Surviving in a Down Economy

Vol. 17 No. 5


Kathryn Whitaker is the Marketing Director for Brooks Pierce in North Carolina and is currently serving as President of Legal Marketing Association Southeastern Chapter (LMASE).

Between analyzing judicial decisions and learning civil procedure, most law students receive little training on how to get paying clients. Most lawyers made a good living by virtue of doing quality work. But with demand shrinking among the increasing numbers of attorneys, learning the differences between marketing, business development, and related skills is necessary for survival.

Marketing and business development are complementary but not identical functions. Marketing is communicating who you are and what you do to a large audience. It is lawyer-centric. Marketing activities include:

  • writing an article for an industry publication
  • presenting a CLE seminar
  • participating in social media
  • leading a civic organization

Business development is targeting specific new work and pursuing it. It is client-centric. Business development activities include:

  • responding to a formal request for proposal
  • analyzing your existing client base for cross-selling opportunities and new matters
  • identifying potential clients
  • qualifying targets by establishing they have legal needs you can meet and for which they can pay you for your services

Young lawyers should focus on marketing activities in their first few years of practice—spend nonbillable time writing a good biography, fleshing out their LinkedIn profile, and experimenting with blogging and Twitter. Young lawyers should write for, speak at, join, and lead a professional and a civic organization, and most importantly, strengthen existing contacts while obtaining new ones. Finding solutions to complex issues often comes down to getting the right people involved. If marketing activities have made you known, liked, and trusted, you will be well positioned to be one of the “right people” asked to get involved.

Marketing efforts can lead to opportunities to develop business. One rainmaker in my area volunteered to serve on the local United Way’s Finance Committee. He knew his particular set of skills was a good match for the committee at the time, and every major company and university in town was involved. Relationships forged in that setting led, years later, to his serving as counsel to two separate public–private partnership efforts that yielded long-term, ongoing collaborative projects.

If you establish and maintain meaningful relationships and help people solve problems, business development naturally follows. You may not know when someone will have a legal issue, but you want to be who they think of when they do. The best business developers make it a habit to be continuously looking for a reason to connect. However, the mere connection is not sufficient. It is after you determine your niche—what you want to do and for whom—that you can most effectively develop business. Knowing yourself and your ideal client is necessary for an effective business development effort. If you go after work that you are not passionate about doing, potential clients will see you as unauthentic.

If you are not one for whom business development or networking comes naturally, get a coach to hold you accountable for some activity over an initial two-month period. The coach need not be a paid consultant or professional marketer; peer accountability works well. Agree to talk once a week at a set time about specific marketing and business development activities, including committing to specific actions and discussing them the next week. You may find that eight weeks is a sufficient amount of time to jump start a new habit, but you also may realize you need regular dialogue and feedback to force you to think intentionally about getting paying clients.

Successful marketing and business development are an intentional, habitual part of your career. With this habit, and a little patience, you will have paying clients knocking at your door.




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