Client Development and Business Plans

by Gary A. D’Alessio, Esq.
July 16, 2008

Client Development

Client development begins with successful client retention. Young associates can increase the retention of clients by providing answers to clients’ questions that subtly and continually reinforce the notion that “You can always rely on me.” It is not enough to do only what is expected. A good lawyer must utilize creativity, imagination and, most importantly, listening skills to become a successful rainmaker.

A talented rainmaker uses these skills by putting the attorney in the client’s role. Ask yourself (and answer as you believe your client would) these questions: What are your client’s most urgent problems? Are these best solved from a legal standpoint, a business standpoint, or a combination? Can these problems be completely resolved by using only you or another lawyer in your firm, or do you need to refer your client to a different law firm?

Once you have identified your client’s most pressing problems, you must determine your role. Ask these questions: What is the trend in your area of law? Is your expertise gaining or losing importance? What experience or additional training is necessary to counter any loss? Keeping an eye on your clients’ current and potential needs will put you ahead of the curve when a business cycle swings toward or away from your area of expertise.

Refer back to Chapter 2, ${h.link_to(h.literal("“Job Search Methods”"), h.url_for('article_show', slug='attorney-job-search-methods'))} and read the section “Networking” on pages 9 and 10. Have you done any networking yet? If not, begin now. Instead of sending resumes to the people on your contact list, ask your contacts for recommendations of and references for prospective clients. Then, make a list of your ten ideal clients. Why are they on the list? Pare your list down to five targets. Now design your marketing plan to develop them as your personal clients. In trying to obtain your ideal clients, you will likely gain numerous good clients, and possibly your ideal clients.

How will you develop these clients? Picture yourself in six months to a year. You begin making speeches to gain your ideal clients’ attention. You write articles for publication in newspapers, magazines or newsletters. Where possible, you set up your own website, including an updated list of your publications, speeches and seminars. Your web site can be linked, once you obtain permission, with many related and helpful web sites. This serves as a forum for former, existing and potential business clients to learn more about your (and your firm’s) areas of expertise.

Your time is well spent by joining one of the organized bar’s sections or committees. You may chair a committee in your substantive area. Call the Chicago Bar Association, its Young Lawyers Section or the American Bar Association to learn about these opportunities.

In a few years, your activities may be generating press releases and professional announcements. You could recommend that your firm consider hiring a public relations firm. Your firm can advertise where appropriate, with congratulatory advertisements—not just for your firm’s new partners but for the anniversaries of clients, associations, charities and other high-profile organizations. You could provide your services for in-house training and have been asked frequently to conduct in-house and third party sponsored seminars.

As new clients call you, you still have your ideal clients as goals, and some of your new clients are really good. So you continue your plan.

As part of your marketing plan, consider where you want to be in seven to ten years. You may be a senior associate (in a one tier firm) or an income partner at a two tier firm. You may have junior and mid-level associates helping you write articles for brochures. Your firm may be assisting you in mailing brochures; along with the quarterly newsletter for your department. You can continue expanding your network as a source of finding good clients.

You can begin participating in the lawyer referral service programs sponsored by your bar organizations. Also, you can offer to take on one of the organization’s pro bono cases, and the young associate you are mentoring is thrilled at the prospect of assisting you in a pro bono trial.

Other ideas for the future: you can recommend that your firm sponsor a charity event, especially one favored by your best good client. In organizing the charity event, you can make several interesting media contacts. These contacts can help you get quoted in news stories on legal issues.

As you continue to build your client base, you should not forget your smaller existing clients. Stay in touch through telephone calls, mail and/or breakfast, lunch or dinner meetings as well as periodic correspondence to clients whose files are closed (e.g., articles, holiday greeting cards and general correspondence). Your smaller clients may help lead you to new clients.

This client development scenario leaves out the day-to-day workload you are carrying to maintain your practice. A stellar rainmaker is also extremely organized, enabling an hour or two of “free time” to be slotted for rainmaking activities several times a week. If you are having difficulty doing this, review your workload and time management plan. Set priorities and discuss with your partner(s) any problems that you are unable to resolve on your own. Once this is done, you will find that the time you devote each week to rainmaking will be well rewarded over the years. You will be surprised how soon young associates will be asking: “How can I become a successful rainmaker like you?

Business Plans

An effective business plan should incorporate practical and accomplishable objectives, as well as specific strategies and the means for achieving them. Start with the strategies highlighted in the preceding section on “Client Development.” Personalize and incorporate them into your business plan. Identify and articulate how, when and by whom the objectives will be realized.

Be sure your marketing materials are well prepared. Determine which materials (e.g., firm newsletter, brochure and articles) you want published and which attorneys or committees will be responsible for drafting and approving these.

Now for the implementation of the business plan. Any successful client development plan must have the underlying and full support of the entire firm, including its management, partnership and all practice area groups. You will need to communicate the plan to all of the attorneys in the firm to facilitate the cross-selling of services. This is as important as enforcing the plan. You will also need to adjust the plan’s costs and expected results on a regular basis and whenever necessary.

Useful publications on rainmaking and marketing include:

  • The Rainmaking Machine: Marketing Planning Strategies and Management for Law Firms, Phyllis Weiss Haserot, The West Group Legal Publishers, St. Paul, MN, 1997. Call (800) 328-4880.
  • Marketing Your Practice: A Practical Guide to Client Development, Austin G. Anderson, American Bar Association, Section of Economics of Law Practice, Chicago, IL, 1996. Call (312) 988-5000.
  • Marketing the Law Firm: Business Development Techniques, Sally J. Schmidt, American Lawyer Media, New York, NY, 1997. Call (212) 779-9200.
  • Marketing for Lawyers, American Lawyer Media, Newsletter. Division (Leader Publications), New York, NY, 1998. Call (212) 545-6170.
  • Marketing and Legal Ethics: The Rules and Risks, Harry J. Haynsworth, American Bar Association Section of Law Practice Management, Chicago, IL, 1996. Call (312) 988–5000.
  • Focusing On Clients, Frank Brennan, American Bar Association Section on General Practice, Chicago, IL, 1996. Call (312) 988-5000.
  • Marketing Success Stories, 2nd Edition, Hollis Hatfield Weishar, American Bar Association, Chicago, IL, 2005. Call (312) 988-5000.
  • Marketing Your Consulting and Professional Services, Dick Connor, Jeffrey P. Davidson 3rd Ed., John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, NY, 1997. Call (212) 850-6645.
  • How To Be a Great Communicator—In Person, On Paper and On The Podium, Nido R. Qubein, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, NY, 1997. Call (212) 850-6645.
  • The Lawyer’s Guide to Marketing on The Internet, 2nd Edition, Gregory H. Siskind, Timothy J. Moses, American Bar Association, Chicago, IL, 2002. Call (312) 988-5000.
  • Action Steps to Marketing Success, Robert W. Denney and Carol Scott James, American Bar Association, Chicago, IL, 1991. Call (312) 988-5000.
  • The ABA Guide to Legal Marketing, Editors: Susan Raridon, Gary A. Munneke, American Bar Association, Chicago, IL, 1995. Call (312) 988-5000.
  • Organizing Successful Client Seminars*, Michael L. Goldblatt, American Bar Association Section of Law Practice Management, Chicago, IL, 1996. Call (312) 988-5000.
  • Basic Writing For Your Law Firm Brochure*, Susan Raridon, American Bar Association Section of Economics of Law Practice, Chicago,IL, 1996. Call (312) 988-5000.
  • Writing Your Law Firm Newsletter From Start to Finish*, Michael L. Goldblatt, American Bar Association Section of Economics of Law Practice, Chicago, IL, 1996. Call (312) 988-5000.

(*These three publications are available as a set.)

Finally, do not become discouraged. If your first plan has not generated business, remember that it is only your first plan.

Start over. Look again at those highlighted strategies in the “Client Development” section. Consult again with your mentor, partners, peers and current clients to assess weaknesses in the old plan and develop new strategies. Most self-made millionaires have experienced business failures before hitting the right formula for success. Likewise, many successful rainmakers have lost their share of “beauty contests” but never stopped trying. Neither should you.

[This article originally appeared in Lawyers’ Guide to the Chicago Job Market, 1999, Chicago Bar Association.]

About the Author

Portrait photo of Gary A. D’Alessio, Esq.

Gary A. D’Alessio, Esq.


Gary has been involved with the legal profession for more than thirty years. After receiving his B.S.B.A. cum laude from Villanova University in 1976 and J.D. from Tulane University School of Law in 1980, Gary practiced law for five and one-half years at McKenna, Storer, Rowe, White & Farrug. For the past thirty-two years, he has been a legal search consultant. Gary was the Co-Chair of the Careers Committee of The Young Lawyers Section of the Chicago Bar Association for two years. He is also a Certified Professional Consultant with the Academy of Professional Consultants and Advisors. His in-depth legal experience and knowledge of the Chicago legal market is well known in the legal recruiting industry. He has been extensively quoted on a variety of issues regarding the legal profession in The National Law Journal, Sun Times, Chicago Lawyer, Crain’s Chicago Business, and Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. Gary also has been published in the American Bar Association’s Changing Jobs: A Handbook for Lawyers for the 1990’s and the Young Lawyers Section of The Chicago Bar Association’s Lawyers’ Guide to the Chicago Job Market. Gary is a member of the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago and the Chicago Area Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. In addition, he is a world traveler, an Eagle Scout and an avid moviegoer.

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