Young lawyers often think that there is some magic secret to building a client base, and that marketing is a mysterious and complicated endeavour. I disagree, and I say that as a lawyer who did not really “get” marketing until I had been practicing for quite a long time.
Someone much smarter than me once said “marketing is being there”, a phrase which I took to repeating when trying to teach young lawyers how to market their practice. Of course, the immediate question was always “Where?”
The answer that I always gave was “pretty much anywhere, other than in your basement watching television or playing with your computer”, although in current times I suppose that this answer would require some modification.
Of course, “being there” is only half of the answer. You not only have to be “there”, but you have to be “there” with some confidence and the right attitude.
When I had been practicing law about 6 years, and had not yet figured the marketing thing out, a senior partner in my firm asked me to attend a cocktail reception that he was invited to but could not attend. So, I drove for an hour from my office in Mississauga to downtown Toronto at rush hour in a snowstorm, looked for parking for 20 minutes, walked to the venue for 10 minutes and entered the room. I found the bar and the buffet table and got a drink and some food and then milled around for 20 minutes with no idea as to how to break into a conversation with a bunch of strangers. Then, I left and went home, having not spoken to a soul.
Somehow, I managed to learn some stuff in the years which followed, and I developed a good client base.
When people asked me how I did it, I always told them, somewhat sarcastically, about my brilliant marketing mind, because frankly there was no brilliance involved.
I did not start taking marketing seriously until I had been practicing about 12 years. It was the recession of the mid 1990’s, and I was sitting in my office with nothing to do, wondering if I would ever see a file again when it occurred to me that perhaps I should do something about it.
Around the same time, the partners of my firm decided that all the partners should go for sales training. This was not the usual “marketing for lawyers” thing, but real honest to goodness sales training like real sales organizations have. The sales training course lasted 3 days and I remember only 2 things, both of which were immensely helpful.
The first thing was to understand your own social style (I am an “analytical driver”) and to recognize the different social styles of people you meet and to try to align your style with their style when communicating with them.
There are four social styles: Drivers, Analyticals, Expressives and Amiables. The topic of social styles is worthy of some further research (just Google it) and understanding them is the key to knowing how to relate to people. For example, if you are dealing with an Analytical personality, be prepared to explain all the details. If you try to quickly bring them to a conclusion by leaving out the analysis, they will see you as a lightweight and never hire you. For a Driver, the opposite is true. Present them with the bottom line. If you try to provide the details, their eyes will glaze over, and you will have lost the sale. For Amiables you will have to become friends before you get the business. For Expressives you will have to be interested in them and energetic and interesting yourself to be accepted.
The second, and the most important, thing that I learned was that it is okay to ask for business, something that lawyers have trouble doing. I must admit that over time I went from being okay with asking for business to being shameless about asking for business. (And it works.)
With the realization that I needed to bring in my own work and that it is okay to ask for business, the flow of brilliant marketing ideas started coming. Here are some examples of my brilliance:
- One of my best clients was working on an acquisition in the U.K. and had worked with a mergers and acquisitions advisor named Norm to take the transaction to the letter of intent stage before calling in the lawyers. I was invited to a meeting with the client and Norm to receive instructions to move the transaction forward. During the meeting, it occurred to me that Norm seemed to be exceptionally good at what he did. At the end of the meeting, rather than simply shake hands and say goodbye, I invited Norm to lunch to get to know him better. That was it. That was all the brilliance that was involved in what eventually became one of my two largest referral sources over many years. (Note that in this case, I did not even have to go “there” to do my marketing. I was already there.)
- I read an announcement in the Ontario Reports about a Buffalo law firm opening an office in Mississauga. I called the number and asked for one of the partners named in the advertisement. I told him that since I was with the largest law firm in Mississauga, we should know each other. A lunch meeting was set up. One of the partners staffing that office was a great marketer and over a subsequent lunch she suggested introducing me to a local accountant who I did not know. Another lunch, and I now had the second of my two largest referral sources.
- My associate and I were invited to a marketing presentation on a now long-forgotten topic followed by networking. During the networking, my associate struck up a conversation with someone who it turned out was the VP of Finance for a large corporation. The VP mentioned that they were looking for another law firm to do some work that they did not want to use their Toronto firm to do. I joined the conversation and managed to work into the conversation the only thing that I knew about their industry. My associate then followed up with him regularly for about 6 months to try to get a meeting. Eventually we got the meeting and the client. Now, understand that if we had gotten all this client’s work, we would have had to hire 6 more lawyers. We only got a small sliver of the client’s work, but it was enough for the client to become the firm’s largest client for several years in a row.
- Another time, I was invited to speak at a series of breakfast seminars. I never received any work from the attendees. However, one of the other presenters was a business broker. I invited him to lunch. He spent most of the lunch telling me about his fantastic relationship with his long-time lawyer. I spent most of the lunch thinking about what a waste of time it was from a business promotion perspective. Just as we got to the end of the meal, he mentioned that the long-time lawyer had just retired. Lunch was suddenly more interesting. Referrals followed.
- The same business broker was involved in an international association of mergers and acquisition professionals and invited me to attend a conference with him in London, England. It was bit of an expensive way to get to know him better, but I attended with my wife and he attended with his wife. We all got along well, and the relationship deepened. More referrals came.
I can cite more examples, but you get the idea. There was no brilliance involved. Just “being there”, expressing an interest in people and taking the time to get to know them better. Of course, it helped that I was a damn competent lawyer. But there are many competent lawyers who do not have a solid client base because as good as they are at doing the difficult things, they do not have the confidence or make the effort to do the easy things.
Oh, by the way, this is for those of you who doubt that you can develop the required confidence. I never had it in my early days. In fact, I was not hired back after articling, and the reason given was that I did not have enough confidence. I showed them.
You can too.