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December 2013

The Building Blocks
of Personal Client Development
A step-by-step marketing guide for associates

By Ross Fishman, JD

Many associates live in a daily state of anxiety. They want to know how they're doing, how they're comparing to their peers in the firm and how they're comparing to their peers across the profession. And it doesn't go away as they approach partnership; in fact, it often increases, as they wonder if they're doing everything they can – including marketing themselves and developing clients – to improve their chance of partnership.

I vividly remember my early years as a litigation associate, receiving only a handful of hours in marketing and client development training on an annual basis, but more commonly, no annual training at all. Then, as a marketing director and marketing partner, associates would visit my office, seeking help and advice. Their activities tended toward accidental, occasional, and opportunistic, rather than planned, proactive, and strategic.

An associate's goal should not be to bring in work, but to position himself/herself to get high-quality legal work when they need it later. But how should they approach this long-term goal? Below is a step-by-step, year-by-year list of marketing activities that can turn any associate into a business generator for their firm:

An associate's first priority is to learn to be a great lawyer; marketing should be a distant second. Their primary marketing activity is simple: to make sure they don't lose touch with the people they already know. Here are some tips for how first-year associates can establish and maintain relationships with the people who are already accessible to them. They should:

  • Join one local, state or national bar association and become actively involved on one targeted committee within their practice area (This should continue through partnership.)

  • Read their firm's website, newsletters, brochures and other materials to learn about its range of services and clients

  • Develop relationships with the firm's lawyers, both inside and outside of their practice area. Associates should avoid eating lunch at a desk and go out at least:

    • Once each week with a lawyer inside their practice area
    • Twice each month with a lawyer outside of their practice area
    • Regularly with friends and contacts

  • Draft a detailed website biography, following the firm's format. Update it regularly.

  • Build a network, and create a mailing list of friends and contacts, including:

    • Law school classmates
    • Childhood, high school and college friends
    • Community-association and professional-club contacts

  • Keep in touch with existing networks through traditional tools and technology:

    • Events, newsletters, holiday cards, breakfasts, lunch and phone calls
    • Social media tools, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. (see below)

  • If they don't have a Facebook page already, they should create one and do the following:

    • Keep it casual but professional
    • Check it at least weekly, from home
    • Join a law school alumni Facebook group
    • Connect with friends, especially those from law school

  • If they don't have a LinkedIn page already, they should create one and do the following:

    • Fill it out completely
    • Keep it professional
    • Check it twice-monthly, from home
    • Post occasional relevant updates
    • Join a law school LinkedIn alumni group
    • Consider starting a group for his/her specific graduation year
    • Connect with friends and acquaintances, especially those from law school
    • Request professional recommendations as appropriate
    • Provide endorsements to friends and prospects

  • If they don't have a Twitter account, they should create one and do the following:

    • Check it occasionally, from home
    • Connect with contacts and thought leaders
    • Post weekly on something relating to his/her job or interest
    • Follow people within his/her legal and business areas of interest

  • Sign up for Google Alerts at

    • For the search terms, the associate should use his/her name and the firm's name (both in quotes).

  • Create a comprehensive Google Profile at

    • The associate should link it to his/her Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts.

  • Before engaging in any social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), the associate should review:

    • His/her firm's social media policy
    • The state's ethics rules governing the use of social media

The first priority for a second-year associate remains learning to be a great lawyer; marketing is still a distant second. Second-year associates should:

  • Continue the first-year associate activities listed above

  • Continue adding new names to their mailing list, and LinkedIn and Facebook networks as they encounter them, such as:

    • Bar association committee members
    • Peers within client companies
    • New connections from networking functions
    • Alumni-association contacts

  • Read bar association and legal profession trade magazines and law-specific blogs to improve technical skills (This should continue through partnership.)

By now associates are getting a better handle upon their legal practice. They should continue focusing on technical skills, but can begin proactively growing their network. They should:

  • Continue the first- and second-year associates' activities that are listed above

  • Build a resume by participating actively in an area bar association

    • Volunteer for a committee and work toward a leadership position
    • Write a brief article on an area of interest for a committee newsletter
    • Give a speech on an area of particular interest

  • Devote some time each week to a proactive networking activity, including e.g. lunch, breakfast, dinner, sports, professional events, etc.

  • Read legal and targeted industry publications (continue annually through partnership)

    • Subscribe to blogs and follow people on Twitter from leaders in these industries

  • Add select client and prospect names to a Google Alert in quotes, e.g. "Fishman Marketing"

    • Use selective information as a reason to call, congratulate or reconnect

It is now time for associates to start expanding their network and building an external reputation and resume. They should remember that providing the highest-quality technical skills and extremely responsive client service are essential elements of the firm's marketing to its existing clients.

Unless an associate's practice area is driven primarily through lawyer referrals (e.g. personal injury, divorce, patent, admiralty), he/she should begin to slowly reduce bar association activities and surround himself/herself with prospects, not competitors. It is time to focus efforts more narrowly, particularly in some industry group or sub-specialty practice niche. The associate should consider the following to identify the niche or industry to target:

  • Did the associate grow up in a family business?

  • What hobby, passion, or special skill or interest of the associate would clients value?

  • What job did the associate have before law school?

  • What's hanging on the associate's walls or sitting on his/her credenza?

  • Where does the associate or the associate's spouse have an established network?

  • What does the associate know that other lawyers don't that would benefit some category of clients?

To help identify a narrow niche, an associate should identify the best groups or trade associations serving his/her target industry, and then seek a national association with an active local chapter. Once the associate has selected the group or trade association, the ultimate goal is to become one of the usual suspects in that group — a highly visible, friendly, helpful and active contributor. The associate should:

  • Attend the monthly meetings

  • Network regularly; get to know everyone

  • Be helpful, offer advice and assistance

  • Spend a couple years learning more about the industry and the association members

  • Keep the conversations focused on them:

    • Remember The 80/20 Rule: Take part in 20 percent of the talking, mostly asking interested, insightful questions about others and their businesses
    • Be actively interested in others

  • Refrain from seeking work or selling the firm to prevent from being shunned as a "vendor"

In addition, the associate should:

  • Identify a client-development mentor, ideally a rainmaker at the associate's firm who's invested in his/her future and can help answer questions, and provide guidance and support

  • Learn about clients' and prospects' companies and industries

    • Regularly read industry websites, publications and blogs
    • Conduct online research periodically to stay current on their issues and needs
    • Browse company websites regularly, especially company news and press releases
    • Follow them on social media
    • Create a Google Alert for each company and important decision maker

  • Create and maintain an ongoing list of the associate's cases and deals, with one-paragraph summaries (including who was represented, what issues and dollars were involved, how it was resolved, how the client benefited and what was significant about it)

  • Notify his/hers firm's marketers of significant cases/transactions that he/she was involved in, or aware of, for media and public relations purposes

  • Write an article for a legal or industry publication on new issues, trends or precedents

    • Tweet weekly on these issues
    • Post on blogs relevant to area(s) of interest
    • Continue annually through partnership

  • Present a speech to a legal, industry or community association (continue annually through partnership)

  • Help present a firm seminar to clients and prospects

  • Continue updating his/her mailing list, and LinkedIn network, supplementing them with:

    • Opposing counsel
    • Peers inside client companies

  • Continue adding to his/her Facebook network with friends and less-formal contacts

  • Engage in at least one face-to-face marketing effort per week, such as a breakfast, lunch, dinner, social event, seminar, conference, association
    meeting, etc.

  • Provide marketing with client-contact information for client-service activities

  • Offer to host a meeting at the firm for a group in which he/she is active

An associate at this stage should work with a practice-group leader or mentor to set annual business-development goals. In addition to continuing the activities listed above, the associate should:

  • Meet with contacts at other professional-services firms (accounting, financial services, real estate, management consulting, public relations, practice-area boutiques) to identify strategic-partnership opportunities, such as mutual events, client teams and referrals

  • Work toward a leadership position in his/her selected industry association

    • Use technology to help grow and stay in touch with his/her network, such as blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.
    • Consider running half-page ads in the industry publication if:
      • The associate's firm would be the only law firm advertising there, and
      • The associate can make them visually interesting enough to truly stand out

  • Engage in at least two face-to-face marketing efforts per week

  • Visit clients' facility, offices, factory or stores, at no charge

    • Dress appropriately for the location
    • Tour the plant, meet employees and ask questions
    • Become more familiar with their industry's legal and business issues
    • This is critical: The associate is there to enhance a relationship and learn how to represent the client better. Therefore, the associate should not sell.

If associates follow this simple checklist, over time they should find that they have developed a significant network of the right contacts that can be turned into clients. Moreover, they will have laid the foundation for a successful career, one that is fulfilling personally, professionally and financially.

About the author

Ross Fishman is the Chief Executive Officer of Fishman Marketing. He has been called "one of the country's leading experts on law firm marketing" by Lawyers Weekly USA. He has created nearly 200 law firm marketing campaigns worldwide, and taught more than 10,000 lawyers how to generate new business. A Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management, Fishman was the first marketer inducted into the Legal Marketing Association's Hall of Fame.

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