Join Your Clients’ Team

Don’t you love it when someone else is genuinely interested in your success? We all do. And we all know when interest is genuine, as opposed to when it’s self-motivated and faked. Genuine interest is tremendously appealing, while self-serving is off-putting and even alienating.

Are you interested in your clients’ success? You don’t have to tell anyone but answer honestly. Depending on your practice, that interest could mean anything from a years-long involvement at the most intimate business levels to a deep interest in a limited aspect of your client’s experience that’s followed with well wishes, a farewell, and rare-to-occasional follow-up contact. If your answer is lukewarm, that’s a sign that something is out of alignment, and it deserves attention.
Assuming your answer is yes, you are interested in your clients’ success, the question becomes, how do you show your clients that you’re interested in them? When interest is genuine, it tends to flow naturally. Because life is busy, though, you’ll likely find it helpful to come up with some ways that you can demonstrate that interest. A few examples:

  • Communicate. The number one complaint about lawyers is the lack of timely communication, and knowing what matters to your clients and when and how to convey that is both a professional responsibility and a way to demonstrate your interest in your clients.

    The value of client communication was perhaps most vividly demonstrated in the early days of COVID-19 shutdowns. 
    Some lawyers reached out to their clients to see how they were doing, if they and their family were safe, how they were balancing work and having children in virtual school, and so on. Some reached out again later to see if clients needed help with PPP loans or otherwise working to secure the survival of their business. Some made sure to check in periodically as things changed, on a personal as well as a business level. Imagine how those relationships developed. Imagine how relationships with other lawyers who didn’t reach out fared in comparison.

  • Use your clients’ services and products whenever possible. Even if your representation is not business-related, patronize your clients. One lawyer I know makes a special effort to host lunches at a client’s restaurant. Another of his former clients is also his insurance agent, and he purchases gifts from another client’s yoga studio. You might question how much this matters, but imagine how you would feel if you discovered your lawyer hosted a staff luncheon at other restaurants in town but not yours.

  • Where appropriate, promote your clients’ business to others. The lawyer I mentioned in the previous example does this each time he brings someone to his client’s restaurant or sends out a gift from his client’s yoga studio. That’s a win/win—even more so if it’s appropriate to mention the client connection.

  • Look for opportunities to provide extra value to your clients. This might be business-related, but it doesn’t have to be. Anything from identifying a trend that might benefit your client to recommending an accountant or contractor counts. You know all those recommendations to circulate useful articles you read? That’s another example, when done well. The measure is what your client will find valuable. (And a hint here: business clients often receive news and updates from more than one attorney. Be sure yours stands out by making it personal in some way, rather than the same form that’s being sent to others.)

  • Watch for news about your clients, and respond appropriately. If you have a low-volume practice, place Google Alerts on all of your clients; if not, place Alerts on a selected number of high-priority clients. (Either way, be sure that the results are filtered or sent to a non-primary email address.) Celebrate good news, offer condolences, or extend a helping hand.

These are just a few examples of how your actions reveal your interest (or lack thereof) in your clients. The best methods, of course, are the ones that are most genuine for you and the ones that have the most positive impact on your clients. When you act from a genuine and appropriate interest in your clients’ business and personal success, you join your clients’ team. That tends to create client satisfaction (maybe even client delight), recurring business, and referrals, and it also tends to become an enjoyable extension of your practice.

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 Fleming Strategic Blog. Please click here to read that post.

Observe Yourself To Improve

As a young litigation associate (about a million years ago!), I found tremendous benefit in getting feedback from a more senior lawyer who routinely observed my performance. The same was true as I moved into coaching, and even now, after more than fifteen years of coaching others, whenever I get feedback following observation, I always have new insight that helps me to improve.

Observation by supervisors is built in some way into almost every kind of professional role. Whether it’s business development skills, performing the responsibilities of your job, your leadership presence, or anything else, feedback is one of the fastest possible routes to improvement…

But getting feedback on business development activities can be tricky. Much of the time is spent in solo pursuits that make it difficult for anyone to have access to real-time performance. Fortunately, you can become your own observer and provide your own feedback.

Being both actor and observer can be difficult, but if you identify a single behavior that you want to improve and focus on that, you’ll likely find it easier than you might imagine. For example, let’s imagine that you’ve noticed (or someone has told you) that you have a habit of getting excited and interrupting other speakers. Your motivation may well be good, but the behavior is disruptive and can come across as disrespectful, so breaking it will likely improve your performance. You might decide to make a tick mark on your notepad each time you catch yourself interrupting in a meeting, with the goal of seeing a declining number of marks over time. Once you get a handle on that behavior, then you can identify and move on to something else.

If you have an opportunity to get external feedback, do. Meanwhile, try this exercise: choose one discrete aspect of your business development skills or habits that you’d like to improve. Then identify ways to get clear on your current performance level and ways to track improvement. Track yourself for a week to a month, depending on the magnitude of the behavior you’re observing, and see what changes you notice.

Identify People To Contact

Cultivating relationships is central to business development. After all, whether you represent individuals or the largest corporations, it’s people who will retain you, and it’s people who will decide how effective your work is.

Have you ever felt like you need to bring new people into your network but not known where to turn? Consider relationships you already have that could be revitalized and developed. Although results are never guaranteed, it’s often easier to start with someone you know and to work on taking that relationship to a deeper level than to find the right place to meet the right person and then grow the relationship.

Try this exercise to identify a handful of people you should contact today…

  1. Think of three of your social circles. These could include your law school classmates, former colleagues, former clients, other parents at your child’s school, members of your running club, etc.
  2. List three people in each of those circles. Think about the people in each circle who have some connection to your area of practice. Preferably, your list will include people you know well enough to call and have a conversation. Closer connections are better (especially when you’re seeking potential clients or referral sources), but don’t agonize to find the “perfect” contact to include on your list. If you can list more than three, even better… Just don’t call your exercise complete until you’ve listed three people in each circle.
  3. Identify the one person in each circle who seems to have the most potential, and reach out to those people as soon as you can, in the most personal way you can. An in-person visit is better than a phone call, a phone call is better than an email, and an email or social media contact is acceptable but not ideal. Your opening can be as simple as saying that you were just thinking about So-and-So, and you wondered how they’re doing. Especially if you’ve lost touch over the last 18 months since the pandemic began, your outreach may be all it takes to refresh your relationship. Friendly catch-up conversations that touch on business can lead to some interesting opportunities. Before you reach out, think about what you’d like to get across (are you looking to speak more often? have you recently changed firms?) and during the conversation, be on the lookout for how you can help your contact.

Use this approach once a quarter or whenever your contact list could use an infusion. The key is that you’re renewing relationships, not trolling for business. If you’re desperate for new work, this is not the right approach for you. This is an opportunity to invest in strategically selected relationships, which will likely pay off somehow, sometime, with no certainty about when or how that will happen.

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.

Not Seeing Desired BD Results? Check These.

Business development can sound so easy: make a plan, execute the plan, land the business, rinse and repeat. And sometimes it might even work that way, or you discover that plans need to be tweaked to account for unanticipated opportunities. That’s what a dear friend calls a nice problem to have.

Other times, though, it feels like you’re head down, plowing ahead with business development, and making no headway at all… Maybe even losing ground. You might interpret that as a sign that you’re just not meant to be a rainmaker. Chances are reasonably good, though, that there’s a correctable problem in that way you’re approaching business development.

If you aren’t seeing the results you want, check this list to see what might be going wrong:

  1. Do you have a business development plan? If you’re doing business development activity without a coordinated strategy, you’re unlikely to see great results.
  2. Are you actually using your plan? If you created a plan and then put in on the shelf (literally or metaphorically), you’re unlikely to see great results. Not surprisingly, it’s important that you actually implement your plan. This sounds so obvious as to be pointless to say, but it’s amazing how often someone will overlook this step.
  3. Has a storm disrupted your ability to execute on your plan? Imagine that your plan relies on face-to-face networking and your city goes on lockdown for months due to a pandemic. Imagine that there’s a major change to your area of practice—such as a repeal of the estate tax—that fundamentally changes what clients need from you. Or imagine that you need to care for aging parents or a chronically ill child, reducing the time you have available for business development. What do you do in the face of such storms? You can wait for things to “go back to normal” (if they ever do), or you can take a fresh look at your strategy and select new tactics to continue building your book of business despite the storm. (Want to know more? Join me on September 14 for the complimentary webinar Business Development for a Profitable Practice: Build a Bespoke Strategy to Weather Any Storm.)
  4. Do you have the skills you need? If you have a plan but execute it poorly, you won’t get the results you want. This breaks down into a sub-checklist of skills, such as networking skills (are you developing relationships with the right people?), content-generation or content-placement skills (if you’re writing or speaking, are you doing so in an effective way on appropriate topics to a desirable audience?), communication skills (does all of your marketing and business development activity work together to generate attention and to inspire confidence?), and more.
  5. What do you believe about business development that isn’t accurate? Several years ago, I realized that lawyers who fail at business development have accepted as true myths about how and whether to engage in rainmaking activity. The myths usually center on the necessity or urgency for taking on business development activity, on the mechanics of that activity, or on the beliefs that surround the activity or the idea of working to get new clients. As a result, they touch on every aspect of business development, from the need for rainmaking activity to the professionalism and ethics of such activity. I’ve addressed a number of these myths in Legal Rainmaking Myths: What You Think You Know About Business Development Could Kill Your Practice.
  6. How are you getting in your own way? I’ve seen lawyers undermine themselves in business development in a variety of ways, such as:
    • building a business development plan around tasks that you dislike (and will therefore find reasons to avoid);
    • lacking sufficient time or focus to engage consistently in your business development activity;
    • fighting your own internal conflicts (for instance, about whether you actually want to bring in new business if you’re contemplating changing firms or leaving practice altogether, for example); or
    • dressing in a way that undercuts your professionalism or authority.

These problems are especially vexing because they’re hard to see without outside input. At times, we buy into our own stories without critical reflection, which makes it difficult to identify those stories or find a way out of them. That’s why it’s important to you get help from a friend, colleague, or coach who will show you what you can’t see.

If you’d like help in spotting what’s keeping you from getting the business development results you want, perhaps we should talk. I have three Consulting Condensed sessions available for September. We’ll meet for two hours to discuss up to three aspects of your business development strategy, and you’ll walk away with targeted input and action items you can implement right away. Contact my team to set up a short conversation to see if a Consulting Condensed session is right for you.