Some keys to successful client development

LegalJob is frequently asked how young attorneys can build their client base.  Many ideas for long term success are provided in Making Partner.  Two of those ideas are to:  (i) actively seek referrals; and (ii) have the long view.

Actively seek referrals
One should consider actively seeking referrals from: 

i) existing clients

ii) colleagues

iii) friends

From existing clients
Referrals can come from various sources, including existing clients.  You can increase the likelihood that they will come from existing firm clients by doing good work and following up with clients when the project is complete.  The follow-up could include a so-called “post mortem” meeting either by telephone or in person where you ask whether the client was pleased with the result, including the timing and the cost.  If the client is pleased, it is a natural time to request that, if the client is comfortable, he or she consider recommending you to others based on his or her positive experience.

From colleagues
To increase the chances that referrals come from colleagues, make sure the partners at the firm (outside your practice area) know your particular expertise by regularly communicating (orally and in writing) a short summary of your specific experience and recent successes in the area.  If you provide your colleagues a short written blurb, they have something with which to refer back and they may be able to use all or a portion of your summary to forward on when there is a need.

Review the firm’s client list to determine whether any clients could benefit from knowing about a certain successful result you achieved.  Then, target the billing partners on those matters with your e-mails.  You will likely be able to secure some decent work projects for firm clients using this process.

From friends
To increase the chances that referrals come from friends, follow a similar approach as used for colleagues above.  Make a list of 50 people you know who are successful now or who you think will be successful in the future and stay in contact with these people.  When reaching out, ask how you can be helpful (other than providing legal services).  Perhaps you can connect your friend with a client of the firm or someone else you know that can be helpful for their business.  As with your partners, make sure your friends are aware of your particular expertise by regularly communicating a short summary of your specific experience and recent successes in the area.  Stay in constant contact and it is likely you will secure at least one client from this group.

Have the long view
One of the keys to success as a young attorney interested in building a practice (and Making Partneris patience or having the long view.  Some prospective clients become actual clients with no effort and some take years of nurturing.  The difficult part is that everyone is different and timing and circumstances matter so it is best not to seek signposts.  It ultimately comes down to the question of how much effort you are willing to put toward each prospect with the understanding that all of the effort could be a waste of time (notwithstanding the learning experience from failing and how you can improve your approach).

Try not to be discouraged if you do not see sufficient results quick enough.  You never know what is happening behind the scenes.  The day when you are thinking nothing is happening could be the day you land the next big client for the firm.  Also, sometimes the clients that generate the most significant projects (in terms of billings) start out with very small projects so keep that in mind if the clients you are attracting initially are not bringing in significant revenue up front.

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