Ladies, Are You Capitalizing Upon Your Competitive Advantage? - ABA YLD 101 Practice Series

By Arnettia S. Wright, Esquire

Have you ever been in the grocery store selecting fresh fruits or vegetables and ended up engaged in a conversation with a complete stranger? Since you appear to be hitting it off, you offer one of your business cards only to have that "stranger" actually start referring you business. Although you may not have experienced an identical situation, it is very likely that you have experienced something substantially similar.

One of the greatest benefits of working at a large firm is having the luxury of a business development team. That is, those charged with identifying and cultivating new sources of business. However, whether as a solo practitioner, associate, or a partner at a firm, there is great satisfaction, both personally and financially, derived from generating new business for the firm through your own efforts.

As women, we have an often-overlooked competitive advantage when it comes to cultivating business relationships. Many of us have a natural gift of gab; and, although we might not feel as comfortable talking about ourselves, we can go on for hours doting on our children, pet, or significant other. Thus, it is imperative that we seize those opportunities to allow people to get to know us.

You know the "book stuff" and there will be plenty of opportunities to showcase your knowledge and passion for the law; however, people want to hire attorneys whom they like and with whom they feel comfortable. So set the stage and do that, but be genuine when you do. It is important that people like the "real" you and not a façade created just to get their business. This way, you are almost guaranteed to keep the business through repeat customers and personal referrals.

The competitive advantage also comes into play almost every day through your roles as daughter, wife, mother, or just a productive member of society. At some time or another, you may have served in some religious ministry, served as team mom of your child's sports team, or volunteered with some community service organization. It is those connections that you make on a daily basis that serve as sources for referrals. Here are some strategies that work best, both for attracting new clients and for growing business from existing clients:

  • Networking:
    Whether you realize it or not, you are constantly networking; that is, sharing a little bit of yourself with others. Be comfortable talking with people of all different races, religions, sexual orientations, and socio-economic status. Although you may not perceive them to be your targeted market, you honestly do not know if they are or not, since looks can be deceiving. Nor do you know who they know. You would not want to end up in a situation like that of Harvard University's President, Charles W. Elliot, and his first meeting with Leland and Jane Stanford. 1
  • Public Speaking:
    For many people, public speaking is their greatest fear. However, this is an integral part of the business world, particularly if you have ambitions of being a successful attorney in the forefront of your practice area. You have to be able to represent yourself and your firm well so what better way to hone that skill than by volunteering to speak at the local Toastmasters meeting, community center, or place of worship. To learn of potential opportunities, you may want to join the local speaker's bureau; your state bar association likely has one.
  • Publishing Opportunities:
    Visibility is the name of the game and what better way to do so than by writing an article to be published through a credible source. To minimize the angst behind it, write about something about which you are passionate. This not only limits the stress factor, but it will likely translate into time saved as you are less inclined to procrastinate with things with which you are comfortable with doing.
  • Public Relations:
    Although you can invest in the services of a marketing consultant (and perhaps you should), always remember that you are your own best marketer. You are your own brand and you need to be comfortable with selling it. Hence, you need a 10 second elevator speech that accurately defines who you are and what you do. It's a branding statement that you gracefully integrate into conversations with your doctor, dentist, accountant, family, and friends so that everyone knows exactly which areas of law you handle; hence, they can send business your way.
  • Internet Marketing:
    Depending upon your target client market, a website may be essential to your practice. It can serve as a gateway to your practice that provides useful information about who you are and what you do. It can also be interactive by allowing potential clients to ask you questions and/or sign up to receive your firm newsletter, which is another great marketing tool.
  • Volunteer: Provide pro bono legal services, participate through the local chamber of commerce, and/or sit on Boards within your community. It doesn't have to be the Board of Directors for a major corporation, but it could be the Board of your home owner's association or the PTA at your children's school. Irrespective of what it is, not only are you making a meaningful contribution to the community, but you are increasing the visibility of your name while adding value to your life as well as the lives of others.

Name recognition is the name of the game. Many people pick service providers based upon familiarity, either personally or merely because they have heard the name tossed around. Whether you realize it or not, we all have private referral lists. Yours may be stored in your Treo or on a mental list, but if someone asked you for a good divorce lawyer, home improvement contractor, or caterer, there is likely someone who comes to mind and whose information you'll freely share. Thus, my goal is to be on that list. When someone asks you for an attorney who handles real estate transactions, elder law matters, trust and estates, estate administration, or mediation within the District of Columbia or Maryland, I have accomplished my goal if you say without hesitation - "Arnettia Wright, give her a call at (202) 829-7500 or send her an email at awright@wrightlg.com. If she can't help you, she'll know someone who can."


1 Urban legend has it that the Stanfords, adorned in a faded gingham dress and homespun threadbare suit, went to President Elliott's office seeking to have a statue erected in their son's honor. The son, who had been killed a year earlier, supposedly had attended Harvard before his death. The Stanford's request was denied; and as a result, they returned to Palo Alto, CA and established a University bearing their name as a memorial to their son.

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About the Author

Arnettia S. Wright, principal of Wright Law Group, PC, represents clients in matters related to corporate law, real estate transactions, estate planning and administration, elder law, and mediation in DC and Maryland. In addition to serving on the Estates, Trusts, and Probate Nominating Committee of the DC Bar Association, she is a Fellow in the 2006-2007 class of the Maryland State Bar Association Leadership Academy. Arnettia can be reached at awright@wrightlg.com.

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