Rainmaking by Doing Good: Janet Ward Black

Janet Ward Black is the owner of one of the largest woman-owned law firms in North Carolina. Based in Greensboro, her practice focuses on catastrophic liability cases and asbestos injuries. She is a past president of both the North Carolina Bar Association and the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers. While president of the NCBA, her signature initiative was the creation of the “4ALL” day of service, where North Carolinians call and speak to volunteer lawyers throughout the state at no charge. The program annually answers thousands of calls and has been replicated in other states and provinces in Canada. Janet Ward is recognized in “Best Lawyers in America” and in 2014 was named Greensboro personal injury “Lawyer of the Year” by U.S. News & World Report. She was also Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro’s Woman of the Year in 2018. For Janet Ward, rainmaking naturally flows from doing good in the community. She also believes that by helping others solve their problems, whether or not they are clients, those good deeds can later turn into business for her firm.

Afi Johnson-Parris (AJP): What are the top three tips you would give to a lawyer who wants to be a successful rainmaker today?

Janet Ward Black (JWB):

  1. Be a referral source. All lawyers should realize that they are more valuable to their firms if they are referral sources for themselves and others. Almost everyone in your life is someone or knows someone who needs a solution to a problem. If I listen, I may have a connection—legal or otherwise—that may be that solution. That is the “counsel” part of practicing law in my view. I help someone and they remember me as a problem solver the next time they have a problem that I can solve. I have found that helping people get what they want lets them know you value them as a person. We have wonderful connections in both the for-profit and nonprofit worlds to help people get their problems resolved. The time I spend helping connect those dots for people is often rewarding. People remember when you help them succeed or resolve a problem. I don’t think there’s a better way to make rain than that.
  2. Do a good job. Doing a good job for clients and handling cases has led clients and opposing counsel to refer cases to me. Also, when I’ve done a good job in non-paying roles while serving on different non-profit boards and voluntary bar organizations, others have been able to learn about what I do and whether or not I would be a good fit as a lawyer for them or their contacts in the future.
  3. Measure your marketing. We track the sources of every call, text or chat to our firm and review that information on a monthly basis with our marketing team. We evaluate which types of referral sources are most likely to lead to cases and we evaluate average case value based on the referral source. This allows us to be mindful of the types of referrals that are most valuable to the law firm. Someone once said, “That which gets measured gets done.” If we can keep that information in mind, we will focus our attention on those networking/public relations/marketing activities that are most effective.

AJP: Knowing what you know now if you were starting over as a lawyer today, what would you do differently?

JWB: If I had known when I started my law practice what I know now, I would have been intentional from the beginning to capture the contact information of everyone possible. We now have technology which allows lawyers to keep in touch with people on social media and through e-blasts or other means of keeping yourself top of mind for a potential client. Relationships are the single most important way to get new business.

AJP: If you could only engage in one type of marketing activity (e.g., speaking, writing, networking, meetings, participation in bar associations or other trade associations) for the next 12 months, what one activity would you choose?

JWB: I would choose networking to generate word-of-mouth referrals.

AJP: What would that activity look like?

JWB: Every encounter can be a networking opportunity—at the gym, coffee shop, grocery store, during local events, or on a plane. It takes effort to engage with people whose path you cross. I am naturally an introvert, but I force myself to be more extroverted so that I can connect with people and projects to keep a steady flow of cases coming in for myself and other lawyers. If you make a good impression and people know what you do, hopefully, they will seek you out for legal advice. Even if it’s not your practice area, you can refer to another good lawyer. Both the person and the receiving lawyer are better off- so you’ve added value to both.

AJP: Why would you choose only that one?

JWB: I was not taught in law school that getting clients and figuring out how to get them to pay me for my work would be an important part of my legal career, so I’ve had to learn by doing. Our firm promotes our practice areas using paid media, including television, billboards, bus wraps, search engine optimization, signage, sponsorship of events, and targeted social media campaigns. All those things cost money. In spite of the effectiveness of paid media, we have learned over the years that the most valuable cases we receive are from word of mouth referrals.

AJP: If you could choose only one more activity, what would it be and why?

JWB: I would choose to generate more employee referrals. If you needed to have surgery, you ask operating room nurses to find out who the best surgeons are in town. They have firsthand knowledge of the quality of work that is being done. That is the same for referrals from employees inside our law firms. We ask, “Are our employees referring clients to us?” If not, we might want to look at the quality of our work, our bedside manner, or who we are employing. In our monthly staff meetings, we try to recognize our staff who have referred cases to the firm. This keeps the importance of referrals by employees as a priority.

AJP: What is (or was) different, either about you, or your firm, or anything else, that has allowed or enabled you to become a successful rainmaker?

JWB: I’ve tried hard to treat people right and do the things I’ve said I would do, and I’ve been rewarded. I’ve surrounded myself with smart people who follow through and won’t drop the ball, and that’s made me successful. I’m like the turtle on the fence post. When you see a turtle up on a fence post, you know it didn’t get there by itself. I’ve had lots of help. I don’t really know if that’s due to anything special about me. I can only say that God has blessed me.

About the Author

Afi Johnson-Parris is an attorney with Ward Black Law in Greensboro, North Carolina, focusing on divorce and veteran disability cases. She is a co-editor and a contributing author of Marketing Success: How Did She Do That? Follow her on Twitter @johnsonparris

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