I once applied for a job and the person interviewing me said words to the following effect: “Don’t take this the wrong way, but why should I hire you?” A client who has a problem that warrants spending hundreds or thousands of dollars of hard earned money and/or company assets undoubtedly asks the same question (at least in their head). I apparently had a good enough answer to the question because I got the job and if you can answer the same question (whether or not the client asks) you will probably get the client to hire you.
Of course, before you get to answer the question, the client has to find you. Attorneys who are just starting out can rarely, if ever, come out of the gate with a large advertising budget and marketing campaign. So word of mouth is really key at first. The absolute best way to make contact with a new client is through another attorney. Here’s why:
When a potential client has a problem, they are likely to go first to an attorney that they already know and trust. Maybe it’s the attorney who handled their divorce, maybe it’s an attorney who represented their brother in a criminal case, and maybe it is their uncle who is in-house counsel at a company. Because there are so many types of lawyers, and so many different fee structures, there are good odds that the attorney they know and trust is not going to be the right one to handle their matter. If that attorney refers the case to you, you already have the “why should I hire you?” question answered: the lawyer they already know and trust said so.
So that’s why it is so important to develop and cultivate relationships you have with attorneys. The best approach is to concentrate on the attorneys who are not your natural competitors. You will mutually benefit from getting to know each other and referring cases to each other.
When an attorney refers a case to you, he or she is putting his or her own credibility on the line. If a client has a bad experience with you, they may go back to their referral source frustrated and disappointed. So the message to get across to attorneys is that you are competent to handle the matters, you will be attentive to the people who come first to them, and you will make them look good by making the referral.
Which brings me to another point: I think it’s a bad idea to try to be things to all people. One person cannot know 12 areas of law. Taking “everything that comes through the door” is fraught with problems. First, you are subjecting yourself to a lot of unnecessary stress. Second, clients are going to assume you know what you’re doing, and if you don’t eventually it’s going to be apparent and they will be less than sympathetic. Third, you will be better off referring something out that you don’t feel comfortable with, because it’s ultimately a chance to meet the lawyer who does what you don’t do (and therefore probably doesn’t do what you do). In other words, it’s a chance to introduce or reintroduce yourself to another attorney who will be glad to talk to you and who will naturally want to return the favor.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you are a divorce lawyer, and a personal injury case comes in. You don’t know the first thing about handling a personal injury case. Chances are you will do a mediocre job and the client will not recommend you to anyone else. In other words, it’s a closed loop. What if instead, you talked to the client, and told the client you are a divorce lawyer but that you would help them find a lawyer who can do a great job for them. The lawyer you refer the case to will be grateful and you will get a chance to discuss your divorce practice with the lawyer while he’s in a good mood (because he just got a case from you). You may very well get a string of divorce referrals from that lawyer. And the client you referred will think of you not only as a divorce lawyer, but as an honest and trustworthy individual who puts your client’s need to get the right attorney over your own need to generate revenue. Chances are that client will think of referring you to a friend or relative in a future divorce case as well.
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I have one more chance to blog and I would like to answer any questions you may have. I am mindful that people with an interest in this subject matter may not want to make it a matter of public knowledge that they are considering leaving their current employer. So posting a comment on a blog may not be a good idea. If you email me your questions at email@example.com, I will certainly keep your identity confidential, I will do my best to answer your questions individually, and I will post the most common and interesting questions (anonymously) with my best attempt to answer them.