Plans are useless, but…

I see two huge mistakes among lawyers eager to build a book of business:

  • the urge to jump into action without designing a plan, and
  • the tendency to plan and revise and plan some more without ever moving to action.

Today I’ll offer another perspective on planning, from Dwight Eisenhower:

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

In other words, when circumstances change and disrupt your carefully-laid plans, the process of assessing all of the factors that affect your practice will show you how to adjust. (Want to know more about how to create a plan? Check Chapter 3 of The Reluctant Rainmaker.)

How effective is your practice planning?

Opening the Vault


Five of the most useful articles I’ve read this month.

1. Five Secrets to Successful Rainmaking. In addition to five great tips, this article briefly explores why rainmaking matters especially for woman and those interested in working flex-time. (Gentlemen, this article is good for you, too.)

2. How to Adopt a Sales Mindset. A short article with 13 reasonably obvious (but easy-to-forget) tips; qualifies as one of the week’s best reads because of the final sentence: “A salesperson tells, a good salesperson explains… and a sales superstar demonstrates.”

3. Rituals – how leaders can get things done(Leadership Frame #2) I frequently talk with clients about creating systems, and this article hit home with this passage: “[I]t is wrong to think that to get things done we must constantly or consciously think about them. The opposite is true – we should instead increase the number of things we do without thinking about them. So the counter-intuitive secret to getting things done is to make them more automatic, so they require less energy. Develop rituals — highly specific behaviors, done at precise times, so they eventually become automatic and no longer require conscious will or discipline.” Read and apply.

4. Communicating with Clients through Invoices. I’ve yet to talk to anyone who enjoys timesheets. This article, which explains how invoicing is actually a written conversation about what you’re doing for your clients, might just change your mind.

5. Finally, from my “to watch” list, a short video from my friend and colleague Carolyn Herfurth on how to handle that moment when you recognize that the potential client you’re talking with isn’t your ideal client.

Who Is Your Ideal Client?

While in Teton National Park last week, I noticed a trend among serious hikers.  I parked at several trailheads during my vacation, and I noticed that the parking lots for the more intense hiking trails featured a surprising number of Subaru cars, all with outdoorsy names like Outback.  I’ve never seen so many Subarus in one place, and I’m not at all sure that I’ve seen more than a handful elsewhere.  I was curious, so I did a quick Google search and turned up a Subaru Outback user forum that includes lots of photographs, many (if not most) of which show the Subaru in an outdoor sports setting (with a canoe strapped to the roof, camping in the woods, etc.), as does much of the advertising for the Subaru Outback.

Subaru Outback and outdoor enthusiasts apparently go hand-in-hand.  I imagine that further research would turn up Subaru sponsorships of outdoor events, advertising in hiking and mountain climbing magazines, and so on.  Subaru seems to have its finger on the pulse of this market, and the market appears to have responded.

What does this have to do with practicing law?  Like Subaru, you must identify your ideal client to a level of great specificity and deep understanding of your ideal client’s interests, preferences, and activities.

When working with lawyers on business development, one of the first questions I ask is, who’s your ideal client?  It’s a marketing truism that it’s much easier to direct your services to a well-defined group of potential clients, because doing so allows your ideal clients to recognize you as their ideal lawyer.  By focusing specifically on a particular group and their legal needs, you also develop your expertise and your reputation for expertise more quickly.

How specifically should you define an ideal client?  Some lawyers stop at a fairly high level – estate planners, for instance, may focus only on those who have estate planning needs, which is an adequate description but lacking the full body that can prove helpful.  Others delve more deeply and might hone in on new parents who have never done any estate planning before, parents of special needs children who have particular estate planning needs, or those who want to arrange for pet trusts, for example.  The more narrowly you can draw your niche, the more accurately you’ll be able to tailor your message – and, or course, nothing says you must restrict your practice to a narrow group.

When you begin to define your ideal client narrowly, you can consider psychographics in addition to demographics.  Demographics include information such as age, gender, occupation, education, and so on.  Psychographics describe the attitudes, values, and motivations that your ideal clients hold.  What interests them?  What magazines do they read?  What groups do they join?  Where do they vacation?  What are their hobbies?

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that psychographics are irrelevant if you represent companies rather than individuals.  Individuals make the hiring (and firing) decisions for companies, and individuals acting together determine company strategy, goals, and planned outcomes.  While you may be less interested in the personal psychographics of corporate representatives, looking at the psychographics in their professional capacities will provide valuable information.

When you’ve analyzed your ideal client psychographics, you may find that you’ve created a roadmap of forums for publications and presentations, networking activity, and so on.  You may notice connections that had not been apparent before, or you may define known connections more clearly.  Whatever the level of revelation, you will certainly find information that you can use to better reach out to your ideal clients, which will in turn help you target your business development activity.

Uncertain about how to describe your ideal client?  The Reluctant Rainmaker includes a step-by-step process to help you discover who your ideal clients are and how to reach them.  Check out The Reluctant Rainmaker: A Guide For Lawyers Who Hate Selling.

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.

What’s the best way to grow your practice?

One of the keys to success is efficient and effective action.  We all know that’s true in billable work, and we study time management and time mastery to find ways to optimize daily activity.

Nowhere is this principle truer than in business development.  Most lawyers don’t get excited at the prospect of undertaking rainmaking activity, and thrashing about aimlessly (meaning, inconsistenly and without a solid strategy) is almost guaranteed to produce poor results.  And poor results tend to produce a heavy sigh and a, “See, I knew I’m not destined to be a rainmaker” attitude – which tends to doom future action.  It’s a nasty cycle, and avoiding that cycle entirely is much easier than breaking it once it’s started.

So, it follows that the best way to grow your practice is by taking consistent, strategically determined steps toward your goals for you practice.  Once you become aware of the importance of consistency and strategy in rainmaking, you’ve unlocked the first key to business development success.

However, you still have to know what to do, and that’s the source of the popular question, “What’s the best way to grow my practice?”  It isn’t possible to give a blanket answer for every lawyer and every practice.  Advertising, for example, is a good tactic for some practices, especially those that depend on immediate and urgent need and a high volume of matters.  It’s less likely to pay off for practices that center on more complex matters that are ilkely to generate high fees.

One rainmaking tactic, however, tends to perform well no matter the practice area:  making personal contacts.

As Bob Burg, author of Endless Referrals, wrote, “All things being equal, people will do business with and refer business to those people they know, like and trust.”  In other words, the more people who know you and think well of you, the more likely you are to receive business and referrals.

While you might argue about whether all things are ever equal, think about how you select any servicee professional you hire.  Whether you’re looking for a dentist, a house painter, a baby sitter, or a lawyer, chances are that you check with at least one or two or your contacts to get a referral, and a significant number of clients who seek your services will do the same.  Knowing more people increases the chance that someone in need of your services will find out about you.

Likewise, your current and former clients know and, one would hope, like and trust you.  They also have had the experience of working with you, so they know how you serve clients and may be able to evaluate, to some extent, your legal ability.  As a result, current and former clients may be even more likely to refer business to you and, where your practice is amenable, bring you additional work themselves.

So, the bottom line is that the more people you know, the more likely you are to bring in new business.  And it follows naturally that, without knowing any information about your specific practice or your strengths, my top recommendation for growing your law practice is to work on increasing your network of contacts, consistently and strategically.

Consider these questions to kick-start your networking:

  • Are most of your clients referrals, or do clients contact you directly?
  • Where do your ideal clients congregate?
  • Where do your ideal referral sources congregate?
  • What organizations offer a natural fit for your practice, by virtue of subject area or membership, and how can you get involved?

If you’d like to learn more about where and how to network, you may want to investigate The Reluctant Rainmaker: Business Development for Lawyers Who Hate Selling.  You’ll find step-by-step recommendations on how to begin networking and how to become a master at growing connections with the right people to advance your law practice.  Visit to learn more and to pick up your copy today.

Weekly Rainmaker Activity

This week’s task: Set up Google Alerts for your top 5 clients.

Why is this a good activity?  Google Alerts deliver news results about whatever topic you select direct to your mailbox on the schedule you select.  They function as a free clipping service.  In this instance, receiving alerts about your clients will let you know what’s happening with their business or industry, what others are saying about them, etc., and put you in an opprtunity to be proactive in providing advice or offering assistance.

How to undertake this activity?   Go to and complete the form.  It’s simple of self-explanatory.  Use your clients’ names as the search terms.  If you choose to expand this week’s task, you might also add other terms relevant to your clients — perhaps their industries, their products or service, or their competitors.  Two tips to avoid an avalanche of results:

  1. Be selective in the terms you use.  For example, if you represent Boeing, you would not want to use “Boeing” as a search term because you’d get millions of alerts in a few days’ time.  Instead, you might use “+Boeing +airplane +manufacturer” or ” +Boeing +air +defense +contractor.”
  2. Set up email filters so alerts go to a specific email folder.  You’ll need to make checking that folder a part of your routine, but that’s far preferable to missing a critical email because your in-box is overly full with alerts.

How long will it take?  Just a few minutes to set up the searches, and probably 5-10 minutes daily to review the results and/or edit your searches.

Weekly Rainmaker Activity

This week’s task:  Review your biographical sketch and update it if appropriate.

Why is this a good activity?  Your bio sketch is likely to be your first introduction for potential clients who are referred to you, for potential clients who find you on the Internet or otherwise, for other lawyers, etc.   Your sketch may also be returned based on a Google or other keyword search online.  It’s important that your sketch be accurate, persuasive, and up-to-date.

How to undertake this activity?   Review your sketch and ask these questions:

  • Is your important accomplishments and memberships listed?
  • Is everything accurate and up-to-date?
  • Have you minimized or (better yet) eliminated legal jargon, so potential clients and referral sources will understand exactly what you do?
  • Is your your photo attractive and does it accurately represent you?  (Flattering shots are fine, but if someone would be unlikely to recognize you based on your photo, get a new one.  Typically, you’ll want a new photo every 3-5 years.)
  • Does your sketch list any community activities or other leadership involvement?
  • Does your sketch include a simple, searchable way of identifying your practice area?
  • Does your sketch include the keywords that someone trying to find a lawyer like you might enter in a Google search?

Look at your sketch online.  Is the most important information “above the fold,” meaning that it shows on the screen without requiring you to scroll down to it?  If not, reorganize.

How long will it take?  If it’s been a few years since you’ve revised your sketch, this could take as long as 1.5 to 2 hours.  If it’s reasonably up-to-date, 30 minutes will probably suffice nicely.

What will it do for me?  Completing this task will ensure that you don’t lose out on opportunities because of inaccurate or missing information.  You’ll know that you’ve put your best foot forward online.

Weekly Rainmaker Activity

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.  Each Monday, I’ll offer a 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.

So, this week’s task: talk with a current client about the economy’s effect on his/her business.  (It should go without saying, but for the sake of clarity: this is an “off the meter” conversation.)

Why is this a good activity?  For better or worse, that’s the chief topic for many people right now — is your business suffering?  If so, how are you handling it?  If not, what’s setting you apart from those who are suffering?  How do you see the next weeks and months playing out?  What do you need to make it through this rough period?  Since everyone is thinking about it, we may as well talk about it, especially if there’s a chance that you could offer some sort of assistance.  Even if you can’t, your client (and you) will likely benefit from the conversation.

How to undertake this activity?  Choose a client.  (If you’re a junior lawyer without much client contact, choose an internal client — one of the partners or more senior lawyers who gives you assignments.)  If you’re talking with him or her anyway, just fold the inquiry into your conversation, perhaps piggybacking on recent news or on a legal discussion about the business.  Or place a call to your client “just to touch base” and raise the topic that way.

How long will it take?  That’s entirely up to you and your client.  I’d say 5-10 minutes is long enough to allow for a meaningful discussion without going into too much depth.

What will it do for me?  It will deepen your relationship without your client.  It offers the client the opportunity to be heard about something that’s likely at the top of his or her mind anyway, and it could offer a chance for you to give useful advice.

Three Obstacles to Rainmaking Success

I’ve been doing a lot of speaking and coaching lately on business development, and someone asked a great question: what are the top obstacles to rainmaking success?

I’ve identified three universal challenges.  Do any of these sound uncomfortably familiar to you?

1.  “I don’t know what to do.”  There’s so much information out there about how to bring in new cases and clients and, even more importantly, how to ensure that your current clients are satisfied — no, delighted — with the service you provide.  Sometimes, having lots of good information is overwhelming.  When I work with someone on rainmaking, one of the first things we focus on (after clearly identifying the goal at hand) is to simplify tasks, according to a targeted plan.  Don’t flail around and try “the latest thing.”  Figure out what works well for you and do it consistently.

2.  Mindset challenges.  The challenges that we create up for ourselves (and please note that I am including myself here!) vary dramatically.  I’ve heard all of the following:

  • Rainmaking is easier for them (men, women, lawyers in big firms, lawyers in small firms, litigators, transactional lawyers, and on and on and on).
  • Everything I do has to be perfect, and I’m busy getting ready to get out there.  (This crops up a lot with lawyers who see speaking, writing, and holding leadership positions in an organization as a good route for business development.)
  • I have to do it all myself, so I’m going to clear the decks and then get started.
  • I’m too young.
  • I’m too old.
  • I tried [insert an activity here] and it didn’t work, so why should I bother?
  • My technical skills are so good, I don’t need to market.

There may be at least a grain of truth to each of these rationalizations (and the infinite variations that exist), but buying into these statements is a huge red flag.  These “reasons” justify a lack of success and perhaps even a lack of effort.  Neither leads to great results.

3.  “I don’t have enough time to get my work done and live, and now I should add on business development activities?  You’ve got to be kidding me.”  This obstacle is the most valid and therefore the most insidious.  It also plays into the mindset obstacles, because very often a lawyer who holds a negative belief about client development will sink more and more time into fruitless rainmaking activity.  Imagine, for instance, a lawyer who polishes an article to the point of “perfection,” only to find that it’s no longer newsworthy.  Fortunately, you can implement three steps to create time for business development: prioritization, systemization, and delegation.

What blocks your rainmaking efforts?