Winning new work: the power of thought

Winning new work: the power of thought

Thought LeadershipWhen lawyers are faced with the challenge of winning new work, their biggest obstacle is usually displacing an incumbent legal adviser. The problem is made more difficult when you realise that most clients are reasonably satisfied with their lawyers and their inertia to change is large. So, short of waiting around until the incumbents drop the ball and make their client dissatisfied – and trust me, you will wait a long time – the only way to really influence the client to consider changing is to make them believe that there are extra benefits to be had from changing to you as their legal adviser.

The best way to achieve this – and no you don’t want to start discounting to win work – is to impress upon the client your interest in and knowledge of their business and industry and to demonstrate how these insights enable you to suggest better solutions than those being offered by the incumbents, if these are even being proactive and coming forward with such solutions.

Demonstrating to clients over time an understanding of the issues which are coming down the track towards them and showing how your advice might help them to mitigate the risks or exploit the opportunities is known as Thought Leadership. If executed well, it is the most effective business development tool available to lawyers.

Historically, the accountants (and among these the Big 4) have been the masters of Thought Leadership, but the law firms are slowing learning from these, if only because of the migration of BD professionals across from the accountancy sector into legal. And although the most impressive Thought Leadership campaigns have often had equally impressive budgets behind them, the arrival of social media, online polling and other developments in digital marketing have meant that quite effective campaigns can now be run for very little money.

Immersing yourself in the client’s world is the place to start if you want to exploit Thought Leadership and here there are few shortcuts. Reading the relevant industry press (usually online these days via news feeds and the like), attending industry gatherings (conferences, seminars, etc.), reading research papers from brokers, academics, other professionals, etc., and more generally speaking with people in the industry including with your clients, should allow you to identify the big issues and the impact that they are having or are going to have in the future. As a lawyer, being aware of upcoming legislation is where the client will expect you to be providing advice but your broader view of the industry will place you in a much better positon to give the client more rounded commercial advice.

One way of quantifying the impact or possible impact that an issue is having or is going to have, is to carry out research among a relevant group of decision-makers. Overlaying your commentary on the findings allows you to position yourself as an expert commentator in this area and to subsequently open doors and have conversations with potential clients about the impact of these issues on their business. But be careful not to fall into the trap of just producing a survey and getting a quick PR hit from the results.

The best Thought Leaders should know what the issues are, can anticipate the answers to the questions in their poll, and will use the evidence unearthed by the research to back up their arguments for certain advised actions by clients. You shouldn’t be using your research to identify issues – if your partners are, I would suggest that they don’t know their industry well enough.

The areas that open themselves up to lawyers for Thought Leadership campaigns are unlimited and might include: buying and selling art, raising funds through AIM, IP issues in the biotech industry, cross-border M&A activity… and so the list goes on.

So, if you want to raise your profile as an expert, create a point of differentiation over other lawyers and win more business, use the power of thought.

Kevin Wheeler is a BD consultant and coach who helps law firms to devise, implement and exploit Thought Leadership campaigns to win new business.

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Kevin Wheeler has been advising professional services firms on all aspects of marketing and business development for more than 30 years. As a consultant he helps firms to manage and grow their key clients as well as to win new ones. As a Meyler Campbell qualified coach he works with partners and those approaching partnership to improve their BD skills.