Kenneth Stephens is the founder of Stephens Law PLLC, a Houston-based firm specializing in construction law—a rare niche in the industry, particularly for African American attorneys. In fact, the American Bar Association’s Construction Law section created a group to encourage diversity in construction law after realizing that less than 2.5% of its members were black.
So how did this young trailblazer start a construction law firm, and develop the trust of clients to work on multimillion-dollar projects from firms like The Beck Group, an award-winning commercial construction and architecture company? Stephens credits his success to relationship building and hustle. “In law school, we are taught theoretical and lofty rules of law but no one teaches you how to build relationships and develop business,” says Stephens. Consequently, many of us get in the real world and drown. As an associate at a firm, you have to develop relationships with partners so that they will assign you to work and if you ever want to make partner you have to eventually bring clients to the firm. If you start your own firm you have to have personality and hustle to convince people to work with your company. All of these require strong interpersonal skills, which simply isn’t stressed enough.”
We asked Stephens to walk us through the tactics he used to build powerful relationships in the digital age.
A former law partner gave me a book called “Never Eat Alone” that really helped me realize that business is about relationships and humility. You have to “play the long game,” which means you have to invest time, money, and emotion, without any immediate expectation of financial return.
I used LinkedIn to identify construction companies that I wanted to represent and identified their general counsels and corporate executives and connected with them. It was not uncommon for me to spend four hours a day connecting with new people on LinkedIn and sending them customized notes to go with my requests. My following quickly grew to 5,000+ connections. I asked them if they were open to lunch or coffee. Many ignored me but I remained persistent. In fact, I would regularly message the same person 10 to 15 times before they’d reply, with something like “Thank you, Ken, for continuing to follow up with your kind invitations. What’s your schedule like next week?” I begin meeting with these corporate decision makers and quickly learned that very few of them mind persistence and if they’re not interested, they’ll tell you.
Late 2016, I became a fan of Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of VaynerMedia. He stresses the power of creating free content that delivers value to the correct audience. After watching and listening to hours of his videos and podcasts, I put together a plan to test Gary’s strategy in legal.
I consistently created videos giving away free legal advice and shared those videos on YouTube and LinkedIn. The videos performed beyond my expectations and were shared hundreds, sometimes thousands of times. These videos put me in front of my 8,000 connections; reminding the people I had built relationships with that I existed and was available if they needed me. It also allowed me to display competence and my ability to handle their work.
As a result of implementing these strategies, my business saw record growth and revenue jumped 243%. I now employ multiple associates, staff, and of counsel. I have sufficient revenue to spend thousands on internet marketing, billboards, and social media advertising. Most importantly, I am now representing some of the largest companies in the state and in the country. However, none of this came without struggle, patience, and persistence.