Thursday, December 08, 2011

5 Reasons Young Lawyers Need To Care About Their Business Development Skills

Lawyers should care about business development.  Regardless of practice area or small firm vs. large firm, many lawyers need to step up their reputation, brand and grow their books of business.  Law is a business, and one with much competition.  Without the understanding of how to expand a practice many attorneys are leaving opportunity (and money) on the table.  There must be a plan or they are delegating their future to "luck" (and that is not a strategy most lawyers would recommend for their clients).

A problem is that business development and marketing are not taught in law school and firms do not encourage young lawyers to worry about these skills (they push them to learn to edit, proof, research and grow their legal knowledge, but leave out one of the most important skills for their own future success).  By the time a lawyer has been practicing five years they are often responsible for developing clients, but many have no idea what that means.  They will have wasted valuable time and may never fine tune their abilities to market themselves.

Small firm and solo lawyers learn early that they need to focus on building relationships to cultivate a long-term career.  They often learn this in the school of hard knocks, from the realities of running a business, not from any formal training.

Another problem is that attorneys are generally smart (and they know it), and they do not view marketing and business development as a difficult or learned skill.  They ponder that if non-lawyers (an interesting term, as doctors do not refer to other people as "non-doctors") can sell their products and services, then how hard can it be?  But without sales there is no business, and there are right ways and wrong ways to grow a practice.

Here are five reasons young lawyers need to get active in creating their own business development plan:

1.  There are no guarantees.  Firms of all sizes lay-off associates or close their doors.  If a firm relies on a few rainmakers to fill the pipeline, then everyone is in danger.  If you do not understand how to sell yourself to clients, you will have a hard time selling yourself to a new firm if you are pushed out.

All employees (partners, associates, staff, etc...) should consider themselves part of the "Business Development Team" and discover ways to promote the firm to existing and potential clients.

2.  Making partner in a competitive environment means you need to have clients or have shown that you can bring in new business over the long haul.  It takes time to establish meaningful connections in your community.  The type of friendships that lead to a steady stream of referrals is not something that happens by accident.  If you wait until you need strong connections it will be too late.

3. If you have real relationships with the clients you can take them with you.  Not that you want to become a mercenary and take the firm's clients, but everyone needs to think about their own future.  Those with a portable book of business will always have options.   Clients accounts are intangible and reside with people, not the firm.  Make sure that you treat people well and they will be loyal to you should you ever move your practice.

4.  Doing good legal work is important, but if you think it is enough to sustain a career you are not as smart as your mommy believes.  Law is a business, and that means that sales, marketing, accounting, HR, customer service, IT, and all other functions that impact other companies apply to your firm.  To make sales, marketing and business development a second tier activity means you will always have second tier results.

5.  When you are well known throughout your business community it brings positive attention to you and your firm.  While some partners discourage young lawyers from getting engaged in the community (those are usually not the rain makers, but the ones that hate the whole concept of business development anyway), the most successful lawyers I know want to see their associates shine in growing their practices.  Firms that encourage business development activities will see their reputations, and number of clients, expand in any economic environment.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

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