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January 20, 2009 Articles

Call the Equalizer

By Gerald T. Giaimo

One learns very quickly after passing the bar exam that there is a core element to the practice of law that is not taught in law school nor covered on the exam: generating a clientele. Distinguishing oneself amongst attorneys with long careers is, ab initio, difficult enough for the young lawyer. It is particularly true, however, in the construction law field where the practice has become increasingly a niche business, with more and more attorneys holding themselves out as "specialists" in the field. In surveying my colleagues, though, I have discovered success stories that prove it can be done. Indeed, rainmaking in this field is not the exclusive province of the senior lawyers. The business development key for the young attorney is to both embrace the fundamental habits of good lawyering and adopt a modern business strategy, marketing directly to industry-relevant prospects.

Qualities that constitute successful lawyering apply indiscriminately in the profession. Invariably, we are reminded that business generation, client retention, and satisfaction all begin with the following three good habits:

Be Responsive
While it might seem obvious, client communication must be the highest priority. Always answer your phone if you are available. Return missed calls the same day if possible or, at worst, within 24 hours. Nothing detracts from client satisfaction with greater force than a client's feeling of neglect. Adopting such call-back rules is a simple and easy way to keep the client happy.

Be Professional
In these days of "business casual" attire, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that clients are very sensitive to the manner in which you present yourself to others. While some expect aggressive advocacy, you should act in a civil and reasonable manner at all times. Whether in the courtroom, in a meeting, or on the telephone, your client is watching and digesting—consciously or unconsciously. You will always reap greater respect and confidence from clients (and potential future clients) for treating others with respect and dignity.

Be Yourself
Embrace your natural personality and style. Both your legal work and marketing methods suffer when you adopt a style that does not comport with who you are. Every attorney has a different style, and one size does not fit all. Not being afraid to do what feels natural and comfortable shows confidence which, in turn, translates into success.

Build Relationships
Any litigation matter in which you are involved will, by necessity, involve two or more construction-related entities. Whether adverse or not, relationships are created in the course of a case—good or bad—from which reputations follow. There is no greater opportunity to demonstrate your construction law skills than before an audience of these entities. General counsel have long memories, and a successful result for your client might mean a phone call for future work from another party—even an adverse party—impressed with your competency and professionalism.

While the competition to publish articles or teach seminars on construction law topics can be fierce within the bar community, there are often wonderful opportunities available to provide training or educational seminars directly to potential clients. Small contracting company owners, who rarely have the resources to attend large industry seminars, would welcome free materials or seminars marketed directly to them, offered at times or in a form that synchronizes with their busy schedules.

One colleague and friend, Christopher Huck, a young partner at the Connecticut construction law firm of Michelson Kane Royster & Barger, P.C., offered another example of overlooked industry marketing: "You have to keep in mind the process by which outside counsel are brought into a dispute. Surety bond agents, project accountants/auditors, and industry expert witnesses are often involved with claims and disputes before they escalate to litigation. Nurturing relationships with individuals that have these roles can generate a bounty of referrals. Of course," he added tongue-in-cheek, "it doesn't hurt to have a good golf game too."

Young attorneys are mistaken to assume that rainmaking in the construction law field is reserved for those who are well-known and more experienced. The beauty of the ideas and strategies presented here are that they are equally available to both young and seasoned attorneys alike. Although it is unlikely that the bar exam will ever include a section on business development acumen, the young lawyer would be well served to study up and hit the ground running; it is never too early to start making rain.

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