Ryan Nevin’s article “Ways to Get Clients After Hanging Out Your Shingle” has some great tips. He’s right that you should network with attorneys who don’t do what you do to get referrals. But that’s only part of the answer. You should also make a point of building relationships with the most successful lawyers who do what you do.
The reason? Successful attorneys often have a “threshold” of value for the cases they accept, or sometimes are so busy they turn down business. When a young lawyer has gained their trust, those successful attorneys will often refer smaller matters or simpler matters to that young lawyer, or even use them for contract work.
And let’s talk about how to gain their trust. Surprisingly, one of the best ways is to ask for advice. In fact, with the right people, go whole hog. Tell them you are looking for a mentor, and ask if you could buy them lunch occasionally and get advice. This immediately establishes that you have a high commitment to being a good, diligent lawyer. (And you can do this with more than one.)
How You Make It Work
There are three underlying truths that make this work.
First, if you ask 1,000 attorneys what they would love to do if they weren’t being a lawyer, the vast majority will say “teach.” So asking for advice appeals directly to this desire.
Second, asking for advice appeals to the ego of successful attorneys. It affirms that they are respected and admired, and that their accumulated wisdom and skills are acknowledged by their peers. And let’s face it, who doesn’t like to brag a bit?
Third, the most successful attorneys don’t feel competitively threatened by young lawyers. In fact, many are, consciously or unconsciously, looking for someone to bring into their firm, or at least someone they can trust to refer business to.
So next time you encounter the best and brightest in your field, don’t ask for business. Ask for help. Acknowledge that they are top of their field, and tell them you want to grow up to be just like them. If they agree, genuinely ask for advice, guidance, mentoring. The referrals will come naturally.