Get Out from Behind the Desk
We’ve all heard variations of the theme of not hiding our light under a basket. To obtain business from any industry group, but particularly from an industry group that has not traditionally used women as litigation counsel to any great extent, requires getting out from behind the desk. The goal is to get to know the decision makers who hire legal counsel and let them see you in a professional light. That is often easier said than done. If you are not a great golfer, or don’t have a corporate box at the hottest stadium or ball park, what can you do?
Join Industry Groups
Time is a precious commodity, and as a lawyer you never have as much of it as you would like. However, joining industry groups is a great way to meet key people in the industry you are targeting for business. You need to be thoughtful and selective in your participation, or else the time commitments can become overwhelming with little to show in terms of business. How can you best maximize the time and effort?
Spend a little time researching each group. Most of this effort can easily be done through online research and talking to existing clients about various groups to which they belong. Find out what industry sector each group serves so you can determine if it is one that aligns with your business development interests and your legal skills. Determine which industry groups are the most important and respected in the market you want to reach. Many groups have an online membership directory you can access. Or if a membership list is not available, sponsors for organization events often are listed online, and you can obtain a good idea of the types of companies, institutions, and entities that support and belong to the organization you are considering joining.
If your law firm is joining as the member, ask to be listed as one of the contact persons. Most industry groups communicate at least partially through a designated contact person. Try to be that contact person for your law firm. In this way your name is front and center, and you ensure that important information about upcoming programs and events gets to your attention and does not get lost on some other attorney’s desk or in someone else’s inbox.
Don’t Just Join; Participate
Joining an industry organization is a good first step, but to really generate business you need to participate in a way that gets your name in front of those who hire legal counsel and shows you in an expert light. Membership is the lifeblood of most industry organizations; executive directors of these organizations are very attuned to the needs and interests of members. If members are not being served by the organization, the organization eventually will cease to exist. Introduce yourself to the executive director and let him or her know you want to be an active member. If you know enough about the organization, you may be able to suggest some ways in which you would be willing to help the group. Industry organizations generally rely heavily on volunteers. Keep in mind, however, that your time is limited; so volunteer for projects and committees that not only interest you, but also provide a vehicle for highlighting your legal skills and background.
Many organizations have newsletters and look for authors for short articles. Suggest an article you could write for the newsletter on a legal topic and make sure you follow through if asked to write. Keep in mind that most members of industry groups are not lawyers; practical advice regarding common legal problems or the effect on the industry of a recent important court decision, or a cogent explanation of a new statute or regulation applicable to the industry are the kinds of articles that will be well-received for an industry newsletter.
Determine if the organization presents breakfast seminars, panel discussions at monthly meetings, continuing education seminars, or other educational-type programming. Think about a topic of interest to the members and suggest to the program committee or the executive director that you’d be happy to put together a program on that topic and speak on it. You may want to suggest a few topics so that you can have a discussion with the program committee or executive director about what programming the organization thinks would be of interest to the members and how you can speak on a relevant legal issue.
Industry organizations generally function through committees and are always looking for committee members. Being on a committee is a very effective way to meet people in the industry. It also is a way for them to see you as an effective leader, hard worker, analytical and practical thinker, good communicator, and trusted advisor—all traits they would want in someone they hire to represent them in a legal matter. It is a way for you to learn first-hand what issues and problems your potential client base is facing. Understanding the world in which potential clients operate and being able to speak intelligently about their industry are very powerful marketing tools. Try to be selective in choosing which committee you ask to join; some committees are of a very limited scope and duration and don’t give you the chance to interact with many industry people.
Remember to Market Yourself to Existing Clients
Repeat business and referrals from existing clients are at the top of most lawyers’ business development lists. For clients in industries underserved by women litigators, however, it is especially important for you to make sure that existing clients of your firm know of your personal expertise and the role you play in your firm’s handling of important legal matters. In many legal matters that are handled by a team of lawyers, clients may fall into the trap of assuming the male partner or partners handle a disproportionate share of the legal analysis, trial preparation, and litigation. It is important to correct any misperceptions regarding contributions of individual team members. How to correct such misperceptions in a way that is professional and appropriate is not always easy, however, and must be approached carefully and discreetly. You are not seeking to minimize the contributions of your colleagues; rather you are highlighting the value you can bring to clients’ legal matters based on your experience in various cases.
For example, if a particular decision in a case has widespread applicability to an industry your firm serves, and if your firm approves, you may want to send out a client e-alert to discuss the point of practical interest and importance to your client base that was decided in the case. Of course, you will not be discussing any privileged client information and you will need to comply with applicable attorney advertising rules, if any, in your jurisdiction. By authoring an e-alert or similar client communication, you are associating your name with the legal work on the highlighted case, and you will have the opportunity to discuss the case from your perspective based on your work on the matter.
Let Other Lawyers Know about Your Skills and Experience
Other lawyers are a terrific source of potential referrals—but only if other lawyers know about your practice areas, your skills, and your successes. Lawyers will refer cases to you if you have established yourself as one of the “go-to” lawyers in a particular practice area. This is a great way to obtain a client or case in an industry that may not in the past have been particularly open to women litigators.
There are a number of ways you can help ensure other lawyers know of your expertise. Join your local and state bar associations and the American Bar Association. And don’t stop there: Join the practice section or committee that aligns with your area of practice. Volunteer for the section or committee: Put together a program, write an article for the newsletter or the annual case and statutory review, indicate your interest in a committee or section leadership position, and work yourself up the ladder. You want other lawyers to know you are an active, informed attorney in your practice area.
Search out ways to write an article for a journal, newsletter, or newspaper that reaches an audience of lawyers who might be potential sources of referrals. Write on a topic about which you are familiar and on which you can speak in some detail, as a good article often will generate calls from other lawyers to discuss.
There Is No Substitute for Good Work
Business development and marketing may get your foot in the door; but whether a lead becomes a satisfied long-term client who refers others to you depends on the quality of legal services you provide and the relationship you establish with the client. In the same way, whether the activities you undertake to develop business—such as joining industry groups—lead to new clients depends to a great extent on the care and professionalism you bring to those activities you agree to take on.
Business leaders want the best legal talent available to handle their matters. If you approach your marketing with the same professional ethic and enthusiasm you bring to your legal work, you surely will position yourself to get the attention and respect of industry decision makers.
Keywords: woman advocate, litigation, career, business development, professional development, networking, marketing