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Getting Clients

How to Avoid Asking for Business

A few simple ways to avoid the cold ask.

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Asking for business is awkward at best. I’ve finally figured out why so many lawyers want to know, “But how do I ask for the work?” It’s because the picture they have in their minds is a pretty scary one.

It goes something like this:

You and a former colleague are sitting together over coffee or lunch. You share stories about your kids’ accomplishments and talk about your summer vacations — then you blurt out, “So … got any work you can give to me?”

Yeah, that sounds awkward to me, too. Because if that’s the way it plays out, your friend is now staring down into his latte and thinking one (or all) of the following:

  • “Wow, I thought this was just a friendly catch-up coffee. This is about work?”
  • “Work? What does she mean ‘work’? I need some post holes dug at home, but I don’t think that’s what she’s saying.”
  • “Is she looking for a new job?”
  • “Is her law practice on the skids? She sounds desperate!”
  • “Oh man, I’ve gotta go!”

Most lawyers are smart enough to know that, in this scenario, there is no magical construction of words that will spark a response like, “Sure, walk with me to my office and I’ll give you a contract to draft.” As nice as that would be.

Instead of Asking for Business, Be Simply Irresistible

Let me suggest a few simple ways to avoid the cold ask — and get the work (the right kind of work) anyway.

  • Get a little bit famous for a precise kind of legal work. If you’ve read my book “Getting Clients,” you know I’m all about going after the kind of work that really floats your boat. (Why spend time and effort on any other kind?) So figure out what that is and focus on becoming known for doing exactly that — with the people who pay lawyers to do exactly that. Know how to describe what it is and do it often. But that’s just the beginning.
  • Let your firm’s marketing strategy drive your platform. By the time you show up in someone’s office, the mention of your firm’s name should have paved the way for you. Your marketing people should have built a reputation for your firm that links with something particular. (“Oh yeah, this woman is with Done & Done LLC! I hear they are fast, aggressive and eager.”) And you should have done your part in getting your contact’s name on every fitting firm list and participating in every appropriate event.
  • Invest time in building relationships. You already know this, but I’ll say it again: It takes time to build relationships with a mutual understanding of each other and each other’s work. Relationships built on caring about each other. Be conscious, always, of helping the people you meet to build their businesses and they will help you. Do your research to learn about them and about their work. Make frequent contact. Make introductions. Make things work for them. Make each other’s success something you are doing together.
  • Replace “What can you do for me?” with “How can I help you? We’ve all read those law firm websites, brochures and lawyer biographies that are all about “us” or “me.” You know: “I went to the best schools, I know the best people, I have been given lots of awards.” Most clients don’t care about that. In fact, they assume it. What they do care about is what you can do for them. So, in your written and spoken words, focus on that: creating solutions to their problems.

Sure, you’ll find you still have to ask for business in one manner or another, but now they’ll already know why it’s in their best interest to hire you.

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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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