During a recent conversation with a partner at a law firm, he said to me, “I was never the kind of associate that anyone said, ‘We can’t lose that guy.'” In fact, most associates never have that said about about them. Most associates are pretty replaceable, even good associates. Good associates deliver solid work-product, meet their billable requirements, and don’t make waves. But there are thousands, even tens of thousands of young lawyers who can do those things. So what do you have to do to become non-expendable, or at least the closest thing to it in the legal industry?
The answer to the question is far easier than any of the things you’ll have to do to get there – all you have to do is develop your own business relationships. That’s it. Yeah, I know. Why is that potential client you’ve been eyeballing going to send their business to you? In fact, we may be getting ahead of ourselves; maybe, the more pressing question is how do you find potential clients to start mooning over in the first place?
[This is an excerpt from Level Up Your Law Practice, which is now available for pre-order.]
Where to find potential clients and develop business relationships
If you represent corporations, one of the best ways to find potential clients is to be a part of industry organizations and go to conferences. But merely being a part of the organization or going to the conference are insufficient. You can go for years just existing within those ecosystems and putting on your firm bio that you’re a member of Organization X without every forming business relationships as a result.
As for organizations, you need to get involved. Find a way to make contributions. Write articles. Ask and answer questions in discussion forums. Join substantive law committees.
Regarding conferences, you have to establish to your firm why sending you to a conference is beneficial to them. This may require you to do some research and make a sales pitch about it. Once you get the green light to go, you must get an attendee list ahead of time so you can reach out to clients and potential clients to have dinner or just meet up. I’ve landed one insurance client this way and expanded business with another. If your firm isn’t inclined to let you go, push for them to do it anyway, and show them there’s a return on their investment. If you don’t develop your own business relationships, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
An in-house lawyer’s thoughts on the importance of attending industry conferences: “My company doesn’t pay for conferences, so if I can’t get comp’ed somehow, I pay out of pocket. Even in-house, going is important for the networking and career development aspect.” If your clients think the networking opportunities at conferences are important, that should be a glaring signal to us.
I was talking to one of my client’s one day, expressing that I always feel bad for the insurance folks at these big conferences because they’re like the pretty girl that everyone bothers and wants to take to prom. His response was, “THAT’S WHY I GO! And to find lawyers I want to work with.”
In his book Your First 1,000 Copies (Kindle Loc. 1014), Tim Grahl tells readers what he did in preparation for attending SXSW in Austin when he was launching his book marketing business. It fits in extraordinarily well with what I’m saying here.
In the lead-up to the conference, I went into a frenzy researching every speaker and found every one that had ever written a book. I then began searching Twitter and the SXSW online community for anyone that worked in the publishing industry.
Once I had made my list, I began contacting every one of them asking to set up a meeting during the conference. I scheduled meetings anywhere from 6: 00 a.m. to 11: 00 p.m. My hard work paid off because, when I landed in Austin the day of the conference, I had a schedule packed with people in the industry, some potential clients and others key influencers.
My time at SXSW was over before I knew it. The experience was exhausting but totally worth it because I had two new clients and over a dozen new contacts by the time I got home. I had worked hard to get my business well positioned for a lot of growth within the publishing world. Those outreach efforts then continue to provide opportunities today.
Find a way to be where your clients are, and make a way to meet new people once your there. Your ability and willingness to form business relationships directly correlates with your long-term success.
After you’ve identified a potential client …
Once you’ve met someone who may be interested in doing business with you, it’s time to cultivate the relationship. This can be a long process. It may be months or years before they are ready to hire you as counsel.
I do not use term “relationship” flippantly here. Business relationships share the same foundational principles as personal relationships. Before your potential client will commit to doing business with you, you have to establish (at a minimum) that you understand their business, you are trustworthy, and you have the expertise necessary to guide them to a successful result.
People do business with those they know, like, and trust.
I’ve written before about how to build relationships and develop trust, so I’m going to share those links with you rather than rehash it all here:
- Law Farm Marketing Myths: Marketing Means Telling People How Great You Are
- Business Relationships and Courting Potential Clients
- Why Lawyers Should Be Doing Content Marketing
- How Outside Counsel Can Make Life Easier for In-House Counsel
- The Importance of Having a Reputation for Integrity
To be totally transparent, I am still mostly expendable. I have some of my own clients, but I am largely reliant on others in my firm. Building a book of business is a career effort. It takes time, persistence, and a little bit of luck (and by luck I mean doing the work that puts you in the right place at the right time). So don’t be afraid to put in the work. Build your business relationships as if your career depends on it.
Photo by Jeremy Chivers.