Competition in and among private law firms has never been greater, and the pressure on lawyers at all levels to develop new business is intense. Many law firms compete for the same business clients and being a talented lawyer with excellent legal skills is no longer enough. Today’s lawyers must have the ability to attract, retain and expand relationships with their clients, which is often easier said than done. Very few graduate from law school with business development training. Frequently, the pressure to bill sufficient hours during associates’ early years leaves little time and energy for client development efforts, especially when you’re not sure where or how to start.
Outside coaches and consultants are great resources, but you may have exactly what you need within your own four walls to help lawyers build and strengthen their own books. A firm’s top producers know the firm’s assets, personality, target markets and history. Their advice and counsel as to what worked for them and how to build on past success is invaluable to the next generation of firm leaders. The collective wisdom of top rainmakers also shows associates that there is no “one size fits all” approach to client development and exposure to different paths of success helps each person find their unique method.
A simple first step is to host a round-table session spotlighting your rainmakers as they answer questions such as:
- What professional organizations did you join and in what ways do you contribute to them?
- What are the best practices for attending and speaking at conferences and seminars?
- What steps did you take early on that later paid off in your client development?
- What are your best practices for client entertainment and other client interaction?
- What do you know now about client development that you wish you’d known then?
- What are your best practices for social media? Do you offer your clients webinar presentations?
- How much non-billable time do you spend on client development and how do you spend it?
- What’s an example of a successful cross-selling situation, a winning pitch and a winning RFP?
- How have you created client service and loyalty with your clients?
- How do you stay abreast of client needs and how do you solicit feedback?
- What is one piece of advice that could have the greatest impact on their future success?
“Eighty percent of success is just showing up.”
– Woody Allen
The hardest part of making an internal program work is follow up and next steps. Delegate a few people to share the responsibility and clearly outline the necessary steps to maintain accountability. Individual support is ideal but if a formal mentoring program isn’t gaining traction or feels inconsistent, aim for smaller, easier next steps. A series of informal round tables with different partners, group efforts by practice sections and self-reporting work well too. Some helpful questions to ask after these sessions include:
- What have you learned about client development and what are you doing differently as a result?
- What do you think of the idea of having a business plan and goals? How does that help you?
- Does using a spreadsheet or other tracking method help you follow up on contacts?
- Where do you expect to be five years from now as a result of your new focus on client development?