Next week! Join NAWL at their General Counsel Institute – November 5-6 in NYC

nawl general counsel institute new york GCI national association of women lawyers

Register today!

The last several years have brought significant changes to the General Counsel position and for many, a rise of greater prominence within their companies. Large-scale forces are transforming the economics of corporations as they face challenges related to accelerating competition, cost controls, technology development, reporting transparency, and Wall Street’s focus on short-term profit maximization.

As a result, the General Counsel increasingly has a broader scope beyond being strictly a legal advisor to also being a C-suite executive, senior counselor to the Board, the CEO, and the CFO, and the ultimate guardian of the company’s integrity. The General Counsel and her in-house lawyers are expected to understand the full spectrum of their company’s business and provide expert legal advice, business strategy input, and ethical guidance.

At GCI 11, you will explore ways to create and promote your legal department as a key business partner, develop and employ critical business relationships, and strategically advance your expertise and skills to bolster your prominence within the company. Through powerful personal stories, substantive legal workshops, and GCI’s unique open exchange of ideas, you will soar to new heights as you develop practical solutions to stay relevant in today’s evolving corporate legal and business environments.

To Specialize or Not to Specialize, That is the Question for Attorneys

As the number of attorneys in the marketplace continues to grow, it is becoming more important to differentiate yourself.  One of the best ways to do this is through specialization.  Becoming a “specialist” can be a scary proposition as your messaging and marketing efforts change to accommodate this new direction. The obvious fear is giving up some potential business by speaking and marketing openly about your new focus. While most of these fears are not grounded in reality, most generalists are worried about the possible loss that may occur when making the transition.  In working with hundreds of attorneys, we regularly discuss the ups and downs to becoming a specialist. If the timing is right and you are well prepared, it might be the best way for you to stay relevant, while also growing your practice and obtaining additional financial security. That being said, it’s one thing to be “known” as a specialist versus “identifying oneself” as a specialist. It’s always better to be considered an industry specialist and leader rather than having to advertise that information. In some states, calling yourself a “specialist” is not allowed. Be sure to stay in compliance within your states’ guidelines.

Take a moment and think about two of the most successful attorneys you know.  Really, close your eyes for five seconds and get their names in your head.  I would bet dollars to donuts that at least one of the names you thought of was someone who is a specialist. It should come as no surprise that an attorney who builds a reputation around being great at one thing is memorable to you. The reality is that when you build a reputation in one industry, market or vertical, your practice can grow more quickly than you ever thought possible. Of course, a number of elements need to be in place before taking this leap. Here are a few things to think about before making the switch to becoming a specialist:

#1. You need to be the best at what you do.

Whether you are a litigator or an estate-planning attorney, nothing is more important than being skilled at your craft. When thinking about specializing, be sure you have the baseline skills and experience to succeed in one particular area of the law. It might make sense to get at least 2-3 clients under your belt in a particular area to test it out and see if specializing in one area makes sense for you. Achieving notoriety as a specialist may take months or many years to achieve. The important thing is that you eat, sleep and breathe within the space that you’ve chosen.

A good example of this occurred when I was badly injured in a plane crash back in 1996. That’s right, I survived a plane crash.  During my recovery from looking like a human pretzel, my father, a now retired attorney, put me on the phone with Bob Clifford of Clifford Law Offices. He chose Bob Clifford because he is well branded as the leader in aviation and personal injury litigation. We didn’t speak to any other law firms because who could possibly be better?

Being the best at what you do and building a strong reputation around that specialty can make obtaining new clients very easy. However, as you probably know, it takes real effort and conviction to build a specialized practice.

#2. Choose the right industry or vertical that’s a fit for you.

The easiest and most time effective way to develop a niche’ is to leverage the work you’ve already done in one particular area. It may make sense to target specific people, companies or issues that will allow you to draw out more work.  For example, if you’ve worked with textile manufacturers and enjoy the work, be sure to target other textile companies in your area. You can do a search on google or LinkedIn to identify the people and companies to call on. Try to leverage your existing clients and strategic relationships to obtain introductions to these business owners if possible.

As an example, you could call up your client in the industry and say, “I know you’ve been happy with the work I’ve done for you over the past few years. I am looking to help others in the same area. Who are you friendly with in the textile industry that I should be speaking with as well?” The key here is to develop a great relationship with your client to ensure that he/she is open to making these types of strategic introductions. Think about it this way. If you had the best dermatologist and someone had a nasty rash, wouldn’t you feel great making the introduction?

Another easy way to find the right specialty for you is by asking yourself, “What am I truly passionate about?”  If you care about something, it drives you to become more involved. For example, one of my clients is very passionate about animals and is now focusing on working with dog shelters and veterinarians.  She joined the shelter’s board and is routinely interacting with prospective clients for her practice. She is wowing them with her ability to solve problems and is routinely asked legal questions from the board members. These inquiries turn into business meetings and eventually new business.  She’s doing all of this without working harder than before as the new originations roll in. Finding a niche’ that you are passionate about can make your legal career much more meaningful and enjoyable. You will also have a greater chance of meeting prospective clients, as you will be interacting with them on a more regular basis.

#3. Find a space, where there is space.

Be aware of your market and niche’ and who else may already be there before committing to a specific specialty.  While you may have vast experience in commercial real estate for example, there may already be too many lawyers in that area to easily separate yourself from the pack. Do your research and try to find a segment of real estate that isn’t as fully saturated. It might also make sense to branch off into other areas of law to ensure you have your eggs in a few different baskets.

When the recession hit in 2008, many real estate lawyers were hit pretty hard. One of my clients saw this as an opportunity to study estate planning as a backup plan to real estate law. This ended up being a great fit as he was able to leverage his real estate clients and personal contacts to help set up estate plans for everyone he could.  Now that real estate is back, he has doubled his book by focusing on both specialties.

By studying the competition, understanding the marketplace and the amount of business generated in a particular area or niche’, you can better hedge your bets when selecting a specialty.

#4. Look to the future.

Earlier this year, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Jerry Maatman of Seyfarth Shaw to learn a little more about his successful practice. One of the key elements to his amazing achievements as an attorney came from his thirst for knowledge within his area of Labor and Employment. He voraciously read everything he could to better understand what was coming down the pipe to see how he could leverage it to build his practice. He describes in his interview, the 1992 legislation for the Americans with Disabilities Act and how he got ahead of the law to be seen as the premier expert on the subject. He effectively packaged a “Survival Guide” for companies to better deal with the changing laws and regularly spoke on the subject before anyone else. By being a forward thinker, he locked-in his success and was repeatedly hired as the expert on ADA law by some of the largest companies in America.

Developing a niche’ can be a game changer for you as a practicing attorney. For those who are worried about missing other business opportunities because of specializing, who’s to say you can’t take on new business in other areas? However, by focusing your outbound marketing on one thing, you’ll have the opportunity to build your brand name much more quickly than staying a generalist.  You need to have the experience, the passion, the space or the forward thinking that will allow you to become successful in specializing.

Copyright @ 2015 Sales Results, Inc.

The 9 Top Habits of Successful Rainmakers, Part 3 of 3

The Rainmaker Institute

Working with more than 10,000 attorneys over the past dozen years has taught me a lot about what it takes to be a successful rainmaker. Some would argue you’re born with it; however, I believe many of these successful habits can be learned.

To read about the first six top habits of successful rainmakers, go here to access Part 1 and here to access Part 2. These are the final three:

7.  Incorporate Sales Into Daily Life

While personality is a key factor in successful selling, developing a sales mindset so that it permeates your daily activities is a key attribute for high-achieving rainmakers. These attorneys consistently:

Differentiate contracts from prospects. Listen for the signals that distinguish a real prospect from someone who is simply price shopping or worse (using you to obtain a lower fee from another lawyer).  Create a list of questions to disqualify contacts focusing on the criteria of “need, want, afford.”

Interview qualified prospects directly. Are you consistently talking directly to your prospects (versus their gatekeepers and time-wasters)? Make sure you are speaking to the real decision-maker.

Give prospects a call to action. Make sure each prospect receives one clear call to action. Make it easy for them to follow. Ask for their business!

Follow up. Have a process in place that will follow up with a thank you letter or e-mail within 24 hours of the interview. Be sure to end every interview with action steps (e.g., what each party agrees to do as next steps and when they will do it by). If you agree to do something, be sure to do it before the deadline.

8.  Answer the Question, Why Hire Us?

To be able to successfully pitch why you are the best choice, you must understand the problem the prospect sitting across from you is facing.  They are coming to you seeking a solution to a specific problem, which for you could be something you see every day, but for them are new and unique.

Don’t emphasize the kinds of services you offer, the quality of your services, the size of your law firm or your years of experience. What you need to tell prospects is the benefits they will get because they are doing business with you, the value you will provide them (value does NOT mean price) and theresults they can expect from the services you provide.

9.  Perfect the Close

One of the primary reasons that a company or person hires an attorney is to alleviate some type of “pain”. They may use words like “challenges”, “problems”, or “obstacles”, but all of the words amount to the same thing; they are experiencing discomfort; they are experiencing pain. Their “pain” is whatever they are asking your assistance with. Successfully closing a deal with a prospect relies upon your ability to identify their pain and effectively communicate how you will help them resolve it.

Some attorneys have a very bad habit of making clients feel stupid by using too many legal terms in conversation. Stay on your client’s level and always make sure they understood what you are trying to communicate.

In perfecting the close, great sales people:

  • Lead with benefits

  • Can articulate and add value to the conversation

  • Build credibility and trust

  • Are perceived as a trusted advisor

  • Identify a prospect’s wants and needs

  • Sell to the prospect’s goals

  • Focus on prospect’s gaps

  • Demonstrate how they will solve the prospect’s problems or needs


Part 2: The 9 Top Habits of Successful Rainmakers

The Rainmaker Institute

Successful rainmakers consistently apply certain habits and characteristics to distinguish themselves from competitors and increase the revenues of their law firms.

Click here to read Part 1 for the first three top habits of successful rainmakers. Here are the next three:

4.  Mind and Grow Your Referral Network

Just like any cash crop, a referral network needs to be nurtured in order to grow. And one of the best ways to nurture your referral network is to keep educating them about your firm so they can send you great referrals.

Here are five things you need to tell them:

  1. What your perfect client looks like. Provide a detailed description of your ideal client.

  2. Why someone should hire you. Be clear about your unique competitive advantage.

  3. What problems you solve. Again, be as specific as possible.

  4. How you follow up. Tell them your process so they are comfortable with referring you.

  5. Why referrals are important to you.

In addition, you need to find unique ways to thank your referral sources and, whenever you can, reciprocate.

5.  Leverage Relationship Building Tools

Staying connected with referral sources and clients you want to hire you again and again is the hallmark of a great rainmaker.  In my experience over the dozen years of working with more than 10,00 attorneys, I’ve found one simple solution that will help you achieve this goal without much effort or expense on your part: an e-newsletter.

E-newsletters provide an easy way for you to reach out to your entire network at the same time and to keep your name and your firm in their mind. The key benefits include:

It Establishes a Dialogue – Most email marketing companies make it easy to provide links to email and social media. The easier you make it for a contact to share information, the more likely they will share it.

It’s Easy to Track – Your email marketing provider will make tracking your effectiveness simple. They know who opened your email, who opted out, who clicked through. It’s an easy way for you to find out if the newsletter is working.

Keeping Them Informed – With a newsletter, you can include information about other firm highlights you want to share. Did someone just get an award? Did a case just settle? Did someone new join the firm?

Keep in Touch – Use the newsletter to keep in touch with former clients. It will reinforce the positive impression you had on them and ensure that you are top of mind if a new issue arises.

Educate Your Clients – If you handled my divorce, then I may not think of you when it comes time to hire an estate planning attorney. That isn’t my fault though, it’s yours. Educate your past, current and future clients and referral sources about all your practice areas.

It is a long road of small interactions, but by focusing on creating a solid relationship with your network you will benefit in the end.

6.  Develop a Marketing Mindset

The Internet and social media has blown the old legal marketing model to bits, and those with the entrepreneurial mindset and vision to harness the incredible power of these modern marketing tools create their own opportunities for revenue and growth beyond their wildest dreams.

Be proactive to recognize opportunities for you and your network and keep the radar on in every aspect of your life. Marketing is not an event, it is a mindset and a lifestyle. Access every resource available to you — internal, external, memberships, friends, family, and colleagues.


The 9 Top Habits of Successful Rainmakers, Part 1 of 3

The Rainmaker Institute

Successful rainmakers have certain habits and characteristics in common that drive them to greater levels of success. These habits and characteristics manifest themselves as key behaviors and specific actions, and understanding how to implement these actions on a consistent basis will distinguish you from your competitors and increase your revenues.

1.  Develop a Solid Personal Brand

rainmakerFor most attorneys, reputation is everything.  It used to be that attorneys gained their reputations primarily through word-of-mouth and personal interaction.  Today, building a reputation must contain an online element since this is where most people gather and interact.

A personal brand is the expression of your identity that answers the question of why clients should want to work with you. Having a niche is important in creating your personal brand. Plus, it is much easier to build your brand in a select niche than it is to stand out in a huge market like “attorneys”.   Even online, it’s important for you to niche your practice in an area that can provide living, breathing clients for your practice.

2.  Proactively Manage Digital Assets

What do prospects see when they type your name into a search engine? If it’s not much, that can often be as harmful as something negative. Here are some tips on managing your online reputation:

Update your website and social media profiles. Research shows that 76% of people searching for an attorney go online first, so your website and social media profiles are likely one of the first chances you will have to make a good first impression on a prospect. Be sure these are robust reflections of your expertise and the market you serve.

Create good, meaningful content. Wherever you are online – your law firm website, your blog, your social media networks – make sure you are creating and posting valuable and relevant content that your target prospects will find interesting and helpful.

Look and listen. Create a Google Alert for yourself and your firm so you can monitor what is being said. If you find something negative on a site that allows you to comment, do so professionally and unemotionally.

3.  Aggressively Build Contacts

Having a great contact list is key to being an effective rainmaker. While you may not realize it, you probably have more contacts than you think. Not only do you have all the contact information of the people you have done business with, you can look at your email contact addresses and also get the email addresses of those individuals you are connected with on LinkedIn. Right off the bat this will give you a bigger database then you thought.

You can also begin to speak, attend networking events or create Free Reports that motivate people to give you their contact information in order to get valuable information back.

In addition, any time you meet someone or someone calls your office, get their contact information so you can begin to communicate with them on a regular basis in a meaningful way.

To succeed at building contacts, you need to err on side of inclusivity in all your interactions. Be clear on your follow-up systems, maintain a process for adding new contacts and regularly review contact lists for updates.


Law School Applicants Drop 50% in Last Decade; Class of 2010 Provides Insights Into Reason for Decline

The Rainmaker Institute

According to a report just released by the Law School Admission Council, the number of people applying for law school in the Fall of 2015 as of March 13 is less than half of the number of people who applied to an accredited law school for the Fall of 2005 — 41,136 vs. 95,800.

Another study just out from Ohio State University’s Michael E. Moritz College of Law professor Deborah Jones Merritt, who examined the job prospects for new lawyers admitted to the Ohio bar in 2010, reflects the stark realities facing recent law school grads:

  • Overall unemployment rate is 6.3%

  • 40% work for law firms

  • 20% currently work in jobs that require no law degree

  • Percentage of solo practitioners is up significantly from graduates a decade ago

This chart from Merritt’s report details the employment status for the Class of 2010 nine months and 55 months post-graduation:


Merritt found that many law school graduates might have difficulty finding legal work because of geographical constraints. She reports that two-thirds of the students seek bar admission in the state where they attended law school, and three-fourths stay within the same region as that school.

Gender also has a role to play, according to Merritt:

  • Men are more likely to work in private practice or business

  • Women are more likely to work in government, public interest and academia

  • Men outnumber women in solo and small firm practices

  • Four years after passing the bar, 58% of male lawyers were in private practice vs. 45% of female lawyers

This data may be welcome news to current practitioners who see the glut of graduates taking a toll on market rates for legal services and who struggle daily with increased competition. What’s your take?

Traditional Law Firm Professional Development Models Obsolete?

Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard, LLP, Law Firm, North Carolina

Most firm’s lawyer staffing model is not far removed from what might be called “traditional” or “old fashioned.” That means that they still hire most new lawyers immediately upon their graduation from law school, or judicial clerkships – and assume that when they join, they are not ready to practice law. We lawyers assume our new lawyers will learn by working with experienced lawyers (what the consultants call the “apprenticeship” model).

Depending on many variables, we assume that it takes four to seven years before most new lawyers become “stand-alone” professionals. We assume that in time our associates will become our partners and spend their careers as members of our firm. This model helps us to deliver a standard of client service that, we hope, sets us apart.

Are we obsolete? In a changing world, we hold to the conviction that our way remains the best: the best professional development model for lawyers who will become counsellors and advocates for clients facing the most difficult problems.

The greatest challenge to our model has come from high turnover among associates, which we attribute to demographics. Turnover among young lawyers at law firms generally is high, as apparently turnover is high for Millenials generally.

We believe that turnover at Brooks Pierce is lower than among our peers, but – at our size and in our practice niches – turnover (or, retention) is still a challenge, and it is expensive. We cannot ignore it.

Whaddaya gonna do?

We manage. Specifics (our not-so secrets) will come in posts to follow this one.

We believe that we have have continued to make the economics of the old model succeed, even in a time of high associate salaries – and on terms that are fair to our clients, yet work for us. That part is a story for another day.