Powerful, practical and proven habits to help family lawyers stay focused on marketing, generate new ideas, and create ongoing results.

By Mark Powers & Shawn McNalis (Florida)

See if you recognize your own marketing approach in the following description: When business is good, you’re scrambling to keep up with your caseload and not marketing at all. It is overwhelming enough to find yourself in a position that requires you to be a shoulder to cry on, a skilled mediator, a trial attorney, and fire fighter simultaneously. But when business starts to fall off, a sense of panic creeps in and you desperately try to market yourself. Some of these marketing efforts pay off, the panic dies down, and the work begins to come in again.

So you stop marketing…until the next time. And the practice always seems as if it is in this cycle of stress and frustration… either too much production or never enough.

Does this sound familiar? For many family law attorneys, especially solo and small-firm practitioners, this frustrating feast-or-famine cycle repeats itself over and over again throughout the lifetime of their practice. If you recognize your own sporadic approach in this description, you probably never feel in full control of where your practice is going, and a consistent, predictable stream of good clients remains elusive. Fortunately, there is a solution. A good client development plan, when properly implemented, can flatten the cyclical nature of your practice and make your marketing efforts much more successful. And it doesn’t have to be difficult, expensive, or elaborate to be effective.

As practice advisors to family law attorneys throughout the United States, we are often called upon to help clients formulate marketing plans. Very elaborate plans are rarely used because they are too complex; we advocate a simpler approach. We begin by gaining agreement on two very important assumptions: first, we believe that the best family law clients come not from yellow pages, but from referral sources, and that relationship-based marketing is the least expensive, most effective, and most ethical means of building a family law practice. Second, that one size does not fit all; a sustainable relationship marketing plan has to be customized to each individual’s personality, values, and interests.

Given this, we recommend the development of relationship-building habits. At Atticus we call them the “5 Rainmaking Habits,” and they significantly leverage your marketing efforts because you do them week in and week out. After a while they become second nature. Any marketing plan that is just a list of to-dos and doesn’t include a persistent and habitual client development focus is likely to be ineffective and soon forgotten. That doesn’t happen when you build in the right habits and commit to implementing them on a weekly basis.

The 5 Rainmaking Habits

1. The three marketing contacts a week habit:
These contacts could involve lunch, might happen at the courthouse or at a bar association event – so long as they involve at least 20 minutes of building rapport and relationships with existing or potential referral sources. Always take advantage of serendipitous meetings, but block time in your calendar to consistently market yourself three times a week. The results are worth the effort: 3 contacts x 50 weeks = 150 marketing contacts a year. If 150 contacts don’t make a difference to your business, nothing will. This is, by far, the most important of all the 5 Habits to implement.

2. The asking for referrals habit:
At the conclusion of each case, say: “My practice has been built on (or relies on) referrals from people like you. If anyone you know needs my services, I’d appreciate it if you’d mention my name.” You don’t have to use our words, but this is the general idea. Don’t assume that clients automatically will think of referring others to you, as it may never occur to them. If you send any follow-up correspondence, repeat the suggestion there as well.

3. Sharpening the saw habit:
Stephen Covey made the phrase “Sharpening the Saw” famous, and it means that we must seek constant improvement if we hope to achieve excellence. From Atticus’ perspective we believe that you must develop a marketer’s mindset. Read a marketing book or articles on marketing once a month, supplemented by a marketing workshop whenever you have the chance. We teach marketing over the telephone to attorneys all over the country in a course called “Rainmakers,” but you don’t have to attend one of our calls to learn about marketing. We believe the extreme distaste that many family law attorneys feel when it comes to marketing is due to lack of training. With relationship-based marketing, you already possess many of the skills you need to be successful but don’t realize it. You have what it takes – but you must learn how to apply it strategically. Educate yourself about marketing at every opportunity.

4. The thank you habit:
Thanking referral sources every time they send a client, regardless of whether the client hires you is imperative. Send a handwritten note, pick up the phone, or take the referral source to lunch every time they make an effort to send a client your way. Always reward this behavior as promptly as you can so that the referral source will think of you the next time they have business to send.

5. The adding names habit:
Some referral sources are better than others and deserve the bulk of your attention. But they will move away, shift careers, retire or otherwise stop sending you business. It pays to keep meeting new people to continually add new streams of referrals. For example, one family law attorney we know reads the “Welcome Section” of his Bar news, calls each new attorney who comes to town and asks them out to lunch. The new attorney feels welcomed, and a new person is added to the first attorney’s network. Another attorney attends Bar functions with the goal of always meeting three new attorneys who don’t practice family law. She does this by always sitting at tables with no one she already knows.

If your client development plan consisted of nothing more than implementing these 5 Rainmaking Habits, you’d have a much greater sense of control over your marketing, you’d see an improvement in the number of referrals sent — and you’d keep the panic at bay. But to help you be even more strategic as you build these marketing habits, here are a few more client development distinctions that all basic client development plans would address.

Knowing Who to Talk To

If you don’t know who to market to, your three marketing contacts a week will be misdirected and given that you don’t have time to waste being ineffective, it pays to know the answer to this question before you start. There are two groups of people on which to focus. These are your clients as well as the people that send those clients to you. Let’s take a closer look at these two groups, starting with your clients.

Identify your Target Market

Generally speaking, this is the group of people that you serve. People seeking a divorce, help with custody issues, a prenuptial agreement, or perhaps an adoption. These are all people you can help. But since the quality of your clients dictates the quality of your practice, you must define your potential clients not only by the problems they bring, but by the demographic and psychographic details most likely to predict their ability to pay, their level of cooperation, and likelihood of a successful outcome. Among the broad group you generally regard as potential clients are another group we’ll call your ideal clients. The ideal client presents the kind of problems that you are most interested in, and even passionate about, solving. And most importantly, they are the people who can actually pay for your services. They are the first group to identify when putting together a marketing campaign because you need to know how to attract the group that is ideal for you and your practice. Your plan hinges on properly identifying this group. If you spend time marketing to referral sources that aren’t tied to your preferred client, they’ll send you the wrong clients and you’ve wasted a lot of time. So let’s examine their characteristics:

Your ideal clients will have socio-economic, demographic and psychographic attributes unique to them. Let’s say, for example, you are a family law attorney interested in working with high-net worth individuals. Your primary or ideal client 1) will probably be more highly educated than the average person, with at least some college, if not an advanced degree or two. 2) Your client will often be a professional (or the spouse of one). Or, they may be an entrepreneur (or the spouse of one) who owns one or more businesses. 3) They will have a high level of assets (pick a level that you are comfortable dealing with), and the complex financial issues that accompany that level of assets. Generally, this means they’ll also have the ability to pay for your services. 4) In addition, they will range in age from their mid-thirties to their late fifties (though the upper age-range is shifting as empty-nester divorces gain in popularity). 5) They will tend to live in specific neighborhoods, hold membership in specific clubs, participate in certain charitable efforts and attend prominent churches.

Identify your Primary Referral Sources

This is the group of people in the best position to influence your targeted group of clients to use your services. We’ll discuss them by category, dividing them into the groups that are most likely to come into contact with your potential clients.

For family law attorneys they are 1) your colleagues – other attorneys you know, including your competition (they can refer conflict business), 2) your partners if you have them, 3) other professionals such as CPAs (they rank as the number one most trusted professional and their referral potential is very strong), 4) psychologists, therapists, marriage counselors, 5) financial advisors, 6) business valuation specialists and other experts, and 7) clergy. Also, for most family law practitioners, your past and present clients should be strongly counted as potential referrers.

One of the key indicators of client satisfaction is that past clients send a significant number of referrals. If you aren’t receiving at least 30% to 50% of your referrals from your existing client base, focus a part of your marketing campaign on improving the level of service you deliver.

To determine the categories of people you are already getting referrals from, list them and focus on developing relationships in categories of people who are not yet sending referrals. Write the eight categories (CPAs, psychologists, clergy, etc.) on a piece of paper with space underneath. Then list out the names of the people who send you business within those categories. Put a star next to those you presently consider your best referral sources. This is a vitally important group that you should cultivate as part of your campaign. This step is critical: make a separate list of these individuals and keep it in an easy to access location so that you can review the names frequently and stay in communication with them. Your goal is to have at least twenty people on the list, even if you start out with far fewer. (Hint: have your bookkeeping software generate a report of all clients for the past year, ranked by fees from high to low. Go through the list and note who sent the high fee cases – these are your most important referral sources).

Knowing What to Say

Now that you have determined who your ideal client is, and you’ve assembled your most important list of referral sources, you know who to talk to. These are the people you’ll focus on when you schedule three marketing activities a week. But what will you say when you get together with these people? Below are just a few of what we call “Strategic Conversations” central to a relationship based marketing approach. Develop and use these conversations with your Top 20 and potential referral sources. The recommended conversational tools include the following:

The Laser Talk

This should be a brief description of who it is that you serve, the problems that they have, how you help them with those problems and what makes you uniquely qualified to do so. You will only use the more formal version of this talk when you are speaking or being introduced in a seminar setting, but you will use the informal version every time you are at a social gathering and someone asks, “What do you do?” Here’s a sample from one of the attorneys we work with that is a pioneer in the Collaborative Law movement. He introduces himself as a “recovering litigator who practices family law.” In response to the questions this inspires he’ll go on to say he “has decided that the financial and emotional toll exacted by taking clients to trial isn’t worth it. So he practices with a new approach, called Collaborative Law.”

People are usually intrigued with what he says and ask him more questions, which lead to interesting conversations. This “brands” him in their minds and distinguishes him from other divorce attorneys. It is your job to distinguish or brand yourself in some fashion. Make this an objective in your marketing campaign.

Ask Questions

Get to know your referral sources. As people – and better yet, potential friends. Spend time with them – especially your Top 20, but also new potential referral sources — getting to know them and deepening your rapport with them. Relationships are built through conversation – when at a loss for words, ask the person questions about themselves: their lives, their work, their families, their background. Do 70% of the listening and 30% of the talking. They will come away from the conversation thinking you are a great conversationalist. Studies show that it can take anywhere from one to seven conversations with a potential influencer to earn their trust and get their business. Here’s a tip: Each time a new client comes in, ask them to enter the names of their financial team on your intake form – their CPA, their tax attorney, their stock broker, financial planner, etc. These are all good potential referral sources for you – use the opportunity to connect with them, to get to know them and perhaps build a referral relationship with them. Think of all of your other experts in the same way and add an element of marketing in to your everyday business conversations. Find out about the person behind the expertise.

Knowing How and When

Next, let’s look at the How and When part of your marketing campaign. In this section we discuss the events, meetings and activities that provide the backdrop for building your referral relationships. This is the setting for those three marketing contacts a week. Of all attorneys, family law practitioners are the most stressed due to the crisis-driven nature of their practice. You don’t have a lot of extra time to spend with your own families and are too exhausted to take on much in the way of large marketing initiatives. Keeping this in mind, we suggest you design the “How and When” part of your marketing campaign around your passions, interests and hobbies. You’ll be more likely to follow through with the activities that you find fun, interesting or otherwise compelling. Below are a few ideas you can use:

Food and Marketing

Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Everyone has to eat and if you have a favorite type of food or restaurant, by all means, use it in your marketing efforts. As mentioned before, lunch is the most popular marketing venue for most of our family law attorney clients, because it doesn’t intrude upon their evenings and weekends. And if lunch is all you can manage, great. Many attorneys have marketed themselves very successfully with lunch as their favorite setting. If you do have extra time in the evenings and enjoy cooking and entertaining in your home, showcase your talents and invite referral sources to join you on a monthly basis. The idea is to incorporate food into your marketing efforts so you’ll look forward to the experience in a positive way.

Sports and Marketing

If you love to golf, but never have the time – make it the theme of your marketing campaign. Block off several hours on a weekly or monthly basis to play a round of golf. Make it a point to invite existing or potential referral sources to join you. One firm of golf fanatics we’ve worked with started their own tournament entitled, “The Barrister’s Cup.” Another attorney we know plays tennis in spite of her busy schedule and has developed relationships with a wide variety of other women in town she’d ordinarily never meet. So, if you play tennis, like to fish, sail or ski, no matter what your sport — there is a way to use it in your marketing campaign. You can invite referral sources to participate with you, or give them tickets or gift certificates to go on their own with a friend or relative. One attorney we know will buy tickets for basketball games and give them to referral sources saying something like, “John, here’s two tickets to the basketball game. I know you and your daughter don’t get to spend a lot of time together and you both love basketball. Have a good time, on me.” Giving tickets, by the way, is a great way to score marketing points without actually having to take time to attend the event.

Community Involvement and Marketing

There are lots of ways to combine your community involvement with marketing. Your participation in charities, community fund-raisers and historical societies allows you access to other professionals, executives and their spouses who may one day need your services. If you serve on a board, make it a point to arrive early or stay a little later at your meetings and get to know your fellow board members. Invite fellow board members out to lunch as part of your marketing campaign. Sponsoring a table at the yearly fundraiser is often a great opportunity to invite other referral sources for a night out. In fact, any fundraising you get involved in gives you a wonderful excuse to call people that you would ordinarily not contact and is great for meeting new potential clients and referral sources.

Speaking Engagements and Marketing

If you are someone who excels in speaking in front of groups, make this the foundation of your marketing campaign. You can speak alone which is the perfect way to demonstrate your expertise; team up with a CPA for a seminar (“Forensic Accounting and Divorce”); or a marriage counselor (“The Impact of Divorce on Children”), or offer to make an appearance at a church function. If you love to speak in front of groups, this is great way to build credibility and become more known in your community.

Once you figure out who your ideal client is, determine who your best referral sources are and use strategic conversational approaches to build relationships with them, you’ll know who to talk to, what to say, and how and when to say it. If this knowledge is supported by a strong commitment to practice the 5 Rainmaking Habits on a weekly basis, you’ll set yourself up for marketing success. Marketing is a numbers game and the more marketing activities you engage in, the more successful you are. Like compound interest in a savings account, you’ll be surprised how these small investments of time will add up to a substantial pay off in a steady stream of new clients, additional revenues and keeping the panic at bay.


This article was adapted by Family Lawyer Magazine with permission from The Making of a Rainmaker, by Mark Powers and Shawn McNalis Mark Powers is President of Atticus, and Shawn McNalis is an Atticus Senior Practice Advisor. Mark and Shawn coauthored the book, The Making of a Rainmaker, and Mark founded Atticus Rainmakers™, which helps family law attorneys stay focused on marketing, generate new ideas, and create ongoing accountability with marketing. Find out more at www.atticusonline.com.