One thing I learnt when I was a trainee solicitor was that most in the profession are useless at networking and business development. I realised many were academically and professionally brilliant but when it came to the softer skills they were lacking. Funnily enough, I also noticed that while I was good at the softer skills (why wouldn’t you ask a client out for dinner to pick his brain on the industry?) I was fairly poor when it came to being a technically strong lawyer. Hence my career in law was relatively short lived (but packed with fun client dinners and drinks)
15 years later and having worked with literally thousands of lawyers around the world my observation is this: most lawyers are terrible at business development. Nothing has really changed and with the exception of a few clients, most firms do nothing to develop this. I understand why this is – the short term benefit of having a lawyer working around the clock and billing more hours far outweighs the long term benefit of a business-developing super lawyer.
Why does it matter?
The legal industry has changed. Clients are institutionalised and the pressures partner’s face in building a business to justify their position is incredible. It never used to be like this and I still sit down with partners who wax lyrical about how developing a business meant a boozy lunch and a £1m instruction. Partners are working longer meaning a lot of them are less willing to share their clients with their junior partners. Most significantly, there is more competition for clients because there are more law firms.
What is the solution?
When I moved into head hunting after my brief time as a lawyer a lot of friends laughed. After all, I was going from a sought after profession to being a salesman (although it took me years to actually admit this is what I did!). The irony is the best lawyers I have moved in my career have also been the best salesmen I have seen. If you want to be a successful lawyer you need to be a successful salesman! This means being able to sell your skill set, your firm, and your ability to solve problems and add value to a client.
What steps can you talk?
- Start early: if you are a junior lawyer then make the effort to network with as many professionals you know. Focus on developing your reputation by writing articles and getting your name of press releases. And do not be shy to speak to your clients and keep in contact with them throughout your career. Even write a blog (and hope someone out there is reading it….)
- Network! Network! Network! : Get in front of potential clients as much as possible. This means presentations, client events, competitors’ client events and being wherever your clients are going to be. Always follow up with clients but do not make this all about pitching business. I believe networking has become a laborious for some clients as they are constantly pitched to. This goes against my belief that all business is built on personal relationships. Take the time to build personal relationships, stay in touch and when the opportunity to add value arises make sure you have the chance to pitch.
- Become a key person of influence in your industry: In every area of law there are maybe a dozen people who are seen as the experts in their area, be it private equity, project finance or family law. These people are technically superb but are equally excellent at building their personal brand. They publish articles, give interviews, have a strong social media presence and are rated in key directories. When you (or should I say your client) googles them they are presented with a wall of evidence that these individuals are the people they need on their team. The interesting thing is they are no different to the other 98% of lawyers who aren’t in this position – they just invest in their personal brand as much as their technical abilities. How do you know if you are a key person of influence? Google yourself and decide.
There are obviously dozens more tips for business development but these are a few of my preferred ones. Moreover, the challenges faced by partners in develop a business are different (and far harder) when compared to a junior lawyer. However, don’t underestimate and forget about the importance of business development – it is of equal importance with technical skills when it comes to succeeding in this career.