Samira Mery Lineberger, Esq.
“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” Harry S. Truman
Years ago, when law firms still had typewriters on every secretary’s desk, and “real lawyers” didn’t type, I came off a pregnancy leave to find that my secretary had been moved to another group and I was left with psycho secretary (I swear she was that way when I got there). Shortly after my return, psycho went on mental health leave. I was working for a large company that was required to keep her position open during her period of “illness.” That left me with a revolving door of temps. This was particularly difficult as I was practicing litigation at the time with its many intensive deadlines, and was helpless to get a document out the door. After a few months of this Twilight Zone like push and pull to keep from committing malpractice, the company bought word processors for all its lawyers. My desperation managed to get me over my terrifying fear of this “new” windows technology (okay, yes, I’m no spring chicken), and I taught myself to word process. I got so into it, before long I was creating all sorts of shortcuts and macros to speed up my production.
Several months later, when I was still the only lawyer using the computer for more than just checking internal email (there was still no Internet), the Vice President of the Law Department dropped in my office for a visit. He took one look at my computer screen and was fascinated with my set up. Before I knew it, I was teaching the company lawyers to use the computer.
Understanding that most lawyers did not have psycho secretaries keeping them from meeting their deadlines, I had to devise a way to get lawyers to buy into the idea that the computer was their friend, and that eventually it would make their lives easier. However, expecting them to dramatically change the way they did their work was not a realistic solution. So I broke it into baby steps deciding to teach them very little at a time. Eventually, I speculated, they would see the benefit and begin to teach themselves. My first lesson was a desk-to-desk session on opening a document and learning to “cut and paste.” The lawyer would do that for a few weeks before receiving their next instruction. The next lesson was to type some simple revisions, followed a few weeks later by a “save as” lesson. It was actually quite remarkable how little I had to do after that. Once the lawyers got over the hump of dealing with a tiny change, they started to appreciate the results, quickly bought into the process and started teaching themselves.
Getting lawyers to engage in client development can be very similar. At first it seems like a daunting task. There is that vague insecurity of not being sure what to do, followed by a gut feeling that lots of time will be wasted and that the efforts may never lead to new business. There is that pressure of knowing that there is still billable legal work to knock out, and that whatever time is squeezed in for client development will be spent just trying to figure out what to do. When lawyers work on cases, they can immediately see the benefits and get instant gratification for their efforts. But with client development, patience is a prerequisite. It could take months before efforts actually result in a new client. Like learning how to use a computer, client development can be a very long and painful process before it feels productive.
So what is a firm to do? Create your own instant gratification. Consider ways to break down the tasks of client development and find ways to dish out immediate gratification for the completion of the smaller task. Starting out with activities that the lawyer is more comfortable with will also make it easier to get them going. For example, if a lawyer is uncomfortable with networking, instead of pushing him to join an association, have him contribute by writing an article on a topic of interest to a targeted client. Publish the article on your website or better yet, in an industry publication (it’s easier than you think) and email your clients and prospects an excerpt of the article with a link. This gives the lawyer the instant gratification that comes with recognition for a task well done, while furthering the firm’s business development plans. Do this sort of thing several times, and your newly published lawyer will be inspired to do it again and before you know it, will be looking for other ways to do more.
By breaking up client development tasks into smaller segments, and rewarding those segments, Bubba will not have to wait months for the satisfaction. Keep feeding the small accomplishments and the participation will grow on its own.