NEXL Business of Law Expert, Alistair Marshall, joined Ben Chiriboga (Head of Growth, NEXL) for a NEXL Fireside Chat about the fundamentals of winning new clients as a lawyer.
Since 2009, Alistair has advised over 100 law firms on strategies to attract new clients and win more business in a competitive legal marketplace.
Here are his 5 top takeaways:
1. Relationship Selling is not something to fear.
“There’s nothing to fear. It’s merely building relationships and client service for people who have a legal need.”
Whether you are trying to find your first client (or your fiftieth) there are the same two challenges: visibility and credibility.
Visibility is simple. People won’t hire you if they don’t know your name and law firm. Alistair says that through time management and consistency, this can be built up.
Credibility is about your skill and niche – which Alistair gets into later in the chat. It means answering the question: why would a client choose you over another firm? The answer is being a domain expert – not a generalist.
2. In a post-COVID world, the Expert is King.
Alistair turns to the question of credibility. In a world where costs are carefully approved, clients no longer look to hire generalists. They want subject area experts who are eminent in their field and who can deliver specialist knowledge beyond their competitors.
This creates a challenge for the lawyer to become the ‘expert’. And it also creates an opportunity. As Alistair quips, “experts don’t charge low fees”.
The worst mistake an individual lawyer can make, Alistair says, is to brand themselves as an expert in 20 types of law. Aside from being arguably impossible, it is also very hard to market. Instead of trying to own the whole market, he says, own one part of the market.
3. Pick a legal niche.
Ben talks about how identifying a niche automatically makes you into a person of interest, and who does not need to put on a pitch as much as simply build ongoing relationships with their ideal clients.
Niching down automatically removes the ‘sales’ side – by positioning you as the go-to person. If you develop the thought leadership, if you have the relationships, and you do the work – the track record and network should accelerate like a flywheel getting up to speed.
4. Manage your expectations and time.
As a legal professional, you have limited hours to set aside for relationship-building and prospecting. But Alistair says that 2 hours a week is doable, even for the busiest lawyer.
The first hour you might use to create a piece of thought leadership – an article, a video, or some other form of content. But the second hour should be “away from the desk” – in the sense that it’s about meeting people external to your firm or direct network. And in the current climate, that can be done very easily over Zoom or Teams!
5. Ruthlessly prioritise.
You can only juggle a limited amount of relationships, Alistair says. This is normal and recognising our limits and allocating our time and energy into a smaller selection of high quality activities and relationships, we can see the best returns on our time.
Alistair advocates the 5-5-5 rule.
First, focus on maximising the relationships you have with people who are readily paying you fees right now. That means choosing 5 clients who you could spend more time with. For example, if you currently work with one office (the New Jersey office) you could reach out to another office from the same client (the Connecticut office).
Second, look for 5 people who match the ideal client profile. These are the people you need to engage with on top of those 5 existing clients.
Third, look for 5 potential referrers. If you wanted to build a relationship with dentists in your region, you could build relationships with those who supply x-ray machines to dentists. These people already have strong relationships with your ideal client – and knowing them helps you integrate into the dental ecosystem.
In other words, you are immersing yourself into the client’s world.
Conclusion: Winning clients isn’t ‘scary’, but there are no shortcuts.
It takes work. There’s no get rich quick scheme, and there certainly isn’t a substitute for time and consistency.
Alistair says that the aim is to build a ‘hockey stick’ effect – a bit of effort now to create a long-term rise in your client acquisition. Alistair ends with a simple quote: “if you want to be in the top 5%, you need to be able to do what the other 95% are not doing.”