Business development for young lawyers

I am not an old lawyer.  But I’m getting there.  And I don’t do everything that I will talk about in this post, but I should.  It’s easy advice to give and hard advice to follow.

My background as lawyer

I am a 2004 call and opened Delaney’s Law Firm in 2006.  I am now ten years in practice.  My practice areas include real estate, family law, personal injury, civil litigation, debt collection, estate administration amongst various other things.  I am a true general practitioner and my practice areas tend to cross over each other.

Where do I find my clients?

I moved to Ottawa in 2005 and left my network behind.  When I arrived here I didn’t know anyone and had to find a way to develop business for myself.  I am willing to share this information with you in the hope that you won’t repeat the same mistakes I have.

Step 1:      Build a database

Networking, handing out business cards, public speaking, blogging, whatever – these are all great in terms of developing business.  The biggest one, though, is database management.  It can be as simple as a spreadsheet or as complex as cloud based multi platform software.  I would start with a spreadsheet and then go from there.  If you want the full monty I recommend Daylite by Marketcircle.

Essentially your database is your modern day rolodex.  It’s the foundation of your whole system.  What you should do is track when you contacted them, what was exchanged, and follow up every three or four months.  It’s no use finding someone who refers you clients only to have them forget about you after a year.  You have to maintain the relationship – cards, lunches, swag, whatever.  You won’t remember to do that when you have 1,000 contacts.  Spreadsheets and software will help you run the system and keep you at the top of mind for your contacts.

Business is about those relationships.  It may be that you reach out to someone and they tell you they want to buy a car.  You refer them to your friend the car salesmen.  You follow up with him and let him know they’re coming.  They get a deal done and both are happy for your assistance.  You are at the top of their mind for a short period of time and if someone asks them for a lawyer’s name it will be yours that comes up.

The more you can add to the database the better.  A picture is helpful, birthday (send a card), home address (Christmas card) etc.  It has to be somewhat automated because networking always comes after file work and signing new clients.

Step 2:     Add value and create “Win-wins” 

Wayne Gretzky once said “You have to take care of what takes care of you.”

Nothing could be more true about your referral sources.  The Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit lawyers from paying referral fees to non-lawyers.  That does not mean, however, that you can’t add value to the referral source’s business.  Send them clients.  Refer them to competent professionals.  Help them build their business.  Nobody wants a one-way street, and it’s much better over the long haul to have two people working together than one relying on the other.

Step 3:      Social networking 

So you have your database setup and your ready to start building your network based on mutual co-operation.  You’ve got your Twitter account and have 24 followers hanging off your pearls of wisdom that you like to throw out every once in awhile.  “Live each and every day to it’s fullest.”  You’re good, right?


Social networking is about being social.  Follow, favourite and connect.  Add them in the database.  But then meet for coffee, share notes and follow up with a lunch a few months later.  Send a Starbucks gift card at Christmas and touch base in the spring.  Retweet their tweets, add their link to your site, and get them thinking about you.  It’s just not enough to be on social networking platforms – you have to leverage them.  If you have an event – take lots of pictures, video, anything.  Create a fabric and put yourself out there.  Don’t be shy, people will like you.  It’s far more interesting than the bland content that most law firms go with.  I haven’t quite mastered it yet, but look to Jamie Casino for mentorship:

Step 4:    Blogging

Google loves bloggers.  Blogs get listed in directories and create links to your site which ups your Search Engine ranking.  It creates content that will also show up on specific searches  “think Family Law Rule 15 motion.”  It introduces people to your personality and style and puts you out there as an expert.  You should do about 1-2 per month, and is a great way for students to add value right out of the gate.

Step 5:   Revamp your system , set targets, monitor performance

Every year you should revisit your system and tweak it.  Add to it.  Take some things away.  Make it fun and enjoyable, while productive.  Set goals for yourself and revisit those targets and evaluate.  Track how many clients you brought it from various sources and try to get a sense of where your success is coming from.  It’s a great compliment to billing, and gives you leverage in terms of negotiations in your firm.  “Sure I only docketed 30 hours, but I brought in 5 clients that have what – $10k in potential billables?”  Open a file (we use the term “Penske”) and docket the amount of time that you spend on business development.  Also useful information.