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Getting Clients

Closing In on New Clients

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

When you finish up a big case or put the final signatures on a long-time-closing contract, things can get slow around your office. You might begin feeling a little panicky. It’s dangerously easy at that point to slip into thinking you’d take any old legal work you could lay your hands on—just to keep the cash flowing. And sure enough, that’s what you do—jump on your horse and gallop off in all directions looking for work. And, sure enough, you bring in “any old legal work.”

For Lawyers Starting Out or Starting Over

Now let’s back up: What if instead of panicking, you spent your quieter times bringing in work that you’d love doing? And, since you are expending all that business development effort anyway, what if you made your marketing tasks pay off over the long-term as well as this month? Yeah, that’s what we thought, too. So this Friday Five is dedicated to the proposition that you actually can draw a bead on exactly the kind of work you want to do.

There Are Just Five Simple Questions to Answer

Sit down with pencil and pad, and let’s quickly figure out the equation to get you started off right. Take the following questions in order, and answer them thoughtfully. In some instances, you may need to pause and do a bit of research.

1. What kind of work would you really like to do? Perhaps you took a wrong turn a little ways back, taking case after case outside your initial area of focus. Or maybe, over time, you’ve learned that certain matters are like sandpaper on your skin, while others feel just right. Better yet, perhaps you have a driving passion to make something happen in the world and want to find paying legal work that furthers that goal. Well, now’s a good time to get back on track. Just for the sake of illustration, let’s say the work you really want to do can best be described as “business start-ups.”

2. Who hires lawyers to do that kind of work? Right away, this question allows you to carve away a certain percentage of the market you might otherwise waste your time on. Your potential clients are certainly not in-house counsel with established companies. Nor are they injured individuals looking to sue. Grossly stated, the people who might hire you to do this type of work are people who are moving in the direction of starting a new business. (I know, duh.) But you can get a bit more specific: inventors, highly specialized professionals who want to bail out of corporate life, B-school grads with a hot idea. For our purposes, let’s choose those people who are tired of what they have to put up with to get a paycheck and want to head out on their own.

3. Where do they get their information? Assuming Mr. Darcy, VP of Human Resources with x-Zooper Corp., wants to make his exit in a sophisticated and professional manner, he isn’t going to randomly ask around for the names of lawyers who can help him. That could lead to an exit before he’s quite ready, right? No, he’s going to conduct his search for a lawyer in a very confidential fashion. So ask yourself (or ask Google) what do corporate HR directors read? What organizations do they belong to? What are their daily blog reads?

4. Who do they listen to? At the same time, you’ll want to think about who might recommend you to Mr. Darcy. Whose opinion would he value on this question? Now, this is challenging because of concerns about confidentiality, but there will be some people whose advice he will seek out … or whose recommendation he will value if he can receive it without tipping his own hand about his plans. The list starts with people who have, themselves, left the corporate world and successfully launched a business.

5. How can you get in front of those parades? Here’s the payoff for all that research—and where your to-do list begins to develop. Understanding what we do now about who might hire you to do simple business start-ups, you can focus on what to do. For example:

  • Join and participate in a couple of LinkedIn groups: LinkedIn Human Resources Group and On Startups – The Community for Entrepreneurs. Don’t lurk. Actively post and participate in online discussions about topics related to the law and business entity creation. Remember, you want to be seen. And you want to be impressive on your topic. If you’re not experienced with LinkedIn groups, you’ll learn quickly enough.
  • Identify a local publication likely read by HR professionals or entrepreneurs (smart people read about where they want to go) and pursue opportunities to write creatively on your topic. (If you live in Colorado, as I do, you’d be looking at the Denver Business Journal.) Find out if there’s a chance to develop a series of articles for publication or even a regular column. Be easy to deal with. Write well. Please the editors. They’ll want you to write more.
  • Volunteer and get involved with a local organization focused on training entrepreneurs and new business owners. Again, in Colorado, you might look at the University of Colorado’s Deming Center for Entrepreneurship or Colorado State University’s Center for Entrepreneurship. Or, you may live near one of these top 25 colleges for entrepreneurs. Talk, teach and write about legal issues related to start-up businesses. Do it right and the young people you work with will come to see you as the business start-up lawyer—and call you when they start up their businesses.
  • Write a book. Better yet, write a pamphlet—a downloadable one—and make it available to anyone interested in starting a business. Maybe it’s a “how to” or “pitfalls to avoid” guide, or a “new business start-up checklist.” Promote it via social media and offer it through your website or blog. While you’re at it, offer a list of other free publications that are useful to new business owners.
  • Pull together a list of people you have already helped to launch their businesses and schedule lunches and coffee dates. Find out how their business is going. Build relationships. Network. Introduce these people to others who might help them in their business. And, yes, remind them of your capabilities and ask them to share your name with anyone who may be looking for legal help for their own start-up.

There’s more—a lot more—you can do. Start. Once you’ve focused in on the best activities, you’ll be surprised at how simple it is to build a reputation and a network to support getting exactly the kind of work you want. And it’s so much easier (and cheaper) than galloping off in all directions!

Merrilyn Astin Tarlton has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. A founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, she is a past President of the College of Law Practice Management and an LMA Hall of Fame inductee. Follow her on Twitter @astintarlton.

Illustration © istock.

Categories: Business Development, Daily Dispatch, Getting Clients
Originally published April 5, 2013
Last updated October 1, 2018
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Merrilyn Astin Tarlton Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Merrilyn is the author of “Getting Clients: For Lawyers Starting Out or Starting Over.” She has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She is a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, an LMA Hall of Fame inductee, and a past President of the College of Law Practice Management. Merrilyn was a founding partner of Attorney at Work. 

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