How Not To Get Legal Business

One of our most popular posts is about How to Get Legal Business. Here’s a way how not to get new clients.
Sit on your hands. No – wait, worse: Sit on your hands when your potential client introduces himself, asks you about your practice, tells you about his company . . . and you fail to do anything to create a connection. You’ve let an opportunity slip away.

I attended a legal updates seminar recently, and as usual found myself outnumbered by private practice attorneys. I’ve tended to avoid these events to escape the kind of attention a lamb chop gets in a piranha pond. But this time I might as well have stumbled into a meeting of Wallflowers Anonymous.

His badge identified him as a large firm attorney as he took his seat beside me. Politely I turned, smiled, said “Hi,” and offered a handshake. I introduced myself and remarked, “they’ve got a good assortment of panelists – a couple from each side of the issue – and the government too. Probably going to be lively.”

“Mmm hmm” he acknowledged, releasing the handshake and nodding. And then he turned back to stare straight ahead at the gathering panel. For 30 uncomfortable seconds I waited, slightly contorted, to resume the conversation. But nothing was coming.

Let’s try again. “Our company has huge problems in this area. How often do you find yourself dealing with this?”

“A lot.” And . . . back to the front-facing stare.

At the break I refilled my coffee and struck my time-tested “first middle school dance” pose by a ballroom door. Relaxed shoulders, smiling, eyebrows slightly raised and making eye contact . . . hoping for someone else to make the first move. No fewer than four private practice lawyers were doing the same thing, all within 20 feet. So I turned to the man who was almost touching shoulders with me, and gave it another shot.

“A lot to think about this early in the morning. This comes up all the time in our company. Do you have to deal with it in your practice?”

He took a sip of his coffee and nodded, “yes, all the time. We’ve got two cases going to trial on this issue in the next three months. It’s crazy!” Another sip of coffee, and then . . . nothing. Folks, in these polite conversational volleys this is where it’s your turn to ask a question. This is how you engage with others and start to build a relationship.

So I went all-in, just for giggles. “We’re about to launch an RFP for nationwide training in this area at our 24 locations. It’s going to cost a fortune, but because the potential liability is so high we think it will be money well spent.” [By the way, we did the RFP. The winning firm got a 6-figure fee.]

“I think training in this area is really important,” he observed. You guys are so smart to get out ahead of it.” The next panel was gathering, and he excused himself apologizing, “I’m sorry, I think we’re starting. It was nice to meet you.”  And again, that was it.

The rest of the day was pretty much the same. Maybe everyone was waiting for the “networking” cocktail hour at the end of the day, but I wasn’t. Marketing isn’t fun, especially for those of us who are not naturally inclined to it. But there are a lot of things we have to do that aren’t fun that we do anyway because they are necessary.

By now you know not to expect clients to beg you to represent them after a one-time encounter.  But you are guaranteed to have zero success developing business if you sit on your hands when an opportunity to start a relationship plops down next to you, extends his hand and says, “Hi”.

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