Understanding the Importance of Marketing and Client Development - ABA YLD 101 Practice Series

By Alexander P. Ryan

As lawyers in your early years of practice, you have, undoubtedly, already learned about the importance of marketing your and your firm's practice and developing your and your firm's base of clients. However, as young attorneys, you probably tend to leave "those issues" to the superiors in your law firm, i.e., the partners. Those of you who are solo practitioners do not have this option, unfortunately, as your firms' marketing and client development decisions are ultimately left up to you. Whether you practice in a law firm setting, or are a solo practitioner, however, marketing and client development are vitally important for your present and future law practice.

Why Marketing and Client Development are Important
Lawyers and law firms are service providers. Unlike retailers or manufacturers, lawyers sell their skills, not products. Ultimately, a lawyer's chief skills are his or her ability to solve problems for clients. Thus, the essence of marketing and client development for lawyers is identifying a particular skill set, to be matched with a particular set of problems. A lawyer may have a seemingly unlimited set of skills. However, until prospective clients are aware that a lawyer has the particular skills to solve a particular problem, those skills are, to the prospective client, meaningless. Quite simply, a lawyer cannot exercise his or her skills without clients. Clients cannot access a lawyer's skills without knowing that a specific lawyer has the specific skills needed. Hence, the importance of marketing and client development.

It is probably becoming obvious to you now that, because of lawyers' unique role as problem solvers, a lawyer's or law firm's successful existence is largely dependent upon having a solid base of clients. A law practice cannot flourish, or even survive for long, without clients. Many young lawyers, while aware of the importance of marketing and client development, tend to leave these issues to their law firm partners. However, doing so can deprive a young lawyer of the opportunity to develop a client base early in his or her career. Although firms are structured differently, in many firms, when a young associate brings in a client, he or she will continue to get credit for business attributed to that client later in the associate's affiliation with that firm. Moreover, marketing and client development can be a great way for a young lawyer to show his or her partners and colleagues that he or she is truly committed to the financial well being of the law firm. Also, developing clients on one's own can be a great way to gain more control over one's particular practice, rather than depending solely on cases delegated and assigned by partners. Thus, for a variety of reasons, marketing and client development are critical.

How to Market and Develop Clients Effectively
Young attorneys have innumerable opportunities to market their and their firms' services and, as a result, develop clients. The thought of leaving the office to go out and develop business may be overwhelming to many young lawyers; however, young attorneys can integrate marketing and client development into many of their routine activities.

One way to market and meet prospective clients is simply to talk to as many people as possible, as part of one's day-to-day activities. For example, the garage that services your vehicle may be a prospective client. So may be your dentist. Perhaps you participate in a chess club or weekly card game; those with whom you regularly interact may all be prospective clients. In short, one need not go far and wide to find prospective clients. Simply developing relationships with a variety of people, without the expectation of immediate business, may yield tremendous future results. Again, an attorney must first identify and begin developing his or her skills as a problem solver. Then, the key is identifying problems prospective clients have, and determining whether the attorney's skills and the prospective client's problems intersect.

Marketing and client development is often thought of with regard to "new" clients. However, many young lawyers overlook the importance of developing their and their firms' already-existing base of clients. For example, your firm likely has a core of solid, long-standing clients. Your firm may currently provide certain, but not all, of these clients' legal services. It is important to identify new or different needs that these clients may have. As a young lawyer, you may be given the opportunity to work with these clients. Talk to them; find out what their needs are and how you and or your firm may be able to meet them.

Bar association membership, either at the local or national level, can be another tremendous way to market your skills, thereby developing clients. Bar work has the inherent benefit of putting you in contact with multiple other attorneys, many of whom may be in a position to refer work to you that they otherwise do not handle themselves. Bar work gives young lawyers an opportunity to direct their energies to causes and issues they find meaningful. In doing so, young attorneys can achieve great satisfaction from this work while, at the same time, developing their relationships with other lawyers, who can be a valuable source of referrals. Most firms recognize the importance of bar association work. A good, initial strategy may be to ask your colleagues about their involvement in bar work, as a way of generating options for your own involvement.

Conclusion
Marketing and client development need not be daunting or overwhelming. Viewed properly, it can be a great deal of fun. So get out of the office for a bit, chat with a few people, and really listen to what they say. Perhaps you'll want to head down the street to your local bar association meeting, or you might attend a national bar conference. Get involved. Your and your firm's practice is counting on it, and you may find yourself having a lot of fun.


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About the Author

Mr. Ryan is a litigation associate with Groom Law Group, Chartered, in Washington, DC, the nation-'s largest employee benefits law firm. His practice is focused on employee benefits litigation. He can be contacted at (202) 861-6639 or at aryan@groom.com.

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