June’s Fabulous Finds

Periodically, I like to share resources that have made my life easier and more interesting.  Here are my favorites for June:

  1. Good Measure Meals. I love to cook, but I have having to cook.  Good Measure Meals is an Atlanta business the offers healthy meals for pick-up or delivery.  It isn’t cheap, but when I ran their prices in comparison to the cost of take-out / delivery / fast food, plus the cost of spoiled groceries, plus the angst of having to figure out what’s for dinner again, I decided the cost was  a no-brainer.  Most metro cities have something similar (search on healthy meal delivery), or you might investigate hiring a personal chef to cook for you weekly.  I think of this as an indulgence with major benefits.
  2. Soundview Executive Book Summaries. Let’s face it:  no one has time to read all of the business books released every month.  Soundview does a good job of culling the most noteworthy books each month and providing an in-depth summary of a few, plus short overviews of a handful more.  If the summary intrigues you, you’ll want to read the whole book, but you’ll learn a lot from the summaries and you’ll likely avoid reader’s remorse.
  3. Springwise. “Your Essential Fix of Entrepreneurial Ideas,” Springwise will keep you on top of trends in new businesses.  Through daily or weekly emails (so you don’t miss a thing), Springwise will give you brain candy for what’s hot now, and it may even send a tip your way that you can share with clients and prospective clients.  I like Springwise because I learn about businesses worldwide, and about once a month, something triggers a new idea for my own business.  You can even see how many Tweets and Likes a link has garnered, which offers additional evidence of “hot or not” status.
  4. They Rule. Designed for visual thinkers who want to explore who sits on the Boards of Directors of various companies and institutions, this site is also useful for finding connections between board members.  They Rule is handy if you want to tease out the connections in an industry, for example.  (It’s also a great way to pass the time of day, so use with care!)

Keep Your Friends Close!

Pop quiz:  Who are your best referral sources?  List the top 10 right now. If you are a more junior lawyer in a law firm and don’t yet have your own clients, list the senior lawyers for whom you do the most work.

How easy did you find it to make this list?  This information should be at the tips of your fingers. If you don’t know who your top referral sources are, your activity this week is to find out.

How often do you talk with the people who most frequently send you business? One of my clients recently realized that his top three referral sources send him seven to ten substantial matters a year, resulting in several hundred thousand dollars of business.  And then he realized that as he’d become busier, he spent less time maintaining the connections that had help to build those referral relationships.

Sure, he sent business to his top referral sources, he attended meetings with them frequently, and he went out of his way to send a nice “thank you” every time one of them sent a new matter to him. But he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had lunch or played golf one-on-one with these people.  The business relationship was in place with each referral source, but the personal connections underlying it had grown weak.

Relationships, like anything else, are always in flux.  Are yours growing closer or more distant?  If you don’t stay consistently in touch with your contacts, the relationships will grow weaker and you may find that the support that you enjoyed shifts to others who are more attentive. There are no bad motives in play, but absence in business rarely makes the heart grow fonder.

Take a few minutes now to set times to check with the people who think enough of you to send you work. Make it a point to reconnect and find out what’s going on with them.  At the same time, express your appreciation for their referrals.  And then lay your plans so you can be sure to check in with them at least quarterly.

I Slipped. Now What?

Occasionally, I’ll talk with a junior lawyer who just doesn’t understand that business development is critical to his success. (Just as a matter of interest, I find that these are typically younger lawyers as well as junior ones; second-career lawyers most often start thinking about rainmaking long before they finish law school.)

The top objections (with my responses in italics) are:

  • “But I’m not sure I want to make partner.”  Ok, but do you want to stay employed?
  • “I’ll never want to open my own practice.”  Fine, but do you really want to be at the mercy of someone else who gets to determine what kind of work you do, what clients you do (and don’t) serve, how and where and when you work, and so on?
  • “I’m going to produce top-notch work, and clients will flock to me.”  Super!  But how will they know you exist?
  • “I’d rather focus on client service, not client development.”  Don’t you think your clients would appreciate knowing about cutting-edge legal issues that affect them?  Get out there and write articles, or speak, or just attend some key CLE seminars!
  • “It just doesn’t matter that much to me if I’m a rainmaker.”  Huh?

That’s the objection that stops me in my tracks.  Rainmaking brings so many benefits: continued employment, increased career opportunities, greater opportunities for advancement, the ability to choose the kind of work you do and the clients for whom you do that work, more influence in your firm and legal community, and the opportunity to serve your clients better — just to name a few!  If that doesn’t matter to someone, what else is there to say?

But I’m  preaching to the choir here, right? If you’re reading this article, you already know that business development is a critical skill for lawyers.  But are you acting on that knowledge and accepting no excuses?

How often have you hit “pause” on your rainmaking plans because you got busy with billable work?  How often have you let business development activity slide because you didn’t know quite what to do or how to do it?  Let’s face it:  we all drop the ball sometime, even when we know deep down that the ball we’re dropping is an important one. That’s true, and yet it is not ok.  (That’s why I help my one-on-one clients to develop a standard for their Minimal Effective Rainmaker Activity.)

Occasionally, you may hit something more difficult, more protracted, with no end in sight:  the rainmaker doldrums. A lawyer enters the doldrums because she’s lost sight of what really matters or, more commonly, she’s just plain discouraged.  Perhaps she worked hard to woo a client and thought everything was going beautifully, right up until the client said thanks but no thanks.  Whatever the direct cause, the internal voice has one single message, “You’re no rainmaker.  I knew you couldn’t do it.”

The doldrums are the resting point of the cycle of business development failure.

What’s the route of the doldrums? To some degree, it requires an individual exit strategy.  However, I’ve noticed that two things are almost always effective:  Accountability to someone else and a shock to the system.

A recent post by Seth Godin provides a shock in The Taskmaster Premium. “Work for a coal mine and make minimum wage.  Discover a coal mine and never need to work again.”  Your job, whether it’s working in a large firm or in your own solo practice, isn’t a coal mine, but if you can’t bring in business consistently, it might as well be.

So, what keeps you moving forward with business development? Give this some thought as we enter the summer, when you may find even more demands on your time than usual.  You may find a seductive voice telling you that it’s summer, everyone is on vacation, it’s too hot to be bothered and you can pick up again in the Fall.  You might also hear another voice, one urging you to keep pedaling, to work every opportunity you can now so that you’ll have even more when Fall comes.  Which voice will you listen to?

Learning From Oprah

Like so many of my contemporaries, I’ve learned a lot from Oprah over the years. I’ve read books (fiction and otherwise) that she discussed, discovered one of my favorite songs because she showcased it, and internalized the safety tip never to allow a criminal to take you to another location.  But that isn’t all…

Oprah has established a media enterprise unlike any previously known, and so it shouldn’t surprise us that we can learn some serious business lessons from her example. Like so many successful people (including those you may look up to as consummate rainmakers), Oprah makes it look easy.  “All she did” for the last 25 years was to talk with people.  How hard can it be, right?

The truth, of course, is that making it look so easy requires many hours of work. Although practicing law is radically different from being a talk show host or media mogul, Oprah’s model offers five lessons for lawyers — even for those of you who don’t like Oprah.

  1. Surround yourself with a highly-qualified, dedicated team. Oprah can’t do it alone, of course, and neither can you.  (Not even you, sole practitioner!)  Harpo Studios (Oprah’s company) employs several hundred people, all of whom work 12+-hour days during the show’s season and fulfill a variety of roles from idea generators to hair/make-up/wardrobe artists.  Even a few minutes of the Behind The Scenes show reveals how many talented people contribute to the success of each one-hour Oprah show.Fortunately, you don’t need all of that support for your practice.  You must, however, have administrative help of some sort (even if that means using technology rather than having a live assistant) and you must have a sounding board. If you’re doing everything in your practice, you’re wasting valuable time.  If you don’t have trusted colleagues and mentors who can help you handle challenges and opportunities in your practice, you’re missing out on feedback that could keep you from making easily avoidable missteps.
  2. Trust your team, and delegate to them – but recognize that you hold the responsibility for their actions. There’s no point in having a terrific team if you ask them to perform only menial tasks that leave no room for development.  (That’s one of the top delegation mistakes I discussed here nearly three years ago.)No matter how good your team may be, you must always be aware that it’s your practice and that everything that happens in it is your responsibility. That can be a tough pill to swallow, but when you accept it and act accordingly, you’ll find that it also offers power.  Even if things go wrong and you’re required to take responsibility for a big mistake, you’ll know that you can also take responsibility for fixing the mistake and ensuring that it doesn’t happen again.  If you resort to blame instead, the power of correction lies with the person who made the mistake and depends on their willingness and skill, not yours.This lesson came across loud and clear when one of Oprah’s guests went AWOL between an afternoon rehearsal and the show’s taping the next morning. It would have been easy for Oprah to have played the diva and blamed the guest or her producers, but her focus shifted immediately to treating the audience to breakfast during the unexpected delay and managing the schedule for the rest of the day.  Of course she had help (per point #2) but her focus was directed to correcting the problem rather than faulting anyone for allowing it to happen.
  3. Never, ever compromise on your principles. This lesson popped up when Oprah’s producers told her that Mrs. Obama would be a guest on a show dealing with children’s health.  Oprah was careful to ensure that producers had not leaned on her friendship with the Obamas to get Mrs. Obama to attend.  Although few people would criticize her for using a personal relationship to get a guest who would bring an even brighter spotlight to an important issue, Oprah’s personal code of conduct prevented her from doing so.  Watching the show made it clear that any producer who dared to call the White House to invite Mrs. Obama onto the show would have been in big, big trouble.Lawyers are bound by sometimes complex and counterintuitive ethical rules, but many decisions fall outside the scope of those rules. How do you talk about your clients and opposing counsel when they can’t hear you?  Do you talk about them?  You’ll face plenty of “grey area” decisions in business development.  Where the rules are silent, or when there’s a big gulf between what’s allowed and what may be tasteful, check your own compass and guide yourself by it.
  4. Connect with people, and be yourself. The world began to fall in love with Oprah when she shared her story, her joy, her tears.  She quickly moved beyond reporter and host to personality.  We could see ourselves in her and her experience, and many drew courage from her example.Lawyers sometimes feel the need to crawl into a legal straight-jacket, to act as a lawyer “should” act, to speak as a lawyer “should” speak, to think as a lawyer “should” think. In some circumstances, that’s the only proper approach.  When it comes to business development, however, that’s boring and distancing.  Acting, speaking, and thinking just like everybody else makes marketing challenging because there’s nothing to distinguish you from others in your practice area.  Skill is and must be the bedrock of your practice, but being a genuine person will attract people and help you to build relationships of trust.
  5. Love what you do. Doing anything for 25 years is an accomplishment, and even though the Oprah Winfrey Show has brought Oprah fame, fortune, and unparalleled opportunities, it can’t always have been easy.  She had to love it.Do you love what you do? It’s more than an idle question.  If you do, you’ll talk about it, engage in professional development, and be engaged with your practice simply because you enjoy what you do.  If not, you’ll have to push yourself to do what might otherwise flow more easily.If you don’t love practicing law, you have three choices:  find what you do love about it, compromise by compartmentalizing personal satisfaction from professional motivation, or leave the practice.