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7 Steps to Building a Book of Business

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Andrew Adams

Building a book of business is generally the goal - or at least a primary goal - of legal marketing or business development plans. While there are many tactics and actions to take toward that goal, as discussed below, the bottom line is that building business comes down to relationships.

From referral sources to writing informative articles to sponsoring a community event – each of these tactics are a way for people to get to know you, your firm, and your services. The more you engage in these activities, the more people will learn about and remember you. Each of these tactics simultaneously allows you to build your brand, reputation, and relationships.

It begins with the legal marketing strategy. Below are seven specific business book-building activities to include in that strategy. If you don’t have a strategy yet, that’s ok – you can still start many of these right away!

Here's How to Build a Book of Business

1. Referrals

You may feel uncomfortable asking clients to refer you, but don’t. The next time you talk to or email a client, tell them you hope they are pleased with your services and ask if they know anyone who might need an attorney in your practice area. Ask them to keep you in mind should they hear of anyone. It’s that easy.

Clients aren’t the only referral sources. Get to know your law firm colleagues to identify cross-marketing opportunities. Build rapport with co-counsel and opposing counsel on matters. Think of everyone you know, from parents on your kid’s soccer team to your brother-in-law, as potential referral sources. There is nothing wrong with asking people who know, like, and trust you to refer you to their friends, family, and colleagues.

You may also consider a referral incentive program as another way to attract new business.

2. Website

The law firm website is the center of your legal marketing and business development universe, so make sure it’s great! That means it should look professional, be easy to navigate, and contain details not only about you and your services but also informative articles and blogs related to your industry and practice area. Even when referred by someone they trust, potential clients vet an attorney by visiting their website: A 2019 Martindale-Avvo survey found that 45% of people said they “researched a recommended attorney or firm by checking their website before making contact.”

A law firm website may be a potential client’s first introduction to you. According to a 2019 Legal Trends Report by Clio , 17% of legal consumers surveyed said they used an online search to look for an attorney — the second most behind referrals. A top-performing website is key to showing up at the top of those searches.

Remember that first impressions matter, and people generate those impressions fast.

3. Social Media

Each social media platform is useful in different ways to attorneys working toward building a book of business. For instance, LinkedIn will help build relationships with attorneys in your industry; Facebook keeps you connected to a wide swath of people; Twitter and Instagram are both valuable tools to engage in conversations and share information with the general public. Many feel overwhelmed by social media or just don’t like or use it. But to stay visible and competitive in today’s marketplace, a social media presence is imperative.

Start small by picking one platform and completing a profile. There are many best practices and shortcuts to make social media manageable and useful, like linking accounts for cross-posting and scheduling posts in advance. Using hashtags ensures your posts are seen by those you’re targeting. Create connections by liking and commenting on others’ posts and, while it’s ok to post your own materials, do so in a way that comes across as helpful and informative, not salesy.

4. Public Relations

Public relations is an indirect promotion strategy many attorneys like because the information about their services and expertise is shared by a credible third party — usually a reputable newspaper, magazine, radio show, podcast, or television news report. It is a subtle, effective approach to reach potential clients.

There are many tactics under the public relations strategy, including:

  • Reports about you, your successes, or something unique you are involved in
  • Interviews with reporters where you appear as a leading authority on the topic in their coverage
  • Articles you write on relevant, trending topics that are published by others, including letters to the editor to your local newspaper
  • Self-publishing content on your website that you share via email, newsletters, and social media
  • Submitting to editorial and professional industry organization awards

5. Speaking Engagements

Like public relations, giving a presentation is a way to demonstrate your knowledge on a topic without using overt sales tactics. Begin by creating a list of the types of people who would want to hear from you and the topics they would be interested in, then look for organizations that hold seminars, conferences, and webinars. These could be professional industry associations or even local chambers of commerce or government agencies. With so many events still virtual, the benefit is that these presentations are often recorded by the organizers and posted to the Internet. That gives you the opportunity to share that presentation on your website, social media, and through email with a wider audience.

6. Get Involved and Give Back

Whether it’s a professional industry association, a charitable organization, or a local civic group, being involved is not only a good way to meet people and network, but it shows you care. Thinking about book building as relationship building, consumers and businesses want to know that the professionals they hire are people with a vested interest in the causes that matter to them. A 2019 Peter Novelli/Cone Purpose Biometrics Study found that 86% of consumers say they are likely to buy from purpose-driven companies and 72% say they feel it’s important that the companies they buy from reflect their values. And, as Millennials and Gen Zs increasingly become more of the hiring population, the importance of showing corporate social responsibility is growing. Taking cases pro bono is another way to create beneficial goodwill.

While showing up for hands-on work is valuable, there are also business development benefits to sponsoring these organizations’ events and charitable giving.

7. Always be Kind, Civil, and Respectful

Even in the courtroom you can be an effective, aggressive advocate without crossing the line. No matter where you are, people are watching and noticing. Anybody and everybody is a potential client or a potential referral source, so the better you treat people the more likely they will be to notice your strengths and what you have to offer and not be distracted by negativity.

There are many ways to develop a book of business. Choose the one or two tactics that work best for you, your personality, and your practice to get started.

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