Law firms often struggle with maintaining the type of high-performing marketing and business development group that can support demanding lawyers in a very competitive environment, while at the same time creating a rewarding career model for the professionals on the marketing and business development team. In working with law firms that are seeking to improve performance and job satisfaction for their marketing/business development group, I have developed suggestions for simple things that can be done to ensure greater success and stronger teams to support the marketing and business development functions. My advice stresses the need for the team to organize and collaborate effectively in order to add value and provide the kind of concierge service to the firm’s lawyers that the lawyers want and expect. These expectations are based on service models that the lawyers in turn must provide to firm clients. The following list is not exhaustive. The suggestions focus on some of the issues identified when I was a managing partner that, if addressed, will boost team performance and inspire confidence and teamwork in the firm. Here are some of the things that should be considered.
Encourage a Deep and Broad Understanding of What the Firm’s Lawyers Actually Do
It has been my experience in too many circumstances that members of a law firm marketing team have a general and often not completely accurate idea of what the lawyers in the firm actually do in their practice. In the past it might have been enough to know the difference between litigation and transactional practices, but with the advent of RFP processes, and more intense competition for legal work, the best business development professionals insist on spending time with lawyers and gaining an appreciation of the nature of the legal tasks, procedural details, and the time and team makeup it takes to accomplish success. Knowledge of the nature and significance of the law firm’s successes has always been paramount, but a level of sophistication about what makes a particular success significant – e.g.., difficult jurisdiction, tough opponent, novel legal issues, and new and important precedent – enables the law firm marketing professionals to communicate more effectively and to couch successes in an accurate and compelling fashion.
Insist on Accurate Pricing Data
It continues to surprise me that many law firms still struggle with pricing models. In my experience, this is due primarily to the fact that firms have not invested resources in analyzing what it actually costs the firm to do things. Robust profitability models require historical research and data points to make certain that the firm has a solid understanding of its costs to get the job done. The demands of discerning clients for fixed-fee proposals, discounts, and alternative pricing, as well as the market pressure to remain competitive and provide “value for the spend,” make it imperative that law firms invest the resources necessary to accurately benchmark what it costs a firm to handle its signature matters. The impetus for firms to do this should come from the team responsible for the firm’s business development. When the lawyers are in the throes of a reverse auction process or working with the BD team to respond to a complex RFP, the team that can shape the bidding or the alternative fee proposal based on solid data about firm costs will be able to provide a realistic proposal that will not undermine the firm’s profitability models. Law firms that effectively encourage collaboration between their finance and business development team can compete more effectively and better preserve their profitability.
Build Robust Client Service Teams
Most law firms give lip service to client teams, but in my experience, few firms develop the structure and support systems necessary to ensure that their client teams are operational and effective. Robust, fully functional client service teams require resources, data from the finance and competitive intelligence teams, and inspirational leadership. The best teams also include knowledgeable marketing professionals who bring an understanding of regional competition, industry expertise, and networking skills to the teams they support. Law firm client teams often fail through inertia or inept leadership, but when they function effectively, the effect is transformative. With a strategic approach, a collaborative and inclusive team, and the impetus to drive the relationship to another level, a law firm can expand its client relationships and its market share. The firm’s BD professionals constitute the most effective force in battling inertia and ensuring that the teams have accountability, a client action plan, regular meetings and agendas, and realistic, achievable goals. Marketing and business development teams that are instrumental in establishing and maintaining their firm’s client service teams add real value to the lawyers’ efforts to deepen client relationships while at the same time enjoying a higher level of job satisfaction.
Foster a Culture of Discipline and Perseverance as Essential Elements of Successful Business Development
I can’t count how many times I heard as a managing partner that my law firm needed more advertising or PR support and that the marketing team’s failure to market effectively was the cause of a lawyer’s failed business development efforts or diminishing practice. The simple fact is that lawyers have a shared responsibility in their law firm’s BD efforts, and the passive attitude that “I am at my desk and ready to work” is as much a cause of failure as anything else. The most effective firm marketing and BD teams recognize the need to be proactive in encouraging lawyers to develop individual and practice group business plans. They also understand that the keys to BD success are discipline and repetition. Of course, it goes without saying that successful business development is built on a solid base of legal talent and client focus, and, most importantly, successful outcomes. That said, competition levels, even among the most successful lawyers, have never been more acute. While quality is always the principle goal, the development of new business opportunities requires the same intensity of strategic focus, planning, and follow-through that lawyers bring to their legal work. Marketing and BD professionals can bring structure to the BD process and serve as catalysts to insure that lawyers develop effective BD plans and, most importantly, develop the discipline to follow through on their commitments. There has never been more need for lawyers to use their networks effectively and to have the perseverance necessary to repeat outreach to their contacts in a systematic and timely fashion, over and over again.
In the current environment, investing the time and resources necessary to build and maintain a high-performing marketing and business development team is essential to the success and economic viability of law firms. An objective and honest evaluation of a firm’s team structure, operational effectiveness, and available talent is a first step to developing the kind of marketing and BD team that can add value and provide the kind of environment that guarantees successful outcomes for both the lawyers and the members of the team. Following the advice offered above can also strengthen the team function, build institutional loyalty, and provide greater job satisfaction.