In today's extremely competitive legal field, doing good work just isn’t enough anymore – it’s also about securing new business. As a young lawyer, it can be overwhelming to think about business development and where to begin, but don’t underestimate the importance that it can play in your career. A key component to success (and increasing your value to a law firm) is developing and maintaining client relationships to build your book of business. If you’ve only recently finished law school, and have no training in business development, here are some initial thought-starters and questions to think about.
Business Development 101: Laying the Groundwork
If you are unsure where to begin, start by creating a marketing plan for yourself that includes your top career goals, along with a few specific tactics to help support these goals. First, determine your best targets for new business. For example: which industry populations are you trying to reach? Are there other types of attorneys who might refer business to you? The more clearly you define your target audience, the more effective your business development efforts will be.
Your targets are the people you want to connect to and cultivate relationships with, and the best way to do this is to understand what their own personal interests are, what organizations they are involved in, and what keeps them up at night. What can you do for them, and why should they care? Put simply: How can you help them to help you?
After you have considered these questions and have established a targeted plan for business growth, here are some recommended next steps.
Cultivate Your Existing Contacts. Don’t overlook how important it is to stay in touch with your existing social and professional contacts, as well as former law school classmates and business acquaintances. Keep a running list of your current contacts and add the people you meet along the way. Make notes about their work and interests, so you can remember these small details later on. It’s a two-way communication street – listen to them, and make them feel like they are being heard, but also make them aware of what you do and what your business interests are. Engage with them on social media networks and groups, such as LinkedIn. The more you keep up with regular communication, the more likely they will remember you, and hopefully, send some business your way.
Get Involved. Talk to clients and prospective clients about the professional organizations and industry associations they belong to. Do your homework. Carefully research these organizations to understand their missions and geographic reach. Who are their members? Is it really valuable for you to become involved? Who are the leaders and key decision-makers, and are other attorneys involved as well?
Recognize that becoming active is a huge time commitment, so you’ll want to select only the two or three most important organizations that will make it worth your while. Trying to commit yourself to too many organizations and functions is a mistake you don’t want to make. Once you choose the right organizations and become active, start building relationships with other members and influencers – really get to know them, and allow them to get to know you. It’s all about going out there and meeting people.
Set your sights on a future leadership position, such as committee chair or board member. Also look for speaking engagements -- opportunities to present at programs and seminars, and contribute articles that are communicated to the organizations’ constituents via email blasts, member updates, and e-newsletters, etc.
Build Your Reputation. Not only can you grow your reputation and contacts through active involvement in professional organizations, but you can also build it up by getting your name out in the media. Look for opportunities to write articles for relevant industry and legal news publications that your client prospects and referring attorneys read. Participate in these news outlets’ Q&As, features, and editorials/opinion pieces.
Many print publications are also hungry for online content, so you might be able to score a regular online column or a blogging opportunity as well. Position yourself as an expert source, outlining specific industry trends, hot topics and other legal-related areas that you can speak to. Chances are, they will hold onto this information and reach out to you the next time they’re looking for comments on breaking news or specific in-depth stories or cases. Being quoted and featured regularly will give you public credibility, plus, the more often people see your name, the more likely they will remember you.
Once you get some visibility and have interview experience under your belt, you and your firm can promote your recent contributions online, via the firm’s website, and on LinkedIn. As you get more comfortable being in print and online media, consider opportunities on radio and television. (Note: you may want to undergo professional media training before you make this leap!)
Get a Mentor. Does your firm offer associate mentoring or business development programs? If so, take full advantage of these training programs and learn everything you can. And, if your firm has a marketing department, or partners with an outside marketing firm, ask these professionals for their recommendations on further developing your business marketing plan.
If you don’t have access to specific training programs or professional marketing resources, then seek advice from senior level partners and rainmakers at the firm on their best strategies and ideas for building business. Ask them to review your individual marketing plan and goals, and get their feedback. They may have additional insights from their years of experience. Often times, it is best to learn by watching senior level attorneys in action. Attend their sales pitches and business meetings to see how they interact with prospects and existing clients.
As a young lawyer, this is all new to you, so don’t get bogged down in too many details. Take a proactive approach to begin your marketing plan and assess your goals, then slowly build up your contacts and your involvement in professional organizations and trade associations. You are your own best advocate, so look out for reputation-building opportunities and activities along the way, and talk with your more experienced colleagues about their idea for building business. There is always room for improvement.
Are you a law firm veteran who significantly increased your book of business through developing a targeted marketing plan? Please share your successes, strategies and tactics, as well as your challenges, in our comments sections below.