Lawyers are in the Relationship-Building Business, but are they Connecting?

by Kimberly Alford Rice on October 13, 2011

Some things appear to be so simple that we assume, dangerously, that everyone “gets it.” For lawyers, it is imperative to consistently and persistently cultivate, nurture, and strengthen their relationships with their universal network; with clients, to receive more work; with referral sources, to receive more referrals; with prospects, to develop new work; and so on.

Then why is it that a significant number of lawyers either have no system—formal, or otherwise—for getting and staying in touch with their contacts, or do a dismal job of staying connected?

What does ‘Getting and Staying in Touch’ mean? Again, a seemingly obvious question, but in 20-plus years, I have yet to encounter more than a handful of lawyers who understand, as a practical matter, the fundamental principle behind this phrase.

Starting with the widely known statistic that it takes from seven to ten annual “touches” to stay “top-of-mind,” lawyers are well served to develop — often with the support of their legal secretary/assistant/marketing or IT department — a consolidated contact list that includes clients; industry and professional contacts; referral sources; prospects; friends and family; school classmates — law school, college, high school, etc.; co-workers and former co-workers; contacts from former clerkships; association contacts; community contacts; and holiday card recipients.

Though it may be an arduous administrative task to assemble all the business cards, database printouts, etc., it is important to have all your contacts in one system. No list equals no connections, no communications with friends, peers, industry contacts and prospects, and, ultimately, no clients. Remember, we’re in the “relationship-building” business, and it becomes much more daunting to foster relationships if we don’t proactively get and stay in touch.

While I could outline the precise steps lawyers must take to assemble, organize, categorize and systemize their contacts, I’ll spare the reader the administrative details here. I will merely point out that once the task of gathering and entering all your contacts into a central system—Microsoft Outlook can handle the job—is complete, lawyers are sorely remiss if they fail to “categorize” their contact names.

For purposes of communicating regularly with your various constituents (clients, referral sources, prospects, etc.), no one communication message will be of interest to everyone on your contact list. For example, the e-newsletter or legal update that you send to your human resource clients regarding the importance of developing social media policies for the workplace, may be of little interest to your charitable organization contacts—unless they deal with employment law issues. So, you want to tailor your message to an intended audience. Developing “categories” of contacts is the best way to do this.

When it comes to how, when, and how often to reach out, most attorneys are primarily worried about being perceived as “too pushy,” “aggressive” or otherwise annoying. Understandable. But most people are so involved in their own lives that you won’t capture 100 percent of their attention most of the time. In other words, to adequately “register” on your targets’ radar, there must be regular, consistent, and persistent “touch points.” Touch points can be accomplished via means that include e-mail, phone calls, face-to-face contact, (for which there is no substitute), and social media outlets.

To build and grow a healthy practice, it is imperative to develop a system that enables you to get and stay in touch, and that you use that system with the appropriate mindset. In short, “It’s not about you.” Lawyers often ask me, “What is it that I’m saying to all these people?” They sometimes say, “I don’t want to bother these folks,” and express other such sentiments. My response is usually a variation on the theme of reaching out with a helpful spirit and with true intentions of checking in on your contacts’ business, seeing how they are making out with a recent transition to, for example, a new position, or company move. The universal sowing of seeds of goodwill will certainly reap only good things. Or, as Newton’s Laws of Motion provide, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” The more “goodwill” you put out, the more it will come back to you … usually multi-fold.

Attorneys are very busy people, often logging their time in six-minute increments. Where do they “find” the time to get and stay in touch, while allowing for much-needed downtime? If addressed productively, your contacts will soon join your personal network circle. Think about it: We all have people with whom we enjoy sharing time. What if those people were the same people in your categorized contact lists? How cool would that be? Kill two birds with, well, you know.

Many of of the successful senior attorneys among us have worked most of our professional careers to create this very scenario. It didn’t happen overnight. It took years, in some cases, and happened one contact at a time. This brings me to my next point: Leverage Technology. In our global Internet age, it has never been easier to “get and stay in touch” with a broad base of contacts via the technological tools available (e.g., LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blogging). Not a technophile? No sweat; there are people who make a career of helping clients “connect.” One such job title is “certified social media specialist.”

In the increasingly competitive legal services arena, cultivating strong relationships is more important than ever. As a successful lawyer and business owner, you must find a way to get and stay in touch with your desired audiences, targeted constituents and those who can ultimately help you grow a healthy practice. It is most easily done by:

  • Committing to making it happen.
  • Gaining buy-in from your support resources (internal and/or external) so everyone is on the same page.
  • Developing a viable and workable system for gathering, categorizing, and maintaining contacts on an ongoing basis.
  • Scheduling dates/calendar regular communication with your contacts in addition to the other regular “touches.”
  • Repeat.

Kimberly Alford Rice is principal of KLA Marketing Associates, a business development advisory firm focusing on legal services. She can be reached at kimberly@klamarketing.net.

A variation of the article also ran in The Legal Intelligencer.

 

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