Legal Business Development: Will Your Clients and Contacts Think Of You First When They Need Help?

Jon, a midcareer lawyer working in a boutique law firm, handles white-collar criminal defense matters.
  Most of his clients come through referrals from other lawyers.  Far too often, those lawyers fail to appreciate that they need someone who practices in the area every day.  Instead, they try to handle a matter themselves.  After doing the best they can and finding that their best is insufficient, they discover that they need someone who knows the government prosecutors and who can read the subtle signals in government requests.  That’s where Jon comes into the picture.

Jon can only get referrals early in the process–early enough to be of maximum assistance to the client–if the lawyers who send those referrals, think of him as soon as a white collar issue arises.  A prevalent myth holds that simply being a great lawyer who gets great results is enough to bring in business.  Unfortunately, if you are not top-of-mind for your clients and contacts, they won’t think to call you even if they do need you.  What’s more, especially if you deal with clients who are not legally sophisticated, they may need you and not even know it.

In an ideal world, your contacts will always think to call you when there’s a matter with which you might be able to help.  In the real world, your contacts are likely to be so preoccupied with their own concerns that they won’t think of you unless you have taken steps to ensure that they know your skills and that you regularly engage with them.

What’s the solution?  Deliver interesting and useful information to your clients (including former clients) and contacts on a regular basis, and use that delivery of information to build and maintain relationships with them.  When you engage in a useful way with your contacts, you raise your profile with those contacts.  You may become the go-to person in a particular area of practice by virtue of the relationships you build over time.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Create a clear description of your practice, including examples.  Test it to be sure that a wide variety of people understand what you do and what kind of work you handle.
  • Share that description (in a natural way) when you talk with others, and share the stories that will root that description in their memory.  We’d all like to believe that a single explanation of the work we do is sufficient, but chances are that it isn’t.
  • Look for opportunities to deliver useful information.  That delivery can come in the form of widely distributed newsletters or client alerts, or you can send interesting articles or thought snippets one-by-one.  Just be sure the information you share is relevant and adds value for the recipient.
  • Whenever you get in touch with someone in your network, create opportunities to build the relationship just a little more.  Relationship-building doesn’t have to mean a 3-hour lunch.  It can be as simple as, “Did you catch the game last night?  Do you follow [seasonal sport]?  Who’s your team?”  When you keep in touch, you’ll have plenty of chances to have a short exchange that will grow your relationship.

Everyone is operating inside his or her own bubble, and it’s your job to reach into the bubble (in a welcomed, non-intrusive way) as a reminder that you’re a likeable person who’s ready to help.  Done properly, that message will be exemplified in everything you do, and you’ll feel much less pressure to make a plea for business.


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