WRA 12/10/09: Finding out who’s naughty and nice

It’s the time of year for holiday specials, and last night’s offering was Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town.  And while I enjoyed the story and the theme, I was dumbfounded when I realized that there’s a bit of a link between Santa and client development!  If you remember the lyrics to the song, you’ll know that Santa is “making a list and checking it twice, [and] he’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.”  And we all know that Santa doesn’t reward the naughty.

Do you reward naughty potential clients by letting them hire you?  Just about every lawyer has had the truly awful client: one who doesn’t pay or pays so slowly that the process is agonizing, one who blocks your efforts to get information you need to handle the representation, one who’s routinely rude or unduly demanding or critical, and so on.  Unfortunately, naughty clients come in a lot of flavors.  The good news is that you can avoid many of them if you know what to watch for during your initial conversations.  A few red flags:

  • You’re the third or fourth lawyer this person has consulted or (worse yet) hired on this, or a closely related, matter.  Clients fire lawyers for good reasons sometimes, but you should explore to find out what went wrong.  Trust your gut as you listen to the explanation.
  • The potential client balks at your fee.  As I discussed with a client yesterday, a negative reaction to your fee may be sticker shock, or it could be a sign that the potential client isn’t going to value your services and will argue every step of the way.  Listen carefully.
  • The potential client misses the first appointment, is very late for it, or arrives unprepared.  This isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker because, as we all know, sometimes life interrupts the best-laid plans.  But pay attention.  As with dating, the behavior you see early is likely to be the best behavior you’ll see in a representation.
  • The potential client seems to have unrealistic expectations and is unwilling to hear a contrary point of view.  Clients often expect a more favorable result than their lawyer.  If you explain counterveling considerations that make a matter less certain or less favorable and hit a brick wall, think carefully before you proceed.
  • The potential client blames everyone and everything for his or her problems.  Chances are high that you’ll end up on the blame list, and possibly on the wrong end of a malpractice claim or bar complaint.

None of these red flags necessarily means that you shouldn’t accept the matter, but if one arises, you need to listen carefully to what is and isn’t said and to pay attention to non-verbal communication.  And trust your gut.

WRA 12/1/09: Are you doing it wrong?

I recently spoke with a lawyer who had tried a variety of business development activities, all to no avail.  She’d written articles, she’d taught seminars, she’d advertised, she’d attended some networking events, she’d posted her profile on various social networking sites, and so on.  But after all of that, she didn’t have any results to report at all, and she was about to conclude that she just wasn’t meant to be a rainmaker.

That reaction is so common.  It’s so discouraging to work at something — especially something as important as business development — and to see no results.  But three mistakes often come clear when I talk with someone who has worked hard at rainmaking without meaningful results.

  1. The lawyer is measuring the wrong thing.  Sure, new business is the clearest measurement of rainmaking success, but that’s like starting a diet and measuring success only by reaching goal weight.  There are all sorts of midpoints that indicate success: making new contacts, developing relationships, building a strong reputation in your field, and so on.  These “interim successes” indicate forward movement — assuming, of course, they’re measured as progress toward the ultimate goal of bringing in new business and not as an end in themselves.
  2. The lawyer hasn’t brought in new business. . . Yet.  “Patience & perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish,” John Quincy Adams observed.  In other words, don’t give up before an activity has had time to produce results.  Networking is a key place where lawyers fall short here.  A single conversation is incredibly unlikely to generate new business.  Mere membership in a group, or attending a meeting once or twice, is equally unlikely to be successful in any measure.  Hopping from one activity to another generates a lot of motion but very little forward movement.  Choosing one or two marketing tactics is almost certain to bring better results — unless. . .
  3. The lawyer is doing the wrong things, or doing them in the wrong way.  No matter how persistently the task is undertaken, if it’s fundamentally flawed, it won’t work.  Let’s take networking again.  If your idea of networking is attending meetings, talking incessantly about yourself, your skills, your qualifications, and your experience, plus pressing your business card on anyone who happens within an arms’ length, you are destined to fail.  That’s networking at its worst and it’s unattractive to just about everyone.  In the example that opened today’s post, the lawyer was doing a lot of good activities, but none of them involved actually talking with potential clients and referral sources.  Good activity done wrong does’t work.

Your task this week: are you making any of these mistakes?  Check to see how you’re measuring your success especially.  Because lawyers are trained to focus on the end game (here, landing the new business), this is one of the key mistakes that I often see among new clients.


Weekly Rainmaker Activity 11/24/09: Give thanks for referrals

It is, perhaps, a bit of a cliché to focus on gratitude during the United States Thanksgiving week.
  Nonetheless, the theme is so important to business development that, cliché or no, that’s the focus for this week’s Weekly Rainmaker Activity.

I’ll begin today’s lesson with a story.  After I’d been in practice for several years, I referred an acquaintance to a lawyer who was a family friend — let’s call him Keith.  I wasn’t expecting anything more than a quick “thanks for the referral” and a good representation if my acquaintance hired Keith — the most I’d received for other referrals I’d previously made to other lawyers.  Instead, I received a “thank you” email, a handwritten note, and (on 9/12/01, a date when anything kind was a welcome distraction) a lovely gift basket.  And periodically over the next few months, when Keith and I crossed paths, he would mention something about my acquaintance’s matter — nothing invasive, of course, but an aside that the matter was proceeding, that he enjoyed working with my acquaintance, and so on.

When the matter concluded, Keith sent me another note to let me know it had ended and that he appreciated the opportunity to work with my acquaintance.  Meanwhile, my acquaintance let me know what a terrific lawyer Keith was and how much she appreciated being in his capable hands.  I felt fantastic about that referral!  Not because of the multiple forms of “thank you” that I received — though I certainly did appreciate them — but because the matter was handled so skillfully.  I’ve referred other matters to Keith over the years, and every single time, the response has been similar.  I absolutely love referring people to him!

A story for contrast.  About the same time, a member of my family (also a lawyer) referred a matter to someone I knew very well professionally.  My family member (let’s call him John) didn’t receive any direct thank you, though the lawyer to whom he’d referred the matter (whom we’ll call Lawyer X) asked me to tell him thank you.  No big deal, but it struck me as peculiar, especially in view of the multiple forms of thanks that I’d received for my referral.

What came next was astonishing to me.  Lawyer X not only didn’t let John know how things were going, but he also didn’t pull out any stops to take good care of the client who’d been referred to him.  Yes, the representation was competent, but nothing more.  When John checked in with the person he’d referred (who was, in fact, his client referred out because of a conflict), he learned that the client felt unnoticed, as if he had to make a lot of noise before getting Lawyer X’s attention.

And during the course of the representation, a few things even slipped through the cracks.  Nothing big, as far as I know, but a few promises went unmet, and some pieces of the matter didn’t happen in a timely manner.  All of this information went back to John, who was appalled.  He felt that he had made a bad referral that not only had the potential to harm his client but also to harm his client relationship.  Within a few months, John had vowed never to make another referral to that lawyer.  And, indeed, he never did.  My guess is that Lawyer X has no idea, to this day, how poorly John (and his client) felt the referral went.

These two stories go beyond expressing gratitude for referrals and into client service, but let’s focus for today on how to thank someone for a referral.  Sending an immediate thank you, followed by another thanks (perhaps with a gift), and yet another with a larger (but still appropriate) gift sends a clear message of gratitude.  Equally importantly, keeping the referral source updated on the matter, while protecting your new client’s privacy, allows the referral source to be confident that the matter is being handled well.

Today’s assignment: create your own plan to thank those who send you referrals and to continue the flow of information.

Weekly Rainmaker Activity 11/16/09: Get accountable

Last week I was in Greenfield, CT, attending my business mastermind meeting.  Once a quarter, I meet with 12-16 other entrepreneurs and business owners working in a variety of fields, and we spend time working on our businesses.  These meetings have helped me to look beyond the day-to-day work and have prompted the development of various programs and products — not to mention the challenge to write The Reluctant Rainmaker.

Who helps you to step back from your day-to-day work and look at the development of your practice?  This is a key function served by coaches and consultants, but you can also get help from dedicated colleagues or even from a set time on your calendar that you carve out for business reflection.  Especially as we head into a new year, make sure you set some time aside to check this year’s progress and to set next year’s plans.  And schedule time once or twice a month to focus on the business of your practice.  You’ll find that the results (especially if you work with someone who can give you feedback, resources, and new ideas) is well worth the investment.

In addition to getting good ideas and feedback from my fellow mastermind members and the mentor who leads the group, I enjoy working with other business owners because it’s just plain fun.  Law is, in many ways, such a competitive profession that it can feel lonely (as a sole practitioner or a member of a megafirm) to work on one’s own practice.  But when you’re in touch with others who are doing the same thing, it creates momentum, offers encouragement, and often produces tight professional relationships.  It also helps to eliminate the “lone ranger syndrome” that so many lawyers (me included!) suffer from.

Your assignment: identify who can hold you accountable and work with you on your business development (or other) goals.  Set specific times to meet and, if you’re joining a peer group, a format that calls for rotating leadership and responsibility for keeping the group on track.  If you’re so inclined, investigate coaches or consultants who work one-on-one with lawyers, or search out professionally-directed groups.  Getting support may be just the kick to keep you moving forward.

Weekly Rainmaker Activity 10/25/09: The holidays are coming!

The holidays are just around the corner, and today’s WRA calls for you to begin planning ahead.

Do you send cards or gifts to your clients to mark the holidays?  As you no doubt know, current clients and referral sources are your most immediate route to more business.  Because business development is all about growing and maintaining relationships, recognizing those relationships in an appropriate way may further your rainmaking goals.

More importantly, it’s gracious to thank your clients for putting their trust in you and allowing you to serve their legal needs.  Failing to do so probably won’t rupture a healthy relationship (nor will it repair a relationship on the rocks), but it’s a nicety that reminds your clients that you view them as more than a source of income.

So, what is an “appropriate way” to recognize your clients and referral sources?  The answers are as varied as givers.  A few guidelines for you to consider as we move toward the holiday season:

  • If you send cards, write a short note (even just a few words) and sign the card yourself.  A preprinted card with a preprinted message has all of the personal charm of spam.  And don’t even get me started on e-cards.  (I’m sure this will offend some, and I’m sorry for causing offense, but I assure you that I’m not the only person who feels this way about impersonal greeting cards.)
  • If you send a gift, don’t send an over-the-top gift.  Some corporate clients have policies that forbid employee acceptance of gifts over $X in value.  Even if such policies aren’t in place, clients who receive expensive gifts are likely to think that they’ve overpaid if you can afford to send something expensive.  Aim for nice and relatively modest, except in unusual circumstances.
  • Select gifts that are selected for your specific recipient…
  • Or gifts that are universally well-received or easily passed along.  If you know your client or referral source well enough to send a book or CD set you know they’d enjoy, perfect.  If not, don’t go out on a limb or send something that reflects your own tastes or brand.

Weekly Rainmaker Activity 10/19/09

Today’s rainmaker activity is a quick one.

You are on LinkedIn, right?  If not, your activity is obvious: get your profile up right away.  LinkedIn has over 38 million users, most of whom are professionals of some sort, and because of the site’s popularity, there’s a decent chance that your LinkedIn profile could land at or near the top of the search results for your name.  If you aren’t on LinkedIn yet, go.  Now.  Get at least a bare bones profile so you have a presence on LinkedIn, and do it now.

Assuming you are already  a member of LinkedIn, what do you do with it?  Have your requested or offered recommendations?  Have you joined groups — to listen, if not to participate?  Do you update your status with a note about something you’re working on?  Do you regularly seek to increase your network?  Do you connect people who should know each other?

If the answer to all of these questions is no, choose one task and implement it today.  Your activity need not take long at all, but it will be a step in the right direction.

Weekly Rainmaker Activity 10/12/09

One-on-one meetings with individuals offers one of the best opportunities for business development, and attending organizational meetings and networking opportunities gives you the chance to meet a lot of people in a short time.  That’s ideal — if you’re meeting the right people.

How can you identify the right organizations for your purposes?  First, refresh your recollection of your ideal clients and referral sources, and then check the strategy that you’ve devised for meeting those people.  Chances are good that your plan will include a specific description of the people you want to meet.  Do (or better yet, delegate) a bit of research to find the groups that those people might attend.

If your business development plan does not provide clear guidance as to where you should network to find your ideal clients and referral sources, answer the following questions to help specify the best groups for you to attend.

  • What are the common features of my ideal clients and referral sources?
  • What are their common interests?
  • What business circumstances concern them?
  • What kind of educational opportunities might they seek?
  • What are their professions likely to be?
  • Will they likely attend national or local meetings?

These questions will help you to focus on where you might be able to find the kind of people with whom you should be networking.

You might also consider working backward based on substantive area of practice.  For example, if you are an estate planner, think about where large numbers of people who might hire estate planners or refer clients to estate planners would congregate.

This week’s activity: take another look at the organizations whose meetings you’re attending.  Is the fit good?  Are you meeting enough of the right people?  If not, run through this exercise and locate a few more groups to investigate.

Weekly Rainmaker Activity 10/05/09

One of the comments to last week’s WRA post about checking written materials for client-centric language requested an example of a “good” paragraph and a “bad” paragraph.  Because of my travel schedule, I knew I wouldn’t be able to respond until today, so today’s WRA offers the requested examples.

Please note: these examples are drawn from my own imagination – written while sitting, to be completely transparent, without Internet access at the San Francisco airport.

A “good” paragraph might look something like this:

“As a small business owner, you know that your employees are critical to your business.  What they know and do (and what they don’t do) can make a substantial difference in your bottom line.  Especially if you have previous experience in a larger company, you are probably aware of the value of documents like employee manuals and specific employee policies that speak to the rights and responsibilities of yourself and your employees.  And if you’ve ever had a problem from an employee who claimed that you discriminated against him or her in a hiring, promotion, or termination decision, you know that such claims can pose a threat even to the most solid companies’ operation, pulling time, money, and attention away from your business operations.

At Smith, Jones, and Richards, we understand your concerns and provide the full range of employment law solutions to small businesses.”

A “bad” paragraph speaking to the same area of law:

“The attorneys of Smith, Jones, and Richards have extensive experience in drafting employee manuals and associated documentation, as well as in defending employers against discrimination claims.  Our approach is to deliver the same services to small businesses that other firms offer big businesses, but we do so at a reasonable fee and with an understanding of small business concerns.  The partners of Smith, Jones, and Richards have a total of over seventy-five years in practice and are graduates of the nation’s top law schools.  Our lawyers have been recognized in merit-based directories such as Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers of America, Who’s Who in American Law, and Who’s Who in the World.  You’re in capable hands with Smith, Jones, and Richards.”

Do you see the difference between these two examples?  While the basic operating principle is the same in both (serving the employment law needs of small businesses), the first paragraph discusses those needs from the clients’ point of view.  The second simply references the clients’ point of view but focuses on the firm’s and its lawyers’ credentials.  Credentials are important, but clients are often pulled toward a lawyer who demonstrates an understanding of their concerns and has credentials that indicate competence as opposed to one who “markets” on credentials alone.

So, with these examples, take another look at the written marketing material you selected last week.  Is it written from a client-centric point of view?  If not, spend some time revising it.

If you’re uncertain about the point of view or about how to make client-centric revisions, we should talk.  You can also find more information in Chapters 4 and 6 of The Reluctant Rainmaker (also available on

Weekly Rainmaker Activity 9/28/09

What written marketing materials do you have?  Examples include a website, a one-page description of your practice, a newsletter, articles, and so on.  For this week’s activity, choose one item for review.  (Although I would generally include a biographical sketch as written marketing material, exclude it for this week’s purposes.)

As you read your marketing material, how much is written from your perspective (generally indicated by lots of “I” and “we” statements), and how much is written from your client’s perspective?  Although your potential clients will be interested in your qualifications and experience, they will be primarily interested in whether you are someone who could meet their needs.  (Don’t allow yourself to imagine that legal sophisticated potential clients are different here.  They aren’t.)

In other words, potential clients won’t care about all of those “I” statements until they have a sense that you understand their concerns, that you know where they’re coming from, and that you are someone who serves clients like them.  It’s important, then, that your materials speak to your potential client and not at her.  How you accomplish this will vary somewhat depending on your area of practice.  In general, though, you’ll want to describe the concerns your ideal client is facing, the decisions at hand, the problem he’s confronting, the doubts or worries she may have.  Then you’ll describe how you assist someone in that position, preferably with examples based on past experience.

Review the material you’ve chosen through the “speaking at”/”speaking to” filter.  If you find many more “I” and “we” statements than statements designed to speak to your ideal client’s situation, it’s time to revise what you’ve written.

If you’re uncertain whether your written marketing materials speak to your ideal clients, perhaps we should talk.  Please send an email to schedule a complimentary consultation, during which we’ll explore the challenges you’re confronting and the solutions that may be available.

Weekly Rainmaker Activity 9/21/09

Pop quiz: Who are your best referral sources?  List the top 10 of each right now.  If you are a more junior lawyer in a law firm and don’t yet have your own clients, list the senior lawyers for whom you do the most work.

Were you able to make the list?  This information should be at the tips of your fingers at any moment.  If you don’t know who these people are, your activity this week is to find out.

Assuming you know who your top clients and referral sources are, the next question is:

How often are you in contact with them?  One of my clients recently realized that his top referral sources send him at least 5 substantial matters a year, resulting in several hundred thousand dollars of business.  And then he realized that as he’d become busier, he moved away from the close contacts that had helped to build those referral relationships.  Yes, he sent business to them as well and he attended mettings with them frequently, but he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had lunch or played golf one-on-one with these people.

Relationships, like anything else, are always in motion.  Are yours growing closer or more distant?  If you don’t stay in good contact with others, the relationships will grow weaker and you may find that the support that you enjoyed is transferred to others who are more attentive.  There are no bad motives in play, but absence in business rarely makes the heart grow fonder.

Take a few minutes now to set times to check with the people who think enough of you to send you work.  Make it a point to reconnect and to find out what’s going on with them.  At the same time, express your appreciation for their referrals.  And then lay your plans so you can be sure to check in with them at least quarterly.