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Let me tell you a story about a brainy brief writer. She was smart, hardworking and loved practicing law. But she had few clients of her own. This made her beholden to others at her firm. Over the years, she came to believe she could never be a rainmaker.
Then one day, the brief writer had enough. She left and started her own firm. Suddenly responsible for her own fate, she let go of the belief that she could not attract clients and embraced the idea that different people do it in different ways. And she soared.
That brainy brief writer with no clients was me.
The best way for a firm lawyer to open doors and gain leverage is to build a book of business. If I can do it, you can do it. Here are five steps to get you started.
You can’t get clients if you believe you can’t get clients. If you buy into limiting beliefs and negative perceptions, they will eat at you until they become true. Step away from can’t and believe you can.
Easier said than done.
I know because I lived “can’t” for so long. The thing is, once I unshackled myself from the disapproval, expectations and assumptions of others, I felt free to do things my way. I stopped worrying if my marketing plan looked right to others. I stopped believing rainmakers fit into a mold. And I knew I could do it.
You don’t have to quit your job. You just need to take the first step. Realize here and now that there is no one right way, no one right personality. And remind yourself every day.
You don’t have to be an extrovert to get clients. You don’t have to act sleazy, talk salesy or be well-connected. OK, it helps if you are well-connected. But you can build a network.
What you can’t do is be someone else. It won’t work, and people will see through it.
Be yourself and market in ways that fit your personality. Stretch yourself, yes. But don’t buy into the one-size-fits-all approach. You are you. If you are not a gregarious trial lawyer, don’t imitate one.
What work fulfills you? Focus on that work and the clients that need it. Market to them.
This helps you distill your goals, develop a specialty and radiate enthusiasm.
In the beginning, you might accept other work and clients while you build the practice you really want. Later, you can refer the matters you don’t want to other lawyers who do and ask them to reciprocate.
Create a detailed, written business development plan. List your specific goals, the steps you need to take to achieve each goal and the action items that make up each step.
Get specific. But don’t work on your business plan so long that you never carry it out. It need not be perfect. It will evolve as you discover what works best for you.
You can even start with a template.
Tip: Use the buddy system. Pair up with someone who is in a similar place as you are with business development. The two of you can check in periodically, motivate each other and share what is and is not working. This helps you push forward even when you are busy or when it seems like your efforts are not bearing fruit.
You know what you want, and you have a solid plan to get it. It’s Go time.
Devote a block of time each day to marketing. Maybe it’s reconnecting with three potential referral sources. Or maybe it is writing an article about a solution to your target clients’ common legal problems. Whatever it is, don’t just plan it, do it!
We get so busy practicing that we push business development to the bottom of our to-do list until it falls off the list.
One way to avoid this? Put it at the top of your list. Do it at the beginning of the day. Feel empowered all day. Every day.
Tip: Keep track of your efforts. The best way to stay motivated is to see progress. Keep a log of your activities, time spent, plans for follow-up and outcomes. Check in often to see how you are doing.
Don’t be discouraged. You are planting seeds. Sometimes they take a long time to sprout. The article you wrote in 2009 might lead to an important phone call years later. True story. Stick with it.
Heidi A. Nadel is a founder and principal of Cross Nadel LLC. With nearly two decades of sophisticated and diverse trial and appellate experience, Heidi concentrates her practice on civil litigation across a broad spectrum of areas, with a focus on complex commercial and other business disputes, closely-held business and governance litigation, intellectual property, and civil rights litigation, and appeals in all areas of the law. Prior to founding her firm she was a partner with Todd & Weld and an associate in the litigation department at Bingham McCutchen LLP in Boston. Follow her on Twitter @hnadel.
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