Prospecting for Clients

Been meaning to comment on some marketing advice I saw on Law Practice Today back in August.  The article entitled “A Business Development Checklist for Young Lawyers” by Kelly O’Malley at Fox Rothschild struck me for two reasons:  her checklist should get the attention of more than young lawyers, and, at least in part, should be read and followed by the increased number of solos out there.

My focus in this post then is on the items O’Malley mentions that could help solos and very small firms (that do have the benefit of a marketing department or multiple practice areas to call upon for help).  Here are a some:

  1. Keep your bio current.  You should constantly update your web site (you better have one) information, including matters handled (don’t mention client names without their permission, even if it is matter of public record), speeches made, etc.;
  2. Develop an elevator speech.  Saying “I’m a lawyer” or “employment lawyer” is NOT an elevator speech.  Rather, something along the line of “I help employees/employers avoid workplace problems” is better. See these posts for additional references to elevator speeches;
  3. Use social media.  But, be careful what you put out there.  For professional purposes LinkedIn is better than Facebook IMHO.  Also, don’t spend too much valuable time being social online or hiding “behind the computer.”   Turn social media contacts into face-to-face contacts, whenever possible;
  4.  Get out and about.  Network events in your community and trade group conferences where your ideal clients hang out.  Take clients, referral sources, prospects (keep ethical rules in mind), reporters, classmates, etc. to lunch (at least one per week, as monthly is too infrequent).  Read Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi.  Join and be active in organizations, whether business, community or bar related. Be a player and raise your profile to attract those clients you want;
  5. Reach out quarterly to your contact list.  Contact by telephone, email or in-person those contacts that could help you grow your business.  Try to help them as it is better in the long run to “Give to Get;” and
  6. Keep in touch.  In addition to your quarterly contact list, send holiday, birthday, congratulatory cards and notes.  They should be handwritten and hand-addressed.  BTW I like Happy Thanksgiving cards to avoid the December rush.

O’Mally’s advice is not just for young lawyers only.  I know plenty of experienced (in legal matters) lawyers, many in larger firms, that could use help in developing business as well.

Of course they haven’t for several reasons:  no immediate need, forgot 80% of what you said in two days time, or didn’t remember you name, etc.  So, what’s a lawyer to do?

Continue to work at developing business day after day after day.  You won’t be hired, in most cases, after your first encounter.  Hell, maybe not after the 20th.  The point is that you have to stay top of mind with prospects (heck, even with clients), so they will call you when they need a lawyer like you.

Ruth Carter has a great post on Attorney at Work that tells a story about how she bought tires 18 months after meeting a guy she liked.  Why?  First, she didn’t need tires when she met him, and when she did, she bought them from him because she ran into the guy everywhere.  He showed up at “business mixers, community festivals, networking groups.” That’s what you need to do.

Aw, come on, you may say.  How does a lawyer’s services compare to selling tires.  You might even say, “remember that I gave an impressive speech about legal matters for goodness sake.”  Well, my good friend, wake up.  Developing business is a process, not a one shot deal. As Carter points out, she liked him when they met and got to know him over time, and came to trust him.

That’s exactly what lawyers need to do:

  • Show up;
  • Develop relationships so potential clients will get to know, like and trust you;
  • Make friends (both Carter and tire guy did not try to sell their wares when they met, but rather themselves over a period of time); and
  • Most importantly, (in case I forgot to mention it) show up at places your potential clients hang out.

If you want to gain clients, you’ve got to do the things that provide a lasting impression, so clients will keep you top of mind for when they need a lawyer. A speech or a one-time meeting won’t do it.

During coaching sessions I’m often asked about cold calling, and my common response is to not make them.  They don’t work as a rule. Since in my experience 80% to 90% of new business comes from clients (in the form of new work or referrals to others), and referrals from other contacts, such as bankers, real estate or insurance agents,  friends, neighbors, etc.

So, my friend Mike O’Horo’s recent piece entitled “Cold calls? Well… sort of” on his RainmakerVT  website caught my attention. It’s not that O’Horo is endorsing cold calls, and he does raise the question of ethical issues relating to them. But, he does suggest ways to contact what I would call “strangers” or at least non-clients. His idea involves calling the types of clients you would like to represent and seek their opinion on topics of interest (presumably to them) and/or by conducting a survey. If you can get them to talk with you and contribute, you could develop relationships with prospects that might lead to business.

He goes on to suggest 10 ways to prepare for and undertake such “warm calls” as he refers to them. It is an interesting approach and one that could work over time. Clearly, it involves a good deal of effort and commitment.

In any event, I believe that O’Horo would agree that this strategy is not really cold calling, but it isn’t a bad idea, if you have the time and are willing to commit to it. If you don’t, then you might want to stick with spending time building relationships with your clients and other contacts that could send you referrals.  IMHO that works much better most of the time.

In response to the question “What do you do?”, saying that you are a tax lawyer, or employment lawyer or whatever is not a good reply.  More on that in a moment.

In the online ABA Journal: Law News Now this month, an article entitled “50 Simple Ways You Can Market Your Practice” by Stephanie Francis Ward provides some good tips that will help lawyers develop business. I really like many of them.  However, I take issue with one in particular.  I’m not being critical of the author, who is a journalist after all and not a legal marketer.  My guess is that she just got some bad advice somewhere.

My issue is with Tip “23.The best elevator speech? ‘Hi, I’m a lawyer.  What do you do?’” Although it appears to be a question, the tip comes across as a statement.  Or it is incomplete because it ends there.   IMHO that is the worst possible self-introduction a lawyer can make.  If the other person is not a lawyer, the conversation could very well come to a screeching halt.  Reasons vary, but might include: putting people off, some people simply don’t like lawyers (or maybe they’re jealous), feel less educated, or the statement simply comes across as arrogant, know-it-all or I’m smarter than the average bear, or whatever.  Sorry, but such an opening is just dumb.

Better to say something like, if for instance you are an employment lawyer representing companies, “I help employers avoid and resolve employee issues.” Which may lead to the obvious “How do you do that?”….and the discussion is underway, rather than shut down.

It is advisable to have more than one elevator speech, of course, depending on the circumstances and the audience.  But, it does take work and practice to develop an effective and meaningful one. Try them out on colleagues and friends.  It is best to delay disclosing your occupation until you’ve laid the groundwork as to how you help people with their problems.

Some lawyers still are hesitant to give a lot of information away. Whether when asked a legal question or during seminars.  What brought this on was an experience I had with my computer.  Stay with me here.

My computer died last weekend.  Problems began with a blank screen and when I tried to reboot, nothing happened.  The “experts” at a computer supply store couldn’t figure it out, but did refer me to a local one-man shop.  He told me in about 15 minutes after some Internet research, and taking the back off the laptop, that it was the motherboard in combination with the graphics card.  With this particular computer model, he said he gave up trying to fix the problem, because he had learned from previous experience (and unhappy customers), the problem was likely to return in six to eight months.  He referred me to someone else. I decided to buy a new computer.

In all he spent about 40-45 minutes with me, and didn’t charge me!!  I said “aw, come on, certainly I owe you for your time,” but he refused.  He suggested I purchase a Gateway (didn’t know they still made them), Toshiba or Dell, since I was insisting on sticking with Windows 7.  Now, do you think I will refer others to him, if I get a chance? Of course!!

Bottom line:  received my new Dell Wednesday, and even though I had a recent backup of my hard drive, who do you think I went to transfer my old hard drive to the Dell? Duh! And I didn’t even ask him what he charges to do that. It’s call trust.

Which brings me to today’s meditation from my old standby 365 Marketing Meditations: Daily Lessons for Marketing & Communications Professionals  by Larry Smith and Richard Levick of Levick Strategic Communications.  It is: “The best client giveaway is information. They’ll value it enough to pay for more.”  Amen.

There is a lot of hoopla flying around the legal space about the “new normal” and predictions that “law firms will never revisit their prerecession heyday.”  It is hard to disagree with all the evidence out there, including the joint client advisory by Citi Private Bank’s Law Firm Group and Hildebrandt Consulting, and the joint report by the Center for the Study of the Legal Profession at Georgetown University Law Center and Thomson Rueters Peer Monitor.  Both studies, by credible organizations, point out clearly that the legal profession is experiencing real change.

Those changes are discussed in two posts by Sara Randazzo on The AmLaw Daily (here and here) and include:

  • Lesser demand for legal services currently (although Georgetown- Peer Monitor study had demand  increasing slightly by 0.5%;
  • “Too many lawyers chasing too little work”;
  • Slower increase in billing rates;
  • Client pressure for more discounts and alternative fees;
  • Forty percent of lateral hires (apparently in attempts to increase market share) are unsuccessful;
  • Requirements for increased capital contributions as bank LOCs are less available; and
  • “Historic lows” in realization rates (82.5%) in AmLaw 100 firms.

What does all this have to do with marketing, you may ask?  Everything, actually.

Other than the need to get hungry enough to ensure your law firm gets its fair share of the legal business out there, especially in light of the highly competitive marketplace (not just from other law firms I might add), it is more crucial today than ever that firms do a lot of smart marketing.

So, in light of greater client scrutiny over rates, less overall legal work, too many lawyers, and basically just a mature industry, one highlight from the Georgetown-Peer Monitor study by Randazzo says it all in one bullet point in my mind:  “Competition is increasing among firms, meaning that ‘the only way (short of a merger) for a firm to capture market share is to take it from another firm.’”

That takes marketing, and that’s why it is critical that firms demand greater business development efforts from their partners today.

In my 27-plus years in legal marketing, I can assure you I have never – let me repeat, never —   encountered lawyers who spent too much time on developing business. On the contrary, I’ve met too many who didn’t and don’t spend enough time on it. And I have run across a lot who wasted time doing the wrong things and thus were ineffective in bringing in more work for the firm. But, spending too much time on really effective business development?  Never.

Additionally, I’ve heard many a lawyer say that they are too busy to do marketing.  When delving further, it usually means “don’t want to, ain’t gonna.”  If a lawyer is really busy doing client work that she enjoys for enjoyable clients, then I’ll extend a pass… for this week.  Because no matter what, the pipeline needs to be fed and kept flowing. Furthermore, the “busyness” often complained about involves non-productive time doing things that other lawyers or administrative staff could do more effectively and efficiently.

That is why I got a kick out of a recent discussion on LinkedIn’s Law Practice Management Professionals Group. The question was asked as to whether 20% (or one day per week) of a lawyer’s time spent on business development was too much.  One person responded that “is way too much time;” and proceeded to equate the time (assuming an 8-hour day) to lost revenue of 8 times (let’s say) $250 per hour = $2000 lost.  Of course, it is “silly” (I’m trying to be nice here) to assume that if you aren’t spending “too much” time developing business you would otherwise be billing clients for those same hours.

In the end it is foolish to put a number on what is too little or too much time spent on marketing, client work, admin, recreation and, hopefully, family time.  What is important is to spend all of the time doing all of those things necessary for you to be a successful lawyer in a well-rounded sense, and serve clients well.  If you have client work that needs to be done, do it. But don’t overlook the need to be generating more.  If you don’t have enough work to sustain your life style long term, best to think about how to spend more time – a lot more time – effectively developing business now.

Do I think you might ever spend too much time on marketing? Not a chance!!

One might ask how networking tips for brand new associates would be applicable to partners. Stick with me here, because in my experience there are many partners who know what they should have been doing in terms of staying in touch with former classmates, colleagues, people they’ve met, etc. but haven’t.  So, they could gain from Steven Taylor’s interview of Scott Westfahl, director of professional development at Goodwin Procter recently on Attorney at Work.

As Taylor points out, the old saying “It’s not what you know, but who you know” (1951, G. P. Bush and L. H. Hattery in an article on obtaining federal employment in Science magazine) is not applicable to lawyers, of course.  But don’t downplay the value of who you know, and who you know that can help you get legal work.

It’s what networking is all about. And Taylor’s and Westfahl’s tips can be helpful to any lawyer, since it is not taught as part of the core curriculum in law schools.  So, the networking tips mentioned include:

  • Keep in touch with law school classmates (and with college and high schools ones as well – surprising how that little nerd in junior high turned out to be very successful).  You should reach out and touch your contacts on a quarterly or least semi-annual basis to catch up and stay top of mind.  Don’t wait until you need their help with an introduction;
  • Identify groups of good contacts, and build those newer, external relationships as well;
  • Offer to help them with their goals (based on the idea “give to get”); and
  • Use social media as a tool (but don’t forget that networking is personal, and face-to-face meetings are still important).

New lawyers should not overlook the importance of maintaining and developing networks, just because they are busy learning the skills needed to be a good lawyer.  Nor should partners who have not got as effective a network as they would like, since it is not too late to reconnect with those former classmates and other contacts they have ignored for many years.

How timely in this particular month that my old standby for marketing ideas would address the relationship between politics and marketing.  Larry Smith and Richard Levick in 365 Marketing Meditations: Daily Lessons for Marketing & Communications Professionals state in today’s meditation:

“All marketing is even more local than politics. Marketing is one person at a time.”

We are in the personal service business, which means that we need to get just that – personal.
And that is done one person at a time.  Whether that is face-to-face or via social media, it is still one person at a time.  Surrogates can’t do it for you in the end.

This is more critical today.  If you aren’t sure about that, just read Jennifer Smith’s post on WSJ’s Law Blog entitled “Law Firm 3rd Quarter Checkup” from last week.  The state of the legal business is NOT good.  All the more reason to be undertaking more marketing and business development, and doing so by focusing on one person at a time.  Oh yeah, and since it is hunting season that means focusing with a rifle, rather than a shotgun.

In response to that question in these economic times, some (if not many) lawyers might say that you would be nuts to turn down any work that comes across the transom. Well, wrong answer IMHO. I would argue that you’re nuts if you don’t turn down cases that are not suited for your practice, or the client is immediately recognized as a potential problem. Those points were raised by attorney Ruth Carter on Attorney at Work this week.

Those are two very good reasons for turning down work, but there is another.  And that is that your time could be better spent developing business with clients you would really like to represent doing the kind of work you have a passion for.

But first, the dangers associated with the first two reasons mentioned:

  • Working outside your scope.  Today’s legal world is more complex, and a lawyer simply cannot be competent in all areas.  Screw up and you got a grievance, or worse, a malpractice claim on your hands (and the time it will take to respond to either will be significant); and
  • Representing problem clients. They will take too much of your time, energy and generally make you miserable.  Trust your gut, Carter suggests and I agree.  Further, your heart may not be in their matter, and the chances of creating a problem mentioned in the bullet above could result.

Equally important, it takes time from seeking the clients and work you should be looking for. See below several earlier posts of mine emphasizing that your time would be better spent on business development than on incompatible work/clients.

Even if you don’t see the value in turning down (unsuitable work/clients) to free up time to develop the kind of clients and work you do want (to your own detriment in my view), at least give strong consider to Carter’s final thoughts:  “I didn’t change careers to become a lawyer to be miserable, or to set myself up for a bar complaint.”

Neither should you.  At times, it is just nuts to NOT turn down work.

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Don’t Dilute Your Niche In a Down Economy  http://bit.ly/RtKAMz

Be a Better Marketer by Saying “No” Sometimes http://bit.ly/TrF8zX