Two Growing Trends in America: Platform Tennis and Legal Business Development

Part of being an effective marketer these days is authenticity. I’m trying to practice what I preach by sharing more about my personal life and the interests that occupy my time outside of helping attorneys with their business development efforts.

One of my pastimes or passions is a sport you may not have heard about before. And no, it’s not pickleball! It’s called platform tennis, or also known by some as paddle tennis. It’s like tennis, racquetball and ping-pong all wrapped up in one sport and then played outside during the cold Chicago winters. If you consider Chicagoans distaste for cold weather, I finally found a reason to love the cold winter months.

When I started playing this crazy sport seven years ago, I was fortunate enough to have a 10-time national champion, Howard Sipe, as my coach and mentor. Like most athletes and top rainmakers, we learn so much from the best that it’s hard to fail on their advice. Being the good student that I am, I took every nugget I could from him until the well was dry. My game improved so dramatically that I became one of the best players at my club.

So, what does this have to do with legal business development and growing a law practice? Here are five lessons I learned from my hero Howard Sipe that directly relate to growing and maintaining your law practice.

Paddle lesson #1

Positioning, positioning, positioning! The key to a successful paddle game is knowing where you stand and anticipating where the ball is going to go before it gets there. It amazes me how little the top players in the game move. It almost seems like they are lazy. Trust me, they are not! In marketing your law practice, it’s critical position yourself at the right firm, with the right specialty and solving the right types of problems. Be sure to look at the economy, market trends and how your clients’ needs have changed.

As you know, many of the top players in law are specialists. Bob Clifford for aviation personal injury, Anita Ventrelli for high-stakes divorce or Marc Siegel for plaintiff side labor & employment. Look ahead and pick a lane where you can thrive.

Paddle lesson #2

Down the middle solves the riddle. In paddle this means don’t try for crazy, low percentage shots that are tough to hit. If you play down the middle, your chance of errors diminishes greatly.

In legal marketing, sticking to the basics can get you ahead much more quickly. Focus on your existing network versus going out and meeting a ton of new people. While both may work, only one of them can get you results quickly and with less time and effort needed. Just today, I asked a happy client if I could go through her LinkedIn contacts to identify a few lawyers that may be interested in dramatic growth like she was. “Done deal,” she said. Now, how hard was that? In less than five minutes of effort, I’ll be speaking with one or two new lawyers I never would have met before.

Paddle lesson #3

Set up the offense. If you try to win every shot that comes your way, there is very little chance for success in this sport. It is almost exclusively a game of errors. It’s simple, the less errors you make, the better chance of winning.

When looking to grow your law practice, set yourself up by planning and executing with a proven process and language. This means that winging it or swinging wildly for the fences will amount to wasted time, money and effort. Invest in yourself to learn business development, marketing, social media or effective speaking to get a greater return on your unbillable time. Having more of your own clients equates to greater control over your future in law.

Paddle lesson #4

Know your role on the court. Part of being on a team is playing with a number of different people, with different strengths and weaknesses. The best paddle teams typically have an alpha and a beta. This is important because when you put two alphas together, they will fight to control the offense at the risk of losing the match. The best partners have one of each, the beta supporting and setting up the alpha. The alpha can’t easily do the job without the betas set-up skills.

The key takeaway here is look for mutual partnerships that will benefit you and your cohort, be it a colleague at your firm, a new strategic partner or even your clients. How can you add value for them and them for you? I partner with my clients to provide valuable introductions for each of them just about every week. This is in addition to the coaching and training I provide to get them to their goals and beyond. When they reciprocate, I am appreciative for the introduction and in knowing that I don’t have to market as hard that month.

Paddle lesson #5

Don’t run through your volleys. Paddle is a game of serving and volleying. Most novice players and even more experienced ones, like myself, miss easy volleys when we don’t stop our feet to make a clean shot. Anytime I miss a volley, I check in with myself to see if I did in fact stop before making the play. I didn’t. As we all know, it’s all about making adjustments and not repeating bad habits.

In business development, it’s clear that most lawyers don’t take a moment to think about their past experiences to try and identify the gaps or areas of improvement. What a huge mistake! My attorney clients will tell you that I am all about reviewing the proverbial game tapes to find any and all missteps. We even track daily activity to see what’s working or not and how this activity is converting into new business. This is a proven way to become great at something. Take one minute after your next prospective client meeting or event and see if there’s anything you could have done better.

I hope you enjoyed learning a little about my favorite sport and took away a few nuggets as well. Check out “platform tennis” on YouTube to learn more about this exciting and amazing sport. I still remember years ago, as a tennis guy, looking outside in February at those idiots running around in animal cages with a hat and gloves. Boy was I the fool. Learning to do something well like paddle, or business development, can make a huge difference in your enjoyment of life and achieving your goals.