It’s like stomping ants: problem after problem is popping up to block your ability to secure new work. You go to a networking event and meet great new people … Only to realize that the people you met aren’t in a position to send business your way. So you identify a better group to join, and you meet some people who might become clients, only to realize that you didn’t talk business with them, so they probably don’t quite know what you do. At the next meeting, you talk about your practice, but your description doesn’t really connect with anyone.
Each time you solve a problem, a new one takes its place. How frustrating!
Worse yet, you might find yourself suffering from several problems at once, with no idea how to correct them. My client Stewart didn’t have time for much marketing activity, because his cases were scattered in courts throughout a major metropolitan area, and he was constantly driving across town for another hearing that would earn him $500. He managed to carve out some marketing time and wrote an article that was published in his state bar’s younger lawyers’ journal, but he couldn’t track any business to that article. And his weekly Toastmaster’s meetings never seemed to go anywhere.
When diagnosing a business development problem, it’s important to find the root issue. No matter how many symptom-level problems you may fix, until you get to the common root, you’ll find that problems keep cropping up.
The good news is that there are only five mistakes you might be making in growing your practice. But unless you know what these five mistakes are, you can find yourself correcting symptom after symptom and never getting to the root issue. When you identify the root, you can pour all of your effort into correcting that problem, and you’ll find that resolving a root issue will often resolve other issues as well.
So, what are the five root issues in legal business development?
1. Failure to deliver excellent client service.
While it’s true that you might be able to establish a financially successful practice based on volume alone, with little regard for repeat business or client referrals, you’ll find it much more difficult to grow a book of business that will sustain you for the length of your career. Serving a client well through quality substantive work that’s delivered in a way to make it easy for the client to work with you takes time and energy, but the dividends are incomparable.
2. Failure to build a reputation as a skilled practitioner.
The truth is that many clients are unable to judge the quality of your legal work, so they rely on your reputation instead. If your reputation is insufficient for potential clients and referral sources to perceive you as a good lawyer, they’re unlikely to trust you to handle their work effectively.
3. Failure to meet the right people.
Marketing to every client forces you to deliver a message so generic that it won’t resonate with any single client. If you can’t identify a category of people or entities as your ideal client or target market, you will find it difficult to interact people who are truly interested in your services. You can waste a lot of time on pleasant but pointless interaction.
4. Failure to build relationships.
Relationships are the heart of a strong practice. Whether you work with individuals or the largest businesses in the world, people will hire and work with you. Failing to build relationships as an asset in your practice means that you don’t have the allies or strategic alliances you need to build a book of business.
5. Failure to ask for the business.
Clients want lawyers who are invested, engaged, interested in them and their matters. If you don’t ask for the business, you run the risk of appearing disinterested. You may also be perceived as offering helpful input but not wanting to take on the matter or the client. If you don’t ask, you often won’t get.
If you’ve identified a problem in your business development work, trace it back to one of these categories so you can correct the root cause. Otherwise, you’re simply applying a quick fix that won’t last.