Kimberly Leach Johnson (@Quarles_Chair) is the firm chair of Quarles & Brady LLP, and presides over the firm’s executive committee. She has been practicing trusts & estates law for more than 30 years. She built her practice from the ground up by building personal and professional relationships across southern Florida.
From post-mortem tax-mitigation techniques, to comprehensive estate planning, she guides her clients and their families through the processes of defining final wishes and seeing them through with confidence, confidentiality, and competence.
What are the top three tips that you would give to a lawyer who wants to be a successful rainmaker today?
1) Focus on rainmaking every single day. This is an investment in your future and is as important as billable hours.
2) Identify with specificity the type of referral sources who can send you the clients you wish to serve. For instance, in the trust and estates area, this would be trust officers, financial planners, accountants, insurance agents and existing clients. Make a list of the referral sources you know and then spend time with them on a regular basis. Try to be helpful by understanding their issues—perhaps send them an article about a subject they are dealing with for a client. If you help them, they will want to help you.
3) Don’t be afraid to ask for the business—let your existing clients know you are looking for additional clients. If they like you and appreciate the value you have added, they will want to recommend you to their friends. They do, however, need to understand the type of client you are looking to serve.
What is (or was) different about you that has allowed or enabled you to become a successful rainmaker?
I started out at a small firm. The tax attorney I worked for left after a year, and the other partners told me I could stay, but I had a year to build a reasonable book of business. This experience forced me to focus on marketing on a daily basis.
How do you use your personal brand to: a) chair your firm and b) still service your client base?
Balancing between the client work and firm responsibilities can be difficult. Ideally, I’d like to divide my day, with the morning devoted to clients and the afternoon to the firm. Obviously, this is not realistic. Having raised three sons while working full time, I learned to balance and prioritize. These skills serve me well each day, as I navigate the complexities of my dual role.
Why do you find your personal brand works well for you? What do you wish other lawyers would recognize about their personal brands?
Branding is a way to differentiate yourself in a crowded market. A decade or so ago, I decided to specialize in the ultra-wealthy market. I found I enjoyed the more sophisticated work, so I went out in the marketplace and branded myself as a resource in this area. Now I’m known in this space, but it certainly didn’t happen overnight.
You need to figure out what clients most value you for, and cultivate your reputation for that thing above all else. Once your clients come to rely on your brand, then you can broaden your appeal and show them what else you can do. You need to be known for something, or you won’t be known for anything.
Describe your typical marketing year:
- How much time do you devote to marketing?
At least four hours per week.
- What types of activities are you engaged in?
Networking events, speaking engagements, interviews, writing, participation in community events and associations, and participation in bar associations.
- What type of support do you have from your firm?
We have a chief business development and marketing officer who leads a comprehensive Marketing Department. Just to cite one example, our web and social media senior manager has given me valuable guidance in the use of social networks for marketing purposes and, as a result, I now have an active Twitter account (@Quarles_Chair).
If you could only engage in one type of marketing activity (e.g., speaking, writing, networking, meetings, participation in bar associations or other trade association) for the next 12 months:
- What one activity would you choose?
Networking with clients and/or referral sources that can send me the type of client I’d like to serve.
- What would that activity look like?
I’d spend time with referral sources, maybe over lunch, and offer to help them.
- Why would you choose only that one?
It has worked well for over 30 years.
- If you could only choose one more activity, what would it be and why?
Face time with clients.
- How did you get your first client?
I followed up with an accountant who I met and developed a working relationship with. He knew I’d work hard to take care of his client.
- How did you get your most recent client?
Through a referral from a satisfied client.
- How did you get your best client?
Also through a referral from a satisfied client.
- How do you get in front of clients/get asked to respond to requests for proposals?
For those clients I really connect with, I ask them for referrals from their friends. I’ve found if you connect with people, they will want to help you. Some clients just don’t understand you are seeking new business, or even think about it. Typically, this method is very effective.
- How do you “close the sale” once you are in front/in contact with a client?
After listening and understanding their needs, I outline an approach and typically quote a flat fee with a timeframe for when they can expect the documents. This provides certainty as to the cost and an understanding of the project. For complicated plans, I divide the work into phases so they can digest the complicated materials.
- What obstacles have you overcome to build your book of business? How did you overcome them?
When I first became a lawyer, I started with a small firm in a small town. However, shortly after I arrived, the partner who I worked exclusively for had a disagreement with firm management and left, taking the entire trusts and estates practice with him. The managing partner gave me a year to build my own practice, or I’d have to find another job. He also told me that “women can’t be lawyers.” Not an ideal situation, especially for a young attorney in a small town.
Of course, I wanted to prove him wrong, but more importantly, I wanted to succeed in my chosen career, so I spent that year aggressively building relationships. First, I worked very hard to become adept in my field of practice. Second, I identified potential referral sources, called them and took them to lunch. I listened to them carefully and asked about issues on which they were working. I focused on providing solutions and generally tried to be helpful. One year later, I had established myself as a reliable trusts and estates attorney with a growing client list.
Knowing what you know now, if you were starting over as a lawyer today, what would you do differently?
Specialize in a certain area much sooner, understanding that we all need to “retool” at different times in our career.
The world of marketing legal services changed over the last three to five years. How, if at all, has this impacted you and your brand?
The market has changed since 2008, with the demand for legal services decreasing. In order for a firm to receive its fair share of the work, the attorneys must act like a team and find ways to add value for the client over many different areas of law. Cross-selling is more critical today. Larger clients insist on attorneys understanding their business, which is easier to do as a team.
What, if anything, do you plan to do differently with respect to marketing your services next year or in the future?
The firm is much more active in terms of connecting with our clients and assessing how we are performing. As firm chair, I meet with two of our larger clients on a monthly basis to determine if we are adding value, if the client has any issues, and how we can be more additive. We also offer free CLEs in areas where the client has interest, as well as roundtables with other clients with similar needs and issues. Essentially, we are trying to partner with our clients instead of acting like a vendor.
About the Author
Katy Goshtasbi (@purisbranding) is an attorney and founder of Puris Image, a personal branding and business development consultancy for attorneys.