Increasing Credibility

Find a niche… easier said than done, right?

Usually when I mention finding a niche, most lawyers’ push back. They generally explain how they don’t want to miss this kind of case or that kind of case. Their practice areas list looks like that of a firm of 10 lawyers. How can you possibly market such a list? How can potential clients and referring attorneys remember what you do? Will they think of you when any of those practice areas are mentioned? Probably not!  If your list is a practice group with a long list of sub practice areas… that works. However if your list is: criminal defense, real estate closings and business transactions… that’s another story.

Continue Reading Legal Business Development: Find A Niche

Last week I made a speech about making a speech. I first asked the audience to raise their hands if they give speeches on a regular basis, how many do it occasionally, how many lead meetings, how many share their expertise with their colleagues and clients. As you can imagine more and more hands were raised until it was everyone in the room… because we all share our expertise with our colleagues and clients. So even though “giving a speech” may sound intimidating, most of us practice the basics each and every day. Speaking is a powerful tool for business development, and here are 7 key strategies to make you more effective (or help you get started!)

  1.  Can you simply share? We do it everyday, but when we think of delivering a speech we elevate it to lofty academic pearls. Yes, there are times that would be appropriate but most of the time it can simply be the act of sharing what you know, as you do every single day.
  2. Is your message clear? Make sure your message is crystal clear. Get rid of acronyms and insider terms.
  3. Does your audience care about this topic? If not find a connection that will make them care or pick another topic. Just because you think they NEED to know about this topic doesn’t mean they care.
  4. Be a storyteller. Tell a compelling story that will resonate with your audience. This is the best way to be memorable.
  5. Repetition, repetition, repetition! Get in front of an audience again and again. The more you speak the better you’ll be, and the better you are the more fun you’ll have, and the more fun you are having, the more your audience will engage with you and your message!
  6. You can do it your way. There are many ways to be a successful speaker… so do it YOUR way. Do what feels comfortable, if you have a great sense of humor… use it.
  7. Strive to be real… not perfect! I’ve saved the most important for last. REAL trumps perfect every time. An audience wants to see you, not a performance.

Here is a great TED Talk by Joe Kowan, How I Beat Stage Fright, that will engage, inspire and make you laugh!

A positive attitude is an essential ingredient for success. I’m not talking about a dreamer’s attitude. I’m talking about the confidence and enthusiasm for building relationships that will grow your practice. Do you need a little boost? Inc. Magazine contributor Geoffrey James writes… 8 Ways to Improve Your Attitude – A positive attitude make success easy: a negative one makes success pointless. He offers great tips that will help keep you on track and get you back on track, when you get derailed…

1. Always act with a purpose. Before you take any action, decide how it will serve your greater goals. If the connection is weak or non-existent, take that action off your to-do list. Aimless activity wastes time and energy.

Create a plan… who is your target market? Networking for networking’s sake makes no sense at all. When you write who are you writing to, why would they care and what impact do you want to make? Writing just to write is a waste of time.

 2. Stretch yourself past your limits every day. Doing the same-old, same-old is depressing, even if your same-old has been successful in the past. Success is like athletics; if you don’t stretch yourself every day, you gradually become slow and brittle.

Move beyond your comfort zone. Take small steps… give a 10 minute speech or write a 500 word article, before you embark on starting a blog or conducting a two hour seminar. You’ll find the thought of doing these things is worse than actually doing them.

3. Take action without expecting results. While you naturally must make decisions and take action based upon the results you’d like to achieve, it’s a big mistake to expect those results and then be disappointed when you don’t get them. Take your best shot but don’t obsess about the target.

Building relationships take time… a long time. Do things to build relationships because you really want to, not with the expectation that you will get a piece of business to work on next month. You will be disappointed if you expect immediate results. Believe me, it will happen over time, although it may not come from that person directly. It may become a winding road.

 4. Use setbacks to improve your skills. Rather than feeling bad if you fail or get rejected, look back at your actions and see what you can do (if anything) to improve your performances. Remember: the results you receive are the signposts for the results you want to achieve.

No matter how thick skinned you are, rejection doesn’t feel good. However, learning from every setback is very powerful. Always ask yourself “what would I do differently and what would I do again?”

 5. Seek out those who share your positive attitude. It’s a scientific fact your brain automatically imitates the behaviors of the people around you. (It’s because of something called a mirror neuron). Therefore, you should surround yourself with positive thinkers and shun those who are excessively negative.

Surround yourself with people who are focused on business development with the sense of possibility… not dread and negativity.

 6. Don’t take yourself so seriously. If you want to be happier and make those around you feel more comfortable, cultivate the ability to laugh at yourself. If you don’t (or can’t) laugh at yourself, I guarantee you that the people you work with are laughing behind your back!

I love this tip… we all want to laugh a little and if we can’t laugh at ourselves it will make the journey of business development a dismal one. So, laugh and laugh often! Remember this isn’t brain surgery.

 7. Forgive the limitations of others. High standards are important, but humans are, well, human. It’s crazy to make yourself miserable because other people can’t do a job as well as you think you could, or when people don’t share your vision with the same passion that you feel.

Let’s remember this one! There are some things in your legal practice that are non-negotiable, but in other areas make room for people to add their style and point of view… IF you are looking for a collaborator.

 8. Say “thank you” more frequently. Achieving an “attitude of gratitude” requires more than simply being aware of what’s wonderful in your life. You must, and should, thank other people for their gifts to you, even if that gift is something as simple as a smile.

This can make all the difference in your practice and your life. I’m sure you have experienced a day when you didn’t think things could get any worse and someone showed you a little kindness, and it made the day melt away even if for just a moment. THAT my friend is a gift! And we have the ability to give gifts like that every day… many times a day. Acknowledge a job well done, a kind gesture, a happy smile and certainly when a colleague goes above and beyond! It will make you feel good and make their day.

If you would like someone to work on these with, I can help… shoot me an email!

Charisma. Webster defines it as: a special magnetic charm or appeal. Some think you either have it or you don’t. I believe it’s a skill you can hone, because it’s more about how we treat people than anything else. Inc Magazine contributor, Jeff Haden writes… 10 Habits of Remarkably Charismatic People, He says that, “charisma isn’t something you have. It’s something you earn. Here’s how.”

1. They listen way more than they talk. Ask questions. Maintain eye contact. Smile. Frown. Nod. Respond–not so much verbally, but nonverbally. That’s all it takes to show the other person they’re important. Then when you do speak, don’t offer advice unless you’re asked. Listening shows you care a lot more than offering advice, because when you offer advice in most cases you make the conversation about you, not them.

2. They don’t practice selective hearing. Some people–I guarantee you know people like this–are incapable of hearing anything said by the people they feel are somehow beneath them. Remarkably charismatic people listen closely to everyone, and they make all of us, regardless of our position or social status or “level,” feel like we have something in common with them.

3. They put their stuff away. Don’t check your phone. Don’t glance at your monitor. Don’t focus on anything else, even for a moment. You can never connect with others if you’re busy connecting with your stuff, too. Give the gift of your full attention. That’s a gift few people give. That gift alone will make others want to be around you and remember you.

4. They give before they receive–and often they never receive. Never think about what you can get. Focus on what you can provide. Giving is the only way to establish a real connection and relationship. Focus, even in part and even for a moment, on what you can get out of the other person, and you show that the only person who really matters is you.

5. They don’t act self-important… The only people who are impressed by your stuffy, pretentious, self-important self are other stuffy, pretentious, self-important people. The rest of us aren’t impressed. We’re irritated, put off, and uncomfortable. And we hate when you walk in the room.

6. … Because they realize other people are more important. You already know what you know. You know your opinions. You know your perspectives and points of view. That stuff isn’t important, because it’s already yours. You can’t learn anything from yourself. But you don’t know what other people know, and everyone, no matter who they are, knows things you don’t know. That makes them a lot more important than you–because they’re people you can learn from.

7. They shine the spotlight on others. No one receives enough praise. No one. Tell people what they did well. Wait, you say you don’t know what they did well? Shame on you–it’s your job to know. It’s your job to find out ahead of time. Not only will people appreciate your praise, they’ll appreciate the fact you care enough to pay attention to what they’re doing.

8. They choose their words. The words you use impact the attitude of others. For example, you don’t have to go to a meeting; you get to go meet with other people. You don’t have to create a presentation for a new client; you get to share cool stuff with other people. We all want to associate with happy, enthusiastic, fulfilled people. The words you choose can help other people feel better about themselves–and make you feel better about yourself, too.

9. They don’t discuss the failings of others… Granted, we all like hearing a little gossip. We all like hearing a little dirt. The problem is, we don’t necessarily like–and we definitely don’t respect–the people who dish that dirt. Don’t laugh at other people. When you do, the people around you wonder if you sometimes laugh at them.

10. …But they readily admit their failings. Incredibly successful people are often assumed to have charisma simply because they’re successful. Their success seems to create a halo effect, almost like a glow. Keyword is seems.

I believe every one of Haden’s tips are true. All you have to do is think of a couple of people you know who would fit this description of “Remarkably Charismatic” and I’m sure you will agree. I know I did. Now armed with this knowledge what are you going to do? You might start with one tip, practice it for a week then pick another, until you have made all 10 a habit. Remember that this has nothing to do with being an introvert or extravert… it’s simply what you do and how you treat others. So put your stuff away and listen. And shoot me an email if you would like to discuss this further!


Everyone has had an experience with someone who has given service that delights you. Someone who went beyond the call-of-duty. AND it is an experience that you remember, and often talk about over and over again. So I ask you… are you delighting your clients or are you simply going through the motions? Merrilyn Astin Tarlton has Five Big Surprises, at Attorney at Work blog. They are a must if you want to delight your clients… and have them recommend you to their colleagues.

1. Go calling. You may think you know what your client’s day-to-day life is like. After all, this isn’t your first time at the lawyer-client rodeo, right? But all it takes is one spontaneous drop-in visit to realize that your cloistered law office is like Alpha Centaurus when compared to the world your clients inhabit every day. First, you’ll find it invaluable to your ability to help solve their legal problems once you really understand what their enterprise looks, feels and sounds like. Second, who ever heard of a lawyer who makes house calls? Imagine their surprise! And delight. (Oh yeah, don’t bill for your time.)

2. Pay a genuine compliment. I’m not talking about the false, exaggerated or gratuitous kind of compliment. Make it genuine. Clients grow so accustomed to lawyers finding fault with everything (that is, after all, what they pay you to do) that when you do offer praise, it feels particularly remarkable. “You seem to have a surprising grasp of the legal principles at work here” can send a young businesswoman out of your office several inches taller. “You always know the best restaurants for lunch” may seem meager praise, but it immediately grants respect and acknowledges familiarity. Who doesn’t like that?

3. See the big picture. Yes, the client came to you with another crappy little wrongful termination suit. It didn’t take much to handle because you’ve done it for him dozens of times. This time, talk to him about how to prevent it from happening again. Develop policy. Suggest supervisor training. (Heck, offer to teach the supervisors yourself.) Show your client that you feel it’s your job to help him succeed, not to just clean up messes.

4. Under-promise and over-deliver. When somebody asks exactly when you plan to show up, do you do that thing where you don’t want the person to get irritated so you say, “I’m leaving in five minutes”? Even though you know it’s going to take at least 30 minutes to finish the document … and that you have to send off a bunch of emails before you can leave? What happens? You not only arrive an hour later than you promised, but you prove yourself an unreliable witness. This is a really easy and well-intentioned way to destroy someone’s trust in you. Why not do it in reverse? Promise you’ll have the documents ready by Friday, but call Wednesday to schedule time Thursday morning for the client to come in and sign. Surprise!

5. Say thank you often. That client doesn’t have to choose you. There are plenty of other lawyers out there. So don’t get confused about who is doing who a favor. Say thank you when she returns your call promptly. Say thank you when you are referred to someone she knows, and when you are paid, and when you are complimented … even when she thanks you. “No. Thank you. It’s been a pleasure to work with you.”

BONUS: Ask how you did. When it’s all over, that’s when you want feedback. And don’t get all balled up in thinking that since your client isn’t a lawyer he isn’t really a good judge of your performance. (Read what Roy Ginsburg says about the one thing clients can judge quite accurately.) Because it doesn’t matter whether the feedback is an “accurate” assessment, it will be the truth about what your client thinks. And what he thinks, rightly or wrongly, is what will make him come back again … or not. And boy, will he be surprised when you ask!

These principles may be common sense… but do you put them into practice 100% of the time? No! Not because you don’t want to or because you’re basically a rude person. No, it’s because you get busy and laser focused on the matter you’re working on.

I worked with a client this morning, and he observed that the most valuable thing that he’s learned while working with me is that business development is equally as important as the legal work. “Before you, I thought it was secondary… when and if I had time.”

I tell you… there’s nothing more important then to dazzle your clients with whatever means you can… brilliant lawyering, a smile and a thank you… or just doing what you said you would do! Do it in such a way that they will tell the story over and over again to anyone who will listen. That is what business development all about.

I have coached many lawyers to write articles, blogs and books. The initial response is usually; I don’t have time, that’s too much work, what would I write about, who would be interested in what I have to say… and so on and so on! But what is really behind all those excuses? In many cases, fear… because writing is scary! Beth Hayden contributor to the blog Copyblogger, writes… Why We Still Need to Write, Even When We’re Scared. She breaks these fears down to the essence.

Sometimes when we publish something, it makes us feel like our insides are hanging out, for all the world to see. We feel vulnerable. We feel naked. We feel … terrified.

But here’s the thing — we have to keep writing, in spite of the fear. If we let fear stop us, our content will have no spark, no life. And everything we write will be completely unremarkable

Brene’ Brown, sociologist and researcher believes, “We are put on this earth to connect with one another. Connection is what gives meaning and purpose to our lives.”

But if we want connection, we have to be willing to be vulnerable. Even though vulnerability is often hard — sometimes even excruciating — we’ve got to put ourselves out there in order to experience connection.

And here’s what very few people are talking about in the field of content marketing — vulnerability not only makes us better human beings, it also makes us better writers, and better content marketers.

We have to be willing to put our ideas, opinions, and deepest fears out there, so we can truly connect with our audiences. Content that isn’t vulnerable — that doesn’t scare us, just a little bit — isn’t necessarily going to draw a huge audience of raving fans. It’s not going to get shared on social networking sites thousands of times. It’s not going to really impact the world.

Vulnerability is the missing piece in content marketing.

So next time you cover up the fear with excuses… think about connection. Connection is what bonds a client, prospect or referral source to you… that is what’s at stake. So are you willing to be vulnerable in order to achieve connection?

Do the emails you send to your clients build credibility? Credibility… like your ability to be laser sharp and get to the essence of an issue? Or are they written like mini briefs? Everyone gets more emails per day than they can possibly read. When communicating with clients it is important that they read your emails and take action. So how do you get them to do it? Geoffrey James from Inc. Magazine has a six-step system to turn your over-written emails into productive tools that will build your credibility and demonstrate to your clients that you do care about efficiency.

James writes…

E-mails are the most common document in the business world. Unfortunately, many e-mails are so poorly written that recipients must struggle to figure out why they’re reading the e-mail and what they’re supposed to do about it. Here’s a foolproof method to write e-mails that get the job done.

1. Have a specific decision in mind. The goal of an e-mail is always to get the recipient(s) to make a decision of some kind. Otherwise, why bother writing it?

Therefore, before you write anything, ask yourself: exactly what decision do I want the recipient to make? As with all business writing, vagueness is the opposite of useful. The clearer the goal, the more convincing your e-mail will be.

2. Start by writing your conclusion. Your conclusion is a statement of the decision that you want the recipient to make, based upon the contents of your e-mail.

In school, they probably taught you to start with an introduction and end with a conclusion. Wrong. Nobody in the business world has time to wander through the development of an idea. If you don’t tell them the reason for the e-mail immediately, chances are they’ll just move on.

3. Structure your supporting argument into “digestible chunks.” Once you’ve stated your conclusion, marshal the arguments that support your conclusion (i.e. the decision you want made). To make your arguments “digestible,” break them into small “chunks,” and present each point with a similar format and sentence structure.

4. Bolster each argument with evidence. It’s been said that everyone has two things: a sphincter and an opinion. Unless you provide facts that back up your arguments, your e-mail becomes one giant, opinion and therefore, in the eyes of the recipient, you’ll probably seem like one, giant… well…, you get the idea.

5. Repeat your conclusion as a “call to action.” At the end of the e-mail, restate the conclusion in a way that provides the recipient with the next step that the recipient must take, assuming the recipient now agrees with your conclusion, based upon the force of your arguments and evidence. Keep it simple and specific.

6. Stick a benefit in the subject line. Your subject line (aka “title”) is the most important part of an e-mail, which is why you write it last, after you’ve written down both your conclusion and the arguments and evidence that supports that conclusion.

Ideally, a subject line should accomplish two important tasks: 1) interest the recipient enough so that the e-mail gets opened and read, and 2) imply the conclusion that you want to the recipient to accept. In most cases, the best way to accomplish both tasks is to encapsulate a benefit (or benefits) that will result from the decision that you’d like the recipient to make.

This simple six-step system could change the rate of new matters you get from your clients. So, do it and grow your practice.

How can you differentiate yourself from the more than six million lawyers on the planet? Demonstrate your expertise. Since it’s not likely that large numbers of potential clients will see you in court or at the negotiation table… the second best way to demonstrate your expertise is with articles and blogs. The more you can connect to your target audience with relevant content that makes their life easier and solves their challenges… the more credibility you build with that target audience.

This week I read a blog post by my friend Cordell Parvin, 12 Things You Should Know Before Your Next Blog Post. Most of the 12 apply to everything you write for business development purposes.

1. Who is your intended reader?

2. Is your intended reader a businessman or a lawyer?

3. Why will your reader care about this post?

4. What else has been written on your blog topic recently?

5. What do you want your reader to take away from the post?

6. What do you want your reader to think about you?

7. If a potential client was doing a Google search of your blog topic, what would the client search?

8. If the potential client did a search of your blog topic, would the client find your blog?

9. If your reader only saw your headline, would he or she click to read more?

10. Is your blog easy to read on a mobile phone or tablet?

11. Will your intended reader want to pass your blog along to colleagues and industry friends, and if so, for what reason?

12. What will you do to promote your blog so your intended target reader sees it?

“What do you want your reader to think of you?” That is the most important question… and only you can answer that one!

It’s no secret that I believe authoring a business book is one of the best credibility building efforts you can do to develop business. In fact, I don’t even see it as a “book”… I see it as a BIG, audacious business card! The power of a book to establish credibility and development more business is impossible to overstate.

But whenever I say this to lawyers, I can see the blood drain from their faces. And then I hear all the reasons why they couldn’t possibly write a book. Last week Copyblogger contributor Ali Luke wrote How to Beat 7 Common Self-Publishing Fears and I would suspect Luke’s first 4 fears are the real reasons why more lawyers don’t take the plunge. You tell me!

Fear #1: I’m not ready. 

Fear #2: I don’t know what to write about.

Fear #3: Nobody will buy it.

Fear #4: It won’t be good enough.

All of these are usually hidden in the… "I don’t have time" excuse. Granted TIME is always an issue, no matter what business development initiatives you are undertaking.

Let go of the fear and the excuses! Writing a book isn’t nearly as difficult process as it may seem to be. Let’s take a look at each of these common objections:

I’m not ready: I’m not asking you to write another "War and Peace". An effective book doesn’t have to be hundreds of pages long… not even close!

I don’t know what to write about: You advise clients every day. So what information would be helpful to your current clients and potential clients?

Nobody will buy it: Generating sales isn’t even the goal. The point is… Will clients and potential clients find it valuable? Lead with what your clients WANT to know not what YOU want them to know.

It won’t be good enough: Of course it will be good enough… you satisfy your client’s everyday, don’t you? Remember who your audience is and speak to them.

Building a personal brand has two fundamental requirements. Demonstrating your points of differentiation and building credibility. A book will do that for you! Luke advises to set a date when you will start, I agree with her. And trust me, I know EXACTLY how you feel right now, because I put off writing my own books for many years. Looking back now, I don’t know why I waited so long! Set a date and just start!

Lawyers are achievers… that is for certain. But are they respected? David DiSalvo, a contributor to Forbes Magazine writes… The Five Hallmarks of Highly Respected Achievers. When I read it I thought… If this isn’t for lawyers… I don’t know what is! Disalvo describes his writing as… science, technology, and the cultural ripples of both.

He has started research that he describes as…

identifying the characteristics that describe highly driven, achievement-oriented people who are also among the most well-respected in any organization. The intersection between drive and respect is an important one, because we all know people who are highly driven but think nothing of running others over along the way. And, we know examples of people who are respected but stagnant.

Here are some of his initial thoughts on what makes respected achievers different…

1. Tempered Tenacity. Respected achievers are incredibly tenacious. They do not allow obstacles to stop them, at least not for long, chiefly because they’ve trained their thinking to immediately seek out other ways of reaching a goal. To a tenaciously driven person, there is never just one way to get there, and no one will convince them otherwise. However, the sort of achiever we’re talking about also keeps the well-being of others in mind, and if one of those alternate routes will result in unnecessarily harming someone else, then that route isn’t an option, period. To the respected achiever, it doesn’t have to be, because they know there are other ways to get where they want to go even if it takes longer to get there.

Tenacity… doesn’t that have lawyer written all over it? But… add the word TEMPERED and you have the rare lawyer. You know one… we all do. Could YOU be that person?

2. Consistent Commitment. Another hallmark of respected achievers is that they do what they say they’ll do. They don’t spin out an elaborate vision, get others to buy into it, and then run off to the next big idea because it has sparked their interest more than the first. While nurturing multiple visions is fine (assuming they are manageable), the respected achiever sets a high standard for her/himself that what they commit to do on a project, they fully intend to do and will make every reasonable effort to make it happen. Granted, failure or unforeseen circumstances are always a possibility, but those are the exceptions. The respected achievers’ standard of following through is consistently maintained whether or not adversity materializes, and others know that when they collaborate with a respected achiever it won’t be a waste of their time.

It is so simple… do what you say you will do! It is a sad statement that this is not the norm… rather it is the exception. Never mind. Be the exception.

3. Soulful Pragmatism. Respected achievers are typically pragmatists – they focus on what works. If one approach isn’t panning out, they either figure out how to tweak it in subtle or significant ways, or they abandon it altogether and adopt a different approach. Their focus is on outcomes. But, implementing a pragmatic approach without being mindful of how changes will affect others isn’t commendable, it’s cruel. Respected achievers know this, so they balance an outcome-focus with a situational awareness of the adjustments required by others, and they work with them to make those adjustments. Again, this may build a little more time into the process, but respected achievers don’t value outcomes above peoples’ lives if there is any possibility of creating a mutually beneficial arrangement. And if there is not, they take it as a personal goal to help others transition into roles that will benefit them.

Focus on what works or figure it out so that it does…. AND be mindful of those it affects. Clients and their staff, colleagues and your staff… friends and your family.

4. Strategic Resolution. Just like anyone else, respected achievers can become negative when things aren’t going well, and just like all of us, they may vent now and again about how crappy a situation is. What they do not do, however, is drop anchor in that negative place and allow their negativity to feed itself and eventually seep into the perspectives of those around them. Instead, they experience the pain, recognize that whatever caused it (business or personal) is now part of their repertoire of experience, and then they resolve to strategically move on. In this case, strategy refers to a guiding set of action steps to push forward – and, it also refers to decisions about what not to do. Strategy is choice, and resolving into a strategic mindset to pull out of a negative place requires making hard choices. Respected achievers are seen by others as those willing to make those choices, and that carries tremendous weight in any organization.

I love this one… I guess because it speaks to my core. I have no use for staying in a negative environment for long… mine OR others.

5. Responsibility Ownership. One less-than-admirable trait of many driven people is that they’re good at figuring out how to avoid taking responsibility for what went wrong. If that means throwing someone under the proverbial bus, so be it. Better him than me. But the respected achiever sees things differently in a couple of ways. First, if something went wrong due to a mistake made by the team, the respected achiever owns responsibility whether or not other team members do the same. Why? Because teams are essentially organizations structured to accomplish specific goals, and if those goals aren’t reached, then the team (not any one person) owns the blame, because the team (not any one person) was given the responsibility to succeed. Respected achievers own their role on the team instead of trying to explain why their responsibility should be less than that of the others’. Second, respected achievers are intuitively reciprocal people – they treat others in the manner they wish to be treated. Their embodiment of the “Golden Rule” is not situational; it’s a consistently applied maxim that guides their behavior.

Responsibility ownership… WOW. I have been in many law firm meetings where business development is being discussed and usually the lack of it. Few lawyers stand up and take responsibility. In any law firm large or small… I believe EVERY lawyer should shoulder SOME responsibility… what can YOU contribute to the effort? Imagine the success of a firm if every single lawyer took responsibility and owned it!

Lawyers as respected achievers… certainly. It takes compassion, a view of the bigger picture and theses five steps are a great place to start.