My Biggest Challenge: Staying Outside My “Shell”

Certainly the biggest challenge for me, as an outside or, if you prefer, “outhouse,” lawyer representing private clients is keeping up my client development efforts, even when I’m absolutely slammed in the actual practice of law.  I know I’m not alone and this challenge is hard for just about everybody on the outside.

I sometimes envy people with client-development or sales-type jobs that allow (or force) them to focus exclusively on selling.  Unlike a pharmaceutical representative or residential realtor, lawyers have to constantly balance the substantive side of the job (conducting discovery, writing and arguing motions, preparing for trial) with the sales side (writing, speaking, meeting, etc.).  When push comes to shove, at least for me, the sales side usually takes a back seat to the demands of the practice.  This isn’t surprising: clients hire trial lawyers to litigate cases, not to spend their time finding new clients and more cases.  Also, lawyers aren’t typically sued for malpractice for neglecting their marketing responsibilities and focusing instead on winning the case.  On the other hand, without a pipeline of new work, we find ourselves languishing, dead in the water, when a busy case resolves.

In a perfect world, I would use others to appropriately leverage both sides of my job.  I would have associates and paralegals available to leverage for performing practice-related tasks they are equally, if not better, suited to do.  But then I would also have someone, even a part-time employee who could help make sure I keep up with my marketing and networking responsibilities, scheduling meetings, arranging for articles and speaking opportunities. 

Alas, it’s not a perfect world, yet.  Until then, I’ve got to keep struggling not to neglect my marketing efforts when, as in the past few weeks, I’ve been extremely busy with a particular case.  I recently spoke with my business development coach about this challenge.  His suggestion, loosely paraphrased, was that I shift my orientation away from being a legal “practitioner” to being a legal “business developer.”  I should understand as my primary job, not to win cases or achieve favorable settlements, but rather to generate more business.  I’m not sure I understand or completely agree with this view.  But thinking about the issue has helped me develop some  simple strategies designed to help me maintain the law practice/business development balance, even when things get hectic.  Here they are:

1.  Schedule, schedule, schedule.  Like many litigators, I live my life out of a calendar.  I’ve found that, provided I get a coffee, lunch or dinner date on my calendar, I have little trouble scheduling around this appointment.  The takeaway:  get something on the calendar, even if it has to be rescheduled later.

2.  Combine case-related travel with visits to existing or prospective clients.  The most successful practitioners I’ve known make it a habit to visit existing and prospective clients face-to-face whenever they are “in town” for another reason. 

3.  Calendar follow-up steps.  For every 5 appointments I schedule for coffee or lunch, at least 3 cancel or reschedule.  I have a bad habit when someone cancels at the last-minute of failing to follow through immediately to get a new date on calendar.  The result is a long, long delay and starting from scratch on the rescheduling.  I’m trying now to follow-up right away when someone cancels to get a new appoint on our calendars, even if that, too, eventually must be rescheduled.  Ideally, no meeting will be left behind.

4.  Do business development before anything else.  This is one my biz dev coach really likes.  He suggests I spend between 5 and 30 minutes each morning on client development before doing anything case-related.  I’ve tried to adopt this, but it’s challenging given the unpredictability of a litigation practice. 

Hopefully, these 4 strategies will help me stay out of my shell and not find myself dead in the water whenever a particularly time-consuming case resolves.

About Alex Craigie

I am an AV-Preeminent rated trial lawyer. My practice focuses on helping companies throughout Southern California resolve employment and business disputes. The words in this blog are mine alone, and do not reflect the views of the Dykema law firm or its clients. Also, these words are not intended to constitute legal advice, and reading or commenting on this blog does not create attorney-client relationship. Reach me at acraigie@dykema.com. View all posts by Alex Craigie

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