Chapter 17 - It's Time to Shag Clients
Finally, the subject of where to get all these clients. Bear in mind something important. Getting your first clients is often not as easy as adding clients to your portfolio. So, you may have to do some unpleasant, but necessary things.
One way is to cold call. "I'm an attorney in the area helping businesses with collections on delinquent accounts. Can I speak with your person who handles accounts payable?" To this day, my attorney friends cannot bring themselves to believe this method was a primary component in starting my solo practice. "Why the shame of it! Having to grovel like that." Meanwhile, they still ponder whether law school was really worth it. Go figure!
There are other ways, too. Keep your eyes and ears open. One attorney boasts how easy it was to start a family practice by frequenting topless bars. "So many of the people who go there have marital and child support issues. They are basket cases. Plus, you pick up some criminal defense, too. And hey, you get entertained along the way." (If you're into that sort of thing. I never found them entertaining and would not go if you paid me.).
If you have young kids and go to PTA-type meetings, once you are known as an attorney, inevitably, single parents will be asking you about divorce and child support questions. If you enjoy a game of pool, go to a pool joint with your friend. Challenge a few other guys you met over a beer to a game of pool. Strike up some conversations during the game about law practice:
You're a lawyer?
Do you know anything about construction cases?
So, you picked up your first construction case from the guy in the pool hall. Ask him some questions:
Were you the only one who got burned?
Oh no! That evil scam artist burned the tile guy, the electrician and the drywall guy. Probably others, too.
Really? Proving this pattern may help our case. Can you find these guys?
You might pick up a handful of other clients from this one, little case. (Bear in mind, you need to apprise your clients about the prospects of a possible "limited pie" and simultaneous representation of multiple clients. Be versed in the rules of professional conduct.)
If you attend church, this can be a good venue to find clients. The idea is basically, when you are out and about among people, make it known you are a lawyer. You do not have to say, "I'm a lawyer, and I need business." You can just say something, like, "What do you think about the new law that X?" Then, the conversation strikes up, and when you appear versed in conversing on law, it will become obvious to them. They will ask, "Are you are lawyer or something?"
You have to be around people for them to know you exist. Do not sit around thinking that your intellectualism will draw clients. It will not.
If you get some trial experience behind your belt, your name will get around. There are plenty of clients out there who pick attorneys simply because they are known to go the distance for their clients. In fact, there are other attorneys out there who take on cases but are like deer the headlights. They took the case hoping it would settle, but they cannot get it settled. You will get calls from these attorneys asking if you want to be "cut-in" on the case for helping to try it if necessary. Other attorneys who took on cases but are not comfortable with procedure will call you once in a while and say something like, "I need help responding to a motion for summary judgment."
Do not ignore phone calls. Make your cell phone number available. Take calls after hours and on weekends. A client who calls you after hours or on a weekend and can actually reach and talk to you is a good thing. Clients need regular hand-holding. While you take all the legal mumbo-jumbo for granted because of your comfort with it, many clients are not comfortable at all being involved in a lawsuit. The number-one reason for grievances, bar none, is for not returning calls. Typically, this is also coupled with sitting on clients' files and doing little to nothing on them. Then, if a retainer has been paid and the work has not been done, when the client asks for a refund, the procrastinating attorney will be in a jam because that retainer was spent a long time ago, and he or she does not have money in the bank to give a prompt refund.
This is how we do it. You waded through all this to get here. No miracles. No magic. No special skills. But you will never get these people if you do not have the skills as described in the previous section to close the deal. Moreover, you will never get these people if you fail in the first few months because you were misguided enough to load yourself up with overhead and guarantee yourself failure.
You will lose all of your clients en masse if they are buddies and you foul-up on one of their claims. They will all see you as incompetent. You will lose them all en masse when the landlord shuts your doors for non-payment of rent. And you might be glad that the suffering from all the monthly overhead ended anyway. So, get the "entitlement mentality" out of your head. You do not need to spend money on overhead, except for the basic research materials, a computer, the internet, a cell phone and some office supplies. You should never be in a financially precarious situation when it comes to being a lawyer. There is no point in it. You are paid for your knowledge. You have footed that bill and likely will be paying it for years. You do not need more bills.
Finally, do not represent friends and family, with one small exception. It is okay to represent them with something simple and "transactional-like." But if you do, charge them the going rate - or not less than 75% of it. Friends and family bring an additional burden on you when it goes beyond this. Once you get deep into it, how are you going to withdraw and fire your client? What if it does not go the way they hope and they start beginning to believe their misfortune is your fault? This is not an "it might happen." This is an "it will happen." You will feel used, and your relationships will become strained. It is very difficult to say, "no," but you are best-advised to develop this habit before bad circumstances visit you.
As should be obvious, if you follow the advice in the prior chapters, this chapter almost takes care of itself. You still have to make yourself known, but that is about it. Amazingly, too many readers walk away after reading this book as if they just read a "think positive" book by Tony Robbins or Suze Orman. The big critique is, "You still didn't tell me how to get clients." I wish there was a mathematical logic to solve this problem, but there is not. There is not a soul on the planet who can tell you, "If you go to the bingo hall on Thursday evenings, you will walk out with 1.5 clients." Sorry. It does not work that way. As a counter-critique (fair is fair), young attorneys feel like their prestigious JD degrees and new law licenses ought to entitle them to something. Then, when they realize they are not client-magnets, they are looking for someone else to magnetize them. Sorry, you will have to magnetize yourselves. This book shows you the concept of rubbing two pieces of iron together to create a magnet. You have to do the rubbing. I cannot do it for you, nor will anybody else. As you make your attempts, do not give up going to the bingo hall (or wherever) because you did not get a client that day. There were people there listening to you and sizing you up. They are thinking about maybe talking to you about preparing their wills in the future. They were not ready to discuss it that night.
Also, if you do not enjoy the venue in which you try to find your clients, you are probably wasting your time. You are not fun if you are not where you want to be. When you are not having fun, you are not as approachable - whether you think it shows or not. Find something fun which involves people who are potential clients.
If you try to build clients without building relationships, it is more difficult to build a steady practice. Using the bingo hall example above, if you give up on the bingo hall idea prematurely, you missed out on those people who were planning on discussing their needs with you in a week or two. Many people, first and foremost, want to be comfortable with, and know, you before they start entrusting you with their legal needs. So, the attorneys who are not out building relationships are missing out on half of what it takes to build a clientele.
Obviously, you need to use some common sense about the crowd you run with. Your broke contemporaries are not likely going to be hiring you. You need to focus some part of your life on building relationships with those who can afford to hire you. Often times, you can predict the particular needs of such people, too. At bingo halls, the needs more typically will involve wills, estate planning, probate and real estate.
If you are a dedicated introvert and will not work to change this trait, I apologize that this message appears so late in the book. You might as well not read any further. Law is, ipso facto, the practice of regulating human relations. You cannot take humanity out of it. A confirmed introvert will need someone who can get clients and business. Usually, a job as an associate, an assistant district attorney, etc. are where introverts need to go.
Next, you need to know when to say "when."
© 2015, Jeff M