Everyone knows business development should be part of every day’s to-do list. Still, it’s the rare lawyer who hasn’t at least once experienced the sudden sinking feeling that comes when you’ve just finished your last client work and don’t know where the next is coming from. When it happens to you, don’t panic. While renewing your commitment to all the things you should have been doing all along, you can also take immediate action.
We asked some of our favorite business development and legal marketing experts to give you advice on the best way to get paying client work right NOW.
1. Go Visit Some Clients
Make a list of clients you have served and phone them to let them know you will be in their neighborhood (or city, yes, buy a plane ticket). Ask if you can stop by for coffee “to pay your respects” on your dime. Think about an article or preventative checklist you could leave behind that might be helpful to each client visited — customize and personalize it as if they were the only client in the world. (Like dating, remember?) While there, ask questions about your client contacts personally (family, kids), their business and their industry. Your reason is simply to understand them better — and their needs — should they require your help in the future. Odds that you visit at least 10 clients and don’t get retained? Zero. Odds that you’ll get retained if you stay in your office and sulk? Also zero. You choose. — Gerry Riskin
2. Leverage the Last Thing You Worked On
While it’s always easiest to get new business from existing or former clients, let’s say that well has been tapped. What next? Many lawyers fail to realize the best thing they have to offer is the last thing they worked on.
First, think about how lessons learned in a recent project can prevent a problem for someone else. For example:
- “I just wrapped up a major litigation matter that resulted from ambiguous language in distribution agreements.”
- “A contractor came to me with a major issue because he had misclassified his subs.”
- “I helped a technology company develop an enforceable noncompete agreement for its engineers.”
Then think about what you can do to help. For example:
- “Audit” agreements to identify problem language.
- Review the employee handbook.
- Conduct a training program for managers.
Make this service easy to buy — a discrete project with a fixed cost. The key is to get one file; then you can build the relationship with your new client. — Sally J. Schmidt
Call Your Last Five Clients
There are many ways to quickly get paying client work. Some may surprise you.
- Call your last five clients and say, “I just finished a project and currently have the bandwidth for new client matters. Is there any legal matter I can help you with, or someone you know who could use some legal support in the area of … ?” List all your practice areas because they may not recall all the support you can offer them. Doing this not only jogs their memory about how talented you are, but gives them a few moments to reflect on your two-part question.
- Do the same thing with your raving fans and referral sources.
- Then repeat the same thing with people in your firm and lawyers you know in noncompeting practice areas.
- Make sure all the bar associations you belong to have you in their attorney referral system. Speak with the person in charge—this will put you “top of mind” in their brain. And while you’re speaking with them, ask them how other lawyers in your practice area are securing new clients.
- Contact the manager of a LinkedIn discussion group that discusses topics in your practice area and ask who is currently hiring in your area of focus.
— David King Keller
Ask for Advice
Entrepreneurs trying to raise venture capital know this: “Ask for money, you’ll get advice. Ask for advice, you’ll get money.” You can’t call and only say “Hello,” hoping to stimulate point number one. You have to be relevant. Know your Door-Opener or Demand Trigger — i.e., the industry or company problem that triggers the need for your expertise. Then when you call, you’ll say: “I’m trying to get better informed about [Demand Trigger]. Might I pick your brain for 15 minutes or so in the next few days?” Whether or not they call back to give you advice, you’ve demonstrated relevance and created virtual proximity in their minds. — Mike O’Horo