How to Build a Book of Business: Business Development Tips for Women

What are the best practices for business development? Business Development Tips for Women: How to Build a Book fo Business | CorporetteHow do you build a book of business? Are there any especially great business development tips for women? Reader S, a new partner, wonders:

I am starting at a new firm as a partner where there is a great deal of emphasis on client development. Its a long story but I do not have much experience developing a book of business. I know you have done posts on networking but I don’t recall seeing anything related specifically to client development. Any tips on what to do differently in terms of networking when you are specifically seeking business and not just changing jobs? How do you “pitch” to a potential client? How do you even get your foot in the door to deliver a “pitch”? Thanks!

Congratulations, S!  I have almost no familiarity with this myself (at least in the non-blogger capacity), so I thought I’d poke around the web.  I’d guess your BEST bet would be finding a mentor or two among the partners at your own firm.  Keep in mind that what you’re looking for here isn’t necessarily someone whose practice is identical to yours (or what you want it to be) — in fact, they may see you as competition.  Instead, look for someone whose personality and style is similar to yours.  What works for an extrovert will not be the same for an introvert!  I’m curious to hear what readers say, but here are some great tips from the web:

  • Above the Law‘s Anonymous Partner recently had a three-part series on building a BigLaw book of business; s/he noted that in order to get other lawyers to refer you matters — even within your own firm — you have to be likeable.  Their in-house columnist, Mark Hermann, also reflected on how much business he’s gotten from various published articles over the years: zilch.
  • Yahoo! Small Business Advisor suggests you maintain your professional network, and try to position yourself as an expert in your field — look for speaking engagements, possible articles, committees to join, and more.
  • Lawyerist suggests you say hello to everyone, do non-profit work, hand out (well-designed) business cards to everyone, and never eat lunch alone.  (They don’t link to it, but this book may be helpful to you: Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time.)
  • This may or may not be helpful to Reader S, but this older post from Hiring Partner’s Advice advises BigLaw associates to work with a partner who has a bigger book of business (specifically, a client with a lot of litigation on the horizon) and make your name and quality work known to that client.

I will also say, as someone who has asked for and given referrals a few times over the years:  you’ll get the referral by distinguishing yourself in practice area (oh, X just spoke on that — you should call X); by price (I’ve certainly asked for reasonably priced, good lawyers), and by having done similar cases — so make sure that people in your network know that stuff, at least in broad strokes! If you’re at a very small firm, you may want to look into small business SEO — for example, if someone Googles “cruise law Florida,” where do you come up in the results? How can you get your name higher?  This is where company blogs come in very handy.  (You may also want to look into “personal branding” — make sure, at the very least, that your Linked In profile reflects what you’ve been doing, and consider maintaining your own professional website if it’s allowed by your firm.  A great place to start reading: Dan Schawbel‘s website and books.)

Readers, what are your best tips for building a book of business?  Any great “gets” that you’d care to share (anonymously, of course!)? 

(Pictured: Shutterstock/jannoon028.)

business development tips for women - how to build a book of business




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  2. Great tips! I find a lot of value in organizations that help you get to know professionals in other industries. (Like your local city’s young professional group.) It’s so helpful to build up a diverse network. You never know when a connection might come in handy!

  3. Only time for a quick comment at the moment but:

    1) NAWL recently released its latest Survey on Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms – NAWL press release notes that one big factor firms point to as a reason for the low numbers of female equity partners is lack of business development, so this is important! See our 3/4/14 news coverage post for more on this.

    2) We know there’s a need here and we’re now putting the finishing touches on a practical resource to efficiently help women lawyers with marketing and business development. To stay in the loop, you can join our email community on the site.

    Look forward to discussing this topic more, have a great day all!

  4. To the OP: one of the things you have to do is try to figure out a way to make use of your existing assets. For example, I know one very successful attorney whose family was Swiss and French and she networked with a lot of cultural institutions from those countries, which in turn resulted in her getting tons of referrals from those nationals.

    Other things you can do: join organizations as said above. If you have a co-op board, serve on it, etc. Ask a local paper to let you write an advice column on legal issues in your area. Or start a blog with topical developments in your area of law.

    Also – refer business to others! A very good rule I’ve heard is never ever turn down a case; if you can’t take it because it’s not what you do or the client can’t pay what you charge, don’t say no; say you will get back to them with someone and refer it out. People will then refer cases back to you – it’s a small world and it’s a great way to build your network.

    Last but not least, this is an obvious one, but get your name on lawyer referral lists with as many bar orgs as you can.

  5. I’d love to hear any suggestions from plaintiffs’ lawyers on how to generate clients. Other than just trying to meet as many people as possible, nothing in the traditional “book of business” guidelines is of any use to me — it’s not as if there are speaking engagements or conferences that would reach an audience of people interested in filing an EEOC complaint for race discrimination, bringing a class action lawsuit for false advertising, or suing their surgeon. And since there’s no such thing as a “book of business”, when your client typically has one discrete legal need, your contributions can dry up very quickly as soon as something settles.

    As of right now, I’ve just been going to random social Meet Ups to just meet more people socially, in the hopes that maybe one of them will have an injury related to my practice area and will remember me, but I feel like there should be more things I can do. Anyone have any creative ideas?

    • AnonInfinity :

      I don’t know where you live, so this might not work everywhere, but the bar in my state is generally cordial. I am primarily a defense lawyer, but I am on good terms with lots of plaintiffs’ lawyers. Sometimes people will call me with random plaintiff work, and I’ll send them along to some of my friends who do plaintiffs’ work. Definitely don’t completely discount the idea of networking with other lawyers.

    • Fellow plaintiff's side here :

      Not so fast. I think there are some opportunities for this that might not have occurred to you. For example, you could try to speak at the meeting of a labor union, trade group, or various community or cultural organizations on topics related to your practice, like how to preserve a potential EEOC claim or various consumer-protection issues. And while it’s true that most of our clients come to us with a discrete legal need, my experience tells me that contributions don’t dry up quickly if you did a good job, because clients will talk.
      The plaintiff’s bar gets a bad rap, and some times deservedly so, for advertising that crosses ethical lines, but there is still room for people who are doing this right to market themselves as advocates for folks who are often woefully under-served. And not just under-served legally: You could serve on a board for a local charity or community development organization, which will put you in contact with lots of different people. Referrals are a big source of business on the plaintiff’s side of things, but it’s also a matter of getting on the ground with folks who aren’t lawyers and making yourself approachable to them. You’re right that you probably can’t do that at traditional venues like speaking engagements marketed at corporate counsel and conferences, but it doesn’t mean it cannot be done.

    • Can you do some presentations to local attorneys on the nuts and bolts of plaintiff’s actions or recent trends? You may not get a whole slew of referrals from the defense bar. But, firms who are general practice firms likely have to refer cases out, either for conflict reasons or they just don’t do that type of work.
      Also, is there an option to write a piece in a local paper or business publication on some topic of interest?

    • you can definitely get business through referrals at speaking by bar seminars, etc.

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