GPSolo January/February 2007
To Thine Own Rolodex Be True
A favorite expression of my father used to be “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death,” spoken by the great Rosalind Russell in the movie Auntie Mame. It embodied my father’s immigrant point of view that we all have the opportunity to succeed if that’s what we really want. The resources are there, we only have to recognize and use them.
Poor Sucker? No Way!
Most lawyers who complain of a lack of business don’t realize that there is a “banquet” waiting for them in their own Rolodexes. A banquet in their Rolodexes? “Doesn’t that get a bit messy?” you ask.
Allow me to clarify by example. I once received a phone call from an accountant to whom I hadn’t spoken in more than a year. He referred me a major matter, an employee buyout of a company, and I subsequently represented the company as general outside counsel for several years. What if he had felt that there was more than one lawyer who was adept at handling this job? Would I still have gotten the job? Would staying in touch with him more often have been what made the difference? How much legal work have I missed because I haven’t been in touch with the right people at the right time? I am sure that I have missed at least some.
How much potential new business is out there waiting for you if you only make a phone call or send an e-mail to someone whom you already know? Perhaps only one or two leads come to mind, but if you looked through your address book, you would be surprised to see how many others there are.
You certainly must have some accountants listed, and they are a wonderful source of business. Other lawyers outside your specialty can be a good source of business, and I’ll bet that you have the names of more than a few of them.
In fact, anyone who is a “gatekeeper,” whether an accountant, lawyer, banker, or even a financial adviser, makes for a good source of business. The type of law that you practice will often determine where you should go for clients. For example, a family lawyer may get many of his or her referrals from therapists.
Whatever kind of law you practice, your own clients are almost always a good source of business. You may have done some work for certain clients a year ago, and the clients may have been impressed and appreciative, but if you don’t stay in touch with them, it is a lot less likely that they will remember your name when someone asks them if they know a “good lawyer.”
Let’s not forget personal friends, neighbors, and fellow alumni from college, high school, and, yes, even grade school. It’s good to keep their contact information in your organizer so that you can stay in touch with them. I enjoy staying in touch with people, so it isn’t too much of a chore for me, although even I am not perfect in getting every name down.
Think of Me, Think of Me Often
Great, I’ve told you to stay in touch with dozens, if not hundreds, of people on a regular basis, so now all you have to do is quit your law practice and take this on as a full-time job, which is about what it amounts to. But wait, it’s not quite that bad. There are some things that you can do without quitting your practice, and as you might have guessed, some of them involve technology.
E-mail is your greatest time-saver in this regard. With one click you can send a message to one or 100 people whom you know, without having to repeat yourself over and over. What should you send? Announcements of significant legal developments in your field or in your practice are the best ways to remind people of your practice.
You can even organize your e-mail into a quarterly newsletter if you wish, but don’t send it out more frequently than that because it will become an annoyance rather than a friendly reminder. Certainly the annual holiday greeting is appropriate as well, although its impact is less because it doesn’t focus on your practice and it also may get lost in the deluge of other holiday e-mail greetings.
One important tip in sending out mass e-mails: Never list all of the e-mail addresses in the “To” or “Cc” box, where all of the recipients can see them. This infringes on people’s privacy (especially in areas such as family law) and also exposes those e-mail addresses to spam and viruses. The way to send a mass e-mail is to put your own e-mail address in the “To” box and list all of the recipients’ e-mail addresses in the “Bcc” box (which is invisible to recipients).
Another tactic that uses e-mail is sending articles of interest to clients and others. It used to be that if you wanted to send an article to someone, you had to cut it out of the newspaper or magazine, address and stamp an envelope, and then mail it, hoping that it would reach its destination in a day or two.
Nowadays most newspapers and magazines post their articles on the web. Most web browsers allow you to e-mail an entire web page with just a few clicks of your mouse, and it typically arrives in minutes, not days. Be sure to select the “Format for Printing” feature offered by many online publications—this lays out the article in a single web page with minimal advertising.
Ready to be a bit gutsy? Here’s a way to create memorable events, with no time investment and at no cost to you, which you probably won’t find in any other books or articles. Not to worry, it’s perfectly legitimate. Invite clients and others to promotional events that you are invited to by banks, insurance agencies, and other companies looking to promote their businesses. These events may be art exhibit openings, wine tastings, or simply drinks and hors d’oeuvres during the holidays, and surprising as it may seem, these companies are thrilled to have you bring along guests, although I strongly recommend that you always check first (for most events you have to provide the names of the people attending anyway). As long as you have carefully invited the right mix, these can be fun outings that allow you to be with several people at once outside the typical business environment—sort of like a golf outing for those who can’t, or won’t, play golf.
In all of these marketing activities remember that efficiency is key. You can go from doing a mass e-mail to 200 people, which is the height of efficiently reaching out to people, to making a phone call to a single contact to catch up, which is the least efficient method to reach out to people. However, sometimes initiating a phone call is appropriate, and when people call you in response to a mass e-mail, you will want to speak to them. But at least do your best to limit the length of phone calls, preferably to five to ten minutes. Also, have an assistant handle as much of the marketing to your existing relationships as possible.
Finding Your Way
My father was not a lawyer, but he did manage (without a college education) to build a business that supported him and his family. I guess you could say that he found his way to the banquet table. Here’s wishing that you find your way there, too.
David Leffler is a member of the New York City law firm Leffler Marcus & McCaffrey LLC, which represents clients in business matters and litigation. Prior to that he was a solo attorney for more than a dozen years. You can write to him at email@example.com.