As they are being sworn into the bar, newly minted attorneys are reminded: “The practice of law is a profession – not a business or a skilled trade.”
However, a private practice firm is a business.
Historically, the law firm business model ruled that some of the partners, or “rainmakers,” drum up business for themselves and the rest of the firm, acting as veritable salespeople. Because of the effort by those individuals, as well as a heightened visibility in the marketplace due to the firm’s combined marketing efforts and client service, the phone continues to ring. Until it stops.
...it can be exhilarating to forge ahead into uncharted territory. The key is to focus on the value added for the client
Many firms are experimenting with placing a business development professional in the role of overseeing client service standards, as well as directly handling outreach and relationship-building with clients and prospects. There has been much discussion recently surrounding new roles in which these professionals act as market-facing, client-centric liaisons; there are success stories and failures, positive outlooks and pessimism. We see firms designing and recruiting for roles for which they are unsure of the parameters necessary to optimize the return on investment.
Firms of all sizes are figuring out how to structure, incentivize and manage the efforts of these roles as they evolve, and a lack of precedent can be unnerving.
But it can also be exhilarating to forge ahead into uncharted territory. The key is to focus on the value added for the client by implementing this role. Firms are providing someone who has the capacity to intentionally and thoughtfully build relationships, actively listen and investigate client needs, vet issues and make connections with the right attorneys within the firm, and remain a point of contact to ensure paramount client service throughout all engagements.
For a member of a firm’s in-house marketing or business development team, making the transition to this new role may be a perfect fit and a natural progression.
Here are three actionable takeaways (and gentle shifts in perception) for those considering a transition from internal to external client work:
1. Build (And Engage) Your Own Network
Events can be a real bear to coordinate; from onsite logistical nightmares, to opinionated partners, to obstinate clients; there are plenty of places for things to go wrong. These things take a lot of time and attention to detail to pull off, and even when they go according to plan, someone usually has something negative to say at the end.
In an effort to turn lemons into lemonade, try looking at your role in hosting the event as an opportunity.
Take note of the little things...
While you hand out nametags, take note of the face that goes with the name; if you can (and have the manpower to cover the registration table), strike up a quick conversation with key clients and see if you can glean some details about them or make an introduction to others for a timid guest. Take note of the little things.
If you can prove yourself to be a friendly face for a client or prospect, and someone who asks intelligent questions about their business or even simply makes small talk at the networking portion of the event, they may connect with you and it will be easy to continue that relationship. Even if you are not at the client-facing stage of your role, passing on those details to the relationship partner may seal a deal; a quick note of someone’s favorite sports team, upcoming birthday, recent vacation, or other detail can be the personal connection needed to get back on someone’s radar.
2. Raise Your Visibility, Lead By Example
Any business development professional knows the constant haranguing of his/her attorneys to write, speak, and “get out there” to raise their visibility can wear on the bravest of souls. Wouldn’t those pleas resonate a little more clearly if the person asking was exhibiting the same actions?
...emulate the behaviors you want to see in your attorneys
Do yourself a favor and emulate the behaviors you want to see in your attorneys: find time to write on topics relevant to our sector of the industry; seek out speaking opportunities where you can both practice your skills and elevate your personal brand; get involved in organizations like the Legal Marketing Association, or other charitable and community groups, that help you give back and make connections; attend as many events as your firm will allow to act as a “wingman” to your attorneys who are less comfortable in social settings.
The combination of these actions will illustrate the confidence, breadth of understanding of the industry, and level of comfort with future client interaction that you possess. This makes the argument for a market-facing role even more compelling, all the while, setting an example and continuing to help your internal clients to be better at their business development and client service initiatives.
3. Focus On the Human Element
Many of us are goaded into taking one of several popular communication or work-style tests in an effort to improve internal teamwork and interaction. Whether it is DISC, Meyers Briggs, or any other similar name brand, these assessments highlight the fact that each of us is wired differently, and the key to effective relationship-building is meeting the other person where they are.
Some call it emotional intelligence, or EQ.
If you are in a coaching or advisory role within your firm and have the opportunity to assess the prospect or client interaction your attorneys face, try using this soft skill to suggest alternate approaches when things appear to be at a stalemate.
I have helped attorneys pause and reassess whether a prospect was truly uninterested in continuing a conversation, or simply whether the wrong mode of communication was being used (e.g., If she hasn’t responded to several emails, perhaps she isn’t an email person; have you tried calling instead? If he doesn’t seem to want to commit to go play golf with you, is it possible that he doesn’t want to spend more time out of the office because he needs to leave on time to pick up his kids? Have you tried suggesting bringing breakfast to him at his office to continue the conversation?).
...often it simply takes reframing the situation to consider what the client or prospect wants most
It is easy to give up on what feels like a futile attempt to make a personal connection with someone; but, often it simply takes reframing the situation to consider what the client or prospect wants most. This approach is both beneficial to your attorneys in interfacing with the firm’s clients, as well as to you when dealing with your internal clients.
[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.]