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Too often women lawyers are hesitant to take the steps that will turn a business development opportunity into an actual client. Those last few steps—asking f or business and closing the deal—feel unnatural and take us outside of our comfort zone. But those steps don’t have to be difficult or uncomfortable—they can fit your personal style and showcase your strengths without hype or guile. Here’s how to start.
1. TAKE A PERSONAL INVENTORY. Long before you get to the pitching stage, you need to look at the bigger picture. You can’t sell a product you don’t know. Review what you like most about your practice and your client-relations style, and why. Then review what you like least. Do an external source check and ask several colleagues and clients these same questions.
2. DETERMINE WHAT YOU WANT FROM YOUR CAREER. You don’t want to close a deal and find yourself tied to a matter that doesn’t fit in with your career goals. Are you looking for a short-term, intense work profile until you start a family? Are you looking for a job that has the elusive work-life balance? Are you looking to be senior partner at a high-billable hours firm? Are you looking for experience before you start your own shop?
3. IDENTIFY YOUR MARKETING TARGETS. Who do you want to do the deal with? Do you want to develop clients who will have steady referrals (appropriate in transaction/
corporate work), or are you looking for individual cases (appropriate for criminal defense/family law matters), or to retain existing clients, or grow them? Does your target reflect your goals as well as your firm’s goals?
4. MAKE THE BUSINESS CASE. This isn’t personal, even though it feels like it. How well you succeed in your business development efforts will, of course, depend on your ability to sell yourself. However, the decision to award the work will be based on whether the target sees a business reason to hire you, so concentrate on data and facts rather than emotion. This is true whether the target is a big company or an individual.
5. LEARN ALL YOU CAN ABOUT YOUR TARGET. Making a pitch without knowing your target’s history, culture, needs and concerns is just plain silly. Use all available resources, from the Internet to experienced lawyers in your firm, so that you go forward from knowledge, not guesses or desperation. Be ready to listen, but with smart ears, when you have your face-to-face meeting. Nothing says you care more than an intelligent question that shows you know your target’s business.
6. PUT YOURSELF IN YOUR TARGET’S PUMPS. Why would or should they choose you for their legal service needs? You will need to sell yourself as well as your firm. You will need to tie your skills to their issues. To do this, you will have to ask great questions and listen to the answers as building blocks for your pitch.
7. SET UP THE FACE-TO-FACE ONLY WHEN YOU ARE PREPARED. No one wants to be your experiment.
8. DO A “MOOT COURT” OF YOUR PITCH. This is a presentation, so rehearse. You need to get comfortable talking about yourself, especially your strengths. Ask someone who knows the client to role-play the client. Be ready for the surprise questions, and get feedback on when to quit the pitch. Aim to find your own voice, one that does not feel self-conscious or conceited but conveys the necessary facts about your skills.
9. SET REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS. Marketing is a long-term investment. Few clients make a decision on the spot. You want to develop a relationship that can grow over time, so rushing it is counterproductive. Your plan should include strategic follow- ups, which can go on for years. But, if you do get the client right away, be ready. Make no false promises.
10. BE CONFIDENT AND CREATIVE. No one wants to hire a lawyer who is tentative or rote. Think out of the box about fees, billing and technology, for example. Tie your innovations to the client’s needs. Always listen to your client’s issues—no one wants a hard sell. And never insult the competition. Finally, try to have fun. If you don’t enjoy the process, no one else will!
Roxana C. Bacon is Executive Director of Western Progress, a nonprofit think tank devoted to issues of the American Southwest. She serves on the Ninth Circuit Advisory Board and volunteers as a mentor for young women establishing their own legal practices and businesses.