You know that lawyer and—on your really, really bad days, at least—you probably hate him. He’s the one who is always prepared, with all of his transaction or litigation documents neatly organized. He always seems at the top of his game, never seems flustered and, most infuriating of all, always seems to have the nicest clients—the ones who are well-mannered, appropriately engaged in their matters, and willing and able to pay for legal services. They are the clients who even refer other good clients. And you can’t help but ask yourself, what did that guy do to deserve all the luck? Well, maybe it’s not luck. Maybe he just has a plan. A business plan, that is.
Lawyers and firms that seem to have all the good clients and cases may sometimes be lucky, too. But being in the enviable position of having a good book of business requires a lot more than luck. It takes thought, careful planning and lots of hard work to make sure that you are positioned in the right place at the right time—to land the right clients. But first you need to know what you’re looking for, to recognize it when you see it. Here are the simple steps you can follow to become that lawyer.
DO SOME MARKET RESEARCH.
I am often surprised by the number of lawyers I encounter who seem to know almost nothing about the civic and commercial life of the geographical area in which they practice. Use resources such as your local chamber of commerce, area business magazines and the Internet to discover the major industries, and the major players in those industries, within your county or metropolitan area.
Delve into population demographic data to create a profile of the various potential client groups all around you. And look at trends in your area. Are new businesses opening every day or do existing ones seem to be going under? Is the bulk of the population aging or becoming younger? What is the median income of people in your community? Are there more single people or families with children?
This type of information should give you an insight into the type of legal services that are needed, or will soon be needed, and may not currently be offered by other lawyers in the area.
ENVISION THE PERFECT CLIENT.
Dare to dream of having nothing but a stable of great clients and cases—and then visualize exactly what they would look like, demographically speaking. Establish a written set of criteria that a case must meet before you will agree to take it.
Your policy should state clearly and in some detail what kind of cases the firm will and will not take, including dollar value or other limits the cases must meet, and include a prohibition on taking cases outside the policy without approval of a screening committee or other mechanism. The policy should go on to specify that a signed fee agreement is required and should set out the minimum retainer or cost deposit needed, or other financial arrangements as are appropriate given the type of matter.
You will never be able to build a book of great business if you don’t first decide what that book of business looks like.
USE INTAKE FORMS.
Always use an intake form when interviewing a potential new client. Intake forms can assist you by making sure that you get all of the information you need to open the file and get started on the case, but they are just as helpful in determining whether you should agree to take a particular case. Include questions that will help you more easily identify cases that meet the minimum criteria you have previously set.
You should also consider drafting your intake forms to help determine the client’s creditworthiness, such as where the client works, how much he or she makes, the length of current residence and home ownership status. Questions of this type are useful, not only for the actual information they provide about the potential client but also for the feel they help you get for the client’s willingness to be open and responsive to your requests for sensitive information. Written intake policies and forms will help you to weed out the clients and cases that don’t fit in with your plan.
DEVELOP A REFERRAL NETWORK.
Invariably, potential clients who don’t fit into your game plan will seek your help. Someone may not be a good fit for your client roster right now, but that doesn’t mean that he or she might not become a good client in the future. So don’t burn your bridges. Get to know several other lawyers in your area and find out what their perfect practice would look like. Then forge relationships that will allow you to have good alternatives for referring the clients and cases that aren’t quite what you are looking for.
With some time, some planning and some patience—and the financial capital and will power to avoid getting involved in matters that don’t fit into your plan—any lawyer can become that lawyer.