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5 Client Development Myths (Every Lawyer Needs To Drop)

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Let’s talk about client development. That thing you know you should be doing more of yet can’t seem to find the time for (or just don’t want to do because it feels too hard and/or overwhelming).

It’s okay. Most lawyers regard client development as a necessary evil.

This shouldn’t be a surprise given that:

  • You went to law school to be trained to think like a lawyer (not market or sell),
  • Law school never mentioned the need to develop business, and
  • The legal profession lacks good client development training.

And yet the problem remains…

Without clients you don’t have a business (or the ability to practice law).

It’s time to debunk some common client development myths that prevent you from doing it, enjoying it and being effective at it.

 

 

What You Need To Know About Client Development (No Matter How Long You’ve Practiced)

This article is for every private practice lawyer who wants to be successful. And when I say “successful”, I mean having a thriving practice:

  • Doing interesting work.
  • With clients you enjoy working with.
  • Making the impact you want.
  • While staying balanced.

Building your own book of business is the best way to have control over your practice and life.

And it does not matter how long you’ve been practicing, the size of your law firm, or the type of law you practice.

Because even if you have only been practicing a couple of years in Big Law (and don’t yet need to build your own book), it’s important to start yourself off with the right foundation. And even if you’ve been practicing for 10, 15 or even 20+ years, it’s never too late to learn how to be more effective at client development (nor is it too late to start enjoying it).

Let’s debunk 5 common client development myths preventing you from being good at client development. By changing your approach to client development, you’ll improve your strategy, consistency and results.

Myth #1: Introverts Are At A Disadvantage (& Can Never Be Rainmakers)

Something most people don’t know is that most lawyers are introverts. And we tend to believe that we cannot be good at client development (partly because of how many rainmakers are obvious extroverts).

But I am proof that you do not have to be an extroverted person to develop a successful book of business (and so are many of my clients).

I hate going to large networking events where I know no one. Attending any networking event (even the smaller ones where I know many people and enjoy myself) exhaust me. I need recovery time after attending.

Despite all of that, I grew my own law practice to over $2.5MM from scratch (as a corporate finance attorney who made partner right after a big financial crisis and market crash).

I know many introverts who have been just as – even more – successful as I was. How? Let’s first get clear around what client development really is so that you can learn to use your introversion to your benefit and stop using it as an excuse not to do anything.

What Is Client Development?

At its core, client development is about relationship development. Good client development focuses on building strong relationships with people who can send you work (either directly or through referrals).

We tend to think of this from the perspective of networking (which happens to be where most introverts get nervous). But there are many things you can do to grow your business that have nothing to do with networking, such as:

  • Writing articles (for journals, online publications, magazines and/or a legal blog).
  • Writing on social media (such as on LinkedIn).
  • Speaking at events (which don’t have to be big).
  • Getting interviewed on radio, TV and/or podcasts.
  • Recording short videos on topics of interest (to post online).

These marketing activities are all available to you. And yes, you can start building rapport with your audience through these activities.

I host a podcast for lawyers. Every time I meet listeners it is clear they feel like they already know me because of how I show up on that podcast and seek to serve their biggest needs, desires and goals.

You can do this too – in your own way by – picking marketing strategies that play to your strengths. The key is to show up for the purpose of serving your perfect clients. Be consistent and authentic to start building what is commonly referred to as know-like-trust.

What do I mean when I refer to know-like-trust? To hire you, clients must first:

  • Know who you help and how you help them.
  • Like you as a person (and be attracted to work with you).
  • Trust that you know what you’re doing (i.e., be credible).

This need not happen solely through 1:1 networking. You can establish a lot of know-like-trust through marketing activities.

And yes, you probably need to network. The good news is that you can use your introversion to your advantage.

Why Introverts Are Just As – Maybe Even More – Successful At Networking Than Extroverts

Remember that the point of client development is to build strong relationships with potential clients or referral sources. Evidence suggests that introverts might be better than extroverts at building long-term relationships. Which – when you think about it – makes sense.

Introverts tend to be:

  • Less comfortable talking to just anyone, making them more selective about who they choose to talk to.
  • Are more likely to listen (as opposed to talk about themselves), which is a quick and easy way to develop rapport with clients and prospects.

This will naturally narrow your follow-up targets while also giving you better intel for how to follow up more effectively.

I built my law practice primarily through networking (despite being a pretty introverted person).

Here is how I networked strategically:

  • I networked internally (for cross-selling purposes).
  • I asked clients to make introductions.
  • I attended conferences and local events where current clients and contacts would be.

When attending in-person networking events, I reached out to clients/contacts ahead of time and asked to meet up. I would also ask them to introduce me to at least one person they thought I should meet.

This made networking a breeze. Even for this introvert.

And I am not a unicorn. More than half of my clients self-identify as introverts. Yet they learn to enjoy – and be good at – networking, too (and if you’d like to see proof in their own words, go here for a taste of what’s possible).

Here are some networking tips that leverage your natural introversion:

 

Networking Tips For Introverted Lawyers Infographic

 

Interested in getting more networking tips? Listen to my podcast about the #1 Way To Grow Your Business (Any Lawyer Can Do) here.

Myth #2: You Can’t Be Successful At Client Development Unless You’re A Rainmaker

First, let’s figure out what it means to be a rainmaker. A rainmaker is someone who is capable of bringing in large amounts of new business. Because of that, rainmakers have substantially large books of business.

The exact dollar amount varies based on the type of business and firm.

For example, someone who specializes in tax law for individuals with a $1MM book might be considered a rainmaker within their small law firm. Yet a $1MM book of business generally isn’t considered rainmaking status for Big Law.

What makes someone a rainmaker?

Contrary to popular belief, rainmakers can be extroverted or introverted. I’ve known both. But there is a commonality among rainmakers (regardless of how introverted or extroverted they are): their mindset.

Rainmakers prioritize client development activities and take consistent action because they enjoy client development.

This is good news because you can develop this mindset even if it doesn’t come to you naturally. And also: you don’t have to become a rainmaker to have a successful book of business.

Back when I practiced in Big Law, I grew my book to over $2.5MM. Although this amount was considered to be a decent book of business, it wasn’t high enough for me to be considered a rainmaker. Which I was okay with. I wanted a book of business that would keep me and my small team busy while providing a good living to me and my family.

But I didn’t want my book to get so big that my focus would be on team and client management instead of practicing law. This was a conscious choice on my part.

My best advice as a lawyer who has been there (and a lawyer business coach)? Get clear around how big you want to go – and why – and work towards that goal without worrying about whether you’ll one day be considered a rainmaker.

Rainmaker status isn’t important. You can have a thriving law practice either way. The one thing you do want is the right mentality. One that rainmakers tend to have naturally.

The Importance Of Developing A Rainmaking Client Development Mentality

Marketing and selling come easily to some people. Natural-born rainmakers are those people.

But just because these skills come naturally to some doesn’t prohibit you from cultivating your own. And rest assured, these are skills can be cultivated and strengthened.

Again, client development is about relationship-building so that you can build rapport to the point where you feel comfortable asking to take things further (e.g., asking them for their business).

My best advice is to get away from focusing on needing to hit specific metrics (or make more money).

Instead, focus on relationship-building. That is how be yourself in all of your client development endeavors. And it’s what will attract the right-fit clients.

How To Develop Your Marketing & Sales Skills As A Lawyer

Doing is better than thinking. Pick one or two marketing strategies that play to your strengths. Be consistent and allow yourself to make mistakes (knowing you will learn more as you go).

Then ask for business when the time is right. Selling as a lawyer is really just about asking someone to take things further so that you can help them. Go in with a service-based mentality and own it.

And don’t be afraid to ask for advice and get expert help. Ask questions of mentors and colleagues. Seek out opportunities for sales and marketing training. Consider hiring a coach/consultant (like me). You do not have to do this alone.

One easy way to start getting my help is through the Client Development Blueprint, a free step-by-step guide for how to grow your business to $1MM+. Using the Blueprint, you will:

  • Transform client development from an ambiguous concept of all the things you could do into a clear roadmap of what will work best for you.
  • Create a simple, focused plan of action you can be consistent (and have fun) with.
  • Increase your marketing, networking and selling confidence.

Get your copy of the Blueprint here.

 

Myth #3: Client Development Is One-Size-Fits All

Most attorneys assume that what works for one lawyer will also work for them. And so they end up mirroring other attorneys’ marketing, networking and sales strategies. This is a mistake, and often backfires for a number of reasons.

 

3 Client Development Success Secrets Infographic

 

The Secret To Success: ROI

When looking at the client development strategies of other attorneys, it’s important to pay attention to their ROI. Because success isn’t measured purely off of new work produced. You need to look deeper and ask some important questions:

  • What’s the ROI of the time, energy and money being spent? Are they bringing in enough work to justify their efforts?
  • Are they bringing in the right work (e.g., work they find interesting that pays well with clients they enjoy working with)?

Just because they’re bringing in work doesn’t mean they’re getting the best – or even a good – return on their investment. Which is one reason why mirroring isn’t a good idea.

Your Approach: Strategic Or Scattershot?

The partner down the hall writes short-form LinkedIn posts, so you do it too. Your friend from law school has success with online videos, so you decide to try something similar. And your office rainmaker is a master speaker, so you start speaking at every event that will accept you.

But you can’t do all of these things all of the time. Which means you dabble in several things but without any strategy.

Mirroring often results in a scattershot approach, which:

  • Makes measuring your results difficult.
  • Is less motivating (making you less likely to stay consistent).
  • Can burn you out (trying to do too many different things).

Does It Make Sense (For You)?

Mirroring others gives no thought to what you are good at and enjoy. Which is a travesty because the key to getting results is consistency.  And you’re not going to be consistent when you don’t like what you’re doing.

You know what is more likely to keep you consistent? Having fun.

If you enjoy your client development activities, then you will be more likely to prioritize and do them.

How To Be Strategic & Actually Enjoy Client Development

Creating a strengths-based business development plan is a strategic way of approaching client development. What that means is this:

  • If you enjoy teaching, try speaking as your main marketing activity.
  • If you like to write, then consider writing articles and/or posting on LinkedIn (choose the one that’s most enjoyable for you).
  • If you prefer to network, then spend a majority of your time networking at relevant places (with emphasis on relevancy to narrow things down).

Everyone has their own unique strengths. The most successful business developers do what they are good at (and don’t worry about the other things they could do).

You do not need to do everything – or even a lot of things. You can be incredibly successful using just 1 or 2 client development strategies. Figure out what you’re good at and will enjoy doing. Those are strengths. Use your strengths to stay motivated and consistent.

A note about networking: networking is almost always necessary. But you can do it in a targeted way that makes sense. Be strategic about where you network and who you follow up with to get a return on your networking investment.

For help improving your client development ROI, be sure to get your copy of the Client Development Blueprint.

Myth #4: Lawyers Shouldn’t Have To Market Or Sell Themselves

I heard this continually throughout my legal career (even thought it myself for a time) and continue to hear this now, as a lawyer business coach…

I shouldn’t have to market or sell my services.

Yet the truth is that you don’t just have a law practice, you run a business. Yes, even if you’re currently working inside of a large law firm (your book is that business).

For your business to be viable, you must have clients. Which requires you to market and sell.

Debunking this myth requires us to break through a couple of mindset traps and then redefine what marketing and selling are. Let’s dive into each one.

Mindset Trap: You’re Not Trained To Market

Most lawyers who shy away from marketing do so because they feel inadequate and/or incompetent at it. Mostly because they aren’t trained in marketing. Which seems strange given how many entrepreneurs who have had little to no marketing training (or even college degrees) are successful at it.

The good news is this: you don’t have to be trained in marketing to be good at it (and you can get really, really good by practicing). It’s a skill that can be honed over time.

You became a lawyer for a reason – to help people. Think of your marketing as an extension of that. Serve the needs of your perfect clients and show up as you.

This will boost your confidence and make your marketing more effective.

And bonus: it is what will attract more of the right-fit clients to you. People who you are more likely to mesh with.

Mindset Trap: Work Should Come To You Naturally

Have you ever spent an inordinate amount of time, energy and money on a prospective client, and then not gotten much from them? Maybe you wined and dined them for a year. And then did a free CLE program for them. But you got discouraged and gave up (only to find out that they recently hired another law firm to do the work you were hoping to get).

Simple question…

Did you ever ask for the business?

We lawyers tend to think that if we bring value to prospective clients they will hire us – without us needing to ask.

I am sorry to tell you that’s not true.

The human brain just doesn’t work that way. You need to ask.

Afraid to hear what they’ll say? Two things:

  • A “no” is usually a “no, for right now”. Think of this as an opportunity to plant a seed and get valuable intel for how to better serve them in the future.
  • If there is no chance for their work, would you prefer to know early-on or after you’ve wasted a ton of time, energy and money?

Mindset Trap: Selling Is Pushy and/or Slimy.

We lawyers get uncomfortable with selling. We tend to think of selling as the thing the pushy, sleazy, slimy used car salesman does. And that IS gross.

But that’s not what selling has to be.

Selling can be serving. It’s up to you – in how you choose to approach selling.

Marketing vs. Advertising vs. Selling (What’s The Difference & Why Does Knowing This Matter?)

Marketing is what you do to get the word out and get people interested in you and your services. The main purpose for marketing is to create know-like-trust (as defined above).

Advertising is a form of marketing, typically for the purpose of getting someone to hire or purchase from you. You can market without advertising (and build a successful book of business with or without advertising – it somewhat depends on your specific practice and who you target).

Selling is a transfer of money for goods and/or services. When it comes to lawyers, selling includes:

  • Asking someone for their business.
  • Making a formal pitch.
  • Partaking in a beauty contest.

None of these things is slimy or sleazy unless you push people to do something they don’t want. Come at it from a service-based mentality to ensure you don’t do that.

Change Your Mindset, Change Your Results

Show up to networking events with the goal to serve others – just like you do for your clients. Help potential clients solve problems inside of your marketing – just like you do for your clients. Tell a potential client you’d love to help them further, and ask them for their business – just like you would with your clients.

Give value. Be there to help. Ask to take it further if it makes sense. That’s how to market and sell naturally. Not only will this feel good, it will be more effective.

Remember, the point of client development is to build real relationships with people. Build rapport with clients and potential clients. Help them as you can. Ask to take things further.

Yes, it can be that simple.

 

Client Development Mindset Shifts To Make It Easier Infographic

 

Myth #5: You Don’t Have Time For Client Development

I hear this so often, I wish I could collect $1 every time I hear it (because I would have a lot more money)….

I don’t have the time right now. I’ll get to it later.

And you know what usually happens? You still don’t have the time for it later on.

Client Development Must Be A Priority

I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but client development is something you must put time towards if you want your own law practice.

And I hope you do want your own law practice because it’s the best way to have control over your career and life.

The Question To Ask Yourself

If you’ve said – or even thought – you don’t have time to do much (or any) client development, ask yourself:

How much time do you need?

I bet that simple question stumped you (because most lawyers rarely give much thought to this question and instead assume that it will take a lot of time).

Although client development will take some time, it need not take up all that much of your time. And it’s worth it to devote some time.

You have control over which client development strategies you choose. Some take more time than others. Pick what works for you right now and run with it. Be strategic in where you show up, how often you show up, what you speak/write about and so on.

This is why having a thoughtful client development strategy that leverages your strengths is so important.

Want help with putting together a strengths-based client development strategy you have time for? Be sure to get your copy of the Client Development Blueprint here.

To Sum Up

We’ve debunked 5 common client development myths and instead determined that:

  1. Introverts can be just as (and possibly more) effective at client development than extroverts.
  2. You do not have to be a rainmaker to build a profitable book (yet can benefit from their mentality).
  3. Client development isn’t one-size-fits-all. Leverage your strengths for more consistency and a better ROI.
  4. Your practice is a business, and selling/marketing is a natural part of running a business.
  5. You can limit your time investment by narrowing your strategies to just 1-2 you enjoy doing.

Now that we’ve upended these myths, it’s time to create your strengths-based business development plan. One that you will enjoy, act upon consistently and (most importantly) create the results you want.

Ready to take the next step?

Use the following resources to help:


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Hey there, I’m Heather

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FORMER BIGLAW LAWYER (FOR 18+ YEARS)

LAWYER LEADERSHIP & BUSINESS COACH

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