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Getting Clients

Not Getting New Business? Try Getting in Focus

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

One of the most challenging things about new business development is keeping your focus — and perspective. Especially when your billable hours are down or your calendar is emptying, it is all too easy, as my dad used to say, to “jump on your horse and gallop off in all directions.”

As with any strategic endeavor, you will be more effective — and happier with the results — if you keep your eye on the correct path at all times.

How Can You Tell If You Are Well-Focused?

If you’re at a networking event chatting away over your glass of white with someone you’ve just met about what you do for a living and you see them glancing around in search of rescue … you’re probably not right on target.

If you stick your business card on the gym bulletin board, hoping the grumpy guy on the treadmill will see it just as he concludes divorce is the only way out … you’re not being strategic.

If you’re cynical about social media because you’ve been “on LinkedIn for two years and haven’t been contacted by anyone!” your business development activities are probably too general.

You need to narrow your focus. Easier said than done? Not really.

Getting Centered and Specific

Yes, I know there are many lawyers, probably even in your firm, for whom getting clients seems to be an unconscious thing. It can look that way for you, too, if you do the advance work and maintenance. Here are some steps.

1. Get ready to get clients. Whether you are a brand-new lawyer or someone with years of legal experience, it is important to sit down and write out your business development plan. It may sound scary, but it isn’t. You probably already know most of the needed elements. The biggest struggle with yourself comes (again) in needing to focus instead of merely writing a plan to get “clients, any kind, as long as they pay.” Here are the basic questions any business development plan should answer:

  • What kind of work do you want to do?
  • Who hires lawyers to do that kind of work?
  • Where do those people get their information and referrals from?
  • How will you become known as an expert in doing the kind of work you want to do in the eyes of the targets you just identified?

2. Stay clear about what you are doing. Taking the long, strategic view shouldn’t be a one-time thing. Be constantly reviewing and updating your plan (rereading it will remind you what you are about), trying new tactics and learning from your mistakes. I know you feel too busy to spend so much time on planning. Why not try taking a “Schultz Hour” once a week? Incorporate a planned hour of reflection into every week’s schedule. Be rigorous about it and get the support of others in your workplace to do it. Turn off the phone and reflect on the state of your business development work. What do you want to change? What’s working and what isn’t? Get your creative juices flowing and take advantage of all you have learned since you first wrote that plan.

3. Track how it’s going. Debrief — on your own or with someone else. (Many lawyers find it helpful to team with another to get feedback and stay motivated.) Look back on that networking event the day after and figure out how you might have used it more to your advantage. Gather data over time so you can see how you are doing on your way to getting the work you want. Track the quality and quantity of return on investment for your various marketing tactics — networking, speaking, advertising. It won’t be long before you are the wizard of getting clients who are perfect for you.

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Categories: Business Development, Daily Dispatch, Getting Clients, Law Firm Marketing
Originally published May 11, 2017
Last updated March 26, 2021
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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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