How To Ask For Work (When You Hate Asking)

A lot of lawyers seem to labour under the misapprehension that, in order to get work, they have to schmooze at cocktail parties, spend time with people they don’t like, go to golf tournaments every summer, and make the direct ask for work to as many people as they can.

And most of them hate it.

I can honestly say I’ve never received one file in response to a direct-ask for work. I tried it (like everyone else,) but it was awful. I hated it and it didn’t work for me. Later in my career, when I was actually in a position to refer files to other people, I hated being subjected to the direct-ask from other people almost as much as I had previously hated doing it myself!

It could just be that I wasn’t any good at it and in fact it works wonderfully for other lawyers. But no one that has ever asked me for work has been any good at it, either. For those of you who have had success with the direct-ask, motor on and all the best! And if you have a minute, let me know how to actually make that work. I will post it, because I never did manage to succeed with it myself!

In my experience, the answer to “how you get work” does not lie in artificial, pushy, sales-y interactions. The answer lies deep in the core of why we went into this career in the first place. So, you probably went to law school believing that you would come out with a career that would give you the opportunity to help people. I would hazard a guess that the best days you have in this career are those when you feel like you have helped someone. You’ve gotten a great result, you’ve made someone feel less scared, you’ve help them look good to their employer, etc.

Keep that in mind when you’re out of your office and looking for more work. You are not asking someone to do you a favour by giving you a file. You are offering to give them the benefit of all of your experience and aptitude to help them solve a problem they can’t solve on their own. Say that. And better yet, know them well enough to convey exactly how working together would be advantageous, and be prepared to show them that.

I’ve heard a saying that goes something like this: If you want people to think you are great, don’t tell them you are great; just be great. The same applies here. Be useful and helpful to people and they will believe you are useful and helpful. Then (and only then) will they be compelled to hire you.

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