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Getting Clients

Business Development: Help Yourself by Helping Others

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

“Let me tell you how wonderful I am!” One of the most difficult things about business development is having to promote yourself. Given the centuries-long legal tradition that deems it unseemly for a lawyer to talk about his own accomplishments, abilities and conquests, you come by this resistance to self-promotion honestly. But keeping mum about your ability to help a client is not going to end well for you if your goal is to develop new business.

It’s So Much Easier to Brag About Someone Else

A useful way to overcome the problem is to focus on helping others by, say, introducing them to potential clients and making them look good. I don’t think I need to add that it is always good to help others. But the truth is that helping others makes them want to help you, too.

Here are five simple ways to apply some effort on behalf of someone else — inside or outside your firm — that will also help you.

1. Team up to write an article for publication. Let’s say you want to market your specialized services to an entirely different industry than the one you routinely serve. You have concentrated your business tax advisory work on accounting and law firms’ needs. Group practices of physicians and other health-care professionals would be a natural market for you, too. Why not find your firm’s health-care law practice leader and suggest co-authoring an article on emerging tax issues for physicians’ groups for an American Medical Association webzine? Sure, you’ll do most of the writing, but she will keep you on the straight and narrow about the unique nature of the language and business tactics of physicians. You’ll share the byline, you’ll look good, she’ll feel good and you’ll both learn more about each other.

2. Collaborate on a presentation or panel. The same goes for speaking opportunities. You may have done a fine job of identifying an organization that draws in the people you want as clients. Now you could propose a panel that includes lawyers and their clients (or associates and supervising partners) and bring in your best client to speak from her real-world perspective while you discuss the law (or promote that young associate’s unique area of knowledge while providing context for his comments). As with the article example above, you could use this method to gain an introduction to a new market by teaming with a client, a lawyer from a different focus in your firm or even an accountant or consultant from outside the firm who works with the type of client you want to pursue. (And, yes, if it is your invitation, you should take the lead oar on preparing the presentation.)

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3. Cross-sell a colleague’s capabilities. Identify an area of law — in addition to your own — most likely to be a challenge to some of your clients and then introduce them to the lawyer in your firm who is a wizard in that field. You could also suggest to the client that your colleague is happy to come to their office and make a tailored presentation to a group of their employees (with your colleague’s OK, of course). Perhaps your environmental clients are struggling with Title IX issues? Their supervisors could use a refresher. Enter your firm’s HR expert.

4. Promote your client’s business. Lawyers aren’t the only ones in need of clients or customers. If your client is a local couturier, take every opportunity to tell friends and co-workers about their fine work and offer to make an introduction — that way the designer will know and remember who sent this new customer! Say you’ve represented a printing company in a recent trial. You might connect them with the marketing director at your trade association who orders programs, name tags and other print materials for meetings.

5. Create a multidisciplinary team. Many lawyers have had success building clientele in an emerging field by teaming up with other professionals. Say, for example, you’ve become interested in opportunities for legal work regarding the retail sale of cannabis (in states where it has been legalized). You could team up with an accountant, a health-care professional and an insurance provider with marijuana dispensary experience. It needn’t be a formal relationship, just a group you coordinate with from time to time. You could also do this within your law firm — teaming with a products liability defense lawyer and a tax expert to provide full service to your aviation clients. Lawyers with corporate practices are often required to create this kind of team when they receive a request for proposal that specifies various disciplines.

Win-Win Business Development

So you see, this is a win-win. You get past the terrifying need to talk about yourself. Your colleague is introduced to potential clients — and is positively disposed to extend a similar favor to you at some point. Your client feels valued and appreciated — and thinks highly of your thoughtfulness. You feel good about yourself. And now you have a new handful of appropriate people who know about and like you. Ta-da!

Illustration ©

Categories: Business Development, Daily Dispatch, Getting Clients, Law Firm Marketing
Originally published March 20, 2017
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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