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How you are sabotaging your practice and why you fail to retain new clients

Over the past few days, I have been writing about how the legal services market has changed in the last 20 years, and 5 unconventional skill-sets that independent practitioners must develop to survive

Today, I will discuss 5 most common beliefs that are self-sabotaging and prevent us from generating or retaining new clients.

#1 – How will building my track record by writing articles, building my website and being active on social media lead to client generation? I need more evidence before I start

Whenever I speak to independent practitioners about writing articles, building their website, staying active on social media and taking other steps to create thought leadership, most of the times they reply with a question:

“How exactly will this get me clients?”

They are questioning the process and using it as an excuse to not get started. 

They want to see a cause and effect relationship. If I write one article, or at worst, two articles, then I must get at least one client. 

This is not how building a track record works. 

You must write consistently, at least one article per week, for 3-4 months, build your website and be active on social media for this period, before you receive incoming inquiries. 

If you do it for a longer period, you will be able to create a larger track record. 

Over time, you will find that new clients reach out to you even if you slow down the volume of posting.

There is no way to experience this effect, other than by actually following the method consistently. 

To follow the method, you may need to learn how to write client-focussed articles. Writing client-focussed articles is different from drafting petitions, opinions or contracts. 

You will need to learn how to identify topics that your potential target audience will feel interested in, create a structure for the article, conduct some research and then start writing. 

Several independent practitioners struggle with this exercise initially, but subsequently improve with practice. 

Those who follow the process experience results.

For example, you can follow the work of Puneet Bhasin, a cyber laws expert, who started writing articles while pursuing a program with us in 2012-2013, or about Jay Sayta, my junior from college, who is an independent lawyer with expertise in gaming laws, and started Glaws.in, a gaming laws blog in his first year of law school, that is, in 2010.

These lawyers decided to start writing from early on and continued. Once they started experiencing results, their habits were reinforced. 

They continued to publish consistently.   

#2 – I need professional sales and marketing staff to convert incoming queries into paid client mandates, so that I can focus on delivery work

Once you build your track record, potential clients will start interacting with you, in a month or two. 

Some of them will ask you to provide them a quote for retainers. 

For the first few incoming inquiries, you may realise that after you furnish a quote, the client does not revert.  

This is usually because a proper onboarding process is not implemented. 

If you send a quote without properly understanding the needs of the client and identification of what the client values most, you will run the risk of charging too much, focussing on the wrong problem, or promising too much. 

When this happens, the next thought that takes over for most independent practitioners is:

“Can I hire a professional to do all my marketing and sales work? I can do the delivery once I get the client.”

The answer is no. There is no professional available to get you clients. 

If you want a professional, you must go back to a job. You should work in a firm, where someone else, that is, the partners are responsible for getting the work. 

Or work with a senior, or work as an in-house counsel of a company.

If you don’t want that life, and if you want to build your own name, your own niche, and your own clients, then you will need to do this work.

Remember that you are the best evangelist of your law practice, and you will need to learn the art of obtaining new clients.

It may take some time to learn, but help is available.  

You will also need to spend about 30-40 percent of your working time on client generation activity, that is, about 60-80 hours per month, assuming a 200 hour working month. 

If you have earlier worked in a law firm or as a junior to a senior litigator, you may find this exercise to be unproductive. 

Don’t get carried away by that thought. 

Ask yourself this question: 

Whom will I provide services to and how will I earn a survival income if I don’t have clients?

Every successful law firm partner or litigator has spent time focussing on client generation activity. 

You will need to do the same. The returns will be very fulfilling. 

Do you want help? Join me on 27th November in a 3-hour workshop, where I will discuss how to onboard and nurture new clients

You will learn how to be the professional marketing or sales person that you wanted to be, and you will learn how to do this legally.  

#3 – I do not know how to charge clients more – how can I offer new  services without training with a senior? 

While some independent lawyers learn how to obtain new clients, they struggle in charging them enough. 

As a result, their practice is not profitable, and the whole activity of generating new clients is frustrating.

This is because they only offer legal services at the lower end of the value chain. 

For example, company incorporation, tax registration and return filing, trademark registration and drafting non-disclosure agreements are low value services with a lot of competition.

Vakilsearch and IndiaFilings provide rock-bottom pricing for many of these services.  

You will also find other lawyers undercutting each other’s prices on these services, to obtain a client mandate. 

Legal fees could go as low as INR 500. 

If you continue to do this, you will not be able to charge clients enough. You will not be excited by obtaining new clients. 

Fee negotiations with clients will be very frustrating. You may face anger issues or frequently lose your temper.

You may constantly experience that you have hit a dead end. 

If you can identify with this emotion, I have some good news for you. 

Obtaining a new client is hard work. 

Once you obtain a new client, your goal will be to provide services of increasing value over time. 

How?

You will need to learn how to invent and deliver high-value services so that you can progressively move clients towards the higher end of your value chain. 

You will be able to charge more for these services, face lesser competition and have a greater opportunity to create client satisfaction.

How can you identify new high-value services? Think about the following questions:

What work can you do in 10 hours, and charge INR 30,000 to a client? 

(This is a very reasonable sum, at INR 3000 per hour.)

What kind of work will save the client lakhs of rupees in future costs?

Which services are important for various clients but cannot be provided by other lawyers easily?

I will give you some examples of high-value services now. 

Consider a GDPR audit. 

Indian software providers who sell internationally to European clients need to assist them with this service. 

The European client has an obligation to honour GDPR regulations, and since it is using the app provided by the Indian company, the Indian company is the data processor and will need to ensure GDPR compliance.

Foreign lawyers charge the equivalent of 5000 – 6000 Euros, which is equivalent to 5 lakh rupees for this service. 

This is a very high cost for an Indian startup, even if it is doing well. 

Indian lawyers will be able to provide such services more affordably, especially because of currency arbitrage. 

Can you provide this service? 

If you do not know how to provide it currently, can you learn how to provide it?

Or, consider initiation of arbitration proceedings by an Indian company (your client) against a foreign party, for breach of terms of a technology integration agreement. Arbitration is to be conducted by the Singapore International Arbitration Centre, under UK law, through virtual hearings. 

Can you assist your client with this?

Most of the time, not being qualified to practice in a foreign jurisdiction is not a barrier, because the Indian client needs a service involving strategy and research inputs, or simply needs to interpret contractual provisions. 

A foreign lawyer is not always needed to assist at this stage. 

At this point in time, if you can assist your client, you can charge a significant fee for the work performed. 

Or, consider filing an appeal before the ITAT or a writ before the High Court in a high-profile international tax matter, where tax authorities have disallowed certain expenses. 

Or, consider having to draft a software development agreement on an ‘Agile Model’, for a client.

Or, filing an information before the Competition Commission of India, because a big player in the market is incentivising distributors to not sell your client’s product to its customers.

Or, assisting a client in handling an inspection from labour authorities. 

Or, initiation of an IP raid against potential infringers of your client’s intellectual property. 

You might think – “I am not a tax lawyer, I am not an IP lawyer, I am not an employment lawyer, I am not a competition lawyer, I am not trained in technology laws,” and so on. 

However,  these are examples of high-margin services. Clients need these services.

There are numerous other examples of services which are of high value to clients. 

Why do I need to learn how to provide these services myself? Why can’t I refer this work to others? 

This is the creme de la creme work for an independent litigator. Also, you need to be your client’s go-to-lawyer, someone whom they can approach in times of need.

If you can provide these services, you will be able to charge well for them. 

If you refer the work to someone else, you will not have quality control. 

If the person you referred the work to messes up, you will lose face in front of your client, for having referred an incompetent lawyer.

Above all, you lose the opportunity to provide the service and charge a premium for it.  

If you learn how to deliver such services, you will find the investment in acquiring new clients to be worthwhile. 

Why? Because once you obtain a new client, you have a sufficient bouquet of services to offer. 

Further, providing low-end services such as NDAs or return filing, or registration services at a high quality but at a price which is lower than what the competition charges, or even for free, will not hurt you, because you will make a profit from the higher value services.

You will even be able to invest more in client acquisition. You will produce superior results from the lower-end services at a lower cost, because that will enable you to later offer a more complex service to a client. 

I will write more about these services later, but remember that there may be a huge skills and knowledge-gap that is preventing you from even thinking about offering these services. 

In today’s times, you cannot afford to think that you will learn how to perform the work after being briefed by the client. 

You need to know how to deliver the services before the client has given you the work, otherwise your conversation with clients will not be effective. 

They will easily sense that you are not prepared fully, and walk away without explanation.  

#4 – I did not sign up for performing this kind of work when I decided to become a lawyer or when I started independent practice

Independent practitioners can frequently be hit by a wave of idealism about what kind of lawyering they signed up for when they decided to pursue independent practice. 

These idealisms stem from how you have imagined life as a lawyer to be while growing up or studying in law school. 

This usually happens while performing some of the tasks to build your credibility or administrative work for your practice.

For example:

  • You may feel that building an online presence is not what you were trained to do in law school or even with a senior or in a law firm. You may resent having to do this work on a regular basis.
  • You may feel that tracking key performance indicators of your law practice seems to be outside your comfort zone.  
  • Lack of enough margins and consistently having to chase clients may be exhausting. Similarly, negotiation of your fees with every client who asks the same questions may often irritate you. You may feel this to be an absolutely unproductive task. You may think of returning to your job.
  • You may despise working on client development and client acquisition.
  • You may feel that real lawyering only happens in the courtroom. You may long for the opportunity to stand in a court and argue before judges. You may believe that this is the  sole example of legal prowess, and that the work you are doing may not lead up to it. 

If you grew up watching Alan Shore of Boston Legal, or a lawyer in another movie or TV show, this is possible. 

Or, you may have observed someone in your family enjoy significant power and status, because of their high-profile clientele. 

From time to time, you may feel that the journey of your career is entirely different from what your role models may have followed. 

These feelings are not unusual – every independent practitioner faces them. 

I faced these feelings when I started working on legal education as well. 

You need to recognise that your journey as an independent practitioner in this decade, post 2020, will be on an entirely different pathway from that of your role models who established themselves in the 1990s or early 2000s. 

It will also be very different from your peers who are working at law firms, in-house counsels or junior litigators.

You will work a lot more on identification of new services, creation of a track record and your own brand name, client pitches and proposals, conversions, negotiations on fees than your peers who work with seniors or at a law firm. 

Over time, you will be able to notice incredible progress, and earn the respect of clients and peers.  

For now, you need to think about this: 

Does providing an innovative service to a client excite you? 

Do you feel overjoyed at obtaining a ‘yes’ or a go-ahead from a client who was earlier questioning your expertise, but is now convinced by the value that you offer? 

Does obtaining retainers from new clients give you immense satisfaction?

Does setting new goals, working on meeting your revenue targets, occasionally even crossing them, and setting new standards for your practice on a month on month basis excite you? 

Do you feel excited to think about the idea that ten years down the line, you would have built a leading practice from scratch, in an area of your interest, and grown exponentially on the personal and professional front? 

If yes, then the journey will be fulfilling. 

To an extent, you will need to re-align yourself. You will need to value something different from what you valued earlier, as this is very different from the thrill of making a brilliant argument in a courtroom, or getting a nod of approval from judges, or being up against a very senior lawyer in a David vs. Goliath kind of courtroom battle. 

While you may have the opportunity to do that as well occasionally, it will not be your exclusive area of focus. 

Is it possible to rewire my mind at this age, to be excited by the idea of inventing new legal services and hitting new revenue and growth targets? How?

The role of a lawyer is to deliver services which involve use of legal skills to solve a client’s problems. 

These problems do not necessarily involve going to the court. In fact, going to the court is the last step. 

Many clients need help from a lawyer before today but for different purposes. For example, in reviewing a business process from a legal standpoint, creation of a strategy note, or a steps chart, or a review of a movie script.

These requirements constitute legal work too. 

You can’t represent clients in court if there are not enough matters to argue. You cannot expect to represent clients in court if they first need advice for running or structuring their business.

Will you ignore this work opportunity and tell a prospective client that you will work for him or her when the matter reaches a court or tribunal?     

If you say this, chances are that the client may not approach you even when there is a litigation matter. 

Sticking to a fixed image of legal practice that you developed in your formative years as a young law student may not be very helpful for you in the long term. 

Instead, you can provide services that clients want. 

If you try to visualise your practice from this perspective, in 3-4 months you will notice that you are able to look at your law practice in a completely different way. 

#5 – Clients demand too much, ask for free service and walk away when I give them a quotation for my services

This happens because you are not using rejection to identify how to improve your skills and client onboarding process.  

Your learning curve is faster and steeper because of the volume of rejection that you face. 

Rejection is a powerful indicator where improvement is needed.  

Even with the best onboarding process, your conversion rates may be 20%. Thus, 8 out of 10 inquiries will be rejected, while two will convert into paying clients. 

As an independent practitioner, you cannot afford to get disheartened or slow down because of rejection, rather you must increase your efforts. 

Your goal will be to generate more incoming inquiries, so that the 20% conversion rate gives you a sizable pipeline of new clients and work. 

You must also identify specific learnings from every rejection – improve your list of services, the way you communicate with clients, your knowledge and skills or your onboarding process. 

Young lawyers frequently struggle at this point, and eventually give up on their dreams to establish their independent practice.  

You will also need to deal with certain objections from clients, which appear to be an attack on your self-worth, but are genuine questions from the client’s point of view. 

For example: 

  1. Why should we give you the matter, when another firm or lawyer is willing to do it for a cheaper rate? What is the additional value that you would provide us?
  1. How many years of experience do you have as a lawyer? How many such transactions have you worked on earlier? 
  1. Why can’t you do it for half the price? 

How can you achieve a breakthrough from these self-sabotaging beahviours and thought processes? 

Join me in a 3 hour workshop on Building a Recession Proof Practice on 27th November, 2020, available at a special one-time price of INR 100, where we will discuss how to deal with self-sabotaging thoughts very objectively. 

I will discuss a unique method to translate incoming client queries into paid client mandates, and then how to transition clients from low-end services to higher value services.

You will also learn how to create new services for your clients that others do not offer, thus setting you apart from the competition. You will be able to charge more for your services.

If you do not have prior experience of working in a particular practice area or serving a specific clientele, you will also discover a pathway to acquire learning on an accelerated basis, to provide these kinds of services to clients on-demand. 

We will also conduct some exciting mocks on what to do if a potential client questions your experience or credibility, or negotiates with you on your pricing. 

At the end, you will work on an assignment, to deploy these tools to your own law practice. 

If you get started with this process and work consistently, you will soon start to experience results, and the self-sabotaging thought processes will gradually start disappearing.  

This method has worked wonders for us while designing training for large companies and law firms such as ICICI Bank, ITC, Embassy Office Parks (a Blackstone-backed real estate REIT) and Advaita Legal. 

It also worked extremely well at Cliklawyer, a legal solutions company which achieved a monthly revenue rate of 8 lakhs per month, or INR 1 crore annual run rate, in a short span of 6 months in 2015.

Several litigators and independent practitioners who are students of our courses are using this method successfully to increase their income and their clientele.

If you implement the method consistently, you will be able to generate 2 new clients every month in two months and earn a supplementary income of INR 2 lakhs per month in six months’ time.  

If you want to explore further, you may proceed to register for the workshop here.  

On Monday, I will write about how and when to move from a law firm or an in-house counsel job to independent practice. 

If you are interested, please share your whatsapp number and email with us so we can add you to a WhatsApp group we have specifically curated for lawyers.

https://chat.whatsapp.com/IZ43MinlJvIGL4wsPzZPFN

You will also get access to some other amazing resources through the group as well.

Cheers, 

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