Your job is to excel at delivering legal services. Don't worry about originating new files right now. Your short-term goal is to start building your network. Your long-term goal is to avoid being a 40-year old lawyer with no clients.
- Volunteer for assignments and ask the firm's “rainmakers” for assignments. Your eagerness will build a reputation among the partners as a dedicated lawyer. Become known as the “go-to” associate of the first-year associates. Make sure that your work is delivered on time, accurate and error-free.
- Start a habit of visiting the people you work with at clients. It doesn't matter that they're junior people. In five years they will become executives or company owners, and now is your chance to start a relationship with them. For example, drop off work product in person.
- Take your contacts at clients out for breakfast or lunch. Start the habit of scheduling at least one face-to-face meeting a week. If the firm will reimburse you, go someplace really nice to create a memorable meeting. Ask questions and get to know the other person. Get the person's business card.
- Whenever you get a business card, write three things on the back: the date, where you are and what you talked about.
- When you return to the office, immediately create a contact record for the person in your e-mail or firm CRM system. Record key points about the conversation and the business card information. Remember, you can search a computer record, but you can't search a wad of cards in a rubber band.
- Over time, collect more information about the other person – key events in their lives like births, deaths, graduations and promotions; get the names of their spouses/significant others, children; find out their hobbies and what they like to do for fun. Once you have the names of all their pets, you've gone deep enough.
- Create a mailing list and keep it updated. Include your law school classmates (who will become referral sources, judges and in-house lawyers), your fraternity/sorority contacts, college friends, etc. In the future, these are people to whom you'll send your e-newsletter. Ask your firm's marketing professional for help.
- Join a bar association and learn the law. Make friends with people in your generation. Get their business cards.
- Scrub your Facebook page so there's nothing you don't want a client or the managing partner to find. Use the privacy settings to control what's visible.
- Go to www.LinkedIn.com and create a complete profile with a good picture. One million lawyers have profiles on LinkedIn and it's the de facto online directory for professionals. The idea is to make yourself easy to find. Invite contacts on other online social networks to connect with you on LinkedIn.
- Don't waste time on Twitter. Only 4% of in-house lawyers use it, so there are few potential clients there.
- Send out holiday cards to your mailing list. Hand-write the signature; do not delegate the signature writing. When you get a holiday card, make a record of the sender's job or address changes.
- Sign up to have the firm's annual report or other firm wide messages sent to your mailing list.
- Participate in firm functions where clients are present. Encourage senior attorneys to introduce you to clients you don't know, or go ahead and introduce yourself and thank them for being your firm's guest. Ask them questions about their work. Get their business card.
- Look like a lawyer, not like someone who works in the mail room. Take your dress cues from the senior partners and rainmakers. Your office should also look organized and tidy. Do not use the floor for filing space.
This is the year to start building your reputation. Your job is still to excel at delivering legal services. Don't worry about originating new files yet. New business come in through relationships, so start building business relationships now.
- Continue all the activities above. Avoid eating meals at your desk every day. Reinforce the habit of getting out to meet people face-to-face.
- Remember that business development is up to you. Don't rely on the firm or senior lawyers to build your clientele for you.
- Find a mentor. Success comes much easier with help from a senior lawyer. Select your mentor based on good chemistry. Give them a reason to be your mentor, such as helping with their marketing efforts. Meet with them regularly before or after work and develop your career goals. You need someone who is invested in your success.
- When you get an assignment, ask how the business came to the firm. You need to know which lawyer originated the work and who the key contact person was. All new business comes in through relationships. Visit your firm's rainmakers and inquire about what they did to open the new file.
- Get to know your colleagues in the firm. Your best ally in business development may be down the hall. Look for lawyers outside your practice area and find out about cross-selling opportunities.
- Get on a committee at the bar association. Your short-term goal is to be involved in helping with an event. Your long-term goal is to be chair of the committee.
- Join a community organization, charity or political party. Your short-term goal is to get to know more people in your generation, and stay in touch with them as they advance in their careers. Your long-term goal is to be president of the organization. Pick an organization whose mission you care about or that involves your kids. Ask the president if there is a project that you can help with. Add the names of people you meet to your contact list.
- Keep adding to that mailing list...accountants, bankers and clients you're working with.
- Buy a box of thank-you cards and a roll of stamps. Put it on your desk where it won't get buried under paper. Start a habit of writing short notes or sending clippings to people you've met. Do everything by hand; a personal note does not go through a printer, into a firm envelope or through a postage machine. You are sending a personal message designed to foster a relationship.
- Write an article for a partner or practice group. Make yourself useful to other lawyers in the firm.
- Increase lunches and events with your peers. Your goal is to be the hub of the wheel of all your contacts. Become known as the person to call for people's contact information.
- Create a local listing for yourself on Google. Simply visit www.google.com/local/add and complete the form. Most people find lawyers by Googling “lawyer and [my city].”
- Join a group on LinkedIn. Pick a group that includes referral sources and potential clients. Participate in discussions (being careful not to discuss client affairs, not to offer legal advice which may create an unwanted attorney-client relationship, and not to give an opinion on a court ruling, which may conflict with a position another attorney in your office is taking in a brief). Talk about facts, news and trends.
- Read my blog, www.larrybodine.com/blog, for articles about marketing and business development.
Third Year, Fourth Year, Fifth Year Associates
- It's time to declare your major. Draw a picture in your mind of the kind of person you'd most like to have as a client – is it an entrepreneur? Corporate Executive? A surgeon? Then reflect on the legal work you're best at or enjoy the most. Your goal is to find these ideal clients and solve their problems with the legal work you like to do. This is the formula for a happy and prosperous law practice.
- Start thinking of yourself as the owner of a business, whose job is to be very good at what they do, but who must also bring in business for the company. Stop thinking like an employee, who is a worker bee -- whose career is to take assignments from others.
- Clients sort themselves into industries. Pick an industry that you will study and become familiar with. Develop an area of expertise. Clients don't want generalists, they want specialists. Now is the time to distinguish yourself from the pack.
- Develop a 30-second commercial. When someone asks you what you do, don't say “I'm a lawyer.” That will end the conversation. Instead develop a concise description of yourself in terms of (a) what you do – like “I'm a dealmaker” or “I settle disputes” (b) what kind of clients you work for (c) what kind of problems you solve. Make it very short and rehearse it so you can say it automatically.
- Ask your clients what meetings they go to. Then propose to go to the meeting together, and have your client introduce you their friends – who may be potential clients.
- Join a trade association that your clients belong to. Your goal is to be at a meeting where you are the only lawyer in the room. Strike up business conversations with executives. Business leaders want to find someone they can talk to about their business problems.
- Attend a seminar on business development. Visit www.PBDI.org for webinars on business development. Read a book on how to sell legal services; see www.lawmarketing.biz/store for a variety of choices.
- Present a custom CLE program for a client. When you discover a need at the client for education on a particular topic, team up with a partner and present a breakfast or lunch-and-learn session – at no charge. Ask your marketing professional for help in getting CLE approval.
- Find a hot topic, and present a webinar with a partner. Volunteer to do the research and create the PowerPoint. Invite clients at distant locations to attend for free. Your marketing professional will help you create an invitation list, find a Webinar host and handle logistics.
- Re-evaluate your activity in the bar association. At some point you'll find that you're giving CLE programs to educate your competitors. Instead, think of the bar as a source of referrals. If the bar association isn't going to produce clients for you, there's no point in going.
- Become visible in your trade or community organization. The positions you should pursue are president, newsletter editor or program director – all of which put you in contact with other people. Offer to host a committee meeting here at the firm for a volunteer group you're in.
- Add more lunches, sports or cultural events. You should be entertaining clients, potential clients and referral sources regularly.
- Give a speech to an audience of clients, potential clients and referral sources. Develop one core speech, become comfortable delivering it, and find multiple venues to give the same speech. The best way for a lawyer to establish credibility is to give a public presentation. Learn to become a good speaker by joining Toastmasters, www.toastmasters.org, or study the techniques of professional speakers and incorporate them into your repertoire. The more you speak, the better you'll get.
- Write articles in industry magazines or website on topics that interest your ideal clients if you don't like public appearances. Contact the editor first and find out if they accept submitted articles,and inquire into what kind of articles they are looking for. Write the article second; find the place it will be published first. Ask your firm marketing professionals for assistance.
- Use LinkedIn to get introductions and request recommendations (check your state's ethics rules regarding testimonials.) Start a group on your own. Consider joining lawyer-only online networks like Legal OnRamp, Martindale Connected and JD Supra.
- Add a business aspect to your personal relationships. Everyone you know now has a job and a career. Ask your friends about their work and where they think they'll be in five years. Don't hit on them for legal work. Instead strive to learn how they earn their living. Then tell your friend how your practice relates to them.
- Find a speaking role on a firm seminar. You'll have to pay your dues first by doing logistical work. Once you become familiar with setting up a seminar, volunteer to speak on a topic.
- Keep visiting clients at their offices. Become an expert in how they make money, their competitors and industry trends affecting them.
- Offer to be the editor of your practice area's newsletter.
- Propose to write a blog if you like to write. Form a team of writers to spread the work around, or join the writing team of an existing blog.
- Ask your marketing professional about firm marketing and business development activities you can get active in.
Sixth, Seventh, Eighth Year Associates
You are close to being promoted to a partner. Now is the time to demonstrate that you can bring in business. The easiest way is to open a new matter for a client.
It's time to write a business development plan. There are 5 elements:
- Fill in the appropriate number in the following statement: "I want to be responsible for bringing in $_ thousands in originating collections this year."
- List clients for which you are the handling or billing attorney. Enter dates in your calendar when you will visit them at least quarterly. Your primary object is to see beyond the existing files they are sending you, and explore upcoming and foreseeable business issues. Among other things, ask if they will recommend you to other in-house lawyers.
- List anyone outside the firm who has referred you a file. Meet with them in person and set up an express referral arrangement. Identify other lawyers, accountants and business executives who can refer business to you and ask them to recommend you.
- Pick one trade association and go deep. Attend all the meetings – even the boring holiday parties and election of officers. Before you go, review the membership directory and yellow-highlight the people you plan to meet. If the meeting is out-of-town, set up dinners with your targets in advance.
- Write down a list of businesses you would like to represent. Ask you firm marketing professional to help identify the decision-maker who hires lawyers. Make a pointed effort of meeting these target people and developing a relationship.
- Have lunches or meetings with prospects, clients and referrers as often as possible.
- Keep up community involvement—run for board positions in organizations you've joined. Make certain the firm is financially supporting at least one fund raiser, bike-a-thon, golf outing hole, young friends benefit a year that you're directly involved in.
Client Service Checklist
- Be punctual at meetings. Your client's time is incredibly valuable.
- Make a client feel as though they are the only piece of business you work on. Don't ever say how busy you are with other clients, do remove your other clients' files from your desk when you meet, and never tell a client you can't get back to them/handle their question because "I'm doing work for other clients and it's a rush."
- Return phone calls promptly. This one of the largest complaints clients have about their lawyers in general. If you are so tied up that you can't return the call, have your secretary call and say "Sue will be freed up at 4:30, you are the first call she's going to return, and is there anything I can do to help in the meantime?" Setting expectations is a big part of communicating with a client—if they know when they'll hear from you, they can live with a four-hour delay—which is far preferable to feeling as though they've been ignored.
- Don't strand a client in the reception area if they are coming to meet with you and you are tied up. Have your secretary or a colleague greet them, offer them coffee, take them to a conference room, offer them the phone for calls, etc.
- Use business language in correspondence with clients, and avoid using terms of art with lay executives. Make yourself understood, and you'll be seen as "my business partner who talks my language" instead of "I'm never sure what my lawyer is talking about."
- Note, remember and use names of your client's staff—their receptionist, their secretary, their managers. Support staffers are the gatekeepers to your client, and fostering a good relationship with them can be just as important as one with the client. Who else will sneak your call in when the client is "too busy to answer the phone?"
- Take a tour of your client's facility, offices, factory or stores. Meet employees, ask questions, and become more familiar with the issues their industry faces.
- When great news like a settlement check or a signed contract that took weeks to negotiate arrives at the firm, personally drive it to your client and deliver it with a smile and a handshake.
- Is a special event coming up for your client? A new headquarters move? An anniversary? Were they named to a distinguished list or win a prestigious industry award? Mention and celebrate their success with them.
Remember, if you can't provide client service like this, your competition at another firm will be glad to.