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How new lawyers can go from zero clients to full employment


They don’t teach attorneys how to get new clients and generate new business in law school. But, regardless of whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, whether you have a lot of friends or are building a starter network, business development is a learnable set of techniques that anyone can master.

Attitude is key. New attorneys must make the transition from being a worker bee who takes assignments to a rainmaker who gives them and who is in charge of their own destiny. Rainmakers have an owner mentality — for them, practicing law is not simply a job, it’s about building a new business.

Business development is not a dark art. Having a charismatic personality is not required. It does not require cold calls or sales pitches, and it is easily done by introverts. Importantly, there is no downside to business development.

Build your reputation online

Start by getting a website that you can easily update yourself.

Examine a list of successful websites and pick one out that you like. Start writing a blog on your website and update it weekly or more frequently. The more you blog the more business you will get. Use the blog to answer questions that clients and potential clients ask you when they are sitting in your office. These tactics will be a magnet for potential clients.

Invite happy clients to write reviews about you. Today 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, so getting positive reviews is important.

“Many lawyers who say they get all their business from referrals are likely to lose clients to their competitors, because of their online reputation or the lack of one,” says attorney Dan Jaffe, CEO of LawLytics. “A good client who had a good case will decide to hire a different lawyer than the one he was referred to because he had a better rating on Yelp or Avvo.”

Attorneys can easily manage their reviews with reputation management software like Birdeye.

Make yourself easy to find by creating a complete profile on LinkedIn with a professional picture (not a selfie). One million lawyers have profiles on LinkedIn and it’s the de facto online directory for professionals. Make connections with people that you can meet face-to-face and join a LinkedIn group that has in-person meetings where you practice.

Clients often hire specialists, not generalists, so it’s time to declare your major. Picture in your mind the kind of people you want to work with. Take stock of the legal work you like and are good at. Use this approach to develop a niche in which you are the go-to lawyer. Happy lawyers identify their clientele and pursue them.

The central business development skill is knowing how to ask the right questions and be a dedicated listener (this is why business development is sometimes easier for introverts, who like to get the focus off of themselves and onto the other person).

The idea is to ask a potential client about problems they may have which might have legal solutions. Once the other person is talking, you are selling. In a conversation, continue asking questions and keep the other person talking. When they stop, say “tell me more about that.” When they stop again, ask them, “what makes you say that?”

Grow your network

Before you can start selling your services to potential clients, you have to lay the groundwork. Start now by assessing your current contacts — everyone you’ve met in college, law school, and previous jobs. Identify the movers and shakers — people who are going places.

Get out of the office and meet them in person for coffee or lunch. Interview them about their careers and look for ways to help them out. By helping others you are building goodwill and inspiring sources of new business to reciprocate.

Make an effort to meet new people. There is no new business to be found in the office, so go out into the world. Attend bar association meetings and make friends with people in your age group. These lawyers will be your referral sources.

Try looking for an attorney whose practice is the mirror image of yours — that is, if you are a litigator, look for a transaction attorney. Interview these attorneys about their careers and look for ways to help them out (because the favor will eventually be returned).

Go to alumni meetings and business association lunches to get to know business people. Individuals often have one-time legal needs, but businesses have continuing work for attorneys. As you meet business people, seek to fill in gaps in your network. For example, if you know recruiters, brokers, and realtors, make a point of getting to know bankers, accountants, and financial advisors. Be sure to give them the link to your website and blog.

Become a visible leader

Join an organization of potential clients and make it a goal to become a visible leader in the group. This means going to all the meetings and becoming a regular, not just someone warming a seat.

You can combine your personal interests with a business development purpose — just make sure the meetings you attend are not overrun with competing attorneys. Target leadership roles like newsletter editor or program director, which are great techniques to meet everyone in the organization. Offer to write an article or give a talk as a way for people to get to know you. Ask the president if there is a chore you can do for the group; this leader will likely reward you with an invitation to be on the board of directors. Everybody in the group knows the board of directors.

Whenever you get a business card, write three things on the back:

  • The date
  • Where you met
  • What you talked about

When you return to the office, immediately create a record for the person in your contact list.  Record key points about the conversation and the business card information. Next, use your collection of email addresses to open a MailChimp email distribution account, and update your contacts regularly about your practice.

Buy a box of thank-you cards and a sheet of stamps. Put them on your desk where they won’t get buried under paper. Start a habit of writing short notes to people you’ve met. This tactic makes you stand out because so few people write personal notes. In the process, do everything by hand; a personal note does not come out of a printer, into a firm envelope or through a postage machine. You are sending a personal message designed to foster a relationship.

Steep yourself in new business tactics. I recommend the Law Firm Marketing D.E.C.O.D.E.D. podcast by my colleague Victoria Blute (a “Legal Podcast Lawyers Need To Be Listening To“) and of course, check out my own blog for the latest ideas about marketing and business development.

Put these tips into practice to continue expanding your professional network and it won’t be long before you go from zero clients to full employment.

Larry Bodine Larry Bodine is Senior Legal Marketing Strategist for LawLytics Web Marketing Suite. He is a former litigator, New York Daily News journalist, American Bar Association publisher, and ABA Edge Award recipient. Larry has been a recognized authority in legal marketing for two decades and is a frequent CLE speaker.