Law Firm Business Development Must Mature in an Increasingly Competitive Market
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Angela Spall - Williams Mullen

The legal profession continues to find itself in increasingly competitive markets.  The focus on business development has by necessity sharpened.  The key to a successful business development program in a law firm is to provide lawyers with the best possible competitive advantage in a highly competitive marketplace.

Vital components in building a successful business development program encompass the following:

Business development professionals, in a fully supported marketing department, must be as focused as the lawyers they serve and experts on the practice areas and industries they are assigned.  Credibility will be a key factor in working successfully with lawyers. The following are the recommended requirements for an effective business development professional:

  • Assigned to practice areas and industries where they must become experts.
  • Conduct comprehensive research to identify challenges and opportunities within a client entity, an industry or a target prospect.
  • Support and coach their lawyers in business development techniques.
  • Understand the sales process and most likely have had a background in sales or sales support.
  • Regularly engage in client feedback or end-of-matter interviews.
  • Regularly present proactive ideas to practice and industry groups.
  • They must be in an integral strategic role in all business development activities working alongside the lawyers they support.

Teamwork is vital in successful business development in law firms.  Business development professionals and lawyers must work together in client and industry teams for successful results. Teamwork must be rewarded and compensation systems must take into account the whole team that brought the business in or expanded a client relationship.  Encouraging teamwork ensures all levels of expertise and skills are used effectively and rewarded accordingly.

Keep your targets organized.   Targets, whether they are prospects or clients, must be worked across the board. Use technology to access and store information on targets and clients and their industries so that it is readily available 24/7.  Opportunities can happen at any time.  In business development, making your own luck by being prepared and ready to act quickly without too many prior meetings or discussions, is imperative.  A window of opportunity can be jumped through by a competitor and can close quickly.

Clients will always be THE top priority.  Clients want all the things that clients or customers in any industry want: value for their dollar.  Providing value is more about results than it is about cost; it is more about knowledge, expertise, and trusting relationships.  Clients are the number one business development source and law firms must be competitive in how services are offered and delivered to their clients.  Expanding client relationships is still an under-utilized business development action.  Client feedback and end-of-matter interviews are a necessity.

It has been said that many law firms succeed despite themselves.  But, after a deep recession and the economy experiencing a slow recovery, it is time for law firms to invest in key areas to be competitive.  You will need technology to help streamline the business development process.  You will need to invest in qualified and experienced individuals, attorneys and non-attorneys alike to be successful. These areas of investment include:

  • Installing technologies such as Contact Relationship Management (CRM) and Email Relationship Management (ERM) and the newer add on tools that assist lawyers and business development professionals in providing ways to organize and utilize client and target contact information.
  • Research software that can quickly access business information of all kinds to pull together business and industry information.
  • Motivate lawyers and practice and industry teams by investing in appropriate reward systems through innovative approaches to compensation programs.
  • Ongoing training for lawyers and staff in business development, client service, technologies, the business of law, etc. Effective business development techniques can be learned.  While innate skills are highly valued, training lawyers in business development at an early point in their careers will benefit the firm in the long term.
  • Invest in people by hiring the best qualified and providing them the tools to be effective in their responsibilities.

And finally, and this has been said and written time after time by so many other marketing professionals, business development professionals must encourage their lawyers to accept and embrace business development as an essential part of their professional lives. No other time in the last 20 years has it been so critical to take care of your clients, participate in activities that get you in front of clients and prospects, take care of reputation management, and becoming known in your communities through building practice expertise and volunteering time in community organizations.  These activities will pay off.

Originally published in the Fall 2010 issue of LMA Practice Marketing Newsletter Copyright 2010 Legal Marketing Association –The Virginias Chapter