Every lawyer should always be thinking about ways to build their book of business and brand, as well as how to develop stronger relationships with clients and referral sources.
Maintaining strong relationships and staying top-of-mind with clients and referrals are often at the heart of this kind of business development work. There are many paths to success, but the key is to be consistent and visible, and most importantly, to make time for business development.
...be consistent and visible, and most importantly, make time for business development.
Whether it’s writing an article or client alert, chairing a conference, or committing to having a certain number of in-person client development activities per month, the key is to actually do it and not let work get in the way.
I know a lawyer who actually puts time in her Outlook calendar multiple times each week for business development activities. She treats this time as if she was having a client meeting or is on a deadline for a client project. She doesn’t blow it off no matter how busy she is unless there is a true emergency.
Here are some things you can do to build, cultivate and rekindle relationships with current clients, potential clients, the media and referral sources. Remember – most of the business you will obtain will come from clients with whom you work today – either more business from existing clients or recommendations from clients – so client development should be at the very top of your to-do list.
1. Never Eat Alone
Everyone has to eat lunch, so why eat alone when you could be using your lunchtime to reconnect with VIP contacts? I’m all for online networking but there really is no substitute for developing close relationships than seeing someone in person.
Each month, make a list of five individuals with whom you’ve lost touch or would just like to simply develop a stronger relationship, and reach out to them for an in-person lunch or breakfast. Also, you should be using the LinkedIn notifications section to your advantage, looking for promotions, job moves and other professional successes of those in your network. Celebrating someone is a great hook to suggest an in-person get-together and strengthen your relationship.
2. Get Involved
A great way to cultivate relationships is to broaden your network. You can do this by becoming active in bar associations and key industry groups in your practice area or industry. Join a committee or take on a volunteer role. This type of work can help you become more visible in the field and lead to introductions and important connections who can become clients or refer work to you. In addition, become active in your college and law school alumni groups, as well as the alumni network of any former firms at which you worked. Attend in-person events as well as join the online alumni community and any associated LinkedIn alumni groups. Consider creating your own informal alumni groups composed of key former colleagues/classmates and make a plan to get together in person four times a year.
3. Give it Away
Clients are stretched and being asked to do more with less. Help them out by offering to do an in-person CLE program/webinar or a lunch and learn for a client at no cost to them. This is a great way to provide clients with helpful information and showcase your expertise.
Extra credit if you can provide a handout or a key takeaways piece as a leave behind piece. Ensure the handout prominently includes your firm name and your contact information.
4. Put Pen to Paper
While client alerts are incredibly important for every law firm to regularly publish on timely updates facing their clients to keep them informed, stay top of mind, obtain new work and to showcase their expertise (more on that in a bit), traditional and online outlets are always seeking thought leadership content to publish. For example, Law360, the top legal industry publications, the law journal in your state as well as niche specialty publications that focus on specific industries are great places to submit an article. Oftentimes, all you need to do is to look for the contact for third-party articles on their web site and send them a note by email with a short summary of the article and a proposed (catchy) title. Don’t write the entire article before you contact them and it's accepted – many publications have specific word counts or a preferred style – and so there’s no point in doing all of the work beforehand without knowing exactly what they are looking for.
Make sure to disclose if the article has been previously published (some publications want original content and others are fine to republish one of your client alerts). If you are feeling ambitious, contact one of the law journals or industry publications to ask if they would be open to you writing a regular column and propose a few topics (again, just a quick summary of the topics). I’ve seen several lawyers score a recurring opportunity just by asking for it.
5. Do a Site Visit
One of the intellectual property lawyers with whom I work recently told me that his new client requires outside counsel to tour their plants and offices before being assigned to a matter. The client said to him, “To really know how to best help us with our legal needs, you need to understand our business and more importantly, our products inside and out.”
There is an important lesson here for every lawyer – offer to go to your client’s office/facility/warehouse – whatever it is – to see firsthand how they do business and how they make what they make. I think this is very important for those in the IP/patent/copyright area but it is equally important for other industries such as healthcare, entertainment, sports, pharma, financial services and many others.
In addition, suggest meeting in person with the individuals with whom you work each day to get to know them better and forge stronger relationships. Putting an actual face to a name really does make a difference. Going the extra mile will demonstrate how much you care about the client and provide you with valuable information that will enable you to do your job better, which is a win win for everyone, especially you.
6. Get to Know the Media
It’s important to build your brand with the media and to cultivate those relationships on a regular basis. Work with your PR team to arrange background meetings with key reporters, which can help to position you as a leader in your field. Become a trusted adviser and source to them – let them know they can call you whenever they have a question or need help understanding something even if it doesn’t result in a mention. Helping reporters without expecting anything in return will help you immensely.
Also remember to explain complex legal concepts to them in lay people’s terms. You don’t want to sound too much like a lawyer or be too esoteric especially when many of these publications are not geared toward other lawyers but rather your clients.
7. For Extra Credit...
When you’ve built close relationships with reporters, make sure to add them to your LinkedIn network and your client alert email list. I’ve seen many lawyers get not only new business from client alerts, but opportunities to write articles and to called upon to comment on a particular topic in an article.
In fact, another way to do this is to have your client alerts on a content syndication service such as JD Supra, which puts your content right in the hands of clients, prospects and reporters too. Many lawyers have been quoted as a direct result of having their articles appear on the JD Supra platform.
8. Get Personal
Many clients hire outside counsel based on existing relationships. We all know just how many good lawyers there are in our industry, so it’s crucial to stand out. One way to do that is to form close personal relationships.
Developing personal connections such as asking about a client’s hobbies and personal life, such as their last vacation, favorite sports team, their kids or pets, can be valuable in strengthening your ties to them, which can translate to additional work for you. Go the extra mile with the information. For example, if they tell you something such as they are expecting a child, send a gift. Or if they are planning a trip to somewhere you’ve been, be helpful and send them a few local suggestions. These types of interactions also greatly enhance relationships.
9. Consider Everyone as a Potential Client or Referral Source
A lawyer friend of mine told me over lunch that a major key to his success has been being a respectful and fair adversary. This resulted in him obtaining referrals from other lawyers who sat on the other side of the table from him. He also has gotten clients through his adversaries’ clients – one woman said to him how impressed she was with his deposition skills that she wanted him as her lawyer and advocate in the future.
My point here is that any and everyone can be a potential future client or referral source, so be fair, be on your best behavior and always put your best foot forward.
10. Update Your Bio
Your professional biography is your opportunity to showcase your work, capabilities, areas of expertise and what makes you stand out from your competitors. Bios are among the highest trafficked pages on law firm web sites and they usually come up as the top Google search result for a lawyer’s name (second only to their LinkedIn profile). Given the power of bios, it has always baffled me that many lawyers do not update theirs at least several times a year or write them with a focus on clients. The new year is a great reason to take a fresh look at your bio and make enhancements to it. Be sure you’re putting your best foot forward.
Take a look at my JD Supra article on How to Write an Engaging, Client-Focused Professional Bio for tips on how to strengthen yours.
11. Become a Thought Leader
Clients really do want to know what you think about timely legal topics and other issues facing their business. That’s why client alerts and blog posts are so important. Many clients don’t even open up alerts from those firms with which they aren’t working – that gives you a great opportunity to reach your clients with your thought leadership. Write well, often and briefly, and ensure that your key practice groups are producing alerts. I worked at a firm where the highest volume of alerts came from a very small practice that was not core to the firm’s business. When someone looked at this firm’s LinkedIn feed or the publications section of their web site – it appears it is focused on this practice while there are no alerts from the two practices for which the firm is known.
Also, please ensure that the right people receive the right alerts – this is why coding your contacts by industry and practice in your CRM system is so important, otherwise your contacts could unsubscribe from your alerts if they feel they aren’t being tailored to them. One of the smartest things you can do is to send an alert with a personal note about why it is relevant to the contact – this is also a great way to get back in touch with someone important and start conversations about future collaborations.
12. Become a LinkedIn Master
LinkedIn is the most important social media channel for business development, period. Why? Well for starters, your LinkedIn profile is one of the top Google search results about you. Take the time to develop a strong LinkedIn profile that highlights your professional background and unique skills. Also, LinkedIn is much more than an online resume and a way to reconnect with contacts. The platform provides its users with valuable reasons to reach out to individuals in your network through its job moves and work anniversary notifications. Use these professional milestones to reach out to VIP contacts – I have repeatedly seen this serve as the catalyst that reignited relationships that turned into new business.
Read my 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 for lead generation.
13. Set Achievable Goals
When choosing professional goals to pursue, push yourself out of your comfort zone. Maybe you’ve never written an article, chaired a committee or spoken on a panel in your industry – there’s no time like the present to do it! We often learn and grow the most from those situations that make us uncomfortable because they push us to new limits. And once you accomplish the first goal, you’ll feel empowered to take on another challenge. For example, let’s say you want to be a published author. You can start off by creating an outline that includes the topics you plan to write about, the publications or blogs that may publish it (and the names of individuals you know there or know through connections on LinkedIn), look at other articles on the topic for ideas and inspiration, and prepare a reverse timeline for completing each article with dates to which you really do hold yourself accountable.
If you have a friend, colleague or someone in your professional network who has accomplished the goals you have set for yourself, ask them for advice on how they did it. Learning from others is a great way to gain valuable perspective and build stronger relationships.
14. Never Stop Learning
Spend the time to learn about the companies, businesses and industries of important clients inside and out on your own time and dime. Make sure you can answer the following questions (and if you can’t, approach your clients to obtain their valuable perspectives). What challenges and opportunities are your clients facing? How can you help them with these? Delving into these areas will enable you to better anticipate their needs and be a smarter legal solution provider.
15. Be Informed
Set up Google Alerts on your clients and prospects (they’re free!) – this will provide valuable information and provide you with reasons to reach out to them to congratulate them on a success, or send an article that explores a legal issue they might be facing. Use this intelligence to reach out to those individuals in your network who you’ve been meaning to contact. Such timely touchpoints enable you to stay top of mind with important connections.
Putting it All Together
The tips in this article can be used by anyone at any point in their career because it’s never too late or early to start incorporating business and client development into your every day. Young professionals should build their professional network now – your peers will be tomorrow’s business leaders.
And a word to the wise for seasoned lawyers who don’t think they need to spend the time on business development – today it’s just not enough to just be a great lawyer. You need to consistently market yourself and stay top of mind to clients, referral sources and potential clients, and churn out exceptional legal work on a timely basis. The legal industry is crowded and competitive – never get complacent or lazy because someone else will seize the opportunity if you don’t. Also, you never know who can turn out to be a client, referral or future employer – never underestimate the importance of every connection. Because you never know.
Stefanie Marrone helps law firms effectively tell their stories and find their unique voices. Over the last 17 years, she has worked with some of the most prominent and innovative law firms in the world, developing and executing global revenue generating business development and communications strategies, including media relations, branding, and multichannel content marketing and social media campaigns. She is very passionate about using social media for lead generation and brand building. She has a diverse range of experience in both Big Law and mid-size/small-law firms. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her latest writing on JD Supra