Mastering the (Not So) Long Woo

You went to law school, not business school, right? So why is it that you have to build your own business, that is, get your own work? It’s because you are a “lawpreneur,” meaning that you an entrepreneur of legal services. It’s not enough to do great work, you have to get the work. Long gone are the days when being a grinder is enough. Success requires that you cultivate and sign new clients—regardless of your level.

Take Julie, Bill, and Charlotte, for example. Julie made partner at a big Chicago-based firm last year. Her “sweet spot” is advising on and litigating whistle-blower cases. She feels pressure to bring in business and to have primary responsibility for firm clients in this practice area.  So she must convince more senior partners that she has what it takes to be the succession plan for the firm’s long-standing big clients.  Bill is an associate at a DC-based tax boutique and needs to build his niche and reputation within the firm as the go-to partnership associate.  Charlotte has her own business-law practice in Los Angeles. She doesn’t have any partners and likes it that way. Charlotte obviously has to land new clients herself. There is no one else. Each of them has to sell their services to or “woo” their colleagues, prospective clients, or both.


It is simple, but not easy, to build your business. It’s a strategic numbers game. Consequently, building the prospect pipeline is the key. You must master the (not so) long woo, which requires commitment, tenacity, and patience. Sometimes you get a new client over the first lunch. Sometimes it can take years of relationship building to sign a particular client.

In either case, the basic process is the same. Our 5 Steps to Transform Prospects Into Clients process works because it focuses the lawpreneur on building the relationship and being a resource. It is also critical that you build the prospect pipeline so that it is easy to stay committed to developing a viable business, while not being attached to any particular prospect becoming a client. Be tenacious. You must be relentless in your networking and other business development activities. Developing your business is not just for when you “have time.” Be patient. Without patience you appear desperate, which is off-putting because a desperate lawyer is focused on himself, not on helping the prospective client, and desperation shows.

Once you understand the 5 Steps, commitment, tenacity, and patience will come naturally. It is nearly impossible to be tenacious or patient unless you have a clear understanding of what it takes to bring in a client and where you are in the process with a particular prospect. By following the 5 Steps, you will build your prospect pipeline, get more work, and create more success for yourself.

The 5 Steps To Transform Prospects Into Clients are:

The 5 Steps To Transform Prospects Into Clients

Step 1: Question, Don’t Pitch
Step 2: Offer Guidance
Step 3: Make Your Pitch
Step 4: Follow Up
Step 5: Do Great Work

Step 1. Question, Don’t Pitch. Whether you meet a prospect at a networking event, parent-teacher night, or through a friend, when making the initial contact, the savvy lawpreneur does not pitch services. Instead, learn about the prospect’s business, his concerns, his family, his hobbies. The prospect must know that you care about him.

Here’s how you show concern: Ask open-ended questions that will establish a rapport and build your relationship. In this process you will be able to identify the scope and depth of legal needs the prospect may have.

Be interested and helpful from the get-go. The conversation should naturally lead to an exploration of your services, which will help the prospect determine whether he has any need for such services. All it takes is patience. Don’t worry about being something you’re not. Be yourself.

For example, Julie, the partner at the Chicago-based firm, makes time to meet with partners when she visits the firm’s other offices. She helps wherever she can, even if the work is not billable. She wants her partners to see her as a resource, a team player, and to know the quality of her work. She is a frequent presenter and uses the opportunity to get to know prospective clients on a personal level. She knows the ages of their children and often can be heard swapping fishing stories.

Similarly, Bill makes a point to know what each partner is working on and ask meaningful questions. In the process, he is learning and building relationships at the same time.

Even though Charlotte doesn’t have any law partners, she enjoys the committees she’s on and looks for opportunities to use her strengths and get to know others. When people get to know her personally and they find out she’s a business lawyer, they usually ask her the questions. Rather than pitch her services right away, she probes to deepen her understanding, which helps build the relationship.

Step 2.  Offer Guidance.  After developing a rapport and good sense of what concerns the prospect, you offer guidance. Ask questions to demonstrate your interest and to clarify goals. Ask whether the prospect has considered certain strategies.

Once you have a good sense of the problem and that solving the problem is important, you can ask if it would be of value to have the problem solved. Remember to articulate the problem and any related needs using the prospect’s language.  After the prospect has indicated that it would be of great value to resolve his problem, make the “soft ask.” The purpose of the soft ask is to let the prospect know that you are interested, willing, and able to solve the problem for him. Charlotte, for example, typically handles the soft ask by saying to the prospect:

“I’d be honored to help with this. Would you like to set up a call or meeting to discuss this further?”

She is also sure to suggest and confirm the next step, such as a meeting or a phone call. Typically she whips out her smart phone to schedule the meeting or make a follow up note to herself.  Julie and Bill follow the same strategy, always eager to help and be a resource.

Step 3. Make Your Pitch.  After indicating his interest in working with the prospect, the lawpreneur will typically meet with the prospect and make a pitch. A great pitch focuses on the prospective client. Before the pitch, find out who will be there at what is important to them. Tailor your pitch accordingly. At the outset, ask the prospects what they need from the meeting. Elicit input from each person attending if possible. Be sure that your presentation addresses specific client needs and doesn’t appear canned.

Before the pitch meeting ends, let the prospect know that you’d be honored to help them and then ask two critical questions:

“What question to you have about me or my services?” and
“Do you have any reservations about hiring us?”

Finally, before leaving the meeting, you must ask or suggest how you will follow up. Setting the expectation about who will initiate follow up relieves stress by clarifying that it is, in fact, appropriate for you to follow up with a call.  Don’t leave follow-up to the prospect. People get busy and often put off dealing with issues even when the delay can cause enormous problems.

Step 4. Follow Up. A week or so has passed and the prospect is expecting your call because you established the expectation. On the call, you ask the prospect whether he has any questions about your services. You should not be surprised if the prospect has not read the proposal or made a decision.  It happens. If that is the case, use the call as an opportunity to share additional thoughts.

In addition, since both you and the prospect have had a chance to reflect, new issues or concerns may have surfaced. If this happens, follow the iterative, often circular nature of the 5 Steps. Go back to Step 1, ask more open-ended questions, followed by more closed questions. Resubmit the proposal if necessary and make that follow-up call. Finally, if the prospect likes the proposal and has indicated he is ready to proceed, then you have one thing left to do:  close the deal.

Closing the deal can be uncomfortable, because you have to ask for the work, for real. You have to be willing to ask “Would you like to hire us?” or “Is there any doubt that we are the right legal team?” or “When would like us to start?” The lawpreneur is brave first, comfortable second.

The key is to be ready. Don’t make the mistake that Julie made the first time she followed up with a client who wanted to hire the firm. She didn’t know her firm’s process, whether a conflict check had been performed, and whether a retainer was necessary, and had to get back to them. She felt incompetent, and it never happened again.

Step 5. Do Great Work. Excellent work is the key to getting more work with the same client and referrals. You must turn your clients and partners into raving fans. You invest in the client early on, building relationships and taking the time to understand the client’s issues.  Visit clients as appropriate and without always collecting a fee. If you do this, you will have a lawpreneur’s second biggest problem: too much work!

A final note, developing a particular client can take a day, a week, a month or months, or even years. It can be a long woo. A committed, tenacious, and patient lawpreneur will have so many prospects in the pipeline, that when a particular prospect becomes a client, is almost irrelevant because he is busy serving other new clients.

About the Author

Anne E. Collier is an attorney and is the founder of Arudia, an executive coaching firm.

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