August 2012 | Survival Guide for Young Lawyers: Taking Charge of Your Career
Tips and Strategies for Getting Overflow Work from Other Attorneys
One of the challenges solo practitioners face is figuring how to develop a solid book of business. This is especially true for newer attorneys who are still trying to establish their reputation and build their brand. Given the current economic climate, many attorneys are starting solo practices right out of law school and do not have a law firm background to buffer this transition. One great solution is to reach out to more experienced, overworked attorneys in an attempt to get overflow work. Getting this kind of work can make a tremendous difference in your firm’s bottom line, particularly when your practice hits a slow period.
But how exactly do you do this? One of the most frustrating parts of business development is that it is not an exact science but rather involves a lot of trial and error. In an attempt to get some possible solutions and strategies, I recently broached this subject with Julie Fleming, a business development coach and author of The Reluctant Rainmaker: A Guide for Lawyers who Hate Selling. Ms. Fleming emphasizes that it is essential to grow your network before you ever need it. It is much easier to request overflow work from an attorney that you have a relationship with or have worked with in the past than with an attorney you are meeting for the first time. Develop a relationship, then inquire about overflow work.
Ms. Fleming notes that, whenever you ask for overflow work, two very important issues will weigh heavily on the attorney being asked. The first key question the attorney will have is, will you do a good job? This is where it helps tremendously to already have an established relationship with the attorney in question so that they are aware of your experience, skill level, and reputation. Another way to address this issue on the back end is to ask the attorney with overflow if you can check in periodically with them to make sure they are satisfied with your work. Recognize that they have a lot of work and take the initiative to reach out to them for feedback to ensure a smooth working relationship.
The second important question the attorney may have is, will you take my client? They want to know that you are not looking to poach their income-generating client. With that in mind, Ms. Fleming recommends being mindful of the language you use when referring to the overflow work both before you receive the work and afterward. Make sure that you emphasize that you are looking for overflow work as a supplement to your practice while you’re growing your own clientele, and make it a point to refer to their client as opposed to the or our clients. The legal field can be quite competitive and you want to assure them of your intentions.
With those two questions in mind, Ms. Fleming recommends engaging with other attorneys to seek overflow work. Start with lawyers you already know, perhaps from previous employment or from law school. Because you have a pre-existing relationship, you can make a more explicit request for overflow work sooner than you would with a new acquaintance. At the same time, grow your circle of contacts through networking. It might be beneficial to start with more experienced solo practitioners and small firm lawyers who can empathize with what it was like to start a practice.
Have meaningful conversations about the scope of new contacts’ practice while looking for clues along the way. For example, if the attorneys you are engaging with arrive early and stay late at every meeting, they may not be very busy and may not have any overflow work to give. Ms. Fleming also recommends leading with a soft request about the overflow work. This may seem obvious but it can be daunting to approach other attorneys particularly if the relationship is still developing.
Ms. Fleming recommends asking for this work in a way that does not put the individual attorney on the spot. Say something like, “do you know of know of anyone who might have overflow work?” That way, if the attorney in question does not have any work themselves, they may point you to other attorneys they know who are in need. If they do make some recommendations, be sure to loop back to them through an email or phone call after you have made contact with the attorneys they suggested. If the attorney you engage with responds with the dreaded vague “I don’t think so, “be proactive and ask if they’d mind your checking in with them. Follow up with a note, preferably offering them something of value, and you’ll build a relationship even if it doesn’t lead to overflow work in the short term.
Finally, another potential avenue for generating overflow is making cold calls or sending letters to other attorneys. However, Ms. Fleming does not generally recommend this strategy. She notes that the amount of time it will take to do so will probably not equal the return on investment. The same is true of sending an email.
One exception where it may be beneficial to make cold contacts is if your practice is highly specialized. For example, if you do patent work and there’s hot demand for your technical specialty, a cold contact might yield good results. If you do choose to cold call, Ms. Fleming emphasizes you should never leave a voicemail because doing so places a burden on the other attorney to call you back; they likely will not do so unless they have work for you, and you’ll lose an opportunity to begin developing a relationship.
The secret to landing overflow work is, at its base, the same as the secret to landing new clients: demonstrate that you’re competent, capable, and responsible, and grow your network so that you can ask for business from people who know you.
Monica Kinene is a Georgia attorney and solo practitioner specializing in immigration law. She is a former ABA YLD Scholar and the current YLD Liaison to the Commission on Immigration. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.