Business Development: Help Yourself by Helping Others

“Let me tell you how wonderful I am!” One of the most difficult things about business development is having to promote yourself. Given the centuries-long legal tradition that deems it unseemly for a lawyer to talk about his own accomplishments, abilities and conquests, you come by this resistance to self-promotion honestly. But keeping mum about your ability to help a client is not going to end well for you if your goal is to develop new business.

It's So Much Easier to Brag About Someone Else

A useful way to overcome the problem is to focus on helping others by, say, introducing them to potential clients and making them look good. I don’t think I need to add that it is always good to help others. But the truth is that helping others makes them want to help you, too.

Here are five simple ways to apply some effort on behalf of someone else — inside or outside your firm — that will also help you.

1. Team up to write an article for publication. Let’s say you want to market your specialized services to an entirely different industry than the one you routinely serve. You have concentrated your business tax advisory work on accounting and law firms' needs. Group practices of physicians and other health-care professionals would be a natural market for you, too. Why not find your firm’s health-care law practice leader and suggest co-authoring an article on emerging tax issues for physicians’ groups for an American Medical Association webzine? Sure, you’ll do most of the writing, but she will keep you on the straight and narrow about the unique nature of the language and business tactics of physicians. You’ll share the byline, you'll look good, she’ll feel good and you’ll both learn more about each other.

2. Collaborate on a presentation or panel. The same goes for speaking opportunities. You may have done a fine job of identifying an organization that draws in the people you want as clients. Now you could propose a panel that includes lawyers and their clients (or associates and supervising partners) and bring in your best client to speak from her real-world perspective while you discuss the law (or promote that young associate’s unique area of knowledge while providing context for his comments). As with the article example above, you could use this method to gain an introduction to a new market by teaming with a client, a lawyer from a different focus in your firm or even an accountant or consultant from outside the firm who works with the type of client you want to pursue. (And, yes, if it is your invitation, you should take the lead oar on preparing the presentation.)

3. Cross-sell a colleague’s capabilities. Identify an area of law — in addition to your own — most likely to be a challenge to some of your clients and then introduce them to the lawyer in your firm who is a wizard in that field. You could also suggest to the client that your colleague is happy to come to their office and make a tailored presentation to a group of their employees (with your colleague's OK, of course). Perhaps your environmental clients are struggling with Title IX issues? Their supervisors could use a refresher. Enter your firm’s HR expert.

4. Promote your client’s business. Lawyers aren’t the only ones in need of clients or customers. If your client is a local couturier, take every opportunity to tell friends and co-workers about their fine work and offer to make an introduction — that way the designer will know and remember who sent this new customer! Say you’ve represented a printing company in a recent trial. You might connect them with the marketing director at your trade association who orders programs, name tags and other print materials for meetings.

5. Create a multidisciplinary team. Many lawyers have had success building clientele in an emerging field by teaming up with other professionals. Say, for example, you’ve become interested in opportunities for legal work regarding the retail sale of cannabis (in states where it has been legalized). You could team up with an accountant, a health-care professional and an insurance provider with marijuana dispensary experience. It needn’t be a formal relationship, just a group you coordinate with from time to time. You could also do this within your law firm — teaming with a products liability defense lawyer and a tax expert to provide full service to your aviation clients. Lawyers with corporate practices are often required to create this kind of team when they receive a request for proposal that specifies various disciplines.

Win-Win Business Development

So you see, this is a win-win. You get past the terrifying need to talk about yourself. Your colleague is introduced to potential clients — and is positively disposed to extend a similar favor to you at some point. Your client feels valued and appreciated — and thinks highly of your thoughtfulness. You feel good about yourself. And now you have a new handful of appropriate people who know about and like you. Ta-da!

Important Reminders About Business Development

If you are like most lawyers, you spend more time worrying about where your next client will come from than you’d like. It’s natural. Even the busiest, most successful lawyers work hard at marketing and business development — they just make it look easy.

But, back to “worrying” about it. One of the things we humans do, when approaching any activity that makes us feel uncertain, is to play, over and over again, the tapes in our heads — imagining what we will do and how it will go. Envisioning it in your mind’s eye can be nearly as effective as actually doing it in terms of creating a permanent pathway in your brain that guides your behavior. So, before you start running those tapes, here are a few key ideas about business development to remember. Stage directions, if you will, for those tapes.

1. It’s not about you. It is natural when faced with a sales opportunity to think in terms of “telling.” You want to tell a prospect about your legal experience, where you were educated, who your clients are. Sure, that information may be relevant at some stage in the relationship, but it’s nowhere near as important as “asking.” So, begin any encounter with a prospect by asking questions — about who they are, where they came from, what keeps them up at night, what they are looking for in a lawyer, what sort of outcome they want. Then you’ll know what this particular prospect needs to learn about you, and you’ll be spot on when you shift into telling. 

2. Stick around for the answers. Some say that lawyers aren’t particularly good at listening. You are probably the exception that proves that rule. But even so, it’s important to listen well enough that, in your own half of the conversation, you can repeat back some of the information you were given. Things like, “You say you’ve tried repeatedly to get this man to move out. Have you tried an eviction notice?” or “What was it about that prior lawyer that made you so obviously negative about lawyers?” This will help you understand better what those potential clients are looking for and make them feel you see them as important enough to really listen to.

3. It's not always about what they say it’s about. Trial lawyers encounter this all the time. The client hires you to sort out a family legal conflict, but somewhere in the process it becomes clear that what they really want is to make their brother-in-law (or wife, partner, whomever) suffer. Unfortunately, along the road to figuring this out, you suffer, too. So, back to No. 1 — ask those questions! Maybe they want to impress you (or at least not embarrass themselves), so they say they want “the best there is,” but in reality, their ultimate decision about who to hire will be based on price. That is great information to have because then you know to emphasize how you will structure the work to save them money while getting the outcome they seek.

4. Actions speak louder than words. Think about the unspoken messages you send with your appearance and behavior. People draw all kinds of conclusions (many of which will be true) based on your clothing, hygiene, manners and more. If you show up at a formal dinner wearing soup stains on your tie or scarf, they will assume you aren’t very fastidious about your legal work. Cough or sneeze without covering your mouth and it’s a pretty safe bet, in the client's mind, that you think more about yourself than your client's welfare. But offer thoughtful suggestions and make personal introductions to someone they value and they will assume you are a helpful person — the type of person they’d like to have as their lawyer. So, keep an eye on what you say and what you do. 

5. You have to hang out where the right people are. You’ve already done the hard work to define your target market and ideal client, right? (If you haven’t, hop on that right now. Having a firm grip on it will make business development a lot more efficient!) If you do estate planning for high-net-worth individuals, it won’t do you much good to network at the baseball game — unless it’s professional ball and you can entertain on the suites level. If your specialty is environmental regulation of petroleum fields, there is a greater chance of getting to know the right people at your local oil and gas association luncheons than at the state bar’s lunch-and-learn. The same is true for virtual hanging out as well. Follow the right people and groups on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Engage in discussions, suggest topics, make connections.

These are simple things — but easily forgotten. Try selecting one of the above five to focus in on next time you run the mental tapes. Heck, do it in the real world and see what happens!

Check Your Business Development Vital Signs

You know by now (did you ever not?) that it takes more than your business card and an open door to draw clients into your law office. And while you may have devised your marketing plan and work it to the best of your ability, January is still a good time to pause and check your vital signs when it comes to getting clients.

Are You Operating at Your Peak?

Each year, when you visit the doctor for your annual physical, she checks the basic indicators — blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, reflexes, heart rate — to get a read on your physical health. Today, let’s look at some basic indicators of a healthy business development program to see how ready you are for a successful 2017.

  • Your niche. Do you know how you want to spend your work life — what kinds of problems you want to help solve and who you want to work with to solve them? Have you used that knowledge to narrowly define your target market? Do you know, then, which organizations you should frequent, which publications you should follow, which venues are best for your speaking efforts and where it makes sense (if at all) for you to advertise? If not: You may be wasting much valuable time marketing to everyone everywhere when narrowing the field could power up your efforts — and the results. 
  • Contact list. Do you scrupulously keep track of current contact information for any and all you’ve come in contact with? If you or your firm haven’t invested in contact management software, are you at least keeping the information in a spreadsheet? Are you including categories (industry, Zip code, etc.) that will let you quickly sort to create an invitation list for a specific seminar or briefing on a change in the law? If not: You may be spending more business development time looking for names and addresses than speaking directly with exactly the right people for the situation.
  • Resume database. Do you have a single spot (Word document, paper file folder, spreadsheet, shoebox) where you keep historic information about your career and accomplishments — speeches given, honors received, advisors’ names, opposing counsel, positive client feedback and more? No, you won’t dump all that minutiae into your resume. But you will draw on this treasure trove for the details of exactly the right background items to use for a specific proposal, pitch or biography. If not: You probably spend too much time looking for information and invariably produce descriptions of your qualifications that are far from complete and not nearly as effective as they might be.
  • Personal and practice descriptions. Every time you turn around, someone is asking for your bio for one good reason or another — website profile, seminar speaker description, introduction to a potential client. So, when that call comes, are you able to simply click on the “Bio” file on your computer desktop and zap one to whomever needs it? (Of course, you've got several versions to choose from, each highlighting different aspects of your career and practice, right?) Next to that file icon, there should also be one titled something like “Headshots” containing good business images. Note, though, unless the most recent photo in that file is less than a year old, it’s time to get a new photo takenIf not: You aren’t taken full advantage of the opportunities to tell your market about yourself.

Focus, People! Tell Them Precisely What You Do

Last week while driving to an appointment, I listened to a morning interview show on the local Public Radio affiliate. I live in Colorado where the snow is really starting to pile up in the mountains, so the topic could not have been more timely: “Things Colorado Skiers Should Know About Their Liability and Safety.” The expert was Evan Banker, a personal injury lawyer at Denver’s Chalat Law, which specializes in cases involving collisions at ski resorts.

It was a beautiful example of how lawyers can focus their law practice and use that focus to market their services. After 10 minutes of listening to the discussion — what to do if someone skis into you on the slopes, how lawyers decide whether to take a skiing personal injury case, the role of homeowners insurance in covering liability when someone makes a stupid skiing mistake — I had memorized Banker’s name as well as his firm’s. And I knew exactly who to recommend whenever someone I know needs help with a skiing injury legal question. (It didn’t hurt that Banker was articulate, prepared and personable.)

Yesterday, listening to the same station, I heard a sponsor announcement from a law
firm that underwrites Public Radio content. You’ve heard similar announcements: “Support comes from the [your name here] Law Firm, specializing in divorce, custody, personal injury, mining, maritime and local tax law.”

Hmm. Not only did I have no clue why I would ever refer or use that law firm, I had no idea what they really do, and I am led to believe they don’t either. Best-case scenario, that firm is very large and consists of many, many lawyers with widely different practice focuses. Worst-case scenario? These lawyers will do just about anything for a paying client, whether it is something they are actually good at or not.

I know, it’s hard to say you just do one single thing. The very natural feeling is that some of those other things might be interesting and popular, too. Why limit yourself, right?

This comes up in strategic planning exercises all the time and can be the source of endless struggle. There is always someone in the room who wants it to be about all the many things she can do or has done … just in case one of those is something someone, anyone, wants to pay her for. But the time is long past when consumers looked for a lawyer who could do everything. Today’s client wants an expert. The lawyer with experience and obvious knowledge.

Ask for What You Want

So try this: Ask yourself what kind of law you really, really want to practice. Then figure out who it is that would engage and pay a lawyer to do that kind of work. Assuming you have all of the experience and training to do that work (and if you don’t, go get it!), find ways and places to speak with those people about what you do and how you do it. Take a page from Evan Banker’s book: Focus!

Do it well and maybe, someday, someone will write a post like this about you.

Have you Got What Clients Want?

You can read all the books and listen to all the podcasts about legal marketing ... apply expert advice to your social media and blogging routine ... study up on how to build your personal network, entertain prospects and ask for the business — yet you still may not get that client.

Because it's not just a matter of packaging and advertising. Things start to get real when people have the chance to gauge you up close as a person and a professional. Kick the tires. Check the chemistry. Assess your ability. See if the product is as advertised.

How Do You Measure Up with Clients?

In today's buyer's market for legal services, clients expect certain things of a lawyer — of you. And if they check but find you wanting, you may get clients, but they won't stay and they certainly won't refer their friends and colleagues to you.

So explore this basic list and see how you stack up. These are the things the best clients assume about the lawyers they engage. Have you got what it takes?

Knowledgeable. You are a good, smart and effective lawyer, constantly learning and building new skills to help clients solve their current and developing legal problems.

Accessible. You aren't difficult to find. You use technology along with trained staff to make certain you are easy to connect with when connection is necessary.

Ethical. You accept the responsibility to know and conform to the ethical and legal requirements of a law practice.

Independent and responsible. You take personal responsibility for building your own law practice, regardless of the size, setting or location of your firm. And you take responsibility for getting things right, regardless of who is involved.

Value oriented. You know that fees based solely on how long it takes to do the work are a thing of the past. Instead, you extend fees reflecting the work’s value to your client.

Technologically savvy. You are whip-smart about the application of evolving technologies to better meet clients’ needs. You create efficiency and cost savings wherever you can.

Creative. You know more than the law. You know how to make it work in ways that help your client. You know how to focus on the solution, not just the problem.

Plugged in. You know what's happening in the world, and in your clients' industry or community.

Personable. People look forward to working with you to sort out their troubles. Dare we say you even, sometimes, make it fun?

Getting the Right Clients

The popular term "random acts of lunch" pushes a particular hot button for most lawyers. Who hasn't reflected on their business development calendar and realized that, for the most part, they've been haphazardly buying lunch for people in the hope that new business will just "pop up" during conversation? And, having realized that, what lawyer hasn't wondered why that isn't working  and how to fix it?

Well, here you go, three steps to get you focused on the right targets:

Step 1: Get the randomness out of the equation. Unless you think every single human on earth is a client for whom you'd like to work, get busy immediately narrowing down the field of possibilities. You should only be having lunch (and, of course, I'm using "having lunch" as a euphemism for pursuing clients in any way) with those you want to work with. And, believe it or not, there are better criteria than whether she pays her bills on time or if he is good-natured.

Step 2: Ask yourself what kind of legal work you really want to do. Guardian ad litem? Patent prosecution? Tax planning for high-net-worth individuals? Outside general counsel to family businesses? International criminal trials? Medical malpractice? Banking regulation? You can't possibly know where to look for clients until you know exactly the kind of work you want to do. (Unless you are willing to do anything for anyone — and you're not going to approach something as important as your livelihood that way, are you?) There's a fairly easy way to approach this.

Step 3: What do you want to do with your life? I know, this sounds like a comically big question, but go along with me on this. When it's all said and done, who do you want to say you helped ... and how? What kind of difference are you moved to make in the world? Perhaps you can't really grasp how critical this question is until you've met a lifetime Sierra Club member lawyer who represents coal companies, or the mother of six who represents child molesters in court. I do understand profoundly that everyone has the right to good legal representation. But if it's going to be you doing the representing, there are many reasons why it's a good idea to align the kind of work you do with your personal ethics, interests and values. Your commitment will make you more effective. You will enjoy working alongside like-minded people. And your social circle will be firmly linked to the network you nurture for work.

Reverse Thinking to Get the Right Clients

Now, let's run this backward to return to the initial issue:

  1. What kind of difference do you want to make in the world?
  2. What kind of legal work can you do that will support that desire?
  3. Who pays good money to have that kind of legal work done?

Those are the people you should be taking to lunch!

Your Business Development Marching Orders

So you passed the bar. CONGRATULATIONS! Now you are a real lawyer. After the pain and torment of law school and the nerve-jangling business of studying for the bar, you’d think this would be a good time to relax and regroup—and ease slowly into your new career. Yes, that would be nice. But it’s not recommended. Because once you have that job (and aren't you lucky)—whether as an associate in a sizable firm, as the new guy at the three-lawyer practice over on Main, or as a solo practitioner—there are things to be done now to lay the groundwork for a successful practice later on. Marketing and business development things.

It’s Time to Put a Few Marketing Things in Place

You know by now—or you should—that the ability to get and keep good clients is one of the more important arrows in a lawyer's quiver. If you’re in a firm, you won’t make partner without it. And the days are long gone when you could wait until you’d been practicing for five or six years before troubling yourself about finding your own clients. If you’re a solo or part of an eat-what-you-kill smaller practice, well, it’s obvious, right?

So here’s the checklist. Set each one of these gears in motion and you will have started up the client-getting machinery that will sustain your whole successful career.

  • Business card. It seems trivial but it isn’t. The card is still your key to connecting with the rest of the business—and client—world. Clean, legible and professional looking without being scary is what we’re going for here. If you have a say in the design, ask for plenty of "white space" in addition to your name, phone number, email address and URL. The open space on the card gives you a chance to write something personal as you hand it to someone. (Maybe your Twitter name or home phone number?) Makes a nice impression.
  • Biography. Get yourself online and read the descriptions of lawyers you admire. Now spend some really good and thoughtful time writing your personal description for your online biography. Spending a lot of time, by the way, doesn’t mean writing a lot. It means writing well. If you have trouble in that department—you’re not writing a brief here—then get help. Tone is important. And don’t overlook all your experience outside of law. If, for example, you worked your way through college as executive assistant to a big real estate developer, your clients may find this useful information.
  • Social network. Yes, you do want to be found on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. Make certain your profile is up to date and includes only information you want a potential client (or employer) to see. (Here's where all that time you spent honing your biography comes in handy.) Do include a photo (but it better not be you at the frat party winning at Beer Pong, regardless of how charming and approachable you think it makes you look). Post frequently and thoughtfully. You know the drill.
  • Directory listing. You know which ones. And if you don’t, do the research. But do not fool yourself into thinking buying advertising space is the answer to your marketing quandary. Just make sure you are listed.
  • Elevator speech. Learn to answer the following question in 25 comfortable words or less: “What do you do for a living?” Simply saying “I’m a lawyer” doesn’t pass the test. Explain what you do and who you do it for. Something like: “I’m a creditors’ bankruptcy lawyer. I represent groups of businesses who are owed significant amounts of money in big bankruptcy proceedings.” (That's 21 words!) If you are so brand-new you don’t know what you do, figure it out. If you can’t tell someone what you do, they most certainly won’t be interested in paying you money to do it for them.
  • Join in. Join some sort of organization (preferably one frequented by the kinds of people likely to hire someone who does what you do) and get actively involved. Merely having your name on the membership roster does exactly nothing for you. But attending meetings, volunteering for committees and taking initiative on the business of the group gives people an opportunity to know you through your good and effective work. “Oh, her,” they will say, “she was really effective on the by-laws committee. There is no way we could have waded through all the crap without her. I’d sure hire her to be MY lawyer!”

There. You are launched. But absolutely do not expect that new clients will begin to stumble over each other on their way to your door. Remember, this is groundwork. It’s only the beginning of a lifetime of building connections and helping your clients.

Lawyer Marketing Quick-Start Steps

Sometimes it seems the only business problem you really have is knowing how to get more clients. Sure, people talk about marketing plans, but exactly what plans should you be making? What’s working for others? What should your next priorities be? Well, if you’ve been longing for someone to just tell you what to do (or give you a friendly kick in the butt) ... here you go!

For a quick start, here are five baby steps to get you past any marketing inertia and rolling in the right direction.

1. Put it in writing. Create a simple written piece that describes you and your practice to potential clients. This will be something to hand or send to people who want more information about what you do. (Flyer, postcard, brochure, stickers, origami — something they can touch!) Remember: Describe what you can do for them instead of bragging about your amazing credentials. Want help? Read Teddy Snyder’s “Feature versus Benefit.” Now, condense your prose into a briefer elevator speech — a simple description that will fall trippingly from your tongue whenever someone asks, "What do you do ... ?"

2. Turn up your social media game. The words you chose so carefully for that simple description are going to come in handy for online marketing. Use them in your website bio, LinkedIn description and Facebook, Twitter and Google+ profiles. Be consistent — repetition reinforces your message. (That's called branding!) If you don't have accounts on those basic social media platforms, get ’er done. Then get active online by regularly sharing content (slides, papers, articles, opinions) that demonstrate your knowledge and reinforce who you are, what you know and what you can do.

3. Join something. Find and join the right type of business group, association or charity. Hint: Members of the right organization will be the kind of people who can hire and pay someone like you to do exactly the kind of legal work you want to do — or who are in a position to refer lawyers to those people. Next, get involved in the organization in a way that demonstrates your competence and creates opportunities to build relationships — join a committee, speak at a conference, volunteer office space. Now start networking! But whatever you do, listen to Ruth Carter and don't suck at networking.

4. Keep track. Create a simple system for recording and accessing contact information from all the business cards you collect. It could be as simple as a spreadsheet, or as sophisticated as client relationship management (CRM) software. But make sure you don't mistake a sophisticated system for a system that's easy to use. They are often not the same thing. Let Sally Schmidt tell you "The Best Way to Organize Your Contacts."

5. Get out of the office! Commit to have lunch or coffee (or a squash game or a short walk) once a week with someone who could hire you or introduce you to someone who could hire you. While you’re thinking about it, pick up your phone now and set up the first four lunches to put on your calendar. Don't know who to invite? Use the system you created in no. 4, or let Kristina Jaramillo show you how to use LinkedIn to identify candidates. Nervous? Get some help making small talk from Debra Fine. Mike O'Horo has good advice on how to initiate the business conversation that can come right after exchanging those innocuous niceties. Too busy to get out of the office? Open up some time by doing a better job of managing your work with Otto Sorts' project management tips.

Bonus: Download Attorney at Work's 54-page runaway hit, Really Good Marketing Ideas (40,000 readers can't be wrong).

Sometimes knowing what to do is the hard part. Actually doing it? Piece of cake!