Legal Business Development: What's Your Strategy?

by Paula Black

Do you have a strategic plan, a business development plan or a marketing plan? Do you have a budget to make things happen? Is it the partner that speaks loud enough that gets an initiative started? Does your strategy move with the politics of the day? Is it written down or a repeated conversation that never seems to take shape and certainly results in little action? If you don't have a strategy that produces results, things need to change. Rita McGrath, Professor at Columbia Business School wrote in the Harvard Business Review, Creative Destruction Visits the Legal Profession...

"Some years ago, I had the rather thankless task of directing a program on strategy for law firms. It was thankless in part because about half the participants didn't think law firms needed a strategy. They figured if you were smart, served your clients well and worked hard that things would be fine, as they historically often have. Just keep billing those hours! The other half might have been open to the idea that law firms needed a strategy, but completely opposed to having anything other than a consensus-built, senior partner-friendly mechanism for making strategic choices, which almost by definition is doomed to fail. Tough decisions such as which clients to serve and which not; which partners are creating value and which are not; and where to focus in terms of practice expertise and geography are nearly impossible to make by committee.

You could forgive them for a reasonable degree of complacency. After all, as the program organizer said in some exasperation, these guys were "working with a business model that hasn't changed since the time of Charles Dickens!"

Well, we did warn them. In the ten years or so since running that course, the assumptions underpinning a lot of the business models at law firms have come unraveled. Just as we argued, a lot of the lower-end, but profitable, work is now being done by cheaper providers or has been automated so that legally trained people are not necessary to get the basic results required (things like searching for documents in the discovery process). Clients have decided that there are other ways of getting the guidance and trusted advisory attention they need than being billed by the hour for it. Legal budgets have come under intense scrutiny as the Great Recession's aftermath grinds on. And — gasp — lawyers are now realizing that if nobody is looking after the business end of things — ahem — in other words, being strategic, the entire operation can come to a crashing halt. Witness the spectacular bankruptcy of once high-flying Dewey & LeBoeuf.

The problems started to become urgent when young lawyers, armed with freshly minted degrees, either couldn't get legal jobs or, worse yet, couldn't get jobs at all. The New York Times, in an article entitled "An Existential Crisis for Law Schools" reported that "only 55 percent of 43,735 graduates in 2011 had a law-related job nine months after graduation." The institutions we have are simply producing more lawyers than there is demand for. I've even seen job listings for paralegal help which explicitly say "No one with a JD degree need apply!" And that is at the entry level.

But things are fine for established lawyers, right? Not so fast. One outcome that I bet nobody in my class way back then thought would become a significant trend is that law firms are today culling their partner ranks, actions that would have seemed unthinkable years ago. Becoming a partner at a major firm used to be a guaranteed job for life, something like being a tenured professor. Yet, just as the Wall Street Journal reported on January 6, 2013, partners who aren't bringing in business are themselves being let go.

Back to that issue of strategy being, well, important, as it is going to help determine how well you perform. Firms can't simply muddle along any more."

No you can’t just muddle along…

Firms large and small can’t stand by and just let each lawyer go their own way or authorize a marketing plan that has little hope of producing results. Ads, websites and SEO are no substitutes for a lawyer's involvement building relationships that matter and will have value for years to come. Developing business requires a strategy that has vision, focus, an action plan and accountability.


Written by:

Paula Black

Paula Black & Associates on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.