Why newly qualified solicitors struggle to win new clients (and the simplest way to go about doing so)
One of the best ways to make your mark at a law firm is to bring in new clients. The question is how you go about it? Or to put it another way, how you go about it if your firm is not set up to help you?
Most law firms talk a good game about networking in order to win new business, but when it comes down to it they give little or no direction on how to do it.
As a result, whenever we raise networking experience with NQ Solicitor candidates, common responses include:
- “I’ve hardly done any, the partners do the networking except for occasionally dragging me along to drinks events.”
- “We weren’t encouraged to do it all, it was all about racking up billable hours.”
- “It would have been pointless to try. There’s no way I could bring in the types of clients the firm wants like FTSE 100 companies and large multi-nationals.”
These answers are understandable but not excusable. Fast-forward a few years and you could find yourself in a common situation: as a senior associate or partner working for one or a few of the firm’s entrenched clients and unable to move because you have no following and no reputation outside your immediate sphere.
This is a big mistake. Without building a strong network your career could stall and leave you missing out on promotion or having to start from scratch if you decide to move on.
Networking is a key skill for lawyers and one that it is vital to master. You may feel you are too busy to network because you are drowning in contracts or discovery, but there is no time to waste. To misquote the old Chinese saying about planting trees: “The best time to start networking was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
Here are six networking tips for newly qualified solicitors:
1. It’s about relationships not selling
The good news is you’re already a great networker, you just don’t realise it. Networking isn’t about selling or handing out business cards, it’s about something you’ve been doing your whole life: building relationships.
Every time you meet a friend for lunch, play your Tuesday night game of netball/football or post something on Facebook, you are networking. You are building strong bonds with people you like and who enjoy your company.
Thinking of networking as relationship building is the first step to being a successful networker.
2. There’s more to it than formal events (although these can be useful)
Formal events can be excellent ways to meet people, especially if they are specific to your practice area. They are not for everyone though and if the thought of small talk with a room full of strangers fills you with dread, don’t despair.
Speaking at or attending conferences, writing blogs or articles, and being active on LinkedIn or Twitter are all forms of networking. So is meeting people for coffee or a drink after work.
Don’t fall into the trap of only chasing new clients and contacts. It’s as important to network with your existing clients and people within your own firm.
Most importantly, when you meet someone you have a connection with, follow up and stay in touch.
3. Target your audience
Don’t take a scattergun approach. Instead, identify people who could be a good source of referrals. This could be accountants, other lawyers or commercial property agents, for example, but be strategic about who you want to meet.
Not only that, but find the best forum in which to connect with your targets. In some sectors, people are likely to be highly active on social media (tech, for example) but may be more reluctant to attend formal networking events.
4. Think about your own brand
This isn’t just about the way you dress (although that’s part of it). Your goal is to get people to like you, trust you and eventually instruct you, so you need to be clear about your message and how you put it across.
For a start, you need to be highly visible to your target audience so that people get to know you. That means networking consistently, not every few months.
Next, you should have a clear message when you meet people for the first time about what you do and who you want to meet. Saying you are an employment lawyer who helps City workers in the financial services sector who have lost their jobs is more memorable than simply saying you are an employment lawyer. It may be counterintuitive but being highly specific is more, not less, likely to result in new business.
Remember not to sell your services, as nobody likes to be sold to. And listen attentively to other people when they tell you their story.
5. You’ll get out what you put in
Without wishing to go all spiritual on you, the best way to receive is to give. In other words, if you help other people by making introductions to them or sharing information they may find useful, they will be more inclined to help you in return.
Doing so will increase your social standing and credibility. Your first thought on meeting someone shouldn’t be “how can this person help me?” but “how can I help them?” That is a surefire way to build your network.
Always be “switched on” for networking and never make assumptions about anyone. I heard a story recently about a financial adviser who took on a high net worth client as a direct result of giving a small piece of free advice to his window cleaner.
6. Don’t be shy to ask for referrals
When the time is right, don’t be afraid to ask one of your contacts if you can pitch for their business or for an introduction to someone in their network you want to meet.
If you’ve established your credibility and shown that you are not just in it for what you can get, the chances are you’ll be given the opportunities you seek.
Before you know it, networking will be second nature and you are guaranteed to make your mark in your firm.
If you would like to discuss moving firms as a junior solicitor, or if you are looking to hire solicitors at NQ to 2 PQE, contact us on 020 3709 9165 or email us at [email protected].