Prospecting for Clients

The vast majority of new legal work for lawyers comes from referrals, whether they be from clients, former clients, or other people who, know like and trust you. Often called word-of-mouth marketing, primarily new work comes because of what other people say about you. (One exception obviously is plaintiff’s work, which is basically garnered through advertising).

I have written many posts over this blog’s 10 years on the subject of referrals. And I have included links to 10 below, and invite you to breeze through them for tidbits you might find helpful.

But today I will list, with no further explanation needed IMHO, seven tips I am convinced will guarantee you referrals. So here goes:

  1. Do excellent legal work
  2. Dress professionally
  3. Beat deadlines
  4. Respect clients
  5. Never (unfavorably) surprise a client about anything
  6. Charge reasonable fees
  7. Be a nice person

That’s all folks.

….

Except for other of my posts on referrals (I apologize in advance for broken links, as some no longer are available):

 

There is a lot of advice out there on how to succeed at legal marketing. Success does not depend on your efforts being complicated or difficult.  It just needs to be realistic and sensible. Consultant Bob Denney does that by offering his 20 legal marketing maxims on Attorney at Work that brings us back to basics.

The following is my list of 10 favorites from his list (with some thoughts in parentheses), although I commend to your reading his complete post of all twenty:

  1. Be the best lawyer you can be. Otherwise you really ought to find something else to do. If you’re not trying your best, clients will realize it and your practice will suffer in time);
  2. Don’t sell. Educate. Listen to clients’ problems and concerns. Then educate them on their legal options and how you might help them;
  3. Focus. Specialize. (You really can’t be all things to all people, but how narrow your focus should be will depend on your location. You can be more of a general practitioner in a smaller, rural area than you can be in a large metropolitan area. In the latter, you will need to be more highly specialized to be found among the competition);
  4. Have a marketing plan and follow it. (In my experience lawyers can be pretty darn good at planning, but I have seen too many fall down when it comes to implementing the plan. When they get busy it is easy to overlook the need to feed the pipeline for more work.)
  5. Market like you were a sole practitioner. If you don’t you may soon be one. (It continues to amaze me to see mid-level and even more senior partners who are just not contributing to the business development efforts of their firms. I have seen such lawyers cut loose in more than one of my in-house marketing positions);
  6. Current clients are your best sales agents. (Well, that assumes that they are happy campers and that you done a good job at No. 1 above);
  7. Relationship building and word-of-mouth still best at gaining clients. (Social media can contribute to both, but in the end I completely agree with Denney);
  8. Know your client’s business. (In surveying clients for law firms, I am no longer surprised to hear their frustration about lawyers not knowing and understanding their business. That includes law firms they have used more than once);
  9. Treat every client as if he or she were your only client. (Excellent advice and furtherance of No.1 above); and
  10. Under-promise. Over-deliver. (The reverse is a death knell. Don’t just meet your deadline, but exceed it by a day or more).

Enough said!

 

What should you consider before deciding whether to attend a conference? The weather? Exotic location? Nah! Although one should not discard those entirely. But seriously, there are things you should consider before deciding whether to attend a conference.

Roy Ginsberg has a helpful post on Attorney at Work today that may help you decide whether to attend a particular conference or not. Here are few:

  • Who will attend? If it is a conference that your desirable clients will attend, then without a doubt you should plan on it. This will offer the opportunity to enhance your relationships with existing clients, and possibly provide the opportunity for them to introduce you to new ones. If you are not sure what conferences your clients attend, ask them and/or do research on past conferences;
  • Will there be networking opportunities? With most conferences that’s a given. But be selective in those activities where there will be greater opportunities for one-on-one discussions, such as sightseeing tours and other casual events. At meals, plan to identify and sit, when possible, with potential clients;
  • Be selective on breakout sessions. Not only consider the educational benefits, but again where potential targets will be. These sessions may offer smaller, more intimate opportunities to network; and
  • Most importantly, follow-up. The single most common reason that lawyers fail to gain work from attending conferences is the lack of follow-up. Have a game plan to contact by letter, email, telephone call etc. people of interest you meet at a conference.

Now, back to the point about where the conference is located. As Ginsberg notes “All things being equal, San Diego during January sure sounds a helluva lot better to me than Washington, D.C. in the summer.” Or Boston in the winter. As it turns out, San Diego is the site for the Legal Marketing Association Annual Conference in April, which is also a great time of year in that beautiful city.

Much of the advice given above is applicable to LMA’s conference depending on your goals. If you still haven’t decided whether you are attending and you’re a legal marketer take a look at my earlier posts (here and here) about the upcoming conference. What I have gained most from these conferences over the years are the contacts made, and the marketing and business development ideas acquired.

Effective networking is more important as the legal marketplace becomes more competitive. A lot of lawyers do not embrace networking and wish they didn’t have to do it. It is not why we went to law school after all. Notwithstanding one’s aversion to networking, it is necessary! So you might as well make networking work the best you can.

The following are some steps recommended by attorney Anabella Bonfa on Law Practice Advisor:

  1. Develop a lawyer network. Make a point of meeting and developing relationships with non-competing lawyers for mutual referrals. Both may have clients who could use the other’s services;
  2. Connect with other professionals. Obviously, this could also result in mutual referrals that will expand your client base as well as theirs. Such connections could also benefit your clients’ businesses;
  3. Help others reach their goals. Don’t look at a networking event as one where you have to sell yourself. Rather, consider it an opportunity to make friends, and help them achieve their goals. As Zig Ziglar wisely stated “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.” Look for ways to be helpful to those you meet at networking events, rather than looking for what they can do for you;
  4. Always keep your word. If you say to someone you meet that you will check on something or send information or provide a link or an introduction, NEVER fail to do so. If you don’t do what you say you’re going to do, you put your reputation in jeopardy;
  5. Always follow up. Not only on what you say you will do, but with the contacts made. Even if there may be no need for your services by them nor opportunities for referrals from them, add the contact to what I refer to as a Quarterly Contact List, and then contact each person at least four times a year. Such contact could take the form of an email, telephone call, or in-person meetings, where possible.  You could provide a link to an article of interest based on your conversation or reference information picked up on Google Alerts;
  6. Network via social media. Post an article on a blog, participate in discussions on LinkedIn or Google+ to raise your profile and to make contacts with whom you want to develop relationships; and
  7. Be yourself. In all networking events you should avoid coming across as someone you are not. You need to be your true self – honest and sincere. Don’t be afraid to share some personal information which can help build a relationship, particularly if the other person does the same.

Networking should not be feared or avoided. So get out and about to improve your networking in order to grow your practice.

Actually, I’m not a good listener or at least not as good as I should be. Bad listening isn’t just a malady of lawyers, as it is a common ailment suffered by many, many homo sapiens.  With that said, a post by Annie Little on Attorney at Work points a finger at lawyers when discussing the topic.

She states that that is one reason that “attorneys are among the least trusted professionals.” I’m not sure how much weight I would attach to their listening skills as the reason. Nonetheless, Little lists ways to be a better listener, including:

  • Act Like You Care. This would require a change of mindset by some lawyers to act like they really care and are interested in what the other person – whether a client, prospect or potential referral source – has to say. It’s easier if you maintain eye contact, and avoid looking at your smart phone every few seconds while pretending you are not doing so. It also helps to gain the other persons confidence by focusing on them while they’re speaking for nonverbal clues that will keep the conversation moving ahead in the right direction;
  • It’s Not About You. Try to make the conversation about them so you fully understand their point and don’t respond too quickly or interrupt their thought process. Until the other person has completed their thought, they’re not ready for your comment or input. You are not truly listening if you’re trying to plan what you will say next to show off your expertise. It is better to think and admit if you do not know the answer right then.  Offer to look into it and get back to them later. This could actually lead to paying work; and
  • Silence Is Your New Best Friend. Gaps in a conversation are not a bad thing, and can often lead to the person continuing to speak and share important information. It also can provide respect for you as a listener. Remember you already know everything there is to know about yourself.  So, why not spend the time letting the other person talk and provide you with information you do not have about them and their potential issues.

Bottom line message: the more you learn to be a better listener the more “clients feel listened to. And respected,” according to Little. Further, you won’t have to ask them what they just said.  If we are honest with ourselves, there are lessons to be learned there.

 

Here are some additional posts of mine on listening:

Hush up and Listen!

The Less You Talk, the Smarter People Will Think You Are

Do Clients Wish You Were like a Good Waiter?

It amazes me that so many law firm websites say the same thing. Like we “are client focused”, “care about our clients”, “efficient”, “responsive”, “client’s interest comes first”, etc., etc.  Your firm may actually do and emphasize all these attributes. Problem is, how will prospects know that before hiring you.

One way is to truly differentiate your firm from others when pitching a prospect or client for work. Sally Schmidt in a post this week on Attorney at Work has suggestions on how to do that; including:

Offer more than promises:

  • If you claim a team approach, include a group picture and bios;
  • Demonstrate your experience on a matter by laying out the strategy and process (consider a Gantt chart or spreadsheet);
  • Provide an organizational chart with each person’s role and contact information; and
  • If you offer an alternative fee arrangement, indicate how you arrived at the figure to show it didn’t come out of thin air.

Give a service guarantee:

  • Lawyers cannot ethically guarantee the outcome of a matter, so provide a service guarantee.  It might include returning calls and emails within a specified period of time (as I have preached in the past, empowered other lawyers or staff to respond to inquiries, if for no other purpose than to let the client know when you will get back to them); when and how you will provide status reports (ask the client for their preferences); and communications in general; and
  • Offer to visit the client (off the clock) to better understand their business issues (a big client complaint about outside law firms), plans and how the issue relates to the business.

Back up your claims:

  • If you claim a particular expertise, back up the claims with the types and number of matters handled.
  • List representative matters handled, without naming clients without their permission even if it is a matter of public record; and
  • Provide a list of references happy with your services.

Your behavior matters, not your words:

  • If you say you are accessible, mean it by giving out your direct dial and cell numbers;
  • Send a welcome letter that sets forth how the process will proceed, who will handle their matter, and how to reach members of the team; and
  • Show how responsive you are likely to be by getting the proposal to them ahead of the deadline.

If you want to show that your firm is really different from the competition, prove it from your very first contact.

Lawyers should update their bios regularly to keep it fresh, and because it is an important marketing tool.  It should be well written, brief and to the point on the benefits a prospect should gain by retaining your services.

Since there will likely be opportunities over the holidays to meet people you will want to send a bio to, it is a good time to update it. Heather Suttie referred on LinkedIn to a post that sets forth some excellent bio do’s and don’ts:

Do:

  1. Target your desired client base.  Include benefits that such an audience would be interested in by hiring you;
  2. Give your story some personality.  The best lawyer bio I ever saw is the one for Martin Ginsburg, the late husband of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which portrayed both his excellent credentials and sense of humor;
  3. Make it brief.  But not written like one.  Suttie suggests it be 150 words maximum. Sometimes that maybe too long depending on the occasion and audience;
  4. Include examples of cases or transactions you have handled.  However, do not name the client (even if it’s a matter of public record) without the client’s approval.  They may not want their matters publicized on the Internet, and very unhappy if you do; and
  5. Include a recent photo – emphasis on the word recent. You can send the wrong message when you meet a new client in-person, and you don’t look like your 20 year old picture.

Don’ts:

  1. A resume is not a bio. Suttie points out “clients don’t care about your career path, they care about what you can do for them”;
  2. Self-aggrandizement is a no-no. And of course using words like expert or specialist (unless so certified by an acceptable bar organization) creates ethical problems;
  3. Although it may be okay to mention your Pulitzer Prize, lesser kudos unless related to your legal practice are not.  Your law school Moot Court award 30 years ago won’t cut it;
  4. Education should be downplayed the further into your career you go.  I hate to say it, but you didn’t become a great lawyer in law school.  The only thing that really matters is what you have done since; and
  5. Avoid stating your bar admission year.  If you’re a recent grad, it highlights your youth and inexperience.  If it is well back in the last century, it may show you are not only long-in-the-tooth, but expensive.

Bios are important and since they are a form of self-marketing, put your best effort into making it sharp, short and a compelling story.

As the holidays approach, there will be many opportunities to meet and greet, and collect business cards. One might think the more the merrier.  But not so fast, there are reasons to not start a variation on a baseball card collection (some of you may remember when such a collection was a big thing).

What got me thinking about business cards was the marketing meditation of last Friday in 365 Marketing Meditations: Daily Lessons for Marketing & Communications Professionals by my friend Larry Smith and Richard Levick of Levick strategic communications. It states:

“Always have an excuse to collect a bunch of business cards. During a speech, mentioned some great article you can send them. ‘Please leave me your business cards and I’ll see to it that you get the article.’”

Over the years I’ve given similar advice at my marketing seminars.  I go one step further and invite participants to come up and, in case they are out of business cards, put their name on a pad of paper placed up front.

The reason I agree with the tactic mentioned for speeches, is that it is more difficult to come away with contact information in order to follow up with a large audience. So, I see no reason for not gathering as many business cards as possible in that setting.  At a minimum it will help you build up your database.

However, I have a different view about gathering as many business cards as you can in a networking situation. At a networking event, presumably you have more face time, and can determine more readily the persons you would like to follow up with. Further, you don’t want to be seen as a gadfly who walks around the room asking for business cards with no purpose in mind.

After either event, following up is often the biggest problem for lawyers.  Grabbing a bunch of cards really means little, because often lawyers merely throw them in a drawer when they get back to the office.  I suggest that you focus on coming away with a half dozen or so cards from people you want to follow up with.

Then make sure you follow up with those people you obtain cards from.  Suggestions might include sending a handwritten (preferably) “nice to meet you” note, or at least an email, to continue the dialogue and possible set up a lunch, if the person is local.  The goal is to build on the relationship and your network.

Collecting business cards from strangers is a good business development tactic, but not if you don’t follow up, or have no strategy on how to capitalize on them.

As we get closer to the holiday season (yeah, they’ll be here sooner than you think), it means there will be more and more networking opportunities.  A lot of lawyers, including yours truly, are not always comfortable in every setting.  However, these events can be very important to developing business for one’s practice, and should not be avoided due to some discomfort.

I had initially overlooked a post by Mary Ellen Sullivan on Attorney at Work last month I think is pretty good and worth sharing.  It provides 10 suggested icebreakers by Debra Fine., the author of The Fine Art of Small Talk.  They are:

  1. “What is your connection to this event?
  2. What keeps you busy outside of work?
  3. Tell me about the organizations you are involved with.
  4. How did you come up with this idea?
  5. What got you interested in … ?
  6. What do you attribute your success to?
  7. Describe some of the challenges of your profession.
  8. Describe your most important work experience.
  9. Bring me up to date.
  10. Tell me about your family.”

Fine and Sullivan also suggest a number questions which might be considered too personal or problematic, which should be avoided.  No. 10 above might fall into that category depending on the situation, but obviously it is a judgment call.

Notice that the questions are open-ended. This should keep the other person talking, and that can help overcome any shyness.

Read a post on the Cordell Parvin Blog about the reasons your client development efforts may not be working. I’ve heard lawyers complain over the years how they are doing “stuff,”, but nothing seems to happen.

I’ll put a different twist on Parvin’s post by suggesting ten tips (using his thoughts) you can use to improve your business development efforts:

  1. Do more than good work. Clients may not fully appreciate what the value of your work product is (most didn’t go to law school afterall).  So, you need to let clients and potential clients know about you and your firm, and what you could do for them;
  2. Prepare a plan. You need to prepare your very own personal, focused business development plan;
  3. Implement the plan.  Maybe it isn’t fair you have to both sell and produce the work product. Well, that’s life in the personal services business. Keep the pipeline fed, using the tools at your disposal or the work eventually will not be there (ask many partners let go by law firms).  Look at Kane’s Top Ten Markting Tips for some ideas in getting started;
  4. Educate clients vs. selling them. Nobody likes to be sold anyway.  Personally, I sell myself, after being educated about the product or service, and why I should be interested in it. So, educate clients and prospects about the reasons and benefits of hiring you;
  5. You need to be very focused.  That is the reason for having a thoughtout plan you will implement.  That doesn’t mean you can’t take work that comes over the transom, or change it.  But, don’t lose sight of the plan.  You can change it as long as part of a thoughtful refocusing process;
  6. Be client-centric vs. self centered. That begins with understanding the client’s business, industry, and goals of the organization/client contacts. Clients have told me how frustrating it is to have to educate lawyers all the time about their business, and the context within which the legal issues come into play;
  7. You need to raise your profile.  Work on being more visible to your target audience through writing, speaking, and networking with trade groups, associations, or community organizations where your desired clients hang out;
  8. Leave your comfort zone.  It’s easier to eat lunch at your desk rather than to implement your plan, particularly when you have billing pressures.  But avoid taking the comfortable out.  You need to stretch yourself and not forget the importance of the other half of your job;
  9. Be a team player. Within your firm and with client contacts with whom you deal, look at your job as a joint team effort; and
  10. Provide extraordinary service.  Go above and beyond just good work.  That is the minimum in today’s competitive marketplace. which is vital today in the highly competitive market. Clients want more value so consider ways to give it to them.

Be positive, and look for ways that your business development efforts will work for you.  Remember, rainmakers don’t get fired.