Marketing for Lawyers, Part II: De-Mystifying Business Development Activities

This is the second of three blog posts on marketing strategies for lawyers; the first was Marketing for Lawyers, Part I: Setting the Stage.

Let’s talk about some basic activities that are important to your success.

When it comes to business development, you always want to be engaged in these four activities:

  • Networking activities
  • Leadership activities
  • Meetings with key people
  • Cultivating current and past clients

getting started

A. What Constitutes Networking?

Networking is interactivity, “getting out and about,” meeting and greeting people. You want to spend your time and effort engaging and interacting with people in the neighborhoods that are promising when it comes to business development. Those neighborhoods usually include groups of lawyers who could refer cases to you, groups of lawyers who are in the same niche as you, and various groups of potential clients.

You want to go where they go mentally and physically. That means you want to be part of the neighborhood, a “player” if you will. You want to become someone who is active and interactive with many people in these target markets.

You might wonder why the lawyer group is so important. Many clients I have worked with have gotten most (even 80 or 90%) of their cases from other attorneys. Lawyers who do not practice in your practice area or your niche are possible referral sources. Competing lawyers who are conflicted out can be referral sources. Lawyers who go in-house can refer matters to you. Lawyers at your own firm in a different practice area might refer to you, and should refer to you.

In a book entitled “The Luck Factor” written by Richard Wiseman, a psychologist who studied people who tend to be luckier than others, the author found that lucky people have four traits that help them to have better lives and luckier ones:

  • First, they are interactive.
  • Second, they have more reliable intuitive abilities.
  • Third, they view the world with a “glass is half full” mentality.
  • Fourth, they learn from their mistakes and see them as challenges rather than being defeated by them.

As you think about people who get ahead in life, it’s interesting that many of them do seem to fit this description. And when I think about the excellent networkers I have counseled or known in life, they definitely have these qualities.

The good news is that the four traits of lucky people can be developed and improved. They are attitudes about life. These attitudes will actually help you to be a better business developer. They will also help you have a better life in general. So when it comes to business creation, it is incredibly important to engage in that targeted interactivity that lucky people do naturally. Interactivity helps you to become a familiar figure in your neighborhood. It increases your luck as you get on the radar screen with a group of people who have the potential to send you business.

Hopefully you also become known to others as a really good person.

It’s fascinating how everyone knows who is a good guy and who is not. I sit in my office counseling lawyers and although I may never meet some of the big guns in the field of law in this town, I sure have heard about many of them, and the general consensus is remarkably consistent. The buzz seems to be pretty reliable. You cannot afford to be obnoxious.

This isn’t to say you can’t be a strong personality. In fact strong personalities abound in litigation and that image is helpful for business development in this practice area. Mr. Rogers is not likely to be entrusted with the cases where the client wants a barracuda litigator. Having said that, there is no reason to be mean spirited or nasty to others who interact with you even if you are a barracuda in the court room. The neighborhood is full of people who will try cases against you and fight hard to beat you, but also say good things about you if you are ethical and fair-minded.

Often when I counsel litigators and say this to them they feel relieved. It’s as if they thought they were supposed to cultivate a tough-minded, bull-headed sort of demeanor to be considered a good litigator. This is not the case. Of course it also matters that there be a match between the type of work you seek to do within the broad umbrella practice area and your natural personality and image. You need to figure out where you want to look for clients – what neighborhoods make the most sense for you given who you are by nature.

To be successful in the realm of socializing, many lawyers may need to understand some personal issues they might have that undermine or negatively affect their social skills.

Here’s an example:

The other day I met with a client who is about to lose his job and needs to network as part of his job search. He told me he never likes to go to bar association meetings or other get-togethers. He never feels comfortable in those settings, and prefers to simply avoid them altogether. As I drew him out about this discomfort, it became clear that he didn’t have a good role model for socializing growing up and he was raised by a very critical set of parents he could never really please. The way he handled his nervousness about being criticized or “attacked” by others (this was the default construct in his head) was to think negatively about the other people in the room. He criticized them first. This person was “stupid” and that one was a “slacker,” and so on. He kept these thoughts to himself but they essentially polluted his experience in most social settings. Devaluing other people was a coping device he relied on in life without even thinking about it, to help him to feel better about himself. Since social situations were scary situations for him (he didn’t know what to do to be accepted and acceptable), he employed this coping device. But these negative, critical thoughts about other people interfered with his ability to interact with other lawyers in a positive and productive way. This is just one example of the way a person’s unconscious baggage can get in the way of activities that are needed for marketing success, and really for networking success in general, and, yes, success in life.

For our purposes there is no need for a long term psychoanalysis to correct this sort of problem. I find that most lawyers are very bright and capable and have enough insight to recognize their underlying issues. With some support, training, and coping strategies, most lawyers can correct their problems sufficiently to achieve their goal of becoming a more effective marketer. I am currently working with this attorney to help him become more aware of how he puts down others to try to feel safer in a frightening setting. Recognizing the problem and owning it is half the battle. The other half is consciously changing behavior to get a better result. We talk about how to enter a room full of people and handle the fear he feels. We discuss strategies for engaging people in a group, how to think about the people he interacts with, and adjust his attitude. We talk about what his mission is. And I give him homework – for example, he has to go to a meeting and try out these strategies and report back in two weeks.

“This process is a form of “self-assessment” and it is part of the work of a good marketing plan. Maybe it’s a mini-therapy for some. Ask yourself are you hobbling your success in some way because of a personality issue?  If so, you want to learn how to alter your approach. Even small behavioral changes can sometimes lead to remarkably better results.

Many lawyers I work with do not have these issues. I am not saying they are inevitable.  But if they exist, you want to address them. You can have the greatest marketing plan in the world, but if you can’t execute it, it won’t do you much good.

B. What are Leadership Activities?

Leadership activities are actions that create a positive name for yourself in the neighborhoods you target for business. By the time most lawyers are engaged in business development, they have practiced law for a few years. Prior to that, younger lawyers need to focus primarily on skill building and should seek out experience that will help them to grow as lawyers. They need to have done depositions and motions, as well as the standard research and writing. Law firms should try to help their younger lawyers to get the range of experience they need to develop these skills. Then they are primed to engage in leadership activities.

Credential building in the legal community means that you take on leadership roles in groups that help you be seen in your target markets as a valuable person. This can help you to create your “brand.” Marketers love to talk about this idea. The brand is something about you that is unique and special and recognizable to your target market. Think of your target market as a radar screen. There are a lot of blips on the screen, so to speak. You want to get on the radar screen in a good way and get recognition. How can you do that? Here are some easy ways:

  1. Becoming the Co-chair of a bar committee: CBA, ABA, ISBA, etc.
  2. Writing an article for publication that will be read by the targeted neighborhood and then used on a website that will be read by clients.
  3. Active involvement in a bar committee, an affinity group membership committee, or another private club or group peopled by potential clients.
  4. A speaking engagement for the trade association that is your target market on a topic that is important to that group and that can generate business for you.
  5. Teaching a seminar for the target market.
  6. Teaching a class at a law school.
  7. Teaching in-house seminars.
  8. Inviting in-house attorneys to your law firm or other venues for a seminar that you teach.
  9. Speaking at the CBA, ABA, ISBA, or other association on a topic that is important to your target market.
  10. Organizing an event for a nonprofit or legal group.

As you can see, these leadership activities are ones that allow the group of potential clients or referral sources to see you in a leadership role or position of authority. But you have to do it right. Involvement in a bar committee is not worth a lot unless it is active involvement and you do a good job. If you take on a commitment for which you have little interest or insufficient time, you run the risk of being seen in a negative way. So part of the work in setting up a marketing strategy is to be sure that whatever you commit to do, you do very well.

Being a stand out person in your neighborhood translates into credibility and respect in your field. Credibility and respect are earned in a number of ways. Remember that other lawyers will compose at least one of your target markets and maybe two, namely, lawyers who are in the same practice area, and lawyers who are likely to refer matters to you because they do not do what you do. If your target market includes non-lawyers, then look for trade association groups that would be interested in hearing information you could impart that will help them to do a better job. These are the target groups you will want to write articles for or speak in front of when they have their annual meeting.

What happens in a neighborhood is that the neighbors gossip all the time. I don’t mean gossiping necessarily in a bad way. They are talking amongst themselves. Who is doing what? Who is in charge of this or that committee? What is going on at that firm? Who is a good lawyer to handle this or that kind of problem? You can’t avoid the Buzz. But you can try to be in the Buzz in a positive way. And you can take advantage of the Buzz.

In “marketing speak,” they would say “You can foster your image, your brand, and craft your message” by utilizing the Buzz. I personally don’t like these terms very much, because I think they suggest a somewhat cynical or phony approach. Maybe I’m not being fair, but I think it suggests that you try to be something you are not. I would prefer to think of the process differently: namely you are getting known to your target market as a dynamic and respected leader in the field who is ethical and genuine. And I really mean that. You want to be the “real deal.” In other words “be yourself.” the best you that you can be.

What goes around comes around. I have seen it time and time again as I watch careers evolve. Those lawyers who are supportive of others and assist others, who pay it forward, create an aura of value and respect that affects their practices in a positive way. We currently live in a very snarky time in this culture. Complaining is “in” and commentators and bloggers seem to score points by constantly finding fault, tearing down, and verbally assaulting anyone who disagrees with them. Traditional values seem to be discredited, motives are thought to be political and Machiavellian. Perhaps some of that cynicism is deserved. But the lawyers who do well over time do not have to play that game. You will do better if you stand out as a person who provides leadership in a fair-minded way. You want to be strong and capable without being detestable, petty, or a “screamer.” Even the way you treat secretaries, paralegals and associates can come back to haunt you.

Leadership and your image in the legal work world includes being a good friend and helping others. I don’t mean you have to sell Girl Scout cookies, just be a decent human being. The way to do that is sometimes as simple as helping a person find a good nanny agency even if it’s your somewhat difficult opposing counsel who just lost her nanny abruptly in the middle of your trial. Or say you learn that one of the lawyers you know is looking for business in a particular practice area and you have a friend in the business world who might really be a good match, so you invite both of them to lunch with you. That’s a win/win proposition. Or even a three-fer: a win/win/win proposition. This is the stuff of leadership and good reputation in the field. You don’t see a lot of exemplary behavior on Access Hollywood these days or unfortunately even in some of our outstanding athletes or political leaders. But then, some of these folks are on the radar screen because they are train wrecks. You don’t want that. You want to be on the radar screen as an example of what works.

C. What are Meetings with Key People?

At a certain point, when you have created a relationship with a potential client, you may want to see if you can interest that person in your legal help. Some marketing books call these “sell meetings.” Here is where a lot of my clients get upset, and start to run out of the room. They are concerned about the idea that they would sell to their friends; they do not want to convert a friendship to a business relationship. Many of the clients I counsel object to what they think is the bait and switch idea of cultivating friendship only to reap the reward by generating business. And sometimes it is true that such a conversion would be a bad idea. That assessment is an important one to make.

But I also think that there is an erroneous assumption that may be embedded in this thinking, that what you are doing is underhanded or sleazy or hustling like a used car salesman. The assumption is that you befriended this person with the sole intent hitting them up for business. I don’t think that is how it should work. You should develop friendships with people because you enjoy their friendship. The primary goal is the pleasure of interacting with interesting people. And as an extension of your friendship, you should try to be helpful to them if you can be. You offer your legal help because your friend could use it and it would be great to collaborate. That’s at least the attitude you strive for. It’s true that you want to look for friendships in the neighborhood of people who could refer matters to you as well. Why not do that?

If and when you realize that your friend could use your legal services, your role should be closer to a counselor or therapist than a used car salesman. You want to help this other person do the best job possible. You are their business friend. You offer your services because you know you can do a good job and assist a person you would like to help. You should believe that you could make their work lives better if you are their attorney. You also know your firm can do an outstanding job as well, supporting your friend and meeting his or her legal needs. You are not selling snake oil.

Taking this approach requires that you know yourself and your strengths, you know your firm and you believe in your firm, you understand your friend’s legal problems, and you know how to help your friend to meet his or her challenges successfully. If you are not the right person to do the legal work, do the right thing and refer the client to someone inside your firm if you can. If not, then refer them to another friend who will do an outstanding job. That referral to another person adds to your credibility in the neighborhood. What goes around comes around.

This sort of counseling and coaching approach has worked well for many men and women I work with who are networking as part of business development even before they get to the sell meeting stage. As they are interacting with people in their target markets, and they develop what I term “friendship lite” relationships in these neighborhoods. These do not need to be deep and intimate relationships, although they can be. They start out as friendships that are good enough that you know the names of a person’s children, whether that person has a son who just got married, a daughter graduating from college, a parent who is sick, a new baby, or has just taken a vacation. These are friendships where you help out if you can with small gifts of information, or promotion, or support. If it makes sense, you can invite them to your holiday party or to a baseball game or to dinner or a play or to play golf. These times together can deepen a friendship and build up or strengthen a relationship. Your relationship may never be one you would convert to a business relationship, but it can bring you business via your trusted friend nonetheless. This person knows you, likes you, trusts you, and has faith in you. This is the kind of person who will endorse you to others. And, like it or not, that is how business is done in the world. It is based on trust relationships. It is based on gossip.

There may also be meetings where your firm makes a presentation and distributes glossy marketing pieces. These materials are ones that the firm should be generating with a marketing specialist. It helps a law firm to have a state-of-the-art website and marketing materials because it helps the potential client have trust in your firm. Most firms have consultants or in-house staff for that purpose.

When it comes to a direct sit-down sell meeting that involves other members of the firm, there should be a clear plan for the presentation. Some attorneys are nervous about billing credit. If that is a problem, the firm may need to look at that issue and clarify who gets the credit in certain unclear circumstances. It is important to be very clear about origination credit, and if there is any doubt, it may make sense to cement the client first without other partners present, and once the relationship is established, to introduce the rest of the team. But needing to do that is usually indicative of a problem at the firm that should be addressed. In general it is important at some point to introduce the team to the client and help the client to feel confident that all of their needs will be met by outstanding and responsive lawyers at your firm.

D. Cultivating Current and Past Clients

Current and past clients are so important in terms of rainmaking that they can be thought of in a separate category. They should be the people you always want to please. They represent people who will spread the good word about you to others in the neighborhood. They are your endorsers, with whom you want to deepen connection.

Current and past clients are the group of people who have experienced your work first hand and you want them to be totally satisfied with the work you have done and with the relationship they enjoyed while working with you to solve their problems.

What can you do to be sure they are happy campers?

  1. Always answer your phone when they call if you can and respond to their emails as quickly as realistically possible. Be sure they get through to you right away. Tell your secretary to be on the lookout for them and put them right through to you. If you are returning their call, be sure you do so within an hour or two if at all possible.
  2. Communicate well with your clients. Always keep them in the loop about developments in their matter. Even if the news is not good, you want them to know you are working for them and you will do your level best to help them out.
  3. Ask them for feedback and find out what is on their minds so that you can fix the problem before it festers.
  4. Work with them around billing issues. If they request a certain kind of billing structure, try to accommodate that.
  5. Do unto your clients as you would have someone in a comparable situation do unto you. Treat them as you would want to be treated. Always be on top of the details of your clients matters. Review the file before you return a call so that you are fully briefed.
  6. After concluding work with your clients think of them as a group of people with whom you want to maintain contact. Send them materials you have written for publication if they would be pertinent to your client’s business.
  7. If you have a “friendship lite” relationship, keep that connection with them. Some lawyers, knowing of a particular interest that a client might have in, say, jazz or sports or theater, might send a book or a link to an article of interest for your client. All of these continued relationships should be thought about carefully to be sure they will be well received. One size does not fit all here.

Networking activities, leadership activities, meetings with key people, and cultivating current and past clients are four business development activities you always want to be pursuing.

Up next: The Marketing Plan, or Promises You Make to Yourself.