Column: Business of Law
“Rainmaking” 201: From the Experts
by Mary Louise C. Hopson
In previous columns, we explored several basic tips to marketing success and how to get the most from networking efforts. In a three-part series starting with this issue, we hear from members of the Dallas Bar Association about “rainmaking”—developing business, fostering good client relationships, and what it takes to be a lawyer whom clients trust with their biggest decisions.
You can recognize them from across the room, at meetings, in the community or at a client or firm social event. They are the talented “rainmakers” of their firms, consistently bringing in good business for themselves and their colleagues. It goes without saying that they know their areas of law cold. But they also have a way of communicating with clients and colleagues that inspires confidence in their abilities and creates an atmosphere of trustworthiness in matters of great importance.
What sets these lawyers apart? How are they so successful at bringing in business? To answer these questions, we asked a few DBA members to share their impressions about client development and how to be successful at “rainmaking.”
In the Beginning: A Winning Formula for Intellectual Property Law
David Carstens co-founded Carstens & Cahoon, LLP, an intellectual property boutique firm, in 1998. He assists clients with both patent and trademark prosecution and litigation, helps negotiate license agreements and evaluate intellectual property in preparation for mergers, and counsels clients on infringement issues, employee non-compete agreements and confidentiality agreements. A past president of the DFW Intellectual Property Lawyers Association and past Chair of the Computer Use and Technology Section of the Dallas Bar Association, he is also a Master in The Honorable Barbara M. G. Lynn American Inn of Court. He holds two engineering degrees and an MBA in addition to his law degree. Mr. Carstens offered some practical tips for setting up a successful firm.
“One of the things we did in the early days was to invest in good professional marketing and collateral materials that illustrated the collective experience our lawyers had before forming our new firm,” he said. “Making an investment in our image, and cultivating how we wanted to be perceived by our clients and potential clients, was an important part of our identity.”
Mr. Carstens put together a website that related to the other marketing materials to show the new firm in its best light, with an emphasis on practice quality. The team conceived of meaningful branding, including the concept of the umbrella, denoting the protection clients need from the vagaries of the intellectual property “weather,” which can get stormy. The firm’s cohesive image was noticed and enabled the firm to get off to a good start.
Mr. Carstens also emphasized the importance of developing good, responsive relationships with referring attorneys. Such relationships are important to building a solid base in the early days of a firm’s existence, especially in the case of a boutique firm, where referrals are especially important. He added that his work with the Dallas Bar Association provided opportunities to meet and work with lawyers, and referrals came from those contacts.
“When lawyers look to refer business, it’s important to be very responsive to the client as well as to the referring attorney,” he said. “We returned calls quickly, and included the referring attorney as a part of the process of helping the client. If one doesn’t do this, it reflects poorly on the referring attorney as well as on us. It’s important to be responsive; to take excellent care of the client. This remains important to us today.”
This open communications style extends to direct client communications, added Mr. Carstens. “Often when one reads letters written by lawyers, it takes some time to ‘get to the meat’ of the matter,” he said. “Our letters to our clients are concise and follow a standard style. We lay out the issue, give recommendations and mention deadlines, then we describe our ‘default position,’ which lets the client know the firm’s plans for the next step. This enables the client to know what the lawyer is going to do, and the client understands what our recommendation is.”
When the firm’s lawyers meet with potential clients, they usually meet face to face, which Mr. Carstens said is a good way to get to know each other. “We don’t worry as much about charging a fee at the initial contact,” he added. “It’s a low-pressure meeting to go over the issues and get to know each other.”
Next issue: Asking About Client Needs
Marketing veteran Mary Louise Hopson is a longtime member of the Publications Committee and writes this occasional column about the business side of law practice. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.