You can’t go at it alone: Building business development allies within your firm

Female attorney addressing an audience from a podium

Here’s something marketing professionals at small and midsized law firms probably wish could be shouted from the mountaintops – business development is everyone’s responsibility.

That can be a tough sell in a legal environment. Lawyers are notorious for pouring time and effort into their practices and thinking every other aspect of running the firm should be someone else’s job. That’s part of the reason why marketing professionals do everything from print name tags to book conference space to manage social media accounts, to say nothing of a great many other things big and small.

Regardless of whether attorneys want to hear it, however, business development really is everyone’s responsibility. That’s because marketing professionals can spearhead new initiatives, provide insight, identify opportunities and devise new strategies, but a business development plan can’t take off without the participation and involvement of the lawyers who will actually be working with any prospective new clients.

If what we’ve described thus far sounds like your day-to-day experience as a law firm marketing professional, here are five ways to encourage business development participation and buy-in from the attorneys at your firm.

Emphasize why business development matters

There are plenty of attorneys who think that clients should find them on their own. You know, of course, that isn’t the way of the world. To the extent you have insight into this information, try to find opportunities to bring up trends at your law firm—Is business down in a certain practice area? Is a particular type of case heating up locally, and your firm just isn’t getting any of the work? —and how a business development plan could address the situation. If you can tie your thoughts and observations to a trend or pattern, attorneys at your firm might be more willing to listen.

Start small

If you spring a full-fledged multi-step plan on a team of attorneys who are already wary, that plan will never get off the ground. Instead of swinging for the fences, start with small, achievable business development activities, like asking everyone at your firm to write a LinkedIn update once a week for a month. This approach works for two reasons: First, it’s easy for attorneys to take a small step rather than a large one; and second, it’s a natural way to create building blocks, so that the bigger picture comes into focus on its own, rather than you having to ask lawyers to use their imaginations.

Highlight your wins

When you have something good happen on the business development front, make sure you share it widely. That can be in a meeting, a firmwide email or even person-to-person. It’s just important that you broadcast it, because it keeps business development top-of-mind and frames it positively.

…and those of other firms

Sometimes, media outlets will write a profile on an attorney or firm and talk about the relationship between a lawyer and a key client. If you ever see such an article, use it to provide ammunition for your argument that your law firm needs to be developing and furthering such relationships. Attorneys are by nature competitive people, and if they understand that other firms are implementing business development plans and having success, they will want to do it, too.

Build your case

Choose five or so current articles about business development and keep them at the ready. You never know when someone will stop by your desk to talk about it, or when you will be asked to give a 10-minute presentation at a meeting. If you have an arsenal of material that supports the case for development, you will come across as poised and prepared and can capitalized on someone’s interest by sharing these pieces with them. That’s a good, easy way to start nurturing a business development ally in your firm.

In the end, getting traction from attorneys at your firm as far as involvement in business development will be a slow, step-by-step process, but hopefully the tips we’ve shared will prove to be some of the steps that work for you.

If what we’ve described here is of interest and you’d like to know more, our complimentary playbook “Research, ROI, and Refinement: Optimizing your legal marketing strategy and proving its value” goes into greater detail. It is available for complimentary download.

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