Business development is all about making the connection between those who potentially or actually have a need and those who can service that need. In the legal world, our services are not only needed by potential clients, but also by other lawyers. It is essential to the growth and success of your law firm that the greater legal industry is aware of your firm, your practice areas, and what makes you different or unique. So many referrals are lost simply because a lawyer does not have the guts to ask a professional acquaintance for them, or because even your own law school class alumni may not know what you are doing now.
What would a law firm be without the ability to find and retain business? It would be an unprofitable, stagnant business. This blog is the first in a two-part series wherein I will discuss the core building blocks of successful law firm business development. In the first post, we will cover clients - both how to find new and how to retain existing. In the second post, we will cover referral sources and metrics.
Gone are the days when name recognition was all an established lawyer needed to retain a solid and profitable book of business. Even in the ever-burgeoning days of digital marketing, just having a website isn’t enough; lawyers have to work hard and try new tactics to attract new business. While focusing your law firm’s marketing efforts online is crucial, business development tactics and strategies remain a valuable and vital part of finding clients.
Make it easy on yourself by keeping a fresh set of business cards with you at all times. Do not be afraid to work the room at any given social gathering, striking up casual conversation with those you meet. If your legal practice works its way into the chat, you’ll have a card at the ready to hand over to your new contact. Unlike retaining clients that already know, trust, and appreciate your hard work, the chances of successfully “selling” your legal services to a brand new prospect are only one in eight.
Treat everyone like a prospective client. I have relayed this concept many times to my fellow lawyers, and many seem to think it sounds “too salesy,” but it’s not if you are good at it. Every person you meet in your life has the potential to send business your way – from your travel agent, to your housekeeper, to the teller at the bank, to the parents of your child’s friend at school. Do not be afraid to speak up when someone mentions a legal issue to let them know that you are a lawyer; even if the potential matter is not in your practice area wheelhouse, you can likely refer them to someone you know, forging a valuable connection for all three of you.
What business development strategies will your law firm use to find new leads?
- Speak at legal industry events
- Speak at events for non-legal, but relevant groups
- Author a work in legal industry publications
- Author a work in non-legal, but relevant publications
- Join and/or attend legal industry groups
- Join and/or attend non-legal, but relevant groups (college alumni groups, religious or cultural groups)
- Sponsorships of legal industry events
- Sponsorships of non-legal, but relevant events (car seat safety events)
- Socially engage with prospects at your own targeted events (sporting events, happy hours, seated dinners, lunches)
- Stay informed of business, legal, regulatory, geographic, and economic trends affecting your practice areas (subscribe to online alerts and paper periodicals)
- Mentor both up-and-coming lawyers and those in other industries
- Read non-legal business development books and blogs
Long-term or institutional clients still switch firms, and their reasons for leaving you vary from your firm tacking on unnecessary expenses to their bill, to you saying something you shouldn’t have said, or you having a less-than-ideal lawyer or other staff member serving as your primary point of communication with the client. So when a lawyer first works on increasing sales, much of the initial effort should be aimed at existing clients. By providing your existing clients the best possible service, you begin the business development game with a leg up on the competition. The chances of “selling” to an existing client are better than one in two; but once you lose that client for the first time, the chances of “selling” drop to one in three.
In today’s ultra-competitive legal industry, other law firms would not only like to take your best clients, but they will deliberately try to do so. You will need to put in more effort than ever to protect the client base you have built. Legal industry guru Cordell Parvin has a great list of how your law firm can provide extraordinary service and exceed expectations.
Ideas to Keep Existing Law Firm Clients Engaged:
- Offer your clients a free meeting so that you can learn more about them.
- Get client feedback while working together, not just at the end of their matter.
- Have a free monthly or quarterly call with each of your clients (non-billable) to update them on the status of their matters and ask if they need help in additional areas.
- Ask your staff for their opinions on how you can improve.
Other blog posts on Law Firm Business Development:
- For Lawyers Who Think They’re Too Busy for Business Development
- What is the Difference Between Law Firm Marketing and Law Firm Business Development?
- Don't Just Develop Your Law Firm Brand, Your Personal Brand Matters Too