Do Your Lawyers Think as Business Owners or Employees?

This article originally appeared in ALM’s Marketing the Law Firm

Fact: There are two types of lawyers: those who have their own business and those who work for those who do. How do your lawyers size up? 

Fact: Your lawyers are business owners. They never heard that from any law school professor or, likely, any law firm leadership. Yet, the fact remains. Whether or not they have clients, is a very different topic. 

In our view, it is a disgrace that lawyers set aside three years of their lives to attend and graduate law school, studied their eye balls out for the bar exam (and perhaps put their social life on hold during the process), were even admitted to a state bar(s), ready to do whatever it took to advance their legal career and not a peep did they hear that they must generate business for themselves. How can that be? 

Now that they have been enlightened to the reality of the business of law, how does this impact their daily legal practice? 

Below are a few boxes to check off for advancing their business owner mindset (and daily behavior) to view their legal practice as the business to be grown that it is. 

  • Do they purposefully devote at least 10-15 hours a month on relationship building activities with “targeted” audiences? 

Note: To respond to this question appropriately, they must know specifically whom their ideal client(s) is….what is the job title of the individual whom can retain their legal services and/or refer them to those who can? This is critical. 

  • Instead of focusing on what work they can “get” from someone, they are more focused on how they can help others in connection with solving a problem, protecting a client, preserving a tangible and/or capitalizing on an opportunity. These considerations are a mark of a savvy business owner. 
  • They constantly consider ways to help existing clients/referral sources/prospects by keeping them abreast of ongoing changes (such as legislative and/or economic) that may affect their business (positively or adversely). 
  • They go wherever their clients go i.e. professional/industry associations where they can learn more about their clients’ (and/or prospects’) business and interests so they can rise to the “trusted advisor” role, which garners an enviable “bet-the-company” (high) billing rate. 
  • They know who their clients’ top competitors are. Further, they’ve commissioned their in-house knowledge manager to gather competitive intelligence on the competition so they can advise their clients on ways to stay a step ahead of them. 
  • They have created an internal process to get and stay connected with their existing clients, reliable referral sources and targeted qualified prospects. Since they are “chasing relationships, not work”, regular and frequent communication is essential. 

Often, clients ask, “I don’t want to bug anyone, what am I supposed to say to them”? Great question. 

The answer: as a business-building lawyer, they know what their clients and qualified targeted prospects read to stay abreast of industry news and for professional development. Because they have created at least one Google alert to gather this same or similar information, they reach out on a regular basis to pass along a nugget of information which is relevant, timely and topical to their clients and prospects. 

First, they must stop thinking and analyzing like a lawyer and, instead, consider how helpful they are being to alert their client/referral source/prospect of information that will be valuable to them. 

A quick email such as, “Hi Bob, I came across this news clip in the xxx Journal and thought it may be useful for their next leadership meeting. I’m happy to discuss ways we can capitalize on this potential opportunity. Best regards, Joe”. 

Second, keeping in mind that getting on a prospect’s radar requires 7-10 “touchpoints” in a 12-month period, there are numerous ways to “get and stay connected”. These may include: 

  • In-person meetings (could include coffee, meals, sporting events and/or other face-to-face events).
  • Regular eblasts with information that their prospects/clients will find timely, topic and relevant to their business and/or personal interests.
  • Each of these modes of communications should be reinforced with regular social media posts (such as blogs and/or news of their professional activities/accomplishments).
  • Including their clients/referral sources/prospects on firm email distribution lists for timely, topic and relevant topics (no one enjoys receiving spam that is of no material use to them).
  • They offer to present to and/or speak with their client’s leadership team (off the clock) on a potentially damaging (or novel) legal development and strategize ways to get ahead of the development.
  • Understanding that a large percentage of new matters originate from satisfied clients and referrals, some say as much as 50% per year, they invest in meaningful, continual relationship building to bring value to these growing relationships.

Beyond knowing a birthday, their children’s names and activities or their favorite vacation spot, they build business relationships with the knowledge of their prospects’ business because it is key to them. That is thinking as a savvy business owner. 

Yes, it requires time - - a lot of it and a measurable marketing action plan (to help them to stay focused, organized and to provide the needed structure) that is dynamic and often changing. 

Despite newer lawyers often in a position in which they do not control their own schedule (as a result of working on other lawyers’ matters), they are motivated to “make it happen” and find a way through well-defined systems and automation to remain steadfast in the goal of developing their own book of prosperous clients.  

DANGER, DANGER

  • As a newer lawyer (less than 10-15 years of experience), it can be discouraging to invest what little time they have into relationships, without knowing for sure they may convert to paying clients. 

Yes, that is why they must be very methodical and considerate when defining their “targeted, qualified prospect” to ensure they are “fishing where the fish are”. There, in fact, may be more than one target such as an industry-based client profile, a different referral source profile (likely a professional which serves the same industry-based client as them such as a supplier and/or vendor), and yet a different type of referral source profile (such as lawyers who may be a natural referring source, given their area of legal focus). 

  • Out of confusion or lack of clarity of their “ideal client”, they allow themselves to be influenced unnecessarily by others who appear to have it altogether with respect to their business-building direction. 

We see this all the time. I empathize. Because each area of legal focus has different target clients, they cannot fairly compare or even view through the same lens their legal practice the same way as their fellow lawyer. There is no “one size fits all” approach to building a prosperous business. They are likely in the problem solving business, which involves human beings. When they deal with individuals in any capacity, there is always unanticipated variables. 

  • As a savvy business owner, they take the long view. I love the quote, "Don't judge each day by the harvest they reap but by the seeds that they plant”. -Robert Louis Stevenson – when considering building a prosperous book of business.

Hopefully, they now understand the required mindset shift to think and treat their legal career as a business-building journey, which will have plenty of twists and turns. It is not a linear process, which often throws lawyers off kilter. 

As a well-informed business owner, they know: 

  1. The profile of their ideal client(s)
  2. Where clients go and what they read
  3. Their business or greatest concerns (SWOT – strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities) 

They are well on their way to building the career of their dreams by helping others in a way only they can. Isn’t that why they became a lawyer in the first place? 

Now, build away! 

Kimberly Rice, editor-in-chief of ALM’s Marketing the Law Firm, is President/Chief Strategist of KLA Marketing Associates (klamarketing.com), a legal business development and marketing advisory firm. She is author of Rainmaker Road: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Prosperous Business. Kimberly may be reached at kimberly@klamarketing.net.

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