Over all these past 12 plus years that I have coached lawyers, the most familiar refrain I have heard has been:

I wish I had started my client development efforts earlier

Why have so many lawyers waited until they became partners, when the pressure was on them to bring in business?

I say there are what I call client development myths.Here are the most common myths I see and my response:

  1.  You either have it (skills to develop business) or you don’t. I can tell you from my personal experience that I did not naturally have it. Knowing that drove me to work at it and develop my skills. So, you can learn to successfully attract clients if you are open to ideas and willing to work at it.
  2. Just do good work, get a Martindale A-V rating and wait for the phone to ring. I was told that when I was an associate. The problem is there are thousands of lawyers in your city or state who do good work. Client development is a contact sport. It is about building relationships and adding value beyond the good work
  3. I’m “too young, and inexperienced to…” You are never too young to start learning client development skills. You may not bring in business right away, but that is ok. This is a marathon not a sprint, you are building towards doing so later. If you wait until you are a partner to start making the efforts, you may have the same learning curve.
  4. You have to be an extravert and know how to work a room. I know lawyers who are very outgoing and do poorly because they talk about themselves and do not listen. I know introverted lawyers who ask great questions and listen who do very well.
  5. You have to “ask” for business. Some lawyers are good at asking for business. Others who ask come across as needy or greedy. I was never comfortable asking for business. Instead, I tried to be the “go to” lawyer who would be sought by clients in my target market.
  6. Associates in big firms do not need to learn client development. At the very least, associates in big firms with institutional clients need to learn about those clients and find ways to become more valuable to those clients. In the current economy institutional clients are no longer loyal and they are looking more for value in their outside legal expenditure. As a result, learning the skills to get new clients is more important today than before.

I shared much more with the associates I coached. If you are interested, you can find some of my thoughts in my e-book: Client Development in a Nutshell.

I want you to use your imagination for a moment. Picture a group of your clients meeting and discussing you. What are the 3-5 things you believe they would say about you?

Take a moment and write those things down. Now, think about what you would want them to say about you. Is there a difference?

Many years ago I went through this same exercise. I do not specifically remember what I listed that my clients would say about me, but I do remember what I would have liked them to say about me. I wanted my clients to say I was:

  1. The leading transportation construction lawyer in the country;
  2. A lawyer who understood their business;
  3. A  lawyer who always put his clients’ interest ahead of his own;
  4. A lawyer who could be trusted to always fulfill the commitments he made; and
  5. A  lawyer who searched for innovative ways to help me achieve my business objectives.

Why did I do this exercise and why should you?

I did it because it changed how I was working with my clients. It helped me focus on what was important to them and caused me to search for ways to become the lawyer I wanted to be.

Let me know what you want your clients to say about you.
 

A senior lawyer asked me to boil client development down into a bullet point list of no more than 10 suggestions. I confess it’s hard to pick a Top 10, but here are the 10 that first came to my mind.

  1. Client development has changed. It is more focused than ever on the client and becoming a remarkable lawyer in the client’s eyes.
  2. Your clients expect you to understand their industry, their company and them individually.
  3. By reading what clients read and belonging to organizations they belong to, you are best positioned to identify their problems, opportunities, internal and external changes that require legal help.
  4. Prepare a business plan with goals to focus your attention and not waste time.
  5. To become a “go to lawyer” in the eyes of your clients and potential clients, writing and speaking on their problems, opportunities, internal changes and external changes are the best “bang for the buck” uses of your non-billable time.
  6. Connectors are best suited to get business by being active in the Bar and/or community and building as many relationships with diverse groups of people as possible. Are you a connector? To see, take the test in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point.” I also found a survey you can take: Are You A Maven, Salesman, Or Connector?
  7. Client development is a contact sport. Be purposeful about staying in touch with your contacts.
  8.  Clients hire lawyers more than law firms. You get considered based on your profile and you get hired based on how well you build trust and connect with the decision maker.
  9. Clients are not satisfied with the level of service they receive. It is important to be responsive and to understand their industry company and representative. Think of ways you can enable the client representative to do his or her job more effectively.
  10. Make client development a habit and try to do something, no matter how small, each and every day.

Several years ago,  a lawyer I had coached came to advise other lawyers in her firm how to get the most out of our coaching program.

She told them to focus on the three Ps.

  • Persistence,
  • Perseverance and
  • Patience

I know from experience that lawyers who focus on the three Ps are more concerned with learning how to become better at client development than they are with getting early results.

I know many lawyers who are focused on results rather than focused on striving to get better. They fear failure to such a degree that they are unwilling to get outside their comfort zone.

They are not learning about how to become better at client development. Instead they are focused on techniques that may help them get business from the low hanging fruit. When their efforts do not produce results, they give up.

What should you do instead? Work on getting better at things that are outside your comfort zone.

If you want to learn how to network, go to events where you can practice. In fact, go to a networking event and approach strangers and introduce yourself.

If you want to become a better public speaker, speak in public. Consider joining a Toastmasters International club, or starting your own speaking club.

If you want to become a better writer, write articles or blog posts and have someone review them and offer a critique. There are plenty of retired editors and senior lawyers, who would gladly critique your writing.

Finally, remember the three P’s: Persistence, Perseverance and Patience.

Seth Godin posted a blog recently titled: On being discovered. In it he said something that describes my strategy and approach to developing business.

Instead of hoping that people will find you, the alternative is to become the sort of person these people will go looking for.

I was meeting with a group of lawyers I coach over dinner when one of them asked me what was the most important client development step I took.

I narrowed my focus.

Why? One reason was my healthy paranoia. I was far more comfortable knowing a lot about a little than a little about a lot.

But, I also narrowed my focus to attract clients. To borrow Seth Godin’s line,

to become the sort of person construction contractors will go looking for when they need a lawyer.

I discovered early in my career that marketing yourself as a commercial litigator or as a corporate lawyer is a challenge.

If you are marketing to everyone, you are marketing to no one.

How do you distinguish yourself from the hundreds of other commercial litigators or corporate lawyers in your city?

When I narrowed from commercial litigation, to government contracts, to construction government contracts, to transportation construction government contracts, I better understood my potential clients needs and I received many more speaking and writing opportunities. In a few years, I was well known throughout the United States.

How can you narrow your focus?

You can either have a niche practice which is based on your specialty or you can have a targeted industry practice which is based on what your clients do. Even if you are a connector and networker, you can narrow the focus of the events you attend and become more focused on your best contacts.

If you are interested in learning more, take a look at my slides from a program: Developing a Niche Portable Practice.

Does your firm have anyone helping to develop the next generation of rainmakers?

Our firm didn’t have anyone, so I started coaching our new partners. I loved that work so much that I gave up my big partnership draw, left my law firm and started coaching lawyers full-time.

IMG_0503

Over more than 12 years, I’ve figured out what I’ve done to  help the lawyers with whom I have worked:

  1. Identifying what is the lawyer’s definition of success
  2. Planning and goal setting to achieve the success
  3. Figuring out each lawyer’s major strengths and offering ideas and best practices on how to use those strengths
  4. Answering questions and providing feedback and suggestions
  5. Accountability: Pushing each member and the group to attain group and individual goals.
  6. Overcoming challenges.
  7. Role playing and experiential learning
  8. Presentation/communication/writing articles and blogs skills
  9. Understanding how clients select lawyers and how to be considered and selected
  10. Networking, developing relationships and converting those relationships into business
  11. Understanding what clients want and how to give it to them.
  12. Referral to outside sources on career and client development
  13. Opportunities for team building and cross-selling

Do you remember I recently wrote about the difference between teaching and coaching?

As you will see, the first six actions are in the coaching portion of the program and the last seven actions are in the training and teaching portion of the program.

I loved my law practice. I loved my clients. I appreciated what I was being paid, which was more than I ever dreamed possible.  But, there’s nothing better than receiving a hand-written note from a lawyer I coached several years ago, describing how the lawyer has become a top rainmaker, or leader in their firm.

If you know me, you know why that is so valuable to me.

On Tuesday I gave you the five questions to ask yourself if you are blogging and it hasn’t led to business. After you have answered the first five, you will be ready to answer these:

  1. Blogging Questions.jpgHow should you write your post? Your headline is the starting point. Each time you draft one assume that is all your potential reader will see before deciding to read any further. Do not bury the lead. The first sentence and first paragraph are essential. Once again you must answer your potential readers question: “Why should I read this?”
  2. How long should your post be? I believe it should be no longer than 250-400 words. If you need to write in greater detail, link to a more detailed document.
  3. What should your style be like? Your paragraphs should be short. Consider posting with a list. I know contractors all like check-lists and I believe other businesses do as well. Make your post conversational as if you were having coffee with the reader. Consider telling a story. I like to add an image to break up the text and make it easier to read.
  4. What links should you include in your post? As lawyers we like to prove a point. Our clients like support for a point as well. You can find the support in the news, cases or other supporting documents.
  5. What you should do to get your blog to more potential readers? When you begin blogging, send the first posts to your existing clients and referral sources. Also talk about your blog with your partners and colleagues who have clients who might be interested. If I was still practicing law I would send my blog to each construction association executive I knew personally and ask them to let their members know about the blog. Hopefully you are on LinkedIn and have linked to as many clients, referral sources and those who influence your clients. Post the link to your blog on your LinkedIn page. Post the link with a description on Twitter. Post the link to groups on LinkedIn. I read this great quote on Twitter last Saturday: “If I can’t comment, click a retweet button, or “Like” your blog, it’s called an article.”
  6. Are you building trust relationships through your blog?  Client development is all about building trust based relationships with potential clients. I define that type of relationship from the client’s perspective: He or she is asking: “Can I trust this lawyer to handle my matter?”  “What will it be like to work with this lawyer?” Your blog is your opportunity to demonstrate expertise and show potential clients a personal side of you.

Client development is all about being found when a client needs a lawyer and all about building trust based relationships.

If you want to start building a reputation and building relationships with clients focus on five important points. I know, I’ve made all of these points many times over the last 11 years. But, maybe I have not made them this succinctly.Man with beard in suit

  1. Client development is not about “selling.” It’s all about positioning yourself to be found when your clients need a lawyer, and then providing exceptional service.
  2. You will not develop client relationships merely by being a highly skilled lawyer and doing quality work. It is a necessity but only a starting point. Being a highly skilled lawyer is merely the price you pay to get in the game.
  3. Client development is not about what you do, it’s about what your clients need. Find ways to learn what they need and put the work you do in that context.
  4. Strive to differentiate yourself from your competitors. One way is to anticipate a potential problem or opportunity before other lawyers see it.
  5. Better yet, identify and provide solutions to problems before the client realizes there is a problem. That will do more to build a lasting relationship than almost anything you can do.

I hate to be sold anything and I know clients do not want to be sold. Many marketing consultants treat client development and marketing as if it were selling a product or service.

Perhaps that approach is based on their experiences outside of the legal field. When lawyers hear that approach they cringe each thinking about the cold calls they have received from boiler room stockbrokers.

Your clients are like you. They cringe at that thought of being sold anything by a lawyer. They know when they are about to receive a sales pitch from a lawyer and they resent it (and that lawyer.)

Bman interview Bwoman question SS 46707145

If you are like me, cold calls are very difficult. How can you avoid it? Give something away without any expectation of getting anything in return. 

I did that throughout my career. Back several years ago the federal regulations on a topic of particular interest to the highway construction industry changed. Before the ink was dry on the revised regulations, I had written a summary in simple non-legal language with bullet points on what to do and what not to do. I sent my summary to as many potential clients as possible, as well as contractor associations who published my summary and suggestions in their newsletters.

You might say that was a cold call, but I looked at it as simply trying to help them understand something that was vague and confusing.  I did not include a firm brochure or any other sales materials. All I did was put my contact information on the cover sheet of the memorandum underneath the title. 

What is changing in your client’s world that you can identify, educate and expect nothing in return?

 

 

A lawyer I coached asked that question.

My answer:

I made presentations at construction industry meetings.

Scan 53How did I get the opportunity?

I was insatiable to find out what issues highway contractors would be facing in the future. Those, over time included:

 

I created detailed guides for contractors on each of the topics above and gave them away. Then, I was asked to make presentations.

Sounds like a lot of work. How did I find the time?

I never found it. I made the time. Usually from 6:00 AM to 9:00 AM on Saturdays and Sundays. I chose that time because, if Nancy wasn’t working at the hospital, she was either working out or…easing into her day, and our daughter was still asleep.