Marketing Corner: What Kind of Lawyer are You?
By Kimberly Alford Rice
We have all "been there" finding ourselves too busy with client work to breathe and then the rollercoaster heads downward and we're searching for new projects. It can be challenging to devote any time to developing new work when your plate is already full. But, what happens when we've eaten what we've killed, proverbially speaking?
I work with law firm clients consistently who voice the same complaint: "I'm so busy, until I'm not." This common thread began my wheels turning on how to stabilize the perennial ebbs and flows of business development and how, if at all, can lawyers take proactive steps to get and keep momentum in their practices.
There are two kinds of private practicing lawyers: those with clients and those who work for lawyers with clients. Which one are you?
Lawyers who work with their own clients are working with clients who they enjoy and on matters they like. They are in more control of their careers, and are most likely having a lot more fun and generating greater fees than lawyers without their own clients. These are the emerging firm leaders and are often sought after by other firms.
In most cases, you can make a substantial living as a grinder, clocking away at the billable hour. But if you want to really thrive and enjoy the fruit of your labor, to enjoy the freedom that accompanies working on matters you find challenging and rewarding, rainmaking is the bomb!
Often, in the early years of private law practice, new lawyers are overwhelmed with honing their craft to even think much about developing new clients. If you understand nothing else in this article, get this: there is no silver bullet or single activity that will ever materialize clients. It is a long-term process of devising a reasonable and achievable plan (aka marketing plan), taking measured steps consistently to develop a broad network, both professional and personal; being mindful of all your audiences and maintaining contact with them, and developing a helpful spirit in genuinely wanting to benefit others (aka good karma).
Therein lies a 30,000-foot view of marketing planning, but that's it in a nutshell. As with so many other ventures, however, the devil is in the details. If you focus your non-billable time on one activity each day and track it, at the end of a year, two years, and five years, you will be pleasantly surprised at how broadly you have developed a network of prospects and referral sources from which to build a client base.
Here are a few activities you can incorporate into your busy day:
Stay up to date on current events. This will help you communicate knowledgeably with a broad base of people in networking situations (internally and externally). Being well read on current events makes social business situations easier and more comfortable.
Sharpen your image. Now that you are actually earning a living as a lawyer, look like one. Believe me, it matters not only to your management (you are effectively a representative of your firm) but it makes an impression (good and not so good) with anyone with whom you interact. You get one shot to make a favorable impression.
Hang out at the Bar. Begin to develop some cred with your colleagues by attending YLD events at the local bar association and chamber of commerce. They all have young professional committees and it’s great to meet peers in similar situations as yourself.
Get Connected. One of the most important things you can do is to develop a contact list of folks with whom you know, would like to know, and who may have some business potential, at some point. Like you, most of your peers have landed in junior positions but with time they will rise in seniority and be in a position to either make referrals or direct hiring decisions in connection to legal services. Add them to your growing network and stay in touch with them.
Seek out a Mentor. A key to your long-term success is developing mentoring relationships. Aside from law school, some lessons are best learned by those who have “been there, done that.” It can be very mutually rewarding to learn from another’s insights, experience, and stories. Proactively seek out these relationships.
Learn Effective Networking Skills. If practices are built on leveraging connections, networking is where the connections are made. Do not underestimate how essential networking is to your success. Seek out training to develop your networking skills. Seriously, it is not just a matter of showing up at a business function and handing out your cards. There are tried and tested methods that are crucial you learn.
Rainmakers are trained and groomed, not born. Becoming a rainmaker takes time, perseverance, and consistent behavior to develop strong professional relationships that convert to paying clients. If you are just starting out your practice, today is not too early to focus on the activities outlined above. Given where the legal landscape is in this uber competitive economy, your professional survival may depend upon it.
Remember, my mantra - marketing success comes only through the consistent, persistent massive amounts of action over a prolonged period of time. There are no magic bullets or shortcuts to success!
Kimberly Alford Rice (firstname.lastname@example.org) is principal of KLA Marketing Associates.