Client Development, Part One

Client Development the Easy Way
Part One of a Two Part Series
By Mary W. (Adelman) Legg

WBA Raising the Bar – November/December 2001

If ever the metaphor “reaping what you sow” were apropos, it is in the area of client development. “Cultivating” clients is indeed a time intensive process that you get out of it what you put into it. It is time intensive not only in the sense of the time one must invest to obtain clients – meeting prospective clients, following up, wining and dining, writing articles and making speeches – but also in the passing of time that it takes for a prospect to actually become a client. Prospects must give you their trust and confidence, wait for an appropriate matter to arise, and decide to give you their case.

Client development is difficult under the best of circumstances, but women attorneys face obstacles that most men attorneys do not. Gender, with its accompanying stereotypes, is clearly one. In addition, women who are juggling career and family or other care-giving responsibilities have constraints on the amount of time they can spend cultivating clients. As one female partner who devotes a significant amount of time to client development explains:

“I think the best way for a woman to attract clients is to be considered knowledgeable and reputable in her field. I try to do that by writing a column for Washington Technology entitled “Info Tech and the Law” as well as giving periodic seminars on various topics. Beyond that, it’s a combination of personality, tenacity and luck. You have to be pleasant, approachable and yet commanding and inspire confidence. You always have to be on the lookout for opportunities and hopefully be at the right place at the right time. I think it’s particularly hard for women to attract clients because they have to work hard to establish their legitimacy, whereas for men it is presumed. Also, men have established and historical methods of attracting clients – a referral network based on school ties, golf games or the like. Since women enter the workplace under various conditions and for various reasons, our “market connections” are less obvious and require more work.”
                                                                   Devon E. Hewitt, Partner, Shaw Pittman, LLP

Truer words have never been spoken. Yet there are things that women do naturally and easily that can grow their client base. This article will provide some insights into meeting prospective clients. A future article will discuss turning prospects into clients.

Almost everyone knows people who could become clients – getting them to become your clients just requires looking at them a bit differently. Among your acquaintances are people who, as an individual, will need an attorney or who will have authority to hire an attorney for their company. Those acquaintances who do not fall into either category can refer you to some one who either needs an attorney or has authority to hire an attorney for the company. You have, if nothing else, friends, friends of your parents, relatives, former neighbors, former bosses, undergraduate and law school professors and classmates – all of whom can either become clients or introduce you to prospective clients.

Obviously, however, you cannot simply call these prospects out of the blue and inform them that you are “open for business” and expect them to throw any worthwhile work your way. Rather, you need to cultivate them. Just like a seed will not sprout the day after you plant it, you must tend to the seed you have taken care in planting by watering and fertilizing it, before you see any fruits of your labor of planting the seed. You must continue to put in time and effort, even though you do not receive a pay-off after your first round of work; planting the seed.

One action to obtain a particular client will usually not result in a bountiful harvest of legal work. Client cultivation takes time and patience. Additionally, enjoying what you do and enjoying working with people helps. Think twice about whether you want to make the multi-year commitment to obtain clients, as you will be wasting your time and money, and the time of your targets, if you undertake your client development efforts half-heartedly.

Many people are uncomfortable contacting for professional reasons people with whom they know on a personal basis. That reluctance is perfectly understandable. Many women do not want personal acquaintances to feel that they are merely business prospects, or that their value lies in their ability to pay fees. A shift in view is useful to combat this; once you see that you are offering to help them, to provide solutions to their problems, and not merely trying to get their money, you will feel more at ease about asking them for their business.

Of course, you will want to expand your circle of prospects beyond your acquaintances. In order to meet the right people, you must attend the functions they attend. In other words, you must network. Networking is not difficult and, in fact, can be a lot of fun. You have probably already networked and not even realized it. If you did not realize you were networking, you probably were not conducting it in an organized fashion, which diminishes the chances that you were successful in your networking.

In order to network successfully, in terms of obtaining clients, you must take a studied, organized approach to networking. So, what is networking? Networking is merely getting out and meeting one person, following up with that person, and from that one person, meeting one other person, and by following up with that person, meeting one additional person, and so on. Networking in this way can provide you with a bounty of valuable contacts, and even possibly friends.

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