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Congratulations! You have just become a partner with your firm. Now go develop some new business. Not that easy, is it? Just think about how all of those clients out in the world feel with the new class of partners soon to arrive upon their doorsteps, both figuratively and literally. So what can a new partner do to become distinct from the crowd? Let me make a few suggestions from the clients’ perspective. First, stop, sit, pour yourself a glass from one of those bottles you received in congratulations for your new status, and take a few moments to think about business development from a client’s perspective. Imagine yourself a client in need of legal services — in need of legal services that your firm or even you (as the lawyer) could provide. If you were that client, what would you do first in your quest for a lawyer and a law firm? What would you do second and third? Who would you consult; whose opinions would you seek; what information would be important to you; where would you look for that information; how would you know if it was true? How would you decide which lawyer and firm to engage; how much to budget for the engagement; how to determine if you were making the right decision? These are the very questions that clients ask themselves each time they make a hiring decision. And yet, clients are often heard to remark that too few lawyers or firms appear to plan their business development and marketing activities around logical client decision-making models. What often drives lawyers blindly into the future is their conviction that what has worked well in the past will continue to work well in the future. What must have seemed to many lawyers to have worked well in the past was marketing to a small set of senior client leaders in a closely guarded relationship model. The more success that partners and firms had with that approach, the more they became locked into a set of assumptions and strategies about how to be successful. But times have changed. The new economy has produced a set of legal buyers with no long-standing relationships with senior law firm partners. Today’s clients work in complex organizations in which the procurement of all professional services, including legal, has become a science rather than an art. What’s more, these new clients may never have known of your firm’s victory in that 1984 case or even your landmark 1993 transaction. Obviously, as a new partner, you must have done well building relationships within your firm, but how will you transfer those skills into the open legal marketplace? Instead of charging ahead, new partners need to really think about how clients will acquire legal services differently in the future than they have in the past. Many clients today believe that they are much better at buying legal services than the law firms are at selling them — and they are absolutely right in many cases! As you sit, sipping from your glass, can you imagine how you will help your future clients to ascertain the information and answers they need as they go in search of outside counsel? That is your task: to plan your business development efforts and carry out those tactics “thinking like a client.” To do otherwise is to waste precious resources and time. Therefore, I humbly offer a few suggestions as to how clients think, for you to consider in planning your strategy. EVIDENCE OF COMPETENCE First and foremost, clients are looking for evidence of competence in their lawyers. Once satisfied as to the competence of an attorney or firm, clients can move on to consider the other, secondary elements of value such as service and price. Never have I heard a client proclaim that its lawyer was not as competent as some others, but the service or price was “right.” Notably, a client’s perception as to the level of competence required of a lawyer will vary from matter to matter. This truth does not, however, negate the requirement for the lawyer to first establish competency at least equivalent to the client’s perceived need. Thus, as the first and perhaps most basic step in business development, lawyers must ensure that clients can easily and verifiably discern their competence. Oftentimes the evidence of an attorney’s competence is simply too hard to find or so general as to lack credibility. Take a moment to review your law firm bio. Does it provide proof of your competence? Is it detailed and specific? While still imagining yourself as the client, you certainly should be aware that you are unlikely to ever retain a lawyer or firm based solely upon a bio, but as a client, wouldn’t a well-written and detailed bio at least help you to believe that you were about to pick up the phone and talk to someone who might be the right lawyer? Each lawyer needs at least three specific, detailed and well-drafted documents to form the foundation of a business development plan; a comprehensive bio, a representative matters listing, and a list of clients who would act as references or referral sources. CLIENTS BELIEVE CLIENTS Clients believe other clients more than they believe you! “We are a law firm dedicated to quality, excellence and service.” Can you envisage a firm ever saying otherwise? Now that you have imagined yourself as a client, how will you distinguish puffery from reality? Maybe you will do what clients have always done; you will rely on the actions and recommendations of other clients. If other clients whom you respect and admire have retained a specific lawyer or firm and obtained good results, or at least been pleased with the relationship, then maybe that is as good a piece of proof as exists. It is often said that the most reliable source of increased business for lawyers and law firms is their existing client base. But that business need not all come from existing clients. Prospective clients are generally more receptive to your message, as well as more willing to meet with you, if they have been referred by a current client or provided a comprehensive, representative client list. The reason behind this willingness is obvious: Clients have high regard and belief in the other clients listed or making the referral. Current clients are your best, and often most convincing, credential. Make wise use of them. BE THE SAFE CHOICE Law is risky — clients look for the safe choice. Clients retaining lawyers are both logical and emotional. And they hate to be second-guessed on either basis. Can you imagine the luxury of never being second-guessed! For many clients, highly visible lawyers and law firms often provide that luxury. The trick is to become one of those safe choices to your current and prospective clients. Return for a minute to your imagining state. Ask yourself this question: For what types of matters are you obviously one of the “safe choices?” Even if this analysis only leads you to think of those people within your firm who think of you this way, stick with this thought pattern. Why are you safe? What do those who think of you as safe know about your practice or credentials? As a new partner, one of your consistent and nagging tasks in business development must be to develop areas of practice, industries or even client types for which you are well known as the “safe choice.” The care and feeding of this perception is key to a sustained and rewarding practice. The wise and steady use of the press, with its natural tendency to create pundits, is certainly a course of action to consider. There is power in the press as a third party. The media can get your message to more potential clients in a day than most lawyers could in a lifetime — and with the implied endorsement of an independent third party. Clients, like many other people, tend to believe what they read. COMMUNICATE AND REPEAT Clients have short-term memories — communication and repetition are critical. Business development is literally a contact sport. If you are not top-of-mind when a client matter arises, then you may not get the call. The depth and repetition of communication between the lawyer or firm and the client marketplace has never been more important. But clients are a busy and ever-changing lot. They move, change jobs, and evolve. Lawyers and their firms must work together to ensure that contact and communication is made with clients and prospective clients consistently and routinely. Early in your partnership, establish a schedule of at least quarterly client contact. Use your firm’s ready-made tools to help — newsletters, e-mail alerts, seminars, even holiday cards. Personalize these mailers or e-mails to keep them out of the clients’ three-foot-high “to-read” piles and get them under their collective noses in the in-box. Let clients know about your successes. Make contact. BE ONE OF THE FEW Clients are retaining fewer lawyers — be one of them! New partners need to really think about how clients will acquire legal services differently in the future than they have in the past. One of the most significant trends among clients is the reduction in the number of law firms being utilized. Buyers of legal services are merely following the trends established by their corporate purchasing departments. A recent study of Fortune 1000 companies, conducted by the National Association of Purchasing Managers, reveals that reducing the number of suppliers they work with was ranked as the single most important trend in the purchasing environment. Additionally, the survey revealed that this trend will be their most important buying criterion in the future and will extend well into the 21st century. The good news in this trend is obvious. If you make the cut as one of the chosen few, you are likely to do well for an extended period of time. However, if you don’t make the cut, you are going to be closed out for a very long time. Any law firm that hopes to meet these new client expectations must have partners who are able to position themselves and the firm as a long-term ally of the client. Developing long-term relationships with current clients will be absolutely critical to the future success of your practice and firm. THE AGING PROCESS Clients grow older at the same pace as their lawyers. The shift in corporate leadership to a younger executive core will bring with it tremendous opportunities for new partners. Business leaders are becoming younger. It is no longer a surprise to find executives in their ’30s and early ’40s. This trend will likely continue as the baby boomer generation moves into retirement status. As a new partner, your contemporaries should soon be in the position of selecting counsel. This is good news if you have stayed in touch with your classmates and colleagues. If you have not, now is a good time to reacquaint yourself with your alumni. Talk to them about their businesses, their careers and maybe even their issues in retaining counsel. Listen for trends and pointers. Most of all, stay in touch. Your colleagues are waiting to hear from you. MONEY AND SERVICE Clients really do care about matter budgets, higher legal fees, and law firm service. If only more new partners could dress themselves in Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak and attend a meeting of the American Corporate Counsel Association (ACCA), fewer misunderstandings between clients and counsel might occur. Since its formation more than two decades ago, a constant source of conversation at ACCA meetings has been the frustration many clients feel towards outside counsel who just don’t seem to get “the service thing.” Value and service are diaphanous concepts to many partners, new and old alike. New partners, who may have had little experience as senior associates in explaining surprise bills to clients or late returned phone calls, are often taken aback by the force of the clients’ emotional blast when discussing these issues. For clients, the dilemma is often best explained in two words: communication and trust. Seems too simplistic, right? Well, let’s look at just one example to verify the communication/trust concept, almost as if in a legal exam. Here is the exam question: From the client’s perspective, contrast a request for a matter budget with a request for a matter flat fee. What is your answer? Surely your answer involves the notions of communication and trust. If the client truly believed and trusted that you would consistently communicate the status of the matter, why would she ask for a flat fee? After all, wouldn’t a budget suffice if the client trusted that he would be kept apprised of the matter status and allowed the opportunity to make key decisions jointly? Flat fees are often an attempt by clients to eliminate surprises and impose structure to an unpredictable world. Shouldn’t these be the goals in any client relationship, regardless of the billing format? Maybe clients who ask for flat fees simply don’t believe that their outside counsel have these same goals in mind. In the end, from the clients’ perspective, retaining outside counsel is quite simply a process of determining what it will be like to be a client of this lawyer or that firm. As a new partner, your business development efforts will succeed immeasurably if you make that task simpler, faster and more believable for your future clients. Maybe as a result of past experiences, or perhaps because of the increasing market separation of clients from counsel, prospective clients have become wary of slick marketing efforts and distrustful of the relationship. As you plan your business development efforts, remember to always think like the client. Find credible ways to communicate your capabilities and competence to those in need of your services. And perhaps most importantly, work diligently to convince your clients and prospects that you truly seek the status of trusted advisor in addition to your new status as law firm partner. Julie A. Eichorn, a former general counsel for Oracle Corporation, is the president of Paragon: Professionals Training Professionals, a law firm management and marketing consulting firm.

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