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When lawyers take clients out for lunch or host them for a ballgame they often ask the typical questions about how they are doing and if they are happy with the client service. That’s obvious and the most important question to ask. But too often lawyers miss the opportunity to learn more. Here are three questions that will open conversations that will help lead to new business opportunities.
 
1) How does your company determine which firms they use for legal services?
 
I often sit down with partners and brainstorm ideas on how to grow their book of business. We always start with current clients first to see which relationships have the potential to be expanded. Many partners are unaware of the process their clients use, they just know they call them for certain types of matters. Is it the President, the CEO, the General Counsel or in many cases these days, the procurement team, who are involved in the decision making process? Ask, listen, learn.
 
By asking this question, it allows you to get a better understanding of what other types of services you could cross sell to them. For example, you may learn they use an RFP process, which would enable you to ask to be invited to respond to future opportunities in areas beyond your current work. It also helps shed light on who is involved in the decision-making process. For example, you may learn that the CEO likes to use a certain firm for bet-the-company cases. Well, that’s great insight to know, as if the CEO was to leave the firm at any point, you would now know there is an opportunity to go after that work. The more you can learn about the process, the easier it will be to plan a strategy to grow the amount of work from the client.
 
2) What other law firms do you use?
 
You always want to know who you are competing against for work. I’ve found that in many cases partners often don’t have a clear sense of what other law firms the client may be using. This information can be tremendously valuable for a few reasons. The first is that it enables you to make better pricing proposals when you are competing for a new matter from the company. For example, you may get an email asking for a bid to represent the company on a M&A deal. The client asks you to provide a fixed fee bid. If you know they also use a regional firm with much lower rates, or that they also use a Wall St. firm, that will help you shape your bid.
 
The second is, can you learn what firms they use for the areas of work outside of what you are performing. For example, a real estate partner typically knows what firm his client may use for corporate work since the matters may overlap at some point. But they are less likely to know what firm they use for cyber related work. The more you know about who they use, the better you can target when to best cross sell other areas. So when your colleague passes along a client alert or webinar invitation about a pressing cyber regulatory change, you will be able to better determine if this is an opportunity to make an outreach.
 
3) Do you have any other corporate counsel contacts in your network that you could introduce me to?
 
This can be a sensitive topic for many lawyers, as they don’t want to make it look like they are lacking work. But in today’s crazy competitive legal market, you need to get over that fear. There is nothing wrong with asking your client if they may know other folks who would benefit from your services. It happens in every other business.
 
I often recommend to partners that they spend some time reviewing the contacts of their clients if posted publicly on LinkedIn. For example, you may see some contacts of your client’s page that you think would be great prospects for you to target. Let’s say your firm has tickets to the Red Sox that you can use for networking. Invite your client and mention that you’d love to meet that individual if he/she thought it would be appropriate to extend the invite to have him/her join you all for the game. There is a way to do it with out being too forward. Just let your client know you are always looking to grow your network and would love to meet other contacts they may know who might be a good fit for your services. Clients understand you run a business and it does not reflect negative on you that you are looking to grow your network.
 
In turn, you should always be thinking of who you can introduce to your clients that may help grow their business. Consider which of your contacts may be a good fit to be introduced to your client and invite them to the ball game too. The more you can play match-maker the more you will see your clients also acting as a referral source for you.