Private Practicing Lawyers: Are You Thinking as a Business Owner or an Employee?

Fact: There are two types of lawyers: those who have their own business and those who work for those who do. Which are you?

Fact: If you are a private practicing lawyer, you are a business owner. You never heard that from any law school professor or, likely, any law firm leadership. Yet, the fact remains. Whether or not you have clients, is a very different topic.

In our view, it is a disgrace that you set aside three years of your life to attend and graduate law school, studied your eye balls out for the bar exam (and perhaps put your social life on hold during the process), were even admitted to a state bar(s), ready to do whatever it took to advance your legal career and not a peep did you hear that you must generate business for yourself. How can that be?

Now that you have been enlightened to the reality of the business of law, how does this impact your daily legal practice?

Below are a few boxes to check off for advancing your business owner mindset (and daily behavior) to view your legal practice as the businessto be grown that it is.

Do you purposefully devote at least 10-15 hours a month on relationship building activities with “targeted” audiences?

Note:To respond to this question appropriately, you must know specifically whom your ideal client(s) is….what is the job title of the individual whom can retain your legal services and/or refer you to those you can? This is critical.

Instead of focusing on what work you can “get” from someone, you are more focused on how you can help others in connection with solving a problem, protecting a client, preserving a tangible and/or capitalizing on an opportunity. These considerations are a mark of a savvy business owner.

You constantly consider ways to help existing clients/referral sources/prospects by keeping them abreast of ongoing changes (such as legislative and/or economic) that may affect their business (positively or adversely).

You go wherever your clients go i.e. professional/industry associations where you can learn more about your clients’ (and/or prospects’) business and interests so you can rise to the “trusted advisor” role, which garners anenviable “bet-the-company” (high) billing rate.

You know who your clients’ top competitors are. Further, you’ve commissioned your in-house knowledge manager to gather competitive intelligence on the competition so you can advise your clients on ways to stay a step ahead of them.

You have created an internal process to get and stay connected with your existing clients, reliable referral sources and targeted qualified prospects. Since you are “chasing relationships, not work”, regular and frequent communication is essential.

Often, clients ask, “I don’t want to bug anyone, what am I supposed to say to them”? Great question.

The answer: as a business-building lawyer, you know what your clients and qualified targeted prospects read to stay abreast of industry news and for professional development. Because you have created at least one Google alert to gather this same or similar information, you reach out on a regular basis to pass along a nugget of information which is relevant, timely and topical to your clients and prospects.

First, you must stop thinking and analyzing like a lawyer and, instead, consider how helpful you are being to alert your client/referral source/prospect of information that will be valuable to them.

A quick email such as, “Hi Bob, I came across this news clip in the xxx Journal and thought it may be useful for your next leadership meeting. I’m happy to discuss ways we can capitalize on this potential opportunity. Best regards, Joe”.

Second, keeping in mind that getting on a prospect’s radar requires 7-10 “touchpoints” in a 12-month period, there are numerous ways to “get and stay connected”. These may include:

• In-person meetings (could include coffee, meals, sporting events and/or other face-to-face events).
• Regular eblasts with information that your prospects/clients will find timely, topic and relevant to their business and/or personal interests.
• Each of these modes of communications should be reinforced with regular social media posts (such as blogs and/or news of your professional activities/accomplishments).
• Including your clients/referral sources/prospects on firm email distribution lists for timely, topic and relevant topics (no one enjoys receiving spam that is of no material use to them).

You offer to present to and/or speak with your client’s leadership team (off the clock) on a potentially damaging (or novel) legal development and strategize ways to get ahead of the development.

Understanding that a large percentage of new matters originate from satisfied clients and referrals, some say as much as 50% per year, you invest in meaningful, continual relationship building to bring value to these growing relationships.

Beyond knowing a birthday, their children’s names and activities or their favorite vacation spot, you build business relationships with the knowledge of your prospects’ business because it is key to them. That is thinking as a savvy business owner.

Yes, it requires time – – a lot of it and a measurable marketing action plan (to help you stay focused, organized and to provide the needed structure) that is dynamic and often changing.

Despite newer lawyers often in a position in which they do not control their own schedule (as a result of working on other lawyers’ matters), you are motivated to “make it happen” and find a way through well-defined systems and automation to remain steadfast in the goal of developing your own book of prosperous clients.

• As a newer lawyer (less than 10-15 years of experience), it can be discouraging to invest what little time you have into relationships,without knowing for sure they may convert to paying clients.

Yes, that is why you must be very methodical and considerate when defining your “targeted, qualified prospect” to ensure you are “fishing where the fish are”. There, in fact, may be more than one target such as an industry-based client profile, a different referral source profile (likely a professional which serves the same industry-based client as you, such as a supplier and/or vendor), and yet a different type of referral source profile (such as lawyers who may be a natural referring source, given their area of legal focus).

• Out of confusion or lack of clarity of your “ideal client”, you allow yourself to be influenced unnecessarily by others who appear to have it altogether with respect to their business-building direction.

We see this all the time. I empathize. Because each area of legal focus has different target clients, you cannot fairly compare or even view through the same lens your legal practice the same way as your fellow lawyer. There is no “one size fits all” approach to building a prosperous business. You are likely in the problem solving business, which involves human beings. When you deal with individuals in any capacity, there is always unanticipated variables.

• As a savvy business owner, you take the long view. I love the quote, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant”. -Robert Louis Stevenson – when considering building a prosperous book of business.

Hopefully, you now understand the required mindset shift to think and treat your legal career as a business-building journey, which will have plenty of twists and turns. It is not a linear process, which often throws lawyers off kilter.

As a well-informed business owner, you know:

1. The profile of your ideal client(s)
2. Where they go and what they read
3. Their business or greatest concerns (SWOT – strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities)

You are well on your way to building the career of your dreams by helping others in a way only you can. Isn’t that why you became a lawyer in the first place?

Now, build away!