Business Development in 2020? Let's Take a Breath.

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International Lawyers Network

Our second quarter of the year begins tomorrow, and for many of us, we’re facing a new normal that didn’t seem possible three months ago. One of my lawyers emailed me last night and said “what a year this past week has been.” I don’t think truer words have ever been spoken.

Lawyers are all in different places at the moment – some firms are exceptionally busy, but may have clients who aren’t able to pay them at the moment. Others are making the difficult decision to lay off staff or cut salaries. Some are shuffling resources to accommodate the influx of questions to practice areas like employment and insolvency and bankruptcy. Everyone is unsure what the future brings.

Most of us know we should be doing SOMETHING with our business development, but is it icky? Do we stick with our plans from January? Do we put everything on hold until things calm down?

The short answer is that we SHOULD be moving forward – but I’m here to emphasize two important points for you about how to do that effectively. Remember that underlying everything we’re doing at the moment should be that idea of “leading with empathy” – whether you’re helping new or existing clients, managing your firm or your staff, or even just interacting with your family unit and friends, if you start with empathy, the other decisions come much more easily.

We had a plan when we started the year, and then a pandemic happened. So throw that plan out. It’s okay, I promise – you can always come back to it next year, or never. Let’s not worry right now what your goals were, what your strategy was, or how you were planning to get there. Things change.

Start with where you are right now instead, and take some quiet time to ask yourself:

  • What one to three things do my clients REALLY want?
  • How can I add value?
  • What goals do I and my firm think are important?

These things are mostly likely going to be different than what you would have answered even three weeks ago about your firm, yourself and your clients, and that’s fine. The important thing is that you know what those answers are TODAY for your clients, and also that you’re prepared to revisit these questions every few weeks at this time to ensure that you’re continuing to answer these with the current information you have about your situation, your firm’s situations, and your clients’ situation.

Once you have the answers to these questions, break them down further with some general ideas that will help you to reach these goals, and then further again with descriptions for how and why those ideas will help to get you there. Here, you may want to look at some past strategies you’ve employed to identify what may have worked for you in the past in terms of helping you to serve clients, and what ideas may not work at the moment (obviously in-person things are out, but what virtual or content-related items may be worth pursuing?).

Ultimately, devise a streamlined plan for yourself for the next four weeks that contains individual task lists, with deadlines to meet. It may seem silly at a time like this to work on something like this, but your goal in doing this isn’t just self-serving – you’re identifying value for your clients and potential clients, and how you can deliver on that value. Key here is sitting down to take a breath to look at the full picture so that you can identify whether in the busy-ness of the current moments, you may be overlooking a source of assistance you can be offering to a client or potential client. Remember that asking them is a valuable tool too.

I know that lawyers have been asked to do a LOT of new things over the past two weeks, and I can tell you that from the lawyers in my own Network, they have handled it with a tremendous amount of grace and gusto. I seriously could not be prouder with the way in which they’ve pulled together.

And now that you know you CAN do new (and hard!) things, I’m going to encourage you to keep doing them. I’m sorry, I know that it’s not comfortable for the legal industry! There is a great quote from Real Admiral Grace Hopper about this though:

The most dangerous phrase in the language is ‘we’ve always done it this way.’”

Someone pointed out that this obviously wouldn’t work for, say, heart surgery, and I know some lawyers would say that it wouldn’t work for legal work either. While that may be true in some instances, we now know that maybe the legal industry isn’t as immune to change as we previously thought. Trying new things can have significant benefits – a post on Psychology Today offers these four:

  1. It requires courage, which can open you up to being more courageous in other areas.
  2. It opens up the possibility that you’ll enjoy something new – maybe you’ll find a niche practice area that you love or a networking tactic that is wildly successful.
  3. It keeps you from becoming bored – when we’re bored with something, we give less of our attention to it, and less of our passion. It’s easy to say that a tactic or tool isn’t working if we’re bored with it.
  4. It forces you to grow and that keeps you open to new things, which can lead you to professional success and growth.

So hey, all of this change and growth, while at the same time as being painful and scary, also has a silver lining. I’m not trying to be Pollyanna about this, but I believe that when things are extremely challenging, our choice is to find the things we can learn from them. Use this opportunity to stretch your “change” muscles a little bit:

  • In-house counsel are saying they’re overwhelmed by the number of webinars and alerts they’re receiving. Call your top clients instead, and the clients you WANT to be top clients, and distill the knowledge into how it will affect THEIR business. Ask questions that will get you further intelligence on what they’re worried about, and how you might be able to help.
  • Host a virtual happy hour on Zoom to break up the stress of the current situation. Invite clients from the same industry and take the opportunity to introduce them to each other.
  • Start a podcast and interview clients on their pain points, and how they’re reacting in the current environment. Highlight the creative and proactive steps they’re taking and/or the community work they’re doing. Interview your colleagues from other practice areas that complement yours about the work they’re doing and how it might impact your clients.
  • Commit to a “lunch” every two weeks with a client or prospective client over Zoom.

Business development feels strange at the moment, but if you lead with “how can I help?” and look for unique ways to share your services, you’ll be adding value to clients and potential clients in a way that makes everyone feel better. Stay safe, wash your hands, and stay six feet apart.

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