Holly Polglase is a shareholder at Hermes, Netburn, O’Connor & Spearing, P.C. in Boston. Holly acts as lead counsel in the defense and trial of complex product liability, pharmaceutical, medical device, toxic tort, asbestos, general liability, and commercial matters. With more than 20 years of experience, Holly represents product manufacturers, sellers, and other businesses in cases involving catastrophic losses, including serving as national and regional counsel for major national and multi-national corporations. In 2018, she was named “Lawyer of the Year” in Boston for Mass Tort Litigation/Class Actions–Defendants by Best Lawyers in America. She is the immediate past chair of the ABA Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section.
Michele Powers (MP): What would you say are your top three business development practices or tools?
Holly Polglase (HP): First and foremost, do good work. There is no better business development tool than having a reputation for doing good work. Potential clients will seek out those lawyers who are well regarded by their peers. Therefore, young lawyers need to focus on developing their skills and take every opportunity offered to grow as a lawyer. However, doing good work does not help you if you hide in the background and no one ever knows your name. Do good work and make sure others know you do good work.
Second, take every opportunity to market. Whatever marketing means for you and however you can get your name out there: write articles, give presentations, go to the cocktail parties and mingle, reach out to potential contacts with a helpful article or recent case, etc. Marketing is hard work, and the earlier you start the earlier you will see a return. Ignore the naysayers and people who don’t market, and don’t think you should either. Get yourself out there and see what happens.
Finally, you have to be yourself. Everyone brings something different to the table. Be yourself and don’t try to pretend you are something you are not.
MP: Is there anything you would do differently for your practice if you could have a “do over”?
HP: I started marketing in my second year of practice. I gave my first speech at an American Bar Association Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section (TIPS) program that was then called, “The National Institute on Emerging Issues in Automotive Product Liability Law” at the Arizona Biltmore. I enjoyed the experience so much that I joined TIPS’ Product Liability Committee and made many friends with whom I am still close to this day.
I am grateful I had that opportunity early on to learn what marketing was and to start doing it. In my many years of practice, I probably could have taken multiple different paths, but I don’t spend a lot of time looking backward or having regrets. When I made a mistake, I tried to figure out what went wrong and how to avoid the mistake going forward. One time, after a serious setback, a good friend of mine told me to, “smile and keep moving.” It was among the best advice I ever got.
MP: What has most impacted your business development success?
HP: The recognition that all business relationships are personal relationships and that the foundation of all personal relationships is trust. Clients come to you because they have a problem that needs to be solved, but they don’t just want you to solve the problem, they want you to take the problem off their hands so they don’t have to worry about it. They need to trust that you will protect them and make their lives easier. If you don’t, you will not have that client very long.
MP: You are the most recent past chair of the ABA Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section. Would you recommend getting involved in the ABA to associates or young partners? If yes, why?
HP: Yes. ABA TIPS involvement has been a cornerstone of my career. I have lifelong friends through TIPS that often refer business and make introductions. Not only has TIPS afforded me many opportunities to publish, speak and market myself to potential clients and referral sources but it has also given me sources of professional development through its publications and programs.
MP: Was there ever a time that you ended up developing business in a way that surprised you?
HP: Yes. Recognizing that anyone can be a potential client or referral source is important. Sometimes you get a call from someone whom you haven’t seen in years and they now have some case assignment responsibility.
MP: Any other piece of career advice you would like to share?
HP: Marketing is not for every lawyer. Some lawyers do not feel comfortable asking for work or networking. If you have no interest in marketing, then don’t do it, because you will likely become frustrated and burned out. Focus on other aspects of your career development. However, if you are outgoing and enjoy the prospect of putting yourself on the line and developing your own practice, then get out there. As I said, the sooner you start, the earlier you will see results. Recognize, however, that it takes hard work and time to see results.
About the Author
Michele Powers is an executive coach at Elite Lawyer Coaching, providing leadership, teamwork, and well-being consulting to lawyers, law firms, and legal departments. Contact her at Michele@elitelawyercoach.com.