One size never fits all.

There’s no secret about which activities are helpful for business development, right? Pick up any law practice management magazine, flip to one of the zillion practice-related websites and blogs, or read marketing suggestions for other professions, and you’ll find all kinds of activities that work for landing new business.

The challenge can be finding which activities work for you. There’s no one-size-fits-all template for business development. When it comes to finding your best process, you must start with self-understanding. What are your skills and opportunities for attaining credible visibility? How do you best interact with people?

It is possible to enhance and even change your natural tendencies—if, for example, there are good indications that speaking would be a productive activity but you’re not a skilled speaker. However, you’re unlikely to succeed unless you first believe you can succeed. Here’s why:


How do you see yourself when it comes to business development? To get a clear view, download and complete The Reluctant Rainmaker business development plan template. Part one is all about identifying attributes of yourself as well as your practice and your target clients, and part two helps you to use that information to build a plan that actually fits you.

Don’t fall for a paint-by-numbers template that fits everyone and therefore fits no one. It takes work to design your unique strategy, but that’s the only way to succeed.

P.S. Mark your calendar for the next installment of the webinar series, Mastering Your Time for Greatest Profit: Blending Year-End Billable Responsibilities and Holiday Relationship Development to Build Your 2021 Foundation.

The webinar will be held on Thursday, November 19 at 1 PM ET/noon CT/10 AM PT.

Click here to register.

At a fork in the road?

In this economy, many lawyers are facing an unanticipated fork in the road.  Layoffs leave some lawyers contemplating an exit from the profession, others considering whether to launch a solo practice, and others still looking to shift practice areas in hopes of finding a new position.

I recently watched a video of a presentation for the Georgia Bar Association by my friend and colleague Monica Parker of, in which she offers a 3-step process for leaving practice.  It seems to me that the process is equally applicable (with some modification) to other professional changes.  The video is about an hour long… Pour a cup of coffee, grab a pen and paper, and prepare to think through your next steps.  View the video here.

Renewing lapsed professional relationships

I gave a 1-hour presentation about rainmaking last week in the Chicago office of a large law firm, and following the presentation, a lawyer approached with a question: Is it ever too late to rebuild professional relationships that have languished?

The short answer is that it depends on the relationship. The deeper the relationship, the more likely it can be resurrected.  If, however, you meet once and fail to follow up, or if you follow up only once or twice, the relationship will lack the firm footing necessary to allow it to flourish following a period of silence.  That said, it never hurts to try to rebuild a relationship, particularly if your sole reason for reconnecting is to re-establish communication and not to seek a favor.

So, what can you do to rebuild a connection that has faded? The simplest, and often the most effective, approach is to do precisely what you would do with a friend you haven’t seen in a long time: pick up the phone and say, “I realized it’s been a while since we’ve spoken, and you’ve been on my mind.  Is this a good time to talk for a few minutes? How are things with you?  What’s new?”  If several months have passed since you were in touch with this contact, you may even begin the conversation by re-introducing yourself.  (This is where my recommendation to maintain a database of contacts proves especially helpful: you don’t have to try to remember when and where you met.)  You may experience a few awkward moments as your contact gets back into the connection, but most people will pick up relatively quickly.

If, like many lawyers, you’d rather do nine hours of painstaking document review without a coffee break than pick up with phone, you do have other options. For example, you might consider the following:

  • Send an email to reconnect. You might suggest talking by telephone and either arrange a time or let your contact know you’ll be calling.  While you’ll still have to pick up the phone, you’ve created an expectation that you will call, and chances are good that you’ll avoid an awkward beginning.  If you suggest that you’ll call, though, you absolutely must do so – or run the risk of looking like a flake.
  • Send an article or other resource that will interest your contact. The resource may address a legal or non-legal issue, but it must be tied in some way to a conversation you’ve had with the contact.  Attach a note that says, “I remember talking with you about [topic of resource] at [wherever you had the conversation] and thought of you when I saw this [resource].  Hope it’s useful!”  By doing so, you not only reconnect by offering assistance, but you do so in a way that will bring your conversation back to your contact’s mind and refresh the relationship.
  • Issue an invitation. You might invite your contact to an open house or to attend a CLE or other seminar of interest with you.  Be sure to attach a note, if you deliver an invitation by mail or email, saying that you look forward to reconnecting; this personal touch will indicate to your contact that your interest is genuine.
  • Seek out news about your contact. This may be a more challenging approach if you’re seeking to reconnect than to maintain a relationship, but it’s worth a quick search to see whether your contact has been in the news recently.  You may find news of a professional event (an honor awarded, a trial won, a leadership position attained) or a personal event (a new marriage, a new baby, a recreational or community activity).  Such news offers an ideal reason to get in touch again.

Take a few minutes this week to review your list of contacts. With whom should you reconnect?  Choose three to five people and reach out to them.  Building and maintaining your network is always a valuable activity, and keeping relationships alive will often pay off (often in unexpected ways) over time.

Don’t underplay yourself

When a law firm hires me to work with a junior associate, very often one part of the engagement centers of 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.  Especially in this difficult market, your job and your client relationships may depend on your ability to inspire confidence.  Ready to take the first steps?  Email jessica (at) lifeatthebar(dot)com to set up a time for us to get acquainted.

Bad news in the legal job market…

Anyone who hasn’t been living underneath a rock for the last few months is aware that the legal market is down for new hires and that law firms are cutting lawyers.  Proof?  The lateral market is “officially flooded,” and legal recruiters and law students are being hit hard.  Where’s the good news?  Some IP firms are hiring, and lawyers are hoping that new regulations (and billable work) will spring from the Obama administration.  Oh, and helpful articles suggest signs that perhaps you’re about to be laid off, so perhaps you can avoid the shock and get a head start on updating your resume.

Aspirin, anyone?  Or antacid?

What’s a bright lawyer to do under these circumstances?  Here are my top 3 suggestions.

1.  Focus on building relationships.  Building relationships both inside and outside your firm will help in several directions.  You’ll be known and you’ll build a reputation, and you may put yourself in a position to receive assignments you might not otherwise.  Because relationships are the key to rainmaking, you’ll be laying groundwork there.  And you’ll develop your network, which you’ll almost certainly need at some point.

2.  Build your skills, especially in business development.  If you’re slow now at work, take the opportunity to invest in yourself.  Attend CLE programs or read up on your area of practice, your clients’ industries, and business generally.  Write articles.  Seek out opportunities for business development training.  Get a mentor and get personalized advice on what you should be doing, given your level of seniority, your area of practice, your goals, etc.  While brief slowdowns are great for taking vacation, this slowdown is a different animal and should be taken as an opportunity to develop yourself.

3.  Keep your resume up-to-date.  We should all do this at all times, because there’s no telling when that “perfect opportunity” will arise.  Realistically, we’re usually caught up in other pursuits and have to scramble when it’s time to submit a resume.  In this environment, although many more lawyers will keep their jobs than be laid off, it’s wise to have a resume ready to go.

For most lawyers, I’d put rainmaking training and activities at the top of the list right now.  Relationship-building and reputation enhancement takes time, and regardless of whether you’re a first-year who’s never even thought about how to bring in business or you’re a sixth-year wondering if your skills will be adequate to permit you to make partner, rainmaking is a key skill you should begin working on NOW.

Could you be unemployable? It’s up to you.

Introducing Ron Peterson, a guest author.  To learn more about Ron, scroll to the end of his post.

Lawyers will often carry Phi-Beta Kappa keys, law review credentials, marquee college and law school degrees, and—after a few years of diligent and conscientious practice—a growing realization that they may be unemployable! How can this be? Throughout school your work has been “A” quality, tests confirm your abilities, you law work has proved impeccable—but advancement has been halted at a critical time in your career. Unlike the earlier part of your life, after six or seven years, law firms take for granted the quality of work and focus more on your ability to attract new business. The nitty-gritty that now counts has shifted, and how well you can sell yourself and your firm to new clients becomes paramount. Whether you like it or not, you’re at the level of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, not the intellectual equivalent to your college deans! This is a difficult fact to digest, and mystifies many lawyers while leading to an inconvenient-truth about modern law firm practice—it’s a business.

Unlike your school courses, where quality of work guaranteed success, being in a business environment is entirely foreign to the singular emphasis on good work that brought you there. Bringing in clients that pay their bills is now almost always a necessary (bordering on sufficient) metric by which you will be judged for promotions and bonuses. You can have other partners, of-counsels, associates or even contract attorneys do the actual work, just so long as you can bill on their backs.

“Don’t clients care about quality?” Of course they do, but there are a lot of smart lawyers (too many, some would say) and others can do just as well as you can and are waiting at the doors for the chance to show it. Julie Fleming-Brown has been flogging you with this realization for years, and it’s time you acted upon it. So, here are a few steps that can help you bridge the gulf between worker bee (read: potential victim) and rainmaker:

  • Start thinking of yourself as someone who needs to bring in business (change your mindset);
  • Look for opportunities to help potential clients, formulate a solutions-orientation strategy and communicate it to those people. Just make sure it’s intelligent and is designed so the prospect can understand it and see the value;
  • Tom Goldstein built a Supreme Court practice by finding split-decisions on Lexus-Nexus and asking the parties if they wanted to take their case to the Supreme Court, (a very simple, but entirely effective approach that led to his chairing his firm’s litigation and Supreme Court practice). Joel Popkin built a consulting practice by reading about corporate problems in the news, figuring out a potential solution, and writing a letter outlining the work and benefits to the CEO;
  • Tom Gorman puts many extra hours in per month for his website and blog,, where he keeps a large audience around the world up to-date on a variety of securities issues (and loves doing it!).

The above examples represent a small sample of what attorneys have done to build their client base for the good of both themselves and their firms. Surely, you can think of things that are even more effective, can’t you?

I recruit partners, of-counsels and some associates for the most prestigious law firms in the world, both here and overseas. Every day I hear from some hapless soul about how wonderful his or her work is and surely some firm needs their input. Sadly, they generally don’t. I do suggest that working on a marketing plan is the very best step any attorney can take to make themselves valuable, and I’m glad to help them in this effort. Even more than sketching out a plan is taking those first steps to implement the ideas.


Ron Peterson is a legal and lobby recruiter with in Washington, DC and can be reached at (240) 308 0337 or He ran an investment banking firm, was a VP at brokerage firms such as Prudential & Paine Webber, holds several masters degrees plus graduate certificates, and is the author of When Venture Capitalists Say “No”—Creative Financing Strategies & Resources and Technology Transfer in the Life Sciences, both now e-books that are free for Life at the Bar readers. Just e-mail with your request. Also, do you have some good stories about building a business that you’d consider sharing, in some form, for a new book?

Attaining leadership in a bar association

Working on a bar association committee or project is a good way to get leadership experience quickly. The reason is simple: because of the number and variety of bar associations (the ABA, state, city/county, area-of-practice, group affiliations, etc.) and the number and variety of sections and committees within each, leadership opportunities are

Why should you consider bar involvement?

1.  To grow your professional network. Having a broad group of colleagues will prove useful over the span of your career in ways you probably can’t even imagine right now. Networks are useful if you need co-counsel on a case, if you’re conflicted out and want to refer a client to someone in whom you have confidence, if you’d like to take a deposition in an office in a distant city, if you’re looking for a new position, on and on and on.

2.  To contribute to the profession. The work produced by each group will vary, but you may have an opportunity to contribute to a report studying the challenges faced by women attorneys of color, the impact of multiple tiers of partners, or the latest revision to substantive or procedural rules of practice. You can use your skills and develop them further through this work.

3.  To contribute to society in general. Some groups will focus on work that directly impacts individuals, such as writing a report and passing a policy supporting or objecting to proposals relating to privacy, public health, and more. Although bar associations don’t have lawmaking authority, some have quite a bit of clout. You could potentially even end up testifying before Congress on behalf of a bar group.

4.  To advance your business development goals. If your practice is supported by referrals by other lawyers, or if it’s in an area that often requires involvement by a lot of lawyers, bar associations can create the opportunity for you to become known by your potential referral sources.

5.  Because it’s fun. When you find a group that’s a good fit for you, networking and conferences become a time to reconnect with friends and accomplish something of professional benefit. That’s a good deal!

So, how do you get started?

1.  Identify the bar group or groups that might be a good fit for you based on your goals and interests. Do you want to be involved with a local group or a national group? (If you’re looking to create a referral network, this is probably the #1 question you’ll need to answer.) Is your primary interest in a subject area, or would you be happy working in a substantive subcommittee of a non-practice-based group? (For patent law, for example, you might join the American Intellectual Property Law Association, or you might join the ABA or a state bar and seek involvement with an IP law section.)

2.  Next, identify a subgroup of that bar that you find interesting. Look through the sections, committees and subcommittees, or the list of projects that the group maintains. Your goal is to identify a small working group that will be a good fit for your skills, your interest, and your goals — in that order.

3.  Bar association working groups almost always need help. Perhaps you’re already a passive member of a bar group, receiving information and maybe attending CLE programs. To reap the benefit of membership, you must be active. Decide how much time you have available and what kind of assistance you’d like to offer. You may be able to get a feel for current projects from the group’s website.

4.  Contact the leader of the subgroup you’d like to join and volunteer. For all but the most prestigious groups, I can almost guarantee that a committee chair’s favorite words to hear are, “I’d like to help!” Find out how you can make a contribution. Look for something fairly short-term, so you aren’t boxed in and you can prove yourself quickly, and do a great job.

5.  Attend the business meetings of your selected group. Most bar associations meet at least annually, and those who attend are the leaders. If you want to become a leader, meet them. Learn more about the group’s activity, who’s involved, what its history is, and how things operate. Ask about the leadership track — how might you become a committee leader, a Section leader, or an association leader? Contribute to the conversation and volunteer where appropriate. Show your interest and your ability.

6.  Once you’ve taken on a few projects and done well, you will start to advance. Depending on the group, you can probably expect to become a subcommittee vice chair (or some equivalent title) within a couple of years, and sometimes much faster. Should you choose to advance in leadership, you’ll know much more about how to do so in your selected group; if not, you can probably continue at your current level of involvement and accrue additional benefits.

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?

Set ’em so you can reach ’em

When “Carl,” a 4th year associate in a large firm, contacted me about lawyer coaching, he was dreading an upcoming evaluation.  The office rumor was that associates were being asked to explain what they’d done to meet the goals they’d set in the previous year’s review, and Carl was nervous.  He explained that although he’d been working toward the targets he’d set a year ago, he wasn’t sure that his efforts would be viewed as meeting his goals, which he’d written as follows:

  • Improve skill in taking and defending depositions.
  • Improve written work product.
  • Get more experience in advising clients.

Do you see the problem that Carl recognized only in retrospect?  None of these goals can be quantified.  Had he improved his deposition skills?  Well, he could point to the depositions he’d taken and defended over the past year, but he couldn’t prove in any quantifiable way that volume equals improvement.  Same held true for his other goals.  After talking about Carl’s year, we found ways to suggest that he’d met his goals, but he vowed never to make the mistake of setting fuzzy objectives.


Unfortunately, lawyers at every stage of practice can set vague goals.  Have you ever said you’d like to “bring in more business” or “increase your billable hours” or “get more exposure to your target clients”?  These ambitions count as little more than wishes, because they’re not concrete and measurable.

How do effective leaders frame their intentions?  They set SMART goals, and they write down those goals.  A SMART objective is:

Specific: define what you intend to accomplish with sufficient detail to be meaningful.  Instead of planning to improve his deposition skills, Carl might have decided he wanted to get comfortable with the “funnel method” of questioning witnesses.

Measurable: a quantifiable definition of what you intend to accomplish.  (As Peter Drucker said, “What gets measured gets managed.”)  Carl might have said that he’d like to take 8 depositions over the course of the year and rate his comfort and skill in using the “funnel method” on a scale of 1 to 10.

Achievable: design a goal that’s a stretch, but a stretch within your reach.  Carl might realize that he’d be unlikely to take 8 depositions over the next year, and so he’d scale back to 4 depositions.

Realistic: create a sensible plan to attain your goal, considering your abilities and limitations.  Carl might approach the partner with whom he worked the most to share the goal he’d set and to get the partner’s buy-in, which would include agreement that the goal was realistic.

Time-based: define the time in which you’ll measure your efforts to determine whether you hit your objective. 

When you know what you want, you’re much more likely to seek out and accept opportunities to reach your goals.  Take a moment to recast your #1 objective as a SMART goal and write it down somewhere, perhaps in your calendar.  And then notice what happens over the next few days and weeks.  Chances are good that you’ll take steps toward your goal that you wouldn’t have taken without being concrete and clear and what you wanted to happen.


Freedom of Expression

While describing an assessment I often use to a lawyer-client, I mentioned that it provides feedback about one’s natural tendencies and those tendencies as adapted to work, explaining that almost everyone wears a “mask” of some sort at work.

“You got that right,” my client chuckled wryly.

We went on to discuss the discomfort this client feels in the workplace.  She chooses not to be herself in the office, to rein in the zany and hilarious side of herself in an effort to show up as the cool, calm professional whose judgment is above reproach.  And, frankly, it’s hard to blame her or any of the others who make a similar decision.  Especially in a competitive world in which reputation may be built on first impressions and damaged in a moment, playing it safe may be an appealing choice.

That said, when there’s too much of a gap between one’s “real” self and one’s “work” self, going to work may become unbearably stressful.  A great deal of energy can be consumed by molding oneself to expectations, and everyone I’ve known to be in such a situation gets worn down by maintaining a false persona.  Even more troublesome, authenticity is generally regarded as a key leadership attribute.  People often sense inauthenticity, and when authenticity is lacking, it’s tough to build or maintain relationships.

I’ve always enjoyed the quote, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”  (Attributed, variously, to Walt Disney, Dr. Seuss, and Bernard Baruch.)  Of course, those who employ or retain you do matter.  So, what if you feel required to present yourself as someone you aren’t?  The question is much too big for a single blog post, but I’ll throw out a few ideas.  If it generates sufficient interest, I’ll elaborate on another day.

1.  Change positions.  Sometimes it’s a “fit” issue.  A firm’s “culture” will define what is and isn’t acceptable, and a baseline fit between lawyer and firm is important.  While it’s unlikely that you’ll find a firm that allows you to be exactly who you are at home on a weekend morning among family or close friends, it is possible to find a firm where you can be more or less the same person.  If the “fit” is wrong, you’ll likely have the metaphorical sense of wearing a suit that’s too tight: constriction at work followed by the renewed ability to breathe when you’re elsewhere.  If you’re happy with your professional self, then the suit has to go.  Just be sure to note the areas of constriction so you’ll know what atmosphere would be a better fit.

2.  Practice allowing your personality to show.  Sometimes the issue is one of comfort: personality might be welcome, but you need to develop a certain comfort level to believe that’s true.  Try cracking a few jokes, mentioning your interest in feng shui, or hanging that unusual painting in your office.  And measure the reaction you get.  Assuming a reasonably good fit, you’ll probably begin to relax a bit (when the situation is appropriate for relaxing) and allow your slightly quirky self to show.  Treading slowly is probably a good idea: no one appreciates the colleague who lets the freak flag fly a little too high.  But personality is part of what will draw other lawyers and clients to you.  No one wants to work with an automaton.

3.  Express yourself in covert ways.  One of my good friends (not a lawyer) served as a consultant for several years for one of the big companies that functioned remarkably like a law firm.  She bought a toe ring that reminded her of her “outside” life and the trip to the Bahamas where she bought the ring.  I’ve known lawyers who relished having a navel piercing, living in an unusual part of town, or playing in a rock band on the weekends — none completely secret, really, just private enough to share with a select few.

4.  Act in integrity with your values.  On occasion, I’ve known lawyers who felt they were required to conform in distasteful ways.  Choosing to laugh at jokes that conflict with deeply held beliefs, for instance, puts a higher value on conformity than on the deeply held belief.  Integrity requires finding some way to reconcile belief and action, whether it’s ignoring or challenging the distasteful view.  Sometimes it’s an opportunity to educate, and sometimes it’s a sign that the firm/lawyer fit is wrong.

How closely do your home and work personas match?  Do you want or need to make a change?