IBA: Client Development Through Relationship-Building

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As a seasoned professional, you know the ins and outs of laws and regulations, the guidelines and the sound strategies that will benefit your clients. You have no trepidations offering advice. When it comes to your business, however that confidence often evaporates. For many lawyers the mere thought of client development causes unease. The word “sales” is foreign—and terrifying.


Yet client development is not about sales. It’s all about relationship development. It doesn’t have to be a painful effort. Working with a business/executive coach has helped many lawyers discover how naturally client development can fit into their day, once they learned some basic techniques.

Using the Professional Practice Program, an experienced coach can help you understand and implement a series of tools and actions making a significant impact on gross revenue, from both existing clients and new ones. Five basic principles are the foundation of this approach: who, what, how, tracking and compelling reasons.


To begin a client development program, you need to identify your target audience, beginning with existing clients. Then, the focus can expand to the circle of influencers and referrals. It’s also very helpful to identify the types of clients you would consider your “Dream” clients, the “Good” ones, “So-So” and “Nightmare” accounts or clients.

Don’t laugh. We all have a few clients that fall into that “Nightmare” category. By analyzing which clients bring the greatest return-on-investment of time, you can alert to spotting this same potential in new prospects. You may also learn to say “No, thank you” to a prospect that you instinctively predict will fall into that “Nightmare” category.


Next in the Client Development model is the step where you work on what you need to say to clients and prospects in order for you to grow your practice. New business is based on new relationships and renewed relationships with existing clients. You have to connect in a meaningful level. Memorizing a few facts about the client is not enough to project a sincere impression of wanting to help that client.

Being involved in the client/prospect’s growth and future is important to maintaining that relationship. It also helps create Top of Mind Awareness—another goal of what you want achieve. This means you want your name to be the one your contact thinks of immediately whenever someone says “Know of a good lawyer?” This is the foundation of your referral network.


In this step, the Professional Practice Program offers several very specific tools to help you achieve your client development goals. This is the step-by-step portion of the program that gets you actually doing the work. Samples of elevator speeches, letters invitations and tips for networking with clients and prospects are some of the very helpful, practical tools typically discussed.


Without tracking the steps you take and analyzing the results, you may be just spinning your wheels. Giving yourself measurable goals is just one of the tactics you can employ to make sure you are actually contacting clients, building relationships and asking for referrals. The actions you take can be simple, but the important part is that you actually take an action and meet your goals. Tracking those actions keeps you accountable to your most important supervisor—you.

Compelling Reasons

You may already feel compelled to take an active role in client development. Or, you may just have a slight nagging thought at the back of your mind that maybe you had better get around to that one of these days. In either case, here is a statistic that will certainly compel you to work on your business development skills. On average:

A 60 percent increase in referrals + 200 percent increase in marketing contacts = 30 percent increase in gross revenue.

Think about that. Do the math. You’ll see client development can have some big pay-offs, ones that are simple and painless, to create. It’s all about the relationships, the contacts and your associates in the practice of law. So the next client meeting you have, take another look. Get to know the person, not just the facts. You’ll see a big return on your investment.•


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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.