Last week, I spoke at a national law firm’s annual All-Attorney Meeting, and I also had an opportunity to hear Professor Bill Henderson speak about the challenges facing the legal profession. If you haven’t yet read his recent feature in the ABA Journal, I suggest you start here . A short excerpt from that article describes one of the new competitors facing lawyers: the field of legal operations.

I have gradually concluded that legal operations is not just a job within a legal department. Legal operations is a multidisciplinary field where professionals collaborate to design and build systems to manage legal problems.

A lawyer might say to a client: “Better, faster and cheaper—pick two.” A legal operations professional figures out ways to get all three. To date, the greatest advances in legal operations have occurred in legal departments, yet the same inventive methods and mindsets are cropping up in traditional law firms and sophisticated “New Law” companies funded by non-lawyer investors.

Wondering why you should bother reading the article? Here’s the only reason you should need, offered in Professor Henderson’s words:

In my travels over the last several years, I have talked to hundreds of lawyers, including many law firm partners. One of the strongest impressions I have drawn is that many partners are too immersed in their own practices to grasp the broader changes that are occurring in the profession.This is because maximizing short-term revenue has become a precondition of maintaining one’s status and income.

 . . .

This perspective is not the result of a faulty character. It is a natural feature of an industry undergoing a major transition.

Once you’ve read the article, here’s the critical question you (and all lawyers) should mull: Now what? The answer will be different for every firm and every lawyer, but one thing is for sure… Without a reasonably good answer to that question, the future looks pretty dim.



December begins in 6 weeks. Notice what feelings that simple statement caused in you. Are you anticipating year’s end, and why? Are you concerned about making your hours? Do you feel like this year has been super successful, and you’re ready to take on 2016? Or do you feel that this year hasn’t gone so well, and you may as well throw in the towel and begin again in January? Whatever your immediate reaction was has information for you, so notice that.

But that isn’t the point of today’s newsletter! My point today is action-oriented, and it has the potential to help turn around any disappointment you may be feeling about your 2015 business development progress.

The holiday season starts in 6 weeks, too. Are you ready? Here are some things you might work on now so you’ll be ready to take advantage of the most social time of the year.

  1. Choose gifts (whether and what you’ll send) for your top contacts. (In The Reluctant Rainmaker framework, this is your A list.)Being mindful of any corporate policies that could restrict your options and think about gifts that draw on your contact’s interests. In general, the more important the contact, the more carefully selected the gift should be. If you don’t have time for shopping, contact a concierge service and describe the contacts for whom you need a gift plus a price range, request three options for each, and let someone else do the legwork.
  2. Choose gifts for other contacts. (In The Reluctant Rainmaker framework, this is your B list.) These can be more general, and you might consider something that has a tie-in with you or your practice. For example, a lawyer I know once found a vineyard that shares his name, so he sent wine to a number of contacts.
  3. Make your list and check it twice. Ideally, you will have kept up with your contact list through the year, so sending holiday cards (to all contacts, including your C list) will be a breeze. If not, this is the time to update it, cull out anyone who no longer fits, and add new contacts. Decide (assuming you have the option) whether to send electronic or paper cards, and get the cards ready to go. Sending your cards early reduces the likelihood that they’ll get lost in the mid-December pack.
  4. Make your party plans.  You can’t predict which individuals will have holidays parties, in the absence of long-standing tradition or your own decision to serve as host, but you can check calendars for organizations you’ve joined. You probably won’t be able to attend every gathering, so calendar them early and be clear on which parties are your priority. Then, as other invitations flow in, you’ll know what business-oriented gatherings are already scheduled, and you won’t miss a good business development opportunity for a run-of-the-mill personal party.
  5. Make a date. Because the holidays tend to be so social, it’s often an easier time than usual to line up lunches, coffee meetings, and so on. Again, you can’t do it all (and neither can your contacts), so take some time to identify the people you most want to see and issue your invitations early. These meetings are a good opportunity to develop or rekindle relationships and even to dig into your contact’s upcoming plans to see what help you might offer.

It may feel like a long time before we start issuing “Happy Holidays” wishes, but the season is actually right around the corner. Start planning now so you can make the most of the seasonal opportunities.


Do you ever feel that you’re just one lawyer in a large sea of competitors? Hundreds or thousands of other lawyers may occupy the same niche that you do, and you may wonder how to set yourself apart. The challenge lessens if you have specific expertise in a niche, but re-emerges for everyone at some point in business development.

Here’s the bigger problem: lawyers’ websites often read almost identically.
Everyone has “years of experience” that will “create value” for their clients through “excellent client service.”  Important, necessary, but oh-so-very-dull, isn’t it?  In today’s economy, if that’s all you can say about yourself and your practice, you’re in trouble.

If you fail to differentiate yourself from other lawyers and law firms, you’ll fail to capture attention—or if you get attention, your audience may not be able to remember who you are. Of course, you must follow certain ethics rules, but looking like everyone else will do you no favors.

So… How can you differentiate yourself? While the options are potentially limitless, three examples may help you to create your own ideas.

1. Narrow your niche. You can speak to a specific audience (same sex parents for estate planning purposes), a specific legal need (helping closely held or family businesses navigate sale or purchase), or a specific part of practice (appellate litigation). When you go narrow in scope, you must go deep in focus so that you become a leading voice in your field. Going deep offers strong content marketing opportunities, and you can distinguish yourself by speaking with laser focus.

2. Create a unique experience for your clients. What can you offer clients that other lawyers can’t or don’t? The opportunities vary widely by practice area, but any value-added service is a good step toward differentiation.And remember: how you practice is just as important as what you do in practice. Be attentive to the habits that may set you apart from others. Opportunities to set yourself apart abound: quick responses to telephone calls and emails, regular case updates, and educational resources on topics such as how to prepare to give deposition/trial testimony or what to consider when getting ready to make estate plans, to give a few examples.

3. Become active and visible in the community. Volunteering, serving on boards, or working with non-profits in other capacities is a good way to become known. It provides a context and opening for conversations that reluctant networkers may find more comfortable. Your pro bono work may even present you the opportunity to offer guidance and suggestions that serve as a taste of the service you offer clients. Moreover, you may have opportunities to speak or write through these channels, both of which will serve to raise your profile. Just a caveat: if you expect this community work to support you in building your practice, make sure there’s a logical nexus between the community work and your practice either by topic or overlapping audiences.

What’s not on this list of ways to set yourself apart from others? General descriptors that suggest you’re smarter or more savvy than other lawyers won’t cut it without something specific to back it up. Your strategic insight may in fact differentiate you from others, but your target audience won’t believe you if you tell them. Demonstrate these qualities by sharing representative matters or an article that displays your strategic approach. 

Successful lawyers are clear about what makes them different from others, and they know how to communicate that persuasively. If you want to differentiate yourself from other practitioners, it’s imperative to connect with an internal compass that will point to what does indeed make you different. If you don’t know what that is, you won’t be able to convince anyone else. Get feedback from colleagues, clients, and/or an outside source.


The end of the year is rapidly approaching. (According to some stores, Christmas is just around the corner, which accelerates the feeling!) I hope you’ve been reviewing your business development plan throughout the year so you can adjust your plans to match what’s actually happening, but if not, now is the time to revisit your plan and evaluate your results. If your results are good, keep on keeping on… But what if you see failure and dead ends?

In last week’s article, I suggested you take a fresh look at business development missteps to see what you can learn from them. Sometimes you may find not just missteps but a series of closed doors, assumptions that proved to be wildly untrue, or concerted efforts directed to groups of potential clients or referral sources who simply couldn’t care less. Then what?

You Can Change the plan reminder on a notice boardWhen you see failure, think pivot. Here’s Jeff Goins’ description of a pivot:

In basketball, you are allowed to take only two steps after you stop dribbling the ball. When you take that last step, the foot you land on becomes a “pivot foot.” That foot must remain fixed, but the other can freely move about, allowing you to spin around and find a teammate to whom you can pass the ball. 

Although you are confined to where you are and how many steps you can take, at no point are you locked into any direction. That’s the beauty of the move. Even when all other opportunities are exhausted, you can always pivot. 

A pivot is powerful not just in sports but also in life, because it takes away your excuses. It puts you back in control of the game you’re playing. Pivoting isn’t plan B; it’s the only plan that works. 

Goins’ article (published as a guest post on Michael Hyatt’s blog) The Surprising Success We Find in Failure: How Pivoting Can Snatch a Big Win from Near Defeat offers specifics about the pivot and three questions that can help you discover the fixed point around which a pivot is possible. Read Goins’ post. 

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