Stewart Hirsch on Building Relational Equity

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I interviewed Stewart Hirsch | Managing Director of Strategic Relationships on Friday, February 14th, 2020.

We began the episode with Stewart sharing his path from law firm to in-house to business development and executive leadership coach. He shared his secrets for business development. We discussed learning from his dad and the skills he honed in coaching. Stewart shared common causes for missed opportunities and how to avoid them. We discussed advice for in-house counsel and how they can win with relationships. Stewart shared his definition of leadership. Stewart shared important career insights on how men and women see the world differently. Stewart spoke how to pitch to diverse clients. We discussed his excellent list of recommended books. We wrapped up the conversation discussing a family hobby and how he gives back during a recession.  

Here are some highlights of my interview with Stewart Hirsch:

The firm and I both agreed I wasn’t meant to be a litigator. I thought people should talk before they fight and that was not typical of a litigator at that time.

My friends in law firms were coming to me asking, “How are you getting all this business from these large publicly traded companies?”  

My so-called superpowers are the ability to help people really connect with the person that they need to connect with and help them figure out exactly what to say in a way that works for them.

One thing law partners and associates miss is setting the next steps when they’re having a conversation with somebody.

If people recognize that the lawyer they are building relationships with or have relationships with actually cares about them, it makes a big difference.

One thing that comes up is that men tend to judge themselves and be judged on potential, whereas women tend to judge themselves and be judged on past performance.

Imagine having a black woman, who’s leading a diverse team and a law firm comes in with six older white men for the pitch. It happens often.

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Links referred to in this episode:

Stewart Hirsch | LinkedIn Profile

Strategic Relationships LLC

Blog | Everything I Needed to Know About Sales I Learned From my Father

Blog | Trust on the Rocks

Difference Works: Improving Retention, Productivity, and Profitability through Inclusion by Caroline Turner

The Trusted Advisor by David Maister, Charles Green, & Robert Galford 

Trust-Based Selling by Charles Green

The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook by Charles Green & Andrea Howe

The Empress has No Clothes: Conquering Self-Doubt to Embrace Success by Joyce Roché

Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success by Sylvia Ann Hewlett

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

FYI: For Your Improvement, A Development and Coaching Guide by Michael Lombardo

Shakti Leadership: Embracing Feminine and Masculine Power in Business by Nilima Bhat & Raj Sisodia

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Audio Transcription 

To Download the PDF Transcript, click here.

Greetings friends, this is Chris Batz, your host of The Law Firm Leadership podcast. By the time you listen to this, the Coronavirus will be at its worst in the United States and around the world. My hope and prayer is that you stay safe, healthy, and optimistic. We’re all in this together and we’ll get through this together. Please go to and click on Coronavirus. You will have resources and Zoom meeting support. It’s our way of giving back. 

In today’s episode, I spoke with veteran business development and executive leadership coach, who is sought after by big law partners and Fortune 100 legal executives for his wisdom and relational ninja skills. There’s something for everyone in this episode.      

As many of you know, we interview corporate defense, law firm leaders, partners, general counsel, and legal consultants. You are listening to episode thirty-nine of The Law Firm Leadership podcast.

Chris:  Welcome to The Law Firm Leadership podcast. I’m your host, Chris Batz with The Lion Group. Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Stewart Hirsch, business development and executive leadership coach of Strategic Relationships LLC. Stewart has over 20 years of experience in business development and in executive leadership coaching with law partners and legal executives. In addition to coaching since 1994, Stewart practiced law for 21 years in law firms and corporate legal departments, including TJX, Staples, Welch’s, and others. 

Stewart has spoken at numerous domestic and international conferences and designed and delivered single multi-session workshops to professional service firms throughout the US. He received his law degree from the Boston University School of Law. Welcome, Stewart, to The Law Firm Leadership podcast. It’s great to have you on the show. 

Stewart: Well, thank you, Chris. I’m delighted to be here. 

Making Rain During the 1990s Recession 

Chris: Was it your intent, originally, to become a lawyer?

Stewart: When I went to college, people thought I should be a lawyer. I ended up taking the LSAT, did really well, and went to law school. 

Chris: While in law school, what practice areas did you want to focus on?

Stewart: I had no clue, Chris. In the last year of college, I worked in the attorney general’s office in New Jersey. I thought that was really interesting work, but I wanted to be a litigator because that’s all I really knew when I was in law school. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. I got an interview in a big law firm, Hutchins & Wheeler,  then I got the job, and became a litigator. 

Actually a little story with transitioning to another firm. The firm and I both agreed I wasn’t meant to be a litigator. They agreed before I did. I thought people should talk before they fight and that was not typical of a litigator at that time, so I went to a small firm, then known as Shapiro, Israel & Weiner, now Ruberto, Israel & Weiner. I was hired as the 6th lawyer at that firm. I picked up corporate real estate and a little bit of bankruptcy.

Chris: What then led you to transition into a corporate legal department?

Stewart: We had two kids and I wasn’t seeing them very much. The firm I was at hired one of the large consulting firms to tell them how they were going to survive into the ‘90s. In order to survive, each of their lawyers had to bring in a lot of work. I was given a number as to how much work I needed to bring in and how many dollars of originations. I was about 30 at the time, and none of my friends were senior executives in big companies. I didn’t know how I would bring in the kind of business that was necessary so I decided to look for another position. I found one in-house role in Hills Department Stores which was very close to where I lived. 

Chris: Tell me about that pivotal moment where you left that in-house job due to the 1990s recession and made a discovery.

Stewart: I left Hills two years and eleven months into that job and I only received two weeks’ severance. They had to look lean and mean for the banks and so I involuntarily gave up my job. I was laid off with four days’ notice and that was more notice than most people got at that time. As the only one in my family working, I had to come up with a way to earn a living. Hills still needed me, but they could not have me on payroll, so I went back in as a contractor. I worked ten hours a month for them. I thought that was a really interesting way to earn a living, becoming a contractor. 

Nobody was hiring and I couldn’t find a job. So, I made hundreds of calls, and through networking, I found opportunities to work inside large organizations that could bring on somebody as a contractor. I worked with various companies such as TJX, Staples, Boston University, Dun & Bradstreet subsidiaries, Cabot Creamery/Agri-Mark, and Welch’s. I had 15 companies that I started working for. It was interesting and exhausting balancing three or four companies at a time.

Chris: How long did you do that?

Stewart: I started that in 1990 – ’91 and I did that until 2001. 

Stewart’s Secrets for Business Development

Chris: Share the moment when your friend approached you because of what you were doing with all these companies. 

Stewart: In 1994, I was offered a job. It was before I started coaching, but I knew there was something there. I told the general counsel, who offered me the position that I was on a path. I had no idea where I was going or when I was going to get there, but I didn’t want to be distracted from that path by taking a job. My friends in law firms were coming to me asking, “How are you getting all this business from these large publicly traded companies?” 

Chris: What are some of the secrets you revealed to law partners for business development?

Stewart: The secrets were to be nice to people, treat people with respect, actually care about them from your heart, and let them know you care. I would say things like that to my friends and their eyes would roll. I said, “This is interesting. I can help other people get business and then I wouldn’t have to work again.” Won’t that be fun and rewarding? I wouldn’t have to do the work, but I would be able to help other people get it. 

So, I started helping people. I asked two people I knew the same thing, “What do you think about the idea of helping lawyers get comfortable working a room, asking for business, dealing with issues with clients? Do you think there’s a business there?” The first two people I spoke with said, “That is a really great idea.” Then they said the magic words to me, “Can I hire you?” That was my market research. There was a business. It was 1994 and nobody else was doing it. 


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Chris: Where did you learn how to sell? 

Stewart: I grew up with it. My dad was a salesperson. He sold fertilizer to farmers in New Jersey and I used to go with him on his routes and watch how he sold. It wasn’t intentional, but how can you not pay attention? I watched him and he sold without selling. That’s really where I learned it. I actually wrote a blog about it, Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Selling, I Learned From My Father

Chris: What kind of coach are you, Stewart?

Stewart: I’m a business development coach for lawyers and other professionals and I am an executive coach for leaders, general counsel, deputy general counsels, etc. I have worked with people in finance, CFOs, and CEOs as well. I’ve also worked with a lot of women dealing with issues in implicit gender bias. Those are the three basic areas, but it all fits into relationship coaching, which is about business development.

Stewart’s Superpowers as a Coach 

Chris: What are your superpowers as a coach?

Stewart: One is the ability to connect with people quickly and get to know them. It’s really important as a coach to understand, as deeply as possible, the person that one is coaching.  In addition to coaching, I’ll do consulting when I help people. I consult people on what to say, what to do, and how to move to whatever next step they need to take. I do this in a way that works for the person I’m coaching. 

The other piece is being able to tune in (I use that phrase loosely) to others. There are a lot of times when people have a relationship with somebody or want to have a relationship and be able to talk with a person and understand their needs and be able to really connect. My role is to tune into that person and help the person I’m working with figure out what to say and how to say it. I do that by helping them with their emails, helping them script the conversations, and so on. Those so-called superpowers are the ability to really connect with the person that they need to connect with so that I can help them to figure out exactly what to say that will work for the individual.

3 Causes of Missed Opportunities

Chris: What are some reasons why law partners miss opportunities?

Stewart: With law partners and senior associates who have the ability to bring in business, they do two or three things that are easy to fix but hard to remember to do. One is failing to set the next steps when they’re having a conversation with somebody. They never have to question what to do next if it’s part of the conversation at the time they were with the person. Simply asking things like, “What’s the next step?”, “Where do we go from here?”, or “How do we continue this relationship?” are helpful. Setting next steps has to do with listening and really hearing the other person. We’re so busy as humans thinking about what we’re going to say next, that we’re not actually listening to what’s being said. I help people to recognize the opportunities that people are constantly throwing their way. 

The second thing is failing to follow up. A third area is taking things personally. For example, when someone doesn’t respond to an email, some people take the arrogant approach or feel a bit offended by it. They can think, “Oh, they didn’t respond to me, so they must be upset with me or not want to talk with me,” when most of the time it has absolutely nothing to do with them. It has to do with the other person and what’s going on for them. Taking it personally will cause a person not to reach out again because either they feel they did something wrong and they’re embarrassed or they’re offended by it. 

It’s similar in-house. Priorities are setting next steps with people, business counterparts, and building those relationships is extraordinarily important. I do a lot of work with a group from the person that wrote the book The Trusted Advisor and building relationships helps get your advice taken whether you’re outside or inside, but it’s extraordinarily important inside. 

How to Win When In-House 

Chris: What are one or two things that lawyers could be doing in-house to take those relationships deeper?

Stewart: Well, a lot of it is about building trust and letting people know that their goal and role is to help the other person succeed. Most of the lawyers I know that are in-house want to help their business counterparts, CEOs and their boards do their jobs well. If people that they are building relationships with or have relationships with recognize that the lawyer actually cares about them, it makes a big difference. Sometimes, it’s just helping with that recognition. Other times, it’s helping the lawyer, when busy and under a lot of pressure, figure out what to say and how to do it. 

Chris: Stewart, how do you define leadership?

Stewart: Leadership today is more of a collaborative process and an inspirational process. One has to lead by inspiring and influencing others to do the right thing and to take the steps that are needed to move to the next level. If someone in-house, for example, is leading a project and they don’t have supervisory responsibility, like a general counsel, but they have to get others involved, you do that through inspiration and influence. How do you do that? It’s about building relationships in order to get people to do or help people to do what’s needed to complete a project. 

Thinking Outside Your Little Box

Chris: Why do you think attorneys don’t do the things you teach?

Stewart: Such a great question because when I was working in a big law firm, the managing partner said to me, “Everything that Stewart’s telling us is common sense. Why are we paying someone to tell us common sense?” His answer was, “It’s common sense after you hear it.” One problem is that there are some people that don’t really know how to, for example, work a room and be comfortable with that. There are some people that really don’t know what they should say in an email or in a conversation from a business development perspective. They certainly know it from a legal perspective. But everyone’s caught up in their own world and it really helps to have somebody else think out loud with the individual to become more effective and efficient at it. 

We’re all living in our own little boxes and, often, we don’t think outside that box. Having someone to talk to, think out loud with, collaborate with, and be given suggestions gives people a better opportunity to be more successful at whatever it is they need to do next. 


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“What if I were to Give You the Magic Words…” 

Chris: Stewart, would you share an aha moment around helping a partner grow their book of business? 

Stewart: Sometimes, it’s just seeing opportunities right in front of us. There was a male lawyer I worked with who was very good friends with his neighbor. He knew the neighbor had a senior position in a company, but he didn’t know anything about what he did. He did not want to impose on the friendship by asking him for work, but he came to me and said, “How do I ask for work in this situation?” I said, “If I were to give you the magic words that you could say to the person and be comfortable saying to them, would you be willing to use them?” He said, “Well, sure.” So the next time he saw his neighbor, he said, “I’ve known you for X years and I’ve never really asked you about what you do in your company, about your role. Would you talk – I’d love to hear about it.’” 

The guy told him what his role was and then the guy said, “I’ve known you for so many years. Tell me what you do. I know you work in a law firm.” The lawyer said what he did in his law firm. Then the neighbor, the business person said, “I really would like to work with lawyers I know and trust. I’m not really comfortable with the lawyer that I’m using. Would you mind if I gave you a project?” That neighbor became the biggest client for this lawyer. 

That was one example and there are a lot of others, where sometimes it’s as simple as that and sometimes it’s more complicated. Often, we get in our own way as people. It also goes two ways. You can get work, but you also have to give in return. Sometimes you have to do nice things for other people. In fact, you should be doing that anyway as a human being. We’re all human. I remind people to do people favors. Sometimes, we just have to build the relationships first before asking. 

Important Career Insights about How Men & Women See the World 

Chris: What kind of insights can you provide to men working with women and women working with men and how to understand each other better? 

Stewart: A book I would strongly recommend for this is Difference Works by Caroline Turner. I read her book and thought it was fabulous. I was asked to speak about her book at a conference. I said, “I’m not a woman. It’s not appropriate and I didn’t write the book. I think she should do it.” I called her up and I said, “I love your book. I’ve been asked to speak about your book, but I think you should do it.” She invited me to do it with her. 

Caroline is the former general counsel of Coors. This book, Difference Works has charts in it about feminine behaviors and masculine perspectives and masculine behaviors and feminine perspectives and things that help us recognize how we see the world differently. We need to understand how the other sees the world, how they act, and how they react.

One thing that comes up is that men tend to judge themselves and be judged on potential, whereas women tend to judge themselves and be judged on past performance. Again, we’re all on a continuum and there are some men that are more on the feminine side of that continuum and there are often women on the masculine side of that continuum. The way this translates is if a woman is applying for a job, she’ll only apply if she has 80 – 90% of the criteria, whereas men will apply for the job if they have 40% of the criteria. 

I was working with a woman recently as a general counsel, who was talking about concerns she had about a large project she had to do that she hadn’t done before. I said, “Is there anything that’s ever been thrown your way that you have not been able to figure out?” The answer was no. I said, “Great, you’re all set.” Then, everything fell into place for her because she saw that she was absolutely capable. But some people have this thing inside that says I have to know that I can do something before I do it. Stereotypically, men don’t do that, which means that sometimes they’ll jump forward and say and act like they can do something when they really can’t. Women are a little more conservative on that. 

On the job front that’s one place where it really comes up. Men often appear to have more confidence because we are all looking at it. We live in a male-dominated society and we’re looking at it from a masculine dominated place. Women have tremendous confidence, but we have to ask the right question. Again, I hate saying, men and women because it’s really masculine and feminine. I don’t want to say all men are this way or all women are that way. It’s just not true. 

Pitching to Diverse Clients 

Chris: One program that you’ve developed that jumps out to me is a diverse client base. Would you share your experience when you were hired by a large law firm and the insights that were gleaned from that?

Stewart: This was a large firm that wanted to help its lawyers recognize how to find ways to pitch to diverse clients because more and more decision-makers in companies are diverse. These are people that are making the hiring decisions and oftentimes law firms put together pitch teams that are older white males. The diverse lawyers that are making the decisions are not impressed with that. 

To prepare for this program, we did two things. First,  I created a role-play exercise with the firm, which was really interesting. It was someone interviewing a general counsel for a project and responding wrongly in every possible way one could so. We then analyzed it together as a group. In order to even prepare that role play and to share other valuable information, I interviewed ten women, most of whom had other diverse characteristics, and asked what they loved and hated when approached by law firms for jobs or when law firms came in and pitched to them. A lot of the stories just boggled my brain because imagine having a black woman, who’s leading a diverse team and a law firm comes in with six older white men for the pitch. It happens often.

Recommended Reading

Chris: Could you recommend some books to my listeners?

Stewart: My favorite is The Trusted Advisor. There are three books in the series, The Trusted Advisor, Trust-Based Selling and The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook. In the third one, I share some stories, but I don’t have a financial vested interest. It’s helpful information about the trust equation, trust models, and how to build trust relationships with people. Difference Works I talked about all ready. The Empress Has No Clothes is a phenomenal book that talks about imposter syndrome. Executive Presence because I do a lot of work with executives or people that are on the way up and they need to develop their executive presence.

Many introverts feel that because they are introverted they can’t be as successful as they ought to be and I’d recommend they read the book Quiet. How do you develop relationships where people see you with charisma? There’s an absolutely fabulous book called The Charisma Myth about how one can develop the qualities of people that have charisma. A lot of it’s about listening and making other people feel like you are the only person in their life. FYI is a great book. It’s For Your Improvement. General Counsels introduced me to a book called Shakti Leadership, which was written by Raj Sisodia and another person. This book goes into some of the issues around having a masculine dominated society as a whole and how to address that. We’re missing numerous things that the rest of society can bring. 

Family and Giving Back during a Recession

Chris: Stewart, you’re married and you have four kids. Is that correct?

Stewart: That’s correct.

Chris: I also know that something you love to do is rock climbing. That’s something you took your family through, correct?

Stewart: Something my kids took me through. At one point they stop learning from us and we start learning from them. One of my kids got into rock climbing and got our whole family into it. It was fun. We would go outdoor climbing. They learned how to set the ropes on rocks. They’re great teachers. I actually wrote a blog about it called Trust on the Rocks

Chris: You’ve been through a couple of recessions and during those recessions, you gave back. Would you share with my listeners how you gave back during the recession?

Stewart: There were a couple of organizations run through a couple of local synagogues to help people with finding jobs. I did a lot of training sessions on networking, working a room, and creative ways of making connections with people for finding a job. They were similar to cross-marketing of legal services because not only should you be asking, but you can also be giving. I was able to help people recognize that even though they didn’t have a job, there were things that they could give back to other people.

Also, the charities were having a rough time, so an organization of charities got together. They asked me to do a program on how they could collaborate and work together better. They even wanted to know how they could share donors in a way that they could help each other to be successful. 

Chris: Stewart, last question. What’s something that you’re incredibly proud of in your career?

Stewart: I don’t have one thing, but I have a number of moments that have a very similar theme to them. When I get a call or an email from somebody that I’ve worked with that tells me that something I did or some discussion we had was pivotal in that person’s life. The one that comes to mind when you mention this is a guy I worked with that was having difficulty with a woman who was in-house in a company. I helped him recognize that his job is to make her look good, not to show how smart he was – of course, I said it a little differently than that, but that’s the bottom line. I encouraged him to give her a lot of credit because she was in-house, smart, and she knew her job. Years later, he told me he did everything that we talked about. She ended up being his biggest supporter and helped make him a partner in the firm and continued to grow. 

Chris: Stewart, it’s been an honor and a pleasure. Thank you for your time today. 

Stewart: Same to you. Thanks for the opportunity to be here. 

Thank you, everyone, who listened to this episode of the Law Firm Leadership podcast. 

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