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New Client Development: It’s All About Who You Know

When you first start at a new firm, all you want to think about is learning the job and getting the work done. But, sooner or later, you know that you will be expected to start bringing in new clients. You were never taught this skill in law school, except maybe that it is unethical to directly seek out clients. After all, no one wants to be thought of as an “ambulance chaser,” right? But where does that leave you in these uncharted waters?
The best way to develop new client relationships in law, as well as most any field, is by networking. The contacts that you make every day, and the impression you leave, can be your most valuable asset in the “sales” arena. After all, as attorneys, our service to our clients is what we are really selling. If you leave a positive impression, people will remember you.
Community Involvement
A very effective way to network is to get involved in your community. This can be as simple as volunteering for any organization in your area, joining a church, or helping out with your children’s activities. Of course, community involvement takes time, so it is important to choose wisely. Make sure that the activities you select are both relevant to your practice area and to your personality and areas of interest. Once you join, make sure that you volunteer to work on or even chair some projects so that you can get to know others who are active in the organization.
Some good general activities to consider for any type of practice and area of interest:
·        Area Chamber of Commerce
·        Church or religious organization
·        School parent organizations
·        School athletic or music booster
·        Volunteer youth sports coach or assistant
·        Volunteer at a senior or youth center
·        Organizer of a local nonprofit event
·        Attend a business/nonprofit (rather than legal) seminar or meeting on topic of local interest
·        Local women’s, men’s, mother’s, single’s or other specialized club or group
If your legal practice involves a specialized area of law, try to find both a general organization and one that is more specialized. For example, a disability attorney may consider volunteering as an advocate/mentor for parents attending a special education meeting for their child or as an organizer for a local autism fundraiser. Or an elder law attorney might volunteer at a senior center, while an environmental lawyer might attend a business seminar on new regulatory requirements to minimize sulfur emissions. Giving your time to the appropriate group may land you some new clients, but it will also give you a greater appreciation and understanding of your clients’ needs, making you a better lawyer and advocate.
Making Connections
Once you have carefully chosen a few groups to join, you need to develop individual connections. Obviously, the more that you do, the more exposure you will have. But you need to go farther than that. You need to try to meet the other individuals involved in the organization and develop personal connections. This starts by simple introductions and time spent working together on projects. However, for lasting relationships, it is important to get to know people well enough that you have found something in common. This can be something as simple as being fans of the same sports team or liking the same kind of music/food/etc. Once you discover a similarity, you will be more comfortable around this individual and able to develop a more meaningful relationship. Then, you need to nurture these relationships by keeping in contact, even after the project is over.
When Do I Start?
No matter how overwhelmed you may be at your new firm, it is important to begin networking as soon as possible. It takes time to get to know people, and even longer for them to need your services or to know someone who does.
Just remember: you never know which of the people you meet will become future clients, so treat each and every new contact as a potential client.