Starting a law firm is tough when you’ve got a healthy network. What if you’re the new kid in town?
My friend Wendell Sherk says that bankruptcy lawyers are running the legal equivalent of a VD clinic. Nobody wants to visit us, nobody wants to admit needing to see us, and just about everyone would rather enter and exit through the alley to avoid seeing someone they know on the street outside.
The first time around, it was tough. This time, it’s a concerted effort to build a practice.
When I began practicing in New York City back in 1995 there was no Internet to speak of (it existed, but no consumers were using it for research purposes). Mass media was soaked with expensive advertising, and I was broke.
I built my practice initially by hard work, a fair amount of luck, and a deep understanding of the people around me. This was my city and my home. Networking sucked, but at least I knew where to go.
Now I’m on the verge of admission to the California bar. My New York practice is booming, but I’m charged with starting a bankruptcy practice on the other side of the country.
My firm is, understandably, not in a position to let me take a decade or more to put down roots and build a new bankruptcy practice. This time, I need a roadmap.
I thought I’d share some of the things I’m working on, partially as a window into my thinking and partially as a way for me to solidify that thought process in my own head.
Adopt The Local Bar Associations
It doesn’t work otherwise. When I began my New York City practice I eschewed all local bar associations; this time it’s got to be different.
Lawyers know the local landscape and already have networks in place. By hitching my wagon to those who are already here, I can form relationships with people who have similar interests.
It’s not all about meeting people to get business. Forming relationships means I get to know people who will form the core of my own network as it evolves.
Learn The Local Lingo
People in New York have different concerns than those in Southern California. Food, transportation and social outlets differ. That means the needs of my clients are completely different. For example, suggesting to a bankruptcy client in Brooklyn that he should consider surrendering his car in Chapter 7 is sure to get a different response than to a resident of Los Angeles.
Understanding the differences in local culture makes it easier to communicate with your clients. A failure to grok your clients’ concerns makes it impossible to bridge the gap and help create a workable solution to their problems.
For the past 6 months I’ve been reading not only all the local community newspapers, but also every blog and Twitter account published by someone who lives and works around here. In doing so, I have the chance to watch what’s going on locally and figure out what keeps people up at night.
Plant A Flag
When you open up a new practice, it’s important to have a place to send people when you meet them. Putting together even a rudimentary website should be at the top of your list.
Without a website – and we’re not talking about something fancy – there’s no way to let people know who you are and what you do. Even if it’s just a few pages consisting of contact information and a bio, it’s a start.
A Problem Faced By More Than Newbies
Even bankruptcy lawyers who have been practicing for years can suffer from difficulties in bringing in new business. Unless you get out and make connections, you’ll never expand your personal and professional networks.