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Even in the biggest cities, the legal community can be surprisingly small. Within a practice area everybody seems to know everybody else. Walk down your city’s legal Main Street or hang out at the courthouse, and you can’t seem to avoid the gossip. So how does that translate to money?
Have you ever had a friend refuse to hire you because “Our organization has always used Ollie Oldtimer, and that is never going to change”? Yeah. Me, too.
Sometimes keeping up with legal gossip can help you overcome that kind of objection.
Ollie is becoming a judge. Everyone knows Ollie is a great attorney, so great that the governor just appointed him to the bench. Where will Ollie’s clients go?
Ollie’s firm is merging. Great opportunity for Ollie — but what about those conflicts? Chances are, Ollie can no longer represent some clients because their interests conflict with loyalties to New Firm’s clients. Those clients will need new representation.
Ollie’s firm is breaking up. Ever since Terry Young-Turk became managing partner, Ollie and some of the other long-timers have been uncomfortable. The groups have finally decided to go their separate ways. Clients may not be comfortable with the change. Perhaps they were represented by attorneys from both groups. Perhaps they liked knowing there was a deep bench, which will no longer be available. The Young-Turk group is likely to fight for these clients, but now is the time for you to offer a more peaceful alternative.
Ollie is having a life crisis. Ollie is getting divorced and spending all his time on personal issues. Ollie is exposed as an alcoholic. Ollie has been indicted. Ollie has been suspended from the practice of law. When these things happen — and they certainly do — clients will flee.
Ollie died. Enough said.
Probably. But the client may not want a new attorney or team that is not the client’s own choice. The client may not like Ollie’s new firm or its size. Ollie’s ability to hand off the client to others depends on the catalyst for change, his practice area, who handled the daily work, and the structure of the firm. Moreover, clients are not merchandise.
These events may be fodder for legal gossip before clients and the general community hear about them. Gear up your marketing machine fast. When clients are looking for new representation, you want to be conspicuously ready, willing and able.
Reach out to a prospect as you would with any marketing initiative. The preferred way to share gossip is in person or by phone, though a diplomatic email may have to do. Invite your contact for breakfast, lunch, coffee or a cocktail. Offer to stop by.
“I know your organization has used Ollie Oldtimer for years, but I wanted to touch base with you in case he would no longer be able to handle your work at the new firm.”
“I know you told me awhile back that Ollie Oldtimer handles your legal work. I wanted to touch base with you to see if anything’s changed.”
Listen to what the client volunteers about how things are going. Has the client received notice of a change at the firm — or is the client surprised? Perhaps the client has detected a decline in the quality of representation without knowing the cause. Depending on what has happened, you need not repeat the gossip. Be positive. You don’t have to badmouth Ollie to offer quality representation. You know how to do this schmoozing. Now you have a new angle to explore.
Keep your ears open. You are most likely to hear gossip if you occasionally pass it along as well. If you participate in gossip, avoid malicious comments; keep it factual. Change creates opportunity. Your task is to recognize it.
Theda C. “Teddy” Snyder mediates workers’ compensation cases throughout California. An attorney since 1977, she has practiced in a variety of settings and frequently speaks and writes about settlements and the business of law. She is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management. Based in Los Angeles, Teddy can be found at www.WCMediator.com, and you can follow her on Twitter @WCMediator.
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