calling for focus so you can also improve your client service and business development skills?  Perhaps it’s your presence, since the way you hold yourself and the way you communicate both verbally and non-verbally can have a dramatic impact on how you’re perceived.  Perhaps it’s your self-management in the areas of time or energy.  Or perhaps you could be a more effective team leader, whether your team is the whole firm, a practice area team, a client matter team, or a project team.  Make the time to improve your leadership skills, and you’ll see client benefits as well.