Undoubtedly, as young lawyers, we all get advice from colleagues, partners, professors, judges and the like, professing to know the secrets to a successful career, the genesis of which is always how to originate business. And undoubtedly, a large portion of that advice is good. I have had considerable success in this arena by committing to do what I consider very simple and obvious things that others often seem to overlook. Thus, I wish to humbly offer my two cents’ worth of advice, and share with you a few things I have learned and practiced over the evolution of my career. It is my goal to assist you in renewing your mind, with the hopes that originating business will come more naturally.
By way of introduction, I am a plaintiffs personal injury attorney. My clients are not institutions like insurance companies, banks or corporations. To the contrary, my clients are everyday people — the general public, the common man. So, while it is possible that any young lawyer can benefit from the advice I offer, it is geared to those who, like me, focus their marketing efforts on the people.
I often use quotes not only to inspire me, but to set the tone and vision in my mind’s eye to do what I do best: originate business. My favorite comes from none other than rapper Jay-Z, who so cleverly and accurately asserts, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.”
This is a pitch-perfect metaphor that illustrates that Jay-Z does not look at himself as conducting business; rather, he looks at himself as being the actual business itself. As lawyers, when we are trying to originate business, we must consider ourselves, as does Jay-Z, “the business, man,” and that must inform how we navigate and move throughout this professional arena.
The legal industry is a service-based business, and the unique commodity in that business is us, the lawyers. Before we can sell a potential client on our unique skills within the service, we must first gain their confidence. As a young lawyer, you are a walking, talking billboard, advertising yourself to everyone you encounter, the majority of whom will make split-second decisions about who you are and how good you are at what you do. As young lawyers, we do not have the advantage of a long, successful career full of headline-making verdicts, earning us an established reputation in the public and distinguished record on paper. As such, we must play to the strengths that we can more easily display. Therefore, we, being “the business,” need to first look like we are running a first-class enterprise. We should always be well-groomed, polished, pressed and tailored. It seems simple, I know, but often it’s overlooked. A well-dressed lawyer appears more detail-oriented, more confident, more organized, and, yes, more successful. Remember, you are a business in and of yourself, so if you wouldn’t want to walk into a dusty, disoriented business, don’t present yourself (your business) that way.
Another way a business attracts patrons is to make it as easy as possible for people to quickly and accurately identify what goods or services are being offered. How do we communicate what it is we do as a business when we can’t walk around with signs on our chest or clothes identifying ourselves as lawyers? We must use our mouths. Everyone you know or come in contact with should know what you do. As an exercise, practice weaving a tidbit of what you do into your conversations with friends, acquaintances, former law school classmates, the cashier at your favorite deli or the parent you see every time you drop your kid off at school. Your goal must be that everyone you regularly come in contact with should know you’re a lawyer, what kind of law you practice and what kind of clients you wish to represent. Test how well you are doing at advertising your business and ask your relatives if they know what you do and who your ideal client is. If they can’t rattle it off the top of their heads, you have work to do. Studies have shown that if you want someone to remember something, you must tell them at least seven times. Don’t tell your family and friends what you do once — remind them often.
Advertising your business to strangers you come in contact with, whether at a networking reception, happy hour or a wedding, requires a slightly different approach. I often lead conversations with people I don’t know by offering a compliment. Once the ice is broken, inquire about what it is the individual does for a living. After learning his or her profession, ask the person how you can help his or her business. In turn, it leads to the question of how he or she can help your practice. If the person is a lawyer, inquire about his or her ideal client, and let him or her know you will keep him or her in mind should that client come across your desk. Make it a point to hand a card to every person you talk to for more than two minutes. If you are actively growing your business, and doing it right, you will hand out lots of business cards.
While my next strategy may at first glance appear to be an overwhelming prospect, it has proven very beneficial. I encourage people to call me if they have any legal questions whatsoever, even if it isn’t regarding an area of law I practice. I assure them that as a lawyer, I can answer their legal questions or point them in the direction of an appropriate attorney to assist them. You will be surprised at the results of this exercise. For many people, a brief conversation with you will end with you becoming the only lawyer they know, and when a legal question arises, you will be the person they call.
For all lawyers who represent “the people,” the existing client is the lifeblood of their practice. Your relationship with an existing client is by far your best advertisement for future business. Be sure to spend some time getting to know your clients. Inquire about their family, goals and future plans beyond the resolution of their legal matter with you. Remind them that you are their lawyer for life and they should call you with any legal issues or questions in the future. You want to brand yourself and your business as their one-stop shop for legal issues. Again, even if the question deals with another area of law, you want to be thought of in your clients’ minds as their legal resource and consultant. They should never hire another lawyer for any reason without first consulting you about it. This practice allows you to refer the client to lawyers whom you not only trust and are confident will do a good job, but it provides an avenue for reciprocation of referrals.
Grow your business by tapping into every circle that you are fervently or casually affiliated. Ask yourself how many networking events you attend each week. Do you belong to any clubs, organizations, fraternities or sororities? Are you a member of your college or law school’s local alumni chapter? Use the affiliations you have developed throughout your life to expand your network and market your business. Frequently attending social events hosted by your affiliate organizations and clubs heightens the chance that you are marketing your business to an audience where turnover is more likely. As a young lawyer, I attended at least three social events per week. However, it’s the quality, not the quantity, of your interactions at these events that will make the difference. Social media is also a great tool if used properly. Instead of blogging about mundane topics of your everyday life, why not share an aspect of your practice that may be funny, entertaining or simply interesting, while educating your followers about your practice?
Last, but certainly not least, as a young lawyer, you will need to align yourself with individuals who readily come into contact with would-be clients. For instance, if you are a trusts and estates lawyer, you may want to strategically align yourself with financial advisers or marriage counselors. If you represent injured people, you may want to get to know chiropractors, dentists and medical doctors. If you practice criminal law, your best friends may need to become bail bondsmen.
Originating business for your respective law firm will set you apart from the pack and ensure your success. Play to your strengths and it should begin to feel more natural. Capitalize on every opportunity to market yourself by engaging everyone you encounter.
Be in the business of being your business, man.
Samuel A. Anyan Jr. is an attorney at Wapner, Newman, Wigrizer, Brecher & Miller. He represents clients injured because of defective products, motor-vehicle accidents, medical malpractice, premises liability and construction-site accidents. He can be reached at 215-569-0900 or email@example.com.