Design Meaningful Follow-Ups

You know that one-off meetings are likely to do little, so you always plan your follow-up strategy, right? It doesn’t matter whether you meet someone face-to-face or virtually, through formal networking, at a CLE seminar, or while you’re waiting for hours at the DMV… The best connections mean nothing if you can’t cultivate a relationship. (Unless, of course, you get business immediately and cultivate a relationship while you’re serving the client, but that’s rather uncommon.)
So, how well do you prepare yourself to follow up with the people on your A-List—the top-priority people with whom you follow up with most frequently and with the most personalization? (If you’re not sure what an A-list is or how to use it, review Chapter 12 of The Reluctant Rainmaker, Third Edition.) In other words, how do you know what your new contact will find interesting enough that they’ll welcome your efforts to stay in touch?

Prepare yourself with these three steps:

  1. Immediately after you meet someone who has a high probability of fitting your A-list, make notes about where you met and what you learned. I like to use Evernote to maintain these notes so that I’ll have access on any device, in any location. You may have access to a Client Relationship Management (CRM) system through your firm or on your own. Whatever system you use, the key is to keep good records. You never know when the information will matter, so if you learn that her son Fred plays volleyball at the University of Iowa, note that. You’ll thank yourself when you drop your contact a note to congratulate her on her son’s performance in the national semifinals.

  2. Set a Google alerts on your new contact’s name and/or company. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get an email whenever your key contacts are mentioned online? That’s exactly what Google Alerts does. (Be sure to put a Google Alert on your own name, too.) You can also set Alerts on relevant topics. Consider sending these to a secondary email address so that your critical emails aren’t hidden in a flood of alerts.

  3. Connect with your new contact on LinkedIn.  Depending on how complete your contact’s profile is, you may pick up useful information right away. And if your new contact is active on LinkedIn (liking and sharing news stories, for example, rather than being a passive user), you’ll get an idea of what catches his or her attention.

Use these three steps to determine what your new contact will find valuable or interesting, as well as what will demonstrate that you’re paying attention. That’s the secret to follow-up contacts that build relationships.

P.S. Did you miss my recent webinar Business Development for a Profitable Practice? No worries: you can still access it here and learn a simple way to modify your business development tactics so you can continue growing your book when circumstances outside your control change.

Why Billable Work Outweighs Biz Dev Work (But Shouldn’t)

You are likely aware of the distinction between urgent and important tasks in the context of time management.

Assuming you have enough work to keep you reasonably occupied and compensated (even if that means doing work for someone else’s clients rather than your own), business development tends to be an important task, but not an urgent one. The activity that will lead to new work falls to the bottom of the priority list.

Improving your practice is important, but unless there’s some pain or dire need involved, that desire is less immediate than doing what’s necessary to maintain your practice. Wouldn’t you rush to replace a broken window in your home more quickly than one that might better conserve energy? You’ll do what you must to fix the broken window, but everything from social plans to routine housework to downtime might pull you away from a home improvement project. The same goes for practice maintenance vs. practice improvement.

That’s why the feast/famine cycle is so dangerous: once business development activity has resulted in a “feast” of billable work, the temptation is to focus on that work and to back off the business development activity… Until the billable work is completed and the famine hits. By working to maintain the new level of work, you not only stop working to improve it but you may even unintentionally let the improvement slip away.

Seth Godin has offered another explanation of why recognizing the distinction between urgent and important matters. Casting the distinction in terms of competence and confidence, he concludes that “[i]mportant… is fraught with fear, with uncertainty and with the risk of failure.” Read the rest of his post for a nuanced view of how viewing business development as urgent vs. important may reveal (and validate) your expectations about the likelihood of success.

Next time you catch yourself putting off business development activity because you have too many urgent tasks (read: billable work), revisit this urgent vs. important question. Do you need to address it in the context of time management or confidence?

P.S. The just-released Third Edition of The Reluctant Rainmaker: A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling includes a discussion of why you must remember that billable work can and should include client and business development as well. If you’re not clear on this, check out Chapter Five.





Your Values and Empathy Matter For Client Service and Business Development

First up: I’ve just released the third edition of my best-selling book The Reluctant Rainmaker: A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling. It’s updated with insights that flow from changing circumstances due to the pandemic, fresh tips on marketing activities such as podcasting, and an expanded section on asking for business and dealing with objections. Pick up your copy here.

This post may feel like a bit of a diversion. If it seems so to you, don’t worry: “pure” biz dev will return next week.

A couple of years ago, I read When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer at age 36. This book is his memoir, which I recommend to lawyers for three reasons:

  1. It is a book about meaning and particularly about choosing a life path in view of life circumstances. While most of us will never face the specific challenge that Kalanithi did, we will all face something that threatens to knock us off course, and we will all have to decide what truly matters to us. There is much to learn in Kalanithi’s exploration of who he might become following his diagnosis and whether to resume his career in neurosurgery, to start early the writing career he’d imagined for much later in life, or to suspend his career entirely in favor of spending time with his family. It’s worth pausing to ask yourself: what are your values? What has meaning for you? Are you acting in accord with those two answers?

    If you’re looking for a pure business development lesson, it lies in this search for meaning. If you connect with a reason why you want to grow your practice, you’ll be more likely to do what’s necessary to reach that objective. And if your efforts to grow your practice detract from what is most important to you, it will be difficult to maintain those efforts—and if maybe ultimately pointless even if you succeed.
  2. It’s a book about empathy. Unlike neurosurgeons, most lawyers don’t work with life-and-death circumstances. Kalanithi discusses how he sought to treat his cases as individuals, to help them make the right decisions for their own circumstances and values rather than simply treating the physical problem that they presented. He also discusses his experience as a patient who received similar care as well as a patient who received problem-based care. As lawyers, we may tend to focus on the legal problem that the client presents rather than allowing the client’s objectives to govern, or we may fail to attend to our client’s worry, stress, and uncertainty. Having been both a litigator and a litigant, I know how important empathy is in practice. Kalanithi’s experience revealed in a fresh way the degree to which empathy is a professional skill, in a context that we are unlikely to face but can understand nonetheless. Empathy upholds dignity—ours and our client’s.

  3. It’s a poetic book that uses language with skill and care. Reading good writing feeds both the soul and the brain, and it can reinvigorate one’s own writing. While reviewers are not unanimous on the quality of Kalanithi’s writing, I found it beautiful, and I kept pausing to reread and mull certain passages.

If When Breath Becomes Air isn’t your kind of book, do find something that makes you continue to examine why you do what you do, what meaning your life and your work carries, and how your approach to others (and especially your clients) affects both them and you. It’s a step away from “pure business” that can only enhance “pure business.”

Innovation For The Sake Of What?

An article I read a few years ago in Forbes magazine has stuck with me. It discusses lawyers’ duty to society in upholding the rule of law, specifically in the context of the 2017 executive order on immigration, and the degree to which lawyers’ roles may decrease thanks to technology. While that order and following events are a matter of history now, the article’s focus on innovation remains pertinent to lawyers.

Don’t worry: I’m not going political here. I have my opinions, you have yours; maybe we agree and maybe we don’t, but that isn’t the purpose of the conversation you and I have each week via this newsletter. (As a side note, a comment along those lines, followed by a shift in topic, is likely enough to avoid political conversation if you’re networking or even advising clients on the effects, actual or anticipated, of legislative changes.)

The article caught my eye in part because of this paragraph:

To those who engage in the popular parlor game of predicting the extent to which technology, new delivery models, and other professionals will marginalize lawyers, consider that they will never substitute for the essential work performed by lawyers—this past weekend and going forward. Only lawyers will be on the front lines of protecting the rule of law—as well as representing their individual clients. Technology, new delivery models, and other professionals and paraprofessionals will enable lawyers to function more effectively to serve the interests of their individual clients and society.

Unquestionably true: although innovation is important for effective and efficient delivery of legal services (and thus for client retention and client attraction), the services provided and the value of those services is the key. That’s a good measuring stick to use when you consider making a change in the way you practice: does the contemplated change benefit your client, or is merely change for the sake of something new?

For example, some lawyers started sending video messages in email, thinking that more personal and likely to build a better connection with clients. Did it? Maybe. But was it useful to clients? Unless the visual was necessary, probably not. In contrast, a litigator might provide a video discussing preparation for and conduct during a deposition, which might well be useful to a client who hasn’t been through the process before.

Ask yourself periodically, “for the sake of what or whom am I considering making this change?” Even if you aren’t making a change that rises to the level of practice innovation, keeping this question top-of-mind will provide you with a check to ensure that you’re making changes for the right reasons.

There’s Gold In The Follow-Up

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.

Take on a challenge 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.

Are you rebelling against this challenge on the basis that it’s been “too long” since you met and exchanged cards? You may need to add a step, such as connecting on LinkedIn and reintroducing yourself. Or you could just say you’ve been holding onto your contact’s card for xx months, waiting for the right time to reconnect, and there’s no time like the present. The response rate you get may be lower if a long period of time has passed, but you never know when reconnecting will open a fruitful conversation.