Weekly Rainmaker Activity 8/31/09

A primary benefit of being active online (by having a website with a biographical sketch and having articles relevant to your practice published online, for example) is that potential clients have an opportunity to learn something about you before meeting you.  Whether your name surfaces by referral or by an internet search, it’s a safe bet that almost every potential client will search on your name before contacting you.

Do you know what these potential clients will find?  I recently read an advice column in which the writer was struggling with how to tell her doctor that his son, who shared the doctor’s name (plus a “junior”),  had posted “obscene” photographs on Facebook and that patients were finding those images and associating them with the doctor.  I imagine that the doctor and his son had a rather frank conversation after that revelation, but the questions go a step further: how long had the doctor’s reputation been damaged by his son’s online antics?  And more importantly, how could he recover his professional reputation online?

Your task today: perform an internet search on yourself.  Start with Google, as it’s the most popular search engine, but be sure to check Yahoo!, Ask.com, Excite.com, MSN, and so on.  What do you find?

You may disover that your profile on a social media platform is high on the result list.  If so, one of the quickest ways to ramp up your online presence is to be sure that your profile is complete, accurate, and up-to-date.  If it’s difficult to find yourself online, getting a LinkedIn profile is a quick and easy way to make sure that those who search for you will be able to find something useful.  And if you find results that conflict with your professional persona, consider how you might address them.

At a fork in the road?

In this economy, many lawyers are facing an unanticipated fork in the road.  Layoffs leave some lawyers contemplating an exit from the profession, others considering whether to launch a solo practice, and others still looking to shift practice areas in hopes of finding a new position.

I recently watched a video of a presentation for the Georgia Bar Association by my friend and colleague Monica Parker of LeavingTheLaw.com, in which she offers a 3-step process for leaving practice.  It seems to me that the process is equally applicable (with some modification) to other professional changes.  The video is about an hour long… Pour a cup of coffee, grab a pen and paper, and prepare to think through your next steps.  View the video here.

Weekly Rainmaker Activity 8/24/09

This week’s rainmaking activity focuses on publications.  A “slow yield” activity that’s critical for growing substantive legal skill and reputation for expertise, every lawyer should have a few publications to his or her name.

Your task this week: select an issue on which you’d like to write a practical article and a publication in which you’d like your article to appear.   Remember to choose a topic that’s pertinent to your primary area of practice, and pick a publication that your ideal clients (or referral sources) are likely to read.  Send an inquiry to the publication’s editor-in-chief, describing the article you plan to write and offering it for publication.

After your inquiry has been accepted, write the article, ensuring that it will speak to your ideal client’s needs.   If you’re not sure how to craft your article to maximize its benefit to readers and to increase the chance that those who needs your services will contact you, you might consider purchasing The Reluctant Rainmaker: A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling to get additional direction.

How do you ask for business?

How do you ask for business?  We all know intuitively (or through training) that those who don’t ask typically don’t get business.  However, many lawyers are leery to come out and ask for business explicitly, and rightly so.  Asking can disrupt a relationship if the answer is “no,” and, under some circumstances, asking can even be an ethical violation.  Even when those concerns are not in play, some lawyers may feel pushy if they ask for business.  And yet, the inner voice cautions, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

When working with clients, I offer many approaches to the “challenge of the ask.”  A few examples are:

  • Listen to your gut.  Very often, if you’re sensing that an explicit request for the business may be too pointed, you’re correct.  A more gentle approach (“I’d love to help you with that,” for example) may blunt the approach and yet get the message across.
  • Notice how often your gut tells  you not to ask.  The flip side of the previous suggestion is that it can offer carte blanche to those who are disinclined to ask for business.  If you always feel that asking would be too pushy, it’s time to do some work on your comfort level.  What conditions would have to exist for you to feel comfortable in asking for business?
  • Look for the win / win.  Lawyers often use somewhat violent language for business development:  “eat what you kill” compensation systems, “killer instinct” in pursuing new work, and “bagging a client,” for instance.  Using that language casts the lawyer as the hunter and the potential client as the victim or the target.  Fortunately, few lawyers actually regard their potential clients in that way.  The fear of being perceived as a ruthless hunter, however, may prompt a lawyer to hold back in conversation.  Sometimes, it even prompts lawyers to ask for business in a way that implies that potential clients would be doing the lawyer a great favor when the truth is that a good representation offers benefits for both parties.  Look for that benefit and focus on it, and then weave it into your request.
  • Listen to the concerns and offer some feedback, leading naturally into an offer of further help.  If you take this approach, be sure that you don’t stray into giving legal advice without sufficient knowledge of the facts.  You can suggest potential avenues or approaches for consideration, though, and offer to help if your contact would like to explore them.

As these approaches suggest, asking for business requires both the right mindset and the right words or technique.  Think about your current “low hanging fruit,” or the potential clients most likely to retain you right now.  What approach would be most helpful for them, and what approach will open the possibility of working with you most effectively, without running a danger of damaging your relationship?

If you’re uncomfortable asking for business, you’re not alone.  The Reluctant Rainmaker:  A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling (available at www.TheReluctantRainmaker.com or on Amazon.com) includes a full chapter on whether, how, and when to ask for business, with an easy-to-follow step-by-step guide to developing the skills that will support your business development efforts.  If you’d like to move even faster with your rainmaking activity, please contact me to arrange a consultation.

Weekly Rainmaker Activity 8/17/09

Studies show that a prospective client must be exposed to you 7-9 times before they’re ready to hire you.  (Those statistics are not specific to law, granted, but I have no reason to believe they’re off the mark for lawyers.)  The reasons are simple: most potential clients don’t have a current legal need, are already represented, or aren’t sufficiently familiar with you to entrust you with their current legal matter.

The solution should be clear: continue the conversations with your potential clients and potential referral sources.  That’s how you will become known, liked, and trusted — and it’s how you’ll get clients.

So, here’s your assignment this week: Look at the stack of business cards you’ve been saving (you have the stack, right?  Tucked “somewhere safe,” in a desk drawer, or near your computer?) and select 3-5 people with whom you should follow up.  Then, get in touch with them.  Offer something of value if possible — an article likely to interest them, for example.  Alternatively, just pick up the phone (or perhaps drop an email) and let your contact know you were thinking of her and want to know how she’s been since you last talked.

Some contacts will be dead-ends.  Others will hold promise for future business.  But you’ll never find out which are which unless you continue the conversation.

Do you sponsor? (And WRA, resurrected)

Do you know how to get the most from your sponsorships?

Getting in front of a group of potential clients can mean different things to different people.  These are some of the considerations I recommend you evaluate if you’re contemplating taking on a sponsorship:

  • Who will be present?  Potential clients or referral sources are good; the general public is less likely to produce measureable business results.
  • What recognition will you receive as a sponsor?  Will your firm name be on the signage, on the event website, on bags or t-shirts?  Will you be mentioned during the event itself?
  • What perks will you receive as a sponsor?  Look for opportunities to mingle with attendees at sponsored luncheons, coffee breaks, or cocktail parties.  You’re more likely to be able to meet selected participants if the sponsored event is not open to all comers.
  • Who will attend from the firm, and what is the strategy for making the most of the opportunity?  As usual, without a plan, your efforts are likely to produce little.  The strategy will depend on your business development goals, the nature of the event, the attendees, and more, but you must be able to identify at least the basic strategy before you commit to sponsorship.

Sponsorships aren’t dead, by any means, but it’s just a waste of money to take on a random sponsorship without a defined objective and a clear plan to reach that objective.

WRA, Resurrected!

Back in January, I launched a new weekly blog feature: the weekly rainmaker activity.  I described it this way:

One of the keys to being a successful rainmaker is making a habit of consistent client development activity.  I recommend that lawyer doing something designed to increase business every single day, whether it’s writing a 2-minute email, hosting an hour-long lunch, or attending an all-day industry meeting. I’m launching a new blog feature this week: the Weekly Rainmaker Activity.  I’ll offer a weekly business development task.  Those who choose to accept that challenge will make the time to engage in the activity of the week at least once.  If you’re so moved, please post a comment (anonymous is fine, of course) to let me and the other readers know what you’ve done this week.  Healthy competition of this sort can benefit everyone.

And then I started writing The Reluctant Rainmaker, thus effectively putting the blog on hiatus.  Ooops.  But now, it’s time to resurrect the WRA, and the first task will be posted Monday.

Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time

Have you ever been in one of those deadly conversations in which a lot of words fly about and yet nothing happens?  Or when decisions are made and strategies are crafted, but everyone sitting around the table knows that nothing will actually change because everyone is talking around the real problem?  What a waste of time!

Fierce Conversations revolves around the “Mineral Rights conversation.”  This simple 7-step process can be used to get to the truth of a situation, create understanding about it, tackle the challenges in the situation, and enrich relationships in the process.  The seven steps (with some sample questions) are:

  1. Identify the most pressing issue.  What issue do we most need to resolve?
  2. Clarify the issue.  What is going on?  How long has it been going on?
  3. Determine the current impact.  How is this situation impacting me and others?  What do I feel about this impact?
  4. Determine the future implications.  What’s likely to happen if nothing changes?  What’s at stake in this situation, for myself and others?
  5. Examine your contribution to this issue.  How have I contributed to this problem?
  6. Describe the ideal outcome.  What difference will it make to resolve this problem?  What results will resolution create, for myself and others?
  7. Commit to action.  What’s the most potent step I could take to move this issue toward resolution?  What’s going to attempt to get in my way, and how will I get past it?  When will I take this step?

The critical tactic to make a Mineral Rights conversation a success is to ask questions and not to comment on the answers until you’ve completed step 7.  The reason is simple:  your goal is to interrogate (gently but fiercely — meaning powerfully, robustly, eagerly), to understand, and to assist in finding a solution.  This is your opportunity to listen and to provide uninterrupted attention, not to speak.  If your input is needed, you can provide it later.

And, as the author writes, allow silence to do the heavy lifting.  We’re often quick to fill a gap in conversation, whether from desire to show how much we know or to avoid uncomfortable silence.  Don’t do it.  Silence creates the opportunity to reflect on the situation — on the cause rather than the effect — and to appreciate its scope.  Reflection often yields new understanding that leads to action.

Imagine having a Mineral Rights conversation with a client, or having a modified version of it with a potential client.  Imaging having it with colleagues representing a client with you, with staff, or even with your family.  Take a step today and answer this question:  What’s the most pressing challenge you need to resolve?  If it’s a situation that requires input from others, with whom should you have the conversation?

Fierce Conversations also includes other tools, including an exceptionally useful model for determining decision-making authority, which I previously described on the Life at the Bar Blog.  Please click here to read that post.

The productive value of vacation

I’m on vacation this week, sort of.  By “sort of,” I mean that I’m more or less alternating vacation and work days.  Today is a work day; tomorrow, I’ll be out playing.  The image to the left?  That’s where I spent part of Saturday and Sunday, reading some of the books that have been on my list for far too long — novels (I can now recommend Wally Lamb’s The Hour I First Believed) as well as business books (finally finishing Managing the Professional Services Firm, and I have a few more lined up as well).  I’m also doing some writing and client work on my “working vacation days,” and squeezing in some speaking as well.

A client asked me earlier today if I wouldn’t prefer to be fully on vacation or fully working.  Well, maybe.  I love my work, and it would be challenging to set it aside completely.  More notably, the truth is that I’m seeing some remarkable benefits from this “neither fish nor fowl” trip.  For example, I now have a long list of blog posts I’d like to write.  Same for newsletter articles.  You’d have to ask my clients to know for sure, but it seems to me that client meetings are going better than ever.  Why do you suppose this is?  Personally, I think it’s thanks to my vacation days.

You see, the last few months have been like sprinting a marathon.  I made the commitment to write a book in February and released The Reluctant Rainmaker in June.  I’ve been fortunate to have many speaking engagements over the past few months, and my client roster is growing.  A vacation has been overdue for some time now, and as my brain unwinds, the creativity is starting to percolate.

Recreation (for the purposes, pronounced re-creation) recharges, refreshes, re-energizes.  Without recreation, I (and you, and anyone you might imagine) become like an ignored pitcher of water.  Keep pouring out without replenishing the pitcher, and before long, there’s nothing left to pour.  To use time mastery terminology, recreation is a Quadrant II activity: not urgent, but important.  Absent extraordinary circumstances, no one will ever give you a deadline to take a vacation.

Fortunately, recreation isn’t limited to a vacation.  It can comes in short bursts (many consider a 15-minute meditation a quick and effective form of recreation) or in longer periods.  The key question is, what refreshes you?  What leaves you feeling as if you’ve replenished your “pitcher” of energy?  Identify several such activities (and snoozing in a hammock counts as activity for these purposes) and make sure you fit them into your schedule.  Yes, a long vacation is fabulous recreation — but it isn’t the only kind that will pay off with increased productivity upon your return.

Renewing lapsed professional relationships

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.

Law firm associates: are you on the team?

At last week’s ABA meeting, I attended an interesting business development program titled Making Rain in a Drought.  Although the presenter had generated a full presentation with PowerPoint slides, the audience began asking questions fairly quickly and their questions became the focus of the program.

One question struck me particularly.  A woman stood and asked why the focus of business development is so thoroughly on the individual lawyer, when firms are (she asserted) moving toward a team-based model in which a client “belongs” to the firm rather than to a single lawyer who created and nurtures the relationship.  Given the significant revolving door among law firms, the questioner posed, does it really make sense to encourage the “lone ranger” style of business development rather than a team-based effort that features cross-selling?

The speaker responded (and I completely agree) that although the cross-selling/team-based model described by the questioner is appealing and sensible, it isn’t the current model.  Many lawyers view cross-selling as a great idea in theory but not in practice.  As a result, the individual, not the team or the firm, tends to assume the central role in rainmaking.  (Cross-selling done well is actually a benefit for everyone — client, firm, and lawyers — but the barriers are significant for a variety of reasons.)


Unintended consequences of the layoffs and firms’ handling of the current economic challenges will surely abound.  What is the proper balance between individual and team/firm?  This question may become one of the key questions that large firms and lawyers working in them must face.