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Law Practice Magazine

The Marketing Issue

Marketing and Business Development: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Linda Sedloff Orton


  • When you invest in marketing activities, do them properly with pre- and post-work to derive the maximum value.
Marketing and Business Development: Two Sides of the Same Coin

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Marketing and business development (BD) in law firms is not the same now as it was even five years ago; if you are doing only the same things, you are losing ground. Marketing and BD are often used interchangeably in professional services firms, but the reality is while they are part of the same team, each has a vastly different focus and role. Marketing is about communicating your current offerings, while BD has a longer and broader view and involves anticipating gaps and needs.

Because lawyers, like accountants and consultants, are knowledge workers who sell their intellectual capital to a variety of audiences, the marketing matrix of offerings is more complicated to navigate than a Las Vegas buffet. A business development or practice area goal, and budget, should always drive which marketing tool to use. The most common challenge I have found is lawyers often start with the marketing tool, rather than with the bigger goal.

Lawyers should discuss what their business goals are first. Instead of starting with, “I want to take out a sponsorship or write an article,” they should look at the bigger picture and ask what they are trying to accomplish on a macro level. There may be far more cost-effective and powerful ways (dare I say using digital) to accomplish certain goals.

Business to business, or B2B, firms should be watching and learning from B2C, business to consumer, and D2C, direct to consumer, companies. They have been light years ahead of the professional services industry in understanding the client journey, performing market research and advertising. While not all their marketing or advertising tactics are appropriate for law firms, understanding how tools like web3, the metaverse, digital advertising, platforms like TikTok and technologies like AI are changing communications with consumers and clients is crucial to stay ahead of the curve and your competitors.

Except for a handful of large law firms with very large marketing and BD budgets, law firms still lag in investing in digital advertising (a very effective marketing tactic) and lead generation tools and teams (Business Development 101 in the consumer space). In the B2C arena, marketing is usually a 5% to 10% investment of revenue; for B2B it is accepted that 2% to 5% is a reasonable investment. Many law firms don’t even spend 0.05% to 1% of gross revenue on marketing and BD—not counting the salaries of your marketing or BD teams in that budget.


Marketing is about the tools you use to build brand awareness, improve relationships with existing clients and strengthen ties with prospects. Marketing is about selling, cross-selling or upselling your existing services or products to both your clients and your prospects. Marketing is about telling authentic and impactful stories that are backed by data and resonate through emotion. When done properly, marketing combines both creative and analytic approaches.

I ask partners to tell me what marketing they have done to build their practice. I also ask what marketing activities they are comfortable with and what they shy away from. The response from partners in firms with under a few hundred professionals is usually very limited—articles, speaking and sponsorships are the big three marketing tactics.

If there is a marketing professional in place at the firm, their efforts are often focused on the firm at large, the major practice areas or the most senior partners. Many partners and more junior professionals don’t benefit directly from the marketing team. Firms should provide marketing and BD support to all their employees, not just their most senior partners.

Marketing should include, but not be limited to, design and logos, brand, voice and content, special events, public relations, sponsorships, speaking engagements, social media posts, video, podcasts, client relationship management (CRM) and all things web-related. Marketing must include research to understand your clients and prospects. This is often missing but may appear in other areas of the firm such as BD, growth or client services as key account management. All tactics should start with your ideal client and then support the retention of existing clients and gaining new ones.

Business Development

BD is about growth goals and the processes required to get your potential clients into your lead funnel so you can educate them, help them grow and ideally pitch your services to them. Traditionally, BD generates leads and then passes them to sales teams. Only a handful of law firms have true sales teams, so BD professionals often serve as salespeople, too, or the lawyers themselves are left to follow up.

In implementing BD initiatives, if a CRM (think InterAction, HubSpot or Salesforce) is used properly, the CRM or digital manager will evaluate who has opened emails, clicked on links, viewed content and filled out forms to download information. In an ideal world, BD teams take that information and work with the lawyers to create a plan to connect them with the people who are interested in their content. In other B2B environments, sales teams would follow up to set up meetings. There are a few firms that have nonpractitioners setting up meetings.

Sophisticated firms will analyze the efficacy of myriad marketing touchpoints, including firm mailings (with permission of course), web analytics, digital advertising on LinkedIn or Google, social media engagement, and views on videos or listens on podcasts, and then create dashboards and processes to target and connect with individuals and companies on a consistent and disciplined basis.

Working Together

Marketing and BD need to work together for lawyers to glean the full benefit of either. Marketing cannot be done in a vacuum without the wider understanding of the firm’s business goals. Setting realistic and achievable metrics to measure key performance indicators is crucial to be able to assess the results of any program. Money should not be spent on programs that don’t yield results. Budgets should be established at the beginning of the year, and any spending should be evaluated in relation to other priorities.

Training should be provided early in a lawyer’s career. At a minimum, provide LinkedIn BD training. You can build any lawyer’s brand and improve their connections in just a few sessions. This training will increase retention and improve culture in the most authentic way possible because you are investing in the development of your people.

When you invest in marketing activities, do them properly with pre- and post-work to derive the maximum value. Don’t do an event if there is a rushed invitation list or a half-full table, and if there is no follow-up. To maximize your investment of time and money, both marketing and BD need to have measurable plans and real budgets that work in concert for your firm. Measure your results; pivot as needed.