How to Develop a Portable (Legal) Book of Business

Developing and maintaining a portable book of business is critical to the long-term growth and flexibility for the majority of law-firm lawyers. By constructing a legal book of business, a lawyer can ensure a higher level of understanding, communication, and collaboration with clients while at the same time securing revenue sources independent from their respective firm. This individually sourced revenue can also help provide lawyers with more career options both at their current firms and otherwise, especially in hard times economically.

Whereas before the turn of the millennium it was rather rare for partners to switch law firms, today it was effectively become commonplace for a variety of reasons. The first and most obvious concern when considering switching law firms is that of compensation. This factor is directly tied to the lawyer’s book of business, which dictates the potential revenue they can bring and can provide powerful leverage in such a situation.

However, building a large book of business as part of a larger firm can prove especially difficult considering that many such firms primarily take on cases in the millions or tens of millions of dollars, eclipsing a single partner’s stake. As such, the relationship between the lawyer and the client has become more critical than ever and as we move further into the digital age social media has become an increasingly necessary tool to maintain these relationships. Most clients tend to award their accounts to those they know and trust, so cultivating these relationships by devoting a weekly period of time to client development can prove invaluable.

While Twitter, Facebook, and especially LinkedIn play important rules in extending your network today, in building a book of business it is important that you do not only rely on these rather impersonal methods of communication; things such as networking events or even a simple holiday card could be a very successful way for associates and junior associates to move their careers forward. Furthermore, speaking appearances on a particular subject or field of work as well as traditional publishing routes can provide additional differentiation from the pack and thus options.

LinkedIn: A Final Look

In our previous two-part LinkedIn series, we focused on how to use the service to find the connections you need, so we now want to discuss how others can find you.  After all, networking is a two-way street.  With that in mind, let’s start with a few tips to strengthen your profile and your presence.  Our intent is simple: we want to direct as many people as possible to your page and, when they arrive, we want them to be impressed.

Get Ready for Your Close-Up

Unless you’re somehow accessing this blog from the mid-1980s, odds are you already have an attorney profile floating around out there on your firm’s website.  As such, there’s little point in creating a LinkedIn profile with the exact same information.  Sure, you’ll want to include all the basics (professional summary, work history, education, areas of specialty, etc.), but LinkedIn allows you to do much more.  So let’s look at how you can get your LinkedIn profile to work for you.

Get Connected

As discussed in our first LinkedIn blog post, the key to networking via the service lies in a healthy connections pool.  Take advantage of the site’s ability to scour your email contacts to grow your connections (if you’d like a refresher on how to do this, just see our November 7th post below).  Again, make sure your connections represent your real world contacts – the caveat from our first LinkedIn blog still stands (i.e. don’t include weak contacts just to pad your numbers).

This means taking the time to reach out to past clients and colleagues, the effort will be well worth it as it will increase your exposure and your likelihood of turning up in searches.

It’s All In The Details

Focus on increasing the detail/content of your LinkedIn profile.  Use the “Summary” heading to highlight your areas of expertise as specifically as possible.  Most attorneys—if they’ve provided a summary at all—simply cut and paste the language from their company profile.  This is fine as a starting point, but consider adding more.  See this as an opportunity to talk to viewers of your profile.

Ask yourself this:  when someone sees my profile, does it clearly say what I’d like it to about myself and my practice?  Does your summary clearly state your areas of expertise, the industries in which you specialize or your representative clients and cases?  If not, take the time to include this information.  If you only gain one new client as a result, it will be time well spent.

Get Recommended

Remember, your goal is to create a professional and powerful presence via your LinkedIn profile.  Few things speak as loudly as a glowing recommendation from a past colleague or client.  As the service so often does, LinkedIn has made the process of requesting recommendations as painless as possible.

Simply click the “Ask for a recommendation” link near the top right corner of your profile homepage and, when prompted, enter the name of the connection to whom you’ll be sending the request (or simply choose your intended recipients from a list of your connections).  As is usually the case with this exceptionally user-friendly site, LinkedIn will walk you through all the necessary steps. The site even generates a few lines of suggested language to make the process that much easier.

Apply Yourself

LinkedIn offers a variety of applications that can be easily embedded into your personal profile.  Two apps of potential interest to attorneys are Lawyer Ratings and My Travel.

Lawyer Ratings is a LexisNexis plug-in that allows attorneys to crow about their Martindale-Hubbell reviews and ratings via a very official-looking little stamp.  It’s hardly revolutionary but it does prominently display that 4.9 out of 5 Client Review Rating of which you are so proud.  On a more practical note, it allows clients who have not yet rated you to do so with a single click right from your profile.

My Travel is a nifty little application that compares your upcoming business travel plans to those of your connections pool, alerting you when you’ll be in the same town at the same time as your colleagues.  The app will keep you on your peers’ radar and might even facilitate a sit-down with that potential client who never seems to be in their office.

Both apps can be found under the “More Tab” and among the dropdown items will be “More Applications” on your profile page.

Answer and You Shall Receive

A snappy profile with effusive recommendations will do you little good if no one sees it.  In addition to a healthy connections pool, another means of increasing your LinkedIn exposure and directing more traffic to your profile is to take part in LinkedIn Answers.  “Answers” is a knowledge exchange where users can post queries and have them answered by the service’s various members.  Questions range across a wide variety of substantive areas with virtually no professional topics excluded.

To find your way into Answers, just choose the “More” link at the top middle of your profile page.  First among the dropdown items will be “Answers.”

After navigating to the page choose “Law and Legal” from the right side column.

Once open, the Answers page will display a list of “open” questions, many of which may have already received answers but remain open nevertheless as their posters have yet to receive a response of sufficient clarity or specificity.

If you find an open question that you believe you can answer, simply click on the text of the inquiry.   It will deliver you to a page with a gold “Answer” button just below the full language of the original question.  Give it a click and proceed to share your expertise with the LinkedIn community—and, if you’re lucky, with a potential new client contact.

But be warned, all “experts” are not created equal and you may be somewhat underwhelmed by other answers you’re likely to see.  Remember, the Internet’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness:  everyone has access.  This is as true of the LinkedIn community as anywhere else.  The service does not vet the various “experts” nor must one be an attorney to answer “Law and Legal” questions.

This can be both a good and a bad thing.  The bad is probably obvious, but the good may not be.  While the idea of non-attorneys answering complex questions of law and policy probably doesn’t thrill you, the fact that anyone can answer often means that non-experts will address an inquiry by referring someone who is an expert and with whom they’ve had a positive experience.  If one of your friends, colleagues or clients stumbles across a legal question they can easily flag you as the right guy or gal to talk to and direct the poster to your LinkedIn page.

In any event, Answers is just another way to increase your LinkedIn exposure and connect with potential clients.  Like any tool for growing your business, whether you choose to use it—or any of the above suggestions—is entirely up to you.

Well, we don’t know about you but we think that’s more than enough LinkedIn for now.  We expect the service to become increasingly important and probably essential and we’re sure to return to the topic in the future but, for now, it’s time to move on.

What will next week’s topic be?  You’ll just have to tune in to find out.  Until then and as always, be well and work happy.

A Primer For Lawyers To Use LinkedIn To Develop New Clients (Part II)

This is the second part of our blog series on how attorneys should use LinkedIn to get better contacts and introductions to more effectively develop clients. From our previous posting, we have shown how you build your contacts and search for new client introductions. This part of our series assumes you have read our previous blog and now have a list of connections that might be able to facilitate contact with your target client sorted by relationship.

Degrees of Separation

With two simple steps we’ve now generated a list of individuals who, in some way, connect you to your target.  Because we’ve asked the site to sort by relationship, the top of your list should be populated by those having first- or second-degree relationships to the “company” we’ve searched (this is helpfully represented via a numeric designation next to each individual’s name).  If you’re lucky, then your search will have generated one or more individuals having a first-degree relationship to your target entity.   If this is the case, fantastic.  It means that someone among your pool of LI connections works directly for, or with, your target.  Now you might be thinking, “If one of my personal connections works for my target, wouldn’t I have known this without LinkedIn’s help?”  The answer, often, is not necessarily.  Lateral movement is just as ubiquitous in most industries as it is in the legal field.  It can be easy to miss a colleague’s transition to a new company or position (although LinkedIn tries to help with this by emailing us every time one of our connections updates their profile) and a search of this kind will often yield a surprise or two.

But just as likely, your search will yield a string of second- and third-degree relationships—individuals who are not among your personal connections but are related to you through those connections.  And this is where LinkedIn’s rubber really hits the cyber highway.   Choosing any one of these profiles will yield a helpful little box graphically representing your relationship to the target via a series of arrows.  You will appear at the top and the service will flow chart down through your connections to another LinkedIn member currently working for the target company.  As you’ve probably guessed, 2nd degree relationships are those that link you to the target directly via one of your current connections and 3rd degrees link you indirectly via common connections between one of your colleagues and the target profile.  In either case it’s now time to pick up the phone or compose an email explaining why you’re interested in your target and, ultimately, requesting an introduction from the relevant colleague.  Again, this is why it’s so important that your connections are more than mere acquaintances; LinkedIn can provide you with the road map but, without willing colleagues, you’ll never make it to your destination.

Intelligence is Key

No, not your intelligence.  You’re reading this blog, clearly realizing its value and seeking to learn more about a potentially powerful business development tool so your intellect is, obviously, beyond question!  I’m talking about the kind of business intelligence needed to turn a prospective client into the real thing.  Where did they go to school?  What does their employment history consist of?  What groups or networks are they currently affiliated with?  The typical LinkedIn profile will answer many or all of these questions, often providing you with far more information than you’re likely to find on a company website.  Coupled with the insight your connections can provide as to your target’s needs, concerns, recent and past dealings, etc., this should place you in the strongest position possible when that sought-after meeting finally arrives.  Knowing your common ground (e.g. you’re both Berkeley alums or you each previously worked for Lehman Brothers – hey, I’m not saying you’re proud of that) can mean the difference between a fruitful first meeting and a series of long, awkward pauses.

But don’t limit your intelligence gathering to the prospective client.  Learn as much as you can about your current connections as well.   Ask yourself how you might be able to help them.  Odds are you know someone who, while they haven’t been able to benefit you in any economically tangible way, could be invaluable to one of your connections.  Never underestimate the power of reciprocity.  When you reach out to request that introduction, don’t forget to mention your buddy in the apparel/finance/venture capital/music industry space that you believe he or she really needs to meet—and your willingness to provide the introduction.  It’s an inescapable truth of human psychology: people are far more likely to return a favor rather than simply do you a favor.

Of course, the information age will only take us so far.  Once your LinkedIn connections have worked their magic, it’s time to rely on those real world elements that will probably always be the cornerstone of how we conduct business:  the phone call, the hand shake, the sit-down, the pitch.

My hope for this blog is that it evolves into a conversation, not just a monologue.  Please feel free to contact me with your questions, comments or criticisms (we are also happy to take praise) and I’ll do my best to address them in future installments.  Until then, be well and work happy.

JJ