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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.