Decision or action?

Consider this short exchange:

What have you decided to do to grow your practice? Are you actually doing it?

Decision or action?

Consider this short exchange:

Copy of “Five seagulls are sitting on a dock. One of them decides to fly away. How many seagulls are left-” “Well … four.” “No,” Jones responded. “There are still five. Deciding to fly away and actually flying away

What have you decided to do to grow your practice? Are you actually doing it?

What’s in a name?

During my third year of law school, I was a member of the Lamar Inn of Court at Emory Law School.  For those unfamiliar with the American Inns of Court, it’s an organization based on the English Inns of Court and designed to bring together law students (known in the Inn as pupils), junior practitioners (barristers), and senior practitioners (masters) for education and socialization, with an exclusive focus on litigation.  The Inns of Court, during my involvement at least, created opportunities to rub elbows with some of the celebrated litigators in town, rising stars, federal and state judges — it was a big deal.  I was thrilled to be included, and I was especially excited to have my opportunity to take a “stand up” role in the first meeting, which focused on voir dire.

I will never forget “striking” that jury.  My team had planned our strategy, and we knew what kind of person we did and didn’t want on the panel.  The lawyers on my team took the lead, of course, and then permitted me to take a crack at it after they’d given an example of how voir dire should be done.  After I’d asked a few questions, I wanted to follow up with one of the jurors, a middle-aged man with kind eyes and a French surname that ended in “-et.”  But I couldn’t remember how it was pronounced!  Was it the true French “ay” ending, or an Anglicized “ett”?  I took a guess, and what a lesson it turned out to be.

I tried, of course, the split the difference, but committed to the Anglicized version in the end.  And as soon as I pronounced that “T,” I saw his face fall.  He recovered quickly and answered my question, but in that split-second I learned: you don’t massacre someone’s name if at all possible to avoid it.

After we finished the exercise and the participants and observers had a chance to offer feedback, the juror spoke and said that he felt such warmth from me initially, but that my fumbling mispronunciation of his name broke that.  Not fatally — he said he would have listened to me had it been a real trial, but I lost a point there.  And for years, when I’d see him on the TV news (he was a frequent guest because of his work) I would pronounce his name and feel terrible.  Names really do matter.

And now, I understand.  My last name is the unwieldy Fleming-Brown.  I try not to mind when someone refers to me as “Julie Brown,” but the truth is that I do mind.  I know what a pain it is to give my two last names, but my name matters to me, and its disregard does not go unnoticed.

The point of this rant is to remind you to be careful when using someone’s name.  Almost everyone likes to hear his or her own name, and even if the hearing isn’t a pleasure, hearing the name butchered is unpleasant.  It’s a small thing and shouldn’t be a strike against the fumbler, but it is.

So, whether you’re meeting a new client, a potential client, someone at a networking function, someone you’re interviewing or by whom you’re being interviewed, be sure you catch the name.  Get it right.  If you don’t hear it well, or if you aren’t sure how to pronounce it, just ask.  Most people will be kind.  Using someone’s name correctly is a sign of respect, and mispronunciation or abbreviation can be taken as a sign of disrespect even if it isn’t so intended.  Pay attention.

Is it what you thought it would be?

My home office in Atlanta is on a two-lane primary road just a few blocks from Emory University’s law school.  Today is graduation, and since about 6:30 AM, I’ve been watching cars full of well-dressed people, taxis, chartered buses, and even limos drive by.  It’s quite the parade!  And in fact, today marks the 15th anniversary of my own law school graduation at Emory.  And so, I’m wondering.

Is your life as a lawyer what you expected? Perhaps not in the details of where you’re working or even what kind of law you’re practicing, but in the larger picture of how you spend your days, whether you enjoy what you’re doing (at least, most of most days), whether you can see yourself continuing on this path for the foreseeable future.  Is your career successful (as you define successful), satisfying, and sustainable?

If not, what’s falling short?  If your practice isn’t sufficiently successful, do you need to work on business development or leadership skills?  What would it take for you to feel satisfied?

I work with lawyers who want to find more success and satisfaction in a sustainable practice.  Perhaps we should get acquainted?

Strategy or opportunity?

I recently read a sentence (in a non-public email, so I won’t cite the source) suggesting that most lawyers and law firms are opportunists, not strategists.  That brought me to a dead stop.  Lawyers are trained (and generally self-selected as well) to think logically and analytically, and most lawyers put a high stock on strategic thinking.  In our own businesses and lives, though, does strategy get more play than opportunity?  Should it?

My first stop in thinking about this topic was to visit a dictionary, where I was reminded that (at least according to the American Heritage Dictionary), opportunistic means “[t]aking immediate advantage, often unethically, of any circumstance of possible benefit.”  Other definitions of related terms (opportunist, opportunism) had the same taint of shady dealing.  I don’t know whether that connotation was intended by the author of the original assertion; for the purposes of this discussion I’ll assume not and will interpret the comment to suggest that lawyers and law firm rely on favorable circumstances that present themselves more than strategy.

In January, I spoke on a panel at Duke Law School’s Leadership Symposium.  Our topic revolved around leadership development, but each panelist commented on the opportunities that presented themselves along our career paths and suggested that the ability to recognize and grab opportunities led us to where we are now.  That’s opportunism (again, without an unethical bent), though with a strategic underlay: “Chance favors the prepared mind,” as Louis Pasteur lectured.

I recently talked with a coaching client about her plan to attend a particular bar meeting.  Although she isn’t actively looking for a new position, she’s sensing that she doesn’t want to stay with her current firm in the longterm, so she’s seeking alternatives.  When I asked what her intentions are for the meeting, she said she hoped to meet someone who might be a good future contact.  Again, that’s sort of a blend between strategic and opportunistic; strategic in putting herself in the right place to meet potentially helpful contacts, but relying on opportunity as it emerges in who those contacts might be and how the meeting might unfold.  And interestingly, I’ve observed that although it’s helpful to identify particular people to meet, it’s often even better to identify characteristics of people to meet and to see who presents themselves.

Another client was in the process of mapping out her career plan.  We defined her goals, identified what she wanted her life to look like both professionally and in work/life integration, and planned the next steps that would prepare her for her goals.  And then a recruiter called, describing a position that was entirely outside her plans, but 100% compatible with her goals.  She applied, landed the job, and is completely satisfied even though she’s doing something completely different from what she’d expected.  If she hadn’t done the underlying work, she very well might not have recognized this terrific opportunity for what it was.

I occasionally receive calls from lawyers who are curious about coaching but don’t have any particular goals.  These lawyers want “a good career” without putting many limits on what that might mean, and I sometimes have a vision of them as sticks floating down a river, carried on a current that would exist with or without them.  Some lawyers do drift through their careers, moving reactively but not often proactively.  Happily (and, I suspect, not coincidentally) those who take a more strategic approach to their career are much more likely to find satisfaction and success.

It’s true as well for business development.  Any lawyer can stumble into an opportunity — being at the right place at the right time and having the right conversation with the right person.  Such flukes don’t occur often, though, and they certainly don’t form the basis for a full client roster.  Instead, a rainmaker must learn how to create favorable circumstances (another way of saying opportunities) that are likely to lead to new work.

What I notice over and over is a blend of strategy and grabbing opportunity.  The strategy is the foundation that allows appreciation of the opportunity.  I don’t doubt that some lawyer rely more or less solely on opportunity; I also don’t doubt that those lawyers as a whole experience less success and lower satisfaction than lawyers who have some strategic underpinning for their actions.

Take a look at your own career plan, your business development goals, your work/life integration.  How much of what you do is grounded in strategy?  If your answer is not much, try an experiment and set some intentions for your work (perhaps to acquire a new professional skill) or your professional branding (perhaps a new approach to serving your clients or a new way to approach potential clients) and see what happens with a month or a quarter.�

Back to the real world: how do you return from vacation?

By the time this posts, I will likely have landed back at the Atlanta airport, home from vacation and from the ABA annual meeting.  First, I’d like to thank Peter Vajda publicly for his posts.  Relationship is always an interesting topic, and I believe that in many ways our relationships shape and promote or inhibit professional success.  Especially since I’m a married lawyer as well as married to a lawyer, I’ve found Peter’s posts thought-provoking, and I hope others have as well.

Next, a plug for bar activities.  Most of my time at the annual meeting was engaged in business meetings, and I’ve been exposed to a variety of legal issues far outside my area of expertise — robotics and their legal issues, e-privacy issues, VOIP, so on and so forth.  And I had wonderful conversations about the future of the profession, the roles of maturing lawyers, and more.  If I’d had a realtime brain scan going, I’m sure my neurons would have been firing in neon colors!  It’s intellectually stimulating in a way that will enliven me for weeks to come.  Moreover, I met and reconnected with people from a wide variety of backgrounds, and it was a delightful time for both professional and social networking.  It’s a terrific way to spend some time, and it represents a marvelous opportunity for professional development and perhaps business development.

As I anticipate returning from my vacation, I’m thinking about what I can do to hit the ground running and maintain (at least to some degree) my relaxed state of mind.  Here are my favorite tips:

1.  Set a time to plan my “return to work” activities, and don’t anticipate that time.  I’ve found that one of the quickest vacation mood-killers is thinking and planning what I’ll do when I get back, which has the effect of accelerating my return.  I’ll spend about an hour tomorrow while I’m waiting to board my flight setting my “to do” list, but aside from that (and writing this post) I won’t do any work until I return to the office Monday morning.

2.  Plan a “vacation recall” signal.  Have you ever felt that the relaxation from vacation fades all too quickly?  I discovered that choosing something that reminds me of a pleasant time on vacation lets me hit a reset button and recall that pleasure.  I’ve set up a screensaver that will show some of my vacation photos, selected specifically to bring me back to a dusky moment, just past sunset, watching the last ray of the sun slip away from the California coast.  Bingo — I see it, and I’m there.  (The photo at the top of this post is one example.)

3.  Arrange my first few days back so I hit the most important, hardest tasks first.  This is a practice I follow on a regular basis, but I find it even more important when returning from vacation.  This lets me reap the full benefit of my energy on being back in the office, and I get quick rewards.

4.  Plan something to look forward to in the first few days back.  It’s easy to get sucked back into the flurry of work, to start feeling stressed, and to see the next few weeks or months as a long, grey tunnel with no escape until it’s vacation time again — or, worse yet, to think that taking time off was a mistake because of the necessary catching up that follows.  To counteract that, I plan something to look forward to no later than the first weekend back.

5.  Set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-based) goals.  The to-do list that I generate as a part of tip #1 above will set out precisely what I can realistically expect to accomplish, based on the urgent/important method of prioritization.  This level of specificity and realism gives me a concrete and feasible goal, and that keeps me on target; making sure that I’m attending to the important tasks first guarantees that my time will be well-spent.

I’ll share pre-vacation tips soon, too, because (as is surely no surprise) front-end planning facilitates the return as well.  Meanwhile, readers, any good tips that help you ensure a successful return from vacation?

Dare To Dream, Gridlock and the Two-Professional Couple

Children, no children. Be social, stay at home. Go to church, be an atheist. Spend large sums on a rental home, invest the money.


Gridlock is part of the fabric of being a couple, especially a two-professional couple where time is a premium and consistent dialogue about personal issues is not very common. However, ending gridlock does not have to mean “coping” with the impossible.  Confronting gridlock is not about “solving a problem, it’s about dialogue. Two-professional couples in healthy, conscious relationships can live with gridlock when they choose to understand the nature of gridlock and dialogue about the root cause of gridlock.

Gridlock is, “having dreams that are not seen, heard, respected or addressed by one’s partner.” Dreams can be hopes, visions, aspirations and wishes that define you and give purpose and meaning to you life. Dreams can be practical (make “x” amount of money); others are deeper (a spiritual journey).

Some of the dreams of couples I’ve coached are: a sense of freedom; justice; honor; having a sense of power; exploring one’s creative side; being forgiven; having a sense of order; being more organized and productive; being able to relax; finishing a very important project; quietness; ending a chapter of one’s life.

To move toward constructive dialogue, two things must happen. The one with the dream needs to express the meaning, the symbolism that the dream holds for him/her; the other needs to express the meaning, symbolism that causes him/her to reject their partner’s dream.

For example, eating out on Sunday. For one, underneath “the meal” is a memory of feeling special when the family ate out on Sunday nights. For the other, the memory is that of wonderful home-cooked meals on Sunday. So, the issue of eating in or eating out is not about “eating.” For both partners, it’s about what’s underneath the “eating experience” that brings them a feeling of contentment, warmth, emotional security, and feeling loved and cared for.

Where conflict and gridlock enter the scene, however, is when one partner cannot experience their dream and then judges another’s dream (e.g., your wanting to eat out on Sundays when I want to stay home) as bad, wrong, stupid, silly, selfish, ill-thought-out, illogical, and then proceeds to disrespect their partner’s dream. Arguments, shouting, fighting, judging, resenting, or silent anger, silent treatment, or silent defensiveness result. In a word, gridlock.  

Happy and fulfilled partners understand helping the other experience their dream is a shared goal of the relationship — wanting to know what their partner wants in their life. Shared values means incorporating each other’s goals into their definition of relationship. Happy and fulfilled partners discuss one another’s dreams with mutual respect for, and acknowledgement of, one another’s dreams.

Unhappy folks spend time negating, adversely judging, manipulating against and otherwise “tuning out” their partner’s goals. Gridlock, emotional distance and tension ensue. Moreover, when one sees one’s partner as the sole source of “the problem”, one knows one is wrestling with one’s own hidden dream. When one hears oneself saying, “He (or she) is this…” or “He (or she) is that..”, it’s a sign of one’s own hidden dream (i.e., the dream is the root cause of the judgment of the other).

To move forward toward an open, safe trusting, conscious and healthy relationship, it’s critical to uncover the dream underneath the gridlock.  

So, some questions to consider:

Where are you experiencing gridlock in your relationship?
What is the wish, want, dream underneath the gridlock?
Why is this dream meaningful for you?
Why do you feel so strongly about this issue?
What do you want/need from your partner?

Happy couples listen to their partner’s dream story. It does not mean that one partner believes the other’s dream can or should be actualized. However, it does mean that one can honor another’s dream by hearing it without judgment or criticism, and can become part of the partner’s dream in some way, shape or form.

Moving out of gridlock is not about engaging one-hundred percent in your partner’s dream; it’s about honoring that what you partner says is true for them and finding common ground where you can.

So, with respect to your partner’s dreams, are you co-counsel or opposing counsel?

Peter Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a founding partner of SpiritHeart, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counseling and facilitating. With a practice based on the dynamic intersection of mind, body, emotion and spirit, Peter’s coaching approach focuses on personal, business, relational and spiritual coaching. He is a professional speaker and published author. (You can contact Peter directly: pvajda at      

Two Heavy-Duty Partners in Relationship

So, Bill Clinton will be fast and furious on the campaign trail supporting Hillary’s bid for the Presidency. Good news or bad news? In 2004, Howard Dean’s spouse, Judith Steinberg Dean, stayed more “stage right” and was seen infrequently. Good news or bad news?

The question that surfaces is this: Can two full-time, fully-engaged-in-a-professional-life partners maintain a conscious, healthy, intimate relationship? When two professionals spend a great deal of, or an inordinate amount of time, pursuing their careers, is there time to pursue each other on a consistent basis, that is, to continue to see their relationship as “fresh” every day, to continue to ”work” on their relationship consistently, and actually “be” in a relationship on a true like- and love-level? Or, does something (read: someone) have to give? Does the relationship begin to evaporate to the degree that the two spouses or partners are more roommates, and ships passing in the night, than they are committed and intimate partners? Do the partners lose sight of “shared values” and the notion of a “we” and replace these relationship foundational supports with “my values” and “your values” and “I” and “you”?

Can two high-powered professional folks truly support one another emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually and socially? Can this be a win-win relationship? Do high-powered couples more commonly grow apart than grow together?

With late night work/dinners, travel, children and their needs and wants, pet care, medical appointments, school meetings, work around the house/living space, shopping and all the rest, can a loving, caring, committed (in deed as well as thought) relationship between two fully-engaged professionals work?  Does it work? For you?  Where does “relationship” lie on your list of priorities? And do your actions (not just thoughts) reflect that priority? Or, does your relationship have to give and, if so, are the consequences? What compromises do you make; what non-negotiable exist vis-à-vis your relationship requirements, wants and needs? What choices are you making when it comes to your relationship? Is relationship failure a real or potential outcome?

Peter Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a founding partner of SpiritHeart, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counseling and facilitating. With a practice based on the dynamic intersection of mind, body, emotion and spirit, Peter’s coaching approach focuses on personal, business, relational and spiritual coaching. He is a professional speaker and published author. (You can contact Peter directly: pvajda at

I Love Your Being a Lawyer; I Hate Your Being a Lawyer

I’m excited to share some thoughts about lawyers in relationship with you this week.  Why relationships? In addition to my work as a life and business coach, I have dedicated much of my coaching practice to support couples in relationship. Having been in a 15-year failed marriage, and married to one who had been in a 14-year failed marriage, I have dedicated my professional life, (and my own continual personal growth work) coaching and supporting couples to create healthy, conscious relationships, where two partners learn to continually “work” their relationship ,where the relationship gets to “work” them. I find the relationship journey to be particularly challenging for relationships where both partners are professionals – in this case, lawyers in relationship. I hope the readings I offer this week will provide some food for thought, perhaps pique your curiosity, about who you are, and how you are, as an attorney in relationship. 

I love your being a lawyer; I hate your being a lawyer. 

Hmmm…maybe “hate” is too strong a word, but in my relationship coaching work, I have come to believe there a flavor of the love-hate dynamic in nearly every personal relationship…new relationships, committed and exclusive relationships, with engaged couples and with married couples. If there’s not, then, (tongue in cheek), perhaps it’s because you haven’t known the person long enough to find something to resent. At any rate, a love-hate relationship does not mean there is no passion, no intimacy, no sincere and deep love, commitment and devotion.  

So, in the lawyer-non-lawyer relationship, I’m curious how the lawyer piece plays out in both supporting the relationship and in limiting, even sabotaging, the relationship. For example, if the lawyer piece points to being a skilled negotiator what does that look like in your relationship? On the “I love your being a lawyer” end of the continuum, does the non-lawyer-partner depend on the (skilled negotiator) lawyer-partner to purchase (negotiate the price/sale) a new car or other big-ticket item? Or, does your non-lawyer partner depend on the (“time-is-money-focused”) lawyer-partner to manage projects that demand efficient and effective use of time? Does the non-lawyer partner rely on the (“socially-skilled”) lawyer-partner to be the life of the dinner party, to break the ice, get things rolling and generate lively energy? Why else might your non-lawyer partner say, “I love your being a lawyer?” Does the non-lawyer partner achieve a sense of worth and value by continually suggesting the lawyer-partner to friends and neighbors who are in need of legal advice? 

On the other end of the continuum, what might it be about the lawyer-partner that gets in the way of a smooth relationship? When does the attractive, “plus” side of the lawyer-partner perhaps morph into a more repelling side that may cause resentment or bitterness, or teasing and sarcasm (which are veiled forms of anger and resentment)? For example, when the non-lawyer partner needs support, a kind ear, and silence in order to be heard, does the lawyer-partner become overbearing, dominating in a manner that is insensitive, undiplomatic, holier than thou, or argumentative? Does the lawyer-partner always need to have the “logic” of a discussion drive the discussion, and perhaps drive the non-lawyer partner away? Or, do most discussions become “arguments”?  So, my curiosity. When does it support your relationship to bring the “office” home and when does it support the relationship to leave the “office” behind? My curiosity is directed to lawyers and to non-lawyer spouses or partners who are in relationship with lawyers.

Peter Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a founding partner of SpiritHeart, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counseling and facilitating. With a practice based on the dynamic intersection of mind, body, emotion and spirit, Peter’s coaching approach focuses on personal, business, relational and spiritual coaching. He is a professional speaker and published author. (You can contact Peter directly: pvajda at

Feeling a bit out of control? Welcome to law — and life.

I was visiting DC earlier this week and flew out on a 7 AM flight.  Thanks to the early hour and my grogginess, I put my regular reading material to the side and spent some time reading Business Traveler magazine, dreaming about luxury travel.  And then I happened across an article titled Flight Fright, which included this paragraph:

Many of the people who are afraid to fly say their anxiety stems from the lack of control they feel onboard a plane . . . SOAR’s Tom Bunn agrees.”A lot of my clients are lawyers,” he says.”They’re used to being in control, and then they board a plane and suddenly they’re not.”

And suddenly, there I was, pondering the effect of control and being out of control on lawyers’ lives.  Are lawyers, as a group, a class of control freaks?  And if we are, what does that mean for practice and for “civilian life”?  I came up with three observations.

1.  Successful lawyers know that they’ll find themselves out of control at some point, and they know how to recover.  A client told me a story about a lawyer who was taking a case to trial.  He’d won partial summary judgment, so the trial was limited to a single issue of liability and damages… Or so he thought, until the court opened the trial by reversing the grant of summary judgment and announcing that trial would proceed immediately on all issues.  He had a good team of junior lawyers and a paralegal with him, and he revised his opening statement while the team revised their trial strategy.  Several steps allowed him to excel in an out-of-control situation.

  • He accepted the situation on its face (as unpalatable as it was) and moved forward.  When it was apparent that the court intended to proceed right away, the lawyer set aside his outrage and moved to what he could control: the presentation of his newly defined case.  Had he distracted himself by composing the appellate brief in his head, there’s no way he could have performed well.
  • He relied on the input of others.  While lead counsel generally sets the course of a representation, this lawyer was able to get the ideas and input from every member of the team.  That’s the benefit of having top-notch professionals as colleagues and team members: when you really need to rely on them, those relationships must already be in place.
  • He requested time to regain some measure of control.  Although the 1-week continuance was denied, the court agreed to giving him two hours.  He spent the first part of that time making the strategic decisions that made him master of his newly defined case.

2.  Successful lawyers know when and how to loosen the reins.  Lawyers who don’t delegate well tend to fall into one of two traps: either they fail to provide sufficient information to guide the performance of the work and get back imprecise results or a product that doesn’t meet their needs, or they over-describe, micromanage, and rework the finished product because they believe no one can do the work as well as they can.  Knowing when to accept work performed in a different, but equally effective style, is a key skill.

3. Successful lawyers understand that control is, in many ways, an illusion to be held lightly.  Whether in a professional or a personal setting, control is often illusory.  For instance, turning back to the fear of flying article, travelers may feel safer because they’re in control while driving, even though studies show that flying is safer — and even though we all know intuitively that controlling the wheel won’t always provide safety.  In the practice context, “control” over a book of business is important for professional advancement, but that control lasts only as long as the clients are satisfied.  Personally, we can control nothing except ourselves, and even that’s a dicey proposition at times.  Being in control, then, is actually a delicate balance that requires attention and adjustment.

Control is often a topic in coaching.  The questions I pose to clients and now offer for your consideration: Are you really in control of this situation?  In what ways are you not in control?  And what’s the impact?