I have spent a good deal of my career trying to get lawyers to spend less time with other lawyers and more time with clients and prospects. In many cases, a lawyer’s business development and networking efforts are more effective when spent in industry or business-related organizations than bar association groups. However, there are certainly times when relationships with other lawyers can lead to client development opportunities, especially when those lawyers don’t do what you do. It all depends on your practice.
Targeting other lawyers can very effective particularly if you have a niche practice. Consider the following examples:
- A white-collar crime lawyer might target health-care attorneys for referrals in fraud cases.
- An estate-planning lawyer could develop relationships with family lawyers to help when their clients need to revise their documents after a divorce.
- A traditional labor attorney can assist M&A lawyers when their clients are buying or merging with unionized operations.
Setting Up a Marketing Plan
How do you go about marketing to other lawyers? Here are four steps.
1. Identify your target audience. Which attorneys have clients that might need the kind of services you provide and do not practice in your area? They could be at boutique firms, general practice firms or even within other departments of your own firm. For example, a personal injury lawyer could target general practice firms without consumer-related services. A lawyer who handles policy-side insurance coverage matters could target the business lawyers in her firm.
2. Educate the targets. And when you do, remember to speak at their level of understanding. You are not teaching them your practice area; you are letting them know how your practice affects their clients. They may need help spotting issues, identifying opportunities or even understanding the process. For example, an immigration lawyer could educate technology lawyers about the immigration process for their clients who are looking to bring in engineering talent from overseas — types of visas, how long the process takes, what it costs, what the client/employer can do to help, etc. There are many potential ways to reach the target lawyers. Depending on the audience, ideas include:
- Identify the bar section or committee for the appropriate lawyers and do some thought leadership. Write for their newsletter, speak at their meeting or sponsor their event. For example, a real estate lawyer could reach out to the health-care bar to discuss trends in hospital and health-care facility expansion.
- Establish your own vehicles — alerts, newsletters, seminars, webinars or on-site visits — aimed at the target audience. For instance, tax lawyers could schedule in-house “lunch and learns” for law firms without tax practices, giving CLE credit, if possible.
3. Network. In addition to having confidence in your substantive capabilities, the target attorneys must believe you will take good care of their clients before they send you referrals. Building personal relationships will help you build that trust. Your activities could be one-on-one, such as having lunches with target lawyers, or it could be in groups, such as lawyers from a patent prosecution firm getting together with representatives of a general practice firm to discuss respective practices and clientele. You could also network at their bar meetings.
4. Add value. What can you to do help these lawyers help their clients? Depending on the target or the firm, you could:
- Write a guest post for the firm’s blog.
- Speak at a client seminar.
- Write a guest column for the firm’s newsletter.
- Prepare a brochure or one-page explanation sheet they can give to clients.
- Offer to participate in free consultations.
You might even consider including something on your bio and LinkedIn profile to the effect that you work well with other lawyers — for example, “Pam frequently speaks to lawyer audiences on the things their clients should know about health-care reform.”
Affiliations are the wave of the future. Clients don’t expect their lawyers to be able to do everything, but they do expect their lawyers to know capable people who can fill in the holes. As a result, there are opportunities to position yourself with other practitioners. Just remember, there is a lot of risk involved when an attorney sends a valued client to another lawyer. Take good care of the client, keep the referring attorney in the loop and, above all else, return the client at the end of the engagement.
Sally Schmidt is President of Schmidt Marketing, Inc., which offers marketing services to law firms. Sally was a founder and the first President of the Legal Marketing Association. She is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and one of the first inductees into the LMA’s Hall of Fame. She is the author of Marketing the Law Firm: Business Development Techniques and Business Development for Lawyers: Strategies for Getting and Keeping Clients. Follow her on Twitter @SallySchmidt.
Play to Win: Read all of Sally Schmidt’s columns for more good ideas to improve your business development game by clicking here.