Lawyers, the Good Life and Work: What Really Matters in 2013

Last week a young attorney I coach asked why I left the practice of law to pursue a career in psychology and professional development. The answers to such questions are never simple.  A lawyer friend died suddenly. I realized that life is short and offers no guarantees. I started thinking about what made me happy. When I put it all together, I was not a happy lawyer and it seemed unlikely this would change.  

I had what many would consider a great practice as a partner with an AmLaw 200 firm. I worked with good smart people. I had plenty of clients with good work. But ultimately, to be a happy lawyer and a strong lawyer, I believe you must love practicing law. Although many of my partners did, I did not.  

Where does happiness and well being come from?  A few years ago, I had the good fortune to participate in Dr. Martin Seligman's Authentic Happiness coach training program. In his latest book, Flourishing, Seligman, a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania and former President of theAmerican Psychological Association, proposes that the good life, one in which individuals and the planet flourish, is one in which "well being" is maximized.  Well being is comprised of five elements (known by the acronym PERMA):

  1. Positive Emotions:  Simply put, good feelings.  For example,feeling joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, awe or love. In the moment as you work, how often do you feel these feelings? As a lawyer, I did not feel these enough. My former law partner Emily Parker often talks about the fun she has practicing law and how important it is to keep that in a firm's culture. 
  2. Engagement:  Becoming so immersed in an activity that you lose time and are in "flow." When I started reading books on psychology and human behavior, I lost time.  I found myself reading dense texts for fun in a way that I  had never experienced with law books.  To this day when I coach my clients or lead a retreat, the time seems to fly by. By contrast, one of my lawyer friends became totally immersed arguing about the law when on vacation with her lawyer boyfriend. That told me I was in the wrong space. What parts of your practice put you in flow?  How can you get more of that in 2013? 
  3. Meaning:  Contributing your gifts and strengths to something bigger than you.  As a young lawyer I took a pro bono case.  I found that I was much more interested in helping my client at an emotional and motivational level than I was in her legal issues. Being her lawyer, did not bring me satisfaction even though I thought it should. I contrast that with the great pleasure some of my lawyer colleagues find in righting a wrong for pro bono clients. For example Jones Day partnerSally Crawford takes joy and pride in being known as the "queen of pro bono." Over her career, Sally has devoted countless hours to serving pro bono clients and derived great satisfaction from this work. 
  4. Relationships: Satisfying relationships with others. Positive relationships with colleagues and clients kept me in law for ten years. To this day, my best friends are the lawyers and clients I met in those early years. If you are working with great people, you know the importance of what I'm talking about. If not, how can you change that? How do you make time for positive relationships with colleagues, clients, friends and family?
  5. Accomplishment: Humans have a drive to accomplish.  Of course accomplishment comes in many forms. For me, accomplishment is about helping others succeed and mastering new skills.  It just makes me feel great. Lawyers who love their work take joy in accomplishment on behalf of their firms and clients and love meeting new challenges.

A final word about well being and happiness. A strong body of research demonstrates that people who maximize PERMA in their lives, are healthier, happier and more successful. As you set your work goals for 2013, how will you create a life of happiness and well being?  

From Aviation to Wine: Specialties Take on the Top Ranked MBA Programs

Today's post comes from guest blogger, Abigail West. She provides a great overview of one of the latest trends in graduate business training -- the rise of the “specialized MBA,” a nuanced type of program that promises students a leg-up in competitive industries. Abigail works for MBA Online, a website serving U.S. graduate students and providing online MBA rankings and profiles.

Specialties Take on the Best MBA Programs in the Country

by Abigail West

In the past, lists of the nation’s leading MBA programs have been dominated by the same prominent colleges and universities. In recent years, however, a large number of “second-tier” schools have adopted specialized MBA programs that enable students to focus on niche areas of business management. While many of these programs offer unparalleled training for students who wish to pursue careers in a particular sector, some educational experts have noted that specialized degrees also have their limitations.

According to annual rankings compiled by US News & World Report, The Economist and other notable publications, recognition of the country’s best MBA programs has long been relegated to a handful of select institutions. In December 2011, CNN Money reported that, for the second consecutive year, Harvard Business School offered the finest MBA program in the United States. Other high-ranking MBA programs were offered at Stanford Graduate School of Business, University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Placement on these lists is usually determined by a composite of students’ GMAT scores, program acceptance rates and post-graduation employment rates.

In order to lure top applicants away from these prestigious programs, less prominent schools have begun to offer specialized MBA degrees. These include the wine MBA program at Sonoma State University; the aviation management program at Embry-Little Aeronautical University; and the music, entertainment and sports management program offered at UCLA. Alison Damast of Bloomberg Businessweek recently noted that specialty programs like these have risen 11 percent over the last five years; during that same period, traditional MBA programs dipped 2 percent, according to data from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). “Schools are trying ways to differentiate themselves, because there are hundreds of MBA programs out there,” said AACSB board chairman Jan Williams. “If you can take some portion of your program that specializes in an area students can’t get anywhere else, you make your program more attractive.”

One institution that currently offers multiple specialized programs is Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School, where students can earn specialized MBA degrees related to nursing, medical services management, public health, biotechnology, government, communications and design leadership. A dual MBA-engineering program is also available. Like standard MBA programs, Carey’s specialized degrees require students to complete a core sequence of business management and administration courses. However, students are additionally required to take elective classes related to their degree’s specialization.  Biotechnology MBA students, for instance, must take courses in biostatistics and informatics in addition to finance and accounting classes.

Despite the steady rise of specialized programs offered at American schools, some academic experts warn of the inherent risks of earning this type of degree. Francesca Levy of Bloomberg Businessweek recently noted that specialized MBAs lose their value if their corresponding industry experiences an economic decline. She also argued that prestigious universities are typically connected with a higher number of recruiters from top employers than second-tier schools – and as a result, students who attend the former are much likelier to land solid post-graduation jobs.
Specialized MBAs can be a very valuable investment for students, provided they understand the ‘employment uncertainties’ that they entail. But while academics have not universally warmed to the idea, Businessweek contributor Francesca Di Meglio argues that business insiders have embraced specialized degree programs because they graduate trained specialists (rather than individuals with a broad understanding of business management but no specific skills). And unlike traditional MBAs that are ingrained in theory, specialized programs complement classroom studies with a substantial amount of hands-on practicum.

Whether specialized degrees represent the future of education or merely a passing academic fad remains to be seen. But over the last five years, an increasing number of students have forgone traditional MBAs in favor of specialized degrees – and if this trend continues, then more integrated MBA programs are likely to emerge at second-tier schools across the country.

Mentoring Young Lawyers to Aspire for More: Creating a Culture Where Talented Lawyers Thrive

John Duffy, the CEO of 3C Interactive thinks leaders need to spend less time inspiring and more time creating aspirations in the employees they lead.  Duffy has a great point. Inspiration is fleeting, aspirations stick. 

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot from my law firm clients about newer lawyers’ lowered aspirations to succeed at the firm. Firm leaders worry about retaining the talented associates they have worked so hard to recruit. They perceive less long-term commitment. 

Newer lawyers tell me they are less hopeful about their chances for happiness and success at their firm. Many have little desire for partnership, which they view as unattractive, unattainable, or both.  

That’s why John Duffy’s New York Times interview caught my attention.  In the interview, Duffy lays out how he created a culture of respect and growth at 3C. He nails it and his advice is universal. 

As a law firm leader or mentor, here’s how you can apply Duffy’s advice to mentoring and developing the young lawyers you lead: 

  1. Help them understand they have an impact on the firm and it's people (and make sure your culture affords them the opportunity to have an impact).
  2. Show them how they can develop personally and professionally by seeking exposure to new experiences, asking questions and building skills in planning, problem solving and decision-making. 
  3. Mentor and lead with consistency, being the same person each day. No one should have to worry about which version of you they are approaching at any given moment.
  4. Emphasize the importance of being “coachable.” Duffy attributes his success to early experiences in sports where he sought “to be the dumbest, poorest, least successful guy in the room so I can learn what I have to do.” There is a lot to be said for being surrounded by people who know more than you. Yet for many young lawyers, your firm may be the first place where they have not been one of the smartest and most successful for any extended period of time.  Remember how that felt for you and help them appreciate the learning they will get. 
  5. Foster a culture of respect and safety where gossip and disrespect of others at any level is not tolerated. Does your firm tolerate disrespect and misbehavior by lawyers in power? 
  6. Let them know how they are doing when they are “awesome” and when “they mess it up.” Without yelling or screaming, let the young lawyer who "screws up" know what your expectation was and what they missed. Then ask this question: “What do you think you need to do to get better so this doesn’t happen again?”
  7. Tie progression and success at the firm to each attorney’s personal long-term objectives. Hint:  you cannot do this if you do not know what your mentee’s personal long-term objectives are. Take the time to really listen and understand and you may end up retaining them.

What would you add to Duffy’s advice?  How does your firm's culture measure up?

Clifton Strengthsfinder: Now Online and All 34 Strengths Available


I'm a fan of the Clifton Strengthsfinderassessment from Gallup. If you have not taken the Clifton Strengthfinder to learn your top 5 strengths, I highly recommend that you do so.  

Until recently, it cost upwards of $400 to purchase your full profile of all 34 strengths in order.  To take the assessment and know only your top 5 strengths, you had to purchase a book and obtain a one-time-use assessment code.  Gallup recently changed its policy to make 2 important changes:

  1. You can now take the assessment online for $9.99 (the Strengths Discovery Package) without purchasing a book.
  2. You can choose to get all 34 of your strengths listed in order (not just the top 5) for $89 (the Strengths Development Package). You no longer need to purchase the coaching package that makes the cost prohibitive for many.  

Should you use these options? 

  1. Online versus book purchase.  I like having the books and think it's worth the cost. But for ease of use the online option is great.  My clients are busy and sometimes impatient for action. I think they will like this option. Used editions of the Gallup books with codes "harvested" by a purchaser who just wanted to take the assessment are generally available inexpensively through Amazon and other vendors.  Understand that these used books typcially don't have an assessment code. That's why they are so inexpensive.
  2. Top 5 for $9.99 versus all 34 for $89.  Unless you are a strengths wonk like me, I recommend sticking with your top 5 for $9.99.  From my perspective, that's 90% of the value of the assessment for 11% of the cost of the full 34.  You can and should spend a lot of time developing the top 5 before you even start to worry about the remainder.  The whole point is to focus on strengths.  Those at the bottom of your list are "non-strengths," exactly where you should not be focusing. If you do buy access to all 34, remember the key is to invest your efforts in developing your top strengths. 

Whichever option you choose, take this assessment and use the ideas for action contained in the report. It's a great way to leverage your strengths in your work and in your life.  

Mentoring 101 for Lawyers: Ten Tips for a Great Start

Mentors can provide you with a compass and a map. They cannot tell you where you want to go.  


Each year I get to speak to hundreds of mentors and mentees participating in professional association mentoring programs. I keep a running list of my top 10 mentoring tips to get these programs off to a good start. I hope you find them helpful!

1.  Define Success. Mentors are there for a reason, a season or a lifetime.  Whether you create a mentoring relationship on your own or go through a formal program, understand where this relationship is likely headed.  Set initial expectations around the purpose and duration of the relationship.  As you start this mentoring relationship, keep in mind where you want to be at the end of the year and at the end of your career. Then ask youself this question:  When we are finished, if this has been a successful mentoring relationship, how will I know? What will have happened? What will I have learned? Experienced? The answers to these questions are the true North on the mentoring compass.

2.  Commit. When I speak to groups about mentoring, I repeat a story told to me by one of my mentors about a bacon and egg breakfast. There is a huge difference between the attitude of the chicken and that of the egg. Yes, the chicken is involved in the breakfast. But, the pig is truly committed. Committing to a mentoring relationship means agreeing on regular times to meet and then keeping them. My advice to would-be mentors: Your commitment to showing up and being active with your mentee sends a strong message. If the message is going to be, "you are not important enough to work into my schedule," then do the honorable thing....don't take it on. If your circumstances change, let your mentee know that. Find others who can fill in and keep your mentee updated as to when you will be back in the picture.

3.  Confidentiality. Talk about your expectations of confidentiality. For example, will your conversations be confidential? Is it ok to share the mentor's advice with others?  

4.  Connect Between Meetings.  How often is it ok to contact your mentor?  What are his or her preferences for contact between meetings? Does she prefer you to call her, email her or stop by her office?

5.  Treat Each Other Like You Would Your Best Client. Many mentors tell me that they aren't quite sure about what to say, how to be helpful or how to connect with someone younger or of a different culture. I suggest they treat their mentee as they would their best client. I tell mentees to do the same. Mentors are human. They need to know that their efforts are appreciated. And if you can help your mentor, that's even better. I mentor many law students and lawyers. When one writes a note, sends me an ariticle or refers me a client, I am grateful. I've interviewed some great law firm partner mentors and asked them, "Why do you choose to invest more time in a particular associate?" Invariably they answer that they invest in the associate who gives back, listens and uses advice, is considerate of the mentor's time, volunteers to help with work and with nonbillable projects, and generally looks for ways to make the relationship recipricol. A positive attitude and appreciation also go a long way.

6.  Set Goals. Mentees need to set goals. Mentors can advise in this regard, but ultimately, it's your life. No one else can set your course for you. Mentors can provide you with a compass and a map.  They cannot tell you where you want to go.

7.  Tell Stories.  Lawyers are natural storytellers. Mentors who share stories, especially stories that show how they made mistakes and lived to be successful, help mentees to see more clearly the path ahead and to feel more confident when they stumble.

8.  Show. Don't Always Just Tell. Look for opportunites for mentees to observe mentors in action... in the courtroom, in business development and in transactions.  

9.  Keep Showing Up.  Mentoring relationships develop over time. Not every encounter will result in a flash of insight. If you stick with it, you will look back over time and appreciate the richness of the experience.  

10.  Carry it Forward.  Everytime I mentor a young lawyer, business or nonprofit leader, I think about my own mentors and how I am passing on their legacy. It's never too early to mentor someone who is coming up behind you. They will appreciate it and it will help you understand your mentor's perspectives better.

If you are fortunate, you will always be a mentor and you will always have one.

What are your best mentoring tips? Please leave a comment!

Eight Actions Law Firm Associates Can Take to Succeed

I love hearing and sharing insights from successful professionals.  Thanks to Laura McClellan, Partner atThompson & Knight for today's post.  

Eight Specific Actions You Can Take to Evidence an Ownership Mentality

by Guest Blogger Laura McClellan

If you are an associate seeking advancement through the ranks to partnership – or, for that matter, a partner seeking to excel in that role – what are some specific actions you can take that demonstrate an ownership mentality?

  1. Volunteer for, and follow through on, non-billable tasks that benefit the section and the firm (e.g., provide meaningful service on committees; help with retreat planning and execution)
  2. Initiate client relations/business development activities. Cultivate sincere relationships with the clients you have contact with. Invite them to lunch. Think of them when your firm sponsors an educational seminar that might be of interest to them; invite them personally, and then attend and sit with them. Introduce them to colleagues in other practice areas.
  3. Do your tasks efficiently and well, spending the appropriate amount of time on the work and staying aware of clients’ concerns about the cost of legal services.
  4. Think ahead – what else needs to be done? Don’t just sit in your office waiting for the next assignment. We can make ourselves important to our clients by making their jobs easier; you show your supervisors that you can do this for clients (and thus earn more responsibility) by making your supervisor’s job easier.
  5. Be a problem solver, not only a problem identifier. If you run into a question you’re not sure about, put some thought into possible solutions before going to the senior attorney – not “Here’s this problem; what do we do?” but “Here’s the problem; I think we could solve it by doing x or y or z.”
  6. Be available and responsive. Clients want to know they can reach you when they need you, and that you’ll answer them promptly when they have questions. This is important at all times, but especially during a closing or other crisis
  7. Communicate. Keep the client (and/or your supervisor) in the loop. Copy (or bcc) them on email and other correspondence. Don’t wait to be asked about status; provide updates regularly. This matters to clients, so it matters to owners – just because you know everything’s under control doesn’t mean they know, so check in with them before they call or email asking what’s going on with their project.
  8. Honor your word. Never fail to meet a deadline or to do what you say you’ll do. In the early stages of your career, you’ll be given small pieces of a project to work on, often in the background. Senior lawyers will gladly relinquish more and more responsibility for matters if and when you show that you are both competent and 100% reliable. You show this by doing the things described above.

What have I missed? Can you suggest other “best practices” for cultivating and demonstrating an ownership mentality in your industry or profession?

Laura McClellan is a partner in the Dallas office of Thompson & Knight LLP, where she focuses her practice on real estate and real estate finance.  She is a fellow in the American College of Mortgage Attorneys and has been named in The Best Lawyers in America by Woodward/White Inc. (Real Estate Law, 2012).  Laura blogs from time to time at Real Estate Law Blog and can be reached at

Want to Succeed in Law? Adopt an Ownership Mentality

Today's post comes from guest blogger, Laura McClellan, Partner, Thompson & Knight LLP

One of the keys to long-term success in a law firm (or, for that matter, any other business) is having an “ownership mentality.” Below are some thoughts on what it means to evidence an ownership mentality and specific behaviors that would evidence such a mentality.

First, having an ownership mentality means thinking constantly about how to ensure the business’s success.

  • An owner focuses on both the long-term, big-picture components of success, and the day-to-day issues of running a business. That is, an owner thinks about both the long-term task of building a practice and the day-to-day matters like how the electric bill will get paid
  • An owner’s thoughts about the business don’t stop at the end of the work day
  • The difference between an employee mindset and an owner’s mindset: An employee worries about losing his or her job; an owner worries about the business failing

Second, owners take personal responsibility for the business’s success. An owner knows that the business’s success will require his or her personal investment of time and money. Owners know that the buck stops with them. They don’t look to someone else to make things work.

  • Think as if you have no partners and the business’s success is entirely dependent on what you do. If you were practicing on your own, with no one to “get” work for you, what would you do on a day-to-day basis to make sure your business succeeds?
  • Owners are proactive. They don’t (because they can’t) wait for someone else to initiate business-building activity, but take the lead

Third, Owners constantly seek to understand their clients or customers and to look at the business from the client’s perspective. Owners understand that clients are the company’s reason for existence and therefore are indispensible to the firm’s success, and the company’s success or failure directly impacts the individual’s success or failure. Because they pay attention, owners know what clients want: top quality work product at a reasonable price. Owners are personally concerned with understanding and meeting each client’s needs. They pay attention to providing high quality work – giving every piece of work product their best thought, their best drafting, their most careful proofreading. In the law firm context, owners know that clients are concerned about the high cost of legal services; in response, an owner will work hard to spend an appropriate amount of time on the file by working efficiently.

As opposed to an employee mindset, an ownership mentality follows this overarching guide: Treat this business as if it is yours to inherit. Because it is.

Laura McClellan is a partner in the Dallas office of Thompson & Knight LLP, where she focuses her practice on real estate and realestate finance. She is a fellow in the American College of Mortgage Attorneys and has been named in The Best Lawyers in America® by Woodward/White Inc. (Real Estate Law, 2012). Laura blogs from time to time at Real Estate Law Blog and can be reached at

Lawyer Business Development Mindset: Do Something Everyday

Lawyer business development guru Paula Black is all about action. Paula and I led a retreat workshop on Amelia Island, Florida last week. While I have been known to enjoy my naptime and quiet moments on the beach, Paula stays in constant motion. Her motto:  

Do Something Everyday

Taking Paula’s advice not only gets results, but perpetuates what author David Emerald calls “the virtuous cycle.” Here’s how it works.

The Changing Legal Ecosystem:  For many of my lawyer friends, the legal ecosystem has changed. When I started practicing in the early 1980’s those of us in big law expected to inherit the clients who had passed from generation to generation of lawyer at our firms. While it’s tempting to hope that this pattern will continue, when it comes to business development, “hope is not a method.” (A slogan borrowed from a brochure on reproduction distributed in my junior high health classs).

Client Demands:  My law firm clients find themselves in a new world where legally and financially savvy in-house counsel are fed up with fee increases and willing to take their business down the street or back in-house. Bright young lawyers who have trained with the best big law has to offer are more than happy to move to those in-house positions. In-house counsel is becoming the destination of choice for many great young lawyers who used to seek partnership.

Two Mindsets:  The pressure is on and outside lawyers can respond from one of two mindsets. That of Victim or that of Creator. These terms and the model outlined below come from Emerald’s great book “The Power of TED” and his wisdom fits the currently legal world perfectly.

The Victim Mindset. Lawyers who adopt the victim mindset see these new demands as happening to them, something they did not create, are not responsible for and are powerless to overcome. (By the way each and every day most of us have moments in this mindset triggered by things as mundane as heavy traffic and as serious as major illnesses.)

The Vicious Cycle:  When a lawyer is in a victim mindset, the focus in on the problem (not enough work), which in turn creates counterproductive emotions such as fear, anxiety, frustration and anger. And when you act from those emotions, you typically react by doing something that just makes the problem worse (think leaving early for happy hour or complaining).  That negative action makes the feelings worse, which makes you do more unhelpful things, and so on. The cycle repeats.

Creating a Shift:  So how do shift out of this cycle? According to Emerald, it’s about changing your focus to that of a Creator. A lawyer Creator faced with a changing legal environment, focuses not on the problem but on the vision he or she wants to create. For most of my clients, that’s doing challenging work they enjoy, to help clients they respect, while making a decent living doing it.

The Virtious Cycle:  When you focus on the vision, the feeling starts to shift from frustration and fear to commitment and passion. From that shift comes a single action---one step that takes you closer to the goal. The action creates a virtuous cycle by moving you closer to the vision, which creates more passion, then more actions and so on.

So, if you are stuck in a victim mindset and are ready to shift, take a pointer from Paula: “DO SOMETHING EVERYDAY.”

Changing the Boardroom One Awesome Woman at a Time

This morning I received another email from Melisa Denis, Senior Partner at KPMG and President of The Board Connection. It struck me that I've been getting these emails for two years now, week in and week out without fail. They start with a heading such as "New Board Opportunity-Global Glassware Company" and are followed by Melisa's request to "contact me if you have the required credentials." Many of the opportunities come through her fellow visionaries at the fifteen regional groups (such as The Board Connection) who comprise a network called InterOrganization Network (ION).

This morning I responded to Melisa's email and thanked her. I just can't believe how consistently committed she is. Her reply: "Changing the boardroom one awesome woman at a time." 

Here's the other part that inspires me. Melisa's passion is not about her personal ambitions. As a Partner at KPMG, Melisa can't serve as an outside director on a public corporate board. What I've noticed though is that in her life and in her work she is fueled by a strong system of beliefs and values. One of her core beliefs is that diversity matters to all of us.  She says: 

On any board of directors, if you can only fill the room with people who think like you, how can you get the best result for customers, shareholders, and everyone in between?  Women think differently,--That difference adds value.  It is that diversity that makes a board stronger.

So this morning I would like to help find find a few more awesome women. Do you know any? Perhaps you?

If so, check out The ION website to learn more about the whys and hows of corporate board membership and how to join with Melisa and men and women like her across the country.  They are changing the boardroom-- one awesome woman at a time.  

Leading From Your Strengths

In two weeks I'm headed to Philadelphia to speak to the Philadelphia Bar Association's Women in the Profession Committee and to the Professional Development Consortium Philadelphia City Group.  We will be talking about how to leverage personal strengths to lead effectively and to find more fulfilment and happiness at work.  While there are many ways to identify your top strengths, my "go to" assessment is the Clifton Strengthsfinder™.  

Here's why I love it so much:

  • It is highly validated and researched. The Strengthsfinder assessment is owned by Gallup, the polling people. Over 10,000,000 people have taken the assessment and all the results are in one database. For that reason this is one of the best researched assessments out there. So even though you can buy this assessment for the price of a book, about $20, I find it more useful than many assessments that cost much more.
  • Each profile is unique:  The odds of 2 people having the same profile are 1 in 3,000,000.  That may be why the results usually resonate so strongly with my coaching and consulting clients.  
  • It's all about the good stuff:  This assessment tells you where are you especially strong.  It does not tell you your weaknesses. Of course, everyone's greatest strengths can be overused. That's why the reports contain some great learning around how not to do too much of a good thing.  
  • And the good stuff is really what matters most.  The researchers at Gallup have found that there is no particular set of strengths that make people successful; rather, the secret is knowing what your strengths are, using them as much as possible in your work, and delegating to, or partnering with, others who have needed strengths that you do not. There are actually people out there who love to do what you loathe. It made me very happy (and it made my assistant happy too) when I first discovered that. It turns out that she loved doing things that I hated to do and vice versa. So until I realized that, I was periodically "rewarding" her by giving her projects I would love, but that made her climb the walls. Taking the assessment put the kibosh on that and we were both much happier. 
  • By sharing their strengths profiles with each other, people who will be working together over time really get to know, understand and appreciate each other much more quickly than they would otherwise. 
  • For many, knowing your strengths makes you feel good about who you are, more self accepting and confident.  

How to take the assessment:

  • Buy a book that contains a code for the Strengthsfinder ™  assessment.  
  • Click this link to see the books that contain the code. You can also buy a copy on Amazon for Kindle and get a code emailed to you immediately (for those of you who do not count patience among your strengths).  
  • Once you have a code, do the following:
    • Go to the Strengthsfinder website
    • Click the appropriate box based on the book you purchased
    • Click "enter your access code"
    • Fill out the registration and click submit
    • Follow the remaining instructions
    • Be sure to download the PDF report from Gallup and to use the "Ideas for Action"

What Elephants are Roaming Through Your Organization?

What do you need to be talking about in your organization that is only discussed behind closed doors? Last week I attended the Power of Self Leadership program and participated in an exercise called "Naming Elephants" based on the book of the same name. You've likely heard the saying that "there is an elephant in the middle of the room and no one is talking about it." The elephant is the obvious problem that we all know exists, yet don't mention, often because we fear retribution or embarrassment.  

Some common elephants:

  1. It becomes normal to deviate from the rules.  Everyone knows the meeting starts 10 minutes late. The deadline is not the real deadline. It's ok to run over budget; in fact it's good. You will get more money next year!
  2. Not walking the talk. A leader says that he values all opinions, but tunes out or retaliates when an opposing view is expressed.
  3. Arrogance becomes the norm.  The company has a policy about expenses.  Some adhere; others do not. Leaders claim a high level of ethics, but accept perks from vendors.   
  4. Clever talk is valued over action. The "game" in the organization is to sound smart, tear down other's ideas, use the biggest words. Results are underappreciated.
  5. The system is broken. Top leadership does not set the vision or micromanages rather than developing managers. Those whose job it is to serve customers, don't know what to do. Middle managers are pulled in multiple directions, accomplishing little.

What elephants roam your organization?  Here's a hint, what do people talk about behind closed doors? In the coffee room? On texts or emails during a meeting? Leave a comment or drop me a note. I would love to hear from you and share some common elephants on a future post.

8 Things Legal Administrators Can Do to Develop New Attorneys

Photograph by   Victor1558.

Photograph by Victor1558.

Tracy Spore is President of the Dallas Association of Legal Administrators and Office Manager at Bowman & Brooke Dallas. Tracy asked me to advise her professional group on how they can help develop young lawyers. Her request reminded me of how tough it was for me starting out as a new lawyer and how much support I received. I hope the article for DALA, which is exerpted below, will offer some helpful ideas for legal professionals who work with new lawyers:

Attorney Development:  Is There an App for That?

Compared to many other entry-level professionals with whom I've worked, new lawyers are less prepared to practice their craft.  Until our IT departments come out with a smart phone application to bring them along, they will need your guidance just as I did.  Here are a few ideas for how to do just that:

  1. If you have the good fortune to work for a firm with personnel dedicated to lawyer development, look for ways to team with them to grow young lawyers.  As Chief Development Officer with a large law firm, I worked closely with my firm’s administrative leaders to make sure our lawyers got the full benefit of the training and resources available to them.  Our efforts ran in both directions.  I worked hard to make sure new lawyers received the full benefit of our technology and knew how to work better with our staff.  Our IT group, HR and staff leadership worked with me to make sure that I hit the right chords with our new lawyers in preparing them to effectively work with all of our firm’s resources, especially our incredible human resources.
  2. Point new lawyers to the local bar association for great development resources. Local bar associations provide great resources for new lawyers.  For example, the Dallas Bar Association offers a year-long structured transition to law program that pairs an experienced lawyer mentor to each new attorney.  In addition local bars often discount membership fees for new lawyers, making bar membership a bargain.  If your firm does not have a formal training program, this resource will be particularly valuable.
  3. Understand lawyer personalities.  As a group, lawyers are more time urgent, pessimistic, skeptical, sensitive to criticism and independently minded than the typical person.  I recommend taking a look at Dr. Larry Richard’s article Herding Cats: The Lawyer Personality Revealed to learn more. For those of us working with lawyers, tact, responsiveness to time demands, resilience and adaptability go a long way towards forging relationships. 
  4. Be a Mentor.  Firms often understand the need for attorney mentors. I would take it a step further. Newer attorneys need business mentors as well. This person may well be you. 
  5. Use a coach to manage individual and firm developmental challenges. When people and organizations need to change to meet the demands of the marketplace, good coaches can often get them there more quickly and with less effort. In many corporations, coaching is an investment made in top leaders and high potentials to help the organization grow and thrive. You can find more information on lawyer coaching in my American Lawyer Daily article, Do Lawyers Need a Coach?
  6. Ask new lawyers if they want to know more about the business of law.  When a new lawyer comes to you for help in opening a file, running a conflict, understanding billing and collections, dealing with a personnel issue, etc., it’s a great time to ask if they would be interested in knowing more about how this particular aspect of the practice works. 
  7. Client Development is key. The biggest complaint I receive from the young partners I coach is that they are ill prepared to develop clients and yet are expected to do so fairly quickly after entering the partnership. Engaging your marketing personnel, senior lawyers and others in helping young lawyers understand business development early in their careers is critical for their long-term success and for that of your firm. 
  8. Encourage your staff to offer help when they see a better way. In my experience lawyers are not very good at asking for help in understanding what they do not know. Reinforce to young lawyers the wisdom that your staff provides and the firm’s expectation that they will respect and utilize the wise people you have put in place to help them. 

In today’s fast paced and constantly changing law firm environment, young lawyers must hit the ground running and develop quickly. And yes, there is an app for that;  it’s you. 

Transcending Failure: How to Come Back Even Stronger

We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have the power within us to transform our lives.
— J.K. Rowling
Photo by   Amanda Hatfield  .

Photo by Amanda Hatfield.

OK, I admit it.  I've read every Harry Potter book.  I covet Dumbledore's pet phoenix Fawkes who transcends the flames to rise anew from the ashes.  I love the idea that each of us transcends failure to give birth to something new and wonderful.  

On Friday and Saturday, outstanding women lawyers from across the US and Canada gathered in Dallas to renew and energize each other. They joined my colleague Cordell ParvinLisa Dawson from Lexblogand me for a roundtable discussion, leadership and business development coaching, strengths assessments, and a generally fun Texas weekend.  A common theme among many of these highly successful women was a sense of not yet having done enough and a disappointment in continuing to fail along the way.

During the course of the weekend, Cordell recirculated one of my favorite TED talks, JK Rowling's 2008 Harvard University commencement address. It resonated with me as I considered my own failures. Here's what I took away from Rowling:

  1.  Face your fear of failure head on.  Rowling faced her own fear of failure in giving the Harvard address. Despite her considerable accomplishments, she endured weeks of sleep deprivation and nausea in anticipation of giving the speech.  I've felt like that too.....many times.  
  2. The greatest failure is living someone else's life.  She reminds us that there is an "uneasy balance" between what we want for ourselves and what our parents expected of us.  Rowling chose her own course (writing novels) over the more secure vocational training her parents (who had been poor) preferred. Fortunately for all of us, her choice worked out. 
  3. Take responsibility for your circumstances. My favorite Rowling quote:  "There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction." We each steer our own course as adults and that's a good thing.  It means you have the power to grow and change.
  4. You can rise from the ashes.  As a poor, jobless, young single mother, Rowling experienced poverty.  She acknowledges that poverty itself is a dark, stressful, depressing, humiliating experience which is "romanticized only by fools." I think that is true of our failures. Although I am grateful to have not known poverty, I have known all of these feelings. Her story inspires me to transcend failure.
  5.  No one is immune from failure.  She reminds these Harvard students that their talent and intelligence do not innoculate them from the "caprice of the fates." In my years as a practicing psychologist I worked with many physically beautiful, wealthy, successful people. Some, like Rowling, were famous. None of this matters when our own failure and darkness sets in. As Rowling notes, often "life is difficult, complicated and beyond anyone's control."
  6. Failure is relative.  No matter how sucessful they are by conventional measures, many people feel like failures.  Someone will always look subjectively more successful in comparison. "Your conception of failure may not be too far removed from the average person's idea of success, so high have you already flown."
  7. Failure can set us free to risk attempting our biggest dreams.  By "stripping away the inessential".....(things like pride and ego), failure can breed deterimination to succeed. When Rowling realized she had survived her greatest fear, impoverishment, she was able to risk writing, what she felt she was meant to do.  I see this with some of my successful clients who have lost a job.  When they face this greatest fear, they feel free to pursue a passion they would never have dared to otherwise pursue.
  8. Failure shows us our strengths.  Tackling failure brings out your inner will and discipline and secures your knowledge that you can survive your worst fears.  This knowledge that you have emerged from your most feared setbacks introduces you to your strongest most resillient self.  It is a painfully won gift that per Rowling is "worth more than any other qualification I have ever earned."  
  9. Failure points us to our true friends.  Rowling notes that during her darkest times she had friends who never abandoned her. When she became successful, she "rewarded" them by assigning their names to some of the Death Eaters in the Harry Potter books. They stayed with her through that too!
  10. Failure reminds us that we have the power within us to transform our lives. Just like the phoenix Fawkes, we rise again and again.  

As she closes, Rowling takes us back to the ultimate successes in life that we often take for granted.  

Life is not a checklist of acquisitions or achievement.  

Rather, we succeed each time we touch the life of another by our existance. I was touched this weekend by the lives of some incredible women and one guy.  Thank know who you are....... and I promise not to name any Death Eaters after you.

Photo by Amanda Hatfield.  

Number One Concern for 4 Generations of Lawyers? It's the Economy Stupid!

Fifty-year lawyer Rust Reid smiles when he remembers his starting salary as a newly-minted attorney:

"New lawyers were more like apprentices, paid about the same as public school teachers and worth a lot less."

Recently Reid and I participated in a panel discussion at the Dallas Bar Association featuring perspectives from four generations of lawyers. The number one issue across the board? The economy.

Here's how it played out among the generations.

Gen Y.  This generation was born between 1980 and 2000 (lawyers age 31 and under). Gen Y'er Erin Callahan is a recent graduate of SMU Dedman Law School. Like many new graduates, she plans to hang out a shingle. Acoording to Callahan, the biggest stress among her peers is debt; the national average is $70,000 in debt for new grads of public law schools and $90,000 for private law school grads. Some of her classmates have student loan debt as high as $200,000 with no job in sight. 

Gen X. Penny Blackwell is a Partner with GreenbergTraurig and President of the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers. Penny graduated in 2000 when top law school graduates received a $40,000 raise afteraccepting jobs with big law firms and before reporting for day one of work. They never expected to be paid that well and felt tremendous pressure to produce. Today, the pressure contines. Even though many would trade dollars for time, they don't want to give up the seat at the table that equity partnership brings. And they worry about the new lawyers coming behind them who are starting solo practices. Blackwell and other bar leaders fear these lawyers will not get the training and mentoring they need. She believes the Bar must take on the challenge of helping them succeed.  

Boomers:  Ike Vanden Eykel is a hard-working baby boomer, CEO of a prestigious family law firm,Koons Fuller, and Immediate Past President of the Dallas Bar Association. He wonders where the new lawyers are who are willing to work as hard as his generation.  I too am a baby boomer and Vanden Eykel's concern is one I've heard often from my cohorts.  He acknowledges that:

"Many younger lawyers look at the "dysfunctional" lives baby boomers have created and say "no thanks."

But his experience is that they don't really want to say "no thanks" to the corresponding incomes that baby boomers have generated. Boomer lawyers are also worried about retirement.  Will they have the needed savings?  And will they really be happy to let go of the reins? For many the answer is no.  

Matures:  These lawyers are 66 and over. Many have postponed retirement due to inadequate savings and stock market declines. They are known for their loyaly, modesty and hard work ethic.  Panelist Rust Reid exempliefies this generation. He continues to practice law today with the same firm where he began his career, Thompson & Knight. He doesn't much like the billable hour and recalls the time in his career when lawyers resisted recording time. In 1960 when he started his career, billing was determined by the value to the client. He concedes that firms could afford to worry less about billing then since new atttorneys at top firms were paid the equivilant of $40,000 in today's dollars; time to learn and train was built into the salary structure then.  And with less debt than today's graduates, the finanical pressure on the new lawyer was less as well.  

I left the panel that day with mixed feelings.  I know that the newest generation of lawyers haa a rough road ahead. Not only will they struggle with student debt and perhaps fewer opportunities for legal employment; they also may not have access to the mentoring and training that lawyers of my generation received. On the other hand, the enthusiasm and commitment to the profession that I hear from Callahan and many of her cohorts is reminiscent of another generation of lawyers, the ones who mentored me. One in particular comes to mind. His name........ Rust Reid.

Stress: What to Do When You Just Want Your Mother

Every beetle is a gazelle in the eyes of its mother....


Moorish proverb

As I follow my friends on Facebook this day before Mother's Day, I notice posts that, like mine, resonate with grief and appreciation for lost Moms. Let's face it, no one else cares about you like your mother did or does.  

Want someone to be as (or more) proud than you of your latest accomplishment?  To really feel your pain? To care about the smallest detail of your day?  To make your favorite dessert?  To remember with you, and revel in, every mundane detail of your life? To love you no matter what you do? That would be (1) your mother and (2).............nobody else. There is just no replacement.  Brothers, sisters, friends, even spouses, just will never care about you in the same way.  

And there are times when the need is more acute:

  • Mother's Day, Christmas, Passover
  • Your birthday
  • Your children's birthdays and graduations
  • When you close a deal, win a promotion, run a marathon, become a partner, reach your goals
  • When you crater a deal, lose a promotion to your arch-rival, can't get up off the couch, get fired, fail to meet your goals

Here are a few things I do when I feel that need for some Mom mojo.  These ideas are all backed by solid psychological research so I know they can work for you too:

  1. Summon gratitude for the great parenting you received and that you will always carry within you even when you are separated from your parents by distance or death.  
  2. Share stories with siblings and friends who knew your Mom, especially her friends.  
  3. Tell yourself exactly what she would tell you if she were present.  For favorite from my Mom....."Be whatever you want to be, just be the best you can.  If you want to be a ditch digger, that's great as long as you do your best."  I smile when I think of myself as a ditch digger-definitely not something at which I would excel (except in the eyes of my mother).
  4. Write about your feelings and experiences just as you might tell them to your Mom. 
  5. Celebrate when you have a success.
  6. Get up and move on when you screw up.  Taking action will give you energy and renewed optimism.
  7. Laugh-share some really funny stories about your mother.  My friend Jamey loves to laugh about the time her mother rollerbladed into a ditch.  Allison, Melissa and Brian rehash their mom Joan's famous one sentence holiday songs such as "say good bye to pumpkin pie" and "ode to angel food cake." Another friend, Emily talks about her mother Helen Parker's famous "sink toast" recipe. You know, the kind of toast that calls for being burned and then scraped over the sink to get the black stuff off.  
  8. Pass it on.  When I extend care and encouragement to others, I always feel some great Mom energy.  You will too.