Minority defense lawyers face significant challenges to maintaining existing business and generating new business. While some of these challenges are the same as our majority counterparts, many are not. One of the biggest challenges is the difficult task of meeting and developing relationships with prospective clients. Diversity programs and networking events provide opportunities for minority lawyers to meet in-house counsel who might otherwise be inaccessible to them. Most minority lawyers and minority law firms lack a historical or “legacy” relationship with large companies and their in-house counsel. The historical relationships between corporations and majority lawyers and law firms are a significant obstacle for minority lawyers. Networking opportunities are extremely important means of access for minority lawyers.
Networking programs provide access to minority lawyers. For minority lawyers in large firms, these programs serve to augment existing client relationships that they may have developed through their firms. For minority lawyers in small firms, these programs provide invaluable access that they might not otherwise be able to achieve. These programs should be preserved, expanded and objectively measured so that they can improve minority defense lawyers’ chances of achieving some degree of parity in the distribution of corporate defense work.
While the benefits of diversity programs cannot be denied, these programs are not panaceas for all of the business development challenges faced by minority defense lawyers. While working on a recent project, I learned that diversity programs are not immune to the effects of the current recession. The number of opportunities and the resources available to fund those opportunities are not as plentiful as they were during healthier economic times. It is more evident now than ever that diversity programs are not substitutes for independent business development efforts. In this environment, it is more important than ever for minority defense lawyers to increase their personal business development and marketing efforts.
There’s an old expression about being out of sight and being out of mind. The point of the expression is that people tend to forget about you if they don’t see you. This adage is particularly true in the legal profession. Successfully building a defense practice requires that you establish and maintain a strong presence within your community and in your practice area. Maintaining a strong presence in your community improves the chances that your name will be mentioned when someone seeks information regarding defense counsel in your area. Maintaining a strong presence in legal circles involving your area of practice greatly increases your chances of being considered for defense work within that area of practice. A combination of a strong community presence and a strong reputation in your practice area will help you develop your individual “brand” and your “brand” will make you a visible and viable candidate for defense work.
Look in the mirror and ask yourself if you have a strong presence in your community. Next, ask yourself if you are known as a defense lawyer in one or more particular practice areas. If the answer to either of these questions is less than an enthusiastic “yes,” you should improve your marketing efforts immediately. Don’t wait for business to come to you by merely attending one or more diversity programs. Be proactive, be visible, develop and market your “brand.”