Follow-Up: The Marketing Step Lawyers Miss

There is a critical step in the marketing and business development process that I have seen many lawyers miss, time and time again. Lawyers have spent countless hours and hundreds of dollars pursuing potential clients, but they left money on the table because of this omission. It may seem obvious when you read it, but the missing step is following up.

For example, I’ve worked with:

  • A law firm in Chicago that staged a day-long educational program on employment law, and attracted dozens of HR personnel and decision-makers to the event. When it was over they waited for attendees to call with new files, and waited. The lack of response made them doubt whether they would repeat the conference.
  • A partner in Maine who poured many unbillable hours into a proposal after a promising meeting with a prospective client, who had specifically asked for the proposal. Weeks later the frustrated lawyer was fuming because the client never responded.
  • The marketing partner of a Sacramento law firm who attended meetings of local business people, had several good conversations and gave out many business cards. In the following weeks, nobody called him up with new business, leading him to think that networking was a waste of time.

There was nothing wrong with their marketing initiatives. The mistake they all made was (a) failing to follow up and (b) failing to start out by planning their follow-up. We lawyers are actually not bad at marketing, raising their profiles and making potential clients aware of us. Where we fall down is taking the next step. It is unrealistic to expect a potential client to take the initiative and call us with a file. Rather, the onus is on us to follow up—after all, the lawyer is the one who wants the business and thus has the obligation to make the next contact.

Why Follow-Up Matters

The reason that follow-up is so important is because that is where all the revenue is. It is not found in the introductory event, pitch or handshake. The money will be in one of several follow-up steps in which a lawyer determines the legal needs of the other person and methodically builds a relationship. Bear in mind it takes 7 “touches” to establish a relationship. With online touches that number increases to 7-16 times.

Smart lawyers won’t undertake any marketing initiative without planning in advance how they will follow up. The Chicago law firm should probably cancel future programs until it plans an organized follow-up campaign, including visits, phone calls and letters to each attendee. The campaign should create records on each individual in a spreadsheet:

  • Assigning a letter grade rating how desirable they are as a client
  • Ranking the likelihood they will become a client
  • Documenting each follow up effort.

The firm must assign a lawyer to make each follow-up call, because they will not take place unless it is a specific person’s job.

Schedule Follow-Up

As I told the partner in Maine when we were discussing his unanswered proposal, the next time he should make it a condition of sending the proposal that the client will commit to a specific time and date to discuss it. If the client won’t agree to a follow-up meeting, then the lawyer can save himself the trouble of writing the proposal. Similarly, I recommended he not respond to any RFP if the other party won’t agree to a follow-up meeting.

The marketing partner in California should continue networking, but he should focus more on the business cards he collects rather than the cards he gives out. Whenever a lawyer gets a business card, I recommend that he or she write three things on the back of the card as soon as they can:

  • The date.
  • Where you met the person.
  • What you talked about.

This exercise is essential because by the time a busy lawyer gets a minute to review the cards or enter the information into Outlook, the lawyer will not remember the slightest details of the initial meeting. Recording the three points will make following up that much easier.

10 Types of Effective Follow-up

Rainmakers know better than to make empty follow-up calls saying, “Anything new?” or “Is there something we can do for you?” or “How would you like meet one of my partners?” These calls will fail because they offer nothing of value. It is essential for each follow-up message to offer the recipient a reason to continue the relationship with the caller. Following are 10 ideas to choose from.

  1. Offer free training or CLE at the client’s premises. If they liked the general conference, they’ll love the intimate tailored workshop.
  2. Invite prospects to attend your Web seminars, speaking engagements and public seminars. Not only will they learn something, they’ll more likely perceive you as an expert.
  3. Send congratulations — personal and business. This is why it’s useful to learn another person’s birthday and to notice their career promotions.
  4. Invite potential clients to social events, mixers and firm outings. If you plan to have a good time, you can win new business by sharing the fun with clients.
  5. Send a link to a relevant blog or online news story. The other person may already know the news, but will appreciate that you thought of them.
  6. Distribute a case study that analyzes an actual situation that the person you are pursuing can relate to.
  7. Send a checklist that the other person can keep on hand, such as “10 things to do after a traffic accident” or “Estate planning steps to take when an elderly parent goes into assisted living.
  8. Publish a “Biggest Mistakes” newsletter recounting cases and transactions where a legal disaster happened to someone like your target. Good topics might include “How a local construction company went bankrupt” or “Lessons learned after a costly divorce.”
  9. Ask people to “Rate Yourself” against best practices. People love quizzes. Any prospective client will appreciate a one-page list of policies and procedures that your must successful current clients are using.
  10. Give a GOT. I credit this idea to David Ackert, a business development consultant in Los Angeles. A “GOT” is a Gesture Of Thoughtfulness. An example is a Chicago lawyer I knew who would personally deliver finished documents to a bank client, and bring along several coffee cakes that he had baked for all the staff and clerical personnel.

Remember, before you undertake any marketing initiative, Step #1 is to plan what the follow-up steps are and who will take them. What a lawyer does after the first meeting is more important than the initial meeting. Be sure to follow up in a meaningful way that makes the other party want to have more contact. The new clients, files and revenue will all arrive after the initial meeting.


  1. Larry, I’m actually not a lawyer but I found your post from searching the internet for effective follow-up systems. As a website designer and brand developer I find that this is a critical weak link in my business (which my new Client Service Manager is now going to strengthen). Thanks for this post, it’s very helpful, even for us non-lawyer folks!

  2. Avatar peth says:

    I wish I had seen these a year ago when I was working for a manufacturing business. I love to see good ideas outlined. Great job!

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