A Primer on the Art and Science of Law Firm Business Development

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You’ve spent more than seven years in college and then law school to pursue the dream of becoming a successful attorney. You nailed the bar exam. You’re ready to hang out your shingle and welcome the droves of clients eager for your services.

But how do you find the right clients? 

Now compound the number of attorneys seeking clients with the eager young associates and seasoned rainmaker partners who are experts in many legal specialties and you have an idea of the challenge facing law firm marketers.

There’s a simple distinction between marketing and business development. Marketing is an outreach from one person to many. On the other hand, business development is one to one.

At its core, business development is an ongoing process that involves a combination of strategic analysis, targeted and mass marketing communications, and sales.

...a viable match of client need and attorney or firm capabilities...

The process begins with targeting the right prospective clients – where there will be a viable match of client need and individual attorney and firm capabilities. Newer attorneys may find prospects among their law school and college friends, family members or at social and business networking events. Established attorneys need to keep in contact with their sources, as well, such as business associates, former clients, and even social relationships.

It’s important that attorneys find the best, most comfortable path to meeting prospective clients. For example, if an attorney dreads going to social events, he or she will probably not present well in that environment. Hanging back, looking nervous, and drinking a bit too much wine does not project confidence.

Other issues with regard to targeting would include any potential conflicts of interest with either party, the ability of the prospective client to pay for legal services, the reputation of the prospect, and other determinants.

Once a client has been targeted and marketing has received a green light from firm management to proceed, the next step is proposing. The more specific a new business proposal can be, the likelier it is to resonate with the prospect – how can the firm meet the need better than anyone else and why. 

Doing the necessary homework to learn about the prospective client is a necessity. It is essential to know their business, culture, customer relationships, competitors and the challenges they face, as well as their decision-making hierarchy – are you pitching the right person or persons? Equally important is a knowledge of their preferences, perceptions and desires, along with their key influencers, suppliers and other service providers, including how the select them.

...align the firm’s core competencies with the goals of the client

With that knowledge in hand, the process of selling that client on the firm can begin. This can range from a formal presentation before an executive team or something as casual as an afternoon on the golf course. Often there are many touch points with the prospective client that may contribute to a successful outcome. Part of a winning process is to align the firm’s core competencies with the goals of the client.

Remember, it can take six or more touches with a prospect to bring him into the firm as a client. So follow up, follow up and follow up.

As the new client comes aboard, the process of serving begins. While the attorneys step into the driver’s seat as legal counsel, business development still can play a vital role.

Is the client pleased with the level of service he or she is receiving from you?  Mid-course adjustments can head off any problems.

Retain business by doing the unexpected...

Once business is won, be sure to document the your accomplishments, and deepen and expand relationships within the client’s organization. Never assume that clients are satisfied: ask!  

Retain business by doing the unexpected … match their investment in process improvement; do what they hate doing. And integrate yourself into the processes that matter most to them.  You must also be flexible to the client’s way of doing business and help them do their jobs better and look for ways to do your job better. Always lead with new ideas and solutions and be sure to address issues quickly and confirm their positive resolution.

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[Cynthia Kaiser is the founder and principal of Kaiser Advisors LLC. She has spent 18 years in-house at various firms and was the Chief Marketing Officer for Rutan & Tucker, LLP in Orange County, California. She can be reached at kaiseradvisors77@gmail.com or 310.713.9889.]

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