Your anniversary gift (limited time!)

We made it through the holiday season! But there’s one more to celebrate, and it’s pretty special to me.

Fleming Strategic (originally known as Life at the Bar and then Lex Innova Consulting) is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this month! At the end of December 2005, I left my last full-time law firm position, and on January 30, 2006, I wrote my very first blog post, partly as a challenge for myself to see if I had anything to say. Ten years, three books, and hundreds and hundreds of blog posts later, I think the answer is yes.

I believe in celebrations, and so I’ll be celebrating Fleming Strategic’s tenth anniversary all month. This week, I have a special anniversary gift for you: a free electronic copy of my most recent book, Legal Rainmaking Myths: What You Think You Know About Business Development Could Kill Your Practice. Just click this link to find out more and claim your copy – and feel free to invite colleagues to get their own copy as well.  Just be sure to download your copy no later than January 16, 2016. In this case, good things will not come to those who wait!

In the meantime, here’s one of my earliest articles on networking skills. The blog isn’t pretty (because I “designed” it myself) and the links no longer work, but the information is still relevant. As an example, here are three tips on how to network well:

  • Be prepared to introduce yourself in 15-20 seconds. Without stumbling. This is usually called the “elevator speech.” Make it interesting. If it’s boring to say, it’s boring to hear.
  • Carry business cards and have them easily accessible…..
  • But don’t offer indiscriminately them at the beginning of a conversation! It’s far better to chat for a while, to know someone about the person, and then to ask for his or her business card. What if, horror of horrors, they don’t reciprocate and ask for yours? Not a problem. Send them one when you follow up after the event.

Lots has changed in the last ten years… But the basics of good networking have not.

See you next week with another fun (and still relevant) blast from the past.

2016’s hot-or-not forecast

It’s prediction season! This time of year, you’ll find one article after another reviewing trends and predicting next year’s conditions in the legal profession. Here’s the best forecasting article I’ve read this season, with a few highlights:

  • Legal project management is a hot topic, though it’s also under-utilized.
  • Alternative fee arrangements continue to be popular, especially in the context of an overall reduction in legal fees. Some firms are using non-partner track attorneys to ensure more consistent profit under these arrangements.
  • Younger attorneys, especially millennials, are not as interested in the traditional law firm model as previous generations, which is causing a crimp in succession planning and challenges in hiring.
  • Corporate legal departments continue to expand and take on work that would previously have gone to outside counsel; lawyers with large books of business are joining in-house departments in search of better quality of life. (Though the article doesn’t draw this conclusion, I’d suggest that this is also a result of an increased squeeze on lawyers who don’t originate enough work to be considered financial contributors to the firm, particularly non-equity partners in large firms.)
  • Increased competition is here. Law firms are competing not only against one another, but also against accounting firms that are building legal services divisions and other outside service providers that can provide services previously offered only by lawyers.

Here’s another article that offers the 15 Best Opportunities and Trends for 2016. A key takeaway from this article is that “[m]ore clients expect outside counsel to understand their business” and that lawyers must seek to understand the business and demonstrate that understanding. If you serve business clients, this should be considered a non-negotiable area of focus for the coming year. (Interestingly, this article offers a generally rosier view of the upcoming year than the previous article.)

Read the articles and consider the trends… Ask yourself whether your experience bears out these articles’ conclusions. Predictions are often incorrect and where there’s a trend, there’s often a counter-trend as well. But the bigger question is, so what? What do the trends these reports identify mean for your practice, and what adjustments do you need to make? 

Road trip!

Last year was incredibly busy for me, first with writing The Reluctant Rainmaker and then with designing programs like the Lawyers Business Development Bootcamp, plus working with many 1-on-1 clients. It was a great year, but toward the fall I started to notice that I’ve met very few of my clients and newsletter readers in person over the last year. That has to change. And so, as I’ve been hinting, I’ve been laying plans for something new.

While it would be great fun to meet you in a social setting, I know we’re often too busy to set aside time just to chat. So, I created a 1-day workshop that I’m calling Effective Business Development Made Simple. In this highly interactive program, you’ll learn my 7-step Legal Rainmaker System, which will show you the steps you need to take to bring in the new business you need, and you’ll work on creating your own plans so you’ll have a roadmap to take back to the office with you. And then we’ll close the day with good conversation and refreshments at a reception. Presto – an opportunity to learn something that has the power to transform your practice, plus an opportunity to meet!

And, I’ve heard those of you who’ve been telling me that this economy has put a crimp in your budget: the workshop will be priced under $100 for the entire day!

Finally, I realize that it would be difficult for many of you to travel all the way to my Atlanta home base. That means it’s time for one of my favorite activities… A road trip! Effective Business Development Made Simple will be coming to TEN cities across the country. Here’s the list:

  • Atlanta
  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Dallas
  • DC
  • Ft. Lauderdale
  • Los Angeles
  • New York City
  • Philadelphia
  • Seattle

I’m excited beyond belief at the prospect of meeting many of you and sharing the step-by-step process that will make your rainmaking efforts simple and highly effective! I’ll be announcing all of the details, including dates and exact locations, next week… So keep your eyes open.

Explaining a tragedy

Back in April, a much-respected lawyer in Washington, DC committed suicide after being laid off.  I didn’t post the story at the time because, quite simply, I couldn’t figure out what to say.

Friends and colleagues remember Mark Levy as a true professional who had little use for the business of law.  The article suggests that Levy lacked the ability to bring in business and that he was never able to match his legal successes with financial ones.

I still don’t know quite what to say about this story, but it seems to me that the profession needs to pay attention.  It’s a tragedy.  I believe that suicide is never the answer, and I have deep compassion for those who feel that it’s the only answer. I’ve written previously about depression and suicide prevention among lawyers.  It seems clear to me that the pressures of the current economy and layoffs contribute to an even higher level of stress and unhappiness, and perhaps — though I’m not a mental health professional — leading to more depression.

Every state has a Lawyers Assistance Program (LAP) that works to help lawyers who are depressed or dealing with substance abuse.  The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs maintains a referral hotline for lawyers in crisis: 1-866-LAW-LAPS.

Elite schools, unhappy lawyers?

The American Lawyer recently reported the results of a study titled After the JD, conducted on behalf of the American Bar Foundation.  The study, which tracked 5000 lawyers who began practicing in 2000, found that “new lawyers working for firms of more than 250 lawyers are less satisfied with their jobs than their counterparts in smaller firms,” and that  “[g]raduates of the most selective schools are the least satisfied with their jobs at large firms, while graduates of less selective schools are relatively more satisfied.”  The authors explain the disparate levels of satisfaction on the basis that graduates of elite schools are “groomed to expect success” whereas lower-tier graduates are more likely to view a job at a large firm as “a coveted reward for hard work . . . not to be squandered.”

Of course, large firms tend to recruit primarily from top law schools, and the authors address the implications of their findings on future hiring opportunities, suggesting that large firms hire more graduates of non-elite schools, improve working conditions, and cut associate pay.  The authors’ conclusion:

[I]f large firms respond to the economic crisis by substantially reducing starting salaries, they will be able to more quickly right themselves financially, hire graduates willing to work for less pay, and perhaps even take a little pressure off partners who face the constant pressure of finding work for associates. If firms lower pay but keep the same misery and engineered attrition for associates, they will get a short-term profit boost. But if lower pay also means a better lifestyle, more instruction and responsibility, and better evaluation, firms can lay the groundwork for success well beyond the end of the current recession.

The full article is worth reading.  Personally, I’m skeptical about seeing sweeping changes along the lines proposed… But I’ll be curious to see whether some aspects (such as further cuts in associate pay in exchange for an “improved” lifestyle for associates) may be implemented.  While the authors have a point that “[t]he general restructuring that takes place in a changing economic landscape creates room for organizational innovation,” large firms’ response to the recent economic challenges (and the fracture lines that culminated in the business crash) suggests that organizational innovation is not necessarily the strong point for the bulk of firms in this category.

Discrimination against women in law firms?

Former law firm associate Catriona Collins sued the law firm that had employed her, Cohen Pontani Lieberman & Pavane, claiming that she was passed over for work assignments and ultimately dismissed on the basis of her gender.

Last week, the ABA Journal reported on Judge Kimba Wood’s Order denying (in part) the firm’s motion for summary judgment and permitting the case to proceed to trial.  A New York Law Journal article reports the fact in more detail than the ABA Journal’s summary:

The judge said remarks by Cohen Pontani managing partner Martin B. Pavane that Collins was insufficiently “sweet” in dealing with a paralegal “could be construed as reflecting discriminatory animus.”

“A reasonable jury could find that Pavane’s statement indicates that (1) he holds stereotypes that women should be ‘sweet’ and non-aggressive, and (2) that Pavane believed that Plaintiff did not fit this stereotype,” Wood wrote in Collins v. Cohen Pontani Lieberman & Pavane, 04 Civ. 8983.

Collins joined 30-lawyer Cohen Pontani as a litigation associate in 1997. . . .

According to her November 2004 complaint, Collins was told in 1999 that she would never be promoted to partner, despite positive reviews, because the partners, all of whom were then men, were “uncomfortable” with her. The firm’s Web site currently lists two female partners.

Collins claims she was thereafter passed over for work assignments that were instead given to male associates. This allegedly led to her having low billable hours, which the firm then cited in denying her salary increases.

On Sept. 16, 2003, Collins sent an e-mail to Cohen Pontani partners citing an article about the potential benefits of having women serve as lead counsel in patent litigation. She said Cohen Pontani was “behind the times” because women lawyers at the firm were not being given positions of responsibility.

She was terminated on Sept. 18, 2003. The firm claims it fired Collins that day because she sent a series of “insulting and unprofessional” e-mails to lawyers and paralegals distinct from her Sept. 16 message. According to Cohen Pontani, Collins had a history of clashing with other lawyers and staff and the Sept. 18 e-mails were the “last straw.”

While the suit itself is interesting, the ABA Journal report produced comments that are fascinating.  Many of the comments are brief, concluding that the firm did discriminate against Collins or that a woman who is criticized for being insufficiently “sweet” is no worse off than a man who is criticized for being insufficiently “masculine.”  A few of the comments purport to share stories from women lawyers who were faced similar situations and yet made partner at their firms.  One woman reports being the only woman left from her class by her 5th year of practice and realizing that more junior male associates received preferential treatment:

Later, of course, when I realized what was going on and that the partners weren’t going to lift a finger to help me – and in fact, said that the reason for the problem must be that I wasn’t “nice” – I did get angry. Then, I admit, I wasn’t “sweet”; I came to the conclusion that I could get my job done, or I could have all the staff think I was “nice”, and since their behavior was unfair, I was not so worried about them liking me so I’d get my job done. Nonetheless, this is an impossible position to be in. At one point, our head of secretarial services, the person who was responsible for instructing the staff on what their jobs were and how to do it, explained to me that she fully sympathized with staff who didn’t want to work for women, because after all, they shouldn’t have to do menial work for women. I repeated this to the supervising partner; he thought it was funny . . . .

While it’s easy to line up (largely anonymously) either for or against Collins on the basis of only a small amount of information about the case and the evidence, the comments — and the amount of time the responders took to share their comments — are striking.  I’m inclined to agree with the several commentors who suggested that the case will likely settle and so we’ll learn nothing more, but the conversation is, nonethless, fascinating.

I’ve worked with assistants (plural!) who’ve told me flat out they prefer not to work for women, and I’ve seen a number of women succeed in law firms (of various sizes) apparently without facing substantial gender-based issues.  Anyone care to comment here?

Are law firms “cuddly”?

Or… Maybe it’s time for a change.  There’s been much discussion for the past few years about the viability of the billable hour, the high numbers of lawyers (especially but not exclusively women and women of color) leaving the profession, and the high rate of lawyer depression.  In case you missed it, Thursday’s New York Times carried an article that quickly hit the top of the “most emailed” list: Who’s Cuddly Now?  Law Firms (free registration required).

A snippet from the article:

Over the last few years and, most strikingly, the last few months, law firms have been forced to rethink longstanding ways of doing business, if they are to remain fully competitive.

As chronicled by my colleague Alex Williams in the Sunday Styles section earlier this month, lawyers are overworked, depressed and leaving.

Less obvious, but potentially more dramatic, are the signs that their firms are finally becoming serious about slowing the stampede for the door. So far the change — which includes taking fresh looks at the billable hour, schedules and partnership tracks — is mostly at the smaller firms. But even some of the larger, more hidebound employers are taking notice.

It includes a quick recap of Deborah Epstein Henry’s FACTS proposal, which suggests that:

work time can be: Fixed (allowing lawyers to choose less high-profile work for more predictable schedules), or Annualized (intense bursts of high-adrenaline work followed by relative lulls); Core (with blocks mapped out for work and for commitments like meeting children at the bus); Targeted (an agreed-upon goal of hours, set annually, customized for each worker, with compensation adjusted accordingly); and Shared (exactly as it sounds).

And sure enough, some firms seem to be listening.

New issue of The Complete Lawyer: Dealing with the jerk at work


“There have always been, and inevitably will be, a certain number of bullies, braggarts, brutes and bigots who manage to insinuate themselves into any assemblage of humans, the legal profession not excluded. In the past, these misfits have been dealt with by peer pressure and sanctions; however, as the rude, degrading behaviors creep ever closer to becoming a norm, there is cause to ring the warning bell.”

Bruce Campbell, Counsel Columbus, Ohio, Bar Association

The latest issue of The Complete Lawyer has been released, with a focus on “No Jerks Allowed!”  The quote above (lifted from this issue) illuminates the theme: too many law firms and legal departments include at least one jerk, and we (as individuals and as a profession) must find a way to deal with those jerks.  I’m delighted to have an article included in this issue (more about it below), and I find myself in august company.

Here are some of the featured articles:

Robert Sutton
, author of The No Asshole Rule (recognized as one of the best business books of 2007 and a must-read for lawyers) and the terrific Work Matters blog, writes on Power Breeds Nastiness.  Remember the observation, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely,” made by Lord Acton in the late 1800s?  There’s merit to it, and Bob’s article (edited and updated from his book) explains more.

Victoria Pynchon, author of the fabulous Settle It Now Negotiation Blog, provides a breathtakingly transparent article titled Why Lawyers Are Unhappy… And Make Others Unhappy, Too.  It’s about why and how nice people (especially litigators) can become jerks, and how to identify a path out of the unhappiness that underlies nasty behavior.  This is a personal article, and I so respect the honesty in it as well as the insight that points to the way out.

Gary Namie, co-author of The Bully At Work explains how to Create a Blueprint for a “Bullying-Free” Workplace.  This article draws the distinction between jerks who perpetuate incivility and bullies who “maliciously destroy people and organizations” and lays out a 4-step plan to correct and prevent bullying at work.

“Recovering defense attorney” Allison West promises, Yes, There Are Ways To Reform Workplace Jerks through sensitivity training that’s designed to “give jerks direct feedback about their conduct, highlight the impact of their behavior on the workplace and provide tools to fix the problematic attitude and behavior. After that, it is all up to the jerk.”

Garry Mathiason and Olga Savage of Littler Mendelson help to establish some bright lines about behavior in Defining And Legislating Bullying.  The article begins with a vignette of a rainmaker who defended the harsh comments made to two associates: “I sometimes raise my voice,” the rainmaker says. “If the associates can’t handle that, how will they ever hope to hold their own in litigation?” Mathiason and Savage’s articles helps to clarify the continuum between acceptable behavior, abrasive behavior, and bullying and to propose some solutions when the behavior falls on the wrong end of that spectrum.

My article is titled How To Spot And Deal With Jerks: Learn when and how to confront, disengage, and manage the jerks in your life.  One aspect of coaching for lawyers involves workplace communications, including deadling with the jerks in practice.  Many of my clients have encountered these jerks (as have I), and I’ve recounted a few of the more flagrant stories — all true, though edited to protect confidentiality.

The crux of the article is this:

Know What Kind Of Jerk You’re Dealing With And Choose The Best Strategy In Response

The first step is to notice when someone’s behavior leaves you feeling bad and then to identify the kind of jerk you’re facing.

The practice of law is often stressful, and even perfectly nice people may, on occasion, be rude under stress. Generally, though, nice people are aware of their bad behavior and apologize at least indirectly. These people may be situational jerks whose behavior unintentionally causes discomfort and pain. Dealing with such thoughtlessness is often relatively simple because situational jerks typically don’t mean to be jerks and may not realize the harmful effects of their actions.

Habitual jerks are more damaging. These people commonly yell, use sarcasm or mean-spirited teasing, engage in personal insults, or otherwise act in a demeaning or disparaging manner. Habitual jerks may strike out at any time. They don’t apologize, and they don’t notice or acknowledge the pain they inflict because they simply don’t care. Dealing with habitual jerks is difficult. Because of the habitual jerk’s disregard for others, the victim has fewer resources to call on to try to end the damaging behavior.

One of the following two options usually works best when dealing with a jerk:  confrontation or disengagement. Regardless of the response you select, you must manage the stress that results from the jerk’s nastiness.

This issue of The Complete Lawyer also includes articles on business development and marketing, career management and planning, and work/life integration.  It’s great reading.

Discovering my inner “hot worm”.. And changes for 2008

Perhaps you’ve heard this: “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life!”  I’ve seen that quote, or similar ones, attributed to everyone from Confucius to Harvay MacKay.  Now, here’s my corollary:  even so, you will nevertheless sometimes need to adjust priorities, to take time off, and to shift what you do.

On occasion I’ll read something that will really stick with me and change the way I think about things.  Stephanie West Allen’s December 2006 “hot worms” blog post is one of those.  In that post and other related posts, she discusses the danger in prescribing a “one size fits all” work/life balance, especially for those “hot worms” who love what they do and choose to work more hours than “experts” consider advisable.  As I’ve written over and over, I’m uncomfortable with the idea of “work/life balance” because it implies that there is a single balance that everyone should attain, and that’s clearly wrong to me.  So, I took Stephanie’s post as more evidence that each person must find his or her own balance or, to use Cali Yost’s term, work+life fit.

I enjoyed practicing law, but I was admittedly not a “hot worm” lawyer.  Some of my clients are, though, and coaching them on work/life integration is interesting because it’s hard to reduce hours or attention to something that’s thoroughly enjoyable and nourishing.  The focus of the coaching is on finding what works best for the individual, and sometimes cutting back on work is necessary (though difficult) to achieve other goals.  The process is challenging and rewarding, and my clients generally end up with a lifestyle that pleases them deeply.  As I coached these clients, I came to discover something about myself.

I’m a “hot worm” coach.

Perhaps that’s why I work so well with lawyers who are passionate about and devoted to their practices.

You see, I often wake up thinking about an article or a resource or an approach to use with a client.  I read constantly, and until last week, I’m not sure when I last read fiction or non-fiction that isn’t related to law or business.  I couldn’t sleep one night while I was out of town and I got sucked into watching Legally Blonde, not because it’s a good movie (in my opinion, it isn’t!) but because I was mentally drafting a blog post that would discuss Reese Witherspoon’s character and what lesson she might illustrate.  When I catch up with friends, I tend to talk about my business and the ideas I’m reading or hearing or creating — to the point that a friend recently asked if my husband and I had divorced because I hadn’t mentioned him!  (Sorry about that, honey.)  I’m not unduly frazzled or bedraggled; I just love what I do and choose to do a lot of it!  I am doing what I truly love, and it doesn’t feel like work.

And yet…

I get run down when I don’t sleep enough.  I get stiff when I sit all day.  Although I enjoy the work I do, I miss seeing friends.  And I know that I sometimes come up with more and better ideas when I’m working  physically (gardening, walking, whatever gets my body going and lets my brain wander) than I do when I’m sitting at my desk and intending to think.

These are signs that it’s time for a change.

I started this blog in January 2006 and began writing regularly in March of that year.  This is post #365.  Although I never announced it, I’ve aimed to post three times a week, and I recently expanded to include a fourth weekly post.  Since I started the blog, though, things have changed in my business.  I have more clients (as well as some openings), I’m writing more articles for formal publication, I’m doing more speaking, and I’m doing more face-to-face networking.  I’m also traveling dramatically more.

It’s time for a shift.

Change #1…  I plan to post twice weekly going forward, though I may include additional “shorts” posts that will offer links and brief news items, trends, or ideas.

Change #2…  On January 15, I will be launching a new email newsletter, titled Leadership Matters for Lawyers.  Each issue will include a feature article on leadership development, a relevant book review, summaries of recent posts on the Life at the Bar blog, and information about upcoming programs and presentations.  Leadership is an important topic for every lawyer, whether it’s self-leadership, leading within a bar or civic organization, being a thought-leader in your practice area, or serving as a leader of a team, a practice group, an office, or a firm.  Leadership Matters for Lawyers will reveal insights, research, and resources that will help you to create and benefit from leadership opportunities for yourself and your practice.


Thank you for your input — and happy new year!

Second Annual “Lawyers Appreciate…”

Last December, Stephanie West Allen (of Idealawg and Brains on Purpose(tm)) and I launched a 10-day campaign that we called “Lawyers Appreciate…”  We asked legal bloggers to make a post, sharing the things and people they most appreciate in the practice of law.  And we were delighted with the results, which you can find summarized here.  We discovered that lawyers appreciate clients, staff and colleagues, fair jurists, family, and so much more.  (To my delight, I rediscovered a comment on the kick-off post that celebrates, in part, peppermint ice cream, which is my favorite as well.  Cheers to Monica Bay of The Common Scold, whose identifying info was apparently stripped from that comment when I migrated to the new blog.)

A few weeks ago, I asked Stephanie what she thought about launching a second annual Lawyers Appreciate… And she responded with an enthusiastic thumbs up!

Last year’s campaign ran from December 22 to December 31, with some appreciation coming in even into the new year — which, it has to be said, Stephanie and I both appreciated.  There’s no statute of limitations on this!  Since the 22nd is a Saturday this year (and I will be making extra-merry, since the 22nd is also my birthday) I thought I’d announce a day early, so resourceful bloggers can begin reflecting.  And, of course, anyone without a blog is welcome to participate as well by posting a comment.

Here’s how it works: tomorrow, we’ll invite 3 bloggers to join us in our appreciative countdown.  We’re asking them to post a blog entry that begins with the words, “Lawyers Appreciate…” and then to invite 3 more bloggers of their choice to do the same.  We’ll keep this up for 10 days, until (at least) December 31.  And we’ll kick off 2008 with conscious appreciation for what might otherwise go overlooked.

Get ready…… Get set………………….

Edited to add: from Stephanie’s announcement:

For those of you who posted your “LA . . .” list last year, what additions (and maybe subtractions) will you make in 2007? And to those new to the “Lawyers Appreciate . . .” countdown, we look forward to reading your posts of appreciation.