Why international lawyers need both online – and offline – business development initiatives

The premise of this article is based on my reading of a recent article by Itzik Amiel — which was published on the International Bar Association’s (IBA) website in February of 2020 – and my own experiences working with lawyers on their international business development strategies.

As any reader of this blog and any writings I have published about legal business development will know – my focus in the realm of legal business development is on law firms and lawyers seeking to expand their client base in international markets.

I take what might be described as a surgical approach to business development – in that I try to identify (based on my having conducted or advised on business development strategies and operations for international professional services clients for 20 years) what will produce the most return on investment in the shortest period of time.

What will  often produce a good outcome in international legal business development is precision targeting and direct outreach to ideal high value potential clients – with messages carefully tailored to each based on good research of where the lawyer and law firm can provide maximum value to clients likely in need of this assistance.

This focus is squarely on business development, rather than an online presence which cultivates brand awareness and inbound inquiries.  But the two are now vital to one another – and to any lawyer seeking to maximize their business development success in international markets.

In 2020, lawyers must have an online presence

No matter what amount of precision targeting and outreach lawyers do it should not be done in 2020 without some form of online presence.  It may seem to most that this message is obvious.  However, based on my experience – many lawyers and law firms continue to maintain little or no outbound business development posture, and/or have a basic or minimal online presence, or none.

I once met a lawyer – about 10 years ago – at an international legal conference – who had no website – and had built an international referral network based on having attended legal conferences over the span of an entire legal career.

This lawyer spent approximately 30 years flying from major city to major city around the world to attend legal conferences – then cultivated, offline, an international network of referral sources.  Now in 2020, without a doubt, this lawyer’s practice (which was based in Europe and highly sophisticated, niche and relying on referrals from financial and political capitals throughout the world) – will now be competing with other firms – all or essentially all of whom — will have at least a minimum presence online.  In some cases, a better than average presence online, and in some rare cases, a sophisticated online presence.

Why is this important?  Because 40 years ago (as we all know) – the internet didn’t exist.  Then, clients were cultivated primarily through word of mouth — and referrals – even where those relationships spanned oceans.  Now, however, clients can search online and find lawyers from the comfort of their homes, or offices, or while commuting, or over a coffee (on a desktop, laptop, tablet, or smart phone).  And what they’ll find now, no doubt, are numerous competitors to this legal practice.  Whereas in the pre-internet past, the personal trips and attendance at legal conferences held sway.

Direct outreach is reduced in value by the ready availability of online information

Even if a law firm conducts precision research and outreach to potential clients – they’re not operating in a vacuum in 2020 — where this initiative alone is sufficient to maximize business development success.  Any recipient of a cold outreach can research that firm online and compare them to their competitors.  Suddenly, therefore, the cold outreach is reduced in value by the ready availability of online information by and about your competitors.  Further, a pre-existing online presence where the lawyer is engaged in a dialogue with key audiences before attempting targeted outreach to key potential clients (still a highly effective business development exercise) – provides an opportunity for that lawyer to build global brand awareness and thought leadership in their areas of specialism – which, if done correctly, will result in inbound inquires and a global referral network built with much greater ease than in the past. Additionally, it can also help turn cold outreach business development into warm outreach.  Done well, this presence will also uniquely distinguish your firm and raise awareness of it in many places pre-internet era efforts could not reach on such a scale. Without it – your audience will only have an opportunity to learn about you from your outbound (direct contacting) business development activities, limited word of mouth, and in-person networking. 

Hence, without a very good online presence, lawyers drastically limit the reach they have with their ideal audiences, and will lose some or many opportunities for inquiries from them, requiring them to rely on costly and time-inefficient in-person networking in lieu of, for example, a good blog establishing a thought leadership position in a given practice specialism.

A particularly good online presence for an international law firm would be similar to the blog and social media presence of the World Economic Forum (WEF), and generate significant inbound inquiries.  A very good outbound business development initiative would produce highly targeted potential client leads via research, and securing new meetings with those potential clients – shepherding some through a non-linear process to becoming new clients via efficient and effective communications resulting in pitch meetings to negotiating proposed scope of representation and remuneration.  Precious few large law firms have ever fully developed this type of initiative.  I was fortunate to have worked for a lengthy period with a firm that did, and have written previously about what I learned from this experience.

While good legal business development does still require some element of direct contacting of potential clients and referral sources — in 2020, without a good online presence — in addition to this direct outreach — lawyers will be at a significant (and arguably, existential) disadvantage vis a vis their competitors.

I’ve spent the last 20 years working with closely with lawyers and law firms from throughout the world to help them develop successful joint or stand-alone online and offline business development initiatives.  If you’d like to discuss how I might help you and your firm, please contact me via the form below.

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