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

Do you want a sure-fire way to predict when something is going to go terribly wrong? I do. There is a way but it’s not a crystal ball or Ouija board. The answer is in Forbes contributor Paul B. Brown’s article… The One Sign Something Is About To Go Wrong… And What You Can Do Before It Does. The legal profession is changing rapidly, and the ability to spot and adapt to these changes is invaluable.

Brown was asked for a formula to predict success…

While I haven’t found a foolproof formula to predict success, I know I have come up with a way to tell when something is going to go horribly wrong.

That is going to occur immediately after you become complacent.  I have never seen it fail.

The moment you think you have nailed it—you believe your product or service is perfect; you have mastered everything there is to know about leading their organization—something or someone is going to upset your proverbial apple cart.

For example, a new competitor will enter the market with a new way of doing things.

I am sure that Blockbuster thought everything was fine even when Netflix NFLX +1.21% first came along. The large box consumer electronic stores were doing quite nicely and remained unconcerned when an increasing number of people starting shopping their stores, asking lots of questions about the merchandise and then leaving empty handed (so that they could buy the product cheaper online.)

Or there will be a management challenge that you didn’t see coming. (“Wait a second! It looks like these Millennials want to be managed differently than all the baby boomers we have in our ranks.”)

You have two choices when you face these kinds of situations.

You can assume the new information/problem/challenge is an aberration and there is nothing to worry about. (People will always want to rent movies from a freestanding store; or in the case of the big box stores “this Internet shopping thing is just a fad.)

As for management challenges you can simply say: “These new workers will just have to get used to the way we have always done things. Our systems are perfect the way they are.”

Or you can take every potential change to the marketplace seriously.

No, not every new entrant or new idea could put you out of business, but it only takes one significant threat as Blockbuster and the consumer electronic stores learned the hard way.

The problem with worrying about every threat and every change in the marketplace is that you can never become complacent. You can never truly relax and enjoy what you have accomplished.

Accept that. The alternative is becoming obsolete or irrelevant.

While it is tiring—because you can never rest on your well-earned laurels—it is far better to be vigilant.

Complacency comes in many forms. The most harmful to a lawyer’s business is… “I’m too busy!” Yes, I acknowledge that you may have a heavy workload, but I ask you… Are you working as efficiently as you could? Are you leveraging the skills of a team? Are you making every minute you spend on business development count? If not maybe you have become complacent and begun to settle for business as usual! Now that you know complacency is a sure sign of impending disaster… what are you going to do about it?

If you would like to explore how this insight applies to your situation… give me a call.


The legal profession is evolving… are you? Granted change is tough. But the longer you put it off, the farther behind you fall, and the harder it is to get started. So, make the choice… take the first step! Harvard Business Review offers a great place to start…Three Ways to Help Your Company Snap Out of It.*

Organizations, like people, can get set in their ways. Relying on established ways of working and solving problems not only stifles innovation but can lead to a lack of perspective and moments of delusion. Here are three ways to help your organization snap out of unhelpful patterns:

Challenge rationalizations. Every organization has shared explanations for doing things the way they do. Poke holes in those rationalizations and ask the question: why is this standard practice?

Expose faulty either/or thinking. False dichotomies can set up irrational choices about how to work. Don’t let A or B be the only options, propose C or D as a new way of working.

Focus on the long-term. Emphasis on the short term can trap you into current practice. Help your colleagues pull back, see the big picture, and understand not only short-term gains but long-term consequences.

Look at the way you and your firm develop business and challenge the status quo. Ask the tough questions. Come up with innovative ideas and ask… Why not?

*Adapted from Keeping Your Colleagues Honest by Mary C. Gentile.

CHANGE. Few like it and least of all lawyers. It’s important to have a firm culture built on good work but equally important is to build a firm culture around business development. If business development is at the core of how everyone thinks and goes hand-in-hand with excellent work the financial health of your firm will be more stable. Sure… it’s easier said than done. Your team will resist change… we all do. Samuel Bacharach, a professor of labor management at Cornell, writes for Inc. Magazine 4 Reasons Your Employees Resist Change–And How to Overcome Them. Bacharach suggests that successfully leading change requires you to create an environment of safety and he offers this insight…

Sustain the sense of competency. Over time, your employees become comfortable with the knowledge they possess, the skills they have mastered, and the nuances of their jobs. This is what gives them a sense of competency. Change threatens this safety.

Tinkering with your team’s mission, culture, or work processes invariably means that you’re altering whole sections of people’s work activities. Though some people thrive on a new set of challenges, others wince and feel vulnerable. Change, for them, means learning new skills and giving up the stuff they’re great at. Change may challenge their competency.

As a leader, you have to address this concern directly. Offer your team members strategies to deal with new expectations. A clear explanation of the new tasks, combined with a generous adjustment period, allows individuals to relax and accept change with less reluctance.

Reduce the fear of failure. We all fear failure. At best, this makes us hesitate. At worst, it leads to total stagnation. No one wants to accept new responsibilities only to mess up and look bad.

Change easily draws out an individual’s fears. Individuals don’t just fear failure; they also fear what comes with failure: being laid off, missing out on a promotion, not getting a bonus… The list goes on.

It’s your job as a leader to be sympathetic to this fear and to set policies that will indulge mistakes during the transition. You must publicly affirm your belief that with change comes a period of confusion, and that you are willing to accept the occasional blunder. As a leader, you can create a safe learning environment if you let others know that you believe a blunder can be a great teacher, and that mastery and achievement are the result of many mistakes.

Ensure the stability of status. Change often alters a team’s structure, which in turn may alter who reports to whom and who gets the final say on what. Some rightfully fret that their current position and status may be lessened or even threatened.

In this situation, you must be sensitive to the subtleties of status. You need to preserve the social status of those who are most affected by your change initiative.

Make the unfamiliar comfortable. There’s a reason people have habits and stick with them. Habits are familiar, and people like what’s familiar.

Take away my morning coffee and paper, and I get grumpy. Take away someone’s routine and replace it with something unfamiliar, and you’ll create anxiety and, in turn, resistance.

In order to create safety for others, it’s best to implement change incrementally. Try to implement parts of your change agenda slowly to give people time to become accustomed to your new ideas.

As with anything, understanding the cause is half the battle in overcoming the challenge. It is no longer acceptable to think that business development is someone else’s job. Every lawyer in a firm has a part to play… big or small. Landing a new client or getting new matters from existing clients it all contributes to the bottom line. So think about professor Bacharach’s insights as your firm faces change… it will make the transition a bit smoother.

Change! Just the mention of the word may make a few lawyers breakout in a cold sweat. Openness to change is not at the top of the list when it comes to lawyer traits. Just because its not at the top of the list doesn’t mean that as a leader of lawyers you can’t navigate around it. Being aware of how people resist change and what you can do to lead through it will ensure success. Here is a list of 10 Reasons People Resist Change written by Harvard Business Review contributor, Rosabeth Moss Kanter. She has advice that lawyers will find useful when they encounter resistance leading others through change. 

1. Loss of control. Change interferes with autonomy and can make people feel that they’ve lost control over their territory. It’s not just political, as in who has the power. Our sense of self-determination is often the first things to go when faced with a potential change coming from someone else. Smart leaders leave room for those affected by change to make choices. They invite others into the planning, giving them ownership.

2. Excess uncertainty. If change feels like walking off a cliff blindfolded, then people will reject it. People will often prefer to remain mired in misery than to head toward an unknown. As the saying goes, "Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know." To overcome inertia requires a sense of safety as well as an inspiring vision. Leaders should create certainty of process, with clear, simple steps and timetables.

3. Surprise, surprise! Decisions imposed on people suddenly, with no time to get used to the idea or prepare for the consequences, are generally resisted. It’s always easier to say No than to say Yes. Leaders should avoid the temptation to craft changes in secret and then announce them all at once. It’s better to plant seeds — that is, to sprinkle hints of what might be coming and seek input.

4. Everything seems different. Change is meant to bring something different, but how different? We are creatures of habit. Routines become automatic, but change jolts us into consciousness, sometimes in uncomfortable ways. Too many differences can be distracting or confusing. Leaders should try to minimize the number of unrelated differences introduced by a central change. Wherever possible keep things familiar. Remain focused on the important things; avoid change for the sake of change.

5. Loss of face. By definition, change is a departure from the past. Those people associated with the last version — the one that didn’t work, or the one that’s being superseded — are likely to be defensive about it. When change involves a big shift of strategic direction, the people responsible for the previous direction dread the perception that they must have been wrong. Leaders can help people maintain dignity by celebrating those elements of the past that are worth honoring, and making it clear that the world has changed. That makes it easier to let go and move on.

6. Concerns about competence. Can I do it? Change is resisted when it makes people feel stupid. They might express skepticism about whether the new software version will work or whether digital journalism is really an improvement, but down deep they are worried that their skills will be obsolete. Leaders should over-invest in structural reassurance, providing abundant information, education, training, mentors, and support systems. A period of overlap, running two systems simultaneously, helps ease transitions.

7. More work. Here is a universal challenge. Change is indeed more work. Those closest to the change in terms of designing and testing it are often overloaded, in part because of the inevitable unanticipated glitches in the middle of change, per "Kanter’s Law" that "everything can look like a failure in the middle." Leaders should acknowledge the hard work of change by allowing some people to focus exclusively on it, or adding extra perqs for participants (meals? valet parking? massages?). They should reward and recognize participants — and their families, too, who often make unseen sacrifices.

8. Ripple effects. Like tossing a pebble into a pond, change creates ripples, reaching distant spots in ever-widening circles. The ripples disrupt other departments, important customers, people well outside the venture or neighborhood, and they start to push back, rebelling against changes they had nothing to do with that interfere with their own activities. Leaders should enlarge the circle of stakeholders. They must consider all affected parties, however distant, and work with them to minimize disruption.

9. Past resentments. The ghosts of the past are always lying in wait to haunt us. As long as everything is steady state, they remain out of sight. But the minute you need cooperation for something new or different, the ghosts spring into action. Old wounds reopen, historic resentments are remembered — sometimes going back many generations. Leaders should consider gestures to heal the past before sailing into the future.

10. Sometimes the threat is real. Now we get to true pain and politics. Change is resisted because it can hurt. When new technologies displace old ones, jobs can be lost; prices can be cut; investments can be wiped out. The best thing leaders can do when the changes they seek pose significant threat is to be honest, transparent, fast, and fair. For example, one big layoff with strong transition assistance is better than successive waves of cuts.

I’m sure you recognized a few of your partners and associates in this list. Whether it’s a new industry practice requiring collaborations or new timekeeping software requiring discipline… the firm will benefit from successful initiatives. Take the steps necessary to make sure people are as comfortable as possible to ensure that success.

Change is a scary word to most people… particularly lawyers. I am sure that we resist change for many reasons… fear of the unknown… fear of discomfort… fear of failure… and the list goes on.

My first career was in the fashion business… and change is the life-blood of the fashion business! Every new season brought new colors, new trends and new reasons for customers to buy. When I started out I produced fashion shows and the excitement of choreographing the show with new music and new stage sets that were influenced by the trends would fuel us. Later on when I was a buyer, the new season meant getting rid of merchandise that didn’t sell. We marked it down, cleaned house and had an opportunity to start again. This experience influenced the way I look at business and life in general. Change? I embrace it… I thrive on it! And what I have come to realize… is it’s a choice we have each and every day. We can choose to GO with it or we can RESIST it. The outcomes of those choices are often pretty simple to predict. What is for certain?  What you resist… persists. It is your choice.

Imagine if you looked at your legal practice in the light of embracing change?

I have a client whose associate quit and there was a bit of a panic… how’s all of the work going to get done? Looking at it in a different light… it represented an opportunity to start again. So we started looking at contract lawyers… we found several of them. Now when he pursues new business he can do it with the confidence that he has a TEAM of extremely qualified lawyers behind him. His capacity has multiplied. His payroll has not… he pays only when he has the work.

One of the areas that I work on with all my clients is helping them narrow their focus… find a niche. Find an area where you can make a name for yourself. Sometimes that can represent a BIG change. Lawyers who are the most successful finding a niche are the ones who embrace it with excitement and dig in.

These lawyers could resist change and continue business as usual… but that is not who they are at the core. They are open-minded and willing to try new things. They know change isn’t easy and they do it anyway!

Last week I told you about my work as a faculty member at the Managing Partner Forum in St Louis. The most popular aspects of the conference are the Managing Partner Idea Exchanges. They are broken down by firm size and Aviva Cuyler from JDSupra and I facilitated the small firm group that included firms up to 40 lawyers. I would like to share some of the highlights with you.

One of the topics we addressed was… CHANGE. We discussed the various ways that Managing Partners have had success implementing change and here are the top five:

  1. Bring in an outside resource to shake things up.
  2. Create financial incentives.
  3. Emulate success – look at what has worked in the past and do more of it.
  4. Focus on and support the people who are interested in implementing the change.
  5. Minimize the risk of opposition (e.g. sunset the changes unless they are approved again after a certain period. Start small and work your way up).

There is no question that change is difficult even when the current situation is painful and ineffective. I think the list our group came up with could be extremely helpful for anyone in any position in a firm… you don’t have to be the Managing Partner to initiate change. These days "business as usual" is not a good thing. We need to continually strive to improve, grow and stay competitive.

Many lawyers have said to me that they don’t have a personal brand. But they most certainly do… they just didn’t create it consciously. Everything one does adds to their personal brand… positively or negatively. But we don’t often see it that way. The question here is can we change it? Sure we can. Should we change it? Absolutely. If you are working on business development it is imperative that you craft the personal brand that will get you where you want to go. 

But… it isn’t easy. Seth Godin talked about… "Changing Personas". He defines a marketing persona "as the posture or approach or attitude you bring to the market"… your personal brand positioning.

Change is needed when what we are doing doesn’t work any more and we need to move to the next level. He pushes back with:

"Please don’t tell me about authenticity. Brands and personas are made, not born, and we use them because they work, not because our DNA ordains us to. When they stop working, it’s time to change them." 


  • You first have to make a commitment to do it. Not just put it on a list, I mean the kind of commitment that is uncompromising.
  • Make a plan… you need to know where you are headed. What do you want to be known for? What do you want people to think when they hear your name?
  • Get into action… do something every single day. Show the world you are who you say you are and do it little step by little step.

No, it isn’t easy… but becoming a lawyer wasn’t either. Legal business development will be less arduous if you have a strong personal brand… persona… reputation… OR whatever you would like to call it. It is easier for people to send you referrals or hire you when they can clearly understand your values… small and large.


Change… yes, CHANGE. Don’t they say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

The past few years have been difficult in the legal profession… what am I saying… in just about every profession! So how many of you looked at your business and made a conscious decision to CHANGE IT? No I don’t mean you went with the flow or adapted as a resignation. I mean looked at things… lack of new cases, apathy of staff, slow paying clients, increased expenses, etc,etc,etc. It was easy to say… "Things will get better, I just have to survive until then."

Did you look at your client service and think about what they may want, like flat fee billing or more convenient locations? Did you look at how efficiently you could produce the work?

You may think… what is she talking about? Isn’t this operations, not marketing and business development? Well my friend, the bottom-line? It is ALL marketing and business development.

1. If your fee structure is what a client wants… you get more work… that is business development.

2. If you are efficient and do the work faster and cheaper than someone else…. you get more work… that is business development.

3. If your staff is engaged and clients enjoy interacting with them… your clients send you more work… that is business development.

Here is a brilliant example of this.  A client of mine delancyhill was in The Miami Herald – Business Monday section yesterday because Marlon Hill and his partner Michelle Delancy have grabbed change with both hands.

They have positioned their firm as a cutting edge firm poised for the recovery. To do this they first questioned: How can they make the firm more accessible to their clients? How can they be more efficient and deliver a more cost effective solution to their clients? And how can our lawyers and staff find more satisfaction from there jobs AND life? So what they came up with is to rethink their approach to a traditional office… why couldn’t it be a series of satellite offices that take technology to its max? Why can’t we have more flexibility, (Michelle is a mother of 6… yes you got it right – 6)? The answer was YES… of course. So they gave up their traditional law office in a prestigious downtown building for 3 very nice satellite offices, central, north and south… giving their clients a choice of where they want to meet (remember: give the client what they want). Each attorney works from their home offices that are in fact very mobile… laptops and personal WiFi, (flexibility, flexibility, flexibility). Where are the files you may ask… they are in the "cloud". They are going paperless with their files on a cloud server that anyone in the firm can access at anytime.

Does this sound like CHANGE to you? I certainly hope so. I can also tell you that ultimately each and every change is a business development initiative. As a reader of my blog you know that I talk a lot about creating your points of differentiation. There is no doubt that they have created a remarkable point of differentiation.