Denver Bar Association
January 2009
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Extreme Lawyer Makeover

by Natalie Lucas

From Young Associate to Rainmaker


I did not go into law to be a salesperson. In fact, one of the reasons I went into law was because I did not want to make cold calls, execute sales pitches or attend trade shows. I wanted a position where the work would be handed to me. I could then keep my head down and work diligently to meet clients’ needs.

When I began working after law school, I began to realize that business development is one of the most fundamental aspects of a long and successful legal career. I recognized I had to start thinking beyond the "firm’s clients." Otherwise, I might become merely "a lawyer who works for another lawyer with clients."

However, I don’t recall any courses in law school that instructed us on how to bring in business. And naturally, without the experiences of a veteran attorney, young lawyers must find a different way to stand out in the crowd. Then, there’s the added pressure of billable hours, which is the focus of the careers of many young lawyers. How does a young lawyer find time for business marketing when they also must meet their billable hour requirements?

I decided to get some advice from an expert. John Remsen, founder of the Remsen Group in Atlanta, works with law firms to improve their marketing and business development.

Remsen said he agrees that young lawyers need to put in place a marketing plan from the beginning of their career. "Even if a firm does not require you to do marketing, it is an important investment for your career down the road," Remsen said. "Young lawyers need to develop good habits early on. It’s like going to the gym—you need to do it a least once a week."

Remsen offered several more helpful tips:

1. Pick Your Major — Become an expert in a certain area, especially one that you enjoy. "Clients hire specialists," Remsen said. Get involved in bar association activities in that specialty area and get published in that area. Find an area of focus, and it will be easier to develop a resume in that particular area.

2. Do Not Do Random Acts of Lunch and Golf — Instead, develop an A-list. Start with 15 names, and focus on building relationships with those people. The A-list could include law school classmates, friends that work in different businesses or contacts in professional organizations. Plan to have lunch with one of these people at least once a week. However, the communication should not end once the lunch tab is paid. Studies show it takes at least eight to 10 impressions to turn a prospect into a client. To cultivate relationships, send handwritten thank-you notes, provide the contact updates on laws that might be of interest to them or offer to do a program for their company or organization.

3. Find the Right Watering Holes — Once you’ve picked a major, locate the places or organizations to "fish" for clients in that area of law. As with any fishing trip, plan what you want to catch. Do you want to catch other lawyers? If so, bar association events could be the proper setting. For example, conflicts sometimes arise and a lawyer may get work from another lawyer in the same practice area. Also, attorneys in transactional work may refer litigation work, and vice versa. Outside the legal community, trade associations offer good networking opportunities in a particular industry. Pick one association and get deeply involved, rather than merely enrolling with numerous organizations.

4. Find a Mentor — As a young lawyer, it’s also important to network within your firm, Remsen said. Find a partner or senior associate with whom you like to work. Be sure to invest in the relationship with that lawyer. A mentoring lawyer is not only important for professional development, but also for business development. Also, realize that lawyers do not like to criticize, so ask for feedback from your mentor.

5. Develop a Marketing Plan — Ask yourself, what business do you want and why do you want it? Start by creating a budget for your marketing plan. For example, evaluate ways to get new business: would it be better to spend money on dues for membership to an organization, or on a plane ticket to give a presentation to a prospective client? Map out your concrete goals.

As the New Year commences, it is a good time not to just to renew a gym membership, but also to develop a marketing plan. Whether you’re a young lawyer in a small firm or large firm, it is important to begin working on creating your own client base.

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