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April 16, 2014 Articles

Interview: Business Development Advice for Lawyers

The best fishers know where to fish.

By Steve Fretzin

In a recent conversation with Joe Yastrow, we discussed business development and how to become more effective doing it. For over 30 years, Joe has been with Laner Muchin, one of the top labor-and-employment law firms in Illinois, with about 40 attorneys.

One of Yastrow’s earliest memories regarding business development came from a lesson learned from his father relating to fishing. “He told me, ‘Nobody ever caught a fish without putting a line in the water,’” Yastrow says. “In addition, I quickly learned that you have to know where to fish in order to ensure supper is on the table.”

These analogies hit home for Yastrow, and from a new-business standpoint he hasn’t gone hungry since. As we took a deeper dive into a discussion, we realized that good fishermen and good business developers share several key principles to success.

First Rule of Fishing: Keep Your Line in the Water
One of Yastrow’s strengths as a business developer comes from his understanding that almost anyone has the ability to hire or refer him. “I don’t conceal my profession, but rather find ways to open up discussions that allow it to come out naturally within the conversation.”

Yastrow finds the secret here is in being topical. For example, when speaking with someone new, he will bring up a current or newsworthy subject that he knows will relate to most people. These subjects are always in the news and are widely known by the people he comes in contact with. The subject is then easily brought back to Joe’s practice area, labor and employment. This will usually open up doors for him to find new opportunities or a good referral source.

How do you keep your line in the water? Take the time to read the news and find stories that relate well to your specific practice area. This connection could create a natural opportunity to speak as an authority on a topic your audience is already very interested in. A five-minute Google search could mean the difference between having a meaningful business conversation with someone at a party or sitting in a quiet corner all alone.

Second Rule of FishingFish with Your Heart, Not Just Your Head
“I wholeheartedly believe that relationships have to be ‘sticky’ to ensure longevity,” Yastrow explains. “At the end of the day, price or billable rate doesn’t come first when you have a trusted counsel and friend to rely on.” Essentially, as the practice of law becomes increasingly more commoditized and price-driven, it’s never been more important to go “above and beyond” for your clients.

Consequently, one of the first things that Yastrow does incredibly well is to really learn about his clients. This not only entails the business side but, more importantly, the personal side. Does his client have children? How many and what are their names? Do they like to vacation in Florida or Colorado? By truly having an interest and willingness to get to know his clients, he has developed a personal relationship that goes far beyond the “deal” at hand. With many of them, he has become friends. He invests time into these relationships through social outlets, such as dinners and even vacations. As Joe frequently states, “Be fun to work with.”

By the way, this is no parlor trick. When he asks, “How is little Johnny doing?” or “How was your trip to Naples?” he really cares and wants to know. True relationship building cannot be faked or falsified. It must come from the heart to cement a real relationship with your client.

To fish with the heart… Having a steel-trap memory for retaining information is helpful. For those of us who truly want to connect with our clients but don’t have the capacity to hold all that data, I recommend using your address book as a data-collection tool. We use it all the time for names and phone numbers, but why not for details on our clients? Take a few minutes after talking with a client about family matters and jot down some notes. Then when you have a few minutes, add the details to your client’s contact information. On a side note, be sure to have your phone password-protected to ensure this information stays secure.

Third Rule of FishingFind Your Pond and Own It
“There are currently tens of thousands of attorneys vying for the same business in the marketplace,” says Yastrow. “Therefore, it has never been more important to own a niche within a specific practice area.” While this may seem risky at first, you will soon see that no one becomes famous for being a generalist anymore. Most successful people do one thing well and own it. Think about what that might be for you and work toward that goal.

There are three key elements to owning a niche and becoming successful:

1. Become a great lawyer within that niche. This means that you continue to learn and improve as an ongoing process.

2. Promote yourself within the niche. Don’t keep it a secret or talk about the 10 other things you might also do. Really commit to one thing and let everyone you know that this is what you do best.

3. Work to become famous in that niche.

This would include doing the following:

Research your practice area. Find who the top players are, study them, and even speak to them directly. If one or more are in a different area of the country, they might be willing to speak with you and share ideas. Sometimes it pays to step up and be bold. Asking for help from a mentor may shave years off your time ramping up within your niche.

Focus on your speaking and writing within your targeted practice area. By getting more quality opportunities to promote yourself through these avenues, you will dramatically advance your interests.

Build an audience within your practice area and be well regarded. If all of your peers see you as the best, you can expect to get referrals on a regular basis. Try starting a LinkedIn group, tweeting, or developing a blog as a way to share information and further educate your audience.

Hire a public-relations firm to get you in the media and in front of a larger audience. Many of the most successful specialists enhanced their ability to become famous by engaging the media.

As an attorney, you understand that business development doesn’t happen easily anymore. However, if you follow the example of Joe Yastrow on finding business, building relationships, and developing a niche, you’ll be able to fish for clients a lot more intelligently and bring in a more rewarding catch.

Steve Fretzin is with Sales Results, Inc., in Chicago, Illinois.