In this episode, Alay Yajnik and Stephen Seckler, President of Seckler Legal Recruiting and Coaching, discuss:
- Why all lawyers should strive to build a book of business
- How to get started with business development
- The benefits of having a clearly-defined niche or focus to your marketing
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: It is my pleasure to welcome to the show Stephen Seckler, President of Seckler Legal Recruiting and Coaching. Steve, how are you today?
Stephen Seckler: I’m doing great, Alay. Thanks so much for having me.
Alay Yajnik: Delighted to have you on the show. And I hope things are going well in the New England area for you. Now, you run a legal recruiting business and you’ve had an interesting path to that. How did you get started in legal recruiting?
Stephen Seckler: So first of all, I just want to say I really appreciate having the opportunity to speak on your podcast. As you know, I do my own podcast and it’s much more fun to be on the receiving end. So I really appreciate having the chance to just answer the questions rather than have to ask them. So I went to law school and I had some strong feelings when I was in law school that I was going to save the world. But as I got near the end of my legal education, I realized that practicing law wasn’t really something that I wanted to pursue. I really liked being a lawyer. I liked and identified with lawyers. I understand lawyers, but I wanted to do something that was law-related. And so I went to work for Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, where I essentially was planning conferences and I was meeting a lot of the leaders of the bar in Massachusetts. We would plant curricula and then planned seminars. And after I’d been doing that for a while and frankly, after my second child was born, I decided it was time to be a little bit more entrepreneurial, earn a little bit more money. And I just basically opened my own recruiting business. Because really what I was doing when I was working at Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education was recruiting. A lot of putting together conferences is about finding the right talent and then plugging them in to seminars and opportunities to help the organization plan appropriate curriculum. And I already had the skills of going out and trying to recruit the best talent. But I didn’t want to just open a business that looked like every other recruiting business. And I had received some coaching along the way and I had been very interested in coaching. And so I decided that when I opened my business that I would be a recruiter, but I would also coach lawyers. And so since that time in various incantations, I’ve been recruiting and coaching lawyers.
Alay Yajnik: And what would you say is unique or different about the recruiting services you provide versus services that people might find elsewhere?
Stephen Seckler: So I think a lot of legal recruiting is really focused on the high end, a lot of recruiters are very focused on trying to service large law firms. There are also recruiters that focus on doing in-house. I think my own special brand of recruiting is that I am very focused on the candidate. A lot of recruiters tend to be more focused on the clients, which are either the law firms or the corporations. My brand is really all about trying to help lawyers find more career satisfaction. And if that means that I don’t end up placing them somewhere, that’s totally fine. I really want people to make moves that make sense. And so my brand is that I’m helping lawyers, and have for the last 20 years, find more career satisfaction.
Alay Yajnik: I think that’s a very different perspective and a welcome one. For those of you that that aren’t familiar with recruiters, they typically work for the companies that hire them. And that can lead to sometimes conflicts of interest between the candidate and the firm as far as negotiating salary and career development and those kinds of things. But, Steve, with your approach, you take the candidate first and then you try and find them an appropriate home within your legal firm network. That’s a great fit with where they want to take the career. That is terrific. So congratulations to you on starting that firm and building it up.
Stephen Seckler: Yeah, and I don’t want to be disingenuous, I mean, since I’m being paid by the law firm or by the corporation, I owe a duty to the client. I need to help them hire the best talent. But my belief is that if I help them hire someone and that person isn’t going to be happy there, then it’s a bad fit. And if it ends up being a bad fit, nobody’s going to be happy. So the client is the law firm and the client is the corporation. I think they’re much better off hiring people that are going to be happy in the long run.
Alay Yajnik: So you do legal recruiting, but you also do coaching. How do those two fit together for you?
Stephen Seckler: Originally doing the coaching was a way to add extra value to the people that I was trying to recruit. And in some sense, it still is. I mean, a lot of lawyers want to go in-house and just coaching them through how to make those kinds of transitions, even just informally, is a way that I can add value to the people that I’m trying to recruit. But in order to be successful in a law firm, ultimately, most lawyers need to be able to develop a book of business. And so I really enjoy helping lawyers be successful where they are. And if they’re not going to make a move and they want to be more successful where they are, then learning how to be more effective in generating work is really critical. And lawyers don’t necessarily graduate from law school with that skill set.
Alay Yajnik: For people listening to this podcast, they probably understand the value of being able to build a book of business that makes you so much more marketable. It gives you so much more independence. And when it comes to choosing the law firm that’s the right fit for you, it’s so much easier if you can come to that law firm with a book of business or you’ve proven that you can readily build a book of business yourself. So it’s great that you do that. That’s terrific.
Stephen Seckler: It’s also important in partnership decisions. So if a lawyer wants to be elevated to partnership, a lot of times that’s going to be somewhat dependent on their ability to generate work. And I work with lawyers who want to increase their odds of becoming partner.
Alay Yajnik: Yes, that is definitely critical: the ability to be a rainmaker, to bring in business. That sets you on the partner track in your firm, it also allows you to move to other firms pretty easily, if that’s what you want to do.
Stephen Seckler: The relationship building also positions you well for – a lot of lawyers want to go in-house. And while as a recruiter, I certainly do recruiting for life sciences companies here in Massachusetts. That’s a big industry for us. And technology companies. But recruiters only get so many of those assignments. A lot of lawyers end up going in-house through their relationships. So even learning how to develop relationships and do business development is a way of advancing your career if you want to go in-house.
Alay Yajnik: Makes sense because you understand how to build relationships with people and then build up your professional network and you can repurpose that in many ways, apart from just business development.
Alay Yajnik: So tell me a little bit about this “birth of a salesperson” tagline that that you’ve used.
Stephen Seckler: Well, so my running joke is that my autobiography is going to be called Birth of a Salesman. And the concept there is that I did not grow up in a household where business was valued. I did not know really how to sell when I graduated from law school. And it’s something that I really had to learn. My father was a math professor. My mother was a school psychologist. And growing up, all I ever heard my father say was that business people are operators. And when I graduated from law school and I ended up working, doing seminar planning, conference planning for Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, and I saw the lawyers who were successful, the people that were speaking at our conferences and even going to the conferences that we had on marketing, I learned that selling professional services is nothing like selling consumer goods or used cars. It’s about building relationships. And I came to learn that that’s something that I could actually be pretty good at and it’s something that I really enjoy. The “hard sell” is not what really gets the work in the door. It’s really getting to know people: what their problems are, what their business concerns are. That’s how – as you know and as you, I’m sure, work very closely with your clients – that’s how lawyers build their practices. They build relationships over time with either clients or referral sources.
Alay Yajnik: And when you’re when you’re working with a client, presumably they want to get business development results pretty quickly. How do you approach a new client relationship with regards to the goals that they’re setting for themselves around biz dev?
Stephen Seckler: So typically, I tend to work with lawyers who are sort of at the earlier stages of business development. So I’m working with two associates right now who have about five or six years of experience. They’re actually a little bit older because one of them worked in Washington for a few congresspeople before going to law school and another one came from Israel and worked for a few years, and so although the person’s only considered like a fifth year at his current firm, he has, you know, more years. But anyway, the people that I tend to work with tend to be really more at the earlier stages. There are other coaches who, you know, they’ll take somebody that has a two million dollar book of business and turn them into somebody who has a five million dollar book of business. And I certainly have worked with those people. But what I really enjoy is taking somebody who has potential and enthusiasm and interest and motivation and really get them started on a path to organize their marketing and their business development activities. So that’s more where I’m at.
Alay Yajnik: And when you work with these attorneys that are getting started to build their book of business, what are some of the key shifts that they have to make in their thinking to enable them to be successful?
Stephen Seckler: I think a big shift that they have to make is that they have to start focusing their attention in a consistent way on marketing and business development. I think a lot of lawyers who understand some of what to do don’t have a consistent commitment to building their reputation, speaking, writing and more importantly, towards cultivating the key relationships, whether first it’s internally in their firm, and then second, it’s on the outside.
Alay Yajnik: It’s a big ask, right? Like a lot of feedback that we’ll get from people is I don’t have the time for business development. I’m so busy with work. And so what are some of the insights that your clients have or some of the techniques that you work with them on that help them prioritize? Because it is a prioritization. Prioritize biz dev and marketing alongside their other work.
Stephen Seckler: The starting point for me is always first figuring out who is their ideal client, what kind of practice they want to build, and everything flows out from there because then that informs what you should be spending your time doing and who you should be connecting with and what relationships you should be cultivating.
Stephen Seckler: The other piece of it is that, honestly, the hardest thing I have in my business as a coach is trying to get people to commit to coaching. Once they’ve committed to coaching, people generally are willing to commit to putting the work in, although like any coach working with any athlete or any professional, part of the reason they’re hiring you is to keep them motivated. So you do have to hold them accountable. But I think that a lot of lawyers who come to coaching are already predisposed to putting in some of the time.
Alay Yajnik: And one of the things that I’ve heard (and I have my own opinions on this, but I also want to get yours) is when attorneys are “new”: prior to the five year mark even, that they should start doing something around business development and marketing. The other school of thought is that they should be focusing primarily on building their craft and becoming great lawyers and that the time to do business development will come later when they’re at year five, six, seven, whatever that time horizon is. What are your thoughts on when attorneys should start with biz dev and what they should start doing?
Stephen Seckler: So I think the earlier that you start with this, the better. It’s like saving for college. The sooner you start investing, the sooner you’re going to get returns. Having said that, the most important thing you could do as a lawyer graduating from law school and starting in a new job is doing a great job because you get one opportunity to make a good first impression and you want to make a good first impression on the partners for whom you’re doing the work. So that is really critical. But carving out some time to start to build your reputation, get to know on a deeper level some of the people you went to college with, law school with. The thing is that, early on, the stakes are very low. And in fact, when you’re pretty junior, you may not even know exactly what kind of business it is that you want to cultivate because you haven’t really developed your niche yet. So it’s a good time to experiment in terms of the relationship building. It’s a great time to just get to know people when you don’t really need something. I mean, you asked me, you know, how quickly people are able to successfully grow their practices when they work with me. Well, I always really try to make sure that people understand that it’s going to take a significant commitment over a fairly significant amount of time.
Stephen Seckler: If somebody just starts writing articles and speaking today, they’re very unlikely to see results tomorrow. Although I did once have a – this was more this was actually a candidate, not a coaching client. But she started a podcast and it was around a certain industry, I think was around microbreweries or something. I can’t remember exactly what it was. And as soon as she started doing her podcast, an industry-focused podcast, she picked up a client, which wasn’t to be expected. But it was a really smart thing for her to do.
Alay Yajnik: A nice thing with lawyers is they can find clients from anywhere and then when they get intentional about doing things like doing an industry-specific type of podcast or even a practice-area specific podcast, it’s amazing what can develop out of that. But I assume she was interested in the microbrewery industry as well and something that she was willing to commit to.
Stephen Seckler: Absolutely.
Alay Yajnik: With regards to that, you were going through your story about about how you learned your sales skills. I was wondering if you could fill us in on how you learned how to be a great salesperson.
Stephen Seckler: So first, let me say let me say that I don’t consider myself a great salesperson. I consider myself a good salesperson. And the reason why I’m comfortable with that and why I think that’s OK is because it’s consistent with my brand. I am not the coach that’s trying to make or help somebody make as much money as they possibly can. There are other coaches who are more assertive in really holding their client’s feet to the fire. If somebody says to me that they really want to grow their practice, I will try to talk to them about the whole the gestalt: their career, what it is they really want to accomplish. And maybe part of their career isn’t about building your practice. So I think that knowing what your goals are is important, and I help people not just grow their practice, but also do it in the context of figuring out what they really want from their careers and their lives.
Alay Yajnik: And how did you learn to be a good salesperson?
Stephen Seckler: Well, like most of us, I had really great mentors, there were a number of coaches I had early on who really gave me some great feedback and advice on how to be more focused and deliberate. And honestly, I’m still learning. But I would say, you know, the most important thing that that that I attribute my ability to learn how to sell from is is just learning, going to workshops that I organize. Back in the early and mid 90s when I was at my wife’s uncle was a great mentor to me. He was a business development coach and organizational psychologist. He gave me tremendous insights into what it takes to do relationship selling, reading, attending workshops, talking to people like yourself. I mean, I’m constantly learning.
Alay Yajnik: I think that’s something that a lot of the great coaches do: we are always learning. We’re always looking for ways to get better. We learn things from each other, which is why I’m so happy we’re talking today, Steve. We also learn things from our clients and then we learn things from other areas. And so what are the top two or three insights you’ve had over the past year with regards to business development?
Stephen Seckler: It’s great to get to know people, but it’s also OK to be a little more strategic about how we can help each other. And I guess what I’ve learned in the past year from being in Provisors is the real importance of choosing your lane. So there’s a lot of people in Provisors who do similar and overlapping things. But you want to make yourself memorable by defining your lane. So there’s somebody in my region, Mike Katz, who does marketing to small professional services businesses. And he comes to the meetings and he says, “I do newsletters.” And that is eminently memorable. He does way more than that, but he really makes himself memorable and he has lots of other ways that he makes himself memorable. He has penguins galore in his logo and is in his marketing. So he’s the penguin guy. But but just making yourself memorable by choosing your lane, I think is so important.
Alay Yajnik: There’s a family law attorney in San Francisco, Terry Szucsko, and he’s a Certified Family Law Specialist. But a few years ago, he had built his reputation on being the person to call for restraining orders. And he did much more than that. But that was how he got his initial foray into that field and really built a name for himself was was by doing that. And it was unique and it’s different. And so it stood out and people remembered it. And I think that’s a great example, Steve. And I’m glad you brought it up.
Alay Yajnik: The idea of picking a niche, choosing a lane, whatever term you want to, whatever you want to use on it seems counterintuitive because you’re making your target smaller. You’re not going after everything. Right. So in your case, it was the gentleman you just mentioned just going after newsletters and you would think, “Oh, my gosh, he’s turning away all this other work around SEO and collateral and graphic design and branding!” But what ends up happening is that he becomes more memorable, and so the net result of it is that the person probably gets a lot more business than if they tried to capture everything. So it’s better to be known for one thing than it is to be, you know, unknown for 12 different things. And I think that’s the difference there. So I’m glad you brought that up, Steve.
Alay Yajnik: For attorneys that are looking to (and we’ll skew this question towards the clients you you enjoy really working with) build their book of business. What advice would you give them?
Stephen Seckler: The most important piece of advice I can give them is invest time and energy into marketing. It’s not going to just happen just by doing great work. You have to really know what you want and you have to get your reputation built. Whether you like writing, speaking, if you’re big on social media, but most importantly, building relationships with the correct people.
Stephen Seckler: I have a lot of dad jokes and one of my ongoing dad jokes is “If you want to marry somebody Jewish, don’t hang out a Catholic singles dances.” But you have to know that you want to marry somebody Jewish first. That’s like the starting point. And everything kind of flows from there. So if you want to work with life sciences companies….I know a lawyer who does does patent law and I don’t know, he’s he’s differentiating himself by being like the law office technology guru and maybe that’s helping him really differentiate himself. But my advice to him was, if you really want to get you know, if you really want to deepen your business in the tech sector then spend more time working with and getting to know people in the industries, in the industry where you want to do more work. This is somebody who’s getting to know a lot of lawyers by. Demonstrating that that, you know, that he really understands law office technology and maybe that maybe that’s helping him, but I think he would also benefit a lot from spending more time in industry groups and becoming known as the patent lawyer to those industries.
Alay Yajnik: Yeah, it also makes sense. You know, the rule of thumb I have for most of my clients is roughly 75 percent, 80 percent of an attorney’s business comes from referrals from other attorneys. It’s not true for every practice area. That is true for a lot of them. And so building relationships with other attorneys is a great way to get work also. So what I like about that individual that you mentioned is he’s got a plan. It’s deliberate, it’s intentional. It sounds like it’s something he’s good at and hopefully it’s something he enjoys. And I know those are all things that you look for when you work with your clients as well. Make sure that they enjoy the marketing that they do and that, you know, they’re actually pretty good at it.
Stephen Seckler: Yeah, and it could be a lot of fun and you could differentiate yourself in ways that don’t have anything to do with your specific area of professional expertise. And maybe, you know you know, probably this patent lawyer is going to get good referrals just because he’s helping a lot of lawyers run their businesses, people that don’t do patent law, and he’ll get referrals from them.
Stephen Seckler: So I know I worked some years ago with a bankruptcy lawyer who was trying to grow his practice and he was also a musician and he had a band and he became known. He had a band that played for the American Bankruptcy Institute at their conferences. And bankruptcy lawyers, they refer a lot of work to each other because there’s always a lot of parties in bankruptcy. So getting to know other bankruptcy lawyers for that practice area was actually a really good strategy. And so he differentiated himself and became known because he was part of the American Bankruptcy Institute band.
Alay Yajnik: Wow. There are many paths to getting now, and that’s for sure. And we cannot make up some of this stuff, right?
Alay Yajnik: Well, I want to make sure that we have time for this. You’ve introduced a brand new program, so I’m excited to hear more about The Next Stage coaching program that you’re rolling out.
Stephen Seckler: Well, I’m really glad to have the opportunity to talk about it, and anyone who comes anywhere near me hears me talk a lot about this. And frankly, I think my wife is pretty tired of hearing me talk about it. So I’m glad that I get to talk to other people about it. So about three years ago, my wife and I participated in a group on aging and like we didn’t get the memo, we had just become empty nesters. And everybody else in the group was like 10 or 15 years older than us. And so at first I was like, huh, are we in the right group? But but we participated in it for the better part of a year. And what’s so great about it was that it really made me realize that it’s never too soon to start thinking about your next steps. And, you know, we’re I’m not anywhere near retirement, but but it really got me thinking. And so one of the things that got me thinking about was you don’t want to wait until you “retire” to take up things that are of interest to you. So last summer, I bought myself a nice Martin guitar and started playing again. I played a fair amount in high school. I played in my 20s. I played when my kids were young, but I hadn’t really gotten any further in a long time. So. So being involved in that group made me realize that there’s a lot of need to be planning and then so then the pandemic hit and a lot of us are sort of facing these existential questions, what are we doing here? What do we want from life? What’s really important and coupled with that, I’ve known for a long time, and it’s certainly true in the Boston area. I’m sure it’s true everywhere in the country. A lot of firms are facing succession planning issues. You’ve got lawyers who are baby boomers who are kind of getting on in years and they might want to keep practicing far into the future, but maybe they don’t want to be doing it in exactly the same way. But maybe they don’t know how to do anything other than what they’ve been doing. Lawyers can sometimes not be so self-aware. So I put together this program called The Next Stage, and it’s going to be a combined six month program involving group workshops and one on one coaching. And the goal is not that somebody at the end of six months is going to “hang up their cleats” and have, you know, their last day in the office, but that they’ll start to come up with a plan, whether it’s scaling back a little bit, whether it’s how they want to transition their clients, whether they want to leave the law altogether and try something new, or whether they want to pick up more pro bono work involved in boards, for profit boards, nonprofit boards. And I’m very excited about it.
Alay Yajnik: Well, it sounds like a great program for the right kind of attorney, and so if they want to learn more about it, Steve, what’s the best way for them to contact you?
Stephen Seckler: So the best way to contact me is to just go to my website, counseltocounsel.com, that’s counseltocounsel.com. I’ve got a lot of career resources on the web site, marketing resources. There are links to my blog, my podcast, and all my contact information is there.
Alay Yajnik: Awesome. Terrific. And before we wrap things up, tell us a little bit about your podcast.
Stephen Seckler: So my podcast is kind of a microcosm of everything that we’ve been talking about, I interview lawyers who have enjoyed some sort of success or satisfaction in their careers, either just through more traditional. You know, just through building their practice in the more traditional way or trying things and doing things very differently, and I try to provide lawyers with who are the listeners with opportunities to hear from some role models. And then they also interview consultants like yourself. And I should have you on my podcast. I’d love to hear more about the way you approach coaching, but I just try to provide. Yeah, that would be great. So, I mean, I just I try to provide lawyers with some tools, tips and then some ideas to stimulate their thinking about, “How can I find more satisfaction in or outside of the law?”
Alay Yajnik: And you’ve been doing this podcast for much longer than I have. Steve, how long has your podcast, been running?
Stephen Seckler: Well, I don’t know that I’ve been doing it that much longer, I have been doing it since the beginning of 2018, so I guess that’s two and a half years.
Alay Yajnik: Yeah. And I’ve been doing it for six months, so OK, you’ve got a little bit of a head start, but that’s great. And for people who want to check out the podcast, what’s the name of it and how do they get it?
Stephen Seckler: The name of the podcast is the same, it’s “Counsel to Counsel”, and you could find it anywhere you get your podcasts on iTunes, you could also just link to the homepage of the podcast from my website. So everything is branded as Counsel to Counsel because that’s what I do: I provide counsel to lawyers.
Alay Yajnik: Well, Steve, thank you so much for your time today. It was a pleasure having you on the show and just a lot of really good advice that came out of our conversation today. So thank you.
Stephen Seckler: Well, again, I really, really appreciate having the opportunity. It’s a lot of fun. And, you know, I really enjoy talking to you and I’m learning just by getting to know you.
Alay Yajnik: Thank you. I appreciate that. Everyone, that’s Stephen Seckler, President of Seckler Legal Recruiting and Coaching. Thanks so much, Stephen.
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.