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Are Lawyers Thinking as Business Owners or Employees?

In all my years of working in the legal services space, I’ve concluded that there are two types of lawyers: those who have a book of business and those who work for those who do. Which are you?

A major fact that law schools do not disclose to unsuspecting law students is that if you are a private practicing lawyer, you are a business owner. You never heard that from a law school professor or law firm leadership. Yet, the fact remains. Whether or not you have clients, is a whole other story.

It is troubling that highly capable individuals spend three years of their lives to attend and graduate law school, take the bar exam and are admitted to a state bar(s), ready to do whatever it takes to advance their legal career and not a peep did they learn about generating business. How can that be?

Now that you have been enlightened to the reality of the business of law, what do you need to know?

Below are a few boxes to check off to expand your business owner mindset (and to view your legal practice as a business to build and grow).

  • Do you carve out at least 10-15 hours a month on relationship building activities with “targeted” audiences?

Note: First, you must know specifically whom your ideal client(s) is….what is the job title of the individual who can retain your legal services and/or refer you to those who can? This is critical.

  • Instead of focusing on what work you can “get” from someone, you must focus on how you can help others in connection with solving a problem, protecting a client, preserving a tangible and/or capitalizing on an opportunity. These considerations are a mark of a savvy business owner.

  • Consider ways to help existing clients/referral sources/prospects by keeping them abreast of ongoing changes (such as legislative and/or economic) that may affect their business (positively or adversely).

  • Fish where the fish are. Attend networking and organizational events where your clients and prospects go where you can learn more about your clients’ (and/or prospects’) business and interests. Doing so is essential to foster relationships with potential buyers of your services. Remember, individuals want to work with those whom they know, like and trust. That will not happen with you sitting behind your desk.

  • Know who your clients’ top competitors are. Further, you can request that your in-house knowledge manager gather competitive intelligence so you can advise your clients on ways to stay a step ahead of them.

  • Create a process to get and stay connected with your existing clients, reliable referral sources and targeted qualified prospects. Since you are “chasing relationships, not work”, regular and frequent communication is key.

Often, clients ask, “I don’t want to bug anyone, what am I supposed to say to them”? Heard that question hundreds of times.

The right answer: as a business-building lawyer, you know what your clients and qualified targeted prospects read to stay abreast of industry news and for professional development. Because you have created at least one Google alert to gather similar information, you reach out to them regularly to pass along a nugget of information which is relevant, timely and topical to your clients and prospects.

First, you must stop analyzing as a lawyer and, instead, consider how helpful you are being to alert your client/referral source/prospect of information that will be valuable to them.

A quick email such as, “Hi Susan, I came across this news clip and thought it may be potential opportunity. Best regards, Liz”.

Second, keeping in mind that getting on a prospect’s radar requires 7-10 “touchpoints”, there are numerous ways to “get and stay connected”. Some examples:

- In-person meetings (coffee meeting, meals, sporting events and/or other in-person events).

- Regular e-blasts with information that your prospects/clients will find timely, topic and relevant to their business and/or personal interests.

- Each of these modes of communications may be reinforced with regular social media posts (such as blogs and/or news of your professional activities/accomplishments).

  • Offer to present to and/or speak with your client’s team (non-billable) on a potentially damaging (or novel) legal development and strategize ways to get in front of the development.

  • Understanding that many new matters originate from satisfied clients and referrals, some say as many as 50% per year, be sure you invest in meaningful, continual relationship building to bring value to these growing relationships.

Beyond knowing a birthday, their children’s names and activities or their favorite vacation spot, you build business relationships with the knowledge of your prospects’ business because it is key to them. That is thinking as a savvy business owner.

Yes, all of these activities require time - - a lot of it and a measurable marketing action plan (to help you stay focused, organized and to provide the needed structure) that is dynamic and often changing.

Despite newer lawyers who are often in a position in which they do not control their own schedule, you are motivated to find a way through well-defined systems and automation to remain steadfast in developing your own book of prosperous clients.


  • As a new lawyer (less than 10 years of experience), it can be discouraging to invest what little time you have into relationships, without knowing for sure whether they may convert to paying clients. Yes, that is why you must be very methodical when defining your “targeted, qualified prospect” to ensure you are “fishing where the fish are”. There, in fact, may be more than one target such as an industry-based client profile, a different referral source profile (likely a professional which serves the same industry-based client as you, such as a supplier and/or vendor), and yet a different type of referral source profile (such as other lawyers who may be a natural referring source, given their area of legal focus).

  • From lack of clarity of your “ideal client”, you may be discouraged when you compare yourself to peers, who appear to have it altogether with respect to their business-building direction. We see this all the time. I empathize. Because each area of legal focus has different target clients, you cannot fairly compare or even view through the same lens your practice the same way as your lawyer colleague. There is no “one size fits all” approach to building a prosperous business. You are likely in the problem solving business, which involves human beings. When you deal with individuals in any capacity, there is always unanticipated variables.

  • As a savvy business owner, you take the long view. I love the quote, "Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant”. -Robert Louis Stevenson – when considering building a prosperous book of business.

So, now you understand the required mindset shift to think and view your legal career as a business-building journey, which will have plenty of twists and turns. It is not a linear process, which often throws lawyers off.

As a well-informed business owner, you know:

  1. The profile of your ideal client(s)

  2. Where they go and what they read

  3. Their business or greatest concerns (SWOT – strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities)

You are well on your way to building the career of your dreams by helping others in a way only you can. Isn’t that why you became a lawyer in the first place?

Now, build away!


About the Author Kimberly Rice is President and Chief Strategist of KLA Marketing Associates, a business development advisory firm focusing on legal services. As a legal marketing expert, Kimberly and her team help law firms and lawyers develop practical business development and marketing strategies, which lead directly to new clients and increased revenues. Kimberly is author of recently published Rainmaker Road: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Prosperous Business.

She may be reached at

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