Thursday, March 24, 2011

Advances in Law Firm Business Development©

The law firm business model continues to adapt to competitive pressures. Marketing (mar com) and/or business development (BD) programs are under pressure to help keep the pipeline of potential new work full.* The days of law firms counting on new business to come in the door mainly from broadcast-type marketing communication and branding (mar com) tools, a few rainmakers, the existing referral stream and/or other primarily reactive client development efforts with little formal measuring of return on investment (ROI) are gone. Now that the severity of the recession is dissipating, many law firms are continuing to strategically review, revise, restructure and/or upgrade their investments in the entire business development pipeline-continuum to maximize the return on the limited available time and budget of any single firm. To fuel growth and remain profitable, more firms are keeping up with the rate of change. Recent advances include:

  1. Mar com and BD budgets are being re-directed towards select growth areas and high probability opportunities, whether by practice area, industry, type of case or client. As some "Magic Circle" firms have known for decades, ROI from business development investments is highest for law firms when they strategically support one-to-one/small group communications that are appropriately organized, planned for and followed-up on over time. Most U.S. firms have come full circle now, with many re-dedicating larger percentages of total budget towards these efforts rather than broadcast-type marketing tools such as branding, newsletters, events and advertisements. While BD coaching has become the new branding, and great coaching can yield measurable ROI, some firms continue to spin their wheels due to a lack of a consistent, defined and well-supported pipeline-continuum approach. Over the past 20-plus years, we have helped many firms to establish and upgrade their pipeline approach/system and also provide the renowned, proven training and coaching course entitled "Mastering the 'Sales' Process for Lawyers©"** which includes actual GC-level clients as instructors and CLE credits.

    a) Many key client team efforts are working to increase revenues (see December 2010 article in The American Lawyer). However, in most AmLaw 200 firms where key client team programs are established and operating, the incremental annual revenue growth resulting from them is flattening. So, now more firms are focusing on growing the second tier of existing clients/contacts – those for whom the firm is doing some limited amount of work, but that have the potential for more. We now have a formal program to assist entitled "Growing Select, Existing Client Relationships." To support these efforts in an organized, proactive manner that will yield results, some firms are institutionalizing a process to further develop these client relationships – led by internal personnel and in some cases, with outside expert assistance. Such programs often consist of: creating a way to periodically and strategically identify these clients/opportunities, building and supporting a database and tracking function, offering multi-disciplinary training sessions on the key steps in the sales process, and providing on-going coaching to ensure implementation, follow-up and results.

    b) To remain in a competitively responsive posture and win RFP opportunities as they come into the firm, various alternative, creative and/or aggressive pricing/billing options and more specifics on legal project management need to be included in the majority of RFP responses. Due to this prevalence of demand for alternative fees arrangements and project estimates, there are now dedicated pricing/budgeting/estimating specialists and project scoping/bidding specialists working closely with partners, practice groups and the firm's RFP/RFQ response group. For example, one mega-firm hired a director for global pricing, while boutique and smaller firms have hired analysts that serve this function along with other business development-related financial planning and reporting tasks. As a result, our time-tested and highly rated program entitled "Winning Proposals, RFPs and Client Competitions - " is back in vogue and has been upgraded to include instruction on how to create successful AFA's and project scope bids to win pitches. We have also helped several firms to analyze and build standardized, profitable alternative fee option databases and project management templates that can be easily tailored and re-used as appropriate.

  2. But, pitching the firm’s/lawyers’ capabilities when asked is no longer enough to keep the pipeline full and remain competitive. Job #1 for most mar com and BD departments is to quickly respond to requests from key partners and leaders in order to support key existing efforts. But, to keep "up with the Joneses" and to keep the pipeline full, increasingly strategic, select proactive efforts need to be undertaken as well. Each is a full-time job in and of itself in most law firms and unfortunately too many law firm business development personnel are stretched too thin, where they are unrealistically expected to do both well. With budgets and staff under increasing pressure, more firms are upgrading their internal and external vetting processes (see blog article dated August 2, 2010).

  3. Many firms recognize the need for more support because mar com/BD positions within law firms continue to grow and multiply (since 2010, new job postings on the Legal Marketing Association's website have continued to increase rapidly). However, finding appropriate, qualified and proven specialists and/or personnel that get the job done remains challenging, and turnover remains high and expensive. Common obstacles and hurdles to successful BD in and for law firms have not changed much (in our 1999 benchmarking survey, law firm respondents reported the #1 greatest challenge/hurdle to effective business development as "effectively focusing our efforts;" to see other survey results click here). Constant re-hiring of mar com/BD staff in the hopes that a "new" person will fix or overcome these common hurdles and challenges has proven unrealistic, as has over-loading expectations on any one, single staff member.

    a) Several firms are re-defining and re-organizing their support for business development, expanding/adding to the roles and positions that support the pipeline-continuum and creating more sophisticated, centralized BD templates and tool kits. New hires are increasingly being sought for specialized mar com and/or BD support roles. New positions increasingly in vogue are either by function (such as Events Manager, Client/Competitive Analyst, Technology Manager or RFP Coordinator) and/or by practice area/industry group (such as Litigation Manger-Biotech, or BD Manager-Employment Litigation). Some BD staff members are assigned/dedicated to two to five of the most profitable practice/industry groups and/or most productive rainmakers and their teams.

    b) Since lateral hiring is a significant source of new business, some firms have created "inside sales" support positions to assist with insuring lateral acquisitions are integrated over time and to support viable cross-selling efforts, especially those opportunities where the firm may be doing some, limited work for the client, and there is opportunity for more. Unfortunately, firms are also making the mistake of separating lateral integration, skills training, mar com and/or their BD departments, which can waste efforts and resources and create unnecessary internal 'turf' wars.

    c) Other new hires are focused on solely on "outside sales," i.e. developing new work from new clients. Some are being tasked with getting the firm on RFP lists from select Fortune 500-1000 companies, others are hired to coordinate and track pipelines of all external efforts. Some firms have hired full time personnel to serve these roles; others are outsourcing either the development of the systems and processes needed to ensure success of these efforts, and/or are also outsourcing the outreach efforts, tracking and follow-up as ethical and appropriate.

  4. The law firm business model continues to experience competitive pressures and change. One problem re-emerging is the need for another round of formal revamping of the overall law firm organizational structure since too many firms currently still operate under an outdated, multi-matrix approach which causes operating inefficiencies at several levels. However, there is a marked increase in internal administrative “cross-functional collaboration” to support the new business pipeline-continuum. Traditionally, most law firm mar com/BD departments operate as stand-alone departments or silos within the firm. Now there is increased emphasis on formalized cross-collaboration between the mar com/BD department and other staff areas such as technology support; accounting and finance; collections; library, research/competitive intelligence analysts; legal project management and management; and/or human resources and professional development.

*New business pipelines ideally should be built, estimated and maintained on a pro forma basis for 18 months to 3 years out.

LOOKING FOR PROVEN, QUALIFIED ASSISTANCE? Our nationally renowned professional services including: audits/assessments; consulting; outsourcing solutions and training/coaching programs are commissioned privately by firms themselves. If you or your firm would like any professional assistance, consultation, training, coaching or other support, please consider our significant qualifications and track record. Please see What Law Firms and In-House Counsel Say About Us for more information and/or contact Julie Savarino, telephone (734) 668-7008, email: Here is an example of one of our popular training and coaching programs:

**"Mastering the "Sales" Process for Lawyers©" - this renowned training and coaching program is taught by Julie Savarino and one or two actual General Counsel and is eligible for CLE in many jurisdictions. This program can be tailored for:

  • Income Partners

  • Interested Equity Partners

  • Litigators

  • Labor & Employment Lawyers

  • Tax Attorneys

  • White Collar Lawyers

  • Intellectual Property Lawyers

  • And/or other types of lawyers and/or industry-specific practitioners.

AUTHOR, STRATEGIST, MASTER TRAINER & COACH: Julie Savarino, Esq., Managing Director,, (734) 668-7008

P.S. For the past year, we have been honored to help military families pro bono undertake every legal avenue possible to fight harassment at funerals. Recently, 12 retired U.S. Air Force Generals filed a complaint with the Kansas State Bar to seek appropriate discipline of 13 lawyers who are members of the Westboro Baptist "Church" based in Topeka, Kansas. The objective of the complaint is to compel a formal inquiry into allegations lawyers tied to the "church" failed to maintain standards of professional conduct required to hold a law license in Kansas. For more information, click this link: If you would like to support this grievance by signing the petition, please click here: Please feel free to share this information. Thank you.

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