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  • True grit: The essence of the successful lawyer

    May 4, 2011 – Networking with clients, potential clients, referral sources, and other contacts is more important now more than ever before. But it takes time to cultivate that client relationship. Don’t have the time? Make time.

    Michael Moore 

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    Michael Moore

    May 4, 2011 – Charles Portis’ novel, True Grit, focuses on tenacious 14-year-old Mattie Ross who recruits Deputy U.S. Marshall Rueben J. “Rooster” Cogburn to help her seek retribution for her father’s murder. When dismissed as a child, and a girl at that, Mattie threatens to use her lawyer to get what she wants.

    When negotiating the sale of her father’s horses, the broker tells her to “take it up with his attorney.” Mattie responds, “And I will take it up with mine – Lawyer J. Noble Daggett. And he will make money, and I will make money, and your lawyer will make money ... and you, Mr. Licensed Auctioneer, you will foot the bill.” When Cogburn refuses to return her $25 down payment, Mattie retorts, “Aw, that’s a big story. If you think you can cheat me, you’re mistaken. You’ve not heard the last of Mattie Ross. You may well hear from my lawyer, J. Noble Daggett.”

    Do you have true grit?

    True grit is commonly defined as an attitude, a belief that you can conquer anything if you stick with it. It means endurance in pursuit of long-term goals and the ability to persist in the face of adversity. It’s not giving up. Perseverance is key differentiator between those who succeed and those who don’t. True grit means believing in yourself and having the determination to win.

    True grit works in practice

    A dried piranha sticks to a window at San Diego lawyer Marc Stern’s small office, the mark of his reputation as an eccentric but tenacious courtroom tough guy. Stern took a seemingly simple case for a father and son injured in a car accident. Two large law firms represented the defendants. As we all know, a lawyer in a small office needs persistence to prevail against large firms. Stern says, “They tried to bury me in paper.” This simple car crash could have been settled if Stern gave in to a $38,000 settlement offer. But he didn’t, he persisted. Twelve years and four lawsuits later, Stern’s true grit paid off when a superior court jury awarded $1.7 million in punitive damages, finding that the insurance company withheld evidence that could have ended the case for far less, far earlier.

    True grit helps get clients

    Julie Fleming’s book, The Reluctant Rainmaker, is an excellent source of tips and techniques on effective client development. According to Fleming, consistency is the key to effective rainmaking, “A mediocre plan executed with consistency is much more successful than a brilliant plan executed with inconsistency.”

    While I meet many potential clients through public speaking opportunities, I must actively follow through on these leads to create an initial meeting. It may take 4-6 weeks to get on their calendar, and if that meeting goes well then there will be a meeting with the client’s executive board or management committee. This can take another four to six weeks to calendar and given lawyers’ schedules, it may get rescheduled at least once. Once the decision is made to retain my services, the actual start date may still be another four to six weeks out. So my client development cycle from initial lead to getting hired can easily take four months or more.

    True grit creates career success

    Winston Churchill said, “If you are going through hell, keep on going.” Many lawyers and law firms are facing an unprecedented period of transition. Good lawyers who have done everything right have lost their clients and even their jobs. As these challenging times give way to economic recovery, opportunity is at hand.

    Successful lawyers understand the need to network with clients, potential clients, referral sources, and other contacts now more than ever before. My personal rule of thumb is to always have a full two weeks of connections on your calendar. Include breakfasts, lunches, or just-for-coffee get-togethers. When you continuously show up with the right people in the right way, you become a top-of-mind presence with your contacts, and good things will follow.

    True grit, or perseverance, may be a secret weapon in today’s instant reward, quick results culture. The steady, slow, inch-by-inch progress that frequently characterizes the successful practice of law has another name. It’s called winning.

    About the author

    Michael Moore, Lewis and Clark 1983, is a professional coach for lawyers and the founder of Moore’s Law, Milwaukee. He specializes in marketing, client development, and leadership coaching for attorneys at all levels of experience. Moore also advises law firms on strategic planning and resource optimization. He has more than 25 years’ experience in private practice, as a general counsel, in law firm management, and in legal recruiting. For more information, visit

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