Gary Simpler | Crain's Baltimore

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Gary Simpler

Background:  

Celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, Baltimore-based Shawe & Rosenthal represents and advises management in employment and labor law matters. The firm was recently ranked as one of the top labor and employment firms in Maryland for the 14th consecutive year by Chambers USA, a prominent research and publishing organization that ranks the best lawyers. This year marks Gary Simpler’s 32nd anniversary with the firm. He was named co-managing partner in 2014.

The Mistake:

Spending a great deal of time trying to find new clients where they didn't exist.

One thing I didn’t know, and I can translate that to most of the people we hire today, is, how does an attorney come in as an associate and ultimately reach the goal of being a partner in the firm? The question that comes with that, is, how do they attract clients that they would represent, so that they would have a practice that would justify making them a partner?

I joined Shawe & Rosenthal in 1985, after working for the National Labor Relations Board for seven years. I had the opportunity to work with many bright, successful attorneys who had been with the firm for as little as one year, but many of them had been there for over 20 years. I received excellent mentoring and guidance from these senior attorneys.

Initially, I believed that making presentations at human resources conferences and providing trainings through various commercial training organizations was the best way to show my knowledge and attract clients. I put a lot of time and effort into that, and while there was value in terms of me learning substantive knowledge of various areas of law that we practiced, it really wasn’t a good source of attracting new business. There weren’t a lot of decision-makers coming to those conferences.

These were activities that I did on a yearly basis, typically more than one a year, for about five years. One conference that sticks out was a wage and hour conference — it was an eight-hour presentation, and I was doing it with a former wage and hour executive, and there were only eight people in the audience. We felt that we had spent a lot of time putting together this presentation and preparing for a very long day, and we had just a handful of people. That became something where we said, that’s not the type of audience you’re looking to attract. We were just the subject matter experts, so we put in a lot of time and effort, and there really wasn’t a lot of economic remuneration, and a limited opportunity to find a new client.

I had been conducting presentations like that for nearly five years, and at that point, I said to myself, I think I need to focus on other issues, and I determined that wasn’t going to be a viable route.

It’s the relationships that you form with your existing clients that will make you successful.

The Lesson:

What I found, and I continue to communicate to the folks at our firm, is it’s the relationships that you form with your existing clients that will make you successful. I say that because if you have a good working relationship, and that client representative relies on you and values your advice and counsel, it could lead to them providing you a bigger scope within their own business.

In addition, some of the people you work with — they may be a mid-level human resources manager — but they might eventually take a higher level role in another organization. Because they value your representation, they might bring you with them to the new organization.

It’s important to form good relationships. I don’t know which one of those human resources persons will end up leaving or if they leave whether they would be in a position to utilize the services of our firm even if they wanted to. And I’m not suggesting forming a good relationship simply for the purpose of getting new business. But by maintaining a good relationship, those opportunities can present themselves, and have presented themselves many times over the course of my career. Part and parcel of doing a good job for your client is having that client representative you’re working with value what you’re doing for them, so they have the desire to continue receiving your representation.

Shawe & Rosenthal LLP is on Twitter at @ShaweRosenthal.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email cberman@crain.com.

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's Baltimore.