I prefer to sign up clients the old-fashioned way, by treating them to a nice lunch or dinner. Now I'm finding that this doesn't work as well as it used to. What can I do?

It's true that, back in the '70s and '80s, successful lawyers had much more time to devote to the art of schmoozing, taking current and prospective clients out for fancy meals and cultivating their business. Except for some white-collar law firms, that way of life has disappeared in our modern economy.

Lawyers don't have time to court new clients in person, and potential clients aren't interested in spending a lot of time with their lawyer before signing. They are researching several, sometimes dozens, of lawyers at a time. Typically, they make their choice before they come into your office.

If you prefer the old approach to signing clients, you may find clients are resistant. Most of them don't expect to be "wined and dined," when they interview lawyers. Few other industries use this method of retaining new clients, and you may be setting yourself up for an awkward interaction.

The prospect of a free meal may not be enough to get a potential client to spare two or three hours out of his day, especially if he's about to face some steep legal bills. Also, in today's Internet-saturated world, an increasing number of people prefer to keep their face-to-face interactions to a bare minimum, and would much rather conduct business via email or instant message.

Plus, if you give your potential clients so much attention before signing them, they will expect that level of attention after you sign them. Imagine taking your client to dinner each time you have to update them about your case! Ideally, with good marketing your list of potential clients will rise to levels where this kind of networking is unsustainable.

So what can you do? There's nothing wrong with splurging occasionally and treating a willing client to lunch. But, given the circumstances obtaining in the modern economy, you should also invest in an automated client-retention system that can follow up on prospective leads and spare you the time, money and effort needed to schedule a meal.

Ben Glass
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Ben is a nationally recognized expert in attorney marketing and the owner of Great Legal Marketing.