Law Firm Leadership: "But, This Is How We've Always Done It..."

JD Supra Perspectives

“A foolish simplicity is the hobgoblin of little minds…” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The most brilliant individuals throughout history have looked at common knowledge differently. They've attempted to glean new perspective and cultivate sharper insights by refusing to accept widely held views at face value. They've embraced strategic change, avoided conformity, and constantly sought new ways to innovate and reexamine their conclusions.  

And then, generally speaking, we have the brilliant minds of the legal profession.

Law school trains our attorneys to be risk-adverse, to rely heavily on precedent and pattern, to poke holes in thin arguments, all which serves them well in practicing law. However, this training makes it exceedingly difficult for many attorneys to embrace change and innovation. Our industry has experienced its most significant changes over the past decade, and the firms that are not only surviving but thriving are thinking (and acting) outside the box, strategically.

Here are a few concepts that run contrary to “but, this is how we’ve always done it” and, if embraced, can add value to your firm:

Client-Facing Business Developers

As in-house business development professionals, our attorneys are our “internal clients,” and we, as legal marketers and business development professionals, take many proactive measures to prepare them for meeting prospects, pitching, and asking for work.

We know where to research, how to make sense of the right data, how to identify opportunities, how best to build personal brands - and often we think more like a client than like a lawyer. 

Internal BD professionals have a wide lens of the firm’s capabilities and personalities, and are well-suited to deliver the firm’s overarching messaging while putting the client’s best interest at the forefront.

Contrary to the traditional belief that only lawyers should be bringing business to the firm (and obeying the ethical rules of each jurisdiction), client-facing business developers can parlay our insights, experience, and knowledge into direct interfacing with clients or prospects. We are able to forge relationships, add value, and drive revenue by, among other things, actively listening to the needs of clients and helping to connect them to the best attorney to help solve their problem(s).

It is also simply a matter of efficiency to transition from a billable attorney to business development professional the task of initial introductions, vetting the client or prospect’s challenge, and determining the best suited person to handle any given issue. Such a structure ensures that the client relationship remains paramount. 

Using Data to Better Serve Clients

If I had a nickel for every time I heard an attorney say, “I know best what my client wants,” - well … I’d have a whole bunch of nickels.

While knowledge gleaned from relationship building is certainly valuable, we’d be remiss to ignore what data tells us about the behaviors of our clients and prospects. The information is there for the taking; ask, and ye shall receive.

  • Do you examine which firm events your clients not only RSVP to, but actually attend? Your event planning coordinators have the data to identify who is showing up at your seminars or tuning into your webinars, and whether or not that converts into work in the door. 
  • Do you track what their footprint looks like after that event? Are attendees visiting your firm’s website or blogs and actively reading more articles on the topics you write about? Ask your communications specialists to dive into the client journey within your content marketing strategy and use those findings to shape what you write about in the future. There are tools that do just that. 
  • Have the countless hours spent by your marketing department for your placement on a new ranking list driven any actual new business? Your PR manager likely has tracked which rankings are worth their salt and which are not, and may even have client feedback on which truly matter to them.

Data is meant to disprove hearsay, not to confuse the masses with an abundance of facts and figures. Make sure your data is distilled into a digestible format. Remember that we invest in technologies that make us more nimble and efficient in the legal industry; we do not simply want the newest, shiniest toy.

Law firms should be utilizing the data that can be tracked on business development initiatives, content creation, client service and client engagement in order to ensure their human capital investment is being well spent, both by attorneys and the marketing department.

Stop Dodging Marketing and Partner Up

Attorneys have been ducking into dark hallways to avoid their legal marketers for as long our as those roles have been in existence. The marketers are assuredly coming to ask them to do something non-billable, and they would much rather be left alone to practice law and assume that “someone else will handle that.”

Remember that your marketing and business development department is focused on one thing and one thing only: driving revenue to the firm

Your marketing and BD folks are not sitting at their desks, waiting for attorneys to come up with something to keep them busy. They are actively researching your clients’ industries, behaviors, preferred pricing structures, activities that beget a tangible return on investment, and ways to expand your firm’s and your individual brand in a marketplace that matters. If you treat them with respect and view them as a partner in your practice, rather than as a pest, you will see that working as a team is beneficial for both parties. 

Make time to tell them exactly what you did today, from the moment you sat down at your desk until the moment you stopped recording your time. Help them to understand not only what you do, but also what you do not do; acknowledge that many of them may not be lawyers, but they do strive to understand the services you provide and how those affect the firm’s clients. This helps them do their jobs better.

Ask for their advice, and try to listen to their rationale if you agree to disagree on a particular approach. You have worked hard to be the best at what you do, and we are no different.


[Jenna Schiappacasse is Director of Client Development at Rosenberg Martin Greenberg LLP and LMA's 2018 President-Elect for the Mid-Atlantic region. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow for her latest writing on JD Supra.]

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