Yesterday I spoke as part of a panel discussion about rainmaking for lawyers. We gave advice and shared examples of the ways we and other lawyers we know have developed business.

Among other things, we talked about how clients can come from unexpected places and sources.

Although we strongly recommend focusing your efforts on your target market and your niche, realize that business can and many times does come from somewhere else. You can’t rely on this phenomena as a steady source of business, but it can supplement the results you get from your focused efforts and activities. Keep this in mind as you are out and about in your world, stay open to the possibilities and you’ll experience this phenomena. This can happen regardless of whether you are a new lawyer or a seasoned one.

Here are a few examples of unexpected business opportunities from my career and the careers of lawyers I have known as colleagues, clients, co-counsel and opposing counsel.

1. A referral from someone who was the opposing party in a piece of litigation. The opposing party was so impressed with the skill and professionalism of his opponent’s lawyer that he recommended that lawyer, not his company’s own lawyer, to another company after the lawsuit concluded.

2. Referrals from associates at out of state firms. A young lawyer who joined the law department of a corporation asked her former firm for the name of the Michigan counsel the firm used as local counsel. While at the firm she had never worked on those matters or with the Michigan counsel, but she trusted her former colleague, an associate, who gave her the name of a junior partner in the Michigan firm. The inhouse counsel ended up hiring that lawyer and the lawyer got credit for bringing in that corporate client. The young Michigan lawyer’s relationship with and service for the associate in the national firm led to this referral and origination. The inhouse counsel used the Michigan firm for all of her cases in the state and the Michigan lawyer received the origination credit for those cases.

3. Judges who leave the bench and take positions elsewhere have become clients of and referral sources for lawyers who have appeared before them and/or with whom they have become friends. This is because people, including former judges, do business with people they know, like and trust. Less well known is that former and active judges do get privately asked to recommend lawyers for matters that will not be before them. Whether active judges make such recommendations may depend on the judge and the jurisdiction.

4. Referral sources become clients themselves. Again, this is because people do business with people they know, like and trust.

5. Helping someone find a job. Many people who have done this naturally and without any ulterior motive have then found that they have a friend for life who never forgets how they helped in a time of need. The people you help in this way often do become excellent referral sources not just because they are grateful, but because they believe in you and they know you to be a high caliber individual.

6. Striking up conversations with people in the airport or on an airplane. A lawyer made a firm presentation to inhouse counsel at a major corporation as a result of offering cookies to a man who seemed to be listening to her conversation with her colleague in the airport. It turned out he was a lawyer and was inhouse counsel facing similar legal issues. He was also interested in the cookies being shared. The woman’s ease in talking with strangers and her natural interaction with her colleague made a positive impression on the inhouse counsel.

Feel free to share your stories.