When my coaching clients are working on their marketing plans, the first section of the plan can be a challenge. As part of creating their overall “marketing messages,” I ask them to define their ideal client, or clients. Many of my coaching clients have told me they don’t have preferences for a certain type of client, but as we discuss their experiences with various clients, virtually all of them realize there are certain common qualities among their favorite clients, particularly those that have allowed or encouraged them to do their best work. Some of these lawyers have worked with a broad range of clients, but many tend to develop a fairly narrow specialization after several years of practice.

If you have been engaged in your current practice for a significant amount of time, you probably have worked with enough clients to recognize the qualities you like or dislike about them as individuals or as companies. If you are an associate, you may not be certain that you want to devote your entire career to your current practice area. Over time, you will have enough interactions with clients to determine the right fit for you and whether you need to fine-tune the focus of your practice.

For example, you might assume that all trust and estates lawyers have a similar practice, but in my experience, each one specializes in a different niche. I know of one lawyer who prefers working with older women, mostly widows, who are concerned with taking care of their grandchildren. Another specializes in estate planning for the LGBT community. As gay marriage laws evolve, she is able to make the appropriate adjustments to their plans. Another T&E lawyer focuses on high net worth individuals whose assets include real property, while another focuses only on families with young children. I’ve also met a lawyer who emigrated from Italy and focuses on the Italian-American community in her city because she shares a language and a set of values with her clients. At the beginning of their careers, none of these lawyers intended to work exclusively for these particular clients. Their focus narrowed over time, as they developed their expertise and built a reputation within these communities.

If you work with corporate clients, a similar process can occur as you fine-tune your definition of the ideal client. There are far too many variables to include here, but the following list will provide you with a starting point for defining your own ideal client.

  • Industry type: Clearly, this could be a much longer list, but here are a few ideas to consider: banking, manufacturing, healthcare, insurance, software, agriculture, real estate, aviation, biochemistry, gaming, consumer products, apparel, food, wine.
  • Size of client: Size can refer to the number of employees, the number of physical locations (i.e., a retail chain), or the relative size of the company within its industry.
  • Geographical location: Your ideal client may be local, regional, national or international in scope, whether in regard to the markets it serves or where it has its operations.
  • Revenue: Some lawyers prefer to work with start-up companies that have large upside potential, while others prefer more established companies. Non-profit organizations and government agencies tend to have more limited budgets but may offer the opportunity to work on complex problems.

Although all of those factors can influence your definition of the ideal client, it is also important to determine whether you and your client have shared values. As a CMCP member, the top value on your list is most likely the client’s commitment to diversity issues. In addition, you may want to know their views on risk tolerance, their orientation to litigation, how they treat their employees, whether they have innovative products or services, and their level of dedication to their community.

The more clearly you can define the ideal client for your practice, the easier it will be to identify specific individuals and companies to target in your business development efforts. When you can communicate this information to your network of contacts, you will make it easier for them to refer clients directly to you.