I recently had the opportunity to discuss shy lawyers—yes, there are shy lawyers!—with ABA Journal podcast moderator Stephanie Francis Ward and Dalhi Myers, who practices law with Gaffney Lewis & Edwards. Previously, we considered ways to overcome the stigma of business development, finding the right people, targeting fertile markets, noninvasive ways to meet targets, and ethical incentives for referrals. Here we continue our conversation:
ABA Journal: Let’s talk a bit about getting referrals from other lawyers. I know, as I said earlier, it’s very tight out there with business. How can you market yourself to other lawyers for referral services without appearing like you want to steal that other lawyer’s business? Dalhi, what do you think?
Dalhi Myers: I think I’ve gotten really good referrals from colleagues, historically, and most of that has come from working with colleagues on projects in the bar, working on boards and different commissions, doing just community work with friends. When the need arose, then they were able to say, “Oh, Dalhi might be the person you want to use for that, or maybe she can refer to someone.”
And so I think I have seen dividends increasingly over the years from just basically being a vibrant part of the legal community, the nonlegal community, the volunteer community in my state, and certainly, with the ABA, just as I’ve seen dividends from helping people work on projects that are of import but don’t pay. The better people know you, the more comfortable they are with referring work to you or asking you to help them find a good person to do a task that may be outside of your traditional area of practice.
So that goes back to something Larry said earlier, just sort of making yourself comfortable with figuring out what you’re good at and making every opportunity to do that. Lawyers are good at research. Converting the cocktail party into the research hour is an excellent idea, and using every opportunity that you have to be out and about in your community and, certainly, even at church. I have spent a lot of volunteer hours doing Saturday clinics for my church or churches statewide, and certainly, churches nationally for my church’s organization, and even things like that pay dividends.
I think that the key is to pay close attention to every opportunity and not to accept opportunities where you can’t hit the ball out of the park. Don’t allow yourself to get overextended because every time you are out and about as a lawyer in those environments, people are watching, and they are evaluating whether or not they could use you if the need ever arose or you become indispensable to them in those contexts and they say, “Here is a really good person.” So when the need arises, your name is the first one that pops to mind.
Larry Kohn: I have a comment on that. The best referrals often come from other lawyers. If you’re concerned about lawyers not sending you business because they’re afraid of your stealing the business, the obvious response is reach out to noncompetitors. Estate-planning lawyers can get business from corporate lawyers; corporate lawyers can get business from bankruptcy lawyers. There’s all kinds of different practices, and those can be very complimentary where there’s no risk of people stealing business. If you’re getting your business from a competitor because there’s a conflict, then the best way to minimize their concern about your stealing the client is to guarantee you won’t.
Myers: That you won’t do it, yeah. Just tell them.
Kohn: That’s right. People get business from people they trust, that they have confidence in. If you say to them, “Look, let’s have an understanding that if you do send me a conflict, I will not allow us to take on any other work. I will only handle the conflict.” And that really works.
Myers: It does, in fact, work, and lawyers appreciate that. They appreciate the upfront honesty, and they appreciate that you followed through on it and that their clients remain happy, they get great service, and they come back to them for the work that they were originally doing.
For more tips, check out ABA Journal’s “Shy Lawyer’s Guide to Becoming a Rainmaker” podcast.