I’m a stickler about confidentiality. I take it so seriously that I debated not even sharing any of “case studies” of my clients. Of course, as a lawyer (and pragmatist), I know the value of hearing information about real clients and real stories.
Please note that I have removed all potentially identifying details to protect confidentiality.
Edward v. Business Development
Edward had worked for a firm for five years and was finally ready to go out on his own. He needed help getting his new practice off the ground. He brought with him a handful of clients, the promise of referrals, but no solid pipeline for profit when he began coaching with me.
One of Edward’s biggest obstacles was his discomfort around marketing in general.
Working together, we first defined Edward’s ideal practice in terms of:
- The kind of work he wanted to be doing
- The kinds of clients he wanted to represent
- How much time he wanted to spend practicing law
- How much income he wanted to generate
From there we created a customized business development plan designed to help him attain his goals. Using the “Rainmaker Accelerator,” my business development plan process, Edward identified the client development approaches that had been most successful for him in the past and those that he would be willing to try.
During an initial consult, Edward confessed his wish to be retained as a lawyer based on his legal skills alone. Many of our early conversations revolved around getting him to agree on the need to market in order to grow his business (After all, he had very few prospects for business when he started). Specifically, we focused on marketing strategies that allowed him to sell with integrity, which helped to ease his discomfort.
Shy by nature, Edward was also uncomfortable with networking. He found it to be “a waste of time that never bears any measurable results.” Our first task was to reframe the purpose of networking as an opportunity to meet people who could potentially use his legal help or who may know others who could use his help. We targeted the ideal places for him to network, then developed systems for following up with contacts. Within two months he generated new clients simply through implementing these strategies.
By consistently working through his business development plan, taking on new activities, and reaching out to those in a position to refer business to him, Edward’s practice became profitable before the end of our six-month coaching engagement.
He created routines to keep his marketing operating so that he now has a consistent flow of new clients and referrals, and he’s well on his way to reaching his initial income goal.
Jack v. The Leadership Position
Jack, an attorney with a small family-owned law firm, wanted to make a lateral move to another small firm. To help prepare him, he hired me to help him locate, interview and decide on a new position.
Following his move, Jack became the only lawyer in his substantive area of practice and was asked to help develop that practice further for the firm. To do so, he came to me to improve his time management, business development, and practice management skills.
Within ten months of the time he accepted the new position, Jack felt that he was contributing more to the firm than appropriate for a non-partner. The attorney who had founded the firm (“Terri”) had launched a hobby/business that demanded substantial time out of the office. Jack was often uncertain when he would find Terri in the office so he could ask necessary questions. He was responding to clients whose calls Terri had failed to return. Jack soon took on substantial client contact roles because he was unsure where Terri was or what she was doing, and he stepped up to fill the gap.
Jack recognized improvement opportunities for the firm and made the appropriate recommendations (billing software, for example). He was told that the practice lacked the funds necessary; he became frustrated because he perceived that the firm did have sufficient money for those improvements but that the money was being spent on Terri’s hobby/business instead. Compounding this frustration was the fact that Jack put in many hours towards client development activities, which resulted in increased revenue for the firm with no extra compensation for him.
Jack and I worked to create a clear and dispassionate description of what was and was not working from his perspective. After determining what he considered a fair resolution of the problems, Jack and I prepared for the conversation that he would have with Terri, raising and negotiating potentially difficult points.
When Jack requested and then had a series of conversations with Terri, I helped him prepare and debrief. Jack concluded that he did not want to become Terri’s partner (one resolution offered for an indefinite point in the future) but was able to negotiate an acceptable compensation package and to convince Terri that certain expenditures would benefit the firm by increasing productivity and client service.
Jack continued working for Terri, but he laid a timetable to make a move and is developing the contacts that he believes will support him in moving to another firm or opening his own practice.
He’s also learning more about the business of operating a law office and is implementing an aggressive business development plan. Jack is now comfortable in broaching difficult topics with Terri and is skilled in finding a workable solution to the variety of challenges that he will face.
Rena v. Time Management & Organization
Rena, a junior partner with a large firm, hired me to help her resolve time management and organizational challenges.
When we met, Rena mentioned that time management and organization were not prerequisites for success in her career and thus she had never taken the time to develop them. Since assuming the additional responsibilities of partnership, she found her skills to be “woefully insufficient,” describing her office as cluttered and a “dump” in which papers were routinely lost.
Over the course of two months, we focused on creating blocks of time for discrete tasks such as writing a brief or client follow-up.
Rena learned not to read and respond to her email first thing in the morning. She discovered that she’d wasted a lot of time by waiting to start a project until she knew she’d have sufficient time to finish it and learned how to schedule blocks of time dedicated to projects in process. Rena created systems that allowed her assistant to manage her calendar, to docket her upcoming deadlines, and to review schedules with her to help her stay on track. She also enlisted her assistant’s help in creating a filing system that matched her preferences in lieu of keeping documents in her office.
In the months before we worked together, Rena had missed two filing deadlines. In the approximately eight months since we worked together, she has not missed any deadlines, nor has she worked all night to complete an expected filing at the last minute.
She was also able to take her first vacation in several years and succeeded in returning to the office with a plan to get back into the regular schedule. Having dreaded her return after a two-week absence (so much so that she’d declined vacations in the past), Rena returned to a heavier-than-usual work schedule that she cleared within three weeks. When we last spoke, she was planning a one-week vacation.
James v. Delegation & Time Management
James was a fourth-year associate with a mid-sized insurance defense firm who hired me to help increase his billable hours, decrease his in-office hours, and reduce the cuts made in his time billed.
James had moved to his current firm after three years with a small firm in which almost all of his work was done on a contingency basis. He believed that he was not effectively capturing his time and was working much more than his time sheets showed (an average of 120 hours billed per month, while James was in the office working for about ten hours each weekday and took work home in the evenings and on weekends). James was also concerned that his work descriptions were ineffective because the partner for whom he worked cut about 20% (across matters) of the time he billed.
James defined his initial goal as follows: ” The next level would be a billable month where I exceed my minimum hour requirements (of 167), a month where my ‘cuts’ are less than or equal to five hours (across clients and matters). Personally, a month where I do not dread reviewing, editing and batching my time and a month where I record billable hours equal to or slightly greater than 75% of my time spent at the office (or working generally).”
By working on methods to capture all of his time (including using the timer on his billing software, using the stopwatch feature on his watch), to use his time more effectively (by blocking times during the day for large tasks, minimizing use of email, and creating systems and routines for repetitive tasks), and delegating non-billable work to his assistant, James exceeded the 167 billable hours goal the month we began working together. We also focused on describing accurately and fully the tasks he’d completed, with a goal of ensuring that his time sheets would communicate to the responsible partner and to the client the scope of the work performed and the necessity for it. James was able to reduce the hours cut to 6% during our first month working together and to a sustained 2% through the remainder of the coaching engagement.
James also created systems and routines to minimize the time required for repetitive tasks. For example, he created a system for responding to discovery by which his assistant would docket the discovery requests and the response date, set up a template for responses, and provide the requests, the template, and a copy of the docket sheet within two days of receipt of the requests. Likewise, he created a standard set of documents to be used for each new case opened.
Barbara v. Stress
At 4:27 AM I received an email from “Barbara” who wrote,
“It’s 4am and I’m sitting in my bathroom, checking email here so I won’t disturb my husband’s sleep. I’ve been here since 3:30, when I woke up in a panic. I am exhausted and I am overwhelmed. I need help with managing my time.”
When we had our consultation, Barbara, a successful lawyer who had been in practice for about 20 years, described her days in a weary voice. On the go all day and well into the evening, Barbara would typically leave home by 6:00 in the morning and most days she wouldn’t get home until 9:00 at night. She was tired, overwhelmed, angry, and she was experiencing relationship problems. She reported that her husband told her one day, “Even when you’re home, on those rare occasions when you’re not working, it’s as if there’s just a shell there and the rest of you is somewhere else – and I don’t know where.”
When I asked Barbara how she felt, she told me that she felt unfocused and disorganized. Moreover, she said, the support staff and the lawyers working with her also felt unfocused and disorganized, and frustrated with her constant activity because no one could get her full attention. She told me, “I love what I do. I’m good at it, my clients like me, and I like my clients, but I can’t live like this. I can’t keep doing what I’m doing. Something has to change or I’m going to burn out. Who am I kidding? I’m already burned out – I’m going to burn out all the way.”
We worked together on her energy management. First, I had to get Barbara to agree to “protect” her physical capacity by deciding that she would take early morning or evening meetings only three days a week, and that she would never schedule those days back-to-back.
She decided that she would ordinarily work between 8:30 A.M. and 7 P.M., that she would take 30 minutes at noon for a walk, and that she would leave her work at the office unless she had a specific deadline to meet that required bringing work home.
Barbara learned to focus on the task or the person at hand and not to be distracted by her long list of things yet to do. She was able to engage with the people she was working with and to experience positive emotions about her work and about her clients, which reduced her stress level dramatically.
Most importantly, Barbara finally reconnected with why she was doing her work. She’d started her practice because she enjoyed the substantive work and felt that she was making a positive contribution, but somewhere along the way she started doing so much that she lost sight of her motivations. Instead of feeling only the grind of her practice, Barbara reconnected with the joy and sense of service.
After working together, Barbara was able to get more done while she was at work and to enjoy her time away from the office. She had a more settled, focused staff and her clients felt she was fully present. Her husband felt she was fully present when she was at home, no longer worrying about work and spending quality time together instead.
She received more referrals because she connected more deeply with clients and others who could send clients her way. She also lost about 20 pounds, which helped to increase her physical energy and her positive outlook.
In our last conversation she told me, “This has been a very different approach to practice, and I was skeptical at first! Now I know that if I do the things that I’ve been doing, I can keep going and I can continue this practice. I enjoy it much more, I feel much better, and I am much better at it.”
Barbara is a particularly good example of what I have seen numerous clients experience.