Roll up your sleeves, pull up a chair, pay homage to your personal muse, or do whatever you do when you embark on something new and important. Today is a two for one day. First, we will look at how do get good cases for you. I may wax a little philosophical. I may go for some “zen in the law”. Please don’t be mad. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t dismiss this part and think “I’ll wait for the real stuff”. I will tell you how to actually get the good cases for you, but I want you on my team first. Oh, and please don’t skip to the bottom for the “27 Ways”, which are not necessarily there to get the good cases for you. Those are there to show you how easy it is to actually get business. But I don’t want your goal to be “getting business”; I want you to know you actually can do that, it’s easy. I want you to tackle the more challenging goal which is getting the right business for you.
Why am I emphasizing you? Because I wish somebody had pointed out to me that this was a better way to approach building a law practice than just trying “27 Ways”.
So, know that you have permission to envision. Envision your practice as successful. What kinds of cases are you working on? How much money are you making? Who are your clients? Who is working for you? Where are you being quoted? What kinds of cases are you turning down? Where are you going on vacation?
Hmmm. Another hokey goal setting talk? Well, do you want to actually be successful? Or are you “hoping” to be successful. Which approach would have you more likely to actually do real actionable things towards that end? In the limited time we all have, the decisions we make each hour, each day, over how to use our time, are directly controlled by how strongly we envision.
I emphasize you because I want you to permit yourself to envision a successful law practice, in detail. Why? Because I want you to take the steps to make it happen, and this will involve making certain decisions and acting on them. For you, nobody else. And to do this you have to value you. It’s sort of a private thing. I’ll respect your privacy. Have the conversations with yourself if necessary. Have them with someone you trust. Have them with me if you wish, I’ll keep it confidential. The thing is, do not fear exploring what you want.
Phew, this is getting heavy. In my next post I will approach “How to Get Good Cases For You” from a perspective where you have really defined these things, the good cases for you. Hopefully, we can take specific steps towards this very personal goal.
Anyway, for anyone who thinks it’s tough to “get business”, and doesn’t care to work towards the more evolved “good cases for you”, I give you “27 Ways to Get All Kinds of Legal Business.” I’ve done most of these, they all take some amount of effort but they also all work.
1. Mail (email) announcements to an expansive list of friends, relatives and acquaintances. Most of you have a larger circle of acquaintances than you realize. This list should also include those you would like to get to know.
2. Join the referral panel of local bar associations.
3. Sign up for the 18-B panel (court appointed misdemeanor cases) or the comparable court in your jurisdiction.
4. Take the seminars for Court Evaluator, Referee, and Guardian ad Litem appointments.
5. Work part-time as an Administrative Law Judge if the opportunity presents itself.
6. Make yourself known to local real estate brokers and ask for referrals.
7. Get to know various accountants, and refer them clients. Trust me, they will refer you business.
8. Refer clients to all kinds of professionals and trades-people, and follow up. It’s a great way to stay in front of these people who will then be forced to remember who sent them new business.
9. Answer ads in the Law Journal (or wherever) for part-time and project work.
10. Place ads in the Law Journal (or wherever) offering specific services.
11. Sign up with lawyer temp agencies.
12. Place ads in local newspapers.
13. Place ads in out of State Bar journals, especially nearby states. I hit a few home runs with this one.
14. Let other lawyers know you are available in “conflict situations”. Quick story. A month into my practice, a lawyer in my suite asked me to represent the other side of a business transaction. His client had a drapery and upholstery business. My client was the “upholsterer” and was buying that part of the business. When I looked at the contract it seemed kind of unfair. My new client said what foreign born clients always say “What do you think, Mr. Barry?” I said the contract seemed kind of unfair, and he said “I think that too, but I want to buy the business. Can you fix it?” So, I negotiated a better deal, and the referring lawyer was kind of mad at me. At the closing he whispered to me, “Your client will never cut it. He’ll pay some of the notes and go out of business.” Three years later, after he paid the notes, I was his lawyer when he bought the drapery business, too.
15. Do per diem work (court assignments for other attorneys). People make a living just doing this.
16. Do a pro bono case because you want to. It’s just good karma, and invariably the client refers you paying clients.
17. Be accommodating to people who approach you in court. I’m amazed when lawyers blow off people who approach them in court. One more quick story. I was once coming out of Housing Court when an old lady approached me and said “Mister, is this where I make a case against my Landlord?” Rather than just say “yeah”, I said “What kind of case?” She said, “I fell down the steps because he doesn’t clean the garbage, and I broke my arm.” I said, “This is Housing Court, but it’s more for rent problems. Your case would be in a different court and you would need a lawyer for a case like that.” She said, “Are you a lawyer?” Bottom line, case was settled for $30,000. Be nice to people who approach you in court.
18. Be especially alert in courts where clients tend to approach you. If you are already in Criminal Court, or Housing, or Family, or Small Claims, potential clients will approach. Be prepared.
19. Participate in things you enjoy, having nothing to do with law. Notice I don’t say, “go to bar association meetings, or chamber of commerce, or political clubs”. These are full of lawyers. I played softball with a bunch of guys from my wife’s cousin’s lodge in Brooklyn where nobody was a lawyer, or even knew a lawyer. I did not join the team to get business. I wanted to play ball and be friendly with cousin Al, which I did. I also got all kinds of new business. As an aside, our catcher was in “funeral director school”. This was in the 1980’s. If his beeper went off during the game, we all took our hats off.
20. Pay attention to “ethnic community leaders” and not necessarily your own ethnic community. What I mean is, if you happen to get a client from a close-knit ethnic community, and the client is somewhat educated, chances are people will trust his referrals. Those referrals will come to you if you pay attention by giving such clients extra attention.
21. Pay attention to how you answer the question “what do you do?”. If you do a lot of things, don’t say “general practice”. Size the questioner up and take an educated guess at what the most appropriate response should be.
22. Accept credit cards. Many lawyers still don’t and there are times when you being one who does, gets the business.
23. Participate in a pre-paid legal plan. I met some of the worst clients ever by doing this, but hey, you will get business.
24. Teach a paralegal class. I did this. It was fun. I hired the smartest student in the class who turned out to be one of the best clerks I ever had. She worked for me while in law school, and she has been a successful attorney for many years. I also got a few small cases from other students.
25. Take speaking engagements … anywhere. I always got new business after speaking at senior centers or the library. You make a call or two with a suggested topic, and you are generally in.
26. If you are in a law suite, or a building with a lot of lawyers, introduce yourself to every lawyer and tell them you are available for per diem work, or referrals of cases.
27. Be yourself. It’s not as stressful as the alternatives.
This should get your synapses fired up and thinking about your approach to the New Year. Next post in February….back to getting the right business for you.
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.