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What Is Your Skills-Building Strategy?

By Patrick J. McKenna

A top fear shared by all of us is having to ask for the business, even if we know we can meet a prospective client's need. "I don't want to appear too pushy," confessed one lawyer. Often, it's just a simple matter of the appropriate wording. Here are some phrases that might help you comfortably close your next deal.

In today's world, you have to continually assess your skills and adapt them to match up to your target markets. Arm yourself with the following information to keep pace.

· Skills are more specialized.

Rapid knowledge growth means it is increasingly difficult for lawyers to keep on top of everything they need to know. You need to specialize. Knowledge niches are the reality for most professional careers.

· Skills are degradable.

The half-life of knowledge is decreasing at a furious rate. Firms are painfully discovering that many of their legal skills offerings are becoming increasingly commoditized.

· Skills can be transferred.

The baby boomer retirement issue is real. Smart firms are spending serious money to ensure that the important knowledge of senior practitioners is being captured, retained and archived.

· Skills are increasingly portable.

That's the thing we've learned with globalization. With clients now sensing that certain skills are readily available, they've learned about outsourcing their legal requirements. It doesn't really matter to them where the skills are, as long as they can procure them when needed.

· Skills are renewable.

Fortunately, the expiration date on your skills can be extended. If you can develop a mind-set toward constant improvement and invest some portion of your nonbillable time in developing new skills, you can adapt and evolve. So, here is your acid test: What is it that you know in 2007 that you didn't know one year ago? Or, put slightly differently, what is it that you can actually do for clients today that you couldn't do at this time last year? If your answer is not much, then bless you—but you may be quickly on your way to becoming extinct!

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