With the 2012 Presidential election only recently in our rear-view mirror, a number of lawyers have asked me if I could help them cast a wide net for new clients. They want to pursue clients like national politicians pursue votes – by selling to different constituencies simultaneously. I can’t do that, nor do I believe that is an effective way for most lawyers to get clients.
There are marketing techniques with which lawyers can announce (and, as a consequence, sometimes sell) their skills on a wholesale basis. However, the most successful business pitches lawyers make are conducted on a one-to-one basis, or at least in person.
Lawyers can, and do, seed rain clouds from 10,000 feet. Good marketing of legal skills communicates both big picture and small picture skills and abilities to clients. However, no amount of wholesale marketing will win loyalty, gain trust or make clients feel wanted, cared about or special.
Marketing is not networking. Marketing is talking. Networking is creating opportunities for listening.
The commonly known Tip O’Neill truth, that “All politics is local”, also applies to the “political” act of lawyers acquiring clients. Lawyers must know what someone wants and the only way to do that is to ask and listen.
Mr. O’Neill learned the perhaps more important vote-getting corollary rule the morning after his first House election. His neighbor and first grade teacher informed the then newly-elected House member she had not voted for him because he had not asked for her vote. He listened, and from that time asked all constituents he met in-person for their votes.
Likewise, good lawyers successfully court business with real meetings, lunches and handshakes. When someone whose business you would like to have gets press mention or writes an impressive piece, remember to send the congratulatory e-mail or, better yet, note. If you have listened or read carefully, you will have something to say about that person, and not yourself. We all like proper notice.
The clients you have and the clients you would like to have need attention and help. They may not need you to be their lawyer, but you can get out the vote by making an introduction, suggesting a business approach, inviting them to a legal talk about which they may care or sending them a timely and relevant article.
Clients do not give work to magazine ads; they give work to flesh and blood lawyers. If you consider clients as commodities, fish you might catch in a wide net, your “nothing personal” feelings will be returned. If you demonstrate intelligence and concern by asking desired clients what matters to them and then listening to and caring about the answers, those clients will know you believe they are unique, their answers are not fungible, and that you care and listen enough to deserve their work.