Private Practice Lawyers: Are You Thinking as a Business Owner or an Employee?

Thinking as a Business Owner
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There are two types of lawyers – those who have their own business and those who work for those who do. Which are you? If you are a private practicing lawyer, you are a business owner and you need to do your thinking as a business owner. You never heard that from any law school professor or likely any law firm leadership. Yet, the fact remains. Whether or not you have clients, is a very different topic.

In our view, it is a disgrace that you set aside three years of your life to attend and graduate law school, studied your eye balls out for the bar exam (and perhaps put your social life on hold during the process), were even admitted to a state bar, ready to do whatever it took to advance your legal career and not a peep did you hear that you must generate business for yourself. How can that be?

Now that you have been enlightened to the reality of the business of law, how does this impact your daily legal practice?


Below are a few boxes to check off for advancing your business owner mindset (and daily behavior) to view your legal practice as the business to be grown that it is.

  • Purposefully devote at least 10-15 hours a month on relationship building activities with “targeted” audiences. Note: To respond to this question appropriately, you must know specifically who your ideal client is. What is their job title of the individual you want retaining your legal services and/or referring you to those you can? This is critical.
  • Instead of focusing on what work you can “get” from someone, become more focused on how you can help others in connection with solving a problem, protecting a client, preserving a tangible and/or capitalizing on an opportunity. These considerations are a mark of a savvy business owner.
  • Constantly consider ways to help existing clients, referral sources and prospects by keeping them abreast of ongoing changes (such as legislative and/or economic) that may affect their business (positively or adversely).
  • Go wherever your clients go. Attend professional and industry associations where you can learn more about your clients’ (and/or prospects’) business and interests so you can rise to the “trusted adviser” role, which garners an enviable bet-the-company billing rate.
  • Know your clients’ top competitors. Further, commission your in-house knowledge manager to gather competitive intelligence on the competition so you can advise your clients on ways to stay a step ahead of them.
  • Create an internal process to get and stay connected with your network including existing clients, reliable referral sources and targeted qualified prospects. Since you are “chasing relationships, not work,” regular and frequent communication is essential.


Often, clients ask, I don’t want to bug anyone, what am I supposed to say to them? Great question. As a business-building lawyer, you know what your clients and qualified targeted prospects read to stay abreast of industry news and for professional development. Create at least one Google alert to gather this same or similar information, then reach out on a regular basis to pass along a nugget of information which is relevant, timely and topical to your clients and prospects.

First, stop thinking and analyzing like a lawyer. Instead, consider how helpful you are being to alert your client, referral source or prospect of information that will be valuable to them.

A quick email such as, “Hi Bob, I came across this news clip in the xxx Journal and thought it may be useful for your next leadership meeting. I’m happy to discuss ways we can capitalize on this potential opportunity. Best regards, Joe.”

Second, keeping in mind that getting on a prospect’s radar requires 7-10 touchpoints in a 12-month period, there are numerous ways to get and stay connected. These may include:

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  • In-person meetings (could include coffee, meals, sporting events and/or other face-to-face events).
  • Regular eblasts with information that your prospects/clients will find timely, topic and relevant to their business and/or personal interests.
  • Regular social media posts (such as blogs and/or news of your professional activities and accomplishments).
  • Include your clients, referral sources and prospects on firm email distribution lists for timely, topic and relevant topics (no one enjoys receiving spam that is of no material use to them).
  • Offer to present to and/or speak with your client’s leadership team (off the clock) on a potentially damaging (or novel) legal development and strategize ways to get ahead of the development.

Understanding that a large percentage of new matters originate from satisfied clients and referrals, some say as much as 50 percent per year, you invest in meaningful, continual relationship building to bring value to these growing relationships.

Beyond knowing a birthday, their children’s names and activities or their favorite vacation spot, you build business relationships with the knowledge of your prospects’ business because it is key to them. That is thinking as a savvy business owner.

Yes, it requires time – a lot of it and a measurable marketing action plan (to help you stay focused, organized and to provide the needed structure) that is dynamic and often changing.

As a savvy business owner, you take the long view. I love Robert Louis Stevenson’s quote, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” Take this into consideration when building a prosperous book of business.

Hopefully, you now understand the required mindset shift to think and treat your legal career as a business-building journey, which will have plenty of twists and turns. It is not a linear process, which often throws lawyers off kilter.

You are well on your way to building the career of your dreams by helping others in a way only you can. Isn’t that why you became a lawyer in the first place?

Now, build away! Kimberly Rice

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