Vol. 83, No. 5, May 2010
First, let me share some truths about rainmakers. They have achieved mythical status because of their seemingly magical and effortless ability to generate new business. It takes only a small number of rainmakers (10 percent to 20 percent of all lawyers) to keep an entire law firm busy. They are the lawyers who run the firms they’re at, they control their own destinies, and they have high job satisfaction.
Now let’s dispel the myths. Rainmaking:
- is not a dark art, voodoo, or the ability to hypnotize prospective clients;
- does not require a charismatic personality, good looks, or “silver hair at the temples”;
- does not require pitching, hitting on people, or having a “sales” personality;
- can easily be done by introverts (the gift of gab is not required); and
- has no downside; rainmakers do not risk getting hung up on or having doors slammed in their faces.
I’ve interviewed dozens of rainmakers and found that they all have one thing in common: they have a lot of relationships. Everyone in town seems to know them, and they have everyone else’s phone number and email address.
More important, rainmakers have an owner mentality. This means they are very good at what they practice, but they also realize they must keep themselves – plus a few other lawyers – busy. They are entrepreneurs who do not have an employee mentality; that means, they don’t regard coming to work as a job at which someone else will give them assignments. They’ve evolved from worker bees into the lawyers who give out the assignments.
Any Lawyer Can Be a Rainmaker
The good news is that any lawyer can be a business developer without changing his or her personality. All the skills that make a person a good lawyer – being a good listener in a deposition, having an analytic mind when writing a brief, being a skilled questioner in court, being organized enough to juggle multiple files, and being hard-working – are the same skills required for being a rainmaker. Rainmakers:
- Are good listeners in a new-business meeting. They ask clients and prospective clients business questions and listen to the answers. They take a sincere interest and remember what they hear. Some of the best rainmakers are introverts who hate to be the center of attention; they deflect the spotlight by simply asking questions.
- Have analytical minds that can spot business development opportunities. For example, when a client mentions problems with “credit disputes,” the rainmaker hears “potential litigation.”
- Skillfully ask business questions like “how are you coping with the recession?” or “are your board members happy with the company’s results?” or “do you have a lot of foreign nationals working for you?” These questions are designed to get other people talking about their business problems.
- Are organized and have a checklist of clients, referral sources, and prospective clients to meet with.
- Equate business development with billable work. They know that the time they bill will determine their income, but the time spent on business development will determine their future.
The Four Best Sources of New Business
Good business developers also know where to look for new files and clients. Those sources are, in order:
- current clients;
- referral sources;
- organizations of clients; and
- people you already know.
Understand that business development is an interviewing process to determine if a client qualifies to do business with you. You are inquiring about people’s problems and pain and what keeps them up at night. You also want to know if they plan to act on the problem, whether they have the authority to hire a lawyer, and whether they have a budget to pay you. But the basic idea is to get the other person to articulate a business or individual problem, which you can solve with legal services. Then, to turn a prospect into a client, all you have to say is, “I can help you.”
Business development for a lawyer is not pitching or the kind of selling a used-car salesperson does. Nobody likes being sold to. Think about the last time you went into a car dealership – the salesperson was pitching you about a vehicle and pressuring you to make a choice.
Some attorneys make the same mistake in business development. They recite their honors, admissions, articles, and accomplishments and talk about the reputation of their firm. Potential clients generally are not interested in your credentials; you have a law degree, and that’s good enough. Clients want to talk about their favorite topic: themselves. Remember, if the other person is talking, you are selling.
To see a video elaborating on where business comes from, “How to Sell Legal Services,” please visit http://alturl.com/5bwv.
Your Personal Business Development Plan
I recommend that you write a four-page personal marketing plan based on the four sources of new business. You may have a head full of marketing ideas, but they are inchoate and you won’t carry them out because they’re just good intentions. But once you write them down, your plans are concrete. Now you have a checklist to work from and a document that you can use to measure your progress. Here’s what your plan should include:
Page one: Make a list of your top 10 clients. Set a date when you will visit the clients at their premises and make plans to get to know as many of their coworkers as possible. This is the low-hanging fruit: clients already trust you, send you work, and mail you checks.
I’m always surprised about how many lawyers have never visited their clients or met them in person. They’ve emailed them, phoned them, and sent packages to them, but they’ve never laid eyes on them. This is a client relationship at risk, because to the client all you are is an email address. All it takes is a change of personnel on the client side, and your work will be gone. Therefore, even if you have to drive 100 miles or climb into a plane, you must meet your clients.
Larry Bodine, Seton Hall 1981, is a business development advisor based in Tucson and Chicago, helping law firms nationwide attract new clients and generate new business by using strategy, business development training, and individual attorney coaching. Reach him at (630) 942-0977 and Lbodine@LawMarketing.com, or visit www.LarryBodine.com. © Larry Bodine 2010; may be reproduced with credit.
Rainmakers tell me that when they become less busy, they simply visit their clients and come back with a handful of files. This is because the client was probably fretting about a problem for weeks, until the lawyer showed up and offered to help solve the problem. For example, if you helped clients close on their house, they now have a big asset and will need an estate plan. They may have teenage kids who crash their cars or get drinking tickets. They may have a property dispute they need help with. The client may have lost her job and be unaware she has a discrimination claim or may be considering starting her own business. The client will never think to call you about it, but she’ll tell you about it if you visit and ask questions.
If your target person is nearby, meet him or her for breakfast, coffee, lunch, or dinner. The point is to see people face-to-face, because that is how relationships are built. And new business comes through relationships. To get started, I recommend the following:
- Pick one day when you will not work through lunch or go out with your colleagues at the firm, and instead take a prospective client out to lunch.
- Pick one morning each week when you’ll buy coffee for a referral source.
- Pick one evening when you will take a client out to dinner or to someplace fun, like a ball game or musical event.
By weaving business development into your daily activities, you’ll find the time to do it – and still bill all your hours.
Page two: Make a list of your best referral sources. You need to meet with and cultivate these people, too – to make certain they know what kind of work you are looking for, and to find out what sort of referrals they want in return. In fact, a smart lawyer will build a premeditated referral network of other professionals. For example, if you write contracts and put business deals together, you should establish an express referral relationship with a litigator. When a client has a dispute with someone, you’ll have already set up a referral relationship with a litigator who has agreed to send you transactions. Don’t wait for random referrals, because many will be junk files that someone else doesn’t want to work on, because the client is difficult, the claim is weak, or the likelihood of getting paid is small.
Your very best referral sources are your clients. A client recommendation is 2.5 times more influential than any other activity that gets your firm chosen, according to BTI Consulting research. The problem is that clients have no idea how lawyers build their practices, and they also don’t know that they’re supposed to recommend you. You actually have to tell clients you’re interested in recommendations.
There are two magic moments when you should ask a client for a recommendation:
- At the initial client interview, say, “If I do a good job, I’d like you to mention me to your colleagues who also need a good attorney.” Make the client’s recommendation a part of the relationship. Now your goal is to get that endorsement, and the client understands that it’s part of working with you.
- At the end of the matter, say, “I hope you are satisfied. If you know other wonderful people like you who want an attorney who cares, please pass my name along to them.” If you’ve just delighted a client by snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, that’s the perfect moment to ask.
Page three: Get active in one organization of clients. Notice that I said “one.” If you join several organizations, you’ll merely surf them, won’t make all the meetings, and will leave no impression. You need to focus on one organization so that you’ll go to all the meetings (even the boring installation of officers) and become a regular.
Pick an organization in which you have a personal interest; otherwise, attending meetings will be a chore and you just won’t go. A great way to choose an organization is to ask your best clients what meetings they attend; for instance, everyone in business belongs to a trade association. Simply tell the clients you’d like to go to the next meeting with them, so they can get to know other people in their business and you can learn the issues that are important to them. This approach achieves two things: you don’t have to walk into a big room of people all by yourself, and your client can make introductions for you.
Pick an organization that is not overrun with competitors. Ideally, you want to be the only lawyer in the room. This is why business organizations are happier hunting grounds than lawyer organizations (unless they are a reliable source of referrals).
Here’s a tip from expert networkers: get the membership directory and highlight the names of people you want to meet. When you go to the meeting, you will have your targets in mind and your questions ready to ask. You now have people you want to meet – this is “marketing with premeditation.” Now the big room is reduced to just one or two people you are looking for. It takes all the anxiety out of going to the meeting.
Your short-term goal is to mingle with potential clients, but your long-term goal is to be visible. You are not attending the meetings just to warm a chair and listen to the speaker. Start out by telling the president that you are new, and ask if he has a burden he’d like to unload or a chore he’d like done. This is how you pay your dues. The only way the president can reward you is with a role on a committee or a chance to be part of a big project.
Capitalize on the fact that most organizations are dying for active members, especially new members. To get involved, volunteer to:
- Write an article. Your long-term goal is to be the newsletter editor (then you can spotlight clients and referral sources).
- Speak at a program. Your long-term goal is to become the program director (then you can put together a panel discussion featuring you, a client, and someone you’d like to know better).
- Be on a committee. Your long-term goal is to be the chair of the committee.
Your ultimate objective is to get on the organization’s board of directors. The reason is compelling. If the organization has 50 members, you can get to know them all by shaking 50 hands or by becoming a board member; everyone in an organization knows who the board members are.
Page four: Plan for face-to-face conversations. Make a list of business executives, community leaders, and potential clients you already know. They should all be people you’d like to represent – they are your targets. It’s much easier to start a line of business-development questions with people you already know, as opposed to striking up relationships with strangers. By all means, pursue relationships with new people who would be good clients, but do it via an introduction from a mutual acquaintance or a client.
Your purpose is to have a face-to-face conversation about their business or career issues. Keep in mind that this is not a predatory activity. You should approach your contacts with a helping attitude. You have many skills and connections at your disposal, and perhaps there is a way you can help the other person. You might end up sending him or her an article, referring the person to someone in another field – but you’ll find some way to help. It just may turn out that legal services are what the person needs.
Some lawyers feel awkward about having these conversations with friends, classmates, or neighbors. Bear in mind that we’re not in school anymore, and we all have careers and obligations. It’s a fair question to ask a person what’s going on with his or her career or what things are happening at the office. A great question to ask is, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” You will always get a thoughtful, revealing answer.
It will likely turn out that the person has no big plans, has no disputes, and has no legal issues. This is not a bad reflection on your business-development skills. It just means the other person wasn’t a buyer – today – but he or she might be a buyer in six months. Meanwhile, at least you took an interest in the other person, which he or she will appreciate. And don’t forget to mention that you are a lawyer, and that if the person knows someone who could use your services, you’d be grateful if he or she passed along your name.
Not Rocket Science
By now you’ve realized that business development is not rocket science or brain surgery. It is not a dark art, voodoo, or the ability to hypnotize prospective clients. It does not require pitching, hitting on people, or having a “sales” personality. Business development is based on common sense and taking an interest in other people.
Business development is an activity. There is no “file fairy” who will fly over your desk and drop off a new matter. New business will not materialize if you don’t do anything to get it. You must get out of the office and meet people in their own surroundings. You need to have a favorite restaurant or coffee shop. You need to be part of an organization where you’re a visible regular attendee.
Your reward will be a happy law practice. You will have your own clientele and the job security and independence it brings. You will be working with clients you like who will retain you to do legal work you enjoy. Coming to work won’t seem like a job any more. It will be the place where you control your own destiny.
Note: For a look at new trends in practice development brought about by the recession and how lawyers can adapt and build business in a recovery economy, please see part one of this two-part series, “Business Development in a Recovery Economy,” in the April 2010 Wisconsin Lawyer.