Finding Time to "Market"
Generate more work by making smart use of the
This article was
published in the April 2001 issue of Arizona Attorney magazine
Related article: "Inside
Job: Turning Clients into Referral Sources"
all due respect to motivational speakers and positive-thinking gurus (the first
time someone suggested I read The Power of Positive Thinking I figured,
"What the hell good will that do?"), few things can spur most people to
action as quickly and decisively as fear.
Disagree? Consider this:
A member of your firm comes into your office and
gives you a big pep talk about how much better your life would seem and how much
healthier the firm’s cash flow would be if you’d just return people’s phone
calls, line up a few referral sources and generate a little more work.
You may actually buy into that notion. But before
you can act on it, a client's crisis erupts and within an hour or two you’ve
lapsed back into your customary inert state. For all the good your colleague’s
pep talk did, he may as well have told you about his favorite recipes that call for Cheez-Whiz.
In contrast, look at the mountains of files,
documents and phone messages on your desk. Then visualize them disappearing, one
at a time, until there’s nothing there. No files. No documents. No clients. No
Granted, at this moment that may be your idea of
Utopia ... but the paranoid side of you has already started imagining life
without a heavy workload:
First, other attorneys begin avoiding eye contact
with you as you pass in the hall. Invitations to "grab some lunch" dry up. Then,
one night as you stroll through the lobby on your way to the garage, you see
every member of the firm but you huddling in the conference room. Your best
friend comes to the window and watches you disappear as he closes the blinds.
The next thing you know you’re living in a trailer
in a rural county seat, driving a ‘71 Maverick, wearing short-sleeved Kmart
"dress" shirts and other clothing made of substances found nowhere in nature,
and working as an on-call public defender for clients who would slit your throat
just for the chance to fondle your Mont Blanc.
Alters your outlook, doesn’t it? Makes you
want to drag your sorry self out of your chair and get out there and bring in a
carload of new clients, doesn’t it?
But still ... those mountains of files, documents
and phone messages are still on your desk. You don’t have time to generate more
work, because you can’t find the time to do the work you already have.
So you face a quandary: How can attorneys with a
full plate do their billable work and do what’s necessary to keep their pipeline
from running dry? Answer: By making clever use of their initial consultations.
If you’re like most attorneys, you see the initial
consultation as a necessary evil, a rite of passage to be endured before you can
crank up the old meter. And, if you’re like most attorneys, that first meeting
with prospective clients seems to go something like this:
No sooner than you can say, "Okay what’s your
problem?", the wretches launch into their tales of woe, gesturing toward the
heavens and rending their garments, and as soon as you start making some sense
of their ranting you counterattack with a barrage of the applicable legal
theories, statutes, dicta and excerpts from Plato’s Republic that will
allow you to pluck them from deep water.
Then you thank them for coming and head for the
Now, there’s not a thing wrong with this approach
... if you’re satisfied never to rise above the level of fixer, junior grade.
But if you want to build your practice, to be a consistent source of work for
yourself and for your firm, to be a star ... well, you’ve got to learn to use
your initial consultation to milk your clients until they moo.
"Let’s Get Better Acquainted"
There are four basic components of client
referral source cultivation,
cross-selling, and client relations.
The busy attorney can forget about prospecting,
unless it’s something that comes naturally. Prospecting is a labor-intensive,
high-risk activity that few lawyers ever try, much less master.
But the three other legs of the stool are
essential, and you can often knock out 75% of what you need to do in those areas
by simply making smarter use of your early face-to-face meetings with a client.
Step one in turning the initial consultation into a
client development activity is to resist the urge to fixate on the client’s
problems and solutions at the exclusion of all else. After you’ve learned what
you need to know to take care of your client’s legal need, and after you’ve
adequately explained what you plan to do about it, take a deep breath. Turn off
your meter. Then tell them you’d like to take a few minutes to get better
How did you choose me? How do you
know whoever it was who referred you to me?
What other lawyers, CPAs, professional
advisors, etc., do you use?
What’s it going to take to make you happy?
Tell me about your company.
Let me tell you about our firm.
"How Did You Choose Me?"
Even if your secretary or the client intake sheet
has told you who sent this person to you, feign ignorance. Ask them who
If you recognize the referral source’s name, say
nice things about them. If you don’t know the referral source from Adam, come
clean. Faking it ("Ah, yes" accompanied by a nod and a knowing smile) deprives
you of a chance to know who's really referring work to you, lavish
ethics-compliant gifts on them, and gain a better understanding of what clients
put themselves through to find the right lawyer.
Then, as soon as the client is out the door, call
the referral source or dash off a note or gift to thank them for the referral,
and give their name and address to your secretary for future contact.
"Who Else Advises You?"
Making thorough use of the initial consultation
helps you treat your clients as people, not as files, and generate more work
without burning up time and money.
If your new client is a business owner or a person
of means, they probably have a stable of other professional advisors. Your
mission is to find out who they are so you can kiss up to – that is, establish
an effective working relationship with – them. For example:
"Who’s your CPA?" Accountants can be very good
referral sources, and you want to know who your clients use.
If they don’t have a CPA or think the one they use
isn’t funny enough, that gives you an opening to recommend a CPA from whom you’d
like to receive referrals. The beneficiary of your referral may feel duty-bound
to return the favor.
If they do have a CPA, jot down his name and, after
the client’s gone, call him up, introduce yourself, and let him know that you
have a mutual client, that you’ll probably be working together at some point,
and that you should do lunch or something so that you can proselytize his other
clients, too. (CPAs are just one example. You can run the same drill with their
banker or anybody they use who can send you work.)
This is a really clever technique, and you will
feel like Tarzan after you pull it off. More important, you may legitimately
unearth important needs that you can help satisfy, and you will upgrade your
role in the eyes of your client from that of temporary hired gun to long-term
"What’s It Going to Take to Make You
This is where the rubber meets the road, client
relations-wise. Asking a few simple questions about the client’s expectations
can help you ward off problems that kill a potentially good client relationship.
What do you expect regarding the outcome?
If you let clients leave your office expecting to win the sun and the moon
in this lawsuit, when you know they’ll be lucky to still have their
butterfly collection, you need to set them straight.
What have you liked and disliked about your
former attorneys? This gives you a chance to avoid making the same
problems that prompted them to fire your predecessors.
What do you expect from me in the way of
service? By gaining a clear understanding of what your client wants and
doesn’t want from you in the way of service, communication and
accessibility, you can tailor what you do to meet the expectations of that
client, rather than try to make all of your clients conform to your normal
way of doing business.
When the gods of the legal process frown on you,
knowing and responding to what each client likes and dislikes may be the one
thing that saves an otherwise doomed relationship.
"Tell Me about Your Company"
This question opens the door to major cross-selling
opportunities. As clients describe their business, try to anticipate other legal
services that they or their company may need at some point.
Pick the most obvious (or lucrative) other legal
need and, as you walk them back to the lobby, swing by the office of the
appropriate attorney for a how-do-you-do. Tell the client, "You know, some day
you may need some help with (fill in the blank), and if that happens, Margaret
here is the best darned (type of law) lawyer in the world."
This is not selling, and your client should not
interpret it as selling. Unless you’re an utter buffoon when it comes to stuff
like this, you should rack up another opportunity to show your client you care.
And, in the process, more work will come to you and the firm.
"Let Me Tell You About Our Firm"
I have a theory that has yet to be disproved: Most
clients assume that every attorney in your firm practices exactly the same kind
of law that you do, unless you tell them differently.
As a consequence, the next time your real estate
client has an income tax problem, he may not even think to ask you if your firm
has someone who can help him. He’ll start from scratch and end up with some
boutique full of egghead tax lawyers who send Victoria’s Secret catalogs to his
You can ward off the problems associated with
client ignorance by talking about your firm. ("You should know that we have over
60 attorneys here, and we don’t all specialize in pederasty defense. We also do
securities litigation and admiralty law.")
You not only lessen the risk of having clients go
elsewhere out of ignorance, but you also convey pride in your firm and a spirit
of collegiality. Most clients like that.
("How Can You Become a Referral
Clients are funny. If you don’t talk to them
referrals, they often figure you don’t need any. This is especially true if
you’re bad at returning phone calls. Your clients can’t be faulted for assuming
that if you’re too busy to talk to them, you certainly must be too busy to help
It’s easy to solicit referrals from a client
without coming across like a New York Life agent. Rather than locking them in
your office until they give you the names of 10 friends who need a stay-lift,
try this no-risk come-on:
"About three-fourths of my clients are
referred to me by people I’ve already helped. I’m looking forward to
working with you in this matter, and I’d be pleased to meet with
anyone else you know who should ever need an attorney."
People, Not Files
Making thorough use of the initial consultation
helps you treat your clients as people, not as files. That’s an important first
step toward consistently generating more work for yourself and your firm,
without burning up large chunks of precious time and money to "market" your