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What the Experts Say

I Need Clients Now!

By The Editors

Everyone knows that business development should be part of every day’s to-do list. Still, it’s the rare lawyer who hasn’t at least once experienced the sudden sinking feeling that comes when you’ve just finished your last client work and don’t know where the next is coming from. When it happens to you, don’t panic. While renewing your commitment to all the things you should have been doing all along, you can also take immediate action. We asked some of our favorite business development and marketing experts to give you advice on the best way to get paying client work right NOW. Here’s what they had to say.

Gerry Riskin

Go visit some clients. Make a list of clients you have served and phone them to let them know you will be in their neighborhood (or city, yes, buy a plane ticket), and ask if you can stop by for coffee “to pay your respects on your dime.” Think about an article or preventative checklist you could leave behind that might be helpful to each client visited—customize and personalize … as if they were the only client in the world—like dating, remember? While there, ask questions about your client contacts personally (family, kids), their business and their industry. Your reason is simply to understand them better—and their needs—should they require your help in the future. Odds that you visit at least 10 clients and don’t get retained? Zero. Odds that you’ll get retained if you stay in your office and sulk? Also zero. You choose.

Gerry Riskin is a founding partner of global consultancy Edge International. He consults on strategy with an emphasis on competing for clients, is the author of The Successful Lawyer, and is co-author of Practice Development: Creating the Marketing Mindset, Herding Cats and Beyond Knowing. He blogs at Amazing Firms Amazing Practices.

Sally Schmidt

While it’s always easiest to get new business from existing or former clients, let’s say that well has been tapped. What next? Many lawyers fail to realize the best thing they have to offer is the last thing they worked on.

First, think about how lessons learned in a recent project can prevent a problem for someone else. For example:

  • “I just wrapped up a major litigation matter that resulted from ambiguous language in distribution agreements.”
  • “A contractor came to me with a major issue because he had misclassified his subs.”
  • “I helped a technology company develop an enforceable noncompete agreement for its engineers.”

Then think about what you can do to help. For example:

  • “Audit” agreements to identify problem language.
  • Review the employee handbook.
  • Conduct a training program for managers.

Make this service easy to buy—a discrete project with a fixed cost. The key is to get one file; then you can build the relationship with your new client.

Sally J. Schmidt is President of Schmidt Marketing, Inc., which offers marketing services to law firms. Sally was a founder and the first President of the Legal Marketing Association and one of the first inductees into the LMA’s Hall of Fame. She is the author of Marketing the Law Firm: Business Development Techniques and Business Development for Lawyers: Strategies for Getting and Keeping Clients. Follow her on Twitter @sallyschmidt.

Bob Weiss

Pull up your calendar from 12 to 18 months ago. Make a list of the co-counsel, referring lawyers, adverse counsel and clients you were in contact with then but have not had recent contact with. Call or email each one. Explain the matter you just finished, ask them what they’re working on, what they have recently finished or accomplished and what they are trying to accomplish now. This “rekindling” often leads to immediate assignments or referrals.

Bob Weiss writes law firm marketing plans, coaches lawyers and speaks regularly at retreats and legal conventions nationwide. He helps attorneys develop dockets of intellectually challenging cases at desirable rates. Bob founded Alyn-Weiss & Associates, Inc. in 1980 and is the author of the book Marketing in Brief

David King Keller

There are many ways to quickly get paying client work. Some may surprise you.

  1. Go to LinkedIn, then go to the People search drop-down menu and click on Jobs. Type your practice area into the search box and click on Search. I found two listed jobs for a “collective bargaining” attorney in the San Francisco Bay area. Yes, I was surprised, too. Give it a try. Today may be your lucky day.
  2. Call your last five clients and say, “I just finished a project and currently have bandwidth for new client matters. Is there any legal matter I can help you with, or someone you know who could use some legal support in the area of … ?” List all your practice areas because they may not recall all the support you can offer them. Doing this not only jogs their memory about how talented you are, but gives them a few moments to reflect on your two-part question.
  3. Do the same thing with your raving fans and referral sources.
  4. Then repeat the same thing with people in your firm and lawyers you know in noncompeting practice areas.
  5. Make sure all the bar associations you belong to have you in their attorney referral system. Speak with the person in charge—this will put you “top of mind” in their brain. And while you’re speaking with them, ask them how other lawyers in your practice area are securing new clients.
  6. Contact the LinkedIn Group Manager of a LinkedIn discussion group that discusses topics in your practice area and ask him or her who is currently hiring in your area(s) of focus.

David King Keller is author of two books on how to grow law firm revenue: 100 Ways to Grow a Thriving Law Practice and  The Associate As Rainmaker—Building Your Business Brain. He is CEO of Keller Business Development Advisory Group, which provides law firm business development training, 1:1 attorney biz dev coaching and MCLE instruction on various topics.

Mike O’Horo

It’s really hard to get legal business “right now,” but if you’re in a position where you have to try, here’s a combination of two steps that’ll give you a chance:

  1. Create proximity. Proximity triggers clients to think about what they associate you with, and to realize that they’d intended to speak with you about something they need done. Call every client and create virtual proximity by phone.
  2. Ask for advice. Entrepreneurs trying to raise venture capital know this: “Ask for money, you’ll get advice. Ask for advice, you’ll get money.” You can’t call and only say “Hello,” hoping to stimulate point number one. You have to be relevant. Know your Door-Opener or Demand Trigger—i.e., the industry or company problem that triggers need for your expertise. Then when you call, you’ll say: “I’m trying to get better informed about [Demand Trigger]. Might I pick your brain for 15 minutes or so in the next few days?”

Whether or not they call back to give you advice, you’ve demonstrated relevance and created virtual proximity in their minds.

Mike O’Horo is a serial innovator in lawyer training. For over 20 years he has trained more than 6,000 lawyers in simplified sales processes by which they have generated $1.5 billion in new business. His current venture, RainmakerVT, is an interactive virtual business development training tool for lawyers. Mike can be reached at

Categories: Business Development, Daily Dispatch, Law Firm Marketing, Rainmaking
Originally published November 15, 2012
Last updated October 19, 2019
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