Thinking of overwhelming this morning because we woke up at about 4:00 AM to the tornado siren outside our house. A few minutes later we, along with the dog were huddled in the closet and heard and felt a tremendous wind going over our house. Just a couple of minutes later it was quiet again.
One of the great joys I have working with law firms across the US and Canada is the opportunity to meet and learn something new from outstanding lawyers.
One example is Pierre Raymond, one of Canada’s leading M&A lawyers, and the former chair of the well known Canadian firm, Stikeman Elliott. Pierre and I served as a panel sharing ideas with the Stikeman Elliott associates.
I enjoyed listening to Pierre and asked him to share some of the same ideas with you. Here is Pierre’s guest blog.
When I talk about Business Development to articling students, associates or junior partners, my mantra is always the same, irrespective of their seniority:
1. Get known by as many potential clients as possible;
2. Earn the trust of the potential clients; and
3. “Ask for the order”.
Throughout our career, everything we do in Business Development revolves around these three directives.
1. Get known by as many potential clients as possible: the lawyers senior to you in your firm when you are starting your career and members of the business community when you are a partner.
As an articling student or junior associate, your very first aim ought to be: every associate senior to me and every junior partner in my firm (they are your first pool of clients and will remain so for numerous years) knows (i) that I exist and (ii) that I am eager to work, not only for the lawyers of the firm in general but specifically for him or her.
There are may ways to achieve this goal, here are a few thoughts. You ought to look for a way to distinguish yourself from the crowd: make the first move.
You would be surprised to know how impressive it is for a “senior” to be politely approached by a younger lawyer who introduces himself or herself to me, for example, in an elevator, the lawyers lounge, an office get together, a retreat or (the best) who knocks on my office door and who tells me unequivocally something like “my name is x. I understand you do public M&A and, next time there is an opportunity, I would be very interested to work with you and learn from you”.
Sounds corny? Wrong, big time wrong!
Let the older guy (me) tell you: it is hard not to be impressed by the forthrightness and desire to work shown by a young lawyer who approaches you in such a way. The next time that I am looking for help, do you think that I will be leaning towards asking the articling students/junior associates who wait in their office for seniors to knock on their door to give them work or towards asking the fellow who “got himself/herself known” to me and “asked for the order” a week or two before? Don’t be shy, your seniors will truly be favourably disposed towards you as a result.
2. Earn the trust of the potential clients: being socially apt is useful, but the lawyers senior to you/the external clients will not handover to you the file/ business they are responsible for unless they think you are smart, knowledgeable, reliable and will bring value to the resolution of the matter.
This is not just a fuzzy concept you read about in books (or blogs). As you work on a file for a senior or for an external client, -every day-, ask yourself if you are, at this very moment, earning the trust of your client (internal or external) as a result of
(a) the quality of the work you do for your client this very day,
(b) the timeliness of your deliverable,
(c) the way you summarize verbally your findings, etc.
Every day, be aware of that. Each of those item is an opportunity to earn (or loose) the trust of your client. Don’t miss it.
In my view, one of the best Business Development tools per se and also a great tool to develop your business development abilities is to give a substantive presentation to your practice group or to an external client. Every year, you should participate in two or three of such presentations.
By doing so, you obviously touch on the first two segments of the mantra. But, as or more importantly, such presentations are hard to beat at demonstrating your substance on a particular topic, and in general, hence at gaining the trust of your potential clients.
Of course, giving a presentation can be intimidating at first. But cut your teeth with your practice group, then move on to the whole section. Also, you don’t have to do it all by yourself.
Share the presentation with someone else, it will dilute the stress. Same for client presentations or even lunches with clients, bring someone from another section. It will make the presentation or the lunch livelier and the clients will feel that they got insights from two lawyers with two different backgrounds instead of only one.
3. Ask for the order. Lawyers usually agree with the first two segments of the mantra but are often shy to “ask for the order” explicitly. They push back and say to me “I don’t need to be that outright, the client must know that this is what I am looking for”.
Obviously, you need to be polite but leave the ambiguity at home and you must hear yourself say: internally:
“Do you think that I could be on your team for your next litigation file?”; to an external client:
“Would you retain me and my firm for your next acquisition?”
Doing anything less than that will raise doubt in your clients’ mind as to your determination or you will give them an easy excuse to use someone else who is more insisting (and your internal or external competitors will not be shy, trust me!)
By the way, senior associates and junior partners also ought to knock on their seniors’ doors to get better known (as suggested in 1. above for articling students and junior associates) but principally to “Ask for the order.
Senior associates and junior partners are usually not very keen to do this and say to me:
“I can’t go and knock on doors of lawyers senior to me and ask outright for work, the seniors will think that I am not busy” (and hence that I am probably not a good lawyer in the eyes of the lawyers who generate work in the office).
This is simply paranoia or a bad excuse! Again, the seniors are really pleasantly impressed to see the juniors eager to work and proactive to fill their plate. And, by the way, all seniors have had (and more than once!) a slow period and they will probably secretly think that they should have done then exactly what you are doing now with them!
You can’t get yourself to admit to seniors that you are not busy? Say a white lie (and if you are busy, you nonetheless need to plant the seeds for when you will experience a slow down, say the truth):
“I am quite busy these days, but I would really like to work with you/but we haven’t worked together in a long time. Can you keep me in mind in the near future ?”
Note that I said “Can you keep me…” and not “Please keep me…” Subtle pressure will not hurt!
To sum up, if you look at the Business Development tool kit, some of its tools can, at the outset, be intimidating as they require time, commitment, social skills, etc. But other tools are immediately accessible, numerous small steps that you can easily insert in your everyday routine.
Yes, it requires stepping out of our comfort zone, but ever so slightly. Really. And, as it is for any other matter in our life, stepping out a bit of our comfort zone is…fun and tremendously rewarding professionally and personally.