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If you are like most lawyers, you have done little to organize or manage one of your most important business development assets — your contacts. Why is it so important to keep track of the people you know?
Most clients will tell you they hire the lawyer, not the law firm. Even as corporate clients become more businesslike in vetting and selecting counsel, there is usually a relationship that led to being put on the shortlist.
To be successful at developing business, you must know people and maintain key contacts — either those hiring legal counsel or those whom they ask for recommendations. Many lawyers will throw up obstacles for themselves in this regard, with thoughts like, “I’m an introvert” or “I don’t know a lot of people.” But the truth is:
There are two parts to contact management: organizing the contacts into a useful form, and managing and tracking those contacts. Here’s my advice on the best way to get started.
Typically, I suggest spending some time organizing a master list of important contacts. You will not use this list to blast newsletters or send holiday cards, and you will not start calling them all for lunch. The process is meant to remind you of people who might be helpful to you (or vice versa) in the future, or with whom you would like to reconnect.
Your list could include:
Is this task onerous? Possibly. Is it worthwhile? Absolutely. I cannot tell you how many times lawyers have told me what a useful exercise it turned out to be. For example, one lawyer recently identified four people she knew quite well who had gone in-house since she had last made contact.
This exercise is important because it will allow you to focus your time and efforts on the people who make the most sense for you — rather than doing what you’ve always done, or simply responding to invitations.
Once your master list is organized, I recommend you identify your top priorities for contact. Good examples for this targets list are:
If you have a lot of people on your list, you may want to put them into priority groups based on desired frequency of contact — for example, like this:
Now that you have your master and targets lists, what do you do with them? Imposing some discipline and structure on the process will make your business development efforts more productive.
Put your lists into a format you know you will use, which often means a system you are already using in your practice. Options include:
Next, for your top-priority contacts, identify the desired frequency of contact and create an action plan. If it’s a former client you want to reengage, perhaps you start with a goodwill visit to the company, followed by social outings in the future. If it’s a law school classmate who might be a good referral source someday, you could plan to schedule quarterly lunch or drinks.
These activities should be entered into your calendaring or management system (using, for example, Outlook calendar reminders).
Once you have organized your contacts and set up a process to manage and track them, don’t let your work go to waste.
Sally J. 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 was 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.” Sally writes Attorney at Work’s “Play to Win” column. Follow her on Twitter @SallySchmidt.
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