Breaking down business development barriers for the legal profession

Breaking down business development barriers for the legal profession

It goes without saying that no one joined the legal profession to become a salesperson. You studied, trained and sweated to become a solicitor to advise your clients so they can achieve what they want for their business or in their personal lives. 

The only problem is that in the 21stCentury the requirement for lawyers to be able to bring in new work is now a must have, not a nice to have.

The legal market has changed massively since the credit crunch hit in 2008. You not only have your traditional competition to worry about, but there is a raft of also new market entrants to contend with. You have the constant conveyor belt of newly merged firms hitting the market, brand new boutiques being launched by high profile practitioners from some of Britain’s best known firms and then there are the ‘Big 4’ accountants who are now promoting their own legal practices.

As a result, the legal market has never been as crowded or as competitive. This means every lawyer needs to take business development seriously or face losing the fragile market position you’ve worked so hard to create.

That, I promise, is the end of the doom and gloom! 

Busting the business development myth

While business development might not be something you are completely comfortable with, the good news is the myth that business development has to be all about networking which means it has to be about formal networking events is nonsense. If it is only the thought of having to walk into a crowded room full of faces you don’t recognise that’s kept you from getting involved in winning new work (and I’ll be honest, those types of events aren’t my bag either), I’d like to share a few alternatives here that may suit you much better.   

Having worked with the professional services for more years than I care to remember I’ve learned that choosing the activities that suit your personal skills and preferences best is absolutely paramount to successful business development. If you are uncomfortable in a certain situation, you’re never going to be at your best and if you’re not at your best, you won’t make a connection with the prospects and professional contacts you come into contact with.

This means the first question you need to ask yourself (quietly, privately and honestly) is where am I most comfortable? 

To give you a steer here are some of those alternatives I mentioned:

1. Client development vs new client acquisition

Winning clients and keeping clients require very different skillsets. 

The former is probably linked to events and having the confidence to ‘work the room’ in a more traditional sense. However, as more than 75% of your new work will come from your current clients (either directly or as a result of their willingness to refer you to their networks), if you are more comfortable spending productive time with your clients, you will make an invaluable contribution your firm’s business development.

2. Informal networking

If the idea of a formal networking event is putting you off business development, why not consider doing a bit more informal networking? The trick is to do what you like doing with who you like. Choose a few people you know and think should know each other and invite them for drinks in an interesting pub or for a bite to eat at a quirky new place you’ve heard about. The good will you’ll engender will put you in prime position if any opportunities crop up and will make sure you’re invited to your guests’ events which in turn will help you meet even more new people.

3. Speaking

If you think about an average networking event, there may be 50 people there and you may get to speak to five. Of those two or three will probably be of no real use to you (although there is always the potential for referrals and introductions so never count anyone out). 

However, if you are the delivering the key note at the event, all 50 will get to hear what you have to say and, because you’re on stage they’ll immediately view you as an expert. The majority will also rush up to exchange cards and/or ask for your slides afterwards which will give you license to keep the conversation going after the event.

4. Writing

If you’re less comfortable on stage but have a specialism or point of view you’d like to promote, why not write it down? As a first step you can self-publish your content on the firm’s blog or, to push it out a little further, via the ‘write an article’ function on LinkedIn. Once you have built up a bit of confidence you can start to look for opportunities in the trade press (if you’re a commercial solicitor) or the local press (if you’re a private client or family solicitor).

5. Research

And if you really aren’t comfortable putting yourself out there, being on hand to help out with any desk research is also hugely valuable. After all your speakers need to know where to speak, your writers need to know what to write about and where to get published and no business development campaign will ever work without lists and targets.

Once you have worked out which one or two activities from that list suit you best, you’ll be able to see that business development isn’t scary at all—it’s perfectly manageable. The next step is to concentrate on those; do them better and do them more often. This requires a plan, a list and a little bit more structure but, more crucially, it involves knowing how to do the follow up. And that is a subject for another day! 

Related Articles:
Latest Articles:
About the author:
Doug is a director of Size 10½ Boots, a specialist business development agency that works solely with the professional services. In addition to helping law, accountancy and IP firms grow by refreshing the way they approach marketing and business development Doug is also the author of ‘The Visible Lawyer’ and ‘Package, Position, Profit’. ​