Originally posted in The National Law Journal on July 16, 2012
Bringing in big deals, new litigation, or the highly coveted anchor client is kind of like being struck by lightning.
As it happens, a 48-year-old New Jersey woman was struck by lightning just the other weekend. A bolt from the blue, just like landing a big new client, is improbable. But that is very different from impossible.
How do you increase the probability of getting struck? Go where the storms are. Have you ever seen those storm chasers, pointing their cars directly toward tornados? That is how we should think about business development, we need to drive into the storm.
Think about the first law firms to set up offices in Shanghai, China, or that recognized the impending social-media explosion and focused their efforts in places like Silicon Valley. Sometimes the best strategy is simply moving where the money is.
Buildings often will be topped with lightning rods to attract and channel lightning. How do individual lawyers create their own lightning rods? Building an online reputation is one way. While geography is important, studies suggest that an increasing number of buyers of legal services are looking online to find specific expertise.
I recently spoke with a partner at a law firm who had unique expertise with regard to riparian rights. During his long career, business had always just come to him, but in the past few years things had slowed down considerably. Suddenly, he needed to work to make it rain.
So he started blogging and became active on Twitter. Within a few months, the improbable happened: He landed a substantial matter through a relationship he cultivated online. Lightning struck for him, but only after he had made himself a target.
I talk with lawyers all over the country about building business. Most struggle because they ask the wrong questions. Too many wonder, “Who needs my services?” They should be asking, “Where is the storm? Where is business heating up?” Being in the right place at the right time is rarely coincidental—at least, not completely.
How do you avoid making rain or prevent lightning from striking? Stay indoors. Keep still. Don’t talk to people; don’t write blog posts; don’t publish articles or speak at conferences, and certainly don’t go where the business is. Waiting for the phone to ring may be the best way to make sure you stay out of the rain.
To use another metaphor, I have heard business development compared to playing in the street—if you don’t run out in traffic, there is no way you will get hit. I’ve also heard it compared to looking for a parking spot in New York City. You might drive for 30 minutes without seeing a single space when, suddenly, something opens up for you.
The key is getting out there and putting yourself in a position where something rare and amazing can happen.