Relationship building. Squeeze the flesh. Develop new sources of income. Cross-sell. It’s the language of business development and, like marketing terminology, it’s unfamiliar territory for most lawyers. While I’m inclined to preach about the place of marketing in every law firm’s toolbox, business development for law firms is the other side of the coin.
After reading this article, you’ll have a good idea of what business development strategies for law firms look like and some practical tips for incorporating them into your work as a lawyer and business owner.
What is law firm business development?
Business development for law firms means looking for strategic opportunities for your law firm. This includes building new relationships and identifying new revenue streams and sales opportunities. Examples are cross-selling to existing customers and adding new practice areas to your business. This may involve expanding geographically or having procedures in place for your customer onboarding team to track leads.
Business development of a law firm vs. marketing
One of the reasons I love marketing is that it’s seemingly possible to create new business out of the blue. And depending on the advertising channel, results can be instant, thanks to techniques like enabling pay-per-click (PPC) ads and other forms of Google advertising. John Grisham writes books about the rainmaker, and that is precisely what good marketing is: a rainmaker.
In business development for lawyers, you’re still making it rain, but instead of one-time sales-focused marketing deals, you’re building bridges, relationships, and revenue streams that are more sustainable and will serve you in the long run.
You could say that marketing is here and now, putting your law firm in front of a client who needs your services and securing retainers. Unlike marketing, business development for law firms is a long-term affair: adding revenue and sales streams, practice areas, and relationships that strengthen your practice over time.
What does law firm business development mean for lawyers?
Business development for a law firm basically means anything that you do, in a systematic way, that increases your firm’s revenue streams. It considers revenue-increasing strategies from a holistic perspective rather than one-time transactional decisions.
I know what you’re thinking: “Okay, so what does it mean to me, an independent practitioner (or a lawyer in a small firm)?”
Top 3 Law Firm Business Development Strategies
Here are some of the most common strategies lawyers of all sizes can use to develop new business:
1. Build strong relationships with clients
The best way to get a new customer is through existing customers. The 2020 Legal Trends Report reveals that a client looking for a lawyer will first trust recommendations from friends and family, as well as online reviews on Google, social media, directories legal or former clients.
To ensure that old clients lead to referrals for new clients, law firms must become client-centric and develop strong client relationships, both during and after the case. There are many ways to do this, but a lot of it comes down to making the customer experience exceptional.
Other findings from the 2019 Legal Trends Report show that communicating consistently and clearly, responding to client inquiries and being transparent with billing are all ways to ensure your clients feel like they are getting the best possible experience and make them feel important.
To build strong relationships, focus on the five key aspects of running a client-centric law firm.
I. See things from your customer’s point of view: Creating a better client journey and a better overall client experience in your law firm really means seeing things from your client’s perspective. Don’t make assumptions. Stay engaged with your customers and look for opportunities to gain insight into their experiences.
II. Take care of your customers and consider their needs: Your clients don’t just come to you to solve legal problems. They come to you for peace of mind, reassurance, emotional support, guidance, etc., during very stressful times in their lives. Lean into this with empathy and you could help your law firm stand out in a big way.
III. Be client-centric in your thinking: When your law firm makes a decision, evaluates a new tool, or tries out a new process, do you think about the impact it will have on your clients and their experiences? Thinking about your customers first at every step of the customer journey is the critical first step toward managing a more customer-centric practice.
IV. Communicate clearly and often: For client-centric law firms, communication means more than just providing updates on client cases. It’s about being proactive so customers feel informed, and taking the time to make sure customers really understand everything that’s going on. This is important throughout the customer journey, from receipt to invoicing.
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V. Ask for feedback to continuously improve the customer experience: Don’t forget to ask your customers for feedback. The best way to validate if your customer experience is meeting expectations is to get feedback directly from the source. Consider measuring customer satisfaction over time. Remember the old adage, “What gets measured gets managed.” A very common way to do this is to measure your Net Promoter Score (NPS®). The NPS® is a way to measure which customers are likely to tell others about your service through reviews and referrals. You will also want to be proactive in managing your online reputation. This includes responding to negative reviews and asking current and former customers for positive feedback and reviews.
Honestly, I only became comfortable with networking many years into my career. I needed to feel like I had something to give to others rather than acting like a recent law school grad desperately looking for a job.
Nonetheless, law firm networking is something you must do. My advice would be to forget your complexes, force yourself out and just talk to people without having any motivation or professional goal like marketing in mind. Be yourself and build relationships. Once you’re more comfortable, you can think about how to get the most out of your networking. For now, showing up is a good start. And if you’re the type to ditch social events when you’re busy at work, using the law firm business development conversation list strategy to maintain your relationships is a great way to stay social.
Remember, networking doesn’t just mean going to bar events. Think carefully about what makes the most sense for your area of practice. Will most of your clients come from other lawyers? Or will they come from other professionals?
I know a lawyer who built an entire book of business on referrals by rubbing elbows in professional organizations and being active in her local bar and practice area. In fact, at the law firm where we worked, she brought in more than three times her salary in billable hours through referrals.
Another lawyer made QDROs. Because new business came primarily from referrals from divorce attorneys, being active in the local bar and constantly present kept him in the forefront. For him, this type of networking resulted in a doubling of income every two years. As a solo, it grossed over half a million in revenue.
The design of the two lawyers’ websites would send shivers down the spine of most marketing professionals. Neither know what SEO means, nor do they serve pay-per-click ads. But they are playing to their strengths. As a result, both make a comfortable living these days through networking and business development.
Marketing and business development for law firms go hand in hand. While networking can take years to pay off, marketing can “turn on the tap” now, so to speak. The best approach is to do both for maximum effectiveness.
3. Ask for references
Many lawyers are afraid to ask for anything, even if it means free marketing. Just a customer review? No way, it’s below them. References ? They don’t beg for work.
The point is, you know you can provide superior service to anyone referred to your office. Asking for referrals is not asking for charity. It is asking for opportunities to help human beings. And who better than you to help them?