Lawyers, To Build Your Practice, You Won’t Know Unless You Listen

by Nancy Myrland

Lawyers, To Build Your Practice, You Won't Know Unless You ListenYou’re excited, maybe even a little nervous. You finally have the opportunity to sit down and talk to that one person you want to get close to because you’d love to have him as a client. You know this person could be instrumental in helping you build your practice. You’ve waited for this opportunity for a long time…or maybe you’ve only waited a short time. 

A Golden Opportunity

Whichever it is, consider it a golden opportunity. It might not come along again for a very long time, so let’s make the best use of it, okay? When you have this opportunity to go in and meet with a potential client, don’t go in with your guns blazing.

The Art of The Slow Dance

Building your practice with the right timing is an art, kind of like a slow dance. You don’t go in to meet someone showing them every move you know how to make, or telling them about everything you have done, and giving them every piece of material that has been perfectly prepared for a meeting like this. If you bust a move now, you might scare the bejeebers out of him. You have to earn the right to do that, and that first meeting isn’t typically that time.

When I was just out of college, my first few jobs before getting into marketing management were in sales. With one of these jobs, I had an outstanding experience because it came with professional sales training. To this day, I am thankful for the skills I was taught and learned.

We weren’t allowed to take anything to the first meeting with a potential client except a pad of paper, a pen, and a calendar. I’ll explain why in the steps below.

Here are my recommendations for you as you approach this opportunity you have been given.

First, Bridge The Silence.

If there is an uncomfortable or awkward moment when you first meet this person, and there might not be, help that person feel comfortable. Even if they are in their own office, that doesn’t mean they are always comfortable with these meetings, or that they know what the purpose of this meeting is supposed to be. Be friendly and be welcoming. Help put them at ease so that the conversation flows more freely.

Second, Be There To Learn.

I want you to think of this meeting, this opportunity, as a time that is strictly about them and not about fulfilling your goal of securing their business. Yes, I know that is in the back of your mind, but try to put that away for a while. That comes down the road. Make it all about them.

Ask questions about:

  • them
  • their business
  • their industry
  • challenges they are seeing at this time
  • challenges they see coming on the horizon
  • if they think that critical bill before the legislature or Congress will pass this session

Third, I Want You To Listen

Ask the questions above, or ones like them, then listen. Don’t interrupt when you have a story that you can relate to what they are saying. This is their time to talk about their circumstance. Don’t talk about other cases you have been involved in that coincide with what they are saying. There will be time for that.

Put them at ease and help them feel comfortable sharing information with you by being the best listener you can be. When they make a comment, go ahead and ask a natural follow-up question that might help to clarify the comment just made. Again, don’t think of this as a question that sets you up to talk about what you do, but rather a follow-up question that shows them you are listening and that you sincerely want to learn about their situation.

What Next?

Only after you have this discussion and you have listened to them do you even come close to earning the right to talk about what you do. At the right time, it is a privilege to talk about what you do. You have to gauge the temperature of the discussion. If that person has indicated there is a true need to talk about a specific challenge and has asked you a question about what you would do in that situation, then, if it is appropriate, it is okay to follow up with your knowledge and wisdom, and what you think next steps might be.

Your Options At This Point

If you don’t get that feeling that they want or need to talk business at that moment, you need to get a feel for the next best step. If you were actively listening, your gut usually tells you what to do based on the conversation you just had, and the body and actual language this potential client is sharing with you. Based on those factors, I would then choose one of the following.

[Before you choose, remember, this is a slow dance. Relationships are built on trust, and you need to be okay knowing this might just be the first of many steps in building their trust in you. Rushing this situation might turn the other person off and put an end to the relationship as soon as it started, but allowing it to grow at a rate that is comfortable to your potential client can result in a much stronger, longer relationship.]

Choose the one(s) that make sense:

  1. Graciously thank that person for the conversation, and for the opportunity to get to know them better.
  2. Ask them if there is anything you can do to help them.
  3. If they express a need for help, then ask them if they would like to discuss that now, or if you can follow up with them again.
  4. If they would rather talk another time, ask if it is okay to schedule something now because you know how crazy both of your calendars are these days.

Note: Along with number 3, it’s okay to tell them you have some thoughts about what they just shared with you during your discussion and ask if it is okay if you schedule a time to share those thoughts with them, or do they have a need to discuss them now? If they’re ready for them now, go ahead. If not, then move on to number 4. Of course, don’t do this in a pushy way as that will kill your opportunities quicker than anything else. Remember, slow dance.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that, when building your practice, if you don’t listen, you won’t know. It is important to remember:

  • You have to listen to them or you will have no idea how to propose ideas, solutions, and next steps for them.
  • Practice listening actively to your clients, potential clients, and all others.
  • Don’t always think about your next statement while they are talking because they will probably be able to detect your thoughts are elsewhere by watching you, your face, and your body language. That can be quite insulting.
  • What they have to say at this stage is infinitely more important than what you would like to sell them.


Written by:

Nancy Myrland

Myrland Marketing & Social Media on:

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