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Getting Clients

Getting the Right Clients

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Just Say No to ‘Random Acts of Lunch’

The term “random acts of lunch” pushes a particular hot button for most lawyers. Who hasn’t reflected on their business development calendar and realized that, for the most part, they’ve been haphazardly buying lunch for people in the hope that new business will just “pop up” during conversation? And, having realized that, what lawyer hasn’t wondered why that isn’t working and how to fix it?

Well, here you go, three steps to get you focused on the right targets:

Step 1: Get the randomness out of the equation.

Unless you think every single human on earth is a client for whom you’d like to work, get busy immediately narrowing down the field of possibilities. You should only be having lunch (and, of course, I’m using “having lunch” as a euphemism for pursuing clients in any way) with those you want to work with. And, believe it or not, there are better criteria than whether she pays her bills on time or if he is good-natured.


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Step 2: Ask yourself what kind of legal work you really want to do.

Guardian ad litem? Patent prosecution? Tax planning for high-net-worth individuals? Outside general counsel to family businesses? International criminal trials? Medical malpractice? Banking regulation? You can’t possibly know where to look for clients until you know exactly the kind of work you want to do. (Unless you are willing to do anything for anyone — and you’re not going to approach something as important as your livelihood that way, are you?) There’s a fairly easy way to approach this.

Step 3: What do you want to do with your life?

I know, this sounds like a comically big question, but go along with me on this. When it’s all said and done, who do you want to say you helped … and how? What kind of difference are you moved to make in the world? Perhaps you can’t really grasp how critical this question is until you’ve met a lifetime Sierra Club member lawyer who represents coal companies, or the mother of six who represents child molesters in court. I do understand profoundly that everyone has the right to good legal representation. But if it’s going to be you doing the representing, there are many reasons why it’s a good idea to align the kind of work you do with your personal ethics, interests and values. Your commitment will make you more effective. You will enjoy working alongside like-minded people. And your social circle will be firmly linked to the network you nurture for work.

Reverse Thinking to Get the Right Clients

Now, let’s run this backward to return to the initial issue:

  1. What kind of difference do you want to make in the world?
  2. What kind of legal work can you do that will support that desire?
  3. Who pays good money to have that kind of legal work done?

Those are the people you should be taking to lunch!

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Categories: Business Development, Daily Dispatch, Getting Clients, Law Firm Marketing
Originally published October 18, 2016
Last updated October 26, 2022
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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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