"My next-door neighbor's family and mine are very close socially. We've even vacationed together. He's president of XYZ Corp. Yet I've never gotten any work from his company." Sound familiar?
How many of your close social friends are in position to give you legal work, but never have? Unless you're relatively early in your career, your answer is probably, "Too many."
This frustrating situation is often exacerbated during the holiday season, when we spend more time with these people at social gatherings and other holiday events. Each time we see them, we're reminded that they haven't done business with us or, more accurately, that we haven't been able to make that happen.
I've trained thousands of senior lawyers, and I can't think of many who haven't acknowledged some form of this frustration. Why is it so hard to get business from friends who know, like and trust us the most?
Reason #1: We don't try to get business from them. Instead, we act as if friendship equals obligation, i.e., we expect them to recognize that, because we're friends, they should give us work. We may not like to admit it, but the truth is that, on some level, we feel we have a right to some of that business simply because of our friendship. "They spend $___ million per year on legal fees. Why wouldn't he direct some of that to me?" Why doesn't our friend recognize his negligence?
Reason #2: Higher risk factors. If our pitch to a stranger fails, all we've lost is business we didn't have, anyway. But if we pitch a friend and it fails, we fear damaging the friendship.
The good news is that your instincts are good, but maybe not for the reasons you think. It's pitching that creates the risk per se. People hate being pitched, particularly without foundation. It's a form of begging. "Please, direct some legal work my way. I'm a good lawyer." Adding "...and because I'm your friend" makes it worse. Our instincts tell us that the friend will feel violated in some way.
So, let's take stock. Throughout our friendship, conversations have almost exclusively been about our personal lives, i.e., families, hobbies, shared interests, social activities. Now, suddenly, after X years of that singular context, we make a pitch to get a slice of his company's legal budget. Awkward. And you know it. So you don't.
Over the years, you've established in your friendship what we call Social Intimacy, which has been characterized by the gradual increase in the sensitivity of the personal information we've shared. It's not instantaneous. During the early stages of a friendly acquaintance, did you suggest having your families split the cost and share a beach house for the Summer? Of course not.
Yet, without a context of discussing business, you request to establish a financial business relationship. It will be received as equally sudden and uncomfortable. You'll have to earn Professional Intimacy the same gradual way you earned Social Intimacy.