Don’t Underplay Yourself

When a law firm hires me to work with a junior associate, very often one part of the engagement centers on the associate’s leadership presence and self-confidence – how he or she presents to others.  (Of course, that focus is not by any means unique to junior associates.)

Although reviewers may use a variety of words such as proactive, poised, assertive, or self-assured, they’re usually looking to see to what extent the lawyer is able to present as a leader, as someone who is sufficiently self-confident to inspire others’ confidence.  Such a person typically contributes to conversations, asks insightful questions, and is willing to express an opinion or espouse a position. 

Interactions with someone who lacks this level of confidence tends to leave others (supervising lawyers and client alike) uncertain of the message being conveyed.  Does a lack of contribution indicate lack of comprehension?  Boredom?  Something else entirely?  It may be difficult to interpret what what’s happening, but the result is a lack of clarity and an unwillingness to rely on the lawyer whose self-presentation is found to be lacking.  The consequences can be significant, including unduly slow career progression (or even being fired) and difficulty in building client relationships. 

For instance, I was working with one client (let’s call him Tom) who was hoping to make partner and entered coaching to strengthen his performance so he’ll be a strong candidate.  He’d picked up on some comments that made him question whether he was viewed as partner material.  I found Tom to be intelligent, personable, and funny.  I also noticed that when I’d ask him a question about his work, he downplayed the role he’d played.

It puzzled me, because I could tell from the kind of work he was describing that he was a heavy lifter on the cases, but to hear him talk he was simply supporting work done by others.  One day, Tom said that a particular concern he held about making partner was that it didn’t seem like anyone regarded his work as being important or notable.  He explained the evidence for his feeling, and then I asked his permission to share an observation.

I told him that when he described his own work, he minimized and understated his contribution.  To hear him tell the story, he contributed little more than hours – and certainly nothing critical in terms of strategy or deep analysis.  But when I asked specifically and pressed, he’d tell me about tasks he’d done and decisions he’d made that were quite high-level.  My assessment was that because he was so careful not to overstate his contribution – and perhaps so uncomfortable being in the spotlight – he didn’t give a fair opportunity for someone to understand the kind and level of work that he was doing. 

We devised a plan for Tom to share more about his work, and he discovered that when he changed his communication style and became more open about what he was doing, people began to appreciate the scope of his work and to understand what he was capable of doing.  He got more and better work, and he felt that others’ perception of him was more accurate. 

Michelle, another client, was upset to receive a review that indicated that some clients didn’t want to talk with her because they felt that she didn’t have a sufficient grasp of the right legal strategy to accomplish their aims.  When pressed for details, a reluctant partner admitted that although he knew Michelle understood exactly what was at stake and how to advance the clients’ interests, her comments were so often peppered with words like maybe and possibly and her inflection was so often questioning that she just didn’t seem to be sure of what she was saying.

The result was that her communications undermined his confidence in her even though he knew she was almost invariably right about what she was saying.  After making a concerted effort to notice the habits that the partner identified, Michelle started speaking with more authority and more clarity, which over time (and along with other changes that Michelle implemented) increased the confidence that others put in what Michelle said. 

How do you know if your presence isn’t as strong as it should be?  Here are three common signs: 

  1. You create “wiggle room” with your word choice or with your vocal inflection.
  2. You feel the urge to speak up or to ask a question but you stop short – and then someone says what you’ve been thinking, and you feel frustrated. (Or you do speak up but your comments aren’t much noted, and then someone says effectively the same thing and gets more attention.)
  3. You find that you generally speak much less often than others in a meeting. (But this can be a sign of strong presence if, when you speak, others give significant weight to your comments.) 

If you recognize yourself in these signs or if you’ve received feedback that you need to be more proactive, perhaps we should talk.  While learning to project more confidence and a stronger leadership presence requires stepping outside a comfort zone, the impact can be dramatic.  Your job and your client relationships may depend on your ability to inspire confidence.  Ready to take the first steps?  Click here to schedule a 30 minute complimentary consultation.

Find Your Weekly Minimum

What happens to your business development activity when you get busy?  If you’re like many others, you may find that it slips.  I’ve had more than a handful of clients who hire me to ramp up their rainmaking, and they succeed – right to the point that they’re so busy they pause and start backsliding.

We’ve all been taught that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and there’s truth to that.  I’m no hunter, but we all know intuitively that if you focus exclusively on the bird in hand and ignore all the others, you’ll have to start from scratch when you need to find another bird.

 “I’m going to pause for a little while, just til I get this work off my desk.”  That’s one of the most dangerous statements you can make.  Throw that out too often, and I can almost guarantee that you won’t get the results you want from your rainmaking efforts.  You’re likely to end up tired, behind the 8-ball, stressed out, and feeling like a failure.  And here’s why…

When you “hit pause,” you’re not pausing at all: you’re just stepping into the feast/famine cycle.  In this cycle, you need new business so you start business development activity; you grow your practice, only to slack off when you have substantial new business on your desk and you turn to getting the work done, which causes you to drop back on your rainmaking activity; and the result is that the flow of new business drops and at some point you realize you need more business – and the cycle starts again.

Fortunately, there’s a simple way out to interrupt this cycle.  Identify the minimal amount of rainmaker activity you can do and still generate new leads and new referrals.

  • You might find that you get referrals and new business from current clients, and so you might decide that, no matter what, you will make time to take one client to lunch each month and to plan a phone call to check in with others once a week. (And if you get significant additional work from current clients, you’re in a great position, because that means that you have an opportunity to engage in business development activity every time you do billable work.)
  • You might analyze where your clients have been coming from and discover that your blog is generating a lot of calls that lead to business. If so, you should ensure that you post at least weekly, and you might even investigate hiring someone to help with SEO or AdWords, to gain additional visibility.
  • You might discover that you have an effective follow-up system and that you can expect to get measurable new business after speaking. Develop a system that allows you to send out proposals to speak on a regular basis, and ensure that you speak at least quarterly.

As long as you have a reasonable rationale for your minimal level of rainmaking activity and you stick to it, you’re likely to avoid the feast/famine cycle.  You’ll continue to see some variation from time to time, but when you’re strategic and consistent, those swings will be much less significant.

Here’s your checklist for determining your MERA (Minimal Effective Rainmaker Activity):

  1. Review the sources of your business over the last two years. What activity generated the most business?  What generated the least?  Be sure to distinguish activity that’s slow yield from activity that’s low
  2. Set a minimum activity level in the top producers. Calendar whatever it is that you’ve determined you’ll do, and don’t allow yourself to delay, even when you’re busy.
  3. Delete all other rainmaking activity from your calendar… FOR NOW. This approach is not designed to generate the most business possible.  It’s designed to defeat the feast/famine cycle.  It contains the seeds for long-term success, but you’ll need to do more in the long run to produce maximum results.
  4. Set your date for re-evaluation and don’t get complacent. The only downside to MERA is that you can lull yourself into thinking that any activity is adequate for any circumstance, and that just isn’t true.  MERA is only for the times when you’re tempted to press pause.

If you don’t know how to determine what activity is most likely to yield results for you, you’ll have trouble with this task.  Building a practice requires you to know what produces results so you can do more of that. If you don’t, we should talk. Click here to schedule a free 30 minute consultation.

What’s your problem?

We all face challenges in the business of a law practice.  We were taught in law school that we have to ask the right questions in practice to get the necessary answers for our clients.  (Litigators, you especially know what I mean!)  But somehow, we forget what that means for our own businesses.

I recently spoke with a lawyer who was looking for help in landing new business, who told me that she needed to improve the way she asked for business.  That’s hardly unusual, but I wanted to be sure that she was presenting the right problem, so I asked about her sales conversations.  When we dug into it, I discovered that a very high percentage of would-be clients she met actually hired her.  The diagnosis of her sales problem?  None.  She needed to have more sales conversations, not better ones.

Another client once told me that he just didn’t have time to get everything done.  After checking into his daily activities, I realized that lots of little tasks were eating up his time and he wasn’t effectively using the resources at his disposal.  His problem wasn’t a lack of time.  His problem was a lack of focus on his top priorities.

Sometimes seeing the right question is as simple from shifting from “why won’t those cheapskates pay my fees?” to “how can I make my fees more affordable and still deliver value?”  Or it can be as murky as recognizing that the problem isn’t your elevator pitch but rather that you hate networking so much that you unintentionally send out signals that you want to be somewhere, anywhere else – or perhaps even that you would prefer to practice a different kind of law or to do something else altogether.

What challenges are you facing right now?  What have you told yourself about those problems?  What are you missing?  And, more specifically, who can help you see the truth of your challenges?

And if you’ve been trying to solve a problem, remember Einstein’s observation that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”  Just like it’s difficult to scratch your own back, it’s difficult to step outside a situation in which you’re intimately involved.  It’s critical to have a trusted colleague, a mentor, or a coach (ideally, a full “board of directors”) who can help you to examine your challenges so you know you’re working to answer the right questions.

Need another head to look at the obstacles ahead of you?  I offer a limited number of complimentary consultations each month and would be happy to discuss whether I can help.  You can schedule your complimentary consultation here.