Got Clients? How Did THAT Happen?

In the spirit of Solo Practice University, many expert voices teaching you how to build and grow your solo practice, I am very pleased to announce that Solo Practice University has a new monthly columnist, Debra Bruce. She will be providing you excellent practice-building advice in her column ‘Lessons From the Lawyer-Coach’ appearing the third Thursday of every month. You may want to check out her inaugural guest piece many months ago, 12 Social Media Ethics Issues for Lawyers. Please make her feel welcome with your comments and suggestions for future columns.

Lessons From The Lawyer-Coach

Debra L. Bruce is president of Lawyer-Coach LLC , a law practice management coaching and training firm, and author of the Raising the Bar blog. She practiced law for 18 years before becoming the first Texas lawyer credentialed by the International Coach Federation (ICF). She has served as Vice-Chair of the Law Practice Management Committee of the State Bar of Texas and as leader of the Houston chapter of ICF. You can follow her at or at

Got Clients? How Did That Happen?

“I’ve spoken many times at CLE programs, and I never got any business from it.” Rick Albers’ jaw dropped when he heard that. Why was Rick so surprised? A lot of lawyers (and legal marketing experts) say that speaking at CLE programs is a waste of time. It just educates your competition.

Rick was stunned because he himself had referred four different matters to the lawyer who said that. Rick, a Texas real estate lawyer, chose that attorney because he heard him speak at bar association programs, and concluded that he was very knowledgeable. In fact, it was because they both got involved in bar association work that Rick came to know him in the first place. Perhaps the lawyer thought Rick referred the matters to him just because of their acquaintance. If so…he was wrong.

Marketing legal services involves planting a lot of seeds. Some never germinate, and the ones that do can take a long time to harvest. That time lag can distort our perception of what works.

Decades ago when I was a solo, someone asked how I got my clients. For the first time, I realized that I didn’t actually know. That question spurred me to analyze my list of current and former clients. I discovered that 75% of my business came from referrals from other lawyers. A surprising percentage of the best business referrals came from my competitors.

These two stories illustrate a significant flaw in the business development efforts of many lawyers. Man of us don’t have a system to measure which activities produce the outcomes we desire. We just rely on our impressions.

Find What Already Works for You

By analyzing my client list, I stumbled upon an excellent marketing tool. I sometimes invited opposing counsel to join me for lunch or an adult beverage when the legal matter concluded. I didn’t do it for business development. I just wanted to smooth over any rough edges that might have developed from the tensions of adversarial representation.

My analysis revealed that those same lawyers later referred some of my best clients! I realized that my gesture of rapprochement resulted in positive relationships with lawyers who knew the quality of my work first hand. I became the first person they thought of when they needed to make a referral due to a conflict. I decided to make it a habit to extend an invitation to opposing counsel in every matter.

Out of the Blue

Do clients ever call you up “out of the blue”? It may seem that way, but something led them to you, and you need to find out what it was. Once when I asked a new client how they found me, she said, “We’ve been reading your articles for the last 3 years, and we think maybe you can help us.”

Three years! If I weren’t in the habit of inquiring, I might have concluded that writing articles doesn’t bring in business. That incident also highlights two important points. One, ask every new client and every referral source how they found you and why they chose you. Two, to get an accurate picture, you need to keep records over an extended period of time.

Track Your Efforts and Analyze Your Results

Track your activities and your new business in a way that lets you easily review, reconfigure and analyze it. Look for patterns and commonality. Record as much detail as you can get. If the client found you through the Internet, what search terms did they use? If another lawyer referred you, how did the client know that lawyer? If they saw your advertisement, where and when did they see it? If they heard you speak, what did they remember? If they are on your mailing list, did they find what you sent them valuable?

These steps are particularly valuable for new solos. If you are a new lawyer, you’ll be trying lots of different things. How else will you know what worked? If you have been practicing for awhile, but recently went out on your own, you may be surprised to find that some activities that worked before won’t work now. You’ll also get clients you wouldn’t have gotten before. You need data to help you identify what efforts to tweak.

If you have a prospective client you hope to get business from, record every time you “touch” them. A “touch” might be in person, by phone, letter, email, social media, speaking, writing, or advertising. Note the length of time between the first touch and the date they become a client. This data will help you persevere in your business development efforts. When you realize that it took three years and 12 touches to get that most recent new client, you won’t lose heart with the next prospect after only one phone call and a lunch!

Finally, look for evidence of which activities bring in top tier clients, and which tend to attract less desirable ones. That requires you to “grade” your clients so you can recognize the common traits of the more desirable ones. A few years ago, one of my lawyer clients discovered from his records that his Yellow Pages ad attracted more “tire kickers” and his website prospects came in ready to sign up. He also watched over time as the website business increased and the Yellow Pages business declined. He canceled his Yellow Pages ad.

When you get new business and you can uncover how THAT happened, you’ll know how to make it happen again!

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6 comments on “Got Clients? How Did THAT Happen?

  • Great post! I do have a question though: how do you get clients to give you this information? Do you just include it in this much detail on an intake sheet or do you ask the client in conversation? When is the best time to ask them these questions?

  • This is exciting news. I know Debra – I’ve seen her speak a couple of times and spoken with her a couple of times. She is an excellent speaker and I’ve even approached her to speak on social media issues and healthcare lawyers (after hearing her speak at a Houston Bar Association event on that very issue). Bravo!


  • Rachel-
    Thanks for your question. Here are my thoughts.
    I would definitely include a question on my intake questionnaire like “How did you find us?” or “How did you hear about us?” Then when you meet with them, you would normally be discussing the info they provided, right? Just fold your inquireis into the conversation. You would probably be talking mostly about the problem they want you to help them with, but at first you might clarify any questions about the information they gave you. That would be a good time to ask. So the conversation might go like this:

    “Ok, let’s see if we have the basic info we need here, and that I understand everything. Oh, I see that you were referred to me by Bob Smith. He’s a great guy. How do you know him?”

    OR “I see you found us on the Internet. Do you happen to remember what terms you were searching on? We want to make sure folks like you can find us.”

    OR “So you heard me speak. When was that? I’m flattered that you remembered me. What stood out for you?” (if it was a long time ago) OR “I’m so glad that you got value from my talk. What were some of your takeaways?”

    OR “Oh, you saw our ad. I’m glad that it helped you find us. Was that the one in ______? What was it about it that spoke to you?”

    If someone contacts you and it is not clear that you’ll get past the first conversation, that might be the best time to ask. When I get emails with questions or with inquiries about my services, I answer their question. Then at the end or in a p.s. I often add “I’m always curious about how people find me. If it was through the Internet, do you remember what terms you searched on?”

    So that’s all a long way of saying…have a simple structure that will automatically elicit some information, when possible. Make other inquiries casually. Don’t make a big deal of it, and if people don’t remember or seem at all bothered by the question, just move on.

    I hope that helps!

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