The business world fundamentally changed in 2008. Client demand for matter efficiency and cost effectiveness has since increased, the supply in practicing lawyers outweighs the demand in work, and no longer does one’s reputation alone procure enough work to meet a lawyer’s growth objectives.
Savvy law firms are equipping their lawyers—Millennials and seasoned Partners alike—with the skills necessary to turn contacts into clients. Here are five techniques for cultivating a business development culture within your firm.
1. Be Intentional. The skills required to be an excellent legal practitioner are very different from those necessary to build and market a practice. Successful rainmakers have learned how to target specific industries, how to differentiate their services from the competition and how to overcome prospective client buying objections. Because these skills are not taught in law school and are rarely developed naturally, shrewd law firms are turning to business development coaching and training to arm their attorneys with the skills necessary to be successful at client development.
Furthermore, as the business world becomes more specialized, lawyers must avoid marketing themselves as general practitioners. For marketing purposes, decide on a specific industry, type of matter or case, or size of client by which you can become known and create a draw for your services.
2. Be Consistent. An hour-long lunch program once a year on the best practices for becoming a rainmaker will not impart the knowledge and skills necessary for your attorneys to become successful at client development. The best business development programs combine one-on-one attorney coaching with group training—ideally two weeks apart. Doing so will keep client prospecting top-of-mind throughout the course of any given month.
During the individual coaching, attorneys can develop an annual business plan, develop value propositions and analyze their network for new business and referral opportunities.
George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
Group training combats a firm’s lack of internal communication to encourage attorneys to share with their colleagues their individual focuses and pursuits. Sharing leads to collaboration, which leads to new business opportunities.
3. Be Accountable. That which gets measured, gets improved. A successful business development program incorporates some element for lawyers to report their activities beyond new matters. Together with our attorney clients, we develop a scorecard of five-to-six metrics—the number of networking events attended, client visits made, new business pitches attended, articles written or number of referrals given—that demonstrate an attorney’s tangible activities that lead to new matters, new clients and growth in revenue. Attorney participants in any business development program will update their scorecard monthly.
4. Be Prepared for Resistance. Critics of business development programs will refer to prior attempts by the firm to introduce similar programs with little to no success. Instead of trying to convince the naysayers, launch your program by working with “the willing,” those attorneys, both at the Associate and the Partner levels, who are interested in professional development and are willing to be accountable for the firm’s resources. Success among “the willing” will convince the critics to acquiesce.
5. Be Cognizant of Milestones. It is natural for firms to celebrate case wins, deal closings or new client acquisitions. In addition to these important and well-deserved celebrations, find ways to recognize attorney efforts or miles tones that lead to new business and excellent client service.
One firm publishes a weekly “Attorneys in the News” internal email that recognizes firm attorneys for their participation in speaking engagements, articles published, media commentary, new business pitches and RFPs.
Although the weekly email may sound insignificant, it incentivizes attorneys to do something that will make them eligible for inclusion in the weekly email. Ultimately, it encourages the type of attorney behavior that leads to new business opportunities for the firm.
This article was originally published in the July 2016 issue of Attorney at Law Magazine.