Top 5 things you can do to expand your law practice By Vikram Shah - October 31, 2018 Last Updated at: May 19, 2020 6487 The Finance Minister, unveiled the budget for fiscal 2020-21, vowing to boost income of Indians and their purchasing power, in a bid to revive domestic economic growth that has slumped to lowest in decade. All lawyers face this question in the beginning. How do I get more clients? While for young lawyers it is a question of getting the practice kicked off, even more, established lawyers often have to face this question. How do I take my practice to next level? How do I get more heavyweight matters? How do I expand my practice further? There is no one single answer to this of course. Some lawyers focus on making a name at the bar. However, with 50,000+ law graduates joining the profession every year and over 14 lakhs lawyers practicing in India, it is increasingly difficult to say that you will get your dues if you keep to yourself and just keep doing good work. Before you can do good work, work must come to you. The juniors struggle to get started in the first place. Get FREE legal advice now Even for lawyers who get regular briefs and matters, expansion does not always come automatically. Legal profession used to be a seller’s market for a long, long time. It has changed now in recent years driven by increasing number of lawyers, technology, greater access to information and increasing awareness levels in the society. Also, the perception of lawyers’ integrity has steadily gone down over the years, as evident from how the lawyers are portrayed in movies. There is a lot of legal work in the market, but getting the better part of it is not exactly a cakewalk. You don’t get clients just by showing up at the court. The Bar Council and Fat Cat lawyers with more matters than they can handle can preach about just keeping your head down and waiting for your time, but that usually means keep doing a senior lawyer’s work for the pittance. It helps to keep the balance skewed in favour of older lawyers, but it is not in your interest if you are not in the top 2-3% of lawyers. If you want to start getting your own clients, and in numbers that support a good practice, you have to engage with the questions as to how can you stand out in the crowd of lawyers and how you can build a brand. Expanding your legal practice depends on three major factors, and one without the other doesn’t work. Three Major Factors that decide if you can expand your practice: Skills You need to have skills as a lawyer. If you can’t deliver what the clients need, they have no reason to refer you to another person or to come back next time. If you don’t keep working at your skill levels, you are not going to attract the sophisticated clients who are coveted by most law practices. These days even the first time clients are increasingly aware of the legalities of their matters, they read up online and have clear expectations about what they want from their lawyers. This is not true for all clients, but the number of such clients is definitely on the rise, making it easier for lawyers with a higher level of skills to get noticed. Also, your skills and ability to deliver what is promised directly impact your reputation. With online platforms that rate lawyers, it is becoming increasingly difficult to hide your inefficiency or inabilities or bad client experiences. The trend has just begun and you can expect things to get a lot more serious in years to come – where a lawyer’s real standing and capabilities and past record will be checked by clients before lawyers are hired. There was never a better time for highly skillful young lawyers in history, as clients have begun to differentiate ability to deliver results with grey hair experience. There are different kind of skills that matter, but the top ones will be research, writing, negotiation, drafting and subject-specific skills like competition law, securities law, cyberlaw, regulatory litigation, IP infringement, money recovery etc. It is a good idea to pick up areas that fascinate you and really begin to develop serious skills in those areas. You can also consider pursuing online courses with practical focus as long as such courses are being taught by practicing lawyers and not just academicians. Credibility The second most important factor that decides if you will be able to expand your practice and at what velocity is your credibility as a lawyer. Your credibility inside the legal professional, your credibility before judges and your credibility with potential clients or a certain market segment (eg. power discoms or tech company founders) – all of these are critical and must be built up painstakingly. These days even your online presence has become an important part of your credibility as clients quickly google you before a meeting or before deciding which lawyer they will go for. A big part of building a credibility is to have a vision for service delivery, building an organization or practice that stands for something, and standing by that vision and brand no matter what. Ram Jethmalani, through the years, has built a huge credibility and a brand by constantly standing by his principles even when it was against public sentiment or popular opinion. Once your credibility is created, it is to be guarded closely. Many lawyers have lost their credibility overnight, so there is no reason to believe that it is going to stay up once built up. Exposure to potential clients In a different business, or even in a different country like the USA, the heading of this topic would have been “marketing”. In India, marketing is not allowed for lawyers. Nonetheless, lawyers turn no stones unturned to make sure that they are exposed to an increasingly larger number of potential clients. For instance, lawyers often hire PR agencies to ensure that journalists covering legal beats will be citing them as experts and include their quotes. PR agents in Delhi quote anything between INR 30,000 – INR 1 lakh per month retainership to promote lawyers in newspapers and TV shows as experts. Similarly, there are numerous awards and lists that lawyers try to become a part of. Some of these are outrightly shady and questionable, but anyway they thrive and do the job of giving lawyers and law firms exposure to a larger number of clients. On the other hand, there are much better and effective ways of ensuring that potential clients discover you, which serves interests of clients as well as the lawyer. Blogging is a great example. It makes valuable information available on the internet for all to consume, and ensures that young but talented lawyers who are ready to put in the effort noticed. Also, websites like Superlawyer.in are making a difference in this area as clients who search for information on specific lawyers find a lot of relevant data about the lawyers they are interested in. As a lawyer, if you can figure out a way to increase the exposure you have to potential clients, that would make a huge difference to the growth of your practice. Keeping these above factors in mind, if you do anything that strengthens one factor, your practice is likely to be expanding to that extent. However, keep in mind that all the factors need to grow at matching speed. If you have no skills but you do a lot of PR and speak at many events, you may initially see some clients and your bluff would be soon called. It is important to ensure that all the 3 aspects are growing at a similar level. Here are the top 5 things you can consider doing right away if you want to expand your practice. #1 Create a relationship with a few CAs CAs get to know about potential legal cases before anyone else, sometimes even before the client knows. Tieing up with CAs to refer work is an extremely effective way to get work from businesses and HNIs. Everyone doesn’t have a go to a lawyer, but everyone worth their salt has a go-to CA. If some CAs will trust you and refer work to you, it can bring some amazing long-term clients. #2 write a blog post in an upcoming area frequently and publish What do you think an upcoming area or sunrise industry where there will be a lot of work to come in the coming days? Real estate consumer disputes? Internet of Things? Co-founder disputes in startups? Start writing on extremely specialized legal issues that frequently lead to disputes. This will improve both your credibility and exposure to clients. A young lawyer I know wrote an article on how to get a microbrewery license. It is important to publish on a good blog. However, it is even more important to publish regularly, so if blogs take a long time to publish the article you send to them, it’s a problem for you. Ideally, publish a post every week on the same blog. It makes quite a big difference to your visibility. #3 Join a community where people trust each other I once met a lawyer whose clients are almost exclusively ISKCON devotees. First timer and unsophisticated clients prefer to hire lawyers through trusted channels, and they generally trust people who belong to the same community or tribe. The same can be said of Art of Living, Isha Foundation or such other religious communities with a large following. This extends to business communities. People prefer to hire lawyers they frequently meet socially at elite clubs or play golf with. Chambers of Commerce can also serve a similar purpose. There are also startup communities like Startup Leadership Program, Open Coffee Club etc where the same dynamics can be seen. I had asked the founder of a prominent legal platform where he found his initial clients, and he said Open Coffee Clubs across cities, and a community called the Rodinhoods. One community can make a career of a lawyer. There are no specific communities you must join, but it is a great way to get acquainted to potential clients. Find yours! #4 Start speaking at events or organize events A great way to meet and get exposed to a lot of potential clients is to speak at events. Why would someone call you to speak at events? For this, you need to build credibility first. Busy lawyers don’t get time to speak at events. If you are easily available and you have some credibility, or you just know the organizers really well, you might get invited to speak. Many lawyers actively lobby to get opportunities to speak at prestigious events. Plan it. See how you can get there. One easy way to start is by helping to organize an event. I got my first break as a legal speaker for startups at Startup Saturday. This happened when I was not even a law graduate. It became possible for two reasons: I was blogging a lot on legal issues, so I had credibility. Second, the organizers knew me and liked me because I helped them to organize the event a lot of times. They wanted to help me and gave me a break. I delivered really well, so everything worked out. After the initial success, I got many other opportunities to speak. After every event where I delivered great insights, I will get a few enquiries and eventually clients. During the talk, you got to make sure everyone in the room is thrilled and save your number in their phone for future reference. As you grow, it is a great idea to organize your own events. I know an owner of a large law firm who built his practice in initial days by organizing an event every month. He had two receptionist call potential attendees every day to promote the events, which were paid. He was the principal speaker at all the events. Eventually, he had so much work it didn’t make sense to organize these events anymore. #5 Teach law or write a book One great thing you can do is teach law in workshops or webinars or business schools. It increases your credibility almost instantly. The same goes for writing a book. People who learn law from you, or reads a book written by you, consider it a privilege if they can hire you. If you teach lawyers, when they work in in-house departments, they will get back to hire you. Even if they have a law firm or run an independent practice, they will refer work to you when they can’t do the work themselves. If you teach executives or entrepreneurs – nothing like it. Don’t hesitate to tell them everything. Don’t hold back. They won’t do the work themselves, they will hire you to do it even if they know how to do it.