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Business Development for Litigators

June 13, 2024 (4 min read)


THIS ARTICLE PROVIDES GUIDANCE FOR LITIGATORS on developing new business and covers topics such as building your presence as a thought leader, marketing, and networking.

Three of the most important words in a litigator's lexicon are book of business. Most lawyers are not exposed to those words until after they graduate from law school and start working in a law firm. While new graduates may be well-versed in the skills required for legal research and oral advocacy, they may know little or nothing about the techniques required to bring in new business.

This is unfortunate. New litigators who join a law firm will soon discover that the size of a lawyer’s book of business is equivalent to a professional baseball player’s batting average. Lawyers with a large client base are highly prized by law firms and can be well-compensated. If a lawyer considers moving to another firm, one of the first questions a potential new firm will ask is: “What is your book of business?”

There are many other good reasons to develop a client base. One of the great pleasures in practicing law is to have clients who look to you as their lawyer. It is much more enjoyable to serve as the lead lawyer on a matter, as opposed to working as the service attorney for a partner who has the direct relationship with the client.

How Litigators Obtain Clients

Transactional lawyers will find themselves involved in deals in which the client may be earning a nice profit. Hopefully, the client will be more than happy to engage the transactional lawyer in order to get the deal done. More legal work may come as the client does additional deals.

For some companies, especially those in highly regulated industries and those involved in protecting intellectual property, litigation is a cost of doing business. They understand litigation and anticipate that they will need to retain excellent litigators. Clients who are experienced in litigation will be a good source of current and future engagements.

With that said, litigation, for many potential clients, is not viewed as a profitable enterprise. Litigators are often retained when the client is facing an unanticipated legal crisis. Indeed, litigators are not unlike oncologists—they may be highly respected for their skills, but most people hope they will never have to use them.

In addition, if a litigator gets retained for a trial, it may well be a one-off engagement. There may not be more work for that client when the trial concludes.

Accordingly, litigators often cannot anticipate repeat business from their clients, and must be vigilant in pursuing new clients and matters. New litigation matters will come up unexpectedly, and the client may not have a great deal of time to select counsel. Litigators must have the skills, credentials, and reputation to be in a position to be considered for the new engagement.

Rainmaking Can Be Mastered

Contrary to a common belief, there is no set personality type for a rainmaker. While some rainmakers are consummate extroverted networkers, a more introverted litigator who has developed a valuable expertise and reputation in a field can build a large book of business. Ultimately, each litigator must develop an approach and style that feels comfortable. Some litigators can make contacts on the golf course. Others become a presence at the lectern and work the CLE circuit. And, of course, there are the classic trial lawyers who gain fame and prestige from representing public figures and become known as the go to lawyers for tough cases.

As discussed below, there are common well-proven steps which can be followed, no matter the litigator’s personality.

Building one’s client base is not a hobby to pursue during down time. You must dedicate yourself to business development each and every day. Any encounter, whether professional or social, is a new business opportunity. Even if the person you meet is not a potential client, that person may refer someone else to you.

For additional guidance on building your brand, your network, and referrals, please follow this link to read the full article in Practical Guidance.

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Ronald J. Levine is counsel at Herrick, Feinstein LLP. He is an accomplished litigator with 35 years of experience advising consumer products companies in complex commercial litigation, with a focus on class actions and other multi-party litigation. A pragmatic advisor who helps clients anticipate, minimize, and resolve the financial and reputational damage arising from litigation, Ron regularly counsels clients on crisis management strategies, social media and privacy issues, and professional responsibility concerns.

To find this article in Practical Guidance, follow this research path:

RESEARCH PATH: Civil Litigation > General Litigation > Practice Notes

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