YourABA May 2013 Masthead

Young lawyers: How to survive in a down economy

With demand shrinking among the increasing numbers of attorneys, learning the differences between marketing, business development and related skills is necessary for survival, said Kathryn Whitaker, marketing director for Brooks Pierce in North Carolina, in a Young Lawyer article.

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

  • Writing an article for an industry publication;
  • Presenting a CLE seminar;
  • Participating in social media; and
  • Leading a civic organization.

Business development is targeting specific new work and pursuing it. 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; and
  • 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, according to Whitaker. Spend nonbillable time writing a good biography, fleshing out your 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 important, strengthen existing contacts while obtaining new ones.

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,” Whitaker said. “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, Whitaker said. “You may not know when someone will have a legal issue, but you want to be who they think of when they do,” she said.

The best business developers make it a habit to continuously look for a reason to connect. However, Whitaker said, the mere connection is not sufficient. It is after you determine your niche 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 business development or networking activities don’t come naturally to you, 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, Whitaker said; 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,” she said. “You may find that eight weeks is a sufficient amount of time to jumpstart a new habit, but you also may realize you need regular dialogue and feedback to force you to think intentionally about getting paying clients.

The Young Lawyer is a publication of the Young Lawyers Division.

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