Writing under the pseudonym ‘Evan Richards’, an up-and-coming London corporate lawyer explains how to get ahead in the cut-throat game of business development
How does a junior lawyer build their own client base? It is one of the most difficult conundrums facing any young lawyer. After all, until you have been practising for many years and have a good few grey hairs to show for it, how can you expect clients to want you to advise them?
Clearly client loyalty is something that comes with time. But anyone who has ever browsed the job adverts for lawyers of seven or eight years’ plus standing will doubtless have seen numerous ads that insist on potential recruits having a ‘client following’. Despite this, many lawyers in their fledgling years seem to think that it is too soon for them to worry about it. They’re kidding themselves. Here’s how to start the process.
Select a target
On whom do you want to focus? If you work for corporate clients, then it probably goes without saying that you are unlikely to want to spend too much time working on the senior counsel or execs. Far better to focus on individuals at your level or just above, who, in any case, are the ones likely to still be needing your services in twenty years time.
Younger clients will in general be more likely to want to take advice from someone their own age, will be less likely to have cemented relationships with lawyers already and will be around in business longer to give you work in the future. Even now they may have more influence than you think.
The other key point is to focus on people with whom you have a rapport and with whom you would get on well if you met them in a normal social context. That will make the process much more fun and they are the relationships far more likely to be worth maintaining.
Get your own expenses account
The next thing is to sit down with your own bosses and ask them for a business development (BD) budget. Here it helps to have an enlightened boss. The amount that you ask for needn’t be a wild amount of money. Presentation is key. Highlight the benefits to the firm of them giving you this money; such as cementing relationships with key clients and getting close to the people that might be in charge five years from now.
Any boss worth their salt – and clearly there are far too many bosses around not worth their salt – should acknowledge what you are trying to do and provide you with a bit of help to do it.
If you are successful then you should see this as a real positive. Getting your firm to pay for drinks or a lunch with people that you (hopefully) like spending time with ought to be a real perk of the job!
Aim to become somebody’s ‘go to’ individual
As tempting as it might be to think otherwise, good relationship building does not just mean taking people out to the pub and buying them drinks. Consider whether there are simple ways that you could help people out professionally. For instance, I will always make sure that my main contacts know that they can pick up the phone to me if they need someone’s brain to pick, or have an idea that they would like to bounce off somebody without necessarily going straight to their boss.
Make it clear that this is not about formal advice, and that the chargeable timer won’t be on, just a few minutes on the phone to chat something through informally. It needn’t always be a legal point. It doesn’t matter. You must always make sure that your offer is not being abused, but small offers of help can go a long way.
Become an internet celeb
By virtue of your relative youth, you are likely to have another potentially significant advantage over the partners and managers with whom you work: an appreciation, and far deeper understanding of, social networking and other modern media.
Could the rainmakers of the future be the individuals who find ways to attract clients through the cult of internet celebrity? Perhaps. So be creative; think about how you can use the internet to build your name and ultimately win clients. Before too long those job adverts requiring a ‘following’ might not seem so out-of-reach…
Evan Richards (name changed) is a London-based corporate lawyer