As your firm’s most powerful player, you also have the potential to be its worst enemy. All too often a firm’s growth is stunted not because of external market forces but because attorneys misplace their energy. A busy life means juggling multiple priorities and if your balance is off and you let the wrong things slide, you can work as hard as you like in other ways and growth will remain elusive. The prevailing reason is that in striving to be the best lawyer possible, attorneys often forget the fundamentals of effective business development. The following five common communication errors are all symptomatic of this tendency.
- Poor Preparation
As a lawyer you’re a preparation expert but chances are you’re preparing in the wrong way. Clients and contacts alike aren’t as worried about your hyper-nuanced legal knowledge as you might imagine. While showing that you know your stuff is paramount, how you go about doing so is just as important.
All writers know that a story’s success depends as much on narrative structure as on content. The story you tell about your firm is no exception. This means that you mustn’t overlook how, when, and who will say what when prepping for a meeting (and no, rehearsing this on the drive over is not enough). First impressions, after all, aren’t made by what you say so much as how you say it. The chance to flex your knowledge will come later—but only if the initial encounter is a success.
2. Weak Messaging
Another communication error attorneys commonly commit stems from a failure to put themselves in their clients’ shoes. You no doubt have a clear idea of everything a person needs to know about a given legal matter; what you may lack is a sense of what they want to hear.
As you prepare to meet with a promising lead, it is crucial that you think on the concerns they may have, the questions they may ask, and the answers that will put them at ease. If, for instance, they want to know what separates you from the competition and you don’t have a ready response, you can bet they’ll look elsewhere.
3. Self-Important Communication
Lawyers come in two types and the first is the heavy-talker who knows their own worth (the second will be discussed below). While this may sound like a negative characterization, it need not be if properly managed. It is important to strut your stuff in certain contexts but this needs to be balanced with asking questions and requesting feedback. People not only appreciate being heard but they are also more likely to remember an encounter in which they participate and are engaged.
4. Excessive Humility
The second type of lawyer is the one that never toots their own horn or talks themself up. Folks that were drawn to law school because it gave them free license to recede into their books will relate. Again, it helps to put yourself in your client’s shoes here. Ask: Why would I hire me? If everything that comes to mind doesn’t come out of your mouth when you meet a potential client, you’re probably underselling yourself (and missing out on business as a result).
5. Lack of Follow-up
The best communicators in the world can still fail if they forget to follow up. Yours is not the only life cluttered with too much to do, after all. If after a successful business development meeting, client encounter, or networking event you overlook the importance of that promised email or phone call, you can expect to end up like every kid’s beanie baby collection: forgotten.