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In 1994, the year I started my practice, I bought a membership in the Guggenheim Museum that cost $75. Membership included a Roy Lichtenstein poster depicting an angry dog captioned “GRRRRRRRRRRRR!!” The poster hangs in my office today, a reminder of my cheap and mean nature. Museum membership included perks that I hadn’t counted on. As a starting solo practitioner, I couldn’t afford to entertain. So the four invitations the Guggenheim extended to me and a guest to attend black-tie previews became a valuable way of entertaining potential clients. It was a cost-free method of returning a favor to someone who’d bought me a fancy lunch or dinner that I couldn’t afford to return. During a decade as a solo, I’ve gained the experience to develop the following list of things to consider to maximize meager assets and to avoid the electricity being shut off during the lean years. � Never pay for a meal during which you are giving free legal advice or being “briefed” on some legal task someone wants performed. You can’t bill for the mealtime, and it is a favored tactic of the freeloader to offer a dinner invitation to suck your brain dry. Don’t compound the damage to yourself by offering to split the check. Thank the host for dinner and promise to get right on the task. It may be the only “fee” you get, and if you pay, the person will not respect your time. On the opposite end of the spectrum, letting a pro bono client pick up the tab for a sandwich — or simply coffee — and thanking them gives them a dignity that you picking up the tab wouldn’t. � Ask people for their business cards. Read the card and ask a question about something you see on it: the address, the business, a Web site, the commute, anything. This helps to remember someone’s name, what she does. It also visibly demonstrates your interest the person. It may be your next meal ticket, so handle it with respect. � Wait until asked to give your business card. During the discussion of the other person’s business card, it will occur to that person to request yours or develop a curiosity about you. This then offers an opportunity to talk about something particular to your practice. Don’t fumble or rush: Your card should be taken out smoothly and confidently, but not too quickly. And give out as many business cards as possible. If you meet, exchange cards and have brief, but meaningful, discussions with 20 people, perhaps two will become clients. So move around at events to increase your odds. � At legal, business and industry events, many of which are free, stand near the door, the food or the booze. Everyone needs to get by and you can say hello naturally without getting locked in a corner with one person complaining about how they can’t find clients. If you can’t afford the entry fee, try to go anyway. Write a letter telling the event organizer that you are in severe financial hardship and could they please award you a scholarship or fee waiver. � If you don’t know anyone at an event, try standing near the most powerful person in the room. First, introduce yourself. Try to say something meaningful or constructive, and if you can’t, try to pay the person a sincere compliment. Then stick to them like glue until that person introduces you to someone else. Nobody is just going to welcome you into the inner circle of power. As a lawyer, you will be respected if you gently, but firmly, make your way there. It is amazing how many people attend CLE lectures or industry panel discussions and don’t stay an extra minute to say hello to the lecturers or to seek them out during a break. Ask for advice. � Write a thank-you or follow-up note. When 500 people attend a party and the hostess gets one thank-you note from someone she hardly knows, how does she feel? That you are a diligent, thoughtful and nice person who can get a letter out on time. In other words, someone she’d like to have as a lawyer. Thanks is the best reflex to develop, no matter how discouraged we may be on other fronts. � Clip newspapers. Mail a clipping with a note saying “I thought you’d enjoy this.” Attach a business card. E-mails are less personal and don’t remain sitting on desks. � Send holiday cards — the single most important legal practice development and maintenance tool. Once a year, wish everyone well and commit it to writing. Our firm’s most successful holiday card was the least expensive. It depicted a snow-scene photo of our landmark lower Broadway building with horses and carriages outside, and included a description of the building’s architect, Cass Gilbert, who also designed the U.S. Supreme Court. It cost about $200 for 2,000 custom-designed postcards. The reaction was tremendous. Months later, my partner walked into a judge’s chambers and saw that the clerk had pinned the postcard to the wall. Personalize the message, so it has a strong impact. Missed the holidays? Don’t feel guilty. Find another good reason to send a mailing. � Don’t spend money. I started writing book reviews to save money on books. Make a sport of frugality — enjoy the process of continually cutting costs, looking for ways to save. Be skeptical of paying to advertise your services. Write an article and get it published. Buy “The Writer’s Market 2005″ to get an idea of what publications might accept your work. Choose simple, practical topics. Offer yourself as a speaker on topics you know well. If you are paying dues to a bar or trade association, become active, otherwise you don’t get your money’s worth. � If you really must buy a thank-you gift for your top clients, get subscriptions. Publications like the New York Observer cost about $29 a year and remind their recipients 52 times a year that their New York lawyer loves them. � Allow yourself the occasional indulgence and rest periods. Being too cheap or constantly networking is counterproductive. Plan a weekend or an evening off. Give it a break. Raymond J. Dowd runs the commercial litigation practice of Dowd & Marotta. He serves on the board of directors of the New York County Lawyers’ Association.

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