There comes a day when the partners of your law firm will tell their associates that they need to build their own clientele. The partners will no longer assign work to the associates and will expect them to generate their own files. If you are the associate, this is a chilling moment.
The key to survival is making the transition from a worker bee lawyer to a rainmaker, which can be done in six steps. Fortunately, business development is a learned skill and is not necessarily an inborn trait.
- Business development is not a dark art.
- A charismatic personality is not required.
- It does not require making cold calls or direct pitching. This is a relief because nobody went to law school to become a salesperson.
- An associate does not need to fear entering a giant room of unknown people and expect to find a new client.
- Business development is easily done by introverts – me included.
It is a transition because associates are trained to be worker bees – cranking out billable hours and learning the law. Happily, all the professional skills of a lawyer translate directly into business development skills – such as being organized, analytical, hard-working, a good listener and a skilled questioner.
Associates should begin by building relationships with clients for whom they already work. Knowing a current client well will lead to new business. It all begins, of course, by excelling at legal skills. The next step is to conduct a friendly interview with the client about their business (not their legal work). Clients like lawyers who know their business.
The interview can be done over breakfast, lunch or at an in-person visit to the client's office. The point is to learn how the client makes money and which of their activities lead to disputes. A great way to bring up the topic is by attending meetings of a trade association to which the client belongs.
At the meeting, don't bring anything with you – no brochure or handouts. Just ask questions and avoid making a pitch. Demonstrate that you are paying attention by taking notes. Give verbal and visual cues that you are interested in what they are saying. This is how you develop a relationship that will cause the client to think of you when someone they know needs a lawyer.
Market yourself within the firm. Don't expect the firm to market you – you must take the initiative. Look for other lawyers who want to co-market with you – your best ally may be just down the hall. When it comes to business development, identify a partner who has a practice that you want. Learn how the partner built their practice. Find a way to make yourself useful to that partner and request that you join them in informal meetings with clients. As Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot by just watching.”
Build your network outside the firm and start now with your current contacts. Reflect about all the people you've gotten to know since childhood, college and law school and target the movers and shakers. Get to know your counterparts at your clients –they may be junior executives now, but one day they will move up the ranks. These are the people who will lead you to new clients.
Spend time with these people – everybody has time for a cup of coffee on the way to work. Learn what they do for fun and suggest an outing together so that you can really connect with them. Multiply your opportunities by introducing one contact to another.
Look for the gaps in your network and fill them in. If you know a lot of other lawyers, financial advisers, and real estate brokers, make it a point to get to know more business owners, association leaders or executive recruiters.
One of the best ways to generate business is public speaking. Being the speaker in front of a room makes you an authority. Because I am an introvert myself, this was hard for me at first. But I made a point of attending many speeches at conferences and studying the techniques of engaging speakers, and incorporating them into my own repertoire. Once I developed confidence, I volunteered to speak at meetings of clients and was always impressed with how effective a public speech is at developing new work.
Today, the vast majority of potential clients will check out a lawyer's website before retaining the law firm. This means you must tune up all your bios – on the firm website, LinkedIn and Google+ to attract clients. Emphasize the points that clients are looking for:
- Familiarity with particular industries.
- A representative list of clients you've worked for.
- The results you've obtained.
An effective bio should be 300 words maximum. Skip the boilerplate about where you're admitted and the bar associations you belong to, and instead focus on client service – describe how well you explain options to clients. It helps to include just a little personal information – especially if it's charitable work or an activity that other people can identify with.
It is essential to join an organization of clients. Your goal is to be visible in the organization, not warm a chair. Accordingly, pick a single organization that you will “major” in – don't make the mistake of joining lots of organizations, or your efforts will be spread thin. A good way to pick a group is to ask clients which meetings they go to.
Your mission is to get on the board of directors – because everybody in the organization knows who they are. Start by asking the president for a chore you can do for them. The president will reward you with an appointment. Once you get on a committee, your goal is to become the chair. Another way to start is to offer to write for the newsletter, with the goal of becoming the editor. Again, offer to speak to the group – with the goal of becoming the program chair.
Get active on an online social network. You are probably all over Facebook and Instagram, but this time it's different: you are being active for business development purposes. The best place to start is on LinkedIn, which you can demonstrate your expertise in many ways:
- Write an article and publish it as part of your profile.
- Record a quick video at your desk about a hot legal topic. (See: “Super-Easy Way to Create YouTube Videos Right at Your Computer.”)
- Join a LinkedIn group that your clients belong to. Start by commenting or amplifying other people's posts, and graduate to submitting a post yourself.
- Contact the owner of the group and volunteer to be a moderator (I've done this in several groups).
- Get to know other people in the group and keep track of them.
Yes, You Can
It may feel overwhelming as you start your journey to becoming a rainmaker. But if you approach it one step at a time and break things down into specific activities, you'll start to get results. The trick is to prune away other activities that you have and treat business development just like billable work. It's that important to your career.
And, the best time to start is today.