You Are Never Too Young to Develop Your Business
It was common in the past to hear senior lawyers telling associates “Don’t worry about business development. Just focus on developing your legal skills and meet your billable hours.” Those days are gone for lawyers in legal markets like London, New York and Sydney and may soon come to an end in Singapore, Hong Kong and the region. Recently, a successful senior partner shared with me, “When I started as a practising lawyer, I did not expect that business development would be part of my job. It took me years to realise how important it is, and I hope younger lawyers realise this sooner than later.”
Today, for you to be commercially successful, it is a prerequisite for you to have legal knowledge and problem solving skills, as well as other commercial skills like finding new business, managing your Partners’ existing relationships, building your market profile, while meeting your high billable targets.
Daunting as all of these might seem, business development can be one of the easier things on your plate if you start early and develop your marketing abilities steadily over time.
To help you get started, you can apply the following steps:
1. Learn about Your Firm
You can only start selling your firm’s services after understanding what your firm does, its practice areas and its unique selling points. The immediate step you should take as a newly qualified lawyer is to be familiar with the contents of your firm’s website and marketing materials, such as capability statements, brochures and client proposals. They contain useful information about your firm’s practice areas, clients and colleagues. This is even more pressing if you are in a large law firm which offers a wide range of legal services in many markets.
Knowing all of this will not only aid you in your day-to-day tasks, but can also be useful information when conversing with clients and peers. Imagine you were having a conversation with a prospective client who mentioned that they are also looking for tax advice in Tokyo. You create a much better impression if you knew your Tokyo office’s services and its lawyers, rather than say, “I am not sure if we have a Tokyo office/I am not sure if we have tax lawyers”.
An outsider’s insight: Armed with information about your firm, you should develop a well-defined elevator pitch explaining who you are, what you do, where your firm can deliver its services and why clients should choose you. This may be one of the best tools to carry with you in your career.
2. Work Closely with Your Firm’s Marketing Team
If your firm has a marketing team, you are in luck. Speak to them at the first opportunity and work with them on relevant business development initiatives like legal directory submissions, client proposals and events. They are there to help you and your firm grow its network, profile and business.
Most of them are trained in different areas such as digital marketing, events, pricing, proposal management and lead generation. Work with them to improve your online profiles, find out about your firm’s events, and seek their views on proposal management. By tapping into their knowledge and resources, you will be able to sharpen your business development techniques and refine your marketing plans.
An outsider’s insight: Appreciate your marketing team’s efforts. I am sure they will be extra helpful if you are nice to them.
3. Support Your Partner’s Business Development Initiatives
Some younger lawyers worry about the lack of perceived credibility when engaging with senior clients. Whilst there are many techniques available to reduce this perceived experience gap, the first thing you can do is to be an integral part of your Partner’s business development initiatives. If your Partners are presenting at a conference, go with them and support in developing the content. If your Partners are meeting clients, join in the meeting if possible. You will gain the confidence and exposure from these experiences.
An outsider’s insight: Leverage the time and effort others have put into building relationships. Over time, you will get familiar with the senior clients and intermediaries whom you may not have had access to on your own. As they see you in action, their impression of you will continually strengthen and the experience gap will eventually close.
4. Develop Meaningful Relationships with Your Peers, Bosses and Clients
Whilst the stress of meeting your billable hours and being an excellent lawyer can be overwhelming, do not hide behind your files all the time. Billable hours will keep you busy now, but if you do not start growing your network, you may have no clients to bill in the future.
To create a momentum for business development, I recommend scheduling at least one social meeting a week with your peers from another law firm, bosses (new or old) or clients to catch up generally. Meetings in a more relaxed setting are very effective for building personal connections. You can discuss matters which may not be conveniently expressed in formal meetings.
Sharon Ser, Managing Partner of Withersworldwide in Hong Kong shared recently in Asian Legal Business the importance of building your profile within the firm for internal business development. Essentially, others can refer opportunities to you only if they know what you can offer. So, seek out opportunities to demonstrate your skills, your interests and your personality to your colleagues. Sharon says that there are many ways of doing this, and different methods will be suited to different people. Internal committees, sector groups, pro bono activities and diversity initiatives are all avenues that can be utilised, whilst simultaneously achieving constructive ends.
An outsider’s insight: Relationships with peers and bosses are often underestimated. It is important to know that your peers and bosses can one day be prospective clients when they move in-house, stop practising law or move to another law firm.
5. Get Your Digital and Social Media Profile to Work
The prevalent use of technology and social media now provides you with a great medium for business development. A 2014 IDC study showed that 85% of C-suite and senior executives use social media when making purchasing decisions. Using platforms like LinkedIn and your firm’s website, these prospective clients take into consideration peer input and review your profile when assessing potential counsel. Hence, it is likely that your online profile is the very first impression for these contacts.
Get started on your professional online profile if you do not already have one. More crucially, update your profile regularly, produce and share content which are relevant and develop a mailing list and network of connections.
An outsider’s insight: There are many articles on digital marketing which can be useful for business development for lawyers or businesses in general. For instance, you may find some of my previously written articles for the Law Gazette useful:
- Content Marketing for Lawyers – The Secret Sauce to Grow Your Business
- Using LinkedIn to Disrupt Your Business As Usual (Part I)
- Using LinkedIn to Disrupt Your Business As Usual (Part II)
6. Be Patient to Get Lucky
While this is not a checklist item per se, it is important to know that haste makes waste in business development, especially if you are a younger lawyer who is building up your legal skills and commercial acumen.
The key to success over the long run is to be patient, while learning and refining your business development strategies continually. Do not expect peers, clients and bosses to give you an audience in the first instance and fully expect objections at every turn. As they say, luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity. Bide your time, stay the course and keep an eye out for every opportunity that comes along. You will be amazed at how many opportunities are available for you, when you are ready for them.
An outsider’s insight: What about lawyers who achieved commercial success without doing business development at all? Yes, you can get really lucky. For instance, you can inherit a small handful of major clients which turns you into a top performer.
However, it is impossible to replicate this route, unless you have the gift of clairvoyance. Hence, do not let these rare exceptions distract you from the need to do business development early in your career. For all we know, perhaps the lucky lawyer just did checklist item #4 really well.
For a new lawyer, it can be challenging to think about and conduct business development. However, it will be much easier if you invest time and resources early in your career before you are expected to be a rainmaker. These business development checklist items, whilst not exhaustive, can provide you with some ideas to get started. An important point to note is that business development should be regarded as an organic way to grow and maintain your professional relationships, connect with like-minded people and people you enjoy spending time with, in a sincere and friendly manner.