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Business Development

Take a Victory Lap

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

If you were one of the 108 million Americans watching Super Bowl XLVIII, you know what I mean when I say it’s a rare few of us who’ll ever feel the adulation Jacoby Jones enjoyed when he ran back the first kickoff of the second half for a 108-yard touchdown. You just don’t get that level of feedback in your courtrooms and boardrooms. And more’s the pity, because we could all really use some adulation from time to time, couldn’t we?

You’ve Got to Ask For What You Want

If you want to do the end zone dance occasionally (and who doesn’t?), don’t expect it to come unearned or unbidden. There’s just not much percentage in waiting around for someone to notice and praise your wonderfulness, unprompted. Today’s Friday Five is all about how to get the ball rolling toward bringing some “feel good” your way. You may not achieve that Jacoby Jones-like experience, but if you want that pat on the fanny or standing ovation, here’s your to-do list:

1. Enter to win. Many law firm websites feature stamps, logos, press releases (like these and these) and lists indicating the firm has been officially recognized for one thing or another. In case you didn’t know, virtually none of those awards are presented without nomination or entry on someone’s part. Still, the recognition feels good and looks good, so why not take a run at them? For starters, look to your local bar associations, where there are plenty of pro bono and achievement awards to pursue. This is true, naturally, at the national level as well. The ABA’s Pro Bono Publico Award and Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award are just two of many presented each year. And check the lists of for the American Association for Justice and Association of Corporate Counsel. Want to stand out from the crowd? Look to the College of Law Practice Management’s annual InnovAction Awards. The deadline is June 30, so you  have time to work up an excellent entry form. Local community groups may provide the best opportunities for recognition. If there’s a Business Journal in your city, you can bet there’s a “30 under 30”—and acceptance comes with recognition and leadership training.

2. Keep a “you’re wonderful” file.  Every once in a while, as you know, some spontaneous praise comes your way … a thank you letter from a happy client, a sticky note from a team member, a feature in the local newspaper, a citation, an excellent performance review or even an offhand (secretly thrilling!) comment. If you’re working hard and trying to make things work for people, it will happen. So why allow that warm glow to dissipate? Right this minute, create a file folder on your computer (heck, even a paper file for your desk drawer, too), and make it a routine to drop anything good, complimentary or adulatory into that file. Go back and retrieve the important ones from the past. Then, next time you’re having a rough day … or have some difficulty locating your enthusiasm for the work ahead … open that file and take a refreshing stroll down memory lane. When you’re done, you will feel wonderful. (You’ll want to keep a copy of that kudos file on your personal computer, and the hard copy folder at home. Just in case.) A file like this will make it a lot easier to complete those award nomination packets, too.

3. Don’t hide your light under a bushel basket.  We all know those lawyers who get cranky about the hooplah made over others’ “lesser” accomplishments (you know who you are), and who refuse to mention their own victories because it would be “unseemly.” How the heck are we to know about your amazing feats if you don’t tell? You’re a smart person. You’ll find ways to do it that don’t sound self-aggrandizing. There’s nothing wrong with sharing your excitement with colleagues when you master something difficult: “Hey, I am so cranked—I finally found a subtle way to tell Mr. Baker we’re not doing any more work for free! And he liked it!” While you’re taking the initiative, don’t hesitate to ask for good feedback. Close a matter and then ask for your partner’s thoughts on your performance. Conduct informal satisfaction interviews with key clients, asking “what did you like about working with us,” as well as “what do you wish had been done differently?” The negative feedback is the most useful, remember, because it’s how you improve. And the positive? Write it down and drop it into that file we talked about earlier.

4. Praise others. Now, back to entering contests. You’re not the only one worthy of recognition. How about those clients? Tons of trade associations and publications give out awards for good works and game-changing projects. How about paying it forward and taking responsibility for getting your client a little adulation? Investigate the awards in your client’s industry and, if it they are deserving, help get them nominated. You will feel so good when they win! And so will they! Speaking of feeling good, there are more reasons to compliment and praise others than can be counted. It improves morale, encourages teamwork, models good practices for younger lawyers, gets you better results, builds the clients’ confidence in your team, communicates desired behaviors … secretly appoint yourself the Director of High Praise and Adulation and you can change the culture of your group.

5. It wasn’t nothing. If you are sincerely hoping to generate a little more recognition for yourself, it (nearly) goes without saying that you’re going to have to get good at accepting that recognition. Rule one, say “thank you.” Telling someone who compliments you, “Aw, it wasn’t a big deal,” is a sure way to discourage future compliments. Some people will even (foolishly) engage in actual arguments over whether that amazing thing they did was really worthwhile. Just don’t do that any more, okay? Rule two: Credit others when it’s appropriate. Make sure it doesn’t sound like you’re thanking “the little people,” though. And don’t deflect—”Oh, no, that was all Roger’s fast thinking!”—unless it’s true that the compliment is misplaced. You can say “thank you,” and then talk about Roger’s great contribution.

Merrilyn Astin Tarlton has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She is the Partner/Catalyst at Attorney at Work. A founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, she is a past President of the College of Law Practice Management and an LMA Hall of Fame inductee. Follow her on Twitter @astintarlton.

Categories: Business Development, Daily Dispatch, Legal Career Development, Managing a Law Firm
Originally published February 22, 2013
Last updated October 20, 2020
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Merrilyn Astin Tarlton Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Merrilyn is the author of “Getting Clients: For Lawyers Starting Out or Starting Over.” She has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She is a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, an LMA Hall of Fame inductee, and a past President of the College of Law Practice Management. Merrilyn was a founding partner of Attorney at Work. 

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