By Gary Holstein, Practice Advisor

Do you sometimes handle an unmanageable multitude of problems, questions, issues, files, client calls, and scheduling demands? Are these hectic periods followed by weeks when you worry if or when your next client will appear? Do the uncertainty and relentless pace that accompany the practice of law make you feel both drained and exhilarated at the same time?

An attorney I worked with neatly summed up the frantic nature of this all-too-common experience. Laughing at the roller-coaster of emotions that can accompany running your own practice, he said, “When I’m busy I worry about whether I can handle it all and when I’m not busy, I worry about getting new clients. When I’m crazy busy, I feel valued and important to the practice. My feelings change dramatically when I am not busy. Sometimes I even feel depressed.”

Understand The Chaos Paradox

It seems as if attorneys worry in equal amounts whether they are busy or not busy, and they define being busy as how many hours they spend performing law activities (by law activities, I mean work involved practicing law and law-related tasks). I call this the “Chaos Paradox.” To complicate matters, their self-esteem is tied to their activity level and fluctuates in proportion to their workload. When they are chaotically busy and stressed out, they often feel as if their self-worth is enhanced; during slow periods, feelings of self-worth diminish dramatically.

The Chaos Paradox exists because most lawyers don’t have a consistent and predictable supply of good clients. (Poor time management skills also contribute to the problem but they are beyond the scope of this article.)

To reduce the effects of the Chaos Paradox, lawyers need to make a shift in the way they think. They need to acknowledge that they can alter the flow and quality of clients in their practice. But to do this, they need to adopt a thoughtful and systematic approach to referral marketing; that is, they need to dedicate themselves to cultivating referral sources. Whether you’re a solo practitioner or a partner in a medium-sized firm, this is the most successful, cost-effective approach to take-one which will enable you to compete very successfully, even with larger firms.

Take A Systematic Approach To Referral Marketing

The key word is “systematic.” An approach that is systematic produces reliable, controllable, and repeatable results. If you use a system, the steps you follow become part of your normal responsibilities. This relieves you of the stress of needing to figure out a new approach each time. And you rely on its effectiveness because it has been proven to produce the desired results.

The company I work with has devised a five-step, systematic approach to effective referral marketing. Clearly, each step has a number of component concepts and activities associated with it, but just identifying the key steps may be quite helpful if you find yourself caught up in the Chaos Paradox.

Identify Good Referral Sources

The first step is defining who to talk with when you market yourself. This step is practice area dependent, but some generalizations hold true. Often clients, past and present, are excellent sources for new clients. Additionally, any person who influences or deals with someone who could be a client is a potential referral source. Frequently other attorneys are great referral sources, but so are other trusted advisors. It is essential to think “out of the box” to identify some of these sources. To begin, write down a list of your potential references.

Take The Other Person?s Perspective When Speaking

The second step involves what to say. Attorneys generally have good language skills but often speak from a perspective that does not resonate with their intended audience. When deciding what to say, speak from the perspective of the referral source you are cultivating. It is always helpful to pose and answer the implicit questions in the referral source’s mind. That person is probably wondering what implications the conversation has for him or her, and for the person he or she will be referring to you. You should always be able to phrase your comments from other people’s perspective to maximize your influence with them.

Compose A “Laser Talk”

The third step involves how and when you have these strategic conversations. How you say something and the timing of what you say directly affect your influence. One way to improve your tone and timing is to construct a “laser talk”-a very concise statement that tells other people who you are, what you do, and essentially why they should care, all from their viewpoint. It is used in many referral development situations. One of its most important ancillary benefits is that it forces attorneys to really think about what they do and how they impact people from many different perspectives. It helps attorneys value themselves. If they don’t understand the impact of what they do, they can’t expect others to value their efforts.

Keep Track Of Your Activities And Gathered Information

The fourth step is to track your marketing efforts. Referral development is a process-not an event. As such, it is important to track not only who you talk with, their contact information, and the next steps you should take, but personal data as well. After all, this is really about building relationships with people who feel confident enough in you to send you clients. You are competing on relationships, not price. By tracking your activities and information, you can manage the system. It is almost impossible to track effectively without some computer-assisted contact management system in place.

Build In Accountability

The last step in the system is accountability. In a gym, working out with a trainer is generally more effective than working out alone because it provides the accountability that gives special emphasis to what we are doing. When implementing a referral marketing system, accountability helps ensure that we schedule and accomplish the necessary tasks. Without an accountability component, the demands of practicing law often prevent us from marketing consistently and efficiently.

Consider All Your Roles

A systemic approach to client development will help you deal with the other root cause of the Chaos Paradox: the fact that your feelings about yourself are contingent on how much law you perceive yourself to be practicing. The paradigm shift that will remedy this is to remember your professional identity has multiple dimensions. During those times when your personal caseload may be down, you are still playing many roles as an owner or shareholder. You are running a business and the activities associated with running a business are very important and greatly valued in our society. Being an entrepreneur and an attorney is an impressive feat.

So when you contemplate your contribution to your firm, consider all of the many administrative tasks you do, on top of the client development efforts that bring in a steady stream of good clients, the staff you hire and train to serve those clients, and the way your work makes a difference for so many people. Remember to take pride in the total experience of practicing law.
Break the Chaos Paradox. Build a smooth-running, profitable firm with a sustained marketing system that provides a consistent supply of good clients. Then, value the time and effort you put into running your business as much as you do being an attorney. Doing so brings absolution of sin #3!

Prior articles in the series:

  • Sin #1: Relying on the Kindness of Others
  • Sin #2: Seeing a Stranger In the Mirror
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