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How to Lose a Client in 10 Days

Wisconsin Lawyer Magazine
August 2006

If you’ve decided you’re not cut out to be a rainmaker, if you’re not interested in confronting self-limiting beliefs or in challenging yourself to take positive action to develop business relationships, then be sure to follow these 10 tips to preserve your status quo.

The pathway to power in a law firm is making rain. Technical expertise is essential – but it’s not sufficient if your goal is to advance in your firm. Business development success is vital for senior partner status, positions on important decision-making committees, closing gender-related inequities in your compensation, and becoming a role model for young lawyers entering your firm. Most importantly, having your own book of business is your ticket to professional independence. If your firm is not a good platform for your practice, you can easily move elsewhere.

But maybe you’re not interested in autonomy and mobility. Perhaps you’re content to be a “service partner,” focusing your energy on work that other lawyers bring into the firm.

You may even have taken a stab at business development and been disappointed with the results. If you’re a woman, perhaps you tried to imitate male colleagues but felt uncomfortable. You might have attended a few networking events and found it difficult to make “small talk” – and you’re discouraged by the fact that none of the people to whom you handed your business card has called.

If you’ve concluded that you’re not cut out to be a rainmaker, you’ve probably stopped trying to learn new, more fruitful approaches. If you’re not interested in confronting self-limiting beliefs or getting the coaching or other assistance that would challenge you to take actions more likely to lead to success, be sure to do the following.

Preserve the Status Quo

1) Do work that means little to you. Doing work for which you have no passion is an almost certain way to fail at business development. Your lack of genuine interest will deter you from learning about your clients’ industry. The idea of attending industry events or reading trade press will make mundane work look attractive. When you meet with prospective clients, your lack of enthusiasm will be evident. You will approach your work with your clients as transactions to be completed as quickly as possible. Perhaps you’ll even be hoping they never call again.

2) Don’t build your network until you are pressured to bring in business. Allow the demands of your inbox to keep you from developing and maintaining mutually beneficial and rewarding relationships. Then, when your business generation becomes a significant factor in decisions about your partnership or compensation, you can madly dash around at networking events, collecting business cards, and trying to come up with the right words that will make strangers want to hire you as their trusted advisor. People with whom you desperately try to network will see you as self-interested and exploitive and will make themselves scarce when they see you coming. If you’re a woman, you can contact potential female clients with whom you’ve had an exclusively personal relationship and suddenly and unilaterally change the terms of the relationship by asking them for business. They will feel used and betrayed, but at least you will have “tried.” (The points about rainmaking apply equally to male and female attorneys. Some points, such as the one above, however, especially recognize the differences men and women experience in their communication and relationship styles. For more information, see “Leading Through Communication” in the August 2005 Wisconsin Lawyer, online at www.wisbar.org/wislawmag/aug2005.)

3) When you meet with a prospective client, maintain single-minded focus on getting the business. Putting pressure on yourself to leave the meeting with the business in hand will make you anxious. Your focus will narrow and you’ll primarily attend to the voice in your head that’s telling you that you’d better make this sale or else catastrophe will follow. Focusing on the conversation in your head will distract you from listening to the other person.

When there are pauses in the conversation you will talk more about yourself and your expertise without knowing whether the information is relevant to the other person’s concerns. If you’ve prepared well in advance, you will have a canned pitch that’s aimed at convincing people that you and your firm have singular capabilities. This will ensure that you sound like every other lawyer from every other firm. Always remember: you became a lawyer to sell, not to help.

4) Dominate the conversation. As long as you’re talking, the other person won’t have the opportunity to tell you about her needs, goals, concerns, threats, and opportunities. After all, you only want the engagement, not the messiness of a relationship. Why listen to the pressures the prospective client faces in his organization? You have enough worries about your own position in your workplace. In fact, you might even use the opportunity to complain about how hard you’re working and indirectly convey how desperately you need to get this business.

5) Never visit clients unless you absolutely have to. Although you may need to go to your clients’ offices during the course of an engagement, there’s no reason to visit when you’re not working on a project with them. Doing this would communicate a genuine interest in their success and the well-being of their organizations. Don’t try to become a trusted advisor beyond any specific engagement. This might put you in the position of having to advise the client against taking some action which would result in costly litigation and millions of dollars of revenue for your firm.

6) Always remember that you are the expert. Keep in mind that since your client hired you as counsel, she should do as she’s told. Take charge of the project – collaboration will only reduce your control and prevent you from billing for more time. Never forget that if the client had the expertise to do the work, she’d have done it herself. You were hired to get the work done and to meet the client’s deadlines even if this requires your associates to work 24/7. Although the client may experience you as arrogant and controlling, you can reassure yourself that you are right.

7) Think short term. The route to trust is through relationships. There’s no time for that if you only want to bill hours. Relationships take time to develop. They require genuine interest, commitment, consistency, and continuity. The goals of a relationship are to develop a full understanding of the other person’s needs so that you are in the best position to help. This requires listening not only to what is said, but to how it is said; that is, attending to feelings as well as words. This is all too “touchy-feely” and rarely produces immediate results. Find those clients who are as uninterested in relationships as you are, make a great pitch, get in and out as quickly as you can, and above all else, make sure you get paid in full.

8) Make meeting your firm’s billable requirements a higher priority than developing and serving clients. The easiest way to meet billable requirements is to ask the firm’s current rainmakers for work. Becoming a service partner allows you to stay inside your comfort zone: you don’t have to leave your office to develop business and you don’t have to worry about being scolded by management because your hours are sub-par.

Bill for every second you spend with a client. Never devote nonbillable time learning about your client’s business and career goals. If you happen to think of your client while you’re taking a shower, bill for that time. While this may engender distrust and cause your clients to carefully audit your bills, it’s the only way to prove to your firm that you’re a “good soldier.” The alternative would require you to challenge the inconsistency between your firm’s rhetoric about encouraging business development and its rigid billing requirements.

9) Stay at a firm that requires 2,400 billable hours and new business generation. When a firm’s billable requirements make it impossible to find time for marketing activities, the only people who are likely to succeed are those who a senior partner is interested in grooming to inherit the senior attorney’s book of business. Unless you’re a likely beneficiary of such largesse, the only reason you’d stay is in the hope that clients will somehow discover that you were the one who did all that great work they received. If you stay long enough, you’re likely to lose not only your independence, but also your confidence.

10) Continue with a firm that raises your billing rate so that it’s no longer affordable for your clients. Once your clients can no longer afford your services, they’ll have no choice but to go elsewhere. Unless you want to work in a more client-friendly firm, you’ll need to transition within your firm to a practice area serving clients whose budgets can easily absorb such high fees. Although this may mean a steep learning curve as you master new technical skills and knowledge, and although you’ll have to start from scratch in finding new clients, at least you won’t have to make any really big changes in your life.

Conclusion

For those of you who are brave of heart and determined to succeed despite the challenges, use this list to remind yourself that you have what it takes to make rain. Make a planned, intentional effort to invest some of your precious time to create and sustain relationships. Remember that your job is not your career. If your current firm can’t support your efforts to develop a satisfying practice, find another firm that can. Then you will be able to leverage your strengths and experience to gain the success you’ve worked so hard to achieve in your career.

 

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