Talking About Yourself

Self-promotion is necessary in private practice, but doing it the right way takes practice

MARKETING and business development are all about letting people know who you are and what you do, with a view to convincing potential clients that you’re the right person for the job.

Unfortunately, many lawyers who are out there talking about themselves are going about it the wrong way. Here are some of the biggest mistakes that lawyers make when they talk about themselves, along with some suggestions on better ways to go about it.

Mistake No. 1: Telling them what they already know. If you are having a conversation with a potential client, chances are they already know something about you and the firm that you practise with, and how you are positioned in the marketplace. They already have information and have made assumptions about basic things like expertise, experience, industry knowledge, etc. Clients quite reasonably expect that successful firms in any given practice area have what it takes to do the work.

For this reason, it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of time and energy discussing the basics of what you offer. Don’t insist on telling them what they already know. Better to turn your attention, and the conversation, to other things.

Mistake No. 2: Focusing on the wrong person. Many lawyers think that potential clients need to know everything about them, or everything about them that they themselves consider to be important and interesting.When it comes to learning more about you, though, clients are really only interested in learning more about what might make you the right choice for them. In other words, rather than hearing all about you, they want to hear things about you that are relevant to them, to their concerns, and to their objectives. Give them information about yourself that is related to what they are all about, instead of focusing on what you are all about.

Mistake No. 3: Doing all the talking. Lawyers tend to go into meetings or pitches with potential clients prepared to do all the talking. But if you do all of the talking, you can’t really learn anything about the potential client, and you won’t know how to focus on what’s relevant.

A good rule of thumb is to let the client do 80 per cent of the talking, and to limit yourself to 20 per cent. That is the reverse of what usually happens, but if you train yourself to talk less and to listen more, your conversation will be much more productive and you will create a more positive impression.

Mistake No. 4: Telling, not asking. Lawyers conversing with potential clients tend largely to make statements. The better approach involves asking questions. By asking intelligent questions that draw the potential client out, not only will you understand more about them, you will have an opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge, expertise and experience. Rather than telling the client that you have these things, let them arrive at this conclusion themselves. Asking thoughtful, well-informed questions shows a potential client that you understand them.

Mistake No. 5: Saying the same things that everyone else says. Lawyers intent on out-talking the competition often steer the discussion to whatever they think their competitors are focusing on, in an attempt to convince the client that they either meet or beat the competition on these dimensions. From the client’s point of view, that ends up making you look more or less like everyone else. And if you look like everyone else, there’s no compelling reason to pick you over your competition.

Instead of telling your prospective client how much you are like everyone else, focus on what makes you different, better and unique. Not only will that make you stand out and be more memorable, it gives the potential client a solid reason for engaging you — namely, that you offer something no one else does.

Mistake No. 6: Asking for work. Many lawyers these days seem to feel that in a conversation with a prospective client, it is somehow imperative that they ask for the client’s work. In my view, nothing could make a prospective client feel more uncomfortable or pressured than having a professional service provider ask directly for their work.

If you have managed your conversation effectively and productively, they will know that you are interested in their work — and clients want to give their work to professionals who are genuinely interested in it, not to those who demand to have it.

Donna Wannop, LLB, MBA, is a practice-development coach ( who has worked exclusively with the legal profession for over 20 years. Reach her at