Business development is a necessary skill for all attorneys. Learning how to bring clients to a firm is as important as being able to argue in court or draft a contract. Here are a few tips that have worked for me—and may work for you:
Building relationships with potential clients and referral sources is the key to business development. How do you build relationships?
- A relationship is built by showing a genuine interest in another person’s life. One of the best ways to keep in touch and grow relationships with referrals sources is a simple invitation to coffee/lunch. Keep it lighthearted and limit talk about business. If your contact feels that you dragged them out of the office to simply listen to a commercial for you or your firm, they probably won’t want to return.
- Send hand-written birthday cards and thank-you letters for referrals. Gifts for referrals from other attorneys also encourage the referrals to keep flowing. On the flip side, sending a letter to another attorney to whom you sent a case is a great way to let them know you were thinking of them, and keep them thinking of you. Cross-referrals are wonderful because both attorneys benefit.
- At networking events, select a few people you want to connect with, and make sure you follow up the next day with a lunch or coffee request. Always follow up and always do what you say you are going to do. If you tell them you will email them tomorrow, then email them the very next day, not three days later. Then continue making the effort to foster the relationship if it seems promising to lead to referrals.
Sources of New Business
- While I firmly believe other lawyers often prove to be the best referral sources, every person you meet is an opportunity to develop a business relationship. I have received significant referrals from people cutting my hair, my dentist’s office, dry cleaners, my personal trainer, the receptionist at my doctor’s office, etc. I practice family law. In conversations with non-lawyers, in a non-obnoxious way, I slip into the conversation what I do for a living, and often it leads to referrals. While not every practice has such a wide client base as family law, the same principals of business development apply—look beyond lawyers for referrals.
Low-Cost, High-Impact Tactics
As a young lawyer, spending lots of dollars on print or online advertising is likely impractical if not an outright waste of money. But many low-cost or free ways to get the word out about your practice are available.
- Endorsements from prior clients are priceless. Get in the habit of sending each client a link to confidentially complete a Google review, Facebook rating, or Avvo review about you after their case or matter is completed. Many clients have written things about me that no amount of money could have bought.
- Take advantage of Facebook and other social media to distribute news about you, your practice, awards you’ve earned, etc. No awards yet? Then blog about exciting things in your area of law, or community service activities you recently participated in. I repost all kinds of divorce articles on my personal page, and have received many referrals from Facebook friends as a result. I recently received a referral from someone I haven’t spoken to in over 15 years.
- If you have a budget for events, I highly recommend hosting happy hours for clients and referral sources (when appropriate) a couples times a year. These somewhat informal gatherings help to display the success of your firm to many who may not otherwise witness it firsthand.
- If you don’t have a budget for events, send an email newsletter or update to your contacts—not too often, but enough to keep you “top of mind” when they need your services. I recommend updates between once a month and once per quarter.
- Serve on boards of charitable organizations, bar association committees, campaign committees for judges, etc. Simply being in close proximity to and associated with other professionals can lead to many quality referrals.