Advance Your Law Firm’s Business Development with 14 Expert Tips

There’s no such thing as too much expert advice when it comes to succeeding with business development. But we know it can be tough finding the time to cull through all the sage wisdom out there. In this post, we did the legwork for you. Read on for guidance from industry leaders.

1. Understand the Role of Business Development

“Make sure partners know the roles marketing and business development play – and that’s not recruiting clients for them. Business development is behind the scenes helping lawyers find opportunities and build relationships that win and maintain clients,” explains John Remsen, Jr., President and CEO of The Remsen Group.

2. Measure the ROI of Every Practice

According to Timothy Corcoran, principal of the Corcoran Consulting Group, “The biggest mistake law firms make is allowing the lawyers to define effective business development. Lawyers do not generally know business, while they’re willing and able to learn, they have a blind spot for the businesses they own.

When you’re at the top of the organizational pyramid, it’s too easy to insist that what you want should prevail over what’s best for the overall health of the firm. The key is to be aware if a pet area of the practice doesn’t make as much money as others. This requires having metrics to measure return on investment, such as financial reports.

Having metrics in place doesn’t always mean you choose the path that gives you the greatest return. What it means is that you make informed business decisions. We may have a practice group that’s not as profitable or busy. On paper the metrics may show that it is a waste of time and we shouldn’t put any investment in it. But these lawyers own these businesses and if they choose to make that decision I have no problem whatsoever with it, as long as it’s a conscious, informed decision.”

3. Emphasize Relationships
According to John Remsen, Jr., President and CEO of The Remsen Group, you can have the best digital presence, but that won’t matter without strong personal relationships. “Generally, clients hire lawyers not law firms. And they hire lawyers they know, like and trust. Looking ahead to 2020, building and maintaining trusted relationships – especially with current clients and referral sources – will become more important than ever. It starts with demonstrating that you care by delivering great service, by knowing your client, her business and her industry. Beyond that, visit your clients on a regular basis. Break bread with your key contacts from time to time. Invest in relationships. You can’t buy them. They must be earned over time.”

4. Don’t Rely On So-Called Natural Rainmakers

“Rainmakers only account for about 10% of the population in most firms. Everyone in the firm should be trained in client relations to ensure the highest success rates and client satisfaction levels,” says Gerry Riskin, founder of Edge International.

“It’s behavioral modeling, about showing instead of telling. If we want Tiger Woods to help us play better golf, do we read his book or go out on the course with him and get his feedback? Firms should involve the lawyers who excel at business development as role models.”

Gerry recommends firms call upon different rainmakers at different times so as not to distract them too much from their own efforts to attract new business. Firms can further minimize the burden by assigning senior associates or newer partners to handle any preparations and facilitate interactions between the rainmakers and less-experienced lawyers.

He then advises that these successful business developers engage in role-playing sessions with younger lawyers and provide feedback on their approach. He also says they can debrief with less experienced lawyers to discuss how a call or meeting may have been handled differently.

5. Find the Right Industry Practice Group Leader

The most efficient and effective way to become the go-to law firm for a specific industry is through industry practice groups. But their success depends on strong leadership.

John Remsen, Jr., President and CEO of The Remsen Group advises looking for these eight traits when seeking an industry practice group leader:

  1. They’re eager to lead an industry practice group.
  2. They’re altruistic.
  3. They’re trustworthy.
  4. They’re someone other lawyers will follow.
  5. They have power to affect compensation.
  6. They know how to run a good meeting.
  7. They’re patient.

6. Develop a Personal Brand

According to Dr. Sharon Meit Abrahams, PhD, Director of Professional Development/Diversity & Inclusion, Foley & Lardner, and author of 100 Plus Pointers for the New Partner, it’s essential for partners to get in front of and stay top of mind with people so they are remembered. To that end, they should seek opportunities for personal branding – such as speaking at conferences and authoring articles for a blog or third-party publication. Dr. Abrahams also suggests partners consider all the ways they can interact with prospective clients. Perhaps after meeting at a conference, forward an article of interest via email. Maybe during a networking lunch, the partner mentions his mother’s out-of-this-world apple pie. Follow up after the event to share the recipe.

7. Maintain a Healthy Pipeline

To produce a harvest of strong clients, you should consistently do tasks that help their interest take root. So we recommend setting the following recurring agenda items:

  • Every quarter, update your biography, audit networking efforts and connect with dormant clients.
  • Every two weeks, update your contacts, leverage social media and send some snail mail.

8. Know and Promote Fellow Partners

“In any size law firm, you need to know other partners’ expertise. You’re not just selling your services, you’re selling your firm,” says Dr. Sharon Meit Abrahams, PhD, Director of Professional Development/Diversity & Inclusion, Foley & Lardner, and author of 100 Plus Pointers for the New Partner. “For instance, let’s say you’re in the intellectual property world, but you’re talking with a client and they make a comment about their challenges with hazardous waste. If you don’t know that you have a partner who’s an expert in environmental law, you’ll miss a huge opportunity.”

9. Position Marketing to Help Generate Business

“The most successful marketers are the ones whose leadership allows them to spend less time filling charity tables and more time helping lawyers better manage client relationships. An example is delivering research to each attorney’s inbox explaining current trends for individual clients or their industries,” says Jill S. Weber, President-Elect of the Legal Marketing Association and Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer for Stinson Leonard Street.

“If you tell a client ‘I just read this happened in the industry. Would you like me to get on the phone for a quick call at no charge?’ That client is going to be very loyal if you do that over and over again,” she concludes.

10. Alleviate the Pressure With CRM

To get an edge in the marketplace, law firms need to know how to leverage CRM technology. But that’s not news to the respondents of a survey by The Legal Marketing Association and Bloomberg Law, Are We There Yet? Revealing the Latest Trends in Marketing and Business Development. A whopping 96% say they have or desire CRM software. And business development professionals report that business intelligence systems like CRM are their single-most valued resource. Yet, only 48% of marketers and 61% of business development professionals report using i

11. Boost the Likelihood of Getting Procurement’s Approval

While general counsel may still be the final decision makers in legal services purchases, it will be very challenging to reach that final level of consideration without procurement’s approval. “Procurement has been gaining influence in the buying of legal services in the last decade,” says Silvia Hodges Silverstein, PhD, Executive Director of the Buying Legal Council. “They expect firms to behave like prudent business partners who have their best interest top of mind and are aligned with their approach.”

“Procurement professionals demand predictability, project management, and budget management more than any general counsel because they’re numbers people,” she continues. So it’s key to understand the metrics that procurement uses to evaluate law firms. “They really believe if you know your business you should know how long it takes to deliver and how much that will cost.

12. Motivate Lawyers to Use CRM

To encourage CRM adoption and usage, follow the advice of John Remsen, Jr., President and CEO of The Remsen Group. “Lawyers love to see precedent. A lawyer in Cleveland will say, ‘Prove to me CRM works!’ You can say, ‘Well, here’s what our Cincinnati office did with CRM. They took a team approach to winning this big client. Joe had a part. Bill had a part. Sally had a part. And they were all willing to make it happen.’ And the lawyer will begin to get it.”

In lieu of internal precedent, lawyers can be exposed to the success stories of other firms, creating a culture shift snowball effect in the legal sector. In other words, if you do not want to address motivation, just wait long enough and it will address itself.

13. Use the Latest Technology to Build Better Relationships

“…relationships are the lifeblood of a professional services firm like Osler,” says Milosz Skrzypczak, Director of Market Intelligence for Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP. “So when we target specific prospects or want to understand more about how we can broaden and deepen our relationship with an organization, having the ability to map the organization’s structure and understand where we have touchpoints or lack them allows us to devise a better business development approach.

“If you are 100% certain that your firm has all the knowledge they need about relationships with their prospects, clients and partners, then you don’t need Introhive,” he continues. “But if you think there’s any kind of a gap, then I would suggest you consider it.”

14. Use Tools to Efficiently Inject Quality Data into Your CRM System

In the past, law firms could chalk up low usage to cumbersome data entry and complicated technology. This made it easy to ignore the elephant in the room: motivation. A partner could rationalize continued low CRM usage by saying, “Even if we take the painstaking steps to address a compensation system that blatantly discourages lawyers from using CRM, they still won’t use it because it’s more trouble to them than it’s worth.”

As Jon Metcalf, Director of Marketing Technology for Fenwick & West says, “The biggest hurdle to developing a useful, valuable CRM program is not the system, whether it’s Microsoft Dynamics, InterAction, Salesforce or OnePlace,” he insists. “The biggest hurdle is how to get quality data into the system in the most efficient manner; not only at the beginning, but on an ongoing basis.”

Now firms can solve all aspects of the “difficulty” side of the CRM usage equation with a customer relationship automation tool that bolts onto the CRM.

“I think that any firm that wants to invest in CRM has to leverage automation tools to get the best return on investment and highest level of success,” he asserts. “From the very beginning we had to solve the problem of efficiently getting the right contact and activity information into our CRM database.  Not having a tool like Introhive to solve this problem was a non-starter for us.”

Looking for more ways to sharpen your firm’s competitive edge? Download our playbook today.

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