Elise HoltzmanWe’re incredibly excited to feature Elise Holtzman, of the The Lawyer’s Edge, as our featured attorney for May of 2015. We’ve previously featured Matt Majeski as an example of a lawyer following smart business plans in the “new practice of law.” We’re featuring Elise as she provides valuable insight on how attorneys can grow their practice through networking. She has built a business which coaches law firms on how to do so. The success of this enterprise has allowed her to leave the active practice of law.

Without further adieu, let’s talk to Elise.

Tell us a little about your background and your current business.

I am a former practicing attorney and certified career coach who started The Lawyer’s Edge more than 7 years ago to help lawyers create the careers and practices that are ideal for them and to provide guidance on many of the topics they didn’t learn in their formal education. My primary specialty is guiding solo and small-firm lawyers to become rainmakers by developing robust, responsive, and mutually beneficial social and professional networks.

Most lawyers would agree that law school gave them a foundation in the law and taught them to “think like a lawyer” but neglected to offer practical, nuts and bolts instruction on the critical issues they face every day in the real-world practice of law.  For example, you weren’t even taught how to run cases or transactions, to say nothing of the other valuable skills attorneys need to be confident and successful in the practice of law. You’re expected to figure it all out yourself.

Employing a system I developed to help lawyers comfortably prepare for and engage in networking and business development, I work with lawyers one-on-one and in group coaching and training programs in addition to speaking for law firms and bar associations.

After graduating from law school, I practiced law in the area of commercial real estate transactions. I loved the excitement of negotiating and closing a deal, whether it was a large-scale development project, commercial or office lease, or secured loan.

Just prior to launching The Lawyer’s Edge, I completed an intensive year-long coach training and certification program and several years ago had the honor of being the President of the New Jersey chapter of the International Coach Federation.

The truth is that if I weren’t coaching lawyers I’d be surrounded by them anyway! I am a member of the board of the Columbia Law School Association, so I get to hang out with my law school classmates and other alumni.  Closer to home, the lawyers in my family include my husband, sister, father, uncle and brother-in-law, so family occasions are always an adventure. Although my mother is not a lawyer, she likes to say that she made three lawyers. She didn’t just help put her daughters through law school, she did the same for my dad, who went to law school at night when I was in high school.

What types of results have clients, who elect to follow your advice, seen in their practice?

The Lawyer’s Edge Business Development System, which is customized for each of my clients, allows them to:

  • Shed outdated and limiting notions of networking as a pushy, distasteful process,
  • Grow and strengthen their professional networks,
  • Increase confidence about their ability to develop business,
  • Reduce their stress and discomfort with networking,
  • Learn a comfortable way to ask prospects for the business instead of avoiding the issue,
  • Increase clarity about which marketing strategies work for them and which to leave behind,
  • Actually bring in more business, and, just as important,
  • Retain more of the clients they already have.

Attorneys, quite often, see networking with other attorneys as the primary way to build relationships. Do you agree with that? Why or why not?

Professionals at networking eventThe short answer is a resounding NO. It is my view that, for most lawyers, networking with other lawyers is not the best way to build relationships that will result in a steady stream of clients.

As with most things in the legal world, though, there are some caveats, so I hope you’ll keep reading.

But first, why the emphatic no?

In a nutshell, the most effective way of developing business involves:

  • Identifying your target market (in other words, the clients you serve and with whom you do your best work),
  • Getting to know the needs of the people in that market, including understanding their most pressing family/business and legal challenges, and
  • Delivering value to those prospects (letting them get to know, like and trust you) so that when it comes time for them to hire or refer an attorney who does what you do, you don’t just seem like a good choice, you seem like the only choice.

For most lawyers, your target market is NOT other lawyers. You may serve elderly clients and their families, start-up tech companies, divorcing parents, health-care providers, municipalities or government entities . . . the list is practically endless. But most attorneys do not primarily represent other attorneys.

What that means for you is that hanging out with other lawyers the vast majority of the time is not the best way for you to develop client business.

Don’t get me wrong – getting involved in the bar association offers a huge list of benefits that should not be overlooked, like getting to spend time with other people who share similar interests and challenges, among others. But when you’re networking for the purpose of meeting clients, you’ve got to fish where the fish are. Examples might include a management-side employment lawyer networking with human resources managers and general counsel, or an entertainment lawyer spending quality time going to events put on by select arts organizations.

Now, for two important caveats . . .

  • If you are a lawyer who gets significant referral business from other attorneys, continuing to develop and nurture those relationships is critical. For example, if you are an appeals lawyer, it makes sense to cement relationships with trial lawyers. Similarly, if you are a solo or small firm practitioner specializing in a particular area of the law, being an active participant in your state bar’s solo and small firm section and swapping referrals with other attorneys can be a great way to bring in clients. Those other solo and small-firm lawyers don’t have any (or many) lawyers in their own firm to refer to, so they are always looking for great lawyers in other practice areas to serve their clients.
  • Even if your clients and primary referral sources aren’t lawyers, getting to know other attorneys and letting them know what you do can always lead to a referral. Just because networking with other lawyers is not the best way to bring in business doesn’t mean it has no value whatsoever.

For most lawyers, hanging out with other lawyers may be enjoyable, educational, and comfortable, but it is not going to bring you the full practice you are looking for.

What are some steps that attorneys can take to build meaningful relationships which grow their practice?

Be Interested Rather Than Interesting. The easiest way to banish the discomfort that can come along with engaging in small talk is to approach every interaction with curiosity. When you ask questions and listen with genuine care to the answers, you learn things that will make it easier to connect next time and offer you the opportunity to be helpful, whether as a lawyer or a friend. Talk less and listen more.

Be a People Connector. Always be on the lookout for opportunities to make connections for others. A well-placed introduction might help a friend and has the added benefit of earning you a reputation as thoughtful and generous as well as a center of influence in your community.

Be Consistent. In other words, recognize that building and nurturing mutually beneficial relationships is an investment in the future of your practice that will take your time, attention and patience. You won’t be successful with networking if you only do it when things get slow and you need clients.

Follow Up and Keep in Touch. Developing a strong and healthy network is a bit like growing a garden. A gardener with a green thumb doesn’t scatter seeds haphazardly and hope for the best. Instead, the successful grower waters and fertilizes and weeds and tends and does everything possible to grow the healthiest and hardiest plant. It’s similar with networking. Plant seeds by meeting new people and tend your garden by following up, delivering on promises and checking in.

Many attorneys feel uncomfortable networking. What would you say to them?

People at networking functionThere are 3 primary myths about networking that might be getting in your way.

I hear from lawyers all the time that one of the primary reasons they are uncomfortable with networking is because they don’t like selling or having to be pushy.

If you feel the same way, I don’t blame you one bit. It’s a common misconception (Myth #1) that networking is all about trying to “get” something from people, pressuring people to do business with or make connections for you, forcing yourself to be someone you are not, or operating outside the parameters of your value system.

But the truth is, that’s not what networking is! To the contrary, networking done properly is about making valuable connections for others, showing genuine interest in those you meet, and helping people solve problems.

That’s not so bad, right?

Myth #2 says that networking is an inborn skill and either you have it or you don’t. After working with hundreds of lawyers over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that that is simply not the case. It may be true that some people are more naturally gregarious than others, but that doesn’t mean you can’t adopt the mindset and learn the skills that will make you a successful networker.

Myth #3 is that there’s a one-size-fits-all method of networking. Also not true. Not only can you learn how to do it, but you can do it in a way that feels comfortable and, believe it or not, even fun for you – in other words, in a way that aligns with your goals, your personality, and your principles.

At SEO For Lawyers, we’re adamant that changes to the legal profession mean that attorneys can’t just sit back, pay for advertising, and call it a day anymore. What are your thoughts on that issue?

I couldn’t agree more!

There used to be an Oldsmobile commercial clearly targeting a younger market.  As the new car appeared on the screen, a disembodied voice intoned “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.”  Well, this is not your father’s (or mother’s) law firm – shifts in the economy have reshaped the law as a market-driven business and just doing good work no longer guarantees that clients will come your way.

In today’s world of instant and constant communication, people are looking for genuine connections rather than one way communication (i.e., advertising) from those who offer products and services. Consumers don’t trust advertising the way they used to – they want to figure out for themselves whether they like and trust you before they are willing to buy.  In other words, they don’t want to just hear from you, or read about you, they want to interact with you. What that means is that you need to find ways to create deeper connections with prospects.

My mantra is “Don’t wait for success. Create success.”

What’s the biggest thing someone starting a firm, in 2015, can do in your opinion?

  • Recognize that doing good work in your practice is no longer enough to keep the clients coming. Develop a written strategy for attracting clients so that you know in advance what it’s going to take to fill your practice. When you’re running your own firm, you will be pulled in many different directions, so decide now on your business development strategy.
  • Put your stake in the ground and don’t allow your fear or desperation for clients to show. If you try to represent everyone, you’ll be representing no one. Be very clear about what you do, who you do it for and how you help them and then let others know.
  • Don’t try to figure it all out yourself! As motivational speaker Tony Robbins has said, “success leaves clues.” In other words, someone else has done what you are trying to do or can teach you how to do it, so ask for advice, gather information, and make the choices that are right for you.

We couldn’t be more thankful to Elise for her taking the time to talk with us. Connect with her on LinkedIn for more information.