Business Development Starter Guide

RRR Resources Law Practice Management Newsletter (2010)

You do not have to be born a rainmaker or natural marketer to be successful getting business. If you just rolled your eyes, think back to law school, where, unless you were gifted, you studied, learned and have since honed your practice skills. You could have been sharpening your business development techniques at the same time. If you didn’t, it’s time to start. Today, business development is as important as high quality work.

Business development is not marketing or selling. It is a relationship building process. There are many ways to do this and you should cultivate a process that suits your personality and interests. The fundamentals are in research and preparation. The formula to jump start a business development initiative is: Assess your situation, adopt a plan for action and commit to disciplined implementation.

Assess the situation. Be sure you understand the firm’s objectives so you can direct your energy to bringing in business that will fit the firm’s strategic direction and capabilities. Evaluate your goals, bearing in mind that developing specific expertise can help you distinguish yourself and attract clients. Identify the types of clients and, then more finely, industries and companies that are likely to valuable to the firm and advantageous to your practice. Don’t just focus on the largest players. Keep in mind that awareness is crucial; if the prospect has never heard of the firm or you, they will not hire you. Therefore, consider existing clients, acquaintances and contacts in your business cards collection.

From the list of prospects, qualify each by learning as much as possible about their business and legal issues and relevant individuals. Internally, run a conflicts check to eliminate ineligibles and find out if anyone in the firm has information or contacts that might be useful. In your external research, drill down to get a deep understanding of each prospect’s business and issues, including lines of responsibility, nature and caliber of outside counsel, strength of the relationship, etc. The more you know, the better prepared you will be to establish a relationship. Think of it as preparing for litigation or a business acquisition, writing a patent claim, etc.

Adopt a plan of action. At this point, you should know which prospects warrant attention because they are attractive potential clients, they are likely to have a need your services and you want to establish a relationship with them.

Each target will require a strategy. The key is that the prospect must become familiar with you, conclude that you are qualified and want a relationship with you. Sometimes this is a straight business pitch meeting. Usually it is a series of actions that are useful or appealing to the prospect, demonstrate interest in them (done your homework; listened; picked up direct and subtle clues) and are sincere. There is a big difference between just trying to win business and building a mutually rewarding relationship. Decide carefully when and how to ask for business. Prospects expect you to want their business but you must identify their legal need and they must want you to be their lawyer.

Commit to disciplined implementation. Random acts of business development are not likely to produce results. You will need several hours a week to advance a plan. This not negotiable, so just do it!

Going forward, practice business development skills every day. Each contact you make will not qualify as a prospect but you can build a valuable network that could include future prospects or refer business to you. Make it a habit to identify those that you want to get to know better and engage a process to establish a relationship. Before you know it, you will have a database of acquaintances and a pipeline for referrals and new business.

Robin Rolfe, Esq., President of Robin Rolfe Resources, Inc., provides custom management consulting services to law firms, corporate law departments and providers serving the legal profession. She was Executive Director of the International Trademark Association (INTA) for 17 years, and prior to that, practiced law at Chesebrough-Pond’s Inc., (now Unilever) and the Lowenstein Sandler law firm.

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