Monday, April 27, 2009

Motivation

This past week marks the sixth month I've kept this blog going! Thank you to all of you who have kept coming back, and thank you to all the newcomers. It is a lot of fun but wouldn't be nearly as gratifying if I didn't have readers. Then it would be, well, I suppose just a personal diary of sorts.

In any event, the six month marker has me musing on the topic of motivation. What motivates a lawyer to solve difficult problems? To mentor younger team members? To revise a brief twenty times? To analyze a business and tax problem for hours? To respond to a client's question about a lease late in the evening so that the next day's deadline can be met? It is rarely the case that money is the motivation. Effective lawyers in private practice are rarely motivated just by money. If they were, they'd almost surely be in a different profession. Most lawyers I know are motivated by an internal drive to solve problems and help people. The money is a nice avenue for recognition, but it doesn't drive the basic behaviors of effective lawyers.

It has also been my observation that legal team members, whether lawyers, secretaries, librarians, or IT guys, are most motivated to contribute to a team if they feel valued, listened to, and included. Valued for the unique benefits they bring to the team, listened to as a contributor to the team effort, and included in team decision-making. On the other hand, team members who are told (explicitly or in an indirect, passive-aggressive sort of way) that they are not valued, team members who are not listened to and included in conversations, and team members that are excluded from decisions, rarely feel motivated to give their best effort. In fact, those who are not valued, included and listened to often withdraw from teams altogether if given the option, and instead spend their valuable time and energy with groups that do value, include and listen, whether in the law firm or outside of it.

Leaders who want to bring out the best from their team recognize the legal professional's desire to help others, and the natural human drive to be valued, included and listened to. Otherwise, what was once a team degenerates into a group of solos sharing office space, at best, or disintegrates along with the lost sense of shared purpose.

Cynthia

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Short Term Thinking

Dear readers, I apologize for missing my usual Sunday post last weekend. I've been a little over-committed, between client work, a recent seminar for lawyers and professionals at the firm teaching about on-line networking, updating various websites to which I regularly contribute, and a 3000 word article for a lawyer magazine for paper publication next fall. The latter is quite time consuming, and feels a little odd compared to my daily 140 character tweets and twice weekly essays for the blog. I'm having to think about an analytical piece that will still be relevant four months from now; with Twitter I'm usually wondering whether yesterday's news is relevant today!

In any event, all this "non-billable" "client development" work seems somewhat unnecessary, since I have lots of client work to do and no end in sight. So why keep at it? Why not just focus on client work, and then enjoy my free time? The question was also put to me quite bluntly in last week's in-house seminar, when one of the lawyers present asked me if I'd ever gotten any clients from my LinkedIn, Legal OnRamp, Blog or Twitter activities. That's easy to answer: No. I don't expect to. And I also don't think I've been engaged by any clients because of a particular seminar, article, or contribution to a treatise or periodical.

Other than direct referrals from clients, I usually can't identify where any particular work comes from, but that doesn't mean that these other activities don’t have merit. Just because I can't draw a straight line from a particular activity to new work doesnt' make the indirect practice development activity any less worthwhile.

I do believe most clients choose a particular lawyer based on three things: competence, effectiveness, and trustworthiness. A client development activity that looks for immediate results is much too shortsighted and can't address all three areas. Developing a network of personal and professional connections, as well as a personal brand that speaks to the lawyer's particular market, takes a tremendous amount of time and effort. That time and effort should be designed around establishing competence (eg., written contributions that stand the test of time in treatises and periodicals), effectiveness (eg., media recognition of successful cases, or public appearances and speaking engagements), and trustworthiness (eg., client recommendations and referrals). Focusing efforts on only one of those areas may work for some people, but it has been my observation that lawyers who consistently work on all three areas build the strongest practices, and those practices thrive both in good economic environments and bad.

So if you are in your career for the long term, develop a strategy for the long term, and work at it every day. But don't expect immediate results. Now, back to the client work…

Cynthia

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Key Questions for Professional Women: What Should I Wear? How Should I Laugh? Should I Cut my Hair?

Another must read is The Political Pillorying of Pantsuits: The Media's Gender Bias in the 2008 Presidential Campaign in the Winter 2009 edition of Perspectives, the publication of the ABA Commission on Women. Ann Farmer writes about a collection by Media Matters for America, a nonprofit media watchdog group, of media attacks on Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin last year. The picture is not a pretty one, and what is even more distressing is the collective yawn in this country since the day after the election. Either few people noticed, or few people cared. Sadly, much of the same sort of sexist commentary continues, as chronicled by Media Matters. See for today's example: Limbaugh: "[T]he words 'Clinton' and 'booty' are two words that should not be close together in a news story."

In any event, the article reminds me once again about the popular topic of how women lawyers should dress, and the importance of professional attire. There are many clues in Pantsuits about what the media and the opposition will criticize about a powerful woman's appearance: her haircut, amount of visible cleavage, ratio of pantsuits to skirts, acceptable forms of laughter, and something about steel thighs (which I always thought were a goal to strive for, not something threatening).

In any event, enjoy the article. Being a glass-half-full sort of person, I like to think that the tide is turning, that gradually men and women will be sensitized to the issue, and will eventually stop tolerating it. Maybe someday I'll work up the courage to wear a pantsuit. Let's hope that's someday, soon.

Cheerfully,

Cynthia

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Haiku #4

Spring, loaded with blooms
Wither later in the sun
Like tax dollars--gone.

Cynthia

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Herding Cats

Happy Easter! I'm taking a short blog vacation, and as many journalists do, will use this opportunity to re-publish an earlier post that I really liked. This selection was originally published October 26, 2008.



This is a photo of my cat Frosty, a lovely male "ragdoll." The ragdoll breed is known for its friendliness and affection for its human family members. Frosty has never met anyone he didn't like, but he tends to be bossy with our other cat, he spits up hairballs with great frequency, and when he doesn't like the condition of his litter box, well, let's just say he makes it clear that someone better improve living conditions.

Managing lawyers is often analogized to "herding cats." I think that is a good jumping off point for law firm management theories but doesn't quite capture the entire experience. Imagine filling expensive office space with a cat in every window office. New attorneys are the little kittens, they are cuddly, soft, and so much fun to watch. Eventually they make mistakes and do annoying things, like jumping on the kitchen counter, sharpening their claws on expensive upholstery, and otherwise threatening client relationships or annoying the staff until they learn to keep their claws in.

New partners can be like young house cats just let loose outside for the first time. You know those cats, they run around all day with great verve and enthusiasm and then come in the house with a live hummingbird in their mouths, which they deposit at your feet. The proud little hunter purrs and is so, so proud, expecting accolades and much petting. Meanwhile the hummingbird recovers from its shock and starts flying all over the office looking for an escape route. Not only is the hummingbird not edible, but it is disrupting the entire office and everyone just wants to see it set free again.

Established partners, like adult mountain lions, are unpredictable. They may spend inordinate amounts of time napping in the sun, or disappear for hours in the middle of the day hunting (the time entry shows "business development"), but occasionally will bring down an enormous moose or deer or whatever, which feeds the entire office for months, if not years. For this the entire pride of cats is eternally grateful and appreciative.

Like lawyers, cats of every age will stand at the door crying until you open it so they can get out, then decide they really don't want to go out. Or they'll go out the door, then cry to get back in at midnight, so you stand there with the door wide open for ten minutes freezing in your pajamas waiting for them to come back in while they stand just beyond the threshold. And if the litter box isn't clean enough…

Like cats, all lawyers get very noisy when they are hungry and the food dish is empty. They occasionally ruin the furniture sharpening their claws. When annoyed by other lawyers the hissing and spitting can be really loud, but usually doesn't cause any damage. They are delightful when happy, and great fun to be around. But lawyers don't want to be told what to do, and you can't take them to obedience school like you do with the dog. Neither cats nor lawyers are much interested in management theories.

I love cats. I love lawyers. Patience, and a well-developed sense of humor, are essential ingredients for managing both.

Cynthia

P.S. If you think you want a ragdoll, check out http://www.cfainc.org/breeds/profiles/ragdoll.html, to learn more. They are a little more fun to keep than lawyers.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

New Skill: Twit This

Well I learn something new every day. One of the blogs I have started following is Mister Thorne's Set In Style. Originally, Mister Thorne introduced me to his blog when we met for coffee when he interviewed me for his blog. Yes, I do understand that blogging on other bloggers is somewhat of a circular news-creating exercise. But thinking a little deeper, with the addition of new bloggers on new topics, and as we all learn about each others' expertise, both the quality and quantity of information available increases. So that reinforces the message that information dissemination increases exponentially on the web, because we bloggers leverage off one another's networks, not all of which are exactly identical.

I learned many interesting tidbits from my conversation with Mister Thorne and from reading his website. His focus is on writing style. I've been a student of writing styles since my first summer associate experience, where my writing was seriously critiqued for the very first time by a lawyer at that firm. Although I had always thought I wrote well, I actually had much to learn about grammar, split infinitives, and consistency, among other things. Starting that day, I took very seriously the idea that I needed to learn how to write well. For the last twenty years I've continually tried to improve. Even so, I am quite sure the English majors and professional writers out there will find something in my writing style that isn't proper, and if you do please let me know.

In any event, in addition to some very cogent instruction on writing style, the very fun thing I picked up from Mister Thorne's site is how to add Twit This to the blog (the cute little button appears on the individual post pages--click on the desired post on the sidebar--not the main page). Adding this little button enables my many readers who also Twitter to easily and quickly twit my post to their circle of followers. Thus, not only exponentially expanding my reach to new circles of connections, but also enhancing rapid dissemination. Wow.

What's the point? (1) The power of Web 2.0 tools to expand networks for information dissemination, even though there is some circularity, and (2) The ease and rapidity of that expansion, based on cute little HTML codes.

Yes, I am using terms like HTML codes. Scary. So Twit that.

Cynthia

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Advice for Newly Admitted Law Students

Congratulations and welcome to all of you newly admitted law students!

I was honored last week to host a welcoming reception for Hastings' newly-admitted students here in San Francisco. They seem to be a courageous band of women and men, as they sort through their options to decide where best to spend the next three years of their lives. I thoroughly enjoyed talking with the wildly diverse group. They seem to be full of enthusiasm for law school, and can't wait to get started. Imagine that, all you old lawyers who've been wallowing in anxiety about the economy, law firm layoffs and profits-per-partner!

I'd like to put together a summer reading list for these energetic and eager new lawyers. At the top of my list is Karen Clanton's Dear Sisters, Dear Daughters, Words of Wisdom from Multicultural Women Attorneys Who've Been there and Done That. Published by the ABA in 2000, it may seem a little dated, but the essays are timeless reminders to anyone and everyone who has faced doubt, adversity, and challenges in pursuing a legal career.

As an aside, I also recommend it highly to practicing attorneys. Having attended many mandatory continuing education classes on the topic of eliminating bias in the legal profession, I can confidently report that this book captures diversity issues much more effectively and poignantly than any 50 minute training on legal questions to use in an interview. I suspect that many older attorneys will recognize some of the unintended slights, assumptions and mistakes in managing, training and mentoring young multicultural lawyers over the last 30 years. Progress has been made, to be sure, but there is still much to be done.

In any event, without digressing too much into the topic of diversity, I want to get back to the reading list. Other than Dear Sisters, Dear Daughters, and of course One L, I wouldn't recommend any nonfiction this summer. You who are about to enter law school would do well to stay with lighter, beach reading this summer. After you've read One L and any of the other Scott Turow novels that seem interesting, you must also read Anonymous Lawyer by Jeremy Blachman.

Any readers that have other recommendations should let me know, either by commenting directly to the website, by emailing me at cynthia@womenlawyerleaders.com, or pass me a handwritten note. I'll be happy to pass on other recommendations.

Cynthia

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

S.M.A.R.T. Marketing

Readers, I'm disappointed. A couple of weeks ago I included a little survey in the side bar to measure whether rainmakers attribute their success to their talent, hard work, passion, luck, or all of the above. The survey results were split: 50% of the voters selected hard work, and 50% "all of the above." Unfortunately I don't think my survey respondents were statistically significant. Actually, I should amend that. I suspect that the respondents were quite significant persons. But since I had about 250 visitors to my site in that time period, I suspect that 4 is not significant as a statistical matter.

But all four did think that hard work was important to success, at least in part. So that is interesting. I didn't ask whether marketing efforts were important and maybe I should have. Marketing advice for lawyers abounds on the web. Law firms across the country are cutting budgets for everything, but there still seems to be a strong emphasis on marketing, and most law firms of any substantial size include a marketing director among their administrative staff. Does that help? I would post another survey but it would probably be ignored too. So if you have a view you'll have to post a comment rather than an anonymous survey response.

In any event, many websites, consultants, magazine articles and blogs also advise that to be successful, a lawyer should create a marketing plan that is "SMART": Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound. That seems like good advice; I like things that are smart. Thus, "I will plan six seminars this year for my target market of clients" is "SMART." The action plan is specific (seminars), the number of actions is measurable (6), the resources are available (I can do this myself), the marketing is relevant (I have a mailing list of good targets), and the project is time bound (this year).

On the other hand, "I will schedule lunch or dinner with every GC for a candy manufacturer in LA County because I love Jelly Bellies" isn't attainable. "I will start writing a blog on blogging legal issues because I am an IP lawyer" isn't relevant or time bound. "I will design a page for the firm website, listing lawyers who have ever advised a widget manufacturer to show our expertise in widget law" isn't measurable. Those sorts of aspirational marketing plans seem ambitious and well-intentioned.

Does it matter which approach you use? Seminars, speaking engagements, professional writing, cross-practice marketing, meals? Who knows. Personally, I've created a consistent seven-figure practice by doing all of the above—sort of wet noodle approach: throw every strategy against the wall, and if it sticks, do it again. But the best rainmakers I know are the ones who work really hard for many years, make client service paramount, are passionate about their practice, and are really, really smart.

So if I were advising a young lawyer, here's the order of actions I would recommend for developing clients:

1 Get really really smart
2 Work really really hard
3 Treat every client as your only client
4 Repeat

And, good luck!

Cynthia