Don’t be a stranger

There was a time when I had a pool and hired a contractor to close my pool for the season. My contact Pete (I didn’t know it at the time, but he’s also the owner) was terrific: he set the appointment, let me know exactly what to expect, told me what the cost would be and what could change that cost, and explained the benefit of the service. He called me the day before our appointment to confirm the time, and he showed up right on time—after sending a text to let me know he was on the way. It was a great experience, and I just plain liked Pete.

Fast forward to March, when I was eager to make arrangements to get the pool open. I couldn’t remember the name of the company I’d liked so much in the fall, and I hadn’t put it in my Home Maintenance Evernote file. I went through emails and my calendar without success. Because I remembered something about a P, I looked at companies with names like Pinnacle, Premier, Popular, and the like, and I hired one of those companies since I couldn’t find the original.

And the service was ok. No reminder call, but a quick response when I called to confirm. The work wasn’t done perfectly, but it was adequate. I didn’t think much of it and probably would have continued with the new company, except that I had a few issues with the pool and wasn’t getting the kind of response I wanted. I eventually went through my checkbook register to find Summit again, and I got the same fast, capable, friendly service. This time, I put Summit (and Pete) in my phone and in my Evernote database.

Do I hear a great big SO WHAT?

What does this have to do with practicing law?

If you do large, complex matters, chances are reasonably good that your clients know exactly who you are and how to find you if they want to hire you again or send a potential client your way. However,  if your matters tend to be of relatively short duration, with limited direct contact, or somewhat routine, you could be missing out on repeat business and referrals if you don’t proactively stay in touch. Consider these steps:

  1. Send reminders if the work you do should be reviewed and updated periodically (estate work and some contracts, for example). An email or postcard will suffice. Schedule these reminders as soon as you complete the matter.
  2. Send follow-up resources. Perhaps there’s a logical next step for your client. Establishing a new company could lead to later needs like contract review, intellectual property protection, or a buy/sale agreement, among many others. Provide appropriate resources at an appropriate interval. This too should be scheduled as soon as you complete your work for the client.
  3. Keep in touch. Sometimes you don’t need a specific reason for a contact. Depending on the representation and your relationship, it may be quite appropriate to send an email or call to touch base. You might inquire how things have been going since the matter ended. But here’s the key point: you must be genuinely interested, not just trolling for new work. (Where appropriate, an electronic or hardcopy newsletter offers an opportunity to stay in touch without taking the time to make every contact individually.)

Here’s the bottom line: don’t put the onus of finding you or updating the work you’ve done solely on your client. Friendly and useful ongoing contact is a benefit for your client and potentially a path to new work for you.

Clients aren’t property.

An interesting article to share with you:

Law Firms Leaders’ Moneyball Mistake: Written by Steven Harper, author of the can’t-miss book The Lawyer Bubble, this article points out the problems with large firms’ “aggressive inorganic growth” via lateral hires. Harper quotes Group Dewey Consulting’s Eric Dewey’s observation that, “An attorney needs to bring roughly 70 percent of their book of business with them within 12 months just to break even,” and that “more than one-third bring with them less than 50 percent.”

Why should you care? If you’re in a large firm, understanding these issues is important in considering firm growth and your own professional options. If you’re in a smaller firm, the lessons may still attain.

More importantly, the article offers the reminder that clients are not property. Whether you’re planning to bring or receive portable business, or whether you’re planning to inherit a book of business from a retiring attorney, it’s important that you understand that successfully requesting any kind of client shift depends on trust and a strong relationship that extends to the new situation.

And so it’s important to be building trust and relationships with your clients even if you have no intention of asking them to follow you to a new firm or to work with your designee when you leave practice. It’s too late to do that work when a change is imminent, and in the absence of a trusting attorney/client relationship, you may find your client shifting work to another lawyer or firm.

What will you do with this information today?

How do you establish trust?

You’ve probably heard some version of Bob Burg’s statement that “All things being equal, people will do business with and refer business to, those people they know, like and trust.”

We tend to focus on getting known, we work to communicate in a way that increases the chances of being liked, but how do you build trust? I like this answer:


What does this mean in the context of business development and the practice of law? Ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that everything you do increases (or at least doesn’t decrease) your trustworthiness. For example:

  • Return calls and emails within a reasonable time. (Extra points for letting your contacts know when they should expect to hear from you.)
  • If you say you’ll do something (whether it’s billable work or following up on a conversation), do it at the time and in the way you said you would.
  • If you send a newsletter, send it consistently.
  • If you’re asked a question and you don’t know the answer, say so and promise a follow-up—and then follow up when you said you would or sooner.
  • If you’re wrong about something or you make a mistake, own up to it. Explain if necessary, but don’t make excuses.
  • Be findable in the groups and publications where someone in your field would ordinarily be found. (If you’re an elder law attorney, for example, you might be a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.)
  • Have a professional presence both offline and online that fits your practice. (Your “vibe” will be likely different if you work with musicians than if you serve Fortune 100 companies, for instance.)

These are just a few examples of how you might do your part to appear and be trustworthy. What opportunities do you see in your own practice?

Don’t make assumptions.

I ran across this quote recently:

So true, isn’t it? And yet, we all tend to make assumptions.

  • This client is thrilled with our engagement; this one isn’t.
  • That target client is represented and is no interest in moving; that one understands the legal situation that’s cropped up and but can’t (or won’t) spend the money to resolve it.
  • That contact knows what kind of work I do and knows I’d like to get referrals.

What assumptions are you making that may affect your business development success? How can you test them?

Two keys to biz dev perseverance and success.

Have you ever had the wind knocked out of your business development sails? That can happen when you expect to land some new business and it doesn’t happen, when you hit a few closed doors in a row, or even when you lay out your business development plan and feel exhausted just looking at it. Nobody said building a book of business is easy or fast.

Here’s what makes it less frustrating: doing business development activity on a consistent basis and tracking what you do and your results. When you act consistently and build a track record to look back on, you’ll find it easier to keep on keeping on.


I’ve written extensively about the need for consistency. In talking with several clients recently who were slammed with billable work and leaving business development work on the back burner as a result, I suggested this:

  1. Determine, with all the clear-eyed realism you can muster, how much time you can make available for business development activity on a daily basis.
  2. Block that amount of time on your daily

  3. Categorize your task list based on the type of activity (contexts, to use Getting Things Done language) and on the amount of time necessary for completion.
  4. Work on one “chunk” of activity each day. If your tasks take less time than you have available, cross a couple of items off your list. If they take more time than you have available, define and complete one step toward the task.

You probably won’t keep your scheduled block every single day, but if the blocks are on your calendar, you have a much better chance of making consistent progress than if you only have one block of time set aside per week.


I’ve also written about parallels between business development and going to the gym. Last month, I shifted from a small local gym to my neighborhood YMCA, and I discovered a new parallel: tracking matters!

My new gym features Fitlinxx®, small screens that show the proper settings for each machine and connect to an online program that tracks participants’ activity. Through Fitlinxx®, I can see historical data about what machines I used, how much weight I lifted, and how much cardio or other activity I performed, along with my standings among other FitLinxx® members. I not only stay motivated (right now, I’m #8 among women in my age range in my gym, and I’m just over 200 points behind the #5 position—hello, competition with myself to move up!) but I can also correlate how I performed with how I’m feeling, how I sleeping, and so on. All of this data is measurable and meaningful to me, and I can use it to help me improve.

So too with tracking your business development activity and results. When you track what you did and what happened as a result, you’ll get data that will tell you what you can and should do to improve your results. (Do more of what works well and eliminate what doesn’t work.) You may also find that tracking your activity is motivating in itself, and if you share it with an accountability partner (a peer or a coach) you’ll likely find that you do more activity and work to do better.

Here’s the bottom line on tracking:



You can find more information on how to track your results in Chapter 3 of The Reluctant Rainmaker, and you may download a sample tracking sheet here.

How will you build consistency and tracking into your business development approach?

Why status quo is dangerous

What’s wrong with the status quo? Maybe nothing. But here’s what you need to keep in mind when you’re considering whether to make a shift of some sort:

Status quo doesn’t get attention.

Status quo doesn’t delight anyone.

Status quo doesn’t get talked about.

Status quo doesn’t feel fresh or tailored.

Status quo… just IS. 

In a world that is moving forward, staying the same gives your competitors an advantage. They need not make a big change, and they need not even make a change that offers a substantial advantage: any change offers a point of distinction.

Should you make a change solely for the sake of making a change? No. But you should never stop asking whether a change is warranted to better serve your clients, to better position your practice, or to work more efficiently.

If nothing else, a change may get your own creative juices going. If you’re trying to solve a difficult problem, try standing up or working in a different location. Even driving to work in a new way may stimulate new ideas.

If you’re feeling stuck in the status quo, what might you change?

Decision or action?

Consider this short exchange:

What have you decided to do to grow your practice? Are you actually doing it?

What’s every client’s favorite word?

On one level, clients are looking for different things as they choose and work with attorneys. Some want a budget provider who will do the minimum necessary or collaborate closely with in-house counsel or businesspeople for DIY completion. Others want to hire the most prominent, best known, most expensive lawyers to appease the Board of Directors or to show another party that a matter is getting serious attention. Yet others look for a lawyer who has connections to useful people or businesses, and others prefer to work with lawyers who have implemented legal project management. You get the idea, and the variations are endless, especially once you consider clients who seek a combination of attributes.

But there’s one word that sums up what every client is seeking: value. The budget-seekers measure value in terms of legal spend. Those seeking a lawyer with connections define value in part in terms of getting introductions that will expand their reach in some way. Those seeking the authority in the field measure value in terms of top-quality legal work, of course, but they also expect to benefit from the top lawyer’s reputation and successful track record. These (and myriad other ways of determining value) should affect your marketing in at least two ways:

  1. You must know what core value (other than quality legal work) you bring to the class of clients you serve and identify that in your marketing. This is one aspect of differentiating yourself from other practitioners in your field. The differentiating factors that matter are those that your clients value. If what sets you apart isn’t something that your clients value, it’s a distinction that won’t have any substantial effect in growing your practice.
  2. You must find ways to create value for your clients in the course of your representation. Think of this as an “add-on” value that’s above and beyond the core value you identified to differentiate yourself from others. Examples might include sharing information about a trend you’ve identified, offering educational material to support the legal work you do (a pamphlet about ways to attract investors to a start-up or an annual email that invites clients to see whether they need to update their estate plan, for example), or a directory of providers in fields that would benefit your clients.

Take this non-legal example to illustrate the two kinds of value. When you think about car repairs, the most important thing is likely that the repairs be completed correctly, within a reasonable time, and for a reasonable price. Core values that might attract you to a particular garage would include focusing on particular brands of cars or using only factory-authorized parts. Repair shops would promote those points of differentiation because they may be deciding factors. Add-on value would include the availability of a comfortable waiting room with wi-fi, a quiet area, and good coffee. The chances are that you wouldn’t decide on a repair shop solely based on that add-on value, but you would appreciate it, you might tell others about it, and you might find the repair process better because of those perks.

Your action item:

How to write well for marketing purposes.

Recently, I had two strategic planning sessions with private clients. As usual, writing (articles, blog posts or comments, newsletters, client alerts, etc.) featured prominently in both of the business development plans we created. And also, as usual, my clients each asked why they should bother writing when so many other lawyers are already writing on the same topic. It’s a smart question that each lawyer must answer before pinning marketing hopes on writing.

Here’s what it boils down to: to be effective, you must cut through the tremendous amount of noise that your target audience confronts daily. Blog posts, articles, and client alerts too often regurgitate the no-longer news about a legal development without extending any analysis that makes the information relevant to the reader. Given the availability of “as it happens” information about legal developments, simply being a reporter won’t cut through the noise, and it won’t get useful marketing attention. 

So what does make written product effective for marketing? 

Write an article, post, or alert that:

  1. introduces and addresses a development or trend,
  2. explains how the development or trend affects the reader, and
  3. identifies action items for the reader to take.

This infographic summarizes these steps, along with several others that will make your written marketing product useful for readers and therefore effective for marketing.

Is writing an effective tactic in your business development plan? If you’ve recently written something for marketing purposes, review it now to ensure it complies with these guidelines. And if you haven’t written for marketing purposes, brainstorm at least 10 subjects you could write about a set a deadline for yourself.

Biz dev is a marathon.

A friend recently ran her first marathon. She didn’t know how it would feel to run 26 miles, and she was concerned about giving up partway through if she started to feel too tired. She even used a marker to write on the inside of her arm, “Your mind will give up before your body. Don’t stop.” She not only finished: she finished almost 15 minutes faster than she’d imagined she might.

Her tip? Don’t let the mind run the show when it’s tired, stressed, and worried. Make a commitment to action and keep going even when it gets hard.

That approach works for literal and metaphorical marathons. And that’s another reason why it matters so much that you have a business development plan with clear interim and ultimate goals: you’re less tempted to stop even when it gets hard if you can look to your interim goals to mark progress and focus on your ultimate goals to provide continues motivation. (Your ultimate goal means not originating and/or serving $X of business, but doing that so that you can make partner or pay cash for your kids’ college tuition or stay at the Four Seasons on your next vacation.)

Here’s the bottom line: