Archive for the 'It’s a Dog’s Life' Category

Friday Musing — Second dogs and lateral integration

Author: Debra Baker
April 1, 2011
Star Loves Legal Marketing

Star waiting for Sophie

My dog Star hasn’t made an appearance in my blog in many months, but I’m thinking about her today because we are contemplating a family addition — a new dog.

It wasn’t exactly planned. My friend just moved from a house with big yard in Denver to an apartment in Los Angeles. The move is great for her but it hasn’t worked out well for her dog, Sophie. So she and her son are bringing Sophie down to San Diego on Saturday to meet Star. If the meeting goes well, we may just take her in. We’ll just have to see.

Star loves everyone, but bringing a new dog into our home on a permanent basis is unchartered territory for us. There are a lot of variables at play. Some things you can see on the surface. Others take longer to uncover.

So we’ve put together a “dog integration” strategy. We’re going to start with a meeting. If that works out, we’ll do a week. The dogs can get to know each other. We can find out if they are compatible, see if it is a fit for Star, and see if it is a fit for Sophie.

It got me thinking about lateral partner hiring. It’s a tough business bringing in a new equity partner. While there are certain “check the box” things a firm can seek out in a potential candidate, there are a host of issues relating to culture, leadership, commitment and communication that can’t be uncovered during the “dating” process.

With lateral hires there are no trial runs. Law firms have to make the best decision they can with the information they have at the time and take their chances.  The best they can do is develop a comprehensive lateral integration plan to facilitate the transition.

My money is on the dogs.


It’s a Dog’s Life: Mistaking motion for progress

Author: Debra Baker
September 17, 2010

Everything I know about business, I learned from my dog Star.

Star hasn’t  made an appearance on this blog lately. I was attributing it to the dog days of summer but — now that September is half over — I have to reconsider.

The real reason is laziness. Once you break a routine, it’s hard  to get back on track. 

For Star too. During her latest trip to the vet she weighed in at 99 pounds. This after the vet had told us 91 pounds was borderline overweight.

I call her fat. My husband insists she’s just “big boned.” Either way, it’s time to evaluate what’s working and what isn’t.

We’ve been pretty defensive about it. We do a lot with our dog. We take her to the dog park. The neighborhood “pack” regularly runs wild. She goes to work with my husband most days, and we take her with us whenever possible on the weekends. She is not neglected.

Granted, we used to get up every morning and take a three mile walk to the beach and back. Because of our schedules, we maybe do that once every couple of weeks, but still… We do a lot.

The problem is that she does not have a disciplined approach to staying trim. We equate all her moment for exercise, which it is not. There is motion but no progress.

In trying to come up with a relevant topic for the blog this week, I started thinking about my clients — what is working for them and what is not. I realize this problem of mistaking motion for progress is universal, particularly at this time of year when the clock for measuring results is ticking faster and faster.

So the question of the day is this: Is your firm moving or is it progressing?

We all need to look at what we are doing. Are our efforts to build strong organizations and develop new business something we are doing in a consistent, disciplined way or are we just making motion so we can check a box and feel like something has been accomplished. I’m taking Friday to figure that out and reset my priorities.

But first I’m going to take Star for a walk.

Everything I know about business, I learned from my dog Star

The dog next door is one of the sweetest dogs I have ever met. Her name is Dakota and she is a chocolate brown Chesapeake Retriever.

Dakota works the human crowd as well as any business developer I have ever met.

But Dakota works alone. She does not like other dogs — even my dog Star. She tolerates Star, but after a few minutes she turns away or starts a fight. She’s like that with most of the dogs in the neighborhood. As a result, not many people stop to give her attention. When her owner goes away, she has to stay by herself. We’d love to bring her to our house, but she can’t because she doesn’t play well with Star.

It’s kind of sad. All the neighborhood dogs like to stop in our yard to play with Star. They run wild on the lawns throughout the neighborhood while Dakota is stuck behind the fence barking. It’s not that she doesn’t get love and attention, but she could get so much more.

I see more and more lawyers in law firms behaving like Dakota. Firms that have great breadth and diversity of talent can’t generate significant new revenue because their lawyers decide to go it alone instead of working collaboratively. I’ve watched partners at firms destroy the culture all because they want to get what they can get for themselves and not take any responsibility for the growth of the firm as a whole.

I understand the risk of partnership. I understand the fear that comes with sharing personal relationships without any guarantee of reciprocation. But isn’t the point of partnership that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts? If you don’t want to share your knowledge, your relationships, your experience, why become a partner at all?

Law firms are in a tough predicament. The traditional law firm business model is under great stress. Changes in fee structures, improved business process and technology integration are all needed if law firms are going to thrive in the way they have historically. But none of those changes are going to work if lawyers don’t pull out of their silos and start working together.

Given the choice, wouldn’t you rather be a Star?

Everything I know about business development I learned from my dog Star

When we adopted Star from the Lab Rescue Foundation, we were required to have her trained. We took this job seriously. First, we hired a private trainer. Then we took her to group training. My husband and I even created a “30-day action plan” — complete with milestones — to ensure the training stuck.

A-year-and-a-half later, Star’s about as obedient as the day we got her. It’s not that she doesn’t know all the basic commands like, “Sit,” “Come,” and “Down.” She just chooses not to listen.

Unless there is something in it for her.

If you have a treat or she wants to go with you for a run, Star is the best listener ever. She’ll sit. She’ll give you “paw.” She’ll even give you “other paw” (yes, Star is ambidextrous). That’s when there is something in it for her. The rest of the time… well, we call it Puppy Selective Listening Syndrome.

Sadly, Puppy Selective Listening Syndrome is highly contagious to humans, and lawyers are among the most susceptible.

When vying for a new client, starting off on a new matter or waiting for an invoice to be paid, there is no better listener than a lawyer. Too often, when the “get” isn’t immediate, their listening skills seem to fade.

Listening is a basic tenet of good client relationship management. But it can’t be a part-time job.

We’re anticipating, based on past experience, that Star will recover from her listening problems in a couple of years, when she turns four. That’s about the time they get board of us trying to get her to behave.

Can you afford to wait that long? Give your client a call today and ask them how things are going. When you do, make sure you are listening to what they have to say.

Have you hugged your dog (I mean client) today?

Author: Debra Baker
July 16, 2010

Everything I know about business I learned from my dog Star

A “Friday lite” look at law firm marketing and business development

The weather has been getting warmer, so Star has taken to sleeping by herself on the bed in the guest room. But every morning around 5 a.m. she jumps on our bed, crawls between my husband and I and leans in on one of us. I call it our morning hug.

Law Firm Marketing


I was reminded of these hugs while doing some research this week for a presentation I did to the San Diego County Bar on building client-centric law firm business plans. I came across an old article I had saved called “Have you hugged your clients today?” (Terri Pepper Gavulic, originally published in New York Law Journal Magazine, October 2004).

The article talks about how law firms tend to focus their efforts on attracting new clients but often do so at the expense of existing ones. As a result, clients consistently state that their law firms don’t seem to understand them, fail to offer practical advice that fits their real world experience and seem to make little effort to expand their relationships.

Although nearly six years old, the theme of this article continues to hold true today. And, like Star’s morning hugs, it should serve as a reminder to law firms that the investment in strengthening and expanding existing client relationships is equal to, if not more important than, bringing in new clients.

If you are interested in learning more about building a formal client development program, check out my new article, “Lessons from the trenches: Client Service Teams.” Also, watch for next week’s post when I take a closer look at the five areas covered in the article: feedback, analysis, business process, service and communication.

It’s a Dog’s Life: Making the Connection

Author: Debra Baker
July 2, 2010

When conducting business development, the first rule of thumb is to find a way to make a connection. That connection can be anything… even a dog like Star.

A few months ago I attended a fundraiser to support the San Diego County Law Library Justice Foundation. I was assisting the Law Library Board of Directors at the time in their search for a new executive director, and I wanted to show my support for the organization. Public law libraries are an amazing community resource that few people know about.

I was making small talk with the people at my table and I learned one of the women sitting with us lived in my neighborhood. She asked me what street I lived on and I told her. She said, “You must know the Swains then.” I shook my head no and apologized that I did not know as many of my neighbors as I should. “Unless they have a dog, I probably don’t know them,” I said.

Star and Abby Together

She told me they did have a dog and her name was Abby. I lit up. “I know Abby. That’s my dog Star’s best friend.” As it turned out I did know Peter and Tanya Swain. I just didn’t know their last name.

We ended up having a nice conversation about our respective businesses and our dogs. Soon others at the table were telling stories about their dogs as well. I left with several business cards.

I’ve been writing for several weeks about how everything I learned about business development, I could learn from my dog Star. In some cases, I mean that literally.

It’s A Dog’s Life: The Art of Discipline

Author: Debra Baker
June 25, 2010

Everything I know about business, I learned from my dog Star

My husband and I are both in training. Steve is running the Chicago Marathon with hopes of qualifying for the Boston Marathon next April. I’m running in the America’s Finest City half marathon here in San Diego with the hopes of … finishing.

Star is my training partner, at least on days when I have short easy runs. She’s not much of a pace dog. When she runs with me, she sets my pace back about two minutes per mile. Nevertheless, she offers me what I need most: Discipline.

Star as Task Master

No matter how I feel in the morning, Star is there to get me going. If I try to roll over, she licks my face until I eventually get out of bed. If I try to grab a cup of coffee and crawl back into bed, she starts chasing her tail, barking incessantly. Star can’t be ignored. Without her, I would probably skip half my morning runs.

Star understands discipline is the key to achieving a goal, whether it is a long race or attracting new clients. All the natural talent, planning and genuine desire to build business will not make you successful unless you execute on your plan in a consistent and ongoing way.

Business development is much the same way. There is seldom instant gratification. It takes time to build a foundation that will yield a return on your investment. Sometimes you wonder if your efforts are making any difference at all.

That said, once you reach that first milestone, it easy easy to look back and see how all the time and effort put in along the way ultimately paid off.

Last weekend, I ran for 100 minutes, probably the furthest I’ve ever run in my life. I didn’t go far enough to finish a half marathon, but I did reach double digit mileage numbers for the first time. It was also the first time I could feel my efforts starting to pay off. I have Star to thank for that.

So think of Star the next time you don’t feel like going to a networking event, delay asking a client for feedback or can’t bear the thought of writing another article. She always keeps me going. Maybe she’ll help you too.

Star Loves Legal Marketing

Meet Star

My dog Star is a 90-lb lab who stands close to five-feet tall when fully erect.

That’s typically how you’ll find her if you visit my house. She likes to stand with her front paws on the porch wall, so she can seek out a neighbor or passerby. We always know when she’s found someone willing to show her some attention because her tail starts beating like a rapidly ticking metronome.

Star is not a brain surgeon, but she has a lot she could teach about business development. The truth is, when it comes to building relationships, Star is… well…  a star. For this reason, I’m dedicating my Friday “lite” postings to the business lessons that Star has mastered.

It’s a Dog’s Life: The Art of Networking

For many lawyers, and people in general (myself included), the hardest part of relationship development can be starting the relationship, particularly if you don’t have someone who can make an introduction. If this is the case for you, Star might be able to help.

Star’s 7-step approach toward first meetings typically goes something like this:

1. Star sees target.

2. Star jumps on target.

3. Star licks face of target.

4. Star retreats to all fours.

5. Target pets Star on head.

6. Star rolls on back.

7. Target rubs Star’s belly.

With that, the relationship is set in place. While Star could certainly benefit from some refinement in technique–she has been known to knock down a neighbor or two–she has the fundamentals mastered. I think there is something we all can learn from her when networking: Always Smile. Be approachable (see paragraph 2, tail wagging technique). Don’t be afraid to make the first move.

Have a great weekend, everyone.