In Order to Make Rain, You Have to Know How to Gather the Clouds: Tips for Young Lawyers on Client Development - ABA YLD 101 Practice Series

By Myra L. McKenzie

Young lawyers who want long, successful careers in private law firms must work to exceed supervisor expectations, satisfy billable hour requirements, and please clients in the hopes of one day becoming partners---and rainmakers. However, these efforts alone do not automatically equal rainmaking. As we know, in nature, rain does not appear spontaneously. The atmosphere must be right, elements must be aligned, and clouds must be present. Likewise, in business, client development requires multiple steps constituting a focused effort. Some firms offer "courses" on client development for young lawyers. If your firm doesn't offer this guidance, you might not be sure where to begin. The ten tips below are suggestions to assist lawyers who are trying to figure out how to gather the clouds needed to make rain.

  1. Do Good Work and Always Add Value
    As a young lawyer, the first priority must be to learn the practice of law and become a very good lawyer. Delivering timely and quality work product, putting in extra effort, and becoming indispensable are musts. Showing how you add value to work will endear you to clients and minimize squabbles about bills. These steps assist in creating a good reputation within the firm and the legal community. Both will go a long way as you try to establish yourself as a lawyer clients should trust with his or her legal work.
  2. Find Out If You Have A Client Development Budget and Use It
    Determine if your firm has an associate client development budget. If so, be sure to apply for funds from this budget and make strategic use of the funds. Also be sure to keep a clear record of how you use the funds. This may assist you in getting more funds in the years to follow as you increase your client development efforts.
  3. Be Strategic
    Create a strategic plan. Present your plan for client development to mentors and partners, and be prepared to refine the plan based on their feedback. Create timelines, be deliberate in your actions, and always look for appropriate opportunities to showcase your skills and abilities.    
  4. Perfect Your Professional Presentation
    Most law firms have websites that are viewed by potential clients. Have you looked at your web biography lately? Does it reflect all your accomplishments? Does it tell potential clients what you have done and could potentially do for them? Does it reflect your activities in the community where you live? It should make you look competent, well-rounded, and capable. If it does not, revise it.
  5. Research Your Potential Clients and Their Needs
    Create a list of people you know or would like to know who own businesses, are decision-makers in companies or organizations, and/or have excellent social and professional contacts where you live. Invite the ones with the greatest potential to give or refer business to lunch or a social outing (using funds from the budget discussed above). Talk about what you do. Ask about what they do and who they know. Start developing rapport understanding that rapport, like rain, isn't created instantaneously. Ease into discussions about legal needs and suggest how you might be able to assist.
  6. Carry Business Cards and Use Them
    Giving and receiving business cards is an excellent way to expand your network of potential clients. Create a database and use it to send out: electronic alerts regarding new legal developments, case filing notifications, holiday cards, and invitations to firm-sponsored events. People always appreciate "freebies" and special attention. They will remember your efforts, kindnesses, and communications when they are faced with selecting counsel.
  7. Speak and Speak Often
    Take advantage of every opportunity to speak at local, state, and national legal conferences or bar meetings. The main audience for these events is other lawyers---who can be excellent referral sources. If you have spoken on certain issues and have a reputation for being competent, you may get the referral instead of a costly partner. In building your brand as a trustworthy, intelligent lawyer, your experiences as a knowledgeable and effective public speaker will assist you in doing so.
  8. Get Active in the Bar
    Consider joining local or national bar associations, becoming a committee member, and taking a leadership role. Certain roles within bar associations come with high visibility and can assist in establishing you as a leader within your legal community. Plus, some clients will be impressed with your leadership role within the bar association leader as it suggests a high level of peer acceptance.
  9. Attend Events Frequented by In-House Lawyers
    If you can choose CLE events to attend, consider ones where in-house lawyers speak and/or attend. Simply being present in those environments may yield dividends. In addition to hearing a great speech, you may get some "face time" with one or more in-house lawyers and expand your network of potential clients. Keep in touch with those you meet. In-house lawyers who are responsible for national case or issue management constantly use outside counsel. With communication, competence, good billing rates, and a great pitch, you may become preferred counsel in your location.
  10. Learn to "Pitch"
    After all your "leg" work is complete and decision-makers are considering giving you legal work, you have to close the deal. So, you need to know how to "pitch." Ask to be taken along to "pitches" your supervisors or mentors are giving. Talk to in-house counsel about the best way to present you and your firm's information during the "pitch" meeting. Ask your department chair to assist you in crafting your pitch. Practice your pitch. You don't want to lose the business for the firm, but you will never be a rainmaker if you can't pitch. Be confident in your ability and go for it!

While the aforementioned tips are not fool-proof, they are good starting points for ambitious young lawyers who want to gather clouds in an effort to make rain. Remember that developing a healthy client list takes time and effort. Get started now so that when the atmosphere is right and the elements are aligned, you will be able to add your clouds to help create a downpour.

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About the Author

Myra L. McKenzie is an Assistant General Counsel in the Employment Practices Division of the Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Legal Department in Bentonville, Arkansas. She may be reached at myra.mckenzie@walmartlegal.com.

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