For those of us in the legal industry, being a rainmaker is the ultimate in career security. If you have a strong book of business, you’ll never have to worry about having a job. I’ve personally seen law firms where the partners’ salaries were cut, nearly across the board, with the sole exceptions of those who had reputations as the firm’s rainmakers. Those “rainmakers” even received raises that same year. After all, if business is rough, a smart firm will try to make sure those rainmakers stay happy and aren’t considering jumping ship.
Similarly, we’ve all heard of firms where entire practice groups left the firm because the other practice groups were weighing them down. The firm that remains after losing their most prosperous practice groups, is never the same again. Indeed, even if you are a solo practitioner or run your own law office, the only way to guarantee future success and career stability is to develop a network from which you can pull new business. It’s commonly known that lawyers generate new business through referrals, word of mouth reputation, and relationships. Therefore, if you want to be a rainmaker or even just want to develop a solid book of business for your practice, you’ll need to develop your reputation by networking with potential clients and marketing to your colleagues.
Network with potential clients:
You need to develop relationships with the people who could become your potential clients. The best way to do that is to go where they go. In other words, join local groups, bar associations, and organizations. Attend conferences, trade shows, and other relevant events. For example, because I practice entertainment law, I attended SXSW this year and attended the trade shows, panels and music showcases in order to meet people in my industry. The bottom line is that you want to be out meeting people in person. These groups and events don’t have to be specifically directed at lawyers. In fact, depending on your practice area, it will often be more desirable to join groups that aren’t specifically directed at lawyers.
Once you are out there meeting people at events it’s important to remember that the ultimate goal is to develop actual relationships with the people you meet. You’ll also want to make sure that they don’t forget about you the moment they return to the office. Of course you want to exchange business cards with the people you meet, but that isn’t nearly enough. Continue to develop your relationship with the people you met once you get back to the office. Connect with them on the Internet. Follow them on Twitter, invite them to your network on LinkedIn, send them an email thanking them for meeting with you, and become a fan of their business on Facebook if relevant.
Although it isn’t always possible to interact with potential clients in the real world (due to budget, geography or time restraints), thanks to social media sites and blogs, you can nonetheless develop your relationship with them in the virtual world quite easily. Indeed, the Internet is a perfect place to develop your reputation and interact with potential clients. Kevin O’Keefe of Real Lawyers Have Blogs explains: “The Internet is a relationship and reputation accelerator. Networking online empowers lawyers to build relationships and enhance their reputation at an accelerated rate.”
Indeed, there is nothing wrong with developing relationships with people over the Internet. In this day and age, it’s mandatory. Today’s Don Draper is as smart and self-assured as ever, but he also has a blog and a Twitter account.
If you are connecting with people on the Internet, you’ll likely make connections with people who live in other cities and other countries. If you find yourself visiting the city where those individuals live, ask to meet with them in person over lunch, dinner, coffee, or for an afterwork drink. Even in the age of LinkedIn and personal blogs, when you are developing relationships, nothing can trump face time interaction.
Finally, regardless of whether you are developing relationships with people in the real world or the virtual world, be both authentic and generous in your interactions with them. If you are insincere and ungenerous, people will not trust you and will not want to work with you. As your network and reputation grows, your business will likely grow as well.
Market to your colleagues:
It’s not only important to develop relationships with potential clients, but with your colleagues as well. Referrals have often been an important source of business for many attorneys. Ultimately, you want your colleagues to think of you when they need someone with your particular expertise or when they need to make a referral.
Again, you don’t have to rely on real world interactions to develop relationships with your colleagues either (although, again, that is always ideal). You should join LinkedIn groups, industry forums, and other sites that allow you to interact with your colleagues. Interact with your colleagues on Twitter, Facebook, and, when relevant, by leaving thoughtful comments on their blogs. Share your knowledge with them when you can.
Similarly, you should also know the extent of your expertise. When clients approach you with work that exceeds the scope of your expertise, don’t be afraid to refer those clients to colleagues you trust and respect. The client and colleague will appreciate it and it will increase the likelihood that they will do the same for you.
Finally, when other attorneys refer business to you from their clients, never poach those clients. Remember that your reputation is on the line, and developing business is about having a great reputation as a professional. If you poison the well, it will go dry.