March 23, 2007

The keys to successfully approaching potential clients, creating a relationship and turning the new found “contact” into a concrete business opportunity was the topic of a panel discussion at the Black Women Lawyers Association National Summit discussion held last week in Chicago. 

According to the panelists, researching a potential client and matching one’s skills with their needs and careful self-promotion as well as following-up with contacts are skills lawyers need to have in order to grow their practices.

The interactive panel was moderated by Jenner & Block Partner Kenyanna M. Scott, a member of the Firm’s Litigation Department and Vice-President of the Black Women Lawyers’ Association (BWLA).  Also featured were James T. Breedlove, Vice President and General Counsel, Praxair Inc.; Kimberly King, Senior Attorney, Law Department, John Deere; Beth Trent, Litigation Supervisor, Schering Plough Corporation; and Anita Wilson, Senior Employment Counsel, Sara Lee Foodservice.

When looking to develop a business relationship, whether at a legal conference or in any other professional setting, law firm attorneys must first carefully research the company and its legal department Ms. King said.  Doing this “homework,” will assist in making a lasting impression with in-house counsel, added Mr. Breedlove.  In addition, Ms. Trent said such research is critical because in-house counsel can easily distinguish between the “surface appeal” of an individual trying to strengthen a business relationship, and “the kind of substance you are looking for.” 

Attorneys aiming to successfully turn an existing business relationship into a business opportunity need to also invest time into distinguishing themselves from the others by careful self-promotion.  “We have to get more comfortable with the notion that we need to display our confidence and our qualities,” said Mr. Breedlove.  He urged the gathered crowd of law students, associates and partners to consciously “develop their presence” and not be shy about promoting their qualifications. 

The audience was encouraged to always follow-up after making a pitch.  “Persistence is part of the game,” said Mr. Breedlove.  “It tells a lot about yourself.  It shows that you are resourceful and that you have initiative,” added Ms. Wilson.