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If You Build It: Chris Hill

This is the third post in our construction law business development series.  Chris Hill is a wild man — he has published thousands of construction law blog posts over at his site, Construction Law Musings.  As a result, if you search “construction law Virginia,” his blog is at the top of the list.  So I recently reached out to Chris H and ask him about his relentless business development efforts.

Chris C:  Chris, thanks for joining me for this interview. The focus is on business development. You are the most persistent construction law blogger out there. Why do you do it?

Chris H:  First and foremost, I enjoy it. I always tell people that if it ain’t fun, there’s no point in keeping it up. I haven’t been able to get a time to dollars metric of any quality to see how blogging leads to money, though I do know folks have found me through Construction Law Musings.

I first began because I heard it was a good idea. Then I met folks like you, found out it was a good way to get my name out there and frankly that I learned something each time I thought about a new post.

Blogging keeps me up to date on construction law trends, helps with “real world” introduction as and connections, and gives me some way to get my thoughts on various construction related topics out there.  

Oh. . . and it seems to have some business development benefit.

Chris Hill, Attorney

How did that hard hat get in the picture?

Chris C:  The phrase “sharing economy” has been at the front of my mind recently. Why do you share free information via your blog?

Chris H:  I know it sounds corny and canned but I hope that my thoughts at Musings help folks.  I would much rather spend my time helping out than being in court, though I enjoy the courtroom also.

Like I said before, I actually enjoy the process of writing something that, hopefully, people will want to read.  Blogging is a good platform because the posts don’t have to be long and that is good for a solo like me.

I’d also rather have a potential client read the blog and then call because I think that the blog, as opposed to the more static firm website, gives a more in depth view of me and my practice.  Hopefully if a potential client takes some time at Construction Law Musings, they will be able to better determine a fit for their particular issues.

Finally, I do hope that it sparks some interest in contacting me with legal issues.  By sharing, I get one more “oar in the water” for marketing to go along with the necessary “real world” face to face marketing and speaking that I do as well.

Chris C:  Do lawyers ever tell you that you’re crazy for blogging so much?  Got any good examples of this?

Catfish 3-8-14

Through his relentless efforts in the office and on the bay, Chris Hill consistently reels in whoppers like this one.

Chris H:  I’m always surprised when someone walks up to me and puts my name with the blog.  Frankly, I’m flattered that folks read and remember it.  As my 15 year old son likes to point out, I’m a lawyer that deals with dirt, bricks and sticks on a regular basis and that topic isn’t all that interesting to a majority of the world.

I don’t so much get rolling eyes as questions about why I do it and how do I have time.  Most lawyers I talk to seem to think that they don’t have the time to do this and for some that’s true.  It doesn’t take up that much time, but if you don’t like it, then blogging will be a chore.  If you think that this will just be one more thing you have to do, don’t blog.  If you do it because you like it and it’s a good use of time, then do blog.  

The other reaction I get is in the vein of how to get started or tech related questions.  These are always harder to answer because on the get started question all I can say is “just start.”  On the tech related questions, I’m just old enough to remember when 64K was a big ram amount on a computer so I don’t see myself as much more than a Luddite on the computer front.  

So I guess I don’t get the “you’re nuts” reaction as much as the “how do you have time” or “how do you do it” type reaction.

Chris C:  Tell me about one time your blog led to a case or client.

Chris H:  I got a relatively large and recently concluded matter from an out of state General Contractor who found me through the blog.  It led to representing them and their surety in some litigation that has since settled and possibly a future relationship should they do more work in my fair Commonwealth.

I get a fair amount of contacts from out of state companies looking for a Virginia construction lawyer through the blog, though I only find out if I remember to ask how they got my name.  

On the flip side, the blog can act as a sort of screening mechanism.  I am not exactly subtle about what I do, so if the conversation starts with “Do you take X kind of case?” the answer will likely be “No” unless it turns out to be a certains subset of construction or development law.

I have to remind myself that while I may get the first contact because of the blog or a Google search, it is up to me to “land” the client and form the relationship.  The blog won’t do that for me.

Chris C:  If you were starting over as a first year associate at a construction law firm, what would you do to distinguish yourself?

Chris H:  Hmmmm.  That’s a tough one.  Looking back, if you’d told me I’d end up in this area of law when I was in law school, I’d have looked for your second head and wondered what you had been drinking so I’m not sure.

As far as distinguishing yourself, do your best to make client contacts.  This could be tougher at bigger firms with a more top down model (though I’ve never worked in private practice at a firm of more than 18 lawyers), but try anyway.  Frankly, if you’re the “boots on the ground” that is what will make you memorable to contractors and other construction professionals.

Also, be sure that you take the time to talk with the construction folks.  Most of these guys are very relationship oriented and don’t want to do everything by email.  A good way to do this is to join local trade groups: AGC, ABC and the like.  If you are the face they know, you’ll be the one they call.

Finally, don’t just rely on others to get business or rely on a newsletter or blog as your only avenue.  I know that this interview is mostly about web related business development, but don’t forget that a handshake and a smile go a long way.

Chris Hill likes his job as construction lawyer and blogger, as evidenced by his eternal smile.

Chris Hill likes his job as construction lawyer and blogger, as evidenced by his eternal smile.

Chris C:  Do you have concerns about construction firms overextending themselves in the recovery?  What are you seeing in the construction risk world?

Chris H:  I always have concerns in this area, particularly with those construction companies that have high overhead (sitework for example) and large “heavy iron” costs.  Much like with the downturn, it is the transition more than the end of the slide or ramp that causes issues.  Steady growth is the key in my book.

As far as risk is concerned, I’m seeing a lot of the same things I’ve seen before.  Contractor-Subcontractor payment disputes and claims, mechanic’s liens, etc.  Remember, I’m a solo that doesn’t do insurance work so I only see one part of the construction “elephant.”

Chris C:  You used to do government work for the state of Virginia. What did you do?  What was it like on the other side?  How did you view private practice attorneys?  What mistakes on the other side did you see repeated?

Chris H:  That is an interesting question because I represented the Virginia Department of Corrections on the civil side.  This was all inmate v. department/corrections officers suits and the occasional ACLU claim.  I therefore don’ t have a whole lot of insight into how government attorneys view private practice guys.

It was great experience right out of law school because I was thrown into court quickly and in a relatively “safe” set of circumstances because inmates aren’t usually looked at as popular plaintiffs and they messed up the very specific rules for suing the Commonwealth on a regular basis.  One thing I learned is that the tables are tilted heavily in favor of the government in just about every way so private practice folks that try and sue the state need to follow the rules to a “T”

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