By Nicole Steckman and Aileen Hinsch, Senior Business Development Managers at Crowell & Moring
The daily routine of many law firm business development professionals includes a barrage of urgent tasks – tenders to write, client alerts to publish, competitive intelligence reports to analyze – the list goes on. If we take a step back and look beyond our immediate day-to-day tasks, we may find opportunities to provide broader, more impactful support to enhance our business development efforts. Just as we help lawyers seek collaborative opportunities with peers outside of their practice groups, reaching out to departments other than our own can offer new ways to advance the marketing and business development efforts of our department without significantly increasing our workload.
It’s tempting to leave the review of financial and usage reports to the firm‘s management team, but these reports can provide a wealth of valuable information. As they say, numbers never lie.
When looking at the revenue numbers, look for trends or patterns. For example, does a customer consistently have higher billing numbers at the start of the year and decrease as the year progresses? If so, it can be an opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with your client to learn more about their budget process and expectations. What you learn could lead to a win-win solution, such as another fee arrangement that spreads the work and billing evenly over 12 months. This approach could also provide the customer and your business with budget certainty and keep the team actively engaged with the customer throughout the year. And, of course, just taking the time to listen to your client’s needs and budget expectations builds relationship and goodwill.
When you notice a downward trajectory in income, talk to top lawyers. Has a major dispute been resolved? Has there been a change in internal service? If you are not aware of the possible explanations, a customer service issue that requires your attention may not be resolved. Knowing why the numbers have plummeted can help you provide the right business development advice to relationship lawyers and perhaps turn the tide.
Usage reports show how busy or busy your lawyers are. By chatting regularly with your firm management team, you can find out which lawyers could benefit from additional support to increase their visibility both inside and outside the firm. This information also provides insight into lawyers who have relevant experience for a particular proposal or client opportunity, but who may not be as visible, and therefore not necessarily in the lead when building a team.
Professional development and training
A fundamental understanding of basic business development concepts and best practices promotes greater success in a group’s business development efforts. Of course, creating a training program can be time consuming. This is where your company‘s professional development team can help.
Often times, business development and professional development teams work on parallel paths, without recognizing how their efforts can easily align. After our professional development team learned of a four-part business development training series that we conducted for our respective practice groups, they asked us to organize a similar one-time session for associates and the firm’s lawyers. The work we put into developing our original program was easily reused in a shorter session, and our professional development team was spared the effort of creating their own program and duplicating efforts. Later that year, when looking for an engaging program for a practice group retreat, the professional development team came to the rescue. They hosted a top notch speaker presentation at the retreat, which saved the business development team a lot of time.
Diversity and inclusion
D&I objectives often involve raising the profiles of key lawyers and client development initiatives that reflect business development activities. Asking your D&I team to share access to an individual attorney’s D&I goals creates an opportunity for the two departments to work together to help that attorney achieve their goals. For example, knowing that a diverse associate aims to expand relationships with specific partners can inform many business development activities. The D&I team can encourage presentations. The business development team can match the associate with identified partners to collaborate on thought leadership, participate in customer service teams and offer to add the associate to a partner’s team on current customer engagements and potentials that match the partner’s experience, providing an opportunity to collaborate.
Additionally, D&I professionals are invaluable when responding to clients’ demands for diversity. Rather than relying on one-size-fits-all language, ask your D&I team to help you craft a diversity language for a RFP. They have the most up-to-date knowledge of the firm’s diversity figures as well as current programs and professional development efforts.
Legal project management
Clients expect efficiency in the delivery of legal services and their expectations have only increased with the evolution of technology. Working closely with your Legal Project Management (LPM) team will help you provide more efficient customer service, which in turn helps maintain and develop client relationships. After a successful proposal, call on the LPM team to facilitate conversations with the responsible partner and the customer. The partner will learn the client’s expectations regarding the budget and the client will learn from the partner how the case will be handled. Your LPM team can often run routine reports that further improve the customer experience, including metrics on the team’s position against budget or overall milestones.
As you seek out opportunities to collaborate with other professionals in your practice, you can add another arrow to your quiver to enhance your practice group’s business development efforts. It is also rewarding to develop your internal network and meet new colleagues.
This article originally appeared in the LMA Mid-Atlantic Membership Newsletter