After graduating from the National Law Center at George Washington University in 1974, I joined what was then regarded as a large law firm by Florida standards with all of 60 lawyers in Miami and Orlando. The firm was a full-service commercial law firm that represented financial institutions and insurance companies and served as Walt Disney World’s outside general counsel. As I was the firm’s first hire after the enactment of the Uniform Commercial Code in Florida, I was added to the firm’s lending group.
Soon thereafter, a global banking client called for assistance with a bankruptcy that had been filed in Miami; and the matter was assigned to me, in large part because I was the only member of our practice group who knew where the bankruptcy court was located. Fortuitously, that was the beginning of a 45-year practice in restructuring and bankruptcy.
From the outset, my insolvency practice was very active and exceedingly interesting. My clients were usually financial institutions and asset-based lenders. That changed in 1995 when I was engaged as special counsel to an official bondholders’ committee in a contentious asbestos liability bankruptcy that was filed in Tampa. Thereafter, I represented many creditors’ committees in a variety of cases.
Along Came an Opportunity
Then, in 2001, I happened to be in Wilmington for a meeting and heard that the organizational meeting in the W.R. Grace bankruptcy was being held that same afternoon. The Grace case was a mega bankruptcy case, and I was sufficiently curious about the case and the organizational process that I decided to take a peek during lunch. There were literally hundreds of professionals in attendance. I had never seen anything like it outside of a bar conference. I stood way in the back of the ballroom where the meeting was being held and exchanged pleasantries with another lawyer who was there on behalf of a client who wished to serve on one of the official committees. I also ran into a lawyer from South Carolina whom I had met in the Tampa case. Lo and behold, both of them were appointed to a committee and inquired if I was interested in interviewing to serve as committee counsel. Of course, I was; and after several interviews, I was engaged.
The Grace case lasted more than a decade and was the precursor to dozens of asbestos bankruptcy cases filed around the country. The relationships that I established, starting with that stop in the ballroom, and the special expertise that I developed in asbestos bankruptcy issues led to more than a dozen other representations.
The Building Blocks of Business Development
While altogether serendipitous, my experience landing the Grace case nonetheless proves my thesis that business development is merely a by-product of relationship building, professional development, and knowledge management. Distilled to essentials, business development comes down to the following:
- Network. Build your network, and keep refreshing and renewing those relationships. Your network becomes more dynamic and you add real value to your relationships whenever you are able to introduce people in your network to each other.
- Build a profile. Develop stature in your business and legal communities not only by your accomplishments on behalf of clients but also by becoming an authoritative speaker and writer on subjects within your specialty for prospective clients and other lawyers. In addition, develop stature by being meaningfully involved in community affairs, charitable organizations, and good works.
- Stand out from the crowd. Differentiate yourself from other lawyers, and be able to articulate and demonstrate just what differentiated value you bring to the table.
- Be proactive. Identify client prospects, and do not wait for them to need a new lawyer before forging relationships with them. Remember that client development requires sustained efforts, contacts, and entreaties.
- Put yourself in your clients’ shoes. Become conversant in the economic and market forces that drive your prospects’ businesses. Find out what keeps them up at night. Determine how you can add value to the prospects’ businesses beyond mere episodic problem-solving. Determine as well how you can align your interests with theirs so that they sense that you and they are “in this together.”
Scott Baena is a senior special counsel at Bilzin Sumberg in Miami, Florida.