Congratulations to everyone who just passed the bar exam. That’s quite an accomplishment.
If you’re going into private practice, much of your success or failure will be determined by how much business you can develop. Now is the time to build the habits you’ll need to bring in clients later in your career.
Read on for some tips.
Need help promoting yourself? That’s why we’re here! Muse Communications was named Dallas’ best legal public relations firm by the readers of Texas Lawyer (although we represent clients all over Texas). If you’re a new grad, check out the rest of our blog. If you’ve been in the biz a while, drop us a line.
Keep in touch with your law school classmates.
Former law school classmates are the beginnings — and arguably one of the most important components — of your professional network. And, next to your brain, your professional network is your most important business asset. This doesn’t mean you have to go to lunch with your former classmates every year. But connect with them on LinkedIn, put them on your holiday card list, and see them when you can. Your law school peers will be in a good position to refer you business someday, and vice versa. Plus, it’s nice to stay in touch with the people who knew you as Barry before you became Barack.
If your budget/school loan debt can handle it, consider a job in the public sector.
Careers in the Justice Department, DA’s office, or elsewhere in the state or federal bureaucracy aren’t that lucrative. But being a former federal prosecutor, a former Supreme Court clerk, or any other high-profile “former” can be worthwhile in the long run. They’re also great jobs that do a lot of good.
Jump at the chance to get in front of clients and other decision-makers.
It can be tempting to keep your head down and churn out the billable hours, but if you have a chance to get some face time with someone who can positively influence your future, take it. I have a client who was dreading an interminable road trip she had to take with one of her clients to a chicken processing plant. Her worries were based on the client being the silent type and because visiting a chicken processing plant is a great way to become a vegan. Despite her concerns, she and the client bonded on the trip and when the main partner on the client’s account later retired, the client requested she take over as the lead and remained a major client for decades.
Get comfortable with LinkedIn.
Whenever you meet someone new, make it a habit to connect with them on LinkedIn immediately. Saving them as a contact or holding on to their business card is fine, but phone numbers, email addresses, and employers change frequently. LinkedIn profiles, however, stay with you regardless of where you’re working.
Also, try to make regular appearances (at least 2-3 times a week) on LinkedIn. I know it’s boring, but it is truly the place where professionals connect. It’s where recruiters come when they’re looking for candidates, and it’s one of the first places prospective clients will go to check you out. So, keep your profile updated, have a good photo, and maintain a consistent presence there.
Build and maintain your referral network.
Growing and nurturing your network is almost as important as honing your legal skills. But it’s not enough to meet someone once, connect them with them on LinkedIn, and call it a day. You need to stay in touch at least occasionally. The more you can do that in person, the better. But LinkedIn is a great backup. And, during the pandemic, it was one of the only ways to stay visible.
The law is a relationship-driven profession, so the more relationships you have, the better your business development prospects will be.
Amplify your colleagues.
Whenever you can, promote the good work of your peers, especially if they happen to be women or people of color. People aren’t always good at promoting themselves, so if a colleague who tends to avoid the spotlight (or whom the spotlight holders tend to ignore), show them some love. You might even want to find an “amplification buddy” you can team up with to showcase each other’s good work.
Don’t hide your light under a bushel.
There are, of course, many lawyers who chew the scenery. But, in my experience, most lawyers are reluctant to engage in self-promotion of any kind, even when that self-promotion is well-deserved. Now is the time, when you’re early in your legal career, to get comfortable with it. Client successes, articles you’ve written or co-written, awards you won (or feel you should be nominated for) — it’s all fair game.
Get a nice professional photo.
I promise you won’t regret this one. If your firm has had one done for your website bio, ask if you can use that in your personal dealings. But, you may not be able to use it if you leave the firm, so it can’t hurt to have one taken on your own dime.
Keep your law school almuni publication updated.
Alumni publications love to publish news about successful former students. Let your law school, grad school, undergrad school, etc. know when you’ve won an award, joined a new firm, been promoted to partner, got married, had a baby, or other positive news. This is a great way to keep your old classmates informed of your whereabouts and life developments, and those are people you want to see that you’re up to good work.
Make business development a manageable habit.
You will undoubtedly see people who are such prolific networkers that you will, only half-jokingly, wonder if they have a secret meth lab in their basement. These people are constantly on the go, having multiple client dinners, golf games, and networking events every week. You do not have to be these people to be successful. But you do need to be consistent and make networking and business development a consistent part of your routine.
One way to do that is to combine it with other elements of your life. For example, buy some seats at a fundraising luncheon for an organization you support and invite clients or prospective clients to join you. Volunteer to work the sign-in table at a professional organization. Work at a pro bono legal clinic. (You can see more tips to multitask your marketing here.)
Even if you’re only doing a networking event once or twice a month, that adds up quickly compared to solely sitting behind your desk.
Business development is a habit you build and maintain over your lifetime. Just like eating right and exercising, it pays off in the long run when it’s done consistently.
There is an old proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
Consider today your 20 years ago.
Amy Boardman Hunt is all about helping lawyers find their voice and showcase their expertise. When she’s not doing that, she’s trying to find great hiking spots in Dallas. If you know of any – or you need a legal marketing muse – drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.