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Guest post by Stefanie Herrington.
Every successful law firm needs a rainmaker who attracts top-notch clients. The rainmaker is the person who is involved in the community and knows everyone; the person who is trusted and commands respect. If you’re not a rainmaker, it’s time to incorporate rainmaking strategies into your practice and engage in the art of business development.
Let’s face it, law professors don’t teach students how to attract clients. And while firms reward associates with strong billable hour achievements, they rarely value the time associates spend building relationships with potential clients. Even if your firm doesn’t coach you on business development, investing in these skills early in your career will pay dividends down the road. Attorneys who provide stellar legal advice and attract plenty of good clients are always in demand.
I’ve never thought of myself as a salesperson. Even the word “sales” makes me cringe. But when I realized that “networking” is just another term for “making friends,” and telling people about my practice is just another opportunity to solve someone’s problems, business development became a whole lot of fun. There are several things you can do to become a rainmaker at your firm. Start with a simple commitment to attract more clients and implement specific actions designed to help you achieve your goals:
Identify your ideal client. Who exactly is your ideal client? It could be a business owner, a person facing divorce, a victim of discrimination, or someone accused of committing a crime. Identifying your ideal client allows you to narrow the scope of your business development efforts and efficiently target the best market for your business.
Know how you can help your client. You went to law school and passed the bar exam. Congratulations, you’re an attorney! But why should your ideal client choose you instead of all the other attorneys out there? Do you work harder, have more experience, give your clients better service, charge lower rates, or argue more persuasively in court? Identify your top strengths and be comfortable communicating them potential clients.
Practice your business pitch. Most lawyers don’t effectively promote their practice. Maybe you’re nervous talking to people you don’t know or you’re worried about sounding pompous (or worse, you actually do sound pompous). Be ready to deliver your business pitch to anyone you meet – at the dentist’s office, in the grocery store, on the bus. If someone asks what you do, don’t just mumble, “I’m a lawyer.” Design a simple and unique pitch that shares your passion. Practice delivering your pitch to friends. The next day, ask what they remember. Ask how you can improve your message. Fine tune three main points you want your listener to carry away and seek more critiques. Now practice on everyday strangers. You’ll know your pitch is effective when it prompts people to relate your work to their lives.
Be engaged. Now that you’ve defined your ideal client and have a comfortable business pitch, invest time in your ideal client’s world. Brainstorm where you are likely to meet people who fit the profile of your ideal client. If you want to interact with business owners, service organizations like Rotary Club and Lions Club are great opportunities. The local chamber of commerce may be another good fit. Pick activities that fit your interests. If you don’t like public speaking but want to reach a wide audience, then a newsletter may be a better tool. Invite people out to lunch or join the board of charities and make real connections. Incorporate these activities into your routine.
Be helpful. Build a vast professional network and maintain solid relationships with the people in your network. Your network should consist of people able to refer business to you, people willing to mentor you, people who perform services your clients may need, and peers in a similar place in their careers. Remember to thank people who help you with genuine appreciation. If a restaurant owner I know sends me a client, you’d better believe that I’ll schedule most of my lunch dates there. Constantly be on the lookout to perform favors for others and exercise patience with your relationships. You never know when someone will need you but you can influence whether they’ll think of you.
Establish loyalty. What will you do if your estate planning client calls in the middle of the night because a family member was arrested? If you don’t practice criminal law, you need to be ready to recommend several good attorneys who do. This situation should not be treated as an annoyance; view it as a golden opportunity. Clients who turn to you in crisis and receive the guidance they need will remain loyal clients.
Set quantifiable goals. Specific goals allow you to chart your progress, make necessary modifications, and hold yourself accountable. How many new clients do you want to attract over the next six months or a year? What steps will you take to achieve that goal? Will you commit to attending three social functions a month and having lunch or coffee with prospective clients four times a week? Perhaps you want to build relationships with eight new referral partners in the next two months. Set goals that are challenging, but attainable so you can succeed.
Find support. Know how you will maintain motivation to achieve your goals. Legal work, deadlines, and life in general will inevitably interfere and threaten to derail your goals. Be prepared for setbacks. Join a mastermind group that will hold you accountable, hire a business coach, or schedule a regular coffee date with a friend and hold power sessions devoted to assessing your business development goals.
Be bold and be prepared to succeed. Investing time in your business development skills will broaden your opportunities and increase your independence.
Stefanie Herrington is an attorney at Bartlett & Herrington (link www.lawbh.com), a general practice law firm in the Central California coastal town of Carpinteria. You can contact her at Stefanie@lawbh.com.