Business development

In the age of texts, tweets, and emails, people want their information brief, fast, and in 100 characters or less. With such constraints, many law firm lawyers feel overwhelmed at the prospect of trying to elicit business without sounding like a cattle auctioneer.

While we are competing with thousands of sound bites of information on a daily basis, an effective tool is available to cut through this web of data overload — the elevator pitch. Below, we highlight five easy tips lawyers can follow to execute an effective elevator pitch….

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Tom Wallerstein

When Above the Law first covered my “adventure in shingle hanging,” I remember someone quipping that our only business came from attorney referrals and that we didn’t have our “own” clients. The comment wasn’t true, but I still found it interesting. Is a client who pays you money somehow not “your” client, or not a “real” client, just because the client was referred to you by another attorney? That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

But it is worth thinking about the different ways that solo and small law firms try to generate business. There is a valid distinction between approaching a prospective client and asking him to engage you, and approaching other lawyers and asking them to refer cases to you. I’m not sure one is necessarily superior to the other, but they are different approaches. I think of them as “direct” and “indirect” client solicitation.

I also distinguish “active” and “passive” methods. An active approach is where you identify your client and solicit them. A passive approach is where you do something that encourages clients to solicit you. Passive isn’t a pejorative; for example, a good website is an important part of passive business development.

So, I think business development efforts can fall into a matrix. Check it out, after the jump….

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Complete honesty is such a dangerous thing.

I’m going to give it a shot.

I’m posing three questions to myself today. First, why might a lawyer at a law firm choose to write articles? Second, what topics should lawyers write about, and where should they publish the articles? Finally, why might an in-house lawyer choose to write?

The honest truth is that outside lawyers choose to write for many, varied reasons. In-house lawyers might also choose to write for many reasons, but those reasons are different and fewer. Across the board, authors’ motivations for writing will be mixed.

Do I have a right to speak on the subject of publications? My credentials, in a nutshell, are these: Three books; twelve law review articles; two book chapters; about 70 other, shorter articles (in places ranging from The Wall Street Journal and the Chicago Tribune to Pharmaceutical Executive and Litigation); and maybe 600 blog posts (roughly 500 at Drug and Device Law and north of 100 here). Call me nuts (and I may well be), but I’ve spent a professional lifetime doing a ton of “recreational” legal writing.

Why did I do it? Should you?

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Tom Wallerstein

When I started my firm, several mentors gave me the same advice: Don’t work for free. It’s easy to see the problem with working for free. Giving away what you’re trying to sell isn’t exactly in the business plan. Unfortunately, this sage advice can only really be learned the hard way, through experience.

Working for free can arise in many different ways. The most obvious example is a client who wants you to represent him but can only promise to pay you later.

Even if your gut tells you that taking on that client is a bad idea, this can be surprisingly tempting to a new firm or solo practice. For starters, there is such a thrill with getting your first client, or your first “real” client, or your first big client, or your first whatever client, that the excitement can cloud your better judgment. You will be tempted to overlook the red flags that you will not be paid for your work….

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Being a small firm lawyer usually means that you’re not a cog in the wheel of some multi-national corporation while enjoying their stream of business sent to your firm because of someone on another floor. Small firm lawyers either have to blow their brains out on ads featuring their angry mugs (arms crossed in aggressive, “fight-for-you” anger), direct mail, or the art and science of talking to people and developing relationships, otherwise known as networking.

In this arena, there are two types of lawyers: Those that “don’t do networking,” and those that do it because it is required to establish a word of mouth practice. I know you think there’s a third — those that love networking, but those lawyers are to be avoided at all costs. Lawyers that love going out after work and eating bar food, drinking low-level vodka, and asking “so, where’s your office,” are rejects. Ignore them. They just want to give you their business card the minute they lay eyes on you and tell you to “call (me) whenever you have a (usually PI or real estate) matter.”

For those that want the word of mouth practice, and the reputation in the community as a go-to person (assuming you are a competent lawyer, and these days, that’s a big assumption), here are some things to consider….

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How do you build a practice for a law firm?

Everyone has a theory; I’ll provide a case study.

In 1997, Congress was about to pass a law that would have been great for America, but horrific for business at the law firm at which I then worked. The firm thus (intelligently) created several committees to try to create new practices that could keep lawyers busy if the promised bill became law. I was asked to chair the “drug and device product liability business development committee.”

At the time, my firm did essentially no pharmaceutical product liability work. I’d helped to defend a set of medical device cases, which was about as close as anyone had come to actual experience in the pharmaceutical products field, so I was the natural choice to lead this effort. When given that assignment, what do you do? How do you build a practice essentially from scratch?

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Sorry to disappoint the snake-oil salesmen, but in this small post I will buck the trend, and debunk the fallacy of non-practicing lawyers who write books about social media for lawyers. Here, today my friends, I will tell you everything you need to know about the complicated and scary topic of: how to talk to people on the internet like a normal person.

Facebook

If you think Facebook is code for “high school,” you’re correct. But if you live in the same town you went to high school, why not connect with your loser friends who have some mid-level job? They need lawyers. Yes, as part of reconnecting with your past you’ll experience the joy of seeing that girl you wanted to date has moved to some small crap town and married Jim, who’s prematurely bald but “an awesome husband,” but so what?

Do not post every single picture you take of your kids, dogs, in-laws with your kids, kids with your dogs, the 189 pictures of your vacation, or “fake” complain about the first class service on some airline. You’re practicing law, not creating a family scrapbook.

Do not have a Facebook fan page for your law firm. No one should ever be a fan of a law firm. You are not a “rock star” and even if you were, rock stars do not ask people to be their fans. It just happens with good music. Asking people to be your “fan” may also violate your state bar ethics rules, if that kind of nuisance interests you — you know, ethics rules….

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In this column, I’m presenting you with a gift: I’m ghost-writing for you a law firm brochure. I hereby grant all copyright interest in my brochure to you. Feel free to reproduce the following brochure, print it up, attach your firm’s logo, mail or e-mail the brochure to clients and potential clients, and wait for business to beat a path to your door.

It’s yours, free of charge, courtesy of Above the Law and yours truly. Don’t say we’ve never done anything for you….

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I told you last week that today’s column would focus on “how to get my attention.” And I’ll let you know in a bit.

But first, let’s play “Which Biglaw Anecdote is True?” Here are the options:

(1) A partner at Law Firm A regularly has his briefcase sent to his home in a limo;
(2) Law Firm B is chock full of lawyers of all faiths and backgrounds, but holds its summer outing at a country club known for being “restricted”; or
(3) Attorneys at Law Firm C take a helicopter from the 34th Street heliport in Manhattan to a hearing in Connecticut — and then bill the client for it.

Which story is true?

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In 25 years working at law firms, I never offered this to a client. In two years working in-house, no outside law firm ever before offered this to me. But I heard it moments ago, and I couldn’t believe how foolish I’ve been. I smiled, shook my head, hung up the phone, and popped open the blogging software for your benefit.

“When we’re handling a major case that is so terribly expensive to defend,” says my outside counsel, “we like to have an ‘all-hands’ meeting with the client once a quarter. Our entire team will fly to your headquarters for the event. We’d like you to invite not just any appropriate in-house lawyers, but also relevant people from the business unit and any senior managers who might either be concerned about the cost of the litigation or have ideas to offer. We find that people who aren’t directly involved in the litigation often suggest great ideas.

“We won’t charge you anything for these quarterly meetings. We’ll write off our time, and our firm will pay the travel expenses. We just think it’s a good idea to have these meetings regularly in cases as important as this one.”

Brilliant!

I personally had nibbled around the edges of this idea when I was in private practice: “We’d like you to schedule a two-day educational conference about the product involved in the litigation,” I had said in the past. “Have each of your folks who helped to design the product, know its regulatory history, and so on, speak for an hour. We want to educate our entire team and to meet the key players in person. Naturally, we won’t charge you for our time or travel expense.”

That’s okay. It’s a nice offer; it serves an important function; and it causes a bunch of your lawyers to meet a bunch of client representatives. But the offer I just heard is much better. It achieves so much more. Why?

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