Every lawyer working in a law firm is aware that she will someday be expected to bring in new clients. Rainmaking is a key skill for professional advancement, and it’s never too early to begin building those skills.
New lawyers face particular challenges in beginning to build a business development program, simply because they’re new. It’s tough to promote a firm or its lawyers without knowing the lawyers fairly well, knowing who cover what area of practice and what experience they have, and even how the firm approaches potential clients or how it handles new engagements.
Networking is the place to start. There are two basic kinds of networking for lawyers: internal and external. I alluded in an earlier post to the concept that all lawyers have internal (i.e., in-firm) clients in addition to the external clients we normally refer to as such. New lawyers need first to learn about the internal clients: who handles real estate work? Is her practice limited to commercial real estate? Who are representative clients? Some of this comes naturally as you get to know other lawyers, but particularly in a large firm it can take quite a bit of effort. Best ways to begin learning:
- Go back to the firm’s website. Read, carefully, each lawyer’s profile. Yes, you probably did this when you interviewed, but now you’re reading so you know who to call when a potential client needs to talk to someone in another area of practice.
- At all-attorney meetings or cocktail parties, or over informal lunches, make it your habit to learn more about at least one lawyer’s practice. Ask good questions, keep the lawyer talking, and you’ll be regarded as a sparkling conversationalist — because, after all, we all enjoy talking about ourselves, and lawyers love telling their war stories. A terrific question to ask: “Who is your ideal client?” Or, “How would I know that someone I’m talking with would be a good client for you?” (Caution: be sure that you’re really engaged in the conversation and genuinely curious. Otherwise, this question will sound fake and uneducated. Common sense required.)
- If your firm publishes a newsletter of recent developments, read it.
These tips will help you to develop your awareness for cross-selling opportunities. So, if your client mentions a problem in another legal area (say you practice IP and your client mentions an employment issue) you can be ready to suggest exactly which lawyer in your firm your client should talk with, and you can make that connection. Cross-selling to satisfied current clients is probably the easiest kind of client development you can do.