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!