As a young lawyer, there are a number of confusing and conflicting theories about book building and what role it should play in your life.
You may hear things from your firm’s leadership, marketing department or colleagues that sound like:
- “Business development is nothing to concern yourself with yet.”
- “You’re too new to worry about learning business develop- ment. Just focus on learning the law.”
- “Just wait until you make income partner, then you’ll make time for it.”
- “If you’re not making money from your business development efforts, why bother?”
While there may be smatterings of truth in each of these statements, it’s important for you to do your own research and make up your own mind about book building.
Making good choices is all about looking at the benefits for the time invested and deciding if you’re willing to commit to the effort. If your eyes are wide open, it will be easier to see the path clearly ahead of you. To assist with this, here are three thought-provoking tips to help you understand whether book building is right for you and how to get started on the path.
Young Lawyer Tip No. 1: Be a great lawyer first
Yes, it’s true. To be a great business developer, you must first be a great lawyer. Learning your craft is the single most important factor to shaping your future as a successful attorney. No matter what area of the law you are practicing, it’s important to think about your future now and what type of law you want to practice. Here are three key elements to consider as you sharpen your legal skills:
- Try to focus on the area of law that is most interesting to you. If you enjoy real estate, invest your time in that area. If you like to debate, focus on litigation. If there’s something that you are passionate about, don’t wait to get involved. While this might seem obvious, there are thousands of attorneys practicing in areas that are not interesting to them. When work is interesting or even fun, it can take away a lot of the day-to-day pressures that many lawyers face.
- Find a great mentor with whom you can learn. Even if your direct boss doesn’t have time for you, make an effort to find a strong mentor elsewhere. This can mean the difference between success and failure as an attorney and as a business developer. Having someone to talk to who has “been there and done that” will help you keep your perspective. Be sure to meet regularly and ask lots of questions. Most successful attorneys use mentors and coaches to help them to make positive changes throughout a career. These internal or external relationships also play a role in your book building if you decide to change practice areas or firms in the future.
- Be a sponge! I’ve heard the saying, “If I’m not learning, I’m dying.” So, whether you read the American Bar Association newsletter regularly, attend regular Continuing Legal Education events or listen to podcasts of attorneys speaking about the law, it’s important to keep learning. All of these resources and countless more will undoubtedly help you with your book building. Some of my clients have built their reputations and books on staying current with the ever- changing legal system and laws in their areas of practice. Look into the future if you can and try to see what’s coming up the pike that you can learn about and speak on before anyone else.
Young Lawyer Tip No. 2: Don’t Sell … Network!
For most young attorneys, your job shouldn’t be trying to close million-dollar deals with 60- year-old CEOs. It’s just not realistic to do so. Rather, start planning and executing on a networking strategy to develop contacts that will lead to long-term business opportunities. Here are three ideas to follow in order to accomplish this task:
- Failure to plan is a plan to fail. While you might have the best intentions, it’s hard to get out there and network with all of the hours you are putting in at the office. Create a simple plan that allows you to focus your time in the right places with the right people. Think about your friends, family, past co-workers and business professionals that you already know. Take the time to make a list and rank them based on “relationship” and “potential to help you.” You may realize that you’ve got some terrific people to meet with and keep close to. It’s also helpful to set activity goals for yourself. You might want to take two breakfast meetings a week with these friends or attend one networking event a month. Try to use this plan to keep your activity levels up, even when the work is pouring in. There’s always time to eat an early meal, bring in lunch or have a drink after hours. Scheduling the time is always better than hoping it happens when it comes to book building and even work in general.
- Learn how to be an effective networker. In my experience, networking can be a huge drain of time and resources if not done with “intent.” This means that you should study the art of networking and understand the best ways to proceed, rather than going out there winging it. By selecting groups and events that are synergistic with your goals, you will have a much better overall experience. Do your research online or talk to your mentors before heading out to attend various events. For example, if you’re an intellectual property attorney, try to find a networking group with attorneys in other practice areas. This way you can all refer one another without conflicts. Or if you are focused on helping small business, try to attend events where the business owners participate. Try to find out in advance how many other attorneys typically attend to ensure you’re not one of 20 in the room.
- To get your book building ramped up more quickly, try to network with the people you know Call up your high school, undergrad and law school friends to meet for coffee or drinks. When you meet, use that time to ask about his or her personal life, job and overall business. Learn what his or her needs are and see if there’s a way to help. If she’s looking for a new condominium, make an introduction to a successful real estate person you know. Or help her find a new job if she’s unhappy at work. In addition to making you feel great, you are setting the foundation for a cooperative business relationship in the future. Be sure to stay in close contact with the friends who may be able to use you or refer you.
Young Lawyer Tip No. 3: You’re a millennial, use social media to stay connected
While Facebook and Twitter are great for staying in touch and conveying messages, try focusing on LinkedIn for growing your law practice. Most business professionals are on it, but not using it for specific purposes. There are three key elements to being successful in leveraging this technology to your advantage.
First, you must develop a solid profile. People are watching you and you may not even realize it. Having a profile that is incomplete or inaccurate can hurt your image. It’s similar to a resume that is riddled with typos. Invest 20 minutes and look at some creative and more elaborate LinkedIn profiles of your peers. Mimic what they are doing and update your profile until you reach 100 percent complete.
Second, develop an appropriate strategy for what you are trying to accomplish. If you aren’t looking to meet or talk with anyone, don’t set up a profile and stay off the site. If you are looking to get out there and promote your expertise, connect with the people who can help you advance your book building. If you’re like me and want the world to see you, be more open to allowing a variety of new people to connect with you. That being said, I don’t want to connect with total strangers. Unless they write and tell me why connecting would be of value, I will usually not accept their request to connect.
The third and most important element of using LinkedIn is to use it to leverage your best connections to get quality introductions. The greatest benefit of this platform is being able to actually see whom your connections know.
For example, let’s say I have a client who has become a friend. I can go into his profile and pull up all of his connections. If there is one that seems like the perfect introduction for me, I could simply ask him what he thinks. Based on his response, I would follow up and ask him to make a call on my behalf to his friend and introduce me. It’s just that simple. I have been teaching LinkedIn for years, and it’s been a proven winner for new lead generation for attorneys.
There needs to be balance in developing a strong practice as a young professional. Your direct income, job security and freedom may all be at risk without it.
While the emphasis should be on learning the law and gaining valuable experience, you need to think strategically about your future as well. Start planning for book building now and you may surpass many of your peers in the near future.
It’s not a sprint to the finish line, but rather a marathon. As long as you stay the course and work intelligently over time, good things will happen for you and your practice.