The low hanging fruit can be doing more of the same work for a current client, or seeing if a similar client has similar legal needs.
However, somewhere down the line, the low hanging fruit dries up.
Perhaps a new law or regulation has changed the legal landscape. Or the issues at hand have slowly been resolved or the work is now commoditized. The economy is a frequent villain leaving many practices to boom or die.
So what’s a lawyer with too many hours on their hands to do?
My advice? You either need to take a jump to the left, or a step to the right.
A Jump to the Left
Taking a jump to the left entails looking beyond your firm’s current services provided to clients. If your currently represent your clients doing X, is there opportunity out there to represent them doing Y? With Y being a whole new practice area.
Identifying and building a new practice area in a firm can take years. You need to seed and grow a whole new orchard here. In addition, there might be egos to sooth and cultural hurdles to over come.
Individual attorneys might need additional education (an LL.M.). A legal specialty certification might be provided by your state. Or several hours of CLE training might be enough to bring you up to speed on the legal issues, but you need time to build the experience and expertise.
I would counsel attorneys to:
- join the local and national bar associations associated with the practice area;
- identify, join and participate in the trade and industry associations;
- subscribe to many of the legal blogs (lists can be explored and subscribed to here, here and here);
- build a new networks of potential clients, referral sources and influencers;
- plug into the social networks via LinkedIn groups, Twitter hashtags, etc.
I find that this is a great opportunity for junior partners looking to build their own practice and client base. They are currently being fed work, and can use their extra hours for the education, marketing and branding in their new practice area of interest.
A Step to the Right
A step to the right is less time consuming. It’s basically looking at how you can take your current skill set and relationships and realign them slightly to a new set of variables.
For instance, if you spent a lot of time defending clients in a specific type of medical device litigation, you can easily forecast where upcoming litigation might be coming in the same industry.
If a new piece of legislation is moving its way through the state or federal system, how will that impact your clients’ businesses (Sarbannes-Oxley, anyone?).
How will the elections and redistricting change the political landscape in your state? Could legislation that has been stalled clear its way through to a vote? Will this help or hurt your client base?
I had a corporate partner at a prior firm who’s schtick was to have three industries going at all times. One was hot. One was waining. One was on the rise. He wasn’t reinventing who he was, only reinterpreting his experience for a different audience of potential clients.
Once again, you are not reinventing your practice, but redefining how what you currently do is THE relevant experience your (potential) clients need to solve X business problem.
Whichever path you choose, please be advised that there is work to be done. The marketing director can be your partner, but you will have to take on the challenge as well.
Whatever you choose to do, you cannot rest on your laurels of having done great work in the past, and expect the new work to come to you.
You need to be proactive, learn your stuff, become the trusted adviser your clients seek, create and promote your brand.
In other words, you need to seed your fields and tend to your orchard so that you have a new crop of fruit to pick.
Whether you take a jump to the left, or a step to the right, just don’t put your hands on your hips. You’re not doing the Time Warp here.