Daily Dispatch

Nothing But the Ruth!

How to Build a Law Practice? Keep Showing Up

By | Sep.10.13 | Business Development, Daily Dispatch, Networking, Nothing But The Ruth!

Nothing But the Ruth

Let me tell you about my friend Jeremy. He’s the business development manager at an independently owned auto repair and tire shop that has several locations in the Phoenix area. Their competition is car dealerships and national discount tire chains.

I met Jeremy shortly after I opened my law firm and half my job became networking. I see Jeremy everywhere — business mixers, community festivals, networking groups. He’s always there in his company polo shirt or wearing his company nametag. He’s the sweetest guy you’ll ever meet.

Here’s what’s interesting about my friendship with Jeremy: We don’t talk about business except for the precursory “How’s business?” at the beginning of each conversation. We talk about life, our families, our hobbies and what we’ve been doing lately. I know he’s in the automotive business and he knows I’m a lawyer. We don’t have to talk about that; we get to talk about things that are way more interesting than tires and contracts. We’re friends, not just two people who exchanged cards at a mixer once.

Earlier this summer my car needed new tires. I immediately called Jeremy’s shop. I didn’t even think about calling my dealership or the discount tire place close to my house. I knew Jeremy’s company would take good care of me, treat me with respect and give me a fair price. It took 18 months from introduction to closing the deal, but it was a business transaction I didn’t think twice about.

Jeremy’s business is similar to lawyers’ in that people don’t need us every day or even on a regular basis, but we want to be top of mind when they do. The way to make that happen is to keep showing up.

Here’s How That Works

Pick a handful of groups and events where your target market hangs out, and then immerse yourself in that community. Don’t show up once, shake a lot of hands, toss out your card to everyone you see and expect your phone to ring. It doesn’t work that way. You have to build relationships with these people. If they like you and trust you, your phone will ring when they need you.

Networking is harder than most people think. You have to constantly build your network of contacts, but you can’t neglect the people you’ve already met. It’s a balancing act between nurturing relationships with existing contacts and adding new people to the mix. Notice the word “relationships.” You’re not just getting business — you want to create real relationships with these people so you have the rapport that will lead them to call you when they need a lawyer. So be real, not a pushy salesperson during your conversations.

And it’s a process, not an event. The fact that your phone doesn’t ring within two days of meeting people doesn’t mean you didn’t have an impact on them. It may mean they don’t need you right now … but maybe they will in a few weeks or months.

So just keep showing up.

Ruth Carter is a lawyer, writer and speaker. Her virtual practice, The Carter Law Firm, focuses on intellectual property, social media, First Amendment and flash mob law. Named an ABA Journal Legal Rebel, Ruth is the author of the new ABA book Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans, as well as The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to Get Sued, Fired, Arrested or KilledIn “Nothing But the Ruth,” she writes about the lessons she’s learning while building her practice. She also blogs weekly at UndeniableRuth.com.

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6 Responses to “How to Build a Law Practice? Keep Showing Up”

  1. jackl
    12 September 2013 at 7:21 am #

    I don’t disagree with Ms. Liebel’s advice, which I’ve heard in various formations over the years, such as the “fifty butts” rule: if there’s some function in your market where fifty businesspeople show up in a room, you’d better be there showing your face too.

    But I would note one problem for the solo or small firm practitioner with this advice and her anecdote: presumably “Jeremy”, the friendly gladhander, isn’t the guy who’s actually mounting and balancing Ruth’s new tires, it’s some mechanic. Nice to be the “Director of Business Development” and be paid to hob nob, but another article I read on one of these sites say most successful attorneys are already working 60 hours a week (unclear if this is work work or hob nobbing is included). Are there enough hours in the day, or is the advice to make sure we have a Jeremy on the payroll?

    I do remember being in a bigger firm and going to these cocktail parties of the state Chamber of Commerce in the State Capitol and meeting all these biglaw people who were the Jeremies of their firms, and who seemed quite divorced from the actual practice of law when we chatted about their casework and such. They were essentially being paid to go to cocktail parties and hunt for work, or pretend they and their firms were very busy and important.

  2. Ruth Carter
    12 September 2013 at 10:11 am #

    Hey Jackl – You bring up a good point. As far as I know, Jeremy is a professional hand shaker and baby kisser. He goes to every networking and community event. When you’re a solo practitioner, you have to do everything yourself. It’s hard to figure out how much time you need to do your work to stay in business, how much networking you have to do to keep the business coming in your door, and how to make it all work. Jeremy can go to everything and cast a wide net knowing that enough business will stick. Solos have to be much more strategic with their time and energy. It’s an issue I confront constantly.


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