Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Elephant in the Room! Two Key Obstacles to Effective Law Firm Business Development

Commitment and Approach – Given steady revenue growth in recent years, too many firm leaders continue to consider the business development process as secondary and/or non-essential to the practice of law. Maybe they think that organized client development is not that important to building the practice and/or is not a priority given so many demands on available time. Too many firms continue attempting to “delegate” business development or try to “get it off the plate” by hiring someone to handle it, which can be referred to as the “throw a person at the problem” approach. Too often, the person hired is not given the necessary authority, responsibility and/or budget to produce any measurable results or to build any significant, meaningful program. Instead, many are relegated to some variation of being a “party planner” (which is a necessary and important function, but is only one component of the entire business development process). In addition, firms that hire marketers or business developers with no or little law firm experience must allow for a learning curve to get them up to speed on the practice of law, which often means mistakes and/or oversights. Too often, that person loses patience, is unable attain internal credibility, may not be supported by leadership and/or cannot build enough political capital – and thus leaves the firm. Then, the firm’s entire business development effort must be re-built from scratch (which can be referred to as the “re-invent the wheel” or the “stop-start” approach). Commitment and approach are also an issue at the grass roots level where too many lawyers/professionals invest only in a short-term or one tool effort to develop business. Maybe a litigator who is less than 100% billable will conduct a seminar, but then when the plate of work is once again full, drops the ball on all contacts made at the seminar and necessary follow-up. . The same thing happens to in-house marketers often because they are pulled in so many different directions within their available time.

Attitudes – Closely intertwined with an unproductive business development commitment and approach (at the firm, leadership and individual practitioner levels) are issues related to attitude. Recent studies by BTI Consulting found that lawyer arrogance has not dissipated along with the reduced stature of lawyers in business and society in general. Arrogant behavior is ego-boosting, making people feel superior to others. Unfortunately, too many lawyers think they are better than the competition, an attitude that perpetuates arrogance. In addition, as Scott Turow wrote in his article entitled “The Billable Hour Must Die”, published in the ABA Journal, August 2007, “America is ambivalent about lawyers. They see us as too often self-seeking, manipulative and greedy”. Lawyering is a profession, yet remains at its essence a service provider function where each and every lawyer is in service to the client both internally and externally. Unfortunately, too many lawyers seem to forget that simple fact. Amazingly enough, a small number of in-house marketers also act arrogantly, behaving in self-seeking and in less than courteous, professional ways (perhaps mirroring their lawyers’ behavior or firm culture?). Unfortunately, almost all arrogant attitudes and behaviors (except those emanating from the VERY best – which are very few) negate most efforts to build sustainable, productive relationships and a book of business over time. The foundation of developing business starts and stops with relationship building and a display of arrogance, self-centeredness and/or manipulative behavior makes it is very difficult to initiate or sustain positive, productive relationships with prospective clients and referral sources. It stands to reason that those responsible and accountable for developing business – rainmakers, firm leaders and in-house marketers alike - should set the standard high for professional, courteous and respectful behavior towards others at all times.

What is the commitment, approach and attitude like at your firm?

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