To be successful in private law practice, you have to learn to sell your services. Here are three tips for building business relationships.
Confession: As a new lawyer, I didn’t realize that to be successful in private practice, I had to “sell” or “market” my services. I didn’t know that to be able to bill hours, I had to have a partner or shareholder (or several) or direct clients who were willing to trust me with their work. (In hindsight, I probably should have explored this before law school because I was the kid in elementary who never participated in school fundraising, no matter how lucrative the prize.)
If this is you, don’t give up. Here are tips to get you started with developing your business.
1. Start Early
I cannot stress this enough. Business relationships are built on trust, and trust takes time. Ask yourself, will you trust someone you’ve known for years or someone you’ve just met? Most people would probably go with someone they’ve known for years — or someone referred to them by someone they trust — especially when retaining a lawyer or other professional. If you want to be the “someone” that people have known for years and referred, you have to work on how to be “known.” And I submit to you that staying late and “keeping your head down” to be the top biller in your office is only one (minimal) way to be known and will only get you so far in your career trajectory.
Here are a couple of ideas on how to start early in building business relationships:
- Keep in touch with law school connections. Choose a handful you like and respect and calendar reminders for when you will check in with them. These individuals can be your study group, mock trial team and coaches, or law review crew. If you already have a close group, planning a get-together once or twice a year will create a “touch-point” with them all at once.
- Join a committee in a bar association. Note my specific use of the word “committee.” This is more than just joining the organization and attending a few happy hours. That’s not enough to garner trust. Join a committee and commit to doing something small so you can knock it out of the park. The purpose is to start intentionally building your credibility and your reputation. By doing so, everyone on the committee — especially those in leadership — can speak to your ability to execute because it comes back to trust.
2. Create a System
Creating a system may sound daunting, but it’s not a fancy algorithm or complex spreadsheet. It’s just making a plan and breaking it into bite-sized, achievable pieces.
The “why” behind the system is because if you don’t, it’s too easy for nonbillable tasks — especially ones that make you uncomfortable, like business development — to fall way down on your priority list, despite the best of intentions.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Once-a-Month system. Choose 12 people you want to stay connected with — whether they are clients, prospective clients, a mentor, or someone in your network who is super-popular and a natural connector. For each of your 12, assign them a month and reach out to them during that month. It could be an email, a lunch or a Peloton ride. After your touchpoint, you will follow up that day or the next day with a text message or email — and calendar another touchpoint within that quarter where you will send an email or perhaps an article of interest. Also, add them to your business holiday card list. In one year, you will have had at least three touch-points with at least 12 people in your network.
- Once-a-Week system. If you’re especially ambitious, try to have lunch (or other meetups) with someone at least once a week. This could be someone in your office or outside your office. From my perspective, you need to eat lunch and give yourself a mental break — so why not use it for connecting too? Even if some lunch dates fall through, or you may have a deal or trial or otherwise get too busy with work, success comes from creating the habit. Even if you don’t lunch with 52 people in a year, if you can do half that number, you will have at least 25 meetups. And that is far better than zero.
3. Create and Maintain a LinkedIn Profile
Even if you don’t post on LinkedIn regularly, having a LinkedIn profile allows people to find you. LinkedIn is a great place to connect and engage others by liking, commenting on and sharing their posts. This reference may date me, but I like to use my LinkedIn as a virtual Rolodex (a specific tool that holds and organizes business cards). Make it a habit to connect with contacts using LinkedIn after meeting them — for example, by taking the time to add all the members of a leadership class or other cohort as connections on the site.
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