Law firms would be wise to include their associates in the business development process. By doing so, they will increase their ability to succeed in securing more clients. At the same time, including associates in business development improves their present and future career prospects – as they will gain much from learning and practical application of the intricacies of successful law firm business development.
Business development is a win-win investment in the future for associates and law firms alike
As Aebra Coe detailed in Law360 – law firm associates are now working in a more competitive legal industry than in previous decades. And this makes business development skills more valuable to law firms seeking not only competent attorneys – but those who are also able to attract and retain high-paying work from new clients. Coe interviewed a wide variety of industry experts for this Law360 article — among them was Michelle Fivel of legal recruitment firm Major Lindsey & Africa. Fivel told Coe that: “Associates need to make business development a priority in order to become good at it. [They should be] conscious of the need to do business development and start early – [while taking] a step back and think[ing] about the law as a business — which goes beyond just being a good lawyer.”
Coe explains how many knowledgeable industry observers encourage associates to take the initiative and become involved where possible in law firm business development. I would note also that firms should put in place a means by which associates can work with specific partners and on specific initiatives – while also receiving training on how best to generate new client engagements – from identification all the way through to capture of new clients. This involves multiple steps, and will almost always be non-linear. It requires patience, perseverance, and a suite of skills that must be honed by hard work and guided by solid strategy – in order to produce tangible and substantial results.
Notably, Stefanie Marrone details in JD Supra why associates should become aware of trends in the business of law and the regional and global macroeconomic forces impacting law firms – while also seeking to understand their position within the legal economy. And Attorney at Work has an excellent series of articles about business development basics for associate attorneys. This is well worth reading for any associate interested in advancing their career via better business development skills.
Concerns about associate involvement in business development
As Jordan Rothman writes in Above the Law, law firms ought to incentivize associates for developing business. (I agree, where practical and subject to local bar regulations). He sees the added pressure of business development to be unfair to associates – hence his desire to see firms compensate associates for their successful efforts.
I would add that I believe incentivizing associates helps binds associates to the firm, increases the desirability of working for a firm that creates these incentives, and ultimately, likely leads to more business developed as incentives serve to focus efforts around best practices in generating revenue.
Ultimately, if the associates are well trained in business development and incentivized, this could be a catalyst for the generation of even more new revenue for the firm and the training of an up and coming new cadre of partners who have been rewarded by the firm for their initiative and who are in turn, more deeply loyal to the firm.
Specific business development initiatives law firm associates can be included in
With good training, law firm associates can be involved in a wide range of business development initiatives firm partners may be undertaking. But most importantly here – it is imperative that any business development initiative a firm would seek to include associates in – must be itself well-designed — in addition to including a business development training component.
Here are just some of the core areas where law firm associates can participate in the business development process. It’s important to note, here – that I am outlining how a law firm associate can contribute to an initiative being conducted by the law firm or a law firm partner. This is not about personal business development plans or networking for associates – but rather a highly practical series of things associates can do to be part of a sophisticated business development initiative of high importance to their firm.
The identification of new potential clients and the research of actionable commercial opportunities and/or legal opportunities or dangers for those clients in your market – is an excellent initiative for any law firm associate to be included in.
Blogging has become an integral component of inbound marketing for law firms. So while strictly speaking it’s not a part of business development – associates can and should be part of the research that underpins the creation of firm blogposts, client alerts and other key communications which will be used for client development purposes.
Law firm associates can play an integral role in the writing of client-facing communications utilized in business development and marketing initiatives, including blogposts and articles, custom proposals, client alerts, and quasi-legal articles and analyses.
Associates can participate in client pitch meetings by preparing written briefings about the executives the firm will be meeting with and their businesses, commercial activities and interests, legal risks, and opportunities. Associates can also participate in these pitch meetings and take careful notes — with the aim of producing first drafts of custom proposals, where appropriate, after the pitch meeting.
Including law firm associates in the business development process, particularly where they receive performance-based remuneration for this work – is a major win-win for law firms and associates alike. This additional help can take pressure off busy partners and business development staff – while also helping provide career-critical training to associates in business development skills.
Overall – as I’ve mentioned above – if firms can create a well thought out business development strategy and include associates in it – while also training those associates in critical business development skills – they will accelerate their client development work, realize more revenue, and build a larger client base in the process.
I help law firms train associate attorneys in all elements of legal business development. If you’d like to discuss how I might help your firm improve its involvement of associate attorneys in the business development process, please contact me via the form below.