I truly love coaching lawyers. I especially love coaching lawyers with a burning desire to learn. Over the years, I have coached very few first year lawyers, but those I have coached have been among the most motivated.

One of those lawyers is Michael Lehnert, an associate with Henderson Franklin. Michael is one of those lawyers every firm wants to have because he has a burning desire to learn and a great attitude about serving.

On his bio you will find how to connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter. (You could be his 16th follower on Twitter.)

Michael Lehnert

Michael just finished his first year at the firm and I have been coaching him since January. I asked him to share what he has learned about client development his first year. If you have any first year lawyers in your firm, or maybe even second, third and senior lawyers like me,  they will find Michael’s insights valuable.

As a first year associate, I thought all of my time would be spent reading statutes, compliance manuals, and reviewing contracts, all in an effort to understand what it means to be a transactional real estate lawyer.

While I have spent many, many hours doing all of those things, I have also had the privilege of spending a significant amount of time learning what client development means from Cordell Parvin.

Here are a few things I have picked up from my mentors at Henderson Franklin, from Cordell, and a bit from being thrown into the fire:

Lesson 1: The difference between a good lawyer and a successful one is client development.

Many lawyers can do their job well, but if they can’t find a client to pay them to do it, then their ability isn’t worth a whole lot. It is important for us to be able to see the world from our client’s perspective as well as our own.

Lesson 2: Networking is a $5.00 word for making friends.

We all know how to make friends, but for some reason, when I was told to go network at a big conference, I was dumbfounded.

“You mean I am supposed to walk up to random people and ask for business?”

It seemed disingenuous to me, and near impossible to do effectively. After all, what do I, in my months of experience, have to offer my seasoned colleagues and potential clients?

That all changed when I realized that networking isn’t just about extracting business from other people. It is about friends, developing and fostering relationships. It doesn’t matter whether those relationships are based on a desire to work together, or based simply on common interest. Now, I see the conference room as full of potential friends, and the room looks much brighter from that perspective.

Lesson 3: Client development is a daily activity.

Work comes when it’s available. When it does come, it goes to those at the top of the mind of the work distributor. To be on the top of that distributor’s mind, we need to be in contact with that person consistently. That way, when the opportunity to distribute the work arises, the distributor remembers you and what you do for a living.

The best ways I have learned to get on top of people’s minds and stay there is to:

  • Be consistent with your media presence,
  • Take every opportunity to Never Eat Alone, and
  • Be sure to reach out on a monthly or bi-monthly basis to those you already know.

Lesson 4: Client development permeates into all aspects of life.

As my childhood friend’s dad told me, “it’s nice to be nice to the nice.”

You never know whether your friend, neighbor, the person you held the door for, or the person you cut in line could be the next person considering giving you work, so treat everyone like they could be your client.

Also, client development takes time, and we all know how finite our time is. We have to schedule client development, just like we schedule meetings, workouts, and all the other activities we do on a daily basis.

If we don’t schedule it, you know it won’t happen, because even when we do schedule things, sometimes that unpredictable but highly important event happens, and we have to postpone.

Lesson 5: Patience is not only a virtue, it’s necessary.

Client development doesn’t happen overnight. You can meet someone today and not receive work from them until three years later, if at all.

As I understand it, the key is to keep putting yourself out there, and not to give up because your last few months of effort haven’t yielded any results. Client development, like many other aspects of life, is a numbers game. You win some, you lose some, but you will certainly lose all the games you don’t play.

Lesson 6: It’s not about what your client can do for you, but what you can do for your client.

When meeting a new person or new potential client focus on how you can add value to their life.

The common things people care about are health, wealth, and children (thanks, Keith Ferazzi!).

With that in mind, next time you find yourself meeting someone new, consider focusing on, for example, how you can help their kid get into their dream school, your new fruit smoothie recipe, or telling them about how you just saved a bunch of money on your car insurance (without switching to Geico).

I think you can see why the senior lawyers at Henderson Franklin are so delighted to have Michael working with them. I bet that 10 years from now, 20 years from now and beyond, he will still be working on becoming a more valuable lawyer for his clients.

Thank you Michael for some really great insights.