Imagine being offered partnership in a prestigious international law firm before your 30th birthday, only to turn it down and walk away from the practice of law! Charlotte Smith, host of the Life Design for Lawyers podcast, did exactly that. Charlotte is now a lawyer-turned-executive coach and, on this episode of Lawyer Business Advantage, Alay Yajnik speaks with Charlotte about how she helps attorneys recover from burn out and grow their books of business.
Alay Yajnik: Welcome to Lawyer Business Advantage, your source for biz dev tips, wisdom and inspiration. I’m your host, Alay Yajnik. We’re unleashing your inner rainmaker in three…two…one….
Alay Yajnik: And it’s my pleasure to welcome to the program, Charlotte Smith. Charlotte is an executive coach for lawyers and she runs the Life Design for Lawyers podcast. Charlotte, thank you so much for joining us today.
Charlotte Smith: Thank you so much. I am delighted to be here.
Alay Yajnik: Well, I’m really glad to have you on the show because you’ve got a different perspective that a lot of my guests. A lot of my guests were lawyers and they’ve they’ve been in the field for 20, 30 years, sometimes longer. And they’re just continuing to do their thing. But you’ve taken a very different path than most lawyers. And so tell us a little bit about yourself in your journey from attorney to coach.
Charlotte Smith: Yeah, absolutely. So for me, I started on the traditional lawyer path. I went to college, law school, did all of the typical things that you do in the UK to become a lawyer. And I landed in employment law and I practiced at one of the UK’s top travel law firms. And so my clients with the likes of Hilton Hotels, Expedia, British Airways. And in a lot of ways, I really enjoyed the work that I was doing. I was fascinated with human and organizational performance. And so that fit very well with being an employment lawyer. I quickly moved up the ranks within the law firm and I was awarded a 30 Under 30 award. And just before my 30th birthday, I was offered partnership at the law firm. So everything was going really well.
Alay Yajnik: And Charlotte, I’m sorry to interrupt, but is it unusual to be offered a partnership when you’re under 30 at that firm?
Charlotte Smith: It was, yeah, it had not happened before. And I was actually very good at business development and marketing. And so the fact that I was able to build my own book of business right from the onset was one of those factors that led me to being offered partnership. And I was very big into innovation as well. And I developed an employment law product that served the travel sector. And so that was what the 30 Under 30 award was all about. And so everything looked great on paper. Things were going really well.
Charlotte Smith: And I missed the drum roll, but under the surface…Things didn’t feel quite right. It felt like something was missing. I really had a desire to be more creative and I was also very much on the path to burnout. I was working crazy hours…regularly in the office until sometimes 3:00 a.m. and I could just see that if I continue down this road, then where would I end up? And I’m sure that would have been the path to burnout. And so as I was considering whether or not to accept the offer of partnership, which was a very difficult decision, and my husband came home from work and he works in finance at a tech company. And we were in the UK at this point. And he said, “Charlotte, you’ll never guess what, but I have been offered a job in Silicon Valley, California.” And so it was as if the universe was speaking to us and we decided that this was a really exciting opportunity we had always envisioned as newlyweds being able to kind of live on a more international scale.
Charlotte Smith: And so when this opportunity presented itself, we grabbed it with both hands and we moved back here to Silicon Valley. And for a while I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do, but I was happy to leave the law and to try something different. And I knew that marketing, business development, creativity were all part of my skill set. And so for a while I was a partner at a creative agency in Silicon Valley. However, that still didn’t make me feel great. And so at that point, I started to dive a lot deeper into where this dissatisfaction was coming from and I was able to pick what my superpowers were and what my zone of genius was and find my “zone of genius”, where my talents and my passions collide. And that took me down the path to going to executive coach training and becoming an executive coach.
Charlotte Smith: And now I focus solely on working with the legal profession. And it is such an honor to do the work I do. And my philosophy is all very much about doing law differently. And I place a lot of emphasis on making sure that we put well-being as a priority, because ultimately, if we don’t put well-being as a priority, we burn out, we make mistakes. We are not able to perform at our best as lawyers, as entrepreneurs, as business owners, as parents. And the list goes on and on. So that is very much my philosophy and a little teaser into some of the work that I do.
Alay Yajnik: That’s really, really crazy on so many levels! The fact that you did not want to go back into law, but yet you have demonstrated an incredible aptitude for it, that takes a lot of guts to say, “OK, I know I’m really good at this, but this is not what I want to do with the rest of my life. I want to do something different. So I’m going to jump into something else and start over again.”
Alay Yajnik: Tell me a little bit about how your work in figuring out your area of genius, how that helped you overcome that, knowing that, “OK, this is my area of genius. So despite the track record I’ve had before, I’m going to do really well because this is what I’m best at.”
Charlotte Smith: Yeah. So I felt like there was a few years of figuring out what my zone of genius was, because when I was working in the law practice, I guess you only know a few things about yourself. And as I was working as a lawyer, I write a food blog. It was one of the number one UK paleo food blogs. And so I was kind of experimenting with social media. I was experimenting with website development and those kind of things, all self-taught.
Alay Yajnik: No wonder you were working until 3:00 in the morning!
Charlotte Smith: Yeah, I like to do a lot of stuff and pack things into my schedule. It’s certainly a personality trait which could be considered a superpower in some ways, but then also can be the albatross around your neck as well when you have a lot of drive because we sometimes forget to hit pause. But yeah. So I think that is important to experiment and try different things so that you can start to understand what you are good at. But like, if I look back at my career right now, creativity is a strong point for me as a child, I was really into art. Landing in a creative agency, all of the digital marketing piece: that falls within creativity for me and human performance and organizational performance. That is music to my ears. It makes my heart sing. And this is why I do the work that I do right now. And it’s also why I ended up in employment law, because that is very much a focus. So you can – if you are able to hit pause and look back at your career – there are common threads. There are things that you have been drawn to. And actually we can trace this back to being children. I always remember as well, probably being around like 15, 16, and I was kind of interested in reading self-help books and business coaching books, which is kind of a weird thing for a 15, 16 year old to be doing. But I was drawn to that. I was interested in that. And so I didn’t know it at the time. But years later, it all comes together to form my career path and who I really am as an individual as well.
Alay Yajnik: I can see how that how that all comes together in the process you went through. Discovering your zone of genius is not an easy task and it takes time. And clearly, you’ve got a lot of experience taking people on that journey. I like to joke to people, “I’m really only good at two things: building businesses and developing people. But that is now what I do full time, all the time.” And it makes a big difference when you love the work you do, when you’re engaged in it and when you’re really good at it. So, you know, as someone who’s gone through the journey that you have and now you’re an executive coach, how do you help lawyers advance in their legal careers knowing that some of them may just not want to be a lawyer and others do?
Charlotte Smith: Yeah, so there’s a number of paths that clients decide to go down, and sometimes it is pivoting out of law entirely. However, the majority of my clients want to stay in the law and typically they will come to me when they are feeling overloaded. And that’s really common. It’s a huge issue for lawyers across the globe and the American Bar Association statistics, the UK Law Society statistics, they back this up. And so what I help them to do firstly is to manage their calendar so they can unburden and that they can actually create space to figure out what their next step is. Because when we’re overloaded, it’s really difficult to have any form of clarity or space to think. So that has to be the first step. And then what I do is I help them create clarity around what their vision is and what they actually want, not what their parents want, not what they…you know.
Alay Yajnik: The thing you mentioned earlier about when you have too much going on that you’re really over-scheduled, it’s hard to think clearly. It’s almost like a form of PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. It builds up over time and it can really impact someone’s decision making. And not only their performance at work, but their performance at home and then their decision-making gets compromised. It is definitely a real thing for sure. And I think that’s probably something that all of us that work with lawyers, that is one of the the top symptoms of someone that we’re working with is they have a lot going on and they’re just overloaded and overstressed. To your point, lawyers and doctors, it’s always a challenge between the two professions. They go back and forth about who has the greatest incidences of mental illness in their profession. And I think right now, lawyers are currently number one in the United States of America. So that’s not a great distinction to have. And so tell us a little bit about how you address those issues with them.
Charlotte Smith: Yeah, and it’s so sad that really this is a problem and it’s a global problem. And it seems like it has been like this for a long time. And it’s interesting because when you look at some of the different industries and certainly in the Bay Area and people work really hard and people have high stress jobs for sure. However, the legal sector does not always embrace productivity and project management and some of the the tools that tech companies use in order to create more balance and a more efficient way of working. So what I really believe is that it does not have to be this way. We do not have to kill ourselves working. And in order to be successful and to have a successful law practice, to be a successful lawyer, you do not have to kill yourself working all the hours that God sends. We can create systems to be able to work more efficiently, more productively, and we can utilize legal tech to increase our productivity as well as so many different things that we can do to tackle this. And I think mindset is a big thing as well. And I can I can kind of like dive into that. I can talk for hours on this topic.
Alay Yajnik: Yeah, we could go back and forth. I agree with everything you’ve said. I would take it a step further, which is that I believe that by running their law firms like good businesses, which means they have a team, they have time management, they have that under control, they have systems in place. They have technology, strategy, marketing. When they run a law firm like a good business, they can do their best work. I don’t believe that any attorney who is working the traditional way of working, where they’re just cranking and cranking and neglecting their well-being, I don’t think they’re doing their best work. I don’t think they’re having the biggest impact that they could have on the lives of everybody else. And I think it’s coming as a detriment to themselves and into their loved ones of the people they care about. So, yeah, I totally agree with you. It is tragic because lawyers are incredibly smart. They do amazing work. There’s a lot of jokes out there. You know, people don’t like lawyers. A colleague of mine was telling me, yeah, no one likes lawyers until you need one and then they’re your best friend. Because I see the issues that that they’re helping people solve. And these are life-changing, game-changing types of issues, you know, whether it’s things like family law, of course, but whether even if it’s selling your company right or building your estate plan to protect your heirs, all of these things make a huge difference in the lives of people and lawyers are instrumental to that. And so it’s such a tragedy when they’re not able to have that for themselves.
Charlotte Smith: Yeah, that’s absolutely right, and yeah, it’s such a position of trust, like you just really effectively articulated, that is a position of trust. And it is interesting because no one really ever teaches lawyers how to run a good business. We make partner. But there’s not that coaching, there’s not that training. And so there’s all of these efficiencies and problems that can crop up and can occur. And it just does not have to be that way.
Alay Yajnik: It doesn’t. You know, the funny thing about that. So I ran businesses in Silicon Valley and whatnot and they were pretty complicated global businesses with all sorts of things going on with them. Running a law firm as a business structure – it’s really simple! And so the nice thing is just a little bit of coaching, a little bit of implementing, some best practices can deliver huge results for law firms. So it’s much easier to do than a lot of people think.
Charlotte Smith: And so when you start working with somebody, Charlotte, they’ve probably made some key mistakes over the years before they started working with you. If you had to think back over that, what would you say are maybe the top three mistakes your clients have made before they start working with you?
Charlotte Smith: So I can think of a few common mistakes. Number one, it goes back to what I was talking about in relation to discovering my wide common mistakes. The lawyers are just flowing with life and they go to law school. They progress within the firm. They may be moved from job to job, but they don’t have any clarity around, “Why did I become a lawyer and why am I doing this work? Is it just to earn money or is it something deeper?” And when I explore more deeply with clients around why I became a lawyer typically isn’t in relation to the money. It is linked to helping people or to the philosophy of equity justice that the legal system is a system for good. So. If we are not tuning into why, then we let life flow with those and then that is how we quickly become overloaded and then we go on the path to burnout and we lose joy in the work that we’re doing. So that is a common mistake. And I would certainly recommend that people dive into your thinking and ask the question, “Why did I become a lawyer in the first place?” so that you can be intentional in terms of how you run your business and how you practice the law.
Charlotte Smith: Then in relation to actual burnout, why do people burn out? Well, in some ways it is because we are ineffective at setting boundaries and sticking to our boundaries. And that may sound like a controversial statement. However, I had the ability in me to be able to say, “No, I am not going to work until three am.” And I could assert my boundaries around that and I could think about how I plan my calendar. Am I going to schedule calls back to back because I just need to get through it, or am I going to step into my power and set my boundaries so that I am protecting myself and my own mental well-being. So really focusing on boundaries is very important. And it’s hard to be able to assert your boundaries, especially when you are reporting to someone you know and you are not that decision maker or perhaps you’re working in-house and you have different stakeholders that need a contract turned around very quickly. But if you are able to assert your boundaries and have that conversation from the onset, like on, you know, “three days a week, I’m going to be home at 6:30 pm for dinner with the family,” whatever it looks like, once you can start to envision what your calendar looks like and then boundaries, boundaries and put them in place, then that is really going to help you create the space so that then you can kind of move forward and start to build that business that you were just kind of describing.
Alay Yajnik: Well, I’m glad you used that analogy that the boundaries make the space. You hear that a lot when you’re talking about construction of a new home and you see a home and it’s basically just studs and framing. And you walk through it and you go, wow, this is really small. And then all of a sudden they put up the drywall or the sheetrock and you realize, wow, this is really big. And it’s because the walls make the space. And it translates to time management as well. By the way, as business principles, when you’re building a practice, the more boundaries and constraints you put, the more creative and ingenious it forces you to be. And that’s when breakthroughs happen. Breakthroughs happen when you don’t have a lot of time. Breakthroughs happen in a business when you don’t have a lot of money, right? And you’ve got to figure these things out. That’s when people can really unleash their genius and really get to some pretty powerful breakthroughs. It all starts with putting up those walls and those constraints.
Alay Yajnik: It ties very well into the next question. A lot of people listen to this podcast to get ideas and inspiration for business development. And the number one issue that I run into when lawyers talk about business development, it’s not that they don’t know how to do it. All of that may be a problem. The first thing they say is, “Alay, I’m sorry, I just don’t have the time for this.” And I’m sure, Charlotte, that when you start talking with someone new, they may say similar things to you. So tell us a little bit about how your time management, your task prioritization strategies can really help attorneys build their books of business.
Charlotte Smith: So I listened to a podcast, gosh, probably around six years ago now. And they were talking about and looking at the total possible hours that you have in a week for work. And then 60 percent of that time should be finding work. And then you would have different percentage allocations for marketing and business development and then for doing those tasks. And ultimately, you can kind of break down the percentage quota depending on what your funding targets are and so on, and how much time you actually want to be dedicating to marketing and business development. But the reality is, if you want to be building a book of business, then you’re going to have to make time. There is no shortcut. And yes, you can engage a marketing person and a virtual assistant to support you in your business development endeavors for sure. It is really important to really step into the mindset that, yes, if you’re constantly billing, billing, billing and you’re spending no time doing marketing and business development, then ultimately that will come a time where it’s imbalanced and you’re looking for work. Whereas if you can set aside five hours a week or whatever that looks like to you in your schedule so that you can constantly be taking small steps and chipping away at it, then those small steps over time build up into momentum.
Charlotte Smith: And one of my favorite tools for lawyers to use from a business development standpoint is LinkedIn. And I’ve seen some absolutely amazing results that clients are generating by embracing LinkedIn and the digital space to do online networking. That’s pretty cool.
Alay Yajnik: Yeah, we actually had a recent podcast episode actually on LinkedIn for business development for lawyers. So yeah, it is definitely a powerful tool. It’s one that’s growing. And so that plays right into kind of the next question I have for you, Charlotte, which is, for someone who is looking to build their book of business or to level up their business development, to take their game to the next level, what tips and advice would you have for them?
Charlotte Smith: I would say, well, there’s two things, and we’re both part of a networking organization in Provisors, so joining a networking organization is a great way to meet new people, to constantly have conversations. And their philosophy is like / know / trust / refer. And really, that is a strategy that we can deploy in the kind of in-person networking or Zoom meeting conversations that you might be creating with potential referral partners.
Charlotte Smith: But then I really believe that LinkedIn is so incredibly powerful and we can apply that philosophy to how we are showing up on LinkedIn, for example. And I’m sure you’ve probably covered this in your podcast regarding LinkedIn, but it’s engaging with people. It’s actually commenting on someone’s post with a thoughtful, insightful comment. Lawyers are incredibly connected already because we are frequently dealing with opposing counsel, with different suppliers. We have a range of different clients and we’re actually really well networked just by the nature of our job. So it’s building that network system on LinkedIn, it’s engaging, it’s posting content on the app so people will start to know you. So people will start to like you, trust you, and then they will send business your way. And none of the other tools and techniques that I recommend involve sending any kind of sales messages directly into people’s inboxes, because I think that that can sometimes be off-putting. So and sometimes applying the like / know / trust philosophy is less intimidating because it’s a human-to-human formula where we’re simply building relationships here. But actually the outcome of that is generating business.
Alay Yajnik: That’s right. It is really about the relationships when it comes to a lot of the high quality referrals. It’s a really nice way for a lot of lawyers to develop the relationships that are going to feed them for decades to come. And they’re going to provide them with a really high quality client base. So not everyone has access to a group like Provisors, which the “know like trust refer” that was – Provisors was founded by lawyers and they understand that. But finding a group, whether it’s your bar association or another organization that has those kinds of networking types of opportunities is absolutely key.
Alay Yajnik: Yeah, and then you mentioned LinkedIn, and I really love the mindset stuff you get into because you can do all the marketing tactics in the world and all the business development tactics in the world. But if you’re not following a lot of the mindset best practices that you teach, Charlotte, all that stuff is a waste.
Charlotte Smith: That is exactly right and it’s interesting because I like to lead with well being and creating space. And then the mindset piece and I get slightly could be an interesting example for that. So a lot of people, when they hear you can generate business through LinkedIn, we have assumptions that come up to the surface. Self-limiting beliefs around that: “None of my prospect clients are on LinkedIn.” “Lawyers don’t post on LinkedIn.” “I don’t have anything to say, I will look foolish if I do.” That said, there’s so many different variants of those kind of comments that come up for people, because in many ways you are exposing yourself by posting content on LinkedIn. You are sharing an insight into who you are and how you do business and perhaps some of the insights in relation to how you actually practice and how you would tackle a legal problem.
Charlotte Smith: And so we have fear around being judged. We have fear around looking stupid or whatever that might be. But when we experience these kinds of thoughts then it’s really difficult for us to take action, and fear may get in the way. Fear may stop us from actually taking action, from developing that book of business, and so it’s really important from the onset to tackle that because otherwise we’re just going to keep playing small. We’re just going to stay in our safe zone.
Charlotte Smith: And all of this applies to public speaking in relation to expanding your practice, potentially. This mindset comes up a lot for a lot of people. And so really being able to firstly identify what are our brains telling us and lawyers, because of the nature of the work that we do, I believe our brains are wired in a certain way. And let me just elaborate for a second. So our job as lawyers is to spot the worst case scenario is to spot all of the different possible permutations of the outcomes. And we’re kind of focusing on worst case scenario might happen so that we can legally protect and prevent that from happening. And so from a mindset context, when our brains are trained to spot worst case scenario, then typically what will happen is in a critic voice. So the voice that says, “Well, you can’t do that, you’re going to look stupid, you’re going to look foolish.” It’s often quite loud. We often listen to it because the signal is this warning signal.
Alay Yajnik: There’s there’s three things that lawyers have told me that they experience all the time. The first is that lawyers are trained skeptics. The second is that lawyers are trained pessimists. And and when those two things come together, it can be really, really challenging. And the third, you throw that on top, which is so much of their self image, how they think of themselves, is wrapped up in being the smartest person in the room. And so when you wrap all three of those things together, it can be an impenetrable fortress of negativity.
Charlotte Smith: It’s really hard to crack for you. And so if we’ve got all of that going on, having a perfectly color coded, planned out calendar where we’ve scheduled in five hours for doing business development a week or whatever that looks like, that’s not going to help us because we need to deal with the root of the problem. First, we need to focus on mindset. We need to identify what limiting beliefs you are experiencing and break through them, because the reality is that actually we tell ourselves a lot of stories, a lot of stories that, quite frankly, are nonsense. And we buy into it, we buy into it and we believe it when we start to see that it is actually just a story that it is not true. No one is going to laugh at you when you post on LinkedIn. People will support you and embrace what you are saying. People will value you being a human being and showing up authentically. When we can step into that, then that’s where we get into a space of flow and peak performance. But we have to start with mindset and we have to start with having space to work on our mindset.
Alay Yajnik: Well, I’m a big fan of of what you do, Charlotte, and starting with mindset, digging into that, getting that right and then applying the other strategies around, you know, time management and law firm growth and automation and systems. And Charlotte, if people want to get in touch with you, what’s the best way for them to contact you?
Charlotte Smith: Well, since I’ve been going on about LinkedIn so much, that would be an obvious choice. And you can connect with me on LinkedIn. You could go to my website as well, and you can find more information about me, I’m across all of the social media platforms as well. And I’m currently experimenting with Instagram as well, which is interesting, but that can be a conversation for another day.
Alay Yajnik: Yes, I agree. And so Charlotte Smith is a bit different of a name than Alay Yajnik. There might be more than one of you. So if they wanted to seek out your website, what is the best website?
Charlotte Smith: Yeah, absolutely. It is Charlotte-Smith.com.
Alay Yajnik: Fantastic. That’s easy!
Charlotte Smith: Yes, it is!
Alay Yajnik: And if they wanted to subscribe to your podcast, where can they go to do that?
Charlotte Smith: So my podcast, Life Design for Lawyers, it is on Apple, Spotify, Google Play and all of the typical places where we listen to podcasts super well.
Alay Yajnik: Thank you so much for joining us today. Always a pleasure to connect and to learn about attorneys and mindset and how all of that pertains to business development. Thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure having you.
Charlotte Smith: Thank you so much for having me. It was great to chat.
Alay Yajnik: And that’s a wrap to get more episodes, webinars and free stuff, visit lawyerbusinessadvantage.com. My name is Alay Yajnik. Thank you for listening. And remember, there’s a rainmaker inside everyone, including you.