Saturday, January 30, 2010

Business Development: Clients Can Come From Unexpected Places

Yesterday I spoke as part of a panel discussion about rainmaking for lawyers. We gave advice and shared examples of the ways we and other lawyers we know have developed business.

Among other things, we talked about how clients can come from unexpected places and sources.

Although we strongly recommend focusing your efforts on your target market and your niche, realize that business can and many times does come from somewhere else. You can't rely on this phenomena as a steady source of business, but it can supplement the results you get from your focused efforts and activities. Keep this in mind as you are out and about in your world, stay open to the possibilities and you'll experience this phenomena. This can happen regardless of whether you are a new lawyer or a seasoned one.

Here are a few examples of unexpected business opportunities from my career and the careers of lawyers I have known as colleagues, clients, co-counsel and opposing counsel.

1. A referral from someone who was the opposing party in a piece of litigation. The opposing party was so impressed with the skill and professionalism of his opponent's lawyer that he recommended that lawyer, not his company's own lawyer, to another company after the lawsuit concluded.

2. Referrals from associates at out of state firms. A young lawyer who joined the law department of a corporation asked her former firm for the name of the Michigan counsel the firm used as local counsel. While at the firm she had never worked on those matters or with the Michigan counsel, but she trusted her former colleague, an associate, who gave her the name of a junior partner in the Michigan firm. The inhouse counsel ended up hiring that lawyer and the lawyer got credit for bringing in that corporate client. The young Michigan lawyer's relationship with and service for the associate in the national firm led to this referral and origination. The inhouse counsel used the Michigan firm for all of her cases in the state and the Michigan lawyer received the origination credit for those cases.

3. Judges who leave the bench and take positions elsewhere have become clients of and referral sources for lawyers who have appeared before them and/or with whom they have become friends. This is because people, including former judges, do business with people they know, like and trust. Less well known is that former and active judges do get privately asked to recommend lawyers for matters that will not be before them. Whether active judges make such recommendations may depend on the judge and the jurisdiction.

4. Referral sources become clients themselves. Again, this is because people do business with people they know, like and trust.

5. Helping someone find a job. Many people who have done this naturally and without any ulterior motive have then found that they have a friend for life who never forgets how they helped in a time of need. The people you help in this way often do become excellent referral sources not just because they are grateful, but because they believe in you and they know you to be a high caliber individual.

6. Striking up conversations with people in the airport or on an airplane. A lawyer made a firm presentation to inhouse counsel at a major corporation as a result of offering cookies to a man who seemed to be listening to her conversation with her colleague in the airport. It turned out he was a lawyer and was inhouse counsel facing similar legal issues. He was also interested in the cookies being shared. The woman's ease in talking with strangers and her natural interaction with her colleague made a positive impression on the inhouse counsel.

Feel free to share your stories.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Common Sense in Conference Calls: Etiquette & Other Tips

I'm no Miss Manners when it comes to etiquette, but a couple of conference calls with groups of lawyers today reminded me that "common sense isn't common." (Will Rogers)

1. Identity Issues. Say your name before you speak. Say it every time until you are certain that everyone recognizes your voice. "This is Elizabeth. I understand that . . . . " "This is Elizabeth again. My question is . . . . "

2. Identity Issues II. If you welcome someone else to the call by saying "Hi Kathy!" be thoughtful. Identify yourself. "Hi Kathy! This is Scott. How is your new year?" If "Hi Kathy!" is followed by a pause then a "Hi", it's a sure bet Kathy didn't recognize your voice or wasn't certain.

3. Breathing Space. Give others on the call room to speak. Think of it as breathing space after they speak. Listen when others are speaking and don't jump in while they are still talking. You certainly notice when other people do that to each other. If you are actively listening, you'll hear what they are saying and know when they are done. You'll acknowledge what they said, add your thoughts and move the discussion forward. If you jump in the second someone finishes, you can be sure they know you weren't listening. Instead you were thinking ahead to what you want to say.

4. Noise. Put your phone on mute when you are not speaking, especially if there is background noise at your end. Be sure to do this if you can't break your habit of allegedly "multitasking".

5. Connection. Call from a land line whenever possible.

6. It's a Meeting. Treat the conference call like a meeting. Start on time. Sign in on time. Introduce yourself. Be gracious and professional with others. Assist the organizer and the note taker. At the end, if appropriate, be clear about who is going to do what by when. Thank people. End on time.

A tip for setting up conference calls: I like to use I don't have any affiliation with this company. I started using it a few years ago and it works for me. It doesn't cost me a thing. The call-in number and my access code always remain the same. I give out the numbers when I organize calls. No reservations are necessary. There is no charge other than each caller pays whatever cost, if any, their carrier charges them for the call. Since most lawyers and groups I work with have monthly calling plans that don't charge for individual calls, there is no separate charge for the call. I or the groups I'm part of don't have to pay an expensive conference calling service fee.

A tip for scheduling conference calls or other events: try or I've used and it has worked well to get lawyers to provide their availability for various potential event dates. As the event organizer, you state the potential dates and poll the participants on the dates. As the participants respond, they can see who is available on which dates and you can all identify the best date more quickly. It's easy, I promise.

Good luck with your conference calls.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A New Year & A Recurring Challenge - Time Tracking

It's almost the close of business on the first business day of the new year and the new decade. My question for you is: Have you entered your time yet or are you behind already?

If you find yourself behind or you know you will be soon, instead of the same old same old, choose to start the year by learning to use and/or actually using time tracking software.

By making this choice, you will say yes to capturing and billing more of your time. You won't be as likely to lose track of how long you worked on something or what you did. You will have more accurate descriptions of the legal services you provided. You will use time productively instead of struggling days later to enter it or write it coherently for your secretary to submit into the system.

As with most decisions to make a change, you will also have to say no to some things in order to make the change. Consider what you will have to say no to in order to start using the time tracking software. Think about what obstacles are likely to stop you from making this change. Decide whether you can say no to those things.

Last, figure out who and what can help you get started and help you stick with this commitment to change.

The time tracking software is pretty user friendly now. Besides helping you bill more effectively, and thus make more money, it will actually save you time and frustration. Don't those sound like good reasons to make this change this year, right now?