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Create an Institutional Environment Conducive to Business Development

Oran F Whiting


  • Solo practitioners and all firms must embrace business development to ensure success. 
  • Cultures fostering marketing should be incorporated in a law firm’s infrastructure.
Create an Institutional Environment Conducive to Business Development
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Solo practitioners and firms of all sizes, markets, and locations must embrace business development to ensure institutional survival and success. Cultures fostering marketing should be incorporated or retrofitted in a law firm’s infrastructure.

As a young associate at a large law firm in the late 1980s, I frequently engaged with my former college roommate, an associate in a venerable, world-renowned mega law firm. His firm represented mostly Fortune 100 companies in “bet the company cases” and adhered to a now antiquated and unacceptable form of billing. In essence, the firm’s invoices consisted of one line: “Legal services: [generally] a lot of money.”

During a conversation comparing the number of all-nighters we pulled in the preceding month, my friend informed me his firm hired a full-time marketing manager. I wondered why in the world this firm—with a sterling international reputation and an enviable, rock-solid client list—would hire a marketing manager.

The firm not only understood that continually attracting clients was crucial to its success and ultimate economic survival, but it actively and aggressively invested in its future by hiring a marketing manager to assist with the creation of an environment conducive to marketing and business development.

Change Comes from the Top

Guidance from leadership or an appointed marketing professional is essential to the successful implementation of any marketing infrastructure. Support from the firm’s rainmakers is also crucial to establish a culture rich in business development. Without the support and direction of leadership, creating this environment will be difficult or stunted. Individual marketing efforts of the firm’s attorneys could also be impaired.

Establishing a new firm culture begins at the top—but it must also extend to each lawyer to be effective. Leaders should meet with each firm attorney, ascertain perceptions of the firm’s position within the marketplace as well as personal marketing needs, and gauge the attorney’s level of interest in business development activities. These meetings will assist in measuring the attorney’s interest in a personal marketing plan, which is helpful in staying on course to develop a larger book of business and contribute to the firm’s overall success.

The ability to think outside the box is critical to developing new business. Attorneys should be asked to aggressively act on more marketing opportunities and account for their business development time and efforts. Any new initiatives should be discussed with members of the firm. At least one new marketing initiative should be explored each year. Maintaining the same routine makes for stale marketing, which often leads to a decrease in business development. This will slowly but ultimately lead to the weakening of an attorney’s client base, which could contribute to a firm’s demise.

As the firm plans for the continued success of the internal marketing plan, feedback from stakeholders is important. The level of commitment or enthusiasm about an initiative cannot be determined without such feedback. Dialogue from participants should be encouraged. Attorneys should learn from each other and determine appropriate next steps to obtain additional market share. This environment—in an unrestricted and open forum—allows for an productive discussion.

Step-by-Step Implementation

Implementing a culture focused on marketing and business development where it doesn’t already exist is not instantaneous. Begin phasing in such a culture with individual practice groups. If firm-wide implementation is impractical, start with one or two practice groups or individual specialists in certain targeted areas.

Individual marketing efforts are crucial, especially in smaller firms. All personal marketing plans are works in progress. Personal coaching and small-scale marketing plans are alternate approaches to traditionalmarketing and may be more appropriate. A personal one-on-one meeting can provide invaluable information that should be shared with the firm. The research findings should be summarized and used to outline the firm’s business development priorities.

Resources Are Key

As outlined above, firm resources and personal plans are necessary to establishing a business development–oriented culture. This begins with an investment, or more plainly stated: money. A business development operating budget plays an integral role in the marketing plan and the overall goals. Investment in firm materials, social media and other similar advertising—as well as the personnel to manage these efforts, travel, and the like necessarily follow. Funding prioritization is critical as resources are usually finite.

Plan, Track, and Assess

No matter the economy, the only bad marketing is no marketing. Marketing without a strategic plan is only slightly better than no marketing. Setting goals, determining priorities, and developing written plans will result in success. Operating without a specific plan is similar to traveling to an unfamiliar destination without a map.

With a well-defined marketing strategy, you can move forward confidently knowing what kind of future you are building. Planning is a process and not an isolated activity. Through the process, you must explore your current position and your desired position, what you think is important, and what your clients actually want. You must then unify the firm in a strategic direction. Individual plans should be created for (1) the firm as a whole, (2) each practice or industry group, and (3) each individual attorney. All of these must fit together as a unified whole, ideally complementing and supporting each other. Each plan must be specific, measureable, and aligned with the firm’s overall vision

Understanding and dissecting available data relating to a marketing program is critical in determining its effectiveness. Success should be tracked and improved by highlighting the progress of the firm’s efforts. This can be done by reviewing analytics of the firm’s website and blogs. Make sure to share results with attorneys to encourage participation.

Data obtained from these reports help to shape future marketing efforts, support marketing strategies, increase enthusiasm and participation, and identify opportunities. Which effort produced a direct referral? Which effort led to a new client? How many clients were obtained? What worked really well and what failed? What, if anything, could have been done better? Finally, what efforts absolutely need to be repeated and what should not be?

The need for attorneys to develop is surpassed only by an entity’s need to do so. We must all discover ways to foster a fruitful marketing culture in a constantly changing business environment.