Happy New Year Rainmakers! If there was one word to describe 2017 that word would be change. Last year saw the continuation of change and disruption in the legal industry. From PwC announcing the opening of a U.S. law firm to the artificial intelligence revolution to legal-process outsourcing to corporations refusing to pay hourly bills, the old ways of practicing law are, if not outright changing, definitely feeling pressure to evolve. For 2018, we predict that not only will these changes continue and intensify, but that there will be a renewed focus on good old fashioned client service which will create excellent opportunities for rainmakers to stand out from the pack.

Within law firms, developments in legal technology have made it easier and faster to deliver legal services to clients who have in turn begun to expect faster turnaround and lower prices as standard operating procedure.  Additionally, technology will continue to impact how lawyers and clients communicate with each other, relying less and less on personal encounters and more on technology-driven means.  Artificial intelligence advances will make it possible for smaller firms to compete with Big Law in ways not seen before.  Millennials will continue to cause law firms to adapt; not only in how they deal with their associates, but also in how they deal with client firms increasingly run by millennials. Speaking of clients, years of being able to compare and rate products for the best value in other industries, thanks to the Yelps and Amazons of the world, have made clients less brand loyal and more demanding of low prices and excellent service.  Indeed, legal procurement managers have changed the game along these lines, bringing data-driven analyses to what legal services are bought from whom and for how much.  If there is a central theme to all these changes it is this: the exceptionalism of law and lawyers is out the window as technology makes legal services more and more fungible.  Law is a business in no uncertain terms and lawyers are more and more like cogs in that wheel.

And yet, the more things change, the more things stay the same because if law is more like a business than ever, then client service is more critical than ever for competitive advantage.  The more law firms change into traditional businesses and the more legal services become like products in their fungibility, the more client service will be the key to attracting and retaining clients.  While lawyers don’t typically think of themselves as being in customer service, the best Rainmakers are truly customer service professionals who know that client service is the cornerstone of a successful practice. When we talk about client service in law, what we’re really talking about is simply being hyper-focused on developing and deepening the relationship between attorney and client.  Amid all the changes we predict for 2018, it is client service, or more precisely relationships, that will be the distinguishing element separating the winners from the losers in the new legal landscape.  While firms compete to have the flashiest technology or the lowest cost for value, it will be the lawyers who know how to prioritize relationships that stand out.  And the good news is that becoming an expert at relationships doesn’t require huge infrastructure investments, a radical overhaul in your business model or months to launch. Becoming an expert at relationships simply requires getting back to basics and focusing on the rainmaking techniques that we at Maraia & Associates have distilled from thousands of coaching calls over the last 25 years.  After all, being a rainmaker is really being a relationship-maker with every client and potential client you meet.

Of all the rainmaking techniques we share with our clients, the most elemental are having a plan for business development, creating a system to guide your efforts and establishing metrics to keep you on track.  These are the easiest and most effective things you can add to your practice today to have a more successful year building robust and resilient relationships in 2018.  So, to help you start off 2018 on the right foot, we are sharing them with you here:

Create a Plan. Simply put, a plan is a written document which enumerates your business development goals for the year and steps you intend to take to get there. There is no time better to do this than right now at the beginning of a new year.  The practice of writing out your goals forces you to become intentional in your approach to business development which we guarantee will lead to greater success than randomly engaging a series of spontaneous marketing activities—or, not engaging in any marketing activities because you got too busy practicing law to build a practice of law! An effective plan is one that is both realistic and specific.  Realistic in that you’ve picked goals that are reasonably possible to accomplish with the application of a reasonable amount of time devoted to business development.  Specific in that your goals are concrete enough to be translated into smaller action steps that will be necessary to achieve the goal.  For example, “I will bring in twice as much business” is much harder to map out and accomplish than “I will add two new clients based on the East Coast with a need for representation in the area of eminent domain.” The latter goal enables you to focus your efforts more specifically on the underlying activities you’ll undertake to accomplish that goal such as where you will network and with whom. A plan needn’t be a masterpiece and it can be modified, so don’t let perfection stand in the way of simply getting started.

Set up a System. Once you have a plan in hand, the next key component you need to be a successful rainmaker and maker of relationships is a system.  A system can be elaborate or simple, but it is simply a way to both automate and codify your business development activities. By automate, I mean make the habit of engaging in business development activities become as automatic to you as possible so there’s no chance of you failing to reach your goals.  The easiest way to do this is to simply set aside a time to engage in marketing activities every week and calendar it just like any other appointment.  If you do nothing else in 2018, do this and you’ll already be ahead of where you were last year in terms of business development!  Then, set up a spreadsheet to codify your business development activities in a system that tracks the people in your network and the interactions you have with them.  Great rainmakers make a habit of noting when they talked to a person, what they talked about and when they are going to follow up.  Using your system to keep track of this information will help you build better relationships with the people who matter to your practice which over time will result in more business.

Establish your Metrics for Success. Finally, it is important to establish the metrics by which you will track and measure your business development activities.  As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and whereas your plan is the journey, the metrics you establish are the steps.  Metrics are things like “I will make 2 calls to past or present clients each week to touch base” or “I will have 1 business lunch with a prospective client each month” or “I will spend 30 minutes each Friday on marketing activities.” Metrics are like having a business development coach: they keep you honest and they keep you moving in the right direction.  Aim to establish metrics that are in your comfort zone of activities you enjoy so that you’ll be more likely to do them.  Write them down and post them somewhere you’ll see them in order to keep yourself accountable (such as in the calendar entry for marketing per the previous paragraph that will pop up every week!).

It is an exciting time to be in the legal industry and witness the many developments that are impacting the practice of law.  Yet, we know that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Building a successful practice has always required one critical element: clients. Knowing how to get them and keep them, how to be a rainmaker is still the most important skill for a lawyer besides practicing law.  Relationships have always been, and will continue to be, the key to business development and the best way to build relationships with clients is to be intentional and consistent about it.  Having a Plan, a System and Metrics will keep you intentional and consistent and will ensure you are a successful rainmaker in 2018.

Have you set up a system for rainmaking? Do you have your plan for 2018? Call Maraia & Associates today for a free consultation on how to craft goals that will help you achieve rainmaking success in 2018.