Episode 1 with Judith Gordon


Speaker 1: Growing revenue as a law firm doesn’t happen by accident. Here on Law Firm Marketing Catalyst, Sharon Berman talks with forward thinking lawyers, law firm management and legal marketers who bring fresh perspectives and innovative approaches to marketing your legal practice. Propel your firm forward with your host, Sharon Berman.
Sharon Berman: Everyone, welcome to our podcast, the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst. Today, I’m very glad to welcome Judith Gordon. Judith was trained in practice as a lawyer, and then transitioned from practicing law to working with lawyers to develop the skills to make them more productive, efficient, and most important, more satisfied with their professional lives. Today, she’s going to be talking about the five key takeaways toward greater productivity, better overall performance and heightened personal satisfaction.
Before we get to that, let me tell you a little bit more about her. She has to me an enviable combination of skills. She’s an attorney coach and a lecturer at UCLA School of Law. She trained in emotional intelligence coaching with the Institute of Social and Emotional intelligence and mediation at the Strauss Institute for Dispute Resolution. I met her when she was the Director of Marketing and professional development at a mid-sized law firm for close to a decade. She helps lawyers create a personalized and holistic approach to building a sustainable career. Judith writes in presents regularly at law firms and conferences on performance and being a healthy, happy and high achieving professional, and I’ve heard her present several times. I know that I’ve been engrossed in what she has to say and seeing how she’s captivated the audience’s attention.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the path that got you where you are today? I know that you’re very happy in the work that you do, and you help others to achieve happiness. But I have the sense that it sounds like overcoming some of your obstacles and roadblocks. Love to hear more about that.
Judith Gordon: That’s exactly right, Sharon. It’s interesting that you ask that question. Like many lawyers, my career path was not a linear one. I can recall in hindsight, two distinct events that led me to where I am now. One was sitting at my desk one day at the firm where I was working and seeing an article published in the National Law Journal written by a graduating law student. In this article, he cited research on lawyer dissatisfaction in the profession. I was stunned to see it. I had no idea that this kind of research was being done. But reading it, I really related to what he was saying, because I had experienced my own moment, if you will, recognizing that while there were many aspects of practicing law that I enjoyed, and I really was glad that I had gone to law school and was in the profession, something wasn’t sitting right with me. I knew that something was off.
I had gone through my own process of identifying what made me happiest, what felt good to me. I knew that I wanted to be a mediator and that I wanted to be engaged in a more resolution-oriented type of practice. So, that, my own self exploration combined with the sudden awareness that wow, it wasn’t just me, but there were actually lots of lawyers out there experiencing what I’d experienced was interesting, and also made me aware that they probably didn’t know that they weren’t alone, either. That led to part two, which was I decided to propose this course. I had done the training and mediation, I had done the training and emotional intelligence, simply because those were areas that interested me. And so, I proposed this course to UCLA Law School which they accepted to my delight, and I’ve been teaching there now eight years.
Sharon Berman: Wow.
Judith Gordon: Yes.
Sharon Berman: Did you practice law?
Judith Gordon: Yes. Yes, I did. I was a litigator, a business litigator and I enjoyed it very much. I enjoyed the courtroom experience. I enjoyed the motion practice. I enjoyed engaging with other lawyers. But what I didn’t enjoy was the fact that I found that oftentimes it wasn’t about resolving the conflict but escalating the conflict. That didn’t sit well with me. There were many aspects of it that I did enjoy. But unfortunately, it was also a lot that I found unpleasant.
Sharon Berman: So, you took the big step it seems to me to go to get dispute resolution training as well as the coaching training. Those are things that a lot of people think about, but they are to me big steps in terms of a sidestep off of the typical lawyer track.
Judith Gordon: Well, it almost seemed that once I became aware of where my interest lay that opportunity seem to open. It’s almost like you know when you’re going to buy a new car and when you’re not looking for a car you don’t notice the other cars on the road. But as soon as you start looking for a new car, you start noticing all these different cars and what kind of car you might be interested in. Suddenly, there’s more awareness of cars. This was a similar sort of thing. Once I realized that I was interested in engaging with what matters to us most and how do we define our practice in a way that really aligns with who we are so that we thrive, so that we can build a sustainable career. Because I don’t think anybody can last very long, at least well, in a career that they’re not happy with. So, while they may be financially successful, I think we pay the price and other areas.
Alongside doing what I was doing, I started taking this coursework and I noticed too, that my interactions with other attorneys was just veering toward engaging with them on their own values and what mattered to them most. It was an evolution, it didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen organically. That’s how I got to where I am.
Sharon Berman: Okay. I’m very sincere when I say I think you have an enviable mix of skills. Because you’re trained as a lawyer, you practice as a lawyer, besides being an emotionally intelligent person, you have this training in that area. And then also, you were a marketing and business development director in a good-sized law firm for quite a few years. How did that come into the mix?
Judith Gordon: That’s interesting. I actually was asked to consult with the firm initially. Trying to remember exactly how it evolved. I attended a meeting that they had their marketing committee and made some suggestions and we developed a relationship. Ultimately, they invited me to come on board, which I was delighted to do, because that was really aligned with my skill set. I really enjoyed working with the attorneys, helping them develop their career paths and being in involved in marketing and business development, really looking at who each attorney was, what his or her goals were, and then creating some sort of a path, a marketing plan or a path toward achieving those goals was really aligned with what I was doing.
Sharon Berman: Well, it sounds very, very interesting. It always seems to me that being able to speak the language and having lawyers know that you actually were on the field beforehand, it just gives you so much more credibility.
Judith Gordon: It was very helpful. I know that they appreciated my insights in that they trusted me. I don’t know that it’s necessarily accurate or the case. I think that there are many, many talented marketing professionals in the legal profession who are equally, if not better qualified to assist lawyers in developing their plans. I say that intentionally because I don’t think that being a lawyer is necessarily the skill set. In fact, it’s not the skill set. I do think that the stronger skill set in my case was the communication skills and the emotional intelligence skills. Having the legal degree was helpful in understanding their practices.
Sharon Berman: No, I understand what you’re saying, but I’m sure I’m sure it was an asset. Okay, so we’re all interested here the five key takeaways for greater productivity, better performance and heightened personal satisfaction. So, if you’d like to tell us about that, we’re all ears.
Judith Gordon: Well, what’s interesting about legal education is that it focuses almost exclusively on legal thinking, on cognitive thinking. So, to the exclusion of emotional aspects of analysis, what’s going on from a moral perspective. For three years, law students are immersed in case analysis. Now, legal practice is far more than litigation many, many, in fact, most I think lawyers do not practice exclusively in litigation. It is definitely probably 50% or more. I don’t know what the actual statistics are. But many lawyers in their day-to-day are not involved in litigation. Even lawyers who practices litigators.
So, what are the other skills that are needed to be a great lawyer, and not only to be a great lawyer, but to be a happy lawyer? Well, these are skills that are excluded from legal training. Unfortunately, by the time we graduate law school, we tend to focus only on analytical thinking. Only on seeing the world from that perspective. And when we only see the world from that perspective, then we’re excluding a lot of important information. So, what do we need in order to expand that knowledge and awareness? Well, as humans, we are actually very good at picking up nonverbal communication. We are skilled at sensing what others are experiencing. Are they happy? Are they sad? Are they stressed? We’re aware of all these things. As lawyers, we tend to exclude them. But to be really a whole lawyer, we need to bring this training back in.
We need to do listening training. We need to learn to refocus our brains. Pay attention to one thing at a time, we tend to multitask instead of monotask, and we tend to work long, long hours. That’s not how our brains work. Our brains need rest. So, we need to understand our own physiology as well in order to be really skilled and whole happy lawyers.
Sharon Berman: Okay. I am looking here at the outline of your five key takeaways. And you mentioned focus. That’s the first on the list. Can you tell us more about that?
Judith Gordon: Sure. So, what’s happened in our world of technology is that we tend to … And also, multitasking has become a very popular way to do things. People like to brag perhaps that, “Oh, I’m a great multitasker.” I’ve had clients say that to me, “I’m a great multitasker.” Well, the truth is that the human brain doesn’t multitask. It switch tasks. So, when it’s switch tasking, it’s going back and forth between different tasks. What happens is that this creates a drain on the brain, so that neither task actually gets our full attention. It’s also very exhausting. Which is why many lawyers feel exhausted at the end of the day because they’ve been going back and forth between email, phone calls, writing, drafting documents, engaging with other lawyers, and without giving their brains arrest.
The way our brains actually work is that we need to focus on one task at a time. Because if you look at the evolution of the brain when it evolved several hundred thousand years ago, the brain was really focused on survival. What we know is that a distracted brain is an anxious brain. Because if you were distracted, your chances of becoming some predator’s lunch were much higher. So, the human brain is really designed to focus, and it’s designed to focus on what’s happening in the present moment right now. When we become distracted, when we multitask, we actually create a brain drain. This is very exhausting and also it negatively impacts our work product.
What I often counsel my clients to do is focus on a task, take a break, maybe five or 10 minutes, even less. It could just be a couple of minutes, but just a couple of minutes where you’re really not focused on anything. Where you’re just allowing your mind to wander and then come back to your next task. I also recommend that people chunk their email. Many lawyers keep their email open on another screen and they see the notifications coming up. Some of them have audible notifications as well. These are very, very distracting. So, the brain is constantly being pulled away from the work at hand. I highly recommend checking email. Only doing it at certain intervals during the day. You’ll find that you’re much, much more efficient and effective this way, and probably feel much more energized.
Sharon Berman: Well, I know when I do that, I just feel much more on top of things and able to focus. I know that I’ve done … When you do your presentations, you’ve given exercises showing us how monotasking is much more efficient than the switching the tasking or multitasking. I do believe that anybody … I don’t believe in multitasking. I may try it myself, but I know that I’m not being efficient. It’s interesting, too, that you have here that when you want to sort of rest your brain that you’re not talking about web surfing either.
Judith Gordon: Right? Thank you for bringing that up. It’s interesting. We often think that if we just, oh, I’ll just the web, I’ll look at my social media for a few minutes, and that’ll be my break. Well, what’s actually happening as the brain remains engaged. As long as the brain is engaged and is working, it’s not going to get that rest that it needs. The reason that the brain needs rest is that that is when the brain actually integrates information. It processes information, it embeds memory, that’s when learning occurs. So, these small intervals of brain rest are incredibly important for our work product and to be more efficient and more effective.
If you can not use web surfing as your break but just look out the window and stare at the trees for a few minutes or get up and take a walk, take a walk to the kitchen, get a glass of water and not soda but water, and just give yourself a few minutes to let your brain slowdown, will really, really make a big difference.
Sharon Berman: Okay. You have number two here is mindset. To me this one really just … I’m really interested to hear this. Tell us about mindset and the impact and connection with productivity and efficiency and satisfaction.
Judith Gordon: Sure. The research shows that our mindset impacts our productivity. What’s more interesting is that how we start our morning impacts our productivity. So, having the right morning mindset can impact our productivity for the entire day. Often, what I will counsel clients is to think about what they have ahead of them for the day and then choose the appropriate mindset. So, for example, if I’m going into court and I’m going to be arguing a motion for summary judgment that has potentially huge consequences for my client, then I need to be in a mindset that is more focused and perhaps aggressive or passionate than if I’m going into a mediation where I want to be in a more listening mindset, a more calm mindset, a more open mindset. What we do is we align our energy with the task at hand. What frame of mind do I need to be in, in order to be best at the work that I need to do?
Sharon Berman: So, you say here, set your mindset each day. Are you talking about meditating, are you’re talking about just writing down, I’ve heard write down the three things you need to accomplish tomorrow. When you say, set your mindset, how would you advise people to do that?
Judith Gordon: Yes. I would say it could be as simple as just choosing a couple of words tomorrow or today, if you’re doing it the evening before, it would be tomorrow’s. If it’s the morning, today I need to be more focused or I need to be calm. I need to be energized. I need to … Whatever it is that will serve your efforts for that day. It can be as simple as that. If you’re a meditator, and I am a huge proponent of meditation. It has wonderful impacts on the brain. Then, yeah, I would say meditate for a few minutes and perhaps to spend a few minutes in that meditation embodying that mindset.
Sharon Berman: Okay. Let’s see, I just think that anything like that just sets a great foundation for the day. Okay. Manage your energy. Number three, manage your energy and you’ll master your time. Tell us more about that.
Judith Gordon: Yes. So, really knowing your own biorhythms is very, very helpful. I’ll use myself as an example. I’m not a morning person. If I have a meeting in the morning, I am simply not going to be as effective as if I am a meeting in the afternoon. So, I will make my best effort to make sure that high value tasks, meetings, programs, documents that I need to create are done when I’m at my best. And so, I’m at my best between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Then I have a little lull and then I wrap up again in the evenings. So, I do a lot of work in the evenings. Other people are morning people, they wake up at 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. they’re full of energy, they get a lot of really good work done in the mornings. So, knowing what your bio rhythms are, and then using that to do your high value tasks.
What are high value tasks? High value tasks are tasks that move our purpose or our organizations’ purpose forward, right? So, email is not a high value task. Email is reactive, generally. I would not recommend doing email when you’re at your best. Do email when you’re feeling kind of low or need a break or tired and then respond to emails. Unless of course, it’s a substantive email. Generally, though, I would put that into a different category and say that the content of the email is actually a high value tasks and it’s only being conveyed via email as a communication channel. Understanding what tasks are high value and low value is important. Because we can waste a lot of our high energy time, the times we’re really focused and productive and on, on things that don’t move us forward. And then we get to the end of the day and we’re exhausted, and nothing’s gotten done. So, understanding the connection between our energy levels are our bio rhythms and the work that needs to happen can be really, really effective in creating a more productive day.
Sharon Berman: Okay. I know we can all relate to the fact that the day’s done and we’re retired and it’s like the high value tasks have not gotten done, because we just haven’t focused on them or carved up the time early on. And two, the difference in the email in terms of maybe drafting the email, it takes some thought, as opposed to going through and just responding to emails. A good reminder to differentiate.
Okay. Nutrition that fuels cognition. Hydrate and avoid sugar. You have that as number four.
Judith Gordon: Yes. What is important to understand is that the food that we eat impacts our performance. Sugar, in particular, refined sugar, actually puts a drag on our performance. There is a myth that sugar gives us energy. It will give us a spike, a momentary spike. But the downside is that it actually increases stress for up to five hours, and it reduces our cognitive performance. Because it actually binds receptors that we would otherwise be using for thinking and for cognition.
Well, let me back up a moment. Our brains actually need four elements, four components for maximum performance. Glucose, fat, water and oxygen. Now, glucose, yes, but not sugar, not refined sugar. So, glucose that we get from fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates, that’s the kind of glucose that our brains need for sustained energy and for sustained thinking. When we’re drinking soda or eating sweets, especially if we have that candy bar and a can of soda, we will definitely be revved up for a brief period of time but crash afterward. It was interesting when I experienced this myself. I remember craving a muffin that a nearby cafe would sell. And so, I ran over and I got this muffin. And then an hour later, I was practically asleep at my desk.
That was clearly problematic because I had work that needed to get done, and I was very very aware of the connection between the food I’d eaten and the impact it had on how I was performing. So, it is really important for example, before you have a day in court to eat the right foods and to make sure you’re hydrated. Our brains need water to conduct the electrical energy that creates our thoughts. So, our thoughts are they synapses that create our thinking and our analysis. That’s all electrical energy. Without water, we’re unable to think clearly and think rapidly. So, we actually need to be hydrating all day long, and we need to be hydrating with water or with foods that provide water. That’s very, very important.
Unfortunately, our brains don’t store water, so we need to replenish throughout the day in order to remain alert. Probably a lot of the attorneys who are listening can relate to the fact that they feel sluggish or moody at the end of the day. That can simply be dehydration. As little as ne percent dehydration creates a five percent decrease in cognition. Two percent dehydration creates fatigue, mood disorders, irritability and headaches. We did an interesting experiment in my class, and the students cut out soda and increased water for one week. All of the students who had been experiencing headaches reported that they were no longer having headaches. So, something as simple as drinking water can alleviate headaches, fatigue and increase alertness.
Sharon Berman: If I had talked to you are heard that a few years ago, I’m not sure would have bought into it. But I know for the last couple years I’ve been drinking a lot more water. When I don’t have water, I can really feel it. I can feel the difference. So, I’ll buy into what you’re saying. [inaudible 00:25:33] makes a difference.
Judith Gordon: You don’t have to buy into it. Just try it. It’s really amazing. Sometimes I myself will notice that I’m not feeling very well, and I’ll realize that I haven’t had anything to drink for quite a while. I just keep a bottle actually with a straw next to me. I find that a lot easier than taking a glass of water and drinking down a glass of water. But having a water bottle makes it really easy.
Sharon Berman: Right, you just have to remember to pick it up and drink. But, yeah.
Before we get to number five, which you have here as listed as respiration regulates stress and improves performance. I want to hear more about that. My question is, as you’re going through these, or you’re talking to your clients about this, you must encounter a lot of resistance. Or, people are very comfortable in their comfort zone. How do you encourage people to try some of these things or cross the line in a sense out of their comfort zone? What are your, I want to say, tricks or hacks or whatever, in terms of getting lawyers to try new things?
Judith Gordon: Right. Well, what I do initially is I focus on the science. Physiologically, our respiration actually controls most of our human operating system. We can manage stress using our breath. How does that work? Imagine that if we go back a couple of hundred thousand years, as we spoke about a little earlier, and we’re out on the tundra hunting and being hunted. Then what happens is when we’re in danger, and actually we can relate to this in modern times too. You’re driving your car and you have a sudden incident where you have to slam on your brakes, your body experiences a stress response. What occurs is that your heart rate goes up, your breathing, your respiration gets shorter and glucose and many, many hormones will then stream into our blood system to our muscles, so that we can make a quick getaway. That is the stress response and it’s normal. We’ve been having these for hundreds of thousands of years.
Fast forward to modern times. We’re having stress responses all the time, and we’re having them in situations where we’re not really in danger or threatened. I can think about a brief that I have to write that’s due and has to be filed by 5:00 this evening, and my body will have a stress response because my brain is interpreting that as a threat. When we breathe, we actually moderate that response. What happens is, most of the oxygen receptors that we have are in the lower lobes of our lungs. When we’re stressed, we’re breathing into our upper chest. So, we’re not getting the oxygen into the lower lobes of our lungs. That’s giving our brain the message that we’re in danger or we’re stressed. So, just by breathing into the lower lobes of our lungs, doesn’t have to be long and deep. It can just be slow, even breaths into the lower lobes of your lungs, will actually auction at your bloodstream, send the oxygen to the brain, give it that message that oh, everything is okay. And then it releases this whole cascade of calming chemicals that calm the brain and the body.
I actually walk my clients through this and they experience it in the moment. They walk into my office feeling stressed and anxious, and after a couple of minutes of breathing, they actually feel the difference. I have clients, managing partners, seasoned litigators, my law student students, who will report to me that before they walk into court, they remember to take a few deep breaths. The other benefit of this breathing besides calming the body is that it makes the brain more alert. Because what happens when we’re stressed, is the brain actually shuts down executive function, our thinking part of the brain. Because the reptilian part of the brain takes over. So, the thinking brain shuts down.
Well, if you’re in court and you’re stressed and you need to be able to think on your feet, the last thing you want is not to be able to find the words that you need. By breathing, what I like to say, we keep our brain online. We keep that executive functioning part of the brain available so that we’re able to respond and say what needs to be said.
Sharon Berman: Okay. I think all of us would agree with what you’re saying. And then take a times of being able to slow ourselves down by breathing deeply. All of this is very to me great reminders and good, especially with the fact that you have all the science behind it. How do you get people to try this? How do you get lawyers to try this? How do you get them to step outside their comfort zone? Or to not pooh pooh it and say, “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s great. But that’s for somebody else.” How do you overcome some of that resistance?
Judith Gordon: Well, for the ones who are really feeling distress, just having a solution for them is evidence enough. The fact that they experienced the difference and that they’re able to take charge. Oftentimes when we’re stressed, we feel like our stresses is in charge of us. Sometimes I often hear people say, “Oh, stress motivates me.” And that’s true. That is actually a different kind of stress. That’s motivational stress. That’s what’s called eustress. But if we’re having debilitating stress, then that’s a very uncomfortable state to be in. It can present as anxiety, excuse me, and that definitely interferes with our performance. Generally, the knowledge that this is a tool that can be accessed immediately, readily at any time to improve performance is evidence enough for the people that I work with.
Sharon Berman: I don’t know the term I eustress. Is that like the letter U or is it Y-O-U?
Judith Gordon: It’s E-U-S-T-R-E-S-S, and that is positive stress. What’s very interesting about stress is that our mindset influences the impact of stress on our bodies. There’s research that has proven that if I believe that the stress I’m experiencing is harmful or negative, then it will have a harmful effect on my body. My blood vessels will constrict, my heart will experience difficulty and there are other impacts of negative stress. But if I’m experiencing a stress response, and I use my mindset to say, “Oh, this is my body telling me that I’m pumped or motivated or ready for what’s to come,” then the research has shown that our blood vessels remain relaxed and the neural hormones that protect the heart remain intact. And, our system sustains what’s called homeostasis, a state of balance. How we think and how we feel are very, very much interrelated. We have a very complex and sophisticated internal communication system. And having just even a rudimentary understanding of our human communication system is very, very helpful in managing our stress and our performance.
Sharon Berman: That makes a lot of sense. A lot of this is great reminders for everybody. Tell us a little bit about how you work with clients. Is it one on one? I know you’re a coach. I know you give … Tell us a little bit about when lawyers should call you, why they should call you, that sort of thing.
Judith Gordon: Oh, thank you for that question. I generally receive calls from lawyers in a couple of different situations. I receive calls from lawyers who want to improve their performance, who are have achieved some modicum of success and are interested in getting to the next level or feeling better about what they’re doing. They’re doing well financially perhaps if they have a booming practice, but they’re looking for greater satisfaction. Or, their practice is booming, and they need tools for managing it better. How do they get the most out of the time that they have? Because we’re human and we only have human hours in a day. And, we’re really not designed to be working for as many hours as most of us do.
If my practice is successful and I have a lot going on, how do I get the most out of the time that I have available to me to work on it? Those are some instances. Other instances are younger lawyers, what I like to call rising lawyers. Early in their careers, helping them start to manage their careers and develop their careers without forming bad habits. How do they get these tools early on? So as they progress and as their practices grow, they stay in charge instead of the work taking charge of them.
Sharon Berman: And so, is this one on one? I know that you have column public coaching sessions or public sessions where you’re talking about this.
Judith Gordon: Yes. I really enjoy working with groups. I will work with law firms. So, law firms will bring me in, and I will do programs for groups of lawyers within the law firm. I often do lunch and learns or lawyer retreats. And, I have just begun providing workshops so that lawyers who whose firms may not be bringing people in to do their professional development can get their professional development elsewhere. So, I’ve just started offering these workshops. Hopefully, they will be able to reach individual lawyers out in the profession who are looking for tools to improve their performance and their wellbeing.
Sharon Berman: Okay. Judith, tell the people, what’s your website and how do people reach you? What’s your email address?
Judith Gordon: My email address is judith@leaderesq.net. That’s L-E-A-D-E-R-E-S-Q.N-E-T, one word. My website is leaderesq.net.
Sharon Berman: Great. So, people can get hold of you there if they want you as a speaker or they feel like hey, they want more of this and they want their lawyers to get more of this.
Judith Gordon: Absolutely.
Sharon Berman: Okay. Well, listen, thank you so much for being with us today.
Judith Gordon: Thank you, Sharon.
Sharon Berman: This is great information. For our audience, I want to thank you again for tuning into the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast. Our aim is to fuel your revenue growth through interviews with forward thinking lawyers, law firm management and legal marketers who bring fresh perspectives and innovative approaches to marketing. We’ll be bringing you another thought provoking guest in our next episode. I’m sharing Berman, managing principal of Berbay Marketing and Public Relations where we create visibility and credibility that get the phone to ring.
Thank you again, look forward to having you tune in for another episode.
Speaker 1: We hope you apply what you’ve learned here today to propel your firm forward. If you have questions or want even more resources, go to berbay.com. That’s B-E-R-B-A-Y, berbay.com. As always, thank you for listening.


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