In a relationship-driven business like law, the vast majority of legal work goes to those lawyers who understand their clients’ businesses inside and out, make their clients look good both internally and externally, and are the kind of people with whom clients genuinely like working, which if we’re being honest, doesn’t always come easy to every lawyer.
Relationship building takes patience, persistence and a personal touch.
I’ve put together some tips for lawyers at any level to increase their books of business by focusing on cultivating and strengthening relationships. I hope they inspire you (and lead to new clients)!
1. Everyone is important
Remember that every single person you ever meet is someone who is in or will be in a position to be a client or a referral. That means that the person sitting next to you on the train or on the buffet line at a family function could be a potential source of business. So, be friendly and kind to everyone. Treat everyone with whom you come into contact as if they could be a future client. Because you never know. And always put your best foot forward: carry business cards and do not drink too much at events where you think there could be a business prospect.
Trust me on this one – one lawyer I know went to a bar mitzvah and started talking about what he did for a living and wound up walking away with two clients as a result. Another lawyer I know drank too much and walked away with nothing but a hangover.
2. It’s never too early (or too late) to build your network
Maintaining strong professional relationships is the major key to a lawyer’s success because relationships open many doors to new clients, referrals and other business relationships.
Keep in mind that a powerful source of prospective business will often come through those individuals with whom you went to school or worked early on in your career, so find ways to keep in touch with these contacts and focus on building those relationships for the long term. Also, join alumni networks of your former educational institutions and firms – these can be prime referral sources because they often have online directories with a wealth of leads as well as events throughout the year where you can reignite relationships. Track the movements of key alumni contacts so you know where and when these contacts move. Stay in touch and be helpful to them.
...one lawyer is receiving regular referrals from his first- and second-year associate office mates from 20 years ago
I want to take a minute to quickly underscore the power of keeping relationships with former law firm colleagues “warm” because a lot of firms scoff at the idea of inviting competitors to their events or keeping them on their mailing lists, which can be short sighted. At my current mid-sized firm, lawyers at other firms are prime referral sources – big, small, mid-sized, we’ll take them all – and I’d recommend that your firm consider the same if it makes sense.
Think about this example – one of the lawyers at my current firm is receiving regular referrals from his first- and second-year associate office mates from 20 years ago. These have led to major matters for this lawyer – all because he stayed in touch with his buddies from their days together in the trenches. These shared experiences were formative and bonding – don’t underestimate them – and use it as a reason to reach out to former colleagues.
3. Connect electronically
In the digital world in which we live, networking online is just as important as making in-person connections. LinkedIn is the most important social media channel for business development. Spend the time to develop a strong LinkedIn profile that highlights your professional attributes and background.
Your LinkedIn profile is one of the top Google search results when someone looks you up online. Create a dynamic LinkedIn headline – that's most important line of your profile because it gets pulled into Google. LinkedIn provides great reasons to reach out to those in your network through its job moves and work anniversary notifications. Use these professional milestones to reach out to VIP contacts – I have seen this lead to new business numerous times. You can read my recent JD Supra article on how to Build a Stronger Professional Network Today with These LinkedIn To-Do's for more ideas on how to maximize LinkedIn.
4. Don’t forget the human touch
While online networking is incredibly powerful, nothing can replace in-person human interactions for true relationship building. Just be strategic about with whom you choose to spend your time and money on networking and social events. After all, time is money.
I encourage our lawyers to keep notes in their Outlook contacts with important information such as who is a Yankees fan, a theater buff or a die-hard U2 fan – this way, the lawyer can personalize a future invite to an event that is appealing to the contact when the time comes.
5. Partner together
Even better than sending an article to a client or inviting them to an upcoming event, why not offer to co-author an article with them, invite them to speak on a panel with you? Invest in your clients in a way that enables you to help them showcase their talents while building the relationship is a surefire way to cement the relationship.
6. Promote by listening
The key to creating lasting professional relationships is not to tell someone how great you are at what you do, but rather to listen to them and make them feel important.
...always remember to listen vs. talk (the 80/20 rule)
Don’t hijack the conversation and talk about yourself too much – always remember to listen vs. talk (the 80/20 rule). Another way to build a strong bond with someone is to connect on a personal level by finding commonalities regarding school, background, family, sports, a hobby or work (studies show that people will like you more when you have something in common with them).
In addition, giving someone an authentic compliment can create a strong connection. Remember that no one dislikes a compliment ever.
7. Make yourself first useful, then indispensable
Make a note to regularly follow up with important contacts by sending them value-added content with a personal note. Perhaps it’s an article, blog post or industry study that you saw – or better yet – wrote yourself. Take this one step further and keep a content feed – for me, this is a spreadsheet of articles, studies and infographics from publications and other sources that I follow.
I regularly post this content to LinkedIn and Twitter to stay top of mind. Sharing helpful information to your network will position you as a thought leader and can lead to new business and referrals. Several of our lawyers sent a thoughtful note with a recent client alert to key clients on why they needed to read the alert and care about the topic. That led those clients to write back with responses that led to new engagements. Sometimes all it takes is the personal touch.
8. Become a superconnector
One of the best ways to build relationships is by linking people to each other. For example, instead of taking one client or prospect out for drinks or dinner, why not bring several clients/potential clients together?
...instead of taking one client or prospect out for drinks or dinner, why not bring several clients/potential clients together?
People enjoy making new connections, especially when they have commonalities. They will appreciate you for introducing them, and you will strengthen your relationship to all of them in the process, which is a win-win for everyone, most importantly, you.
Plus, you will have shifted some of the one-on-one conversation burden off of yourself and gotten another night back on your schedule for something for yourself.
9. Ingrain “How can I help you?” in your head
We are in the service business and these words should be front and center at all times EVERY SINGLE DAY.
...think about ways in which you can help someone without expecting anything in return
I learned this concept from Karen Kahn and her terrific business development bible Daunting to DOable. If you think about ways in which you can help someone without expecting anything in return, you will build strong relationships over time. Giving before you get will pay you back beyond your wildest imagination. I have seen this translate into real business countless times.
10. Give it Away
Offer to do in-house CLE programs for important clients and prospective clients. This is a great opportunity to provide clients with value-added content and showcase your expertise. You will rarely find a client who will turn you down if you offer to do an educational program on your own time.
Also, consider creating a top tips article as a takeaways piece from the session. It’s a great way to leave attendees with something substantial after the program as well as a great way to brand your firm (Tip – put your firm’s logo as big as you can on it).
Be alert to relationships around you...
11. Just do it
In order to be successful at business development you simply must make the time for it. Effective business development efforts can be done in just five minutes each day if you are organized. So, be attuned to client needs at all times, but make sure that your head is not always “down” in the substantive work. Be alert to relationships around you.
If you always remember that everyone you encounter is someone who is a potential source of future business and that being a successful lawyer requires the continual nurturing of relationships, you will be well on your way to building a more robust professional network. These tips can be applied to anyone, in any industry, at any point in your career. Try them out – at the very least, you’ll have built stronger connections and there’s absolutely no downside to that.
[Stefanie Marrone helps law firms effectively tell their stories and find their unique voices. Over the last 16 years, she has been working with some of the most prominent law firms in the world, developing and executing global revenue generating, business development, internal and external communications strategies, including media relations, branding, and multi-channel content marketing and thought leadership campaigns. She has a diverse range of experience in both Big Law and mid-size/small-law firms. Learn more.]