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You’ve just launched your legal career as an associate at a New York firm. Right now you’re thinking about pleasing partners, billing hours and praying that you don’t make any serious mistakes. Marketing is the furthest thing from your mind. Many associates continue with this mind-set, grinding away for the next eight years, paying no attention to business development. These associates may be in for a rude awakening when, 20,000 billable hours from now, their partners start asking for their personal marketing plans, strategic focus and client development activities. While some firms have launched sophisticated training programs to prepare associates for client development, they are few and far between. Most firms reckon that good marketing skills are developed in the trenches alongside strong partners. Associates learn by imitation, “just like I did 30 years ago when I was building my practice,” thinks the managing partner. This success-by-imitation strategy � if it can be called a strategy at all � is a bit backward, setting associates up for failure, making their success a gamble rather than a guarantee. You need a solid foundation in marketing to become a good marketer. Associates who embark on their legal career with a marketing mind-set � and the firms that endorse robust marketing training � will be leagues ahead of their peers. And there’s little work involved if you start on that foundation early by developing good contacts, mastering the art of relationship management, gaining exposure and learning about your market. Contact Management Is Not a Spectator Sport: Contact management is the precursor to developing robust business relationships. It is the basic process through which you gather, develop and utilize information about everyone you know so that you can leverage that information for business use. Think you don’t have any contacts because you’re just starting out? Think again. “Contacts” are simply people you know, and you know many, many people. Your contacts include college and law school roommates and friends, family friends, people you grew up with, did sports with, maybe in-laws. Your circle always is wider than you realize. You know that little maxim, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know “? Well it’s true, and those attorneys who learn how to actively manage their contacts will be successful individuals. Those who don’t will have big problems ahead. Consider this: About a year ago, I had a conversation with the head of litigation of one of the largest firms in the world. Teeming with frustration, he spoke of the many partners in his group who just sat in their offices waiting for a new matter to land on their desks. “How did we cultivate so many service partners?” he wondered. Simple. Service attorneys � those who “service” other partners’ clients rather than generating their own matters � are manufactured when firms focus on the big matter in the hand rather than the matters in the pipeline. In this case, when I asked the litigation department head about the kinds of contact and relationship management training the firm had offered its lawyers, there was radio silence. To some extent, you have to sympathize with the service attorneys. In good times, the work pours in, everyone is busy and no one thinks about the pipeline. Who has the time? When the work slows down, however, the partners with entrepreneurial spirit hit the streets, leaving behind those service attorneys who have no idea how to generate business, no idea where to start. At this large firm, surely the “service partners” had countless contacts, great contacts, but with no consistent, active efforts to maintain those contacts, the service partners might as well sit on phone books. It will happen to you. A decade from now, you will find yourself flipping through a magazine only to stumble upon a tombstone ad announcing that So-and-So just became the general counsel of a company you would love to have as a client. You were actually pretty friendly with So-and-So in law school, but unfortunately you didn’t stay in touch. Well, if you e-mail So-and-So now, your e-mail is likely to land in the “circular file” along with those from others who will never get any work. Start here: Don’t fall too far out of touch with smart, likable people. Every person you know should be in your contact database, whatever system you use. Practice contact management now. Send holiday cards to everyone you know. Report on firm and personal successes. Add contacts to firm mailings as appropriate. Stay in touch with everyone. It’s a Relationship Business: Once you establish a method for managing contacts, you are ready to manage your relationships. Understand this from the get-go: No one hires a lawyer for her ability to write a killer brief or for his ability to craft a reps and warranties clause. People hire lawyers (not firms) they like, lawyers they know, or lawyers who have been recommended by someone they trust and know. So the best thing you can do today is understand that you operate in a relationship business, and the best thing you can do for your career is learn how to develop good business relationships. Business relationships are no different than personal ones � be attentive, be respectful, stay in touch and, above all, be helpful. Grow Big Ears: Listen to what matters to other people. If you weren’t born with an elephantine memory, take copious notes. In nearly every phone conversation, for example, you can glean some little nugget about a contact who you can use later to deepen a relationship. Here’s an example: A contact says, “Sorry, I can’t have dinner tomorrow evening. It’s my 8-year-old daughter’s last soccer practice, and I’m the assistant coach, so I have to be there for her team.” What do you do? You write it all down. Months from now you may come across an article in Sports Illustrated on women’s soccer. Send it on with a note. Or perhaps an e-mail goes around the firm in which a colleague says he has a conflict and needs to get rid of tickets to a professional soccer game. We know someone who would love those tickets, don’t we? Never lose sight of the fact that anyone can write an article on Sarbanes-Oxley or some other post-Enron issue. And everyone will. But not everyone can or will engage on a thoughtful, personal level with all of their contacts. Your acts of relationship-building will differentiate you from every other lawyer out there. Those acts belong to you. Taking it one step further, people who build relationship networks are always in a position to help others. With your well developed hearing, you will grow more and more attuned to requests for help, no matter how subtle. This enables you to build bridges between contacts. Say, for instance, you have a conversation with a friend who works at an advertising agency. In a particularly frazzled moment, Friend tells you his agency is so understaffed that he has been working insane hours. They just can’t find junior people to help carry the weight, so he’s been burning the candle at both ends. A few weeks later, during a refreshment break at a CLE seminar your firm is hosting for a client company, one of the senior in-house guys mentions that his son is home from college and looking for a summer job in a creative field such as advertising. You have the opportunity to make a marriage here and help two important contacts. You should never be afraid to speak up when you offer to help another person. Make the introduction. Be the Rocket Expose Yourself: At this early stage in your career, you may not be in a position to give the keynote address at the American Bar Association Annual Conference, but there are other ways to get exposure. First, take advantage of any writing or speaking training that is available. As everyone is afraid of public speaking, we are naturally dazzled by those who do it well. So learn to do it well by starting your training now. Second, when you are ready, take advantage of any writing or speaking opportunity that presents itself. In many firms, associates attend regular practice group meetings at which there is usually time set aside to discuss practice development plans. If no one discusses placing articles, raise your hand and articulate your interest in writing on any appropriate topics that align with the practice’s objectives. If these meetings are not open to you, talk to your mentor or drop an e-mail to the head of the practice group. Let him or her know that you would love more exposure in the legal and business community and will support any efforts in that regard. Better yet, suggest some ideas on topics that interest you that may be juicy CLE programs or articles. When these opportunities materialize, share the news with your contact list. Most important, whenever you are given the opportunity to secure face time with clients and prospects, take it. This means that if you are invited to a cocktail reception or asked to sit at a table the firm buys for an event, you must go. And no matter how torturous, do not stand in a corner and speak to colleagues. Learn the art of networking now. If you do not have formal training available at your firm, buy a book, talk to a partner or ask your marketing department for help. Know Thy Market: What firm has the highest gross revenues in New York City? In the nation? In the world? What firm is the largest? Which firm is considered the go-to firm for corporate governance issues? Or M&A? Or securities litigation? What is lock-step compensation? What are the hot emerging legal markets and how is your firm involved? Can you define profits per partner, realization, write-offs, equity vs. contract partnership? Which firms are key competitors and what has been going on in their firms for the past five years? What are some of the key issues in the global marketplace that are changing the legal landscape? This is market knowledge. There’s a lot to know. Obviously most of your time as a new lawyer is spent learning how to do this lawyer thing. That’s how it’s supposed to be. But no matter how busy you are � and you will be busier than you thought possible � there always is an hour each week to learn more about your world. Read regional legal trades to stay abreast of the hot issues and cases in your local market. If you are on a particular rotation through various practice areas/specialties, determine which trade associations are relevant and read their Web sites and journals to familiarize yourself with client markets/industries. You can count on the fact that your partners are doing this reading, and the more shared context you have with your partners, the better positioned you are for success. As you grow as a lawyer, it becomes more important to know the business of law and the client’s business. Too few lawyers have mastered both, and those who have are so far ahead of the curve that most lawyers ride in their tailspin. So, be the rocket, not the rider. That’s good marketing. And it doesn’t begin with your first big client; it begins with your first day at work. Joy Newton Martini is the president of Martini Consulting LLC, which provides strategic marketing support to law firms in and around New York City. This article originally appeared in the September issue of the New York Law Journal Magazine , a Texas Lawyer affiliate.

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