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Wise words from counsel: There are no clients in the alley

February 21, 2018

TrimbleI recently had the pleasure over breakfast to catch up with an old friend and former colleague, Jeff Jinks. Our reunion eventually turned to an in-depth discussion of the challenges faced by his small law firm and my mid-sized law firm in marketing, branding, and client development in this age of social media, disruptive innovation and brutal competition. During our conversation, Jeff shared a story with me that produced the title to this column.

Many years earlier, Jeff was in downtown Indianapolis walking with Leonard Opperman, who was a highly respected bankruptcy attorney. As they walked to their courthouse destination, Jeff suggested that they cut through an alley to save themselves a half a block walk. Without slowing a step, Mr. Opperman said, “Jeff, we could go that way, but there are no clients in the alley.”

Mr. Opperman clearly understood that a walk to the courthouse along a busy city street was a chance to bump into other lawyers, friends, clients and prospective clients. He was not going to miss out on that opportunity. He also likely realized that part of business development is creating and maintaining what marketers call “top of mind awareness.”

So, this little story leads me to the question, “Are you taking the alley rather than the street?” Are you sitting behind your desk avoiding human interaction? Are you skipping social occasions and bar events where you could be touching others? Are you passing on opportunities to write, speak and lead? In the words of my mentor, Robert Wagner, are you “hiding your bright light under a bushel basket?”

We are barely into 2018, and I would like to suggest that there is no better time than right now to get out of the alley. Why not create a calendar for the year of activities that will be calculated to raise your professional profile?

Here are some easy ideas:

• Plan and schedule one lunch a month with another lawyer acquaintance. (You can start with law school classmates.)

• Plan one coffee, lunch or after-work meeting with other members of your firm or business to cross-market your practice.

• Join the IndyBar networking section and plan to meet your monthly match.

• Take advantage of an opportunity to publish an article at least twice this year.

• Join a bar association committee and attend their meetings.

• Find a getaway seminar and go meet new lawyers from other places.

• Find a civic, arts, religious or other organization and get involved in a meaningful way.

• Make sure that the alumni associations of your college and law school know where to find you.

• Up your game with regular postings and commentary on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Slack or other social media networks of your choice.

• Participate in the listservs and e-communities of the groups you follow.

All the suggestions above are easy and effective and fun. Be patient. Return on the investment of your time may take a while, but it will happen. We can say almost for certain that if you stay in the alley, very little will happen. You have nothing to lose.

And, for those who have forgotten my other favorite metaphor, here you go: “Dogs don’t bark at parked cars.” #WillYouBeThere?•

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John C. Trimble (@indytrims) is a senior partner at the Indianapolis firm of Lewis Wagner LLP. He is a self-described bar association “junkie” who admits that he spends an inordinate amount of time on law practice management, judicial independence and legal profession issues. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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