Question: As a law firm associate, what should be my most important marketing and business development goals?
Tina Emerson: Your goals as an associate should be to learn as much as possible, perform great work for partners and clients and, over time, begin to build a book of business. Early on, first- or second-year associates should really be marketing themselves to the firm and the partners. It is at this time that you discover where your true talents and interests lie, and can begin to develop those talents and interests into a practice niche.
Once that niche or area of practice is discovered, it is time to build the business. Now the most important goals are to target your market and make yourself a fixture where your prospective clients are. Get to know them, become a resource and stand out from the crowd by offering to speak at meetings and volunteering. Simply becoming a member of a real estate developers association is not going to help attract business unless you are offering something of value. Write an article for their newsletter, sit in on a panel discussion at their annual meeting, join the membership committee to help recruit new developers to the group.
Networking takes time and effort, so remember that nothing pays off quickly. It will take a lot of non-billable time to build a book of business.
In short, as an associate, you must first become extremely well-versed in your area of practice. Once you are confident in your abilities, these are the three most important things you can do to market your practice:
1. Market yourself internally. Be the associate all the partners trust and depend on. When you are that person, you will find yourself with more one-on-one client time in the future, and you may even inherit some clients over time.
2. Target your market and be a part of their world. Know who you want to work for and stop at nothing to help them, even if you are not always getting paid for it.
3. Go the extra mile. Call the client to check in, offer to co-write an article with your supervising partner and do all the research, write congratulatory notes to your contacts to stay in touch. Be the associate who does more and does it consistently.
Tina Emerson is marketing director at Rogers Townsend & Thomas, PC, a full-service firm headquartered in Columbia, S.C. With 15 years of B2B communications experience, she leads the marketing and business development efforts for the firm’s offices in North Carolina and South Carolina. She serves on the publications committee of Strategies – The Journal of Legal Marketing. Follow her on Twitter @tfemerson.
Jim Jarrell: Most of the firms I have worked for have not required young associates to have defined business development goals. At some point, though, associates want to start building their own books and defining their own careers, or their senior associates or partners will start playing the “tough love” card and expect them to generate some of their own work.
Getting to that place is a difficult process, and it has to start in year one and focus on two core objectives: First, building a network of professional contacts, and second, building a personal brand as an attorney.
As you make the transition from young associate to senior associate, that pressure to generate work is going to increase. Without a network of professional contacts to reach out to and mine for business development opportunities, the task becomes almost herculean. Young attorneys should get out to networking events often and meet as many people as possible. This includes in-house mixers, because today’s colleague in the Employment Group may sit across the table from you at a pitch meeting as in-house counsel five years from now (and vice versa). Making those contacts early and often ensures a wealth of contacts to reach out to when the time comes to start looking for your own work.
Just as important as your network of contacts is the development of a personal brand — in any number of ways. Internally, you build a brand in the way you respond to colleagues’ requests, produce your work and own up to your mistakes. (God forbid.) Colleagues will remember you more for being lackluster than for almost any other reason except, of course, if you become their savior. The same holds true with client work and how you interact with and respond to clients.
Careful, thoughtful and compelling thought leadership in the marketplace — beginning, perhaps, with blog posts here and there and graduating to articles, white papers and speaking engagements — can also help establish your brand. Though it is difficult to balance these activities with your work, they can be critical to establishing who you are as an attorney. They also serve as reminders for those you meet at a networking event who Google you afterward (everybody does it) to see what you’re about. If you have nothing out there online, that may speak volumes louder than any impression you have made in person.
Jim Jarrell is the director of marketing and practice development for the New Jersey-based law firm Stark & Stark. Follow him on Twitter @JimJarrell.
Ian Turvill: First, do great work. This is the most important form of marketing you can possibly do. This is the best way to build trust among clients, but it also is the central method of gaining respect and credibility among those who are best positioned to give you work — the partners in your firm.
Second, maintain your friendships and connections with your law school peers, even if they are at competing firms. These individuals will grow in their own careers. In five to 10 years, they will be the people who have gone “in-house” and are now in a position to send you business; alternatively, they may still be outside counsel, but they can refer work to you when their own firms lack the resources or are simply “conflicted out.”
Third, pick a niche where you can build a reputation and a stock of relevant intellectual capital. Make sure the chosen domain deals with an area of law or a specific segment of clients that you like, and then research, write, teach and practice the heck out of it. Publish white papers or write a blog, but find a place where you can make a name for yourself.
Ian Turvill is the CMO of Freeborn & Peters LLP, a full service law firm headquartered in Chicago. He is the 2016 treasurer-elect of the Legal Marketing Association Board of Directors. He was previously elected as the National Marketing Scholar of the Year by the American Marketing Association. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @IanTurvill.
No, not every lawyer has a professional marketer or business development coach on hand to answer questions. So send us your questions via email or in the comment section below, and we’ll pass them on to the experts at the Legal Marketing Association.
The Legal Marketing Association provides professional support and education as well as opportunities for intellectual and practical information exchange.