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American Bar Association - Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice

Spring 2009

Vol. 5, No. 3

Family Law


Grow Your “A” List

How to target your “ideal clients” and then cultivate them.

Rainmaking takes planning and follow-through. Begin by deciding what kind of clients you want. In general, look for clients with two qualifications: those who can afford your fees and those whose cases interest you.

The three steps to successful rainmaking are:

1. Identify the client sources. Where do your best clients come from? Most of our best clients have been referred to us by former clients and professionals in the community—other attorneys, social workers, psychologists, accountants, and the like.

2. Design a marking plan for those potential clients. Think of the best way to reach those you would like to represent. Primarily, this requires getting your name out in the community to those who refer cases.

3. Implement the plan. Follow up on your plan at least once a month. You may have a fabulous marketing plan, but if you do nothing to facilitate it, there will be no benefits to your having it.

Prioritize to whom you plan to market. Make a list of former clients and professionals you believe to be your best potential sources of clients. This “A” list will consist of as few as ten or as many as fifty. You may, of course, have a “B” and a “C” list as well, and opt to spend less time, energy, and financial resources on those referral sources during the year.

Next, develop your plan. Distinguish yourself from other family law attorneys. To accomplish this, maintain your CV. This may seem insignificant, but it is not. Your CV sets forth your reputation and accomplishments. In addition to the basics that are on every CV, track important cases you have handled, the articles you have written, and the speeches and lectures you have given. In addition to your formal CV, maintain a file of stories, jokes, and tales that are appropriate to share with an audience when you are invited to speak. You may think that you will always remember these stories, but keeping them in a computer file makes them readily accessible as you outline your speech.

Although we all make decisions regarding Yellow Pages and community newspaper advertising, self-directed advertising may be much more beneficial. Tailor an advertising plan to meet your needs. Newsletters and holiday cards are another form of advertisement and can be readily mailed to your A, B, and C lists at minimal expense. Since a main source of referrals is former and current clients, sending out closure letters and surveys at the conclusion of the case is an ideal way to cement that relationship.

Spend the greatest amount of time and energy on your A list. This group is composed of your best clients, lawyers in other jurisdictions who may refer cases to you, and lawyers who practice in other fields that complement family law, such as estate and trust and tax attorneys, as well as psychologists, social workers, accountants, and business valuation experts.

Seek to Speak

Offer to speak to small organizations or write articles for local newspapers. Don’t wait to be invited. Contact publications and groups with potential articles and areas of interest. Offer to speak to social and religious organizations. They are always interested in speakers on a variety of subjects in the realm of family law.

Some current “hot” issues are virtual visitation, relocation, and same-sex marriage. Not every subject is of interest to all groups, so identify your audience and determine which areas of interest are best. Then acquaint yourself fully with the subject, the applicable law, current trends, etc. When writing an article or outlining a speech, keep in mind that you are not teaching first-year law students. The information must be of interest, of course, but your speeches also must be engaging and your writings articulate, well-organized, and tailored to your audience.

I find speaking more rewarding than writing, because I can interact with the audience and evaluate how things are going during the presentation. If you are not a practiced lecturer, don’t take on the task until you have observed some gifted speakers and perhaps taken a public speaking course or two at a local community college, which, in fact, you may use as another networking opportunity.

The best speakers are engaging and entertaining, as well as informative. Have a number of short stories, funny lines, and quotes to use where applicable. Although you are not attempting to be a comedian, humor can make a serious topic more approachable.

Practice, practice, practice. Video yourself and use that as a tool or have a number of friends listen to your presentation and critique it. As with any other skill, your presentations will improve over time.

Market With Handouts

When you do lecture, be prepared. Have handouts that include your address, email, website, and other relevant information. Include a short bio that is flattering and informative and accompanied by a professional photograph. If you don’t have a professional photo, get one. You will never look better than you do now! This also is an optimum time to hand out pens, rulers, pocket calendars, etc.

In less formal settings, make the most of every opportunity to market yourself. When you introduce yourself for the first time, restate your first name, so that it’s easy to remember. “Hi, I’m John, John Smith.” When you hear the name of the person to whom you are being introduced, use his or her name in the discussion. “It’s nice to meet you, Jane.”

Don’t just hang around with folks you already know. Walk up to strangers and introduce yourself. Be prepared to say something more than just your name—something relevant to the situation. Tell, in two sentences, what you do for a living that separates you from others in the room and makes you memorable. When you walk away, you want them to remember that you are an attorney and someone they want to know. Your presence as the speaker gives you a unique opportunity to engage everyone in the audience in a private discussion before or after your presentation.

When you meet someone new, gather information about the person. If it’s someone with whom you think you can network, think about how to succeed in doing that. Get the person’s business card and send a note or give him or her a call within a week to pass along some relevant information.

Stay in touch with former clients and, during the conversation, let them know that you routinely speak to groups and would welcome an invitation to address organizations to which they belong. Many of them belong to clubs that welcome speakers on a variety of subjects. Be prepared to suggest topics that may be of interest to their groups.

I generally call clients and business professionals on my A list between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. It’s more memorable than a holiday greeting card. You cannot call everyone on all of your lists, so use your resources wisely. Offer to speak to business professionals who have a natural relationship with family law, such as social workers, psychologists, accountants, business valuation experts, estate and trust and tax lawyers. Many of their professional organizations would be interested in knowing more about areas of family law that may impact them professionally. When having a conversation with such professionals, express your willingness to speak on a subject that may be of interest or to write an article for their professional publications.

If you expect to get referrals from attorneys who do estate planning, refer your clients to them. If those to whom you refer don’t reciprocate, start referring to another attorney who will.

Once again, a marketing plan is only successful if you use it and follow through. If you are not able to do that on your own, consider hiring a marketing coach who will prod you along on a regular basis. Everyone you meet should know what you do and that you are good at what you do. Convey enthusiasm for the practice of family law, and be proud of the success you have achieved. Confidence in yourself is contagious and is the best way to market your practice.

Cheryl Lynn Hepfer practices family law in Rockville, Maryland. She is president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, vice president of the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, and a diplomate in the American College of Family Law Trial Attorneys. She is listed in Best Lawyers in America.

Published in Family Advocate, Volume 29, No. 2, Fall 2006. © 2006 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.

© Copyright 2009, American Bar Association.