Marketing Partner Forum: Encouraging Lawyers to Become Better Business Developers

Topics: Business Development & Marketing Blog Posts, Client Relations, Law Firms, Marketing Partner Forum

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Remember when lawyers at law firms were just supposed to practice law? Neither do I, and nor do many lawyers. If you think, “If I just do good work, the phone will ring,” you’re kidding yourself. Most lawyers don’t think about the fact that without people going out and generating business, there is no work to do.

Some of us realize that law firms are in a highly competitive business, and that you have to work hard to differentiate yourself, and also strive to stay in front of prospective clients to get noticed and get business. They still don’t teach you this in law school. That’s why Thomson Reuters’ Legal Executive Institute’s recent 2016 Marketing Partner Forum, which featured a panel of lawyers (including myself) discussing how our three very different sized firms handle this critical process, was so enlightening, even for the participants.

The panel was led by Cindy Larson, publisher of Thomson Reuters’ Super Lawyers, and included: Louis P. Britt, III, Managing Partner of the Memphis Office at Ford & Harrison LLP, a national law firm; Samir A. Gandhi, Partner & Co-Practice Leader at Sidley Austin LLP, a global/full-service law firm; and myself, Jason P. Grunfeld, Partner & Head of Business Development at Kleinberg, Kaplan, Wolff & Cohen, PC, a New York City-based law firm.

We all come from different sized firms, but the challenges are similar: How to get lawyers skilled in the art and discipline of practicing law to focus their energy on developing business for our firms.

Among the insights the groups shared were thoughts about expanding business development duties, while acknowledging that some lawyers will be better suited at it than others. The panel agreed that business development training should focus not just on partners but also on select associates who are senior enough and show both interest and aptitude. However, there was also agreement that not every lawyer is cut out for business development; and that lawyers can generally be categorized along a continuum that starts with those who enjoy an intuitive ability for business development and maintaining relationships (the “Finders” and the “Minders”), to lawyers whose primary contribution is the production of work product (the “Grinders”).

There was also general agreement among the panelists that for those possessing the core temperament and personality to develop business, training should include the creation of a business plan to give focus to business development efforts. However, the suggested structure of the business plans differed depending on the size of the firm and the resources available:

  • Sidley’s business plans are practice group focused and top-down by industry. The plans are not mandatory but are included in partners’ self-evaluations.
  • Ford & Harrison’s business plans are developed bottom up and are flexible, depending on the changing needs of the firm and individual practices year-to-year.
  • Kleinberg Kaplan’s plans are informal, and are typically linked to in-house coaching, which includes focused efforts directed at select client prospects.

Recognizing that lawyers often have difficulty focusing consistently on things that are important but not urgent, the firms also each employ coaching strategies to help maintain sustained business development efforts. Whether externally managed with the help of coaching consultants or internally managed by the marketing staff, the coaching programs at the firms are designed to reduce the tendency to “blow off” the ongoing activities designed to attract clients (business development), and the ongoing interactions designed to add value to established business relationships (client service).

As Thomson Reuters’ Larson, the moderator, noted in her summary of the discussion: “A critical aspect of a successful practice and of a successful firm, is the extent to which we create, build and maintain great relationships. This is not something they teach in law school. But is something we must cultivate in our firms.”

Additional Forum Coverage: The New Legal Business Around Medical Marijuana

ORLANDO, Fla. — As the list of states with medical marijuana legislation grows, so too does the number of organizations leading the way in research, intellectual property, development and distribution of medical marijuana. But as panelists from the “Catching Fire: New Legal Business around Medical Marijuana” session at the recent 23rd Annual Marketing Partner Forum would tell you, it’s our neighbors to the north that are leading the way with an effective medical marijuana model.

While legislation in Canada, particularly on a federal level, may be more in-line with public opinion regarding medical marijuana, a growing number of lawyers, researchers and entrepreneurs are diving into this budding sector looking to close the gap in the U.S.

Moderator Hilary Bricken, an attorney with the Canna Law Group, Harris Moure, PLLC, offered a brief, yet comprehensive (recent) history of medical and recreational marijuana legislation in the U.S., as well as the push-pull between state and federal authorities on the issue.

“The federal government is deferring to the states on this one,” she said. “As long as robust regulation is in play, [the federal government] has said… ‘We’re going to stand-down.’”

You can read Alex Cook’s full coverage of the medical marijuana issue on Legal Current.