The Attention Economy

As we’re beginning to re-emerge from isolation due to Covid, it’s time to take a fresh look at how we focus our attention.

Many of my clients told me that even though working from home was challenging because of family responsibilities, once they got into a groove they found that they were actually more productive since they could focus entirely on being with family for a while, then go to a home office and focus entirely on work. Ah, the benefit of undivided attention.

(And if that doesn’t describe your experience, ask yourself why. Sometimes there are circumstances outside our control—a single parent with small children who will interrupt whenever they think they want or need to, with no one to offer back-up—and often we put up our own roadblocks. But that’s a discussion for another day.)

The Attention Economy refers to how we spend our time and how we focus our attention. How we do that is worthy of an important-sounding title because a key part of effective prioritizing requires choosing what merits our attention and then actually giving our attention to the things we’ve decided need it.


How often do you find yourself doing one activity and thinking about another?  Perhaps you check email while you’re talking with someone. Or you might catch yourself in a networking conversation (virtual or face-to-face), nodding along as someone speaks and you’re mentally composing what to say when it’s your time to talk.

There are two reasons we do this “here but not here” behavior: either we think we’re making good use of the time by multitasking (as in checking email during a conversation) or we’re uncomfortable and trying to get more comfortable (as in preparing our comments while someone else talks). Most of us have also had the experience of getting “busted”: the person who’s talking realizes we aren’t listening, or we make an error because we’re juggling two (or more) tasks simultaneously.

Why not try being fully present with what you’re doing? If you’re in a conversation, close your email and put your phone on “do not disturb” so you can direct all of your attention to the discussion. Let go of the need to compose your side of a conversation while someone else is talking: listen with your full attention and then respond. If you notice your attention wandering, take a deep breath to bring yourself back.

Conversations tend to be more effective when you’re fully present. (Imagine that!) You’ll also find that you catch not only what’s said, but also nuances that should perhaps be explored—including that great conversational tidbit that will turn a ho-hum networking conversation into a relationship that leads to business or other professional opportunities.

You will also develop stronger relationships when you’re fully present. Especially at a time when we’re all so accustomed to playing second fiddle to a smartphone, finding someone who is genuinely engaged in conversation is enormously appealing and memorable. (People who have that special interpersonal it factor are always said to make those around them feel like the only other person in the room. That’s the power of being fully present.) And strong relationships bring all kinds of dividends, from growing your social circle to becoming a trusted advisor.

As Malcolm Forbes said, “Presence is more than just being there.”  Being fully present focuses all of your senses on the task or person at hand.  It’s a learned skill.

Try an experiment: resolve to be fully present for a couple of hours a day and see what you notice.

Not Thrilled With Your Flow of Referrals?

Think about the last three referrals you received. Were they good referrals, meaning referrals for the kind of law you practice and the demographic of clients you serve? Did you receive them recently? Are they part of a regular flow of referrals that you receive?

If the answer to any of these questions is no (or if you couldn’t think of three referrals you’ve received), it’s time to pay attention. An “all referral” business is a dream for many professionals, but only a few succeed in reaching that goal. Many get referrals here and there and have to weed through a number of bad fits to find a few good referrals. Even more suffer the pain of hearing about what would have been a great referral, had your contact only thought of you.

If you aren’t thrilled with the referrals you’ve received, you must go read the blog post 5 Marketing Tips to Build a Referral Based Business now. Even though this post is not directed to lawyers, the principles are the same.

A 6th tip I would add (and in fact would argue is critical): add value whenever you can for clients and contacts alike. When you add value, you become more memorable, perhaps generate a “wow” reaction, and build relationships. You may possibly tap into the law of reciprocity, which holds that when someone does something nice for us, we seek to return that favor.

What will you change to increase the likelihood of getting a frequent stream of good referrals? Here’s one suggestion: make a list of good referral sources and get in touch with three to five of them over the next week.


Emerging From Covid Means Leadership Matters For Biz Dev

I have long believed that being a leader is critical to succeeding in business development. For more on why that’s true, check this 2009 post.

Michael Hyatt’s blog post The 5 Marks of Authentic Leadership outlines five key aspects of leadership, which include:

  1. Insight
  2. Initiative
  3. Influence
  4. Impact
  5. Integrity

While Hyatt’s post does not focus on the intersection of leadership and the ability to generate new business, each of his five marks reflects a capacity that is necessary for successful business development. For example, Hyatt describes a leader’s insight in this way:

Leaders need wisdom and discernment for the present. They need to be able to look at complex situations, gain clarity, and determine a course of action.

This insight is, of course, a foundational skill for success in practice, but it applies equally well to business development. Effective business generation tactics will include a display of this wisdom and discernment whether in person-to-person conversation, in which case the comments will be at least somewhat specific to the potential client or in an article or presentation, in which case the comments will focus more generally on a specific legal issue or on a particular client profile. Your legal and, where applicable, business insight is valuable for clients and for developing new business.

As we emerge from Covid and quarantine and move toward business as new-normal, leadership becomes even more critical. How might you deploy Hyatt’s five marks in the context of evaluating shifts in opportunity for your clients and yourself in light of the changes prompted by the pandemic? None of us has a crystal ball, but when you can bring insight to the table to influence the generation of new initiatives and create new impact, all in the context of high integrity, your leadership will affect your clients and your own business.

For an example of how one consulting firm is exhibiting this kind of leadership in a way that’s calculated to develop business, check Korn Ferry’s The Covid-19 Leadership Guide. While your efforts need not (and perhaps should not) culminate in an 89-page glossy report like Korn Ferry’s, you can get some ideas of how you might serve your clients by seeing how Korn Ferry has approached this leadership opportunity.

Read Hyatt’s post and ask yourself whether and how your business development activity reflects each of his 5 Marks of Authentic Leadership. Which do you need to amplify as your business community works to build a new post-pandemic normal?

4 Articles You Need to Read

I’ve found some interesting articles to share with you this week.

  1. How One Company Worked to Root Out Bias from Performance Reviews An audit of performance reviews in a midsized law firm revealed four patterns of racial and gender bias. The authors proposed changes to the evaluation form (breaking job responsibilities into competencies and requesting that each rating be backed by three pieces of evidence) and required those completing the forms to attend a one-hour workshop to learn how to use the form. The result: “people of color and women got more constructive feedback, and the playing field was leveled for everyone: Whereas white men had longer, more complex evaluations in year one, in year two, both word count and language complexity were similar across all groups.” 
  2. Gaining the Power of Metrics Means Looking At More than Just Legal Spend This article addresses the use of data not just to manage legal costs but also to identify and avoid issues that might arise for your clients. This approach also speaks to creating additional value for your clients. Depending on your clientele and practice setting, “data” and “metrics” may feel out of reach for you, but the lessons adhere equally when it comes to studying trends among your clients, in their industry, and in the law as it relates to their interests.
  3. The skills new lawyers need right away The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System published a report of the skills necessary for a new lawyer’s success in practice based on a survey of over 24,000 American attorneys. The survey responses identified the skills necessary for short-term success, necessary for long-term success, not necessary but advantageous, or not relevant to success. The results are fascinating, but my eye was drawn to the responses in “Business Development and Relations.”While “generate new business” was deemed necessary by 63.3% of respondents and advantageous by an additional 14.4%, “engage in appropriate marketing or fundraising” was deemed necessary by only 43.8% of respondents, advantageous by another 31.4%, and not relevant by the remaining 24.8%. While it’s likely that these responses are skewed somewhat by in-house counsel respondents who are not responsible for generating new business, the disparity makes me wonder what we’re teaching new lawyers and what the “we” represented by these survey respondents believe about our own business development skills. Check out all the business development skill ratings here.
  4. Make yourself important! Mark Herrmann’s column in Above the Law is always a favorite, and the column responding to Business Development Gripes does not disappoint. It’s all useful (especially for lawyers concerned about competing with colleagues who have better credentials), but this comment hits home: “And, of course, you could always make yourself important by speaking and writing and developing a reputation. I admit that’s hard, but wallowing in self-pity ain’t a barrel of laughs, either.”

Happy reading!