Most conversations around developing a lawyer’s book of business focus on defining who is most valuable, the rainmaker or the law wonk.
Leave it to lawyers to assume only one Gold Star can be awarded.
Talking narrowly about law practice in the private sector, asking who is most valuable is not the right question.
The proper inquiry is how the business of law works, appreciating that all the roles that make up a law firm are valuable and necessary for success.
Why a lawyer’s book of business is essential
In business, marketing and sales are essential functions. Marketing is the process of attracting qualified leads. Once the qualified lead is on the hook, a sales process or salesperson helps close the lead, converting the client to a paying customer.
Once marketing and sales have done their job, a company’s production line–in a law firm that’s the legal billers–must then process and produce the service (the widget, e.g., legal services) that was sold.
A private law firm has all these business functions: marketing, sales, and production.
Unfortunately, most law schools don’t teach lawyers the basics of business and economics. Law school produces tacticians. Often rookie lawyers are enculturated into the profession with bizarre and incorrect notions about the business of law:
- “Just be a great lawyer, and clients will come,”
- “Selling legal services is sleazy,” or,
- “Marketing is paying for an expensive legal award or table at a gala, and that’s how you get clients.”
These misconceptions are damaging and often go unchallenged by lawyers receiving bad advice from lawyers who don’t have any business or don’t have any business giving business advice.
Combining marketing and sales
When we talk about a lawyer’s book of business, we must first begin at an essential starting place for this conversation; all the parts of a business (including marketing, sales, and production) are crucial to its long-term viability and success.
Translation, rainmakers, and law wonks are essential to a law firm. They both get Gold Stars! Neither is more important than the other; they are symbiotic.
That said, without clients, a law firm will die. This article focuses on the crucial role of the rainmaker and why developing a business is an essential and unique function of a law firm.
A blend of marketing and sales is the unique function of business development. Business development, as defined in Forbes, is “the creation of long-term value for an organization from customers, markets, and relationships.”
When developing a book of business, the term “Book” implies a list of clients and companies that an attorney or law firm has retained. The term “business” refers to the revenue matters the firm processes for these clients generate.
Developing a Book can benefit a lawyer, individually, and a law firm, generally, in many ways–some obvious and some not so obvious. A well-maintained Book ensures the firm has work to do and clients to support, which is essential to keep the lights on and the law firm operating.
Revenue generation and origination
Generating revenue is the obvious benefit of developing a lawyer’s book of business. Active clients and matters in the law firm’s book, or Rolodex, represent a source of billable hours and fees, which contribute to the firm’s revenue and ability to pay for the essential things a law firm needs to operate, such as payroll, software, space, tools, etc.
Every business has some kind of associated expense. A law firm is no different. Law firms must generate enough revenue to afford to keep the lights on and have the raw tools needed to provide quality service to clients.
In addition to the direct benefit to the firm, many firms provide individual rainmakers with an incentive to make it rain in the form of “origination.” Your local bar rules will dictate what you can and can’t do.
But, in general, origination refers to a percentage or fee that the attorney responsible for initiating the relationship (the originator) receives as a payment from the firm.
Both high-level revenue generation and origination are well-understood and valid reasons for developing a Book. But they are not the only advantages of rainmaking.
Strategic client service and client satisfaction
Rainmakers typically play an integral role in relationship management. By meticulously managing their Book, attorneys can streamline client interactions, track case progress, maintain comprehensive records, and keep the client updated on what’s going on in their matter.
Dedicated and intentional efforts around a firm’s relationship management approach can improve client service and satisfaction.
Improved client relationships
A well-organized Book shows that clients trust the law firm or attorney and are likely to return in the future. This signifies clients’ trust in a law firm or attorney and acts as a powerful promoter for fostering long-term relationships.
When clients observe that their legal matters are managed with precision and care, it instills confidence in the professionalism and reliability of the legal services provided.
This trust becomes a cornerstone for client loyalty, increasing clients’ likelihood to return for future legal needs.
Furthermore, an organized Book allows attorneys to anticipate client requirements proactively, stay informed about case histories, and provide tailored legal advice—factors contributing to an enhanced client experience and solidifying the foundation for enduring client-attorney partnerships.
Additional opportunities for marketing and business development
Attorneys can use client data to tailor their marketing strategies to meet their clients’ needs better.
Utilizing client data empowers attorneys to customize and optimize their marketing strategies, ensuring a more targeted and effective approach that aligns closely with the specific needs of their clients.
By analyzing client data, attorneys can gain valuable insights into their client base’s preferences, challenges, and expectations.
This information enables the development of personalized marketing campaigns, focusing on the key issues that matter most to clients.
Tailoring marketing strategies based on client data allows attorneys to craft resonant messages, choosing the most relevant communication style.
Satisfied clients may refer new clients to attorneys and firms. A sizable Book can lead to a more significant number of referrals.
The power of client satisfaction extends beyond individual legal cases; it serves as a source for the growth of an attorney’s clientele.
Satisfied clients, impressed by the quality of legal services, often become advocates who willingly refer new clients to the attorney or firm. As a result, a substantial and well-maintained Book signifies a thriving practice and sets the stage for a continuous influx of referrals.
A sizable Book is a testament to clients’ positive experiences, showcasing the attorney’s ability to deliver on promises and meet client expectations.
This reputation for excellence becomes a magnet for referrals, as existing clients confidently recommend the attorney’s services to friends, family, or colleagues needing legal assistance.
A well-maintained lawyer’s book of business can facilitate the transition of clients and cases when an attorney retires, leaves the firm, or passes away.
It ensures that clients continue to receive their legal services seamlessly. In the face of an attorney’s retirement or departure, a well-organized book becomes an invaluable resource for the incoming attorney or the firm’s transition team.
It provides insights into client preferences, ongoing cases, and the specific nuances of each legal matter. This foresight ensures that the transition is smooth, minimizing disruptions to client services and maintaining the continuity of legal representation.
Additionally, during unforeseen circumstances, such as an attorney passing away, a well-maintained Book becomes a lifeline for the firm and surviving colleagues. It offers essential details that enable a prompt and effective handover of responsibilities.
Data and Analytics
A Book provides valuable data on cases handled, client demographics, and case outcomes, which can create future case strategies.
Attorneys can draw on this information to identify patterns, assess the effectiveness of different legal approaches, and refine their future strategy based on the lessons learned from past cases.
This process enhances the attorney’s ability to anticipate challenges, optimize legal strategy, and ultimately improve the overall quality of legal representation.
Client demographics stored in the Book provide an understanding of the attorney’s clientele. By analyzing this data, attorneys can tailor their approaches better to meet different client segments’ unique needs and expectations.
This personalized strategy not only enhances client satisfaction but also contributes to building stronger client relationships.
Additionally, insights into case outcomes contribute to a strategic understanding of legal precedents and potential challenges. Attorneys can leverage this information to enhance their overall tactics and develop strategies.
Action plan to help you develop a lawyer’s book of business
1. Identify your niche
Finding a niche when creating a book of business will help you stand out, be seen as an expert in a specific area of the law, and build a solid client base. Some tips for identifying your niche include:
- Assess strengths and weaknesses: What areas of the law do you excel in? What are you most passionate about? What made you want to become a lawyer?
- Research the legal market: By researching the legal market of your region, you can examine what area of the law has a growing demand.
- Know who you serve and shout it from the rooftops: Determine your avatar, that is, who exactly is the type of client you choose to serve. Don’t try to be all things to all people.
- Expand your expertise: Consider pursuing training or education in your chosen specialized area, including CLE courses or other educational tools.
2. Do the work, market, and networking with your target audience
Successful networking requires a genuine and long-term commitment to building relationships and providing value to others. Creating a positive reputation as an attorney is vital. Some tips include:
- Join professional associations: Joining certain groups can help you connect with other attorneys, potential clients, and industry professionals. Make sure to attend the association’s events and meetings. Develop relationships with other members of the association.
- Maintain a solid online presence: Creating and maintaining a professional online presence, being active on social media platforms, including Linked In, and establishing a professional website are key.
- Publish legal content: Write articles, blogs, or posts on legal topics relevant to your practice and clientele.
- Make referrals, help others, and reciprocity will lead referrals back to you: Build strong relationships with other attorneys in different practice areas. This will be beneficial in the future. Attorneys can refer clients to you when a case falls out of their specialty.
- Attend networking events: This will allow you to meet other legal professionals and potential clients.
- Pro bono work: This will show your commitment to your community.
- Seek client reviews: Encourage satisfied clients to leave their reviews on social media or your website.
- Stay in touch: Contact your professional network, including former colleagues, professors, and co-workers.
3. Nurture your relationships and follow up
Maintaining and nurturing client relationships is a lot of work. Making the initial connection is just the tip of the iceberg. In most instances, you actually have to follow up and nurture the relationship before any business comes of it.
- Effective and prompt communication: Maintain open, transparent communication with clients. Respond promptly to emails and phone calls and keep clients informed about the progress of their cases. Be sure to tell them when you can speak or communicate with them again.
- Active listening: Listen attentively when speaking to your client. This shows that you care about their concerns and understand their goals. Additionally, nonverbal communication (such as facial expressions and eye contact) goes a long way.
- Transparency: Be transparent about timeliness, potential outcomes, and fees.
- Set expectations: Establish clear expectations for what you will offer the client when representing them.
- Educate clients: Help clients understand the legal process, their rights, and the potential outcomes of their case.
- Celebrate milestones: Celebrate wins with your client, such as a successful hearing or negotiation.
4. Ask for work!
Most lawyers are incorrectly taught to see “Sales” as a bad word or don’t understand that law firms, like any other business, need to sell.
If you give away your services, you’ll go bankrupt or won’t be able to afford to provide the quality of care the client deserves. Selling is an act of love when it is performed at the highest levels.
Don’t forget to actually ask your prospective client to hire you! Close. The. Deal. Period.
Metrics and tools for tracking your book of business growth
It’s essential to regularly review and analyze the data collected in your book of business to make informed decisions and adjust your strategies for growth.
- Client acquisition rate: Measure how many clients you have acquired in a set period to understand how successful your current efforts are in expanding your business.
- Client retention rate: Analyze the percentage of clients who have continued working with you and returned for further legal assistance.
- Revenue growth: Calculate your revenue growth from your book over a set period to assess your business’s financial development.
- Referral rate: Keep track of the number of new clients you have acquired from referrals to help exhibit how satisfied clients are to have referred your services.
- Matter volume: Monitor the number of cases you handle regularly to analyze your typical workload.
- Average matter value: Determine the average value of deals or cases in your Book to better understand the typical size of your cases and workload.
When developing your book of business, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Take one step at a time and improve as you go. Remember, when done by people who know what they are doing, sales is an act of love!
The necessity for lawyers to grasp fundamental business principles and develop a solid lawyer’s book of business cannot be understated.
A well-maintained Book of business is a linchpin for a firm’s success, ensuring not only revenue generation but also fostering trust, enabling strategic planning, and facilitating seamless transitions.
Embracing the multifaceted nature of law practice, this comprehensive approach not only sustains the firm’s financial health but also lays the foundation for enduring client-attorney partnerships and long-term success.