Business development: the reasons all lawyers need to do it

Isla Grant - Business development: the reasons all lawyers need to do it

Business development (BD) is as much a part of modern lawyering as drafting contracts and coordinating conference calls. With ever more savvy clients demanding more legal service for their money, competition for work is on the rise. Having said that, BD requires an entirely different set of skills to fee-earning work and lots of practice.

Simply put, BD is the “creation of long-term value for an organization from customers, markets and relationships”. In the context of a law firm, it usually takes the form of creating and maintaining client relationships – ie, finding new clients and holding on to existing ones. This is achieved through building networks and contacts, and trying to ensure that when someone is in need of legal advice, it is your firm that they think of first. It is also one of the two central aspects of commercial awareness – if the first is being aware of your client’s business needs and advising accordingly, then the second is recognising that the law firm is itself a business, which has its own specific commercial drivers and motivations.

In terms of practical application, BD may involve pitching to potential clients for a particular piece of work. While this is likely to be spearheaded by a firm’s partners, associates and trainees will be involved with preparing and researching the pitch, and may be encouraged to attend.

BD also covers the need to capitalise on inter-office relations, such as meeting with and getting to know your colleagues, so that if a client comes to them with a legal issue that is beyond their remit, they will refer them on to you. In fact, cross-selling within a firm is one of the best ways to build a business and to ensure you become the go-to trusted adviser for all of a client’s legal needs.

Most firms that we speak to get their trainees involved in BD from the get-go, encouraging them to attend and even host client events, as well as take part in the numerous junior professional networking events that are held regularly around the country. Writing articles, presenting papers or speeches, or even managing the firm’s social media presence is another great way to get involved with BD at the junior level.

Here are just a few extracts from our Meet the Lawyer section, with views from a range of lawyers at different types of firm and at different stages of their careers, talking about their involvement with BD and why it’s important:

  • Katie Rooth, associate, Bristows LLP: “All trainees and associates are encouraged to write articles, both for Bristows' own publications and external journals. Trainees and associates also get involved in helping partners to prepare presentations for conferences.”
     
  • Helen McCrossan, associate, Clyde & Co: “Juniors at Clyde & Co benefit from many opportunities to get involved in the firm’s business development. For example, I was recently involved in organising an all-female business development event co-hosted by the firm, while I regularly play in the firm’s hockey team against teams of our clients and other firms.”
     
  • Rob Morris, solicitor, Freeths LLP: "The partners here encourage you to go to as many BD events as possible, so that you can get your face and name out there – there are always dinners and client events to attend. The firm has also set up a scheme called “Initiate”, a BD event aimed at below partner level, which enables you to invite your contacts along to a firm-held event. It is great for meeting contacts at similar stages of their careers."
     
  • Emma Keating, associate, Ropes & Gray International LLP: “You are encouraged from day one to get involved in BD and to interact with clients. I am often invited to networking events by other members of the team and have joined associates from other practice groups at events that were informative and provided a great opportunity to meet people.”

Early awareness of this crucial part of running a successful law firm will help you to stand out from the crowds of other would-be trainees who are not as commercially aware. As our blogger The Legal Learner says, “if you are applying for training contracts this year, showing an understanding of BD in your applications or at interview would be an impressive move”.

You may not know it, but you are probably already building relationships that may be professionally useful in later life. The other students that you’re at university with, your tutors and lecturers, your family and friends – these connections are all a rich source of future referrals.

As with most things networking-related, the earlier you start and the more of it you do, the easier it becomes. Attending law fairs, firm presentations and open evenings, and chatting to firm reps, is all part of the process and an essential way to develop key soft skills. Undoubtedly, BD will form an important part of your legal career – start working out now how to engage with it effectively!

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