Is Writing a Big Paper Good Business Development for Lawyers?

Is Writing a Big Paper Good Business Development for Lawyers?

Typical Saturday at the Wolfe casa: I was bragging about an article I wrote on Texas Securities Act litigation. 10YO asks, “what’s that?” I said, “it’s just a kind of litigation, like when you invest money in a company and they steal the money.” “Oh, ok,” he said.

Whether you can explain a lawsuit in terms simple enough for a ten-year-old to understand is probably a good test for any lawyer (although my kid is savvier than most, thanks to his mom and big sister).

But the ability to simplify, by itself, won’t make you an expert on a legal topic. You also need to understand the nuances, the grey areas. And a good way to do that is to write a big paper on the subject. Maybe even a comprehensive paper. And maybe, if you’re really ambitious, the comprehensive paper.

That’s sort of what I tried to do with Texas Securities Act litigation. It started with a series of securities fraud cases my firm defended from around 2000-2005. When it was all over, I had accumulated a ton of research and briefing on case law applying the Texas Securities Act.

That coincided with a time in my career when I felt like I needed to start developing my own business (around eight years out of law school).

Up to that point my business development strategy had been somewhat, uh, thin. My earliest experience was with insurance coverage litigation, and I had written some articles for the Journal of Texas Insurance Law. But I wasn’t getting any traction.

This was partly my fault (I didn’t do much other than write the articles) and partly due to circumstances beyond my control (my firm didn’t get many insurance coverage matters). So I had pretty much given up on writing about insurance law.

But I knew if I was going to bring in business I needed to develop some kind of specialty beyond “business litigation,” and securities litigation seemed as good as any. Plus, I already had the knowledge and the material. I wouldn’t have to “reinvent the wheel.”

So I started writing the paper, one little chunk at a time. It literally took years for it to come together, but eventually I had a good long rough draft. Then the problem was figuring out what to do with it.

Fortunately, I got by with a little help from my friends. A more senior lawyer helped me get an opportunity to present the topic at a bar association event. That was just the push I needed to finally finish the paper. And then a peer at my law firm was willing to co-author the paper and fill in some sections that still needed work. The paper debuted at a CLE presentation in 2013. The response was small but enthusiastic.

I presented the topic at a few more CLE programs, and I updated the paper a couple times. You can download the most recent version here.

This big paper doesn’t cover every possible Texas Securities Act issue, but it at least touches on each major issue, and it explores some of the key issues in detail. In my humble opinion, I don’t think you will find a better paper on Texas Securities Act litigation that is both comprehensive and practical. I’m pretty proud of it.

Step 1 was complete. I was on my way to developing a thriving securities litigation practice. I would continue doing presentations and making a name for myself in the field. Other lawyers would start referring securities litigation cases to me, and I would eventually develop a robust book of business of my own.

Except none of that actually happened. I didn’t bring in a single securities litigation matter.

Then a funny thing happened. A friend I met at a presentation I gave for the Houston Bar Association needed help with a non-compete lawsuit. Around the same time I found myself trying to support a solo law practice. At first, I thought we’d settle the case, but it blew up and eventually went all the way to a jury trial. Along the way I got referrals for some other non-compete cases. Sometimes it was a lawsuit, but other times people just needed some advice. These matters started taking up more of my time.

That’s when it hit me. If I was going to develop business, I needed to turn down those pesky non-compete matters and keep my focus on securities litigation. It would be stupid to waste all that time I had spent writing and speaking about the Texas Securities Act. Right?

No! That was exactly wrong. The smart move was the opposite: focus on developing a reputation for the kind of work I was actually getting. This is the point business development expert Maria Granovsky made in a guest post right here on Five Minute Law. In Maria’s terms, the smart move for me was to stop looking for elusive copper deposits and to pick up the gold bricks at my feet.

But this time, I thought, I’m done spending hours and hours writing long legal papers that no one reads. Instead, I would focus on writing short articles that people might actually enjoy. Blog posts, to be specific. I would write about a wide variety of topics, but with an emphasis on the departing employee cases I was already working on. And I would try to keep the posts short enough that people could read them in, oh I don’t know, five minutes.

But what to call the blog?

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There are some benefits to writing a big paper

Eventually I solved that problem, and now, five years after I started focusing on departing employee litigation, my business development efforts have had some modest success. I regularly receive inquiries for matters involving non-competes, trade secrets, and other departing employee issues. I still work on a variety of business litigation matters, but the departing employee disputes are my focus.

Then another funny thing happened. Recently a potential client saw that Texas Securities Act paper on the Internet and called me up. Keep in mind, this was over four years after I published the last version of the paper.

So maybe I was too quick to give up on the “big paper” concept. It obviously has some value.

Here are my main takeaways on lawyers writing big papers for business development:

  • Writing a big paper on a legal topic is a good way to become a true expert on that topic. The legal profession is remarkably democratic in the sense that just about any lawyer can become an expert on an area of law by putting in the time to read and understand the key cases. (Credit to the late Mark Kincaid, a top-notch insurance coverage litigator and adjunct professor, for impressing this point on me.)
  • The downside is that writing a big paper is very time-consuming. You can write a blog post, email alert, or short LinkedIn article in much less time, and people will be more likely to actually read it.
  • On the other hand, once you’ve written a big comprehensive paper, it’s easy to update or repurpose it. Take a lesson from law professors. Charles Alan Wright didn’t rewrite all of Federal Practice and Procedure every time. McCarthy on Trademarks is not above recycling old material.
  • Another lesson from law professors: you can get help from colleagues on a big paper. This can be a real win-win. You get to share credit with other lawyers, they can help lighten your load, and you can make new friends along the way.
  • The major pitfall with writing a big paper is thinking it’s going to develop business for you by itself. It rarely happens that way. You need to present the paper at events, network with people at the events, share the paper on social media, etc. At the risk of using a corporate buzzword, you need to create synergy between the big paper and your other business development efforts.
  • When you combine the big paper with networking, you’ll start to see another benefit of the big article: credibility. People who see that you have written a serious paper on a particular practice area will assume—usually correctly—that you know what you’re talking about.
  • The big paper can also enhance the credibility of your professional profile. If you’re going after corporate clients, especially big ones with in-house lawyers, they are probably not going to find you by Googling “securities lawyer.” But a client who is referred to you will look at your profile on LinkedIn or your firm’s website and see you wrote that article.
  • Individuals, and even corporate clients, will sometimes find you literally by Googling a practice area and seeing your article or name pop up. This is only going to become more common over time.

I can vouch for this last point from personal experience. If a potential client can see my big paper from four years ago and call me, the same can happen to you.

Now the big paper bug has bitten me again, in several ways:

First, I’ve already co-authored and updated a “medium” sized paper called Texas Trade Secrets 101. I plan to continue updating it.

Second, if you can keep a secret, I was already developing a monster paper on Texas non-compete litigation. I regularly monitor Texas non-compete cases and write about non-compete issues on my blog. I figure I might as well use that material for a big, comprehensive paper, especially if I want to be known as the top non-compete lawyer in Houston.

Third, even though securities litigation is not my focus these days, it’s still an arrow in my quiver, and I’m thinking I should update that big paper on Texas Securities Act litigation.

But that’s a lot of work, especially when I’m already blogging, composing the magnum opus on Texas non-compete litigation, and training for the 2022 Crossfit Open. I don’t want to work myself to death like a scene out of Amadeus. If I’m going to update the securities paper, I need a collaborator.

Unfortunately, my ten-year-old is not interested. So if you want to research and write about Texas securities law, hit me up. And maybe four years from now the clients will be calling you.

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IMG_4571Zach Wolfe (zwolfe@fleckman.com) is a Texas trial lawyer who handles non-compete and trade secret litigation at his firm Fleckman & McGlynn, PLLC. His son’s comment on this post was “I like the part about me.” 

He’s joking about training for the 2022 Crossfit Open. Sort of. These are his opinions, not the opinions of his firm or clients. Every case is different, so don’t rely on this post (or the big paper) as legal advice for your case.

The Problem With the “Elevator Speech”

The Problem With the “Elevator Speech”

TexasBarToday_TopTen_Badge_VectorGraphicFlashback to when I had a solo law practice: A recruiter calls me looking for candidates to join a large law firm. I wasn’t really looking to make a move, but I asked about the position because I was curious. “How much portable business are they looking for?” I asked. “At least a million,” she said (meaning dollars per year).

It took some restraint not to bust out laughing. Or to respond with a sarcastic, “a million, is that all?”

And in all seriousness, I wanted to ask, “if I had a million dollars in portable business, why would I need to join another firm?” or “if I had that much business, would I select a firm based on some random cold call from a recruiter?”

But I’m too nice for any of that, so I just said thanks, not interested.[1]

Then I got to thinking, maybe I would have more business if I had a better elevator speech, or honestly, any elevator speech at all.

The Elevator Speech

An elevator speech is a short pre-set summary of what you do that you can share with new contacts you meet. The idea is to briefly promote your professional services in the time it takes for a typical elevator ride (around 30 seconds).

But some business development coaches will tell you it’s not enough to just describe your job. Ideally, you would identify the potential client’s need, explain how you address that need, and convey the value you would add to their business.

So instead of saying “I’m a lawyer, I do business litigation,” I’m supposed to say something like, “I help businesses resolve disputes efficiently and effectively.”

Rather than adding, “a lot of my practice is non-compete and trade secret litigation,” I would say: “Do you worry about your employees running off to competitors with your trade secrets? Well, I help companies like yours protect their goodwill and confidential information.”

You see advice like this a lot. And it strikes me as wrong, for at least three reasons.

Abstract expressionism: good for French art, bad for an elevator speech

First, I’m not big on abstract descriptions of what you do that leave people guessing.

Have you noticed that companies today have a hard time telling people exactly what they do?

When someone contacts me about a dispute or lawsuit, I’ll Google the names of the companies involved and look at their websites. It’s amazing how often the homepage won’t tell me in simple, concrete terms what the business actually does. When I click on “About Us,” it will say something vague like “we provide our clients with cutting-edge solutions for their data management needs” or “we help your business grow and connect with customers.”

Ok, I think, so you’re a software company? Or you do management consulting?

They must teach this in marketing school. But why can’t companies just come right out and say what they do? “We’re a construction company. We build things at refineries and other industrial sites.” There, that wasn’t so hard.

I think the simple and direct approach is better for the elevator speech too. Don’t make the person you’re talking to work too hard to figure out what it is you do. That’s annoying.

But even when your elevator speech is clear and concrete, it’s still a speech. That leads me to the second problem with the elevator speech.

Rehearsal: good for bands, not so good for networking

The second problem with the elevator speech is that it sounds like a speech.

When you meet someone for the first time, do you want to hear a rehearsed presentation about what kind of work they do? Of course not. You want to know some basic things about them and have a conversation (unless you are a misanthrope, in which case you don’t want to talk to them at all).

That’s because effective networking is not about presenting, it’s about connecting.

Wow, that sounded like something from a cheesy motivational speaker. But it’s true. You want to connect with people in a genuine way, because that leads to real relationships. You don’t want to sound like you’re just giving a practiced sales pitch.

Which leads me to the third problem with the elevator speech.

Good pitching: effective for the world-champion Houston Astros, not so much for relationships

The third problem with your elevator speech is that it’s all about you. If you spend your time giving someone a sales pitch, I predict in the future they are more likely to avoid you than to seek you out.

Think about it. If you’re a lawyer, you probably get contacted by various vendors who provide services to lawyers. Do you love hearing their sales pitches?

When legal vendors want to connect with me, I try to accommodate them. I figure they’re people just like me, trying to make a living, and I might need their services sometime. So I will hear them out when I can. But if all they do is ask me to send them my business, it’s not very effective.

For one thing, I usually don’t have a project right that second that I need their help on. But if I actually get to know the person, that’s probably who I will think of later when I have a real need.

For example, I’ve got a friend who works with an e-discovery company. I don’t think he has ever asked me for business, but when my firm needed help managing thousands of documents in a big litigation matter, I thought of him first.

Surely, people who may need a lawyer–or any kind of professional–are no different.

An analogy fraught with peril

Let’s analogize to dating. You’re single and you meet someone you find attractive. Are you going to give that person a little rehearsed speech? Like, “you should know, the ladies [or gentlemen] find me very attractive, I’m smart, highly successful in my career, and people say I have a great sense of humor.”

That’s like what Donald Trump said to Stormy Daniels (allegedly), prompting her to say “does this usually work for you?”

I’m no dating expert (I’ve been happily married almost 20 years now), but I’m pretty sure that telling someone how great you are is not the optimal strategy.

Similarly, business development experts like Karen Kaplowitz will tell you “pitching” is not always the best approach (see her guest blog post here).

So instead of saying, “I’m a lawyer, I handle cases that . . . blah, blah, blah,” how about saying “I’m a lawyer, I do business litigation, what do you do?” And then listen. And then ask more questions.

You might even want to do some reading about “active listening.” See, for example, What Great Listeners Actually Do. I don’t think there is any better way to get to know a person than really listening.

On the other hand, I don’t have a million dollars in portable business, so what do I know?

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Zach Wolfe (zwolfe@fleckman.com) is a Texas trial lawyer who handles non-compete and trade secret litigation at his firm Fleckman & McGlynn, PLLC.

After writing this post he realized it has way too many rhetorical questions, but hey, what are you gonna do?

[1] I’m not good, I’m just nice. See Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods; Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, Part One, “Relationships.”

Guest Post by Business Development Expert Maria Granovsky

Guest Post by Business Development Expert Maria Granovsky

This week we’re thrilled to have a guest post from Maria Granovsky, who works with lawyers to help them generate business. She provides some great insight on not missing the “gold bricks” that are sometimes right at our feet. – Five Minute Law

Are you stumbling on gold bricks in your search for copper deposits?

“No one is litigating!” My friend, Emma, declared during a recent coffee chat I had with her. “I’m so sick of marketing, and networking, and keeping in touch, and being top-of-mind.  All people want is compliance training.”

“Are you going to offer them compliance training?” I asked.

Emma harrumphed in irritation. “Maria. I. Am. A. Li-ti-ga-tor,” she enunciated each syllable.

“I know you’re a litigator,” I responded, fighting the urge to mimic her. “But I also know that, for most of your potential clients, litigation is a rare event. Which means that, if you’re going to stay wedded to being a pure litigator, you do have to keep marketing and doing all these other things you don’t much like in order to catch them at the precise moment when your services will be needed.”

I could see I had her attention now, so I continued. “Your potential clients are offering you an alternative – a way to get paid and become a trusted advisor at the same time. If you offer compliance training, you’ll showcase your expertise in this area, and you’ll be able to sprinkle your training with references to your litigation successes, all while getting paid! And it’s almost always easier to expand your service offerings for an existing client than acquiring a new client.”

Emma said nothing for a while. She squinted in concentration, and I could imagine the cogs whirring in her brain as she considered this new angle.

“You’re right!” she said at last. “This could be a very lucrative opportunity, and I’ve been throwing it away for months now.”

***

Emma is a good example of a blindness we all experience from time to time. It’s not a visual blindness, but rather it’s our inability to perceive new ideas or opportunities because they don’t fit with what we’re concentrating on at that moment.

If we’re prone to this perception deficit, we can miss what our market is telling us, to our business’s detriment.

An easy way to overcome this perception deficit is to practice asking open-ended questions and listening to the answers. For example, if you know that new regulations will soon be imposed on the industry you serve, ask industry people what challenges they think they’ll be facing in implementing these new regs.

As an experienced professional, you probably already know some of the challenges that industry will be facing, but the people in the trenches may have a very different view of that pain that’s coming their way – a view that may afford you an opportunity to provide a service you didn’t know was needed.

There’s an added bonus to this strategy: by asking and being genuinely interested, you’ll leave your conversation partners knowing that they were heard and understood. And in today’s shouty world, where many of us feel like no one is listening, that’s a surefire way to make a lasting impression and keep yourself top-of-mind.

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Maria Granovsky, Ph.D., J.D., helps lawyers generate new business and get more clients with innovative business development strategies and high-impact copywriting.

In her work, she relies on her background as a scientist, a lawyer, a writing teacher, and an author. She has a Ph.D. in medical and molecular genetics from the University of Toronto and a law degree from Georgetown. While at Georgetown, she taught legal research and writing to J.D. and foreign L.L.M. students. A decade-long patent-litigation practice followed.

Maria has written scientific papers and book chapters, law review articles, and general interest articles (which appeared in HuffPo, Ladders, and Fast Company). She has written the copy for the websites of several law firms, and has advised many lawyers on content development. And she wrote and published a legal thriller.

Download her free guide, titled The One Thing That Will Transform Your Legal News Alerts Into New-Business Magnets here.

How Do We Solve the Baby Litigator Crisis?

How Do We Solve the Baby Litigator Crisis?

TexasBarToday_TopTen_Badge_VectorGraphicFirst let me say for the record: I think it’s great when senior litigators give young lawyers opportunities to do things like arguing motions and taking depositions. That happened to me when I was a “baby lawyer,” and I’m grateful.

Having said that, I have to confess it has finally happened. I’ve become a grumpy old man. At 45 years old, I feel like I’m not even at the half-way point of my career, and I still think of myself as young. So what has me feeling like throwing open my front door and shouting “you kids get off my lawn”?

Well, lately there has been some handwringing in the legal community about the fact that younger lawyers don’t get to stand up and talk in the courtroom very often. (And forget about the decline in jury trials–that ship has sailed; we’re just talking about hearings and oral arguments.)

As a result, programs designed to give younger lawyers more courtroom speaking opportunities are now a “thing.” Some judges have even adopted formal policies designed to encourage more experienced lawyers to allow less experienced lawyers to argue cases in court.[1]

A First-World Problem?

The shortage of courtroom speaking opportunities for young litigators strikes me as a great example of a First-World Problem. If you’re not familiar with the concept, a First-World Problem is something that causes great annoyance to the upper-middle class in America, until you stop and think about whether someone in a third-world country would consider it a problem.

My personal favorite First-World Problem is when I order a cappuccino at Starbucks and they make it more like a latte. As I get the urge to complain to the barista, “more foam, less milk!” I have to stop and think to myself, “dude [I like to call myself ‘dude’], there are millions of people in this world who don’t even have clean water to drink.” And in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, I’m even more reluctant to complain about my relatively trivial problems.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that the lack of courtroom opportunities is not a problem for younger lawyers. But I have two concerns about the reaction to the problem.

What’s best for the client?

First, the reaction seems too focused on the needs of the lawyers, rather than the needs of the clients.

Mind you, I’m not suggesting the reaction is based on heartfelt concern for the job satisfaction of the young associates. Please! The problem big law firms are concerned about is “how can we justify charging $750/hour for a junior partner who never got much courtroom experience?” (Note to self: update this post once a year to increase the rate by $100.)

Maybe this is naïve, but I like to think that law firms should assign tasks based on what is best for the case and the client. For a routine motion or a deposition of a minor witness, there’s no reason to send the senior partner when a junior associate can do the job—and at a lower rate.

But who should handle a more difficult assignment, like arguing a case-dispositive motion, taking the deposition of a key hostile witness, or telling the CEO “we need to image your smartphone”?

In those cases, the overriding question should be who is going to do the job most effectively.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the assignment goes to the more senior lawyer. Sometimes the junior lawyer who knows the facts, documents, and case law inside-out may do just as good a job (or better). In those cases, I say give the young lawyer a chance. My Young Associate Development Program would simply be this: a tie goes to the less experienced lawyer.

The point is to focus on what is best for the case, not what is best for the law firm. Most clients don’t want to foot the bill for training young lawyers.

A radical alternative solution

The second problem I have with the reaction to junior lawyers not getting enough courtroom time is that the whole thing seems a little BigLaw-centric.

If you’re an associate slaving away at a big law firm and not getting enough courtroom experience, you have a few options. You could complain to the partners and hope they throw you a few more breadcrumbs. But if taking the lead in the courtroom is truly important to you, then the better solution is to bring in your own clients.

The problem, of course, is that not many third-year associates are going to land the kind of blue-chip clients who will pay BigLaw rates. So you may have to swallow your pride and find a job at—brace for it—a small firm, where you may have a better chance of developing your own business.

Or if you really care about being in charge of your own matters, you could take the plunge and hang out a shingle. In a solo practice, there is a very good chance the managing partner will let you argue the cases in the courtroom all you want.

Now we’re getting to the nitty-gritty. Because these options may mean shifting your expectations. You may need to trade in that new Lexus for a used Subaru. You may need to take your next vacation in Paris, Texas, rather than Paris, France. You might have to—gasp!—cancel your membership at the country club. You may be embarrassed at the law school reunion when you see your friends from law review and they ask where you’re working now.

And your clientele may have to change. You may no longer find yourself reporting to the Deputy Assistant General Counsel for Employment Litigation, Southwest Region, of a Fortune 500 company. Instead, you may find yourself reporting to Jim Bob, a middle-aged guy who dropped out of college to start a plumbing supply company.

But you know what? You may find that Jim Bob is smarter than you thought, and representing his company can be a lot of fun. Plus, when you’re in charge, you’ll get to argue his case in court all you want.

And, who knows, after a few years you may be the one sending a baby litigator to the courthouse in your place.

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Zach Wolfe (zwolfe@fleckman.com) is a Texas trial lawyer who handles non-compete and trade secret litigation at his firm Fleckman & McGlynn, PLLC. He is much nicer to younger lawyers in real life.

These are his opinions, not the opinions of his firm or clients, so don’t cite part of this post against him in an actual case. Every case is different, so don’t rely on this post as legal advice for your case.

[1] An interwoven issue is providing more opportunities for women and minorities. That’s an important topic in its own right, so I won’t try to cover it here.

Lawyers, Want More Clients? A Business Development Coach Says Sell Less, Listen More

Lawyers, Want More Clients? A Business Development Coach Says Sell Less, Listen More

This week I’m doing something a little different: featuring a guest blogger. Karen Kaplowitz is a lawyer and business development coach with The New Ellis Group. I met Karen at a law firm retreat years ago. Since then I have enjoyed reading the insightful and practical advice she publishes in her weekly newsletter, Monday Monday. Karen graciously shared this post with some helpful–and somewhat counter-intuitive–advice for lawyers on business development:

Business Development Tips from Karen Kaplowitz

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Karen Kaplowitz, The New Ellis Group

Stop Pitching and Start Discovering.  Many lawyers are busy lining up as many opportunities to “pitch” as possible, inside and outside their firms, and casting about for people who can give them business. If you are finding that clients and prospective clients are not rushing to set meetings for you to pitch them, consider these strategies instead, which focus on positioning yourself to discover what your clients need:

  • Don’t make giving presentations on your firm’s capabilities a top priority; do find reasons your clients have an impetus to invite you in.
  • Don’t go to meetings or lunch prepared to pitch, waiting for the opening to talk about your services.  Do go ready to ask probing questions about the company’s problems that might lead to work for your firm.
  • Don’t ask new colleagues in your firm which of their clients you can meet.  Pick one of your clients and discuss where the fit might be for your new colleague.
  • Don’t plan meetings to ask clients for more work; do plan meetings to get feedback so you don’t fall short of their expectations going forward.
  • Don’t rush to offer your opinions and solutions in conversations; listen carefully and encourage clients to elaborate on their struggles first.

Example:   Your client’s law department has changed significantly in the last year; senior lawyers you knew have retired; there were layoffs and consolidation; and most disturbingly, lawyers from a competitor law firm have infiltrated the law department.  A few times, you have offered the general counsel to bring in a team to make a presentation to insure the new people know your firm.  She always says “great” but never sets it up.

You try a different tack.  First, you ask for a new org chart of the law department, and bios if available. Then you ask when your people could meet the new in-house lawyers to hear from them what they are up against.  The general counsel warms to the idea of your investing in learning about her new team’s challenges and invites you to an all hands meeting.  You propose a meeting agenda for the client’s department heads to make short presentations on their priorities, with questions from your lawyers.  You help your team prepare to probe the new priorities.   At the end, the general counsel invites you to introduce your people and to stay for coffee.  You have planned your lawyers’ introductions of themselves to be very brief but targeted to the client’s most pressing needs. There is lively discussion when everyone mingles over coffee.

Are you willing to consider substituting “reverse presentations” from your clients instead of pressing to give presentations about your firm to clients?  Is the urgency to make this year more successful causing you to push too hard when active listening, probing, and connecting the dots are the better course of action?

This piece was originally published by Karen Kaplowitz of The New Ellis Group, a business development strategist and coach who works with lawyers all over the United States.  It is available in the archives of the Monday Monday newsletters.

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So, the next time you start to “pitch” your services to a potential client, remember Karen’s advice and think about “discovering” instead.

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Zach Wolfe (zwolfe@fleckman.com) is a Texas trial lawyer who handles non-compete and trade secret litigation at his firm Fleckman & McGlynn, PLLC.