One of the toughest challenges new lawyers face when starting their careers is building a client base and a book of business. While not the first thing on a new lawyer’s mind, you can almost be certain that this is the first benchmark the new lawyer’s firm will set. It is never too early to lay the groundwork for what will one day become your book of business. Law firms invest in new lawyers that have the promise and the tenacity to build a profitable book of business. A marketing mindset is also an excellent competitive advantage for young lawyers with a willingness to market themselves from the very beginning and to think outside the box in marketing and networking. The time demands of young associates are extremely limiting, and young lawyers need to be selective and strategic in the marketing and networking opportunities that they choose to pursue. This article provides some helpful tips and lessons learned in the process of beginning to build your book of business from the first day of practice.

You Are a Salesperson

After the grueling years spent in law school and an entire summer spent studying for the bar exam, the last word young lawyers would use to describe themselves is “salesperson.” However, this is probably the most accurate description of young lawyers. While lawyers need not be the next Willy Loman, in the most basic sense, a successful lawyer must be a good salesperson. Your job is to convince prospective clients that you have the knowledge and the skill to provide them with services they truly need.

Half the battle is getting a potential client to recognize that they need a lawyer. For instance, if you have a friend who builds websites for other friends or small businesses, whether full- or part-time, that friend should be using a contract with his or her customers. If your friend does not use a contract or some other form of agreement, that is a great opportunity for you to be of assistance. Even if your friend is using a contract, volunteer to review it. Chances are you can make suggestions that your friend would find helpful and, in turn, your friend will think of you the next time he or she prepares an agreement for a new client. Despite the fact that your initial suggestions may just be friendly recommendations, one day, your friend may need extensive legal services and will remember your willingness to help.

Your Clients Are Not Other Lawyers

While the bar association and Young Lawyers Division events are a great way to network with other attorneys, attorneys are not going to be the source of the majority of your clients. There are alternatives. Young lawyers have to strike a delicate balance between spending their valuable networking time with other attorneys who can be advisers or potential referral sources and more focused networking events that introduce young lawyers to potential clients.

For instance, a business networking association is a great way to meet people working in businesses that you would like to have as clients. Like you, your counterparts in business are salespeople and are charged with developing their own networks in order to bring business into their companies. There are several different groups out there that have chapters meeting different days of the week either for breakfast, lunch or after work near your office. This type of group is a great opportunity for young lawyers because it evens the playing field between the lawyer and the clients and, as members of the same networking group, both the lawyer and the client will be charged with working to increase business for each other, not to mention the fact that the business representatives in the group will most likely need legal services themselves.

Your Firm’s Marketing Director Is Your Friend

Start immediately. Set up a meeting with your firm’s marketing director. He or she will be able to provide you with marketing and networking opportunities and suggestions, such as providing the details regarding a local business networking group or writing an article for a publication that will reach your target market of potential clients. For instance, if you have an interest in construction law, drafting an article on pitfalls of construction contracts for a magazine titled Construction World would be a great way to reach your ideal audience. Once you are a published author on such a subject, the readers of the article will come to view you as an expert. Even if you have not had lots of experience practicing yet, you can do the research necessary to complete an informative article.

Volunteer to Make Presentations

Be on the lookout for local organizations that host lectures or other types of presentations in your community. Chances are good you will be able to find a conference that is hosting speakers of different topics, including legal topics. For example, if you practice health care law, there are a variety of physician and compliance conferences throughout the year in many different locations. These types of conferences send out a call for lecturers. You merely need to answer the call with a description of your practice and an idea for a presentation that the conference attendees would find useful.

As a younger lawyer, you will generally be assigned the presentation times that none of the more seasoned presenters want, such as the last presentation slot of the day or the first in the early morning. However, the more times you present on a particular topic, the more easily you will garner a reputation as being an expert and the more often organizations hosting conferences will call you to request you as a presenter.

Generally speaking, your presentation can often be an overview of a particular topic. Once you are in the midst of a presentation, the audience will ask more specific questions based on the generalities that you introduce. Your value to the conference is your ability to respond to these more specific questions. As a presenter, the conference attendees will also pose questions to you after your presentation and give you an opportunity to connect with them on a personal basis. This one-on-one connection is extremely valuable. You will exchange business cards with the potential clients and can send them any updates on the particular question they posed going forward. When the conference attendees encounter your presentation topic in their practices, they may be more likely to give you a call.

Have a Networking Frame of Mind

You cannot turn off your networking radar when you leave the office. Sometimes, clients appear in the strangest of places, where you least expect them. If you are thinking about networking all of the time, you will be more inclined to recognize an opportunity when one presents itself. For example, when an aunt whom you rarely see mentions that she is interested in selling her flower shop at Thanksgiving, you want to be sure to offer your services. Even if you do not have experience in advising sellers in cases of business sales, this would be a great opportunity for you to approach the attorney at your firm who does have such experience and ask if you can assist him or her in the representation of your aunt. Not only does this give you valuable experience, it also allows you to meet and work with a different attorney at your firm with whom you may not have otherwise had the opportunity to work.

Lessons Learned

The foregoing is designed to give young lawyers a brief overview of some of the lessons learned in the first few years of practice. It is not foolproof and is not a guarantee of success. However, having a networking mindset from the very beginning will allow young lawyers to be more successful in both their development of a book of business and their development as attorneys. By keeping networking in mind, young lawyers will recognize opportunities that may otherwise be overlooked. •

Katherine Missimer is a corporate transactional attorney in the Philadelphia office of Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel. She provides corporate clients with advice regarding regulatory compliance, mergers and acquisitions, private equity and venture capital funding and contracts for employment, management and consulting.