Six business development tips for new lawyers!

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No longer is becoming a great attorney the only job for a new law firm associate!

In today’s business environment associates at many firms need to get out of the starting gate also thinking about ways to develop new business.

This will help them to avoid the scenario of being solely a revenue drain and instead becoming a potential revenue source as well.

It can be a daunting task for a new law school graduate who is happy just to be employed to think about both tasks at a time when the demands to simply do their job can be emotionally as well as physically debilitating.

But, despite the difficulty, it very much needs to be accomplished to remain in good standing with the powers that be (aka Partners).

So how should new business development be approached?

These are six ideas that will help by being the essential building blocks in the foundation of a law firm career! From the website attorneyatwork:

1. Pay attention to your internal marketing efforts. As an associate, your most likely source of business, of course, is the partners in the firm. Working on matters for a partner’s client gives you two vital things:

  • Experience, so you have something to market someday to others.
  • Exposure to clients, through which you can build your client service skills and relationships.

So treat partners like clients. Practice good client relations skills on them. For example, identify their expectations up front; keep them apprised of the status of the matter; be responsive; and follow up when the project is completed. In addition, be active in the firm. Show initiative by offering to write for a practice group newsletter; sign up to attend a baseball game with clients; or make a presentation to another department after attending a CLE program. Internal visibility will result in more good work and good marketing opportunities.

2. Manage relationships like they are your most important asset. I recently met with a partner to discuss his business development efforts and I asked how he tracks his contacts. He showed me a huge stack of business cards in his desk with a rubber band around them, admitting there were many people in that deck whom he cannot recall.

As a young person, you may find it hard to believe but it’s true: You think you will remember your contacts, but you will not. You think you will stay in touch with people, but you will not. Not unless you organize and manage them, that is.

Keep track of undergrad and law school friends, former colleagues, contemporaries at client companies or co-counsel firms, experts, friendly opposing counsel, bar contacts and other professional acquaintances. It doesn’t matter how you do it — use Excel, Outlook, a notepad or the firm’s client relationship management (CRM) database — just do it. This is especially important if you don’t like networking and meeting new people. At least you won’t lose track of those you already know!

3. Create your own experience database. As is the case with your contacts, you may think you will recall everything you have worked on, but trust me, you will not. I can’t tell you how many partners, when preparing a pitch or for a meeting, will say something like, “I wish I could remember how many of these I have done.”

Why is this important? Because a lot of lawyers can say they worked on deals — but how many can cite the number of deals in a particular industry or the aggregate dollars involved? A lot of people can say they have participated in arbitrations — but how many can recall the number of arbitrations or the specific issues involved? Numbers and facts are very compelling to prospective clients.

4. Become active in an organization. Every lawyer needs to be involved in an outside organization and, ultimately, its leadership. Done right, this will:

  • Help you meet people and build your network of contacts.
  • Allow you to give something back to the profession or the community — which people expect of lawyers.
  • Help you build your leadership skills and a reputation as the kind of person who can get things done.

For pure business development, some organizations may be better than others. For young lawyers, however, I am less concerned about what the group is than the lawyer’s commitment to it. For example, a seventh-year lawyer with whom I work is a member of a service organization and landed an eminent domain issue when the group’s building was targeted by the city.

If you are seeking an organization in which to get involved, your choices are many:

  • School-related groups, such as your college or law school alumni association
  • Bar association entities, such as the Young Lawyers Division of the ABA or your state bar
  • Industry groups, like a local forum for start-up technology companies
  • Community or civic groups, such as a library or homeless shelter volunteer group
  • Diversity or affinity groups, like the Asian American Bar Association
  • Organized activities, like an annual marathon or charity golf tournament
  • Social or networking groups, like a breakfast club of young professionals

For your outside activity to be helpful for future business development, you must make a real commitment to it — dive in, attend meetings and get involved. For your contributions to be genuine, you must feel some passion for the organization, its subject or its cause.

5. Show what you know. Substantive expertise is still a work in progress for most young lawyers. Still, I believe associates should aim to complete one “thought-leadership” activity each year, which could include:

  • An article for a newsletter, blog or website, whether published by the firm or an outside source
  • A speech, which could be given at an internal firm meeting (e.g., for a practice group), a firm-sponsored event for clients (like a webinar or seminar) or something sponsored by an outside group (such as the aforementioned organizations)

Opportunities are easier to obtain than you might think. For subject matter, you only need to know more than the reader or audience member. For example, you could track the whistleblower cases in your courts and report on trends over the past five years. Or you could identify a niche within a niche (e.g., M&A issues involving government contractors) in which you have had some experience.

And, don’t forget, you can always team with a firm partner, a client, a referral source or another “authority” if you need more substantive expertise or gravitas. In fact, my very first published article was co-authored with a faculty advisor from my MBA program.

6. Build your platform. Finally, you need to get comfortable with how you present yourself to people — your personal brand. This takes many forms, including:

  • Your “elevator speech” — how you describe what you do (and what the firm does)
  • Your firm website bio
  • Your LinkedIn profile

Spend time thinking about how to describe your practice. Create different versions for different audiences (e.g., an HOA meeting of neighbors versus a law school reunion). In all cases, focus on the kinds of clients you represent, what you do to help them and ways in which you (or the firm) are different.

Be conscious of your personal brand when you talk with people, whether it’s a partner from whom you’d like to obtain more work or someone unrelated to the firm. And keep your brand message up to date. For example, review your firm bio and LinkedIn profile at least twice a year, adding new areas of expertise or interesting new representative cases on which you’ve worked. Your practice will change and your experiences will grow, so you need to make sure you are always presenting the best version of yourself.

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Written by Michael Haltman, President of Hallmark Abstract Service, New York.

HAS is a provider of title insurance in New York State for residential and commercial real estate transactions specializing in the areas of New York City, Long Island and Westchester.

Remember that you have the right to choose your own title company (click here to learn more)!

If you have any questions you can reach Michael by email at mhaltman@hallmarkabstractllc.com.

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