This article is reprinted from the March/April 2019 issue of Law Practice Magazine.
Once you’ve had some opportunities to develop clients and generate some business, it’s critical that you start assessing your success.
Throughout your legal career, no matter what sector of the law you are in, you will need to think about marketing. If you are a junior associate in a law firm, you will first and foremost be marketing your work ethic, can-do attitude and eventually your skill set to the senior associates and partners with whom you work. If you are in a corporation or a government agency, you will be doing much the same.
After you’ve been practicing for a few years, you’ll begin to start turning toward marketing your own skills and expertise, both internally and externally. If you end up starting your own practice, marketing your capabilities will be essential to developing and fostering your business. Marketing advice abounds on the internet, in CLE programs and sometimes internally within your firm, especially if you have a marketing director or department. If you are in a smaller firm, one of the biggest ways that junior attorneys are schooled about marketing is by their more senior counterparts. Unfortunately, that can sometimes devolve into telling war stories, focusing on what worked for a particular individual in a specific practice. The better question may be, What will work for you? And once you have tried some things, you will have something of a track record to examine. You will need to ask and answer, What has worked for me?
A good starting place is to evaluate your personal style and preferences for determining the best ways for you to communicate your skills and expertise. If you’re a good writer, start to gain some experience by publishing articles, blogs and newsletters or contributing to a bar association through committee membership or CLE presentation as a way to signal knowledge, interest and expertise. If you prefer public speaking, start looking at opportunities to set yourself up as a speaker at association or public forums or serve as a bar association panelist. Lots of organizations are looking for subject matter experts. If you are an extravert and networking and social events are venues that you enjoy, starting polishing your introduction skills and determining the most effective ways to talk about what you do and how you help clients. Don’t overlook the not-for-profit community as a means of becoming known, particularly at a junior level. Most not-for-profits value legal expertise on their board of directors; it will give you something to talk about with friends and colleagues, and it demonstrates a commitment to something larger than your own success.
Don’t forget your public persona. This includes LinkedIn and other more informal aspects of your social media presence. As your skill sets grow and change, you want to ensure that your media presence is communicating where you are in your trajectory. Keep your profiles up to date, and if you are writing or speaking, make sure these activities are noted.
If you’re uncertain about any or all of your personal marketing options, spend some time doing them and see what feels like the best fit for you. Be willing to ask trusted friends and colleagues where they think you would get the most traction in your marketing efforts. While it is definitely possible to get better at something where you are not yet significantly skilled, many people will find that trying to excel in a space that runs totally counter to their personality and interests is unlikely to provide the best platform for business development. The difference between stepping out of your comfort zone and doing things that aren’t truly congruent with who you are and how you do your best work is the difference between worthwhile and thwarted efforts.
Once you’ve had some time and opportunities to develop clients and generate some business, it’s critical that you start assessing your success. Remember that repetition of activities is key to providing traction in your efforts. Writing a single article or participating in one CLE panel is unlikely to bring you the business that you want to generate. Repeat your efforts and remember that a particularly good source of client development is doing good work for your existing clients. As you develop a portfolio, these are some questions you should start asking:
- How have clients come to me or sought out my services?
- How have I tracked this process, and what tools am I using to keep an easily sortable record of referrals?
- What aspects of my marketing activities are yielding the best outcomes? Do they correlate to the effort necessary to generate the business? Think of this in terms of the time necessary to perform the tasks and the financial costs of doing so.
- What am I doing in my after-matter assessments to determine how clients came to use my services and their satisfaction levels with the services I am providing? If there have been problems, what are my weaknesses? How can I intervene on my own behalf in future matters to be more successful for my clients?
- In addition to gathering feedback at the end of a matter, am I making mid-course corrections if things are not going as well as I’d hoped? Perhaps I need to develop a mid-matter evaluation process to ensure that my clients’ expectations align with the way I’m pursuing their legal issue.
- How do I know what is working in terms of my marketing efforts? What can I do to measure them? What are the questions that I should be asking current clients to determine what mattered most when choosing an attorney?
- If referral by former and current clients is a significant source of business, how am I tracking which of my current clients is referring matters that generate the most revenue, and how can I foster the most additional referrals?
- Which of my clients have been with me the longest? Do I know why they have stayed with me?
- How do I know what is most important to my clients? While I think I have an idea, is it accurate?
- Where do my assumptions come from about client selection of an attorney? What would it take to confirm or change those assumptions?
As in many matters of feedback, we sometimes fail to ask questions for fear of what we will learn. However, operating on assumptions without actually measuring them against reality may cause you to continue a trajectory that is headed in the wrong direction.
Your Ideal Client Profile
Once you have a better idea of your best sources for generating business, which clients bring in the most revenue and those clients whose longevity has provided continuity, it can be helpful to generate a profile of the ideal client. Doing so can help you talk with other referral sources about the kind of work that you are looking for. This will, of course, change during the course of your career. As a junior attorney this may in part be defined by the opportunities you’ve had to do your best work for more senior lawyers. Do not hesitate, once you have gotten positive feedback about a developing skill set, to share this expertise within your firm. This isn’t about bragging; it’s about providing good service to the lawyers with whom you work.
While this information sometimes spreads through the grapevine, it’s useful to take your successes into your own hands and offer them in other situations of opportunity. At some point you want to be able to say what you are known for. This means being able to articulate what particular expertise clients will look to you to have.
As your knowledge base, experiences and skills grow, this will change. When you are managing your own files, or running your own practice, you will have a larger portfolio of clients and experiences to choose from to select and articulate your top areas of expertise and define ideal matters and clients. It takes just as long to generate a client or matter that is within your best window of expertise as it does to generate one that may not. Putting the effort into marketing your skills, doing the work and generating revenue requires you to ask a lot of questions and learn what clients really want from you. And those answers will foster your success.