7 Steps to Create a Successful Industry Practice Group: An interview with John Remsen, Jr.

“There’s riches in niches,” declares John Remsen, Jr., President and CEO of The Remsen Group. And this is why he encourages law firms to develop industry practice groups.

“They promote cross-selling and teamwork, and focus a group of lawyers on a well-defined target audience,” he explains, noting that industry practice groups are the gateway for becoming the go-to firm for specific industries, such as banking, transportation, or real-estate development.

John’s insight is based on decades of helping law firms develop and implement long-term strategic marketing and business development objectives. He recalls an experience from a quarter century ago that demonstrates the power of industry practice groups.

A firm he was working with represented leading South Florida golf-course and resort developers who had a worldwide reputation. The firm leveraged their work with these developers by incorporating it into collateral materials and speaking engagements that reached the golf-course and resort-development industry worldwide. Before long, the firm’s regional practice became global as they attracted resort-development business from Europe, Africa and Asia.

“All the ingredients were there. We were already working with the leaders in the golf-course and resort development industry, and when we packaged those legal services, it was very impressive,” says John.

Today, with the highly competitive legal marketplace, industry practice groups are more critical than ever before, he notes. “Industry expertise is among the most important attribute a client is looking for when shopping for a new lawyer.”

To make it easy for your  prospects and clients to see how perfectly you fit their needs, John advises taking these 7 steps to establish industry practice groups:

1. Analyze who you’re representing now.

Pay attention to the industries that you already know, where you have strong relationships and a strong reputation.

“Chances are, you’re already doing a lot of things – from transactional work to litigation – for companies in banking, government, or manufacturing, for instance,” says John. “But you’re doing it in an uncoordinated way and there’s no real firm-wide focus.”

He also advises looking beyond standard industries to any group of clients with similar characteristics. Consider following the lead of banks that have private groups for wealthy clients and  provide VIP service in family law, estate planning and residential real estate. Package legal services to high net-worth individuals under a single umbrella of private client services.

2. Start a pilot program.

Start with one or two groups in industries where you are likely to achieve success, have a good group of clients, and “a good group of lawyers who play well together,” says John. “Don’t try to set up six or eight industry groups at once. Let’s start with low-hanging fruit and get those going, then stage the rest.”

“Remember, these aren’t just pages on website,” he points out. “Industry groups work as a team, as a pack, not a group of individuals working independently of each other.”

3. Identify a strong leader.
John says strong leadership is absolutely critical as he has seen groups thrive – and fail – based solely on leadership. The attributes of a strong leader include:

  • They have to be able to call a meeting and hold lawyers accountable.
  • They have to be so excited about the opportunity that they’ll contribute 100 or 200 hours a year to industry-group success.
  • They have to be cheerleader, coach and enforcer.

“There’s always a tendency to put senior lawyers in these leadership spots. But they may – or may not – be the right people. You need someone relatively unselfish and firm-focused,” says John. “It’s often the younger partners who appreciate the changes in the marketplace.”

John recalls a firm that countered this issue by appointing younger lawyers to deputy-chair roles. They handled the tasks that kept the group moving forward, such as composing the agenda, running the meeting, and distributing notes.

“It’s a great way to groom future leaders,” he notes.

4. Build a strong team.
Create a team that represents a solid cross section of your firm’s culture by demographics, abilities, practice and office.

John advises allowing people to do more of what they’re good at. If a lawyer is an engaging writer, charge them with developing an industry-focused blog. If they’re a strong presenter, put them on the industry’s speaking circuit. If they love coordinating events, have them develop a seminar series.

“Industry practice groups can get lawyers doing things they enjoy, get them playing off one another, cross-selling and achieving more powerful results than if they worked independently,” says John.

5. Develop an industry practice worksheet.
An industry practice group worksheet is an outline that helps distill the industry-practice concept in the minds of lawyers who are practice-focused, notes John. The worksheet should clarify:

  • The name of the group.
  • The services offered.
  • The lawyers on the team.
  • The clients the group serves.
  • Key industry associations and organizations

“It still surprises me how difficult it is for lawyers to wrap their head around the industry practice group concept,” admits John. “They may wonder, ‘I’m a litigator. What does this mean to me?’”

The industry practice group worksheet will go a long way in enhancing their understanding by helping them visualize how they fit into the practice-group picture.

6. Meet monthly.

“These meetings shouldn’t be about what we could do, should do, or ought to do,” warns John. “They should be a venue to report back to one another and hold each other accountable for what we said we would do.”

These recurring meetings should have an agenda and be structured so that industry-group team members can keep each other abreast of what they’re doing and coordinate activities. For instance, if there is an industry conference in Las Vegas, use this time to:

  • Clarify who is attending.
  • Review registrants and determine who will make key connections
  • Strategize prospecting opportunities

“The goal is to move forward in a coordinated, proactive, strategic fashion,” says John.

7. Be patient.

“It takes time to develop a reputation as a go-to law firm,” says John. “Don’t expect immediate results and don’t give up too easily. Keep at it. Remember, it takes 8 to 11 impressions to convert a prospect.”

Although, for some of John’s clients, it has taken far less. He recalls one who conducted a series of seminars and was frustrated that they weren’t getting new clients after the third event. However, the fourth seminar was the charm. They signed up a client that today, 15 years later, is their largest.

If you’re eager to start a practice group, heed John’s advice and get more by reading 12 Steps to Set Up an Industry Practice Group for Your Law Firm.

Keep in mind that as you set up your industry practice groups one of the best ways to spur business is by giving your team a 360-degree real-time view of the industry’s marketplace with Customer relationship automation.  Want to find out more? Schedule a demo.

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