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Interview with Phyllis Weiss Haserot, Legal Business Development Coach

Phyllis Weiss Haserot, passionately champions cross-generational conversation and strongly identifies with three generations in the workplace today. She brings an unusual combination of marketing, conflict resolution, and organizational effectiveness expertise to help organizations solve sensitive inter-generational challenges that can hinder productivity, client attraction and retention, succession planning and knowledge transfer.

Phyllis is the President of Practice Development Counsel, a business development and organizational effectiveness consulting and coaching firm she founded over 20 years ago. A trailblazer in legal marketing, she is the author of two major books on marketing/business development for law firms, The Rainmaking Machine and The Marketer’s Handbook of Tips & Checklists.

A frequent speaker, monthly columnist, blogger and facilitator on inter-generational relations issues and business development, Phyllis is the founder of Cross-Generational Conversation Day and owner/manager of the Cross-Generational Conversation group on Linkedin.

She received BA, and Masters in City & Regional Planning degrees and a Certificate in Dispute Resolution, all from Cornell University.

phyllis-weiss-haserotWhat event or series of events led you to initially specify the legal field for your generational development program? Please elaborate.

I was working as a marketing/business development consultant and coach for law firms for over 10 years at the time and observed that young lawyers weren’t getting the attention they needed from senior lawyers because the latter were too busy. Also their perspectives were different, and firms weren’t going to sustain themselves unless young lawyers could effectively service, attract and retain clients of different generations and work productively with all generations. Management and the senior lawyers needed to understand the worldview of young ones in order for firms and individuals to succeed, and vice versa.

Name 1 or 2 specific challenges you have faced in your practice development program specialty and the steps you took to meet these challenges.

  1. Convincing decision-makers how valuable the information we provided in the training and coaching was to the success of the individuals and firms. I approached the challenge by asking probing questions so partner/decision-makers would realize what they were missing by passing up the opportunity.
  2. Getting lawyers to make time for these aspects that are vital to successful, fulfilling careers since they are not paid for attending the training and practicing the skills. Solution: work with the ones who are self-motivated and will succeed. Then others want the opportunity.

How would you advise an individual entering the legal professions to proceed? What are the challenges, or obstacles that may be faced?

Listen learn, don’t conform and lose your authentic self. Spend time getting to know your peers, senior lawyers and administrative staff. Treat everyone with respect. Don’t adopt a “lawyers are better than everyone else” attitude. Make time for outside interests and networking or you will have no contacts for business development (and you will be boring and unhappy). Obstacles/challenges: There will be pressure to be billing hours all the time. In a conservative field, innovation is often resisted. There are unwritten rules in every organization, and you had better learn them. Be aware of the internal politics.

Can you give us an example of an interesting case or project that you have worked on and your role in helping to achieve a positive outcome?

I coached a successful service partner to gain the confidence to become practice group leader, successful business generator and then office managing partner. This involved her accepting she had to make a break with a practice leader and long time colleague who was holding her back so she would service his clients and help maintain his leadership.

I helped young lawyers develop new practice niches and persuade management to let them do it with firm support by coaching them and providing marketing strategies and how to “manage up.”

What is the best career advice you have ever received? Name 1 or 2 guidelines you would offer the legal professional just entering the field?

  1. Learn to read other people’s personal behavioral styles so you can develop good rapport with bosses, clients, peers, staff, etc. Try to develop a relationship with a more senior person who can “sponsor” and advocate for you as soon as possible.
  2. Everyone has to do marketing. Even in-house you have to sell your ideas to others. Learn to be comfortable with it and like it.
  3. You are in a conservative field, and more senior lawyers had to “pay their dues.” Don’t expect to move up very fast or change the culture of the firm quickly.

As an accomplished author of a blog related to practice development, what advice would you offer to the legal professional concerning the role of social media in their profession?
Social media is here to stay and will become even more of an integral part of our lives. Use it to your advantage, taking care to always be professional on all social media platforms or it will likely come back to bite you. Social media are vehicles to build your reputation and personal brand, especially around a selected niche. But don’t make it all about you and remember everything you say and do can reflect on the employer. Be helpful to others on social media. That’s a key marketing strategy.

What is the key strength you bring to your career and how would you advise legal professionals to mine their own strengths to further their careers.
I have always been a trailblazer with a strong sense of my own style and creativity. That is both a strength and a challenge. I have several strengths that work together, and they have furthered my career: strategic thinking; curiosity about people and desire and ability to ask good, revealing questions; future-orientation and openness to change. I thrive on diversity of all sorts. I chose not to be a lawyer, but I believe those are valuable strengths to mine for a legal career. Though it sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of focus on hours and constantly increasing profits, law is a “people business,” and legal professionals need to develop and mine their people-focused (on clients and colleagues) strengths. That may involve the need for training and coaching – ask for it and go out and seek it on your own if not provided by your employer – self analysis and reflection.

We thank Phyllis Weiss Haserot’s for sharing her insights and advice. You can learn more about Phyllis at the Practice Development Counsel website. You can also follow her on Twitter @phylliswhaserot, join the Cross-Generational Conversation group on Linkedin, and watch her videos at the Generational GPS YouTube channel.