How to Develop Business Without Really Trying

Jun 26, 2018, 4:00:00 AM / by Rory Nugent


As young lawyers, you are told that the path to partnership depends on your ability to generate business. After your first couple of years of being a bottom-rung associate, you therefore need to start thinking about a strategy for marketing yourself. There will be the standard opportunities, of course - conference, bar events, and that sort of thing. The problem with these opportunities is that you are surrounded by your competition, and it can therefore be difficult to get the exposure to potential clients that you want. On top of that, how do you convince potential clients that they should hire you, a junior attorney, instead of someone more established and with more experience?

To be clear, you should take advantage of every marketing opportunity your firm is willing to support. However, you should also look for additional opportunities off the beaten track where you don’t have to fight for airtime. The good news is that there are plenty of marketing opportunities right under your nose. Granted, these aren’t marketing opportunities per se, but rather, an opportunity to demonstrate your professionalism, your intelligence, and your expertise in your industry or practice area.

Pro Bono Opportunities

Pro bono work is a great way for young lawyers to establish a presence and possibly meet people outside your normal circle. Your state or local bar association probably has several programs you can participate in, from helping the poor to writing wills for veterans. These programs make it easy for you to get involved. You’ll gain some experience in having primary responsibility for your client, and hopefully develop relationships with other lawyers that may refer you business in the future. Meanwhile, you’re putting your skills as a lawyer to good use in serving a great cause.

Volunteering Opportunities

Everyone knows that lawyers work a lot of hours, especially grunt-level associates. It’s therefore understandable if you need a break from the law in your “off hours” (if there is such a thing). If you still want to give back to your community, the good news is that there are probably hundreds of volunteer opportunities within easy distance from your home or office. Whether making sandwiches for the homeless or visiting the elderly in nursing homes, you can form some fantastic long-term relationships. Volunteering is another way to increase your exposure that could lead to business in the future. And again, you’re giving something that is desperately needed - yourself.

Expand your social circle

After work, eating, sleeping, and volunteering, there are precious few hours left in your week. It’s important to rest and recharge, but how much of your free time is just wasted time? Are you really avoiding that social get-together to stay home and binge-watch The Office again? My standard excuse is, “but I won’t know anyone there.” Meeting new people is a great way to expand your network.

Just don’t be that guy who hands out his business card at barbeques.

Which is a great segway to my main and most important point - be a real person

A lot of ink is being spilled these days on the subject of authenticity: being authentic and building authentic relationships. I’m not sure what being “authentic” means beyond simply being a real person. People do business with people they like, and law is no different. If you approach everyone in your life as a potential client or source of business, chances are your business development efforts will yield diminishing returns. This is true even at formal marketing events, maybe especially so. Instead of constantly “selling” people, just focus on building friendships. Listen to their stories, share a joke, encourage their efforts, and offer help (legal or not) when you can. Over time, you’ll develop a network of friends that want to help you as opposed to constantly “prospecting” on the never-ending carousel of marketing events.

Maybe this advice is worth exactly what you’ve paid for it, but I ask you to consider this: even if this tactic doesn’t develop business like you hoped, you’ll have helped some pro-bono clients, volunteered your time in your community, and developed some deep and lasting friendships. What’s to lose?

Topics: For Candidates

Rory Nugent

Written by Rory Nugent

Rory Nugent is an attorney with 17 years experience in the private practice of law. In early 2018, he founded Ascent Strategies, a consulting agency that helps lawyers and law firms grow and manage their practices. He also works with small businesses and non-profit organizations.

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