Is It Too Late?

I gave a 1-hour presentation about rainmaking last week in the Chicago office of a large law firm, and following the presentation, a lawyer approached with a question: Is it ever too late to rebuild professional relationships that have languished?

The short answer is that it depends on the relationship.  The deeper the relationship, the more likely it can be resurrected.  If, however, you meet once and fail to follow up, or if you follow up only once or twice, the relationship will lack the firm footing necessary to allow it to flourish following a period of silence.  That said, it never hurts to try to rebuild a relationship, particularly if your sole reason for reconnecting is to re-establish communication and not to seek a favor.

So, what can you do to rebuild a connection that has faded?  The simplest, and often the most effective, approach is to do precisely what you would do with a friend you haven’t seen in a long time: pick up the phone and say, “I realized it’s been a while since we’ve spoken, and you’ve been on my mind.  Is this a good time to talk for a few minutes? How are things with you?  What’s new?”  If several months have passed since you were in touch with this contact, you may even begin the conversation by re-introducing yourself.  (This is where my recommendation to maintain a database of contacts proves especially helpful: you don’t have to try to remember when and where you met.)  You may experience a few awkward moments as your contact gets back into the connection, but most people will pick up relatively quickly.

If, like many lawyers, you’d rather do nine hours of painstaking document review without a coffee break than pick up with phone, you do have other options.  For example, you might consider the following:

  • Send an email to reconnect.  You might suggest talking by telephone and either arrange a time or let your contact know you’ll be calling.  While you’ll still have to pick up the phone, you’ve created an expectation that you will call, and chances are good that you’ll avoid an awkward beginning.  If you suggest that you’ll call, though, you absolutely must do so – or run the risk of looking like a flake.
  • Send an article or other resource that will interest your contact.  The resource may address a legal or non-legal issue, but it must be tied in some way to a conversation you’ve had with the contact.  Attach a note that says, “I remember talking with you about [topic of resource] at [wherever you had the conversation] and thought of you when I saw this [resource].  Hope it’s useful!”  By doing so, you not only reconnect by offering assistance, but you do so in a way that will bring your conversation back to your contact’s mind and refresh the relationship.
  • Issue an invitation.  You might invite your contact to an open house or to attend a CLE or other seminar of interest with you.  Be sure to attach a note, if you deliver an invitation by mail or email, saying that you look forward to reconnecting; this personal touch will indicate to your contact that your interest is genuine.
  • Seek out news about your contact.  This may be a more challenging approach if you’re seeking to reconnect than to maintain a relationship, but it’s worth a quick search to see whether your contact has been in the news recently.  You may find news of a professional event (an honor awarded, a trial won, a leadership position attained) or a personal event (a new marriage, a new baby, a recreational or community activity).  Such news offers an ideal reason to get in touch again.

Take a few minutes this week to review your list of contacts. With whom should you reconnect? Choose three to five people and reach out to them. Building and maintaining your network is always a valuable activity, and keeping relationships alive will often pay off (often in unexpected ways) over time.

Five Steps to a Profitable Practice

Most of us didn’t have any law school training about business development.  (Fortunately for today’s students, that’s starting to change.) Law school classes tended to assume that the clients would just be there and that being a good lawyer is all that’s necessary to build a book of business. I’m not convinced that was ever true, but it’s certainly not the case in the post-recession legal economy. 

But wouldn’t it be nice if you could just stay in your office, serve your clients, and still have a great practice?  Lawyers who are reluctant to market may dread the thought of trying to land new business.  You may have absorbed the idea that there’s a special breed of practitioner who can be a rainmaker, and others are destined to struggle. And if you’re worried about appearing to be too “salesy,” you may take on lots of activity with little to show for it.  If this sounds familiar, you’re probably a reluctant rainmaker. 

Here’s the good news: you can develop a sustainable book of business and still feel good when you look yourself in the mirror.  Here’s how to start.

  1. Identify specifically what stands in your way and address that issue. Do you avoid networking even though you know that relationships are at the heart of a successful practice?  Ask yourself why. When you can name your block, you can find your solution, For example, if you dislike big groups, you can build your network by meeting new contacts one-on-one or in smaller groups.  If you dread the thought of asking for business, find a mentor who can show you ethical and effective ways to ask, and then practice.
  2. Identify specifically which clients you serve and what you do for them. When you can describe your target clients clearly, you will know exactly who might be your clients and who will not.  Knowing that distinction will let you stop spending marketing time on those who will never hire you. You’ll also be able to help your referral sources to send you the right kinds of matters for your practice.
  3. Identify specifically what sets you apart from your competitors. You may have a skill, experience, or approach that distinguishes you from other lawyers in your area of practice.  When you identify and highlight that distinction, you make help your potential clients understand why they should hire you. Depending on your area of practice, you may also distinguish yourself from competitors who do not provide legal services but may meet your clients’ needs in some other way.
  4. Create a clear, cohesive description of your practice, build that description into a message that makes sense to your potential clients and referral sources, and then share that message in the right channels. Your message will encompass not just the work that you do, but also your credentials and other points of distinction. Look for ways to enhance your credentials (which evidence your competence) through writing, speaking, and otherwise engaging with audiences composed of your target clients and referral sources so that you can build useful relationships. As you connect with people who are relevant to your practice, look for opportunities to be helpful to them.
  5. Remember to ask for business in ways that fit your practice and your personal style. If you don’t ask for the business, you risk appearing uninterested. One pitfall common for reluctant rainmakers is waiting to ask for the business until some magical point at which the question arises naturally. There is no perfect moment or perfect way to ask for business. you must ask for the business—adhering, of course, to your jurisdiction’s ethics rules.

Using these steps as a guideline, you’ll find that you can be professional, genuine, and successful in securing the work you need to support your practice.  Take one small step each day.  Consistency in activity and in message delivers results, even for reluctant rainmakers.

Dread it? Do it.

I strive to avoid procrastinating or, if resistance is futile, to procrastinate productively.  Even before temptations like Facebook and YouTube existed, I learned that wasting time would only leave me further behind and frustrated.  (One exception: when I was working in a large firm, I once spent a delightful afternoon with a partner who was recreating Dueling Banjos on two micro-cassette recorders.  Total waste of time, total blast.

But sometimes, even productive procrastination is a poor use of time.  It’s the Tipping Point phenomenon: up to a point, the productive activity undertaken in lieu of what I should be doing actually moves me forward in some way… But sooner or later, even the most dreaded activity has to be done.

Dread is often the key factor in the procrastinate-or-do-it decision.  The more we dread, the more we procrastinate.

And yet, I’ve noticed that, more often than not, when I just get started with the dreaded task, it isn’t as bad as I’d imagined.   The longer I wait to do something I don’t want to do, the bigger the task grows in my mind, until it’s become so massive that getting started is almost unfathomable.  Charlie Gilkey, founder of Productive Flourishing, explained this phenomenon in a blog post:

[T]he “dread”… increases substantially with time. The longer the tasks sits there, the more you think about it, and the amount of time you’ve invested in thinking about and putting off the task somehow gets added to the psychological “size” of the task….

At a certain point, the distinction between directly working on that task and indirectly working on it blurs to the point in which it doesn’t make sense to make the distinction. If you’ve spent all day (or week) avoiding and fretting about it, then you’ve spent time and energy on it that you could have spent on other things. To think about it in terms of the “soft costs” of inaction belies the point that it’s still costly, nonetheless.

What does this have to do with business development?  Reluctant rainmakers often dread business development activity.  There are plenty of ways to overcome that dread: get a mentor who can help, get educated on how to do the activity the “right” way, or work with someone to help you map out the process to follow, for example…

But the best way to overcome rainmaking dread is with action.

And the best way to get into action?  Just get started.  Whether the task is rainmaking-focused or otherwise, getting started counters inertia and will probably reveal that the task isn’t as bad as you’d imagined.

Stop right now and acknowledge the task you’ve been avoiding.  Take on that task right now.  Too big to finish at the moment?  Take five or ten minutes to get started, plan your next steps, and calendar a time for more action.  If necessary, set a timer for five minutes with the promise that you can then move on to something else.  You may find that it’s easier to finish it up (or make substantial headway) than to stop.

Taking a business development step consistently each day is one of the secrets to success.  Not only will you drop your dread level (and guilt as well), but if your steps are strategic, you’ll also start to see results.  Since success feeds on success, you may find yourself more willing to take on more and larger steps soon.

Need some accountability?  Comment on this post and let me know what you’re going to do and how it went.  I’ll be happy to cheer you on and perhaps even offer a tip if there’s some way I can help.