It’s common for lawyers to think they can rely on first-rate skills, client satisfaction, and generally being better than the competition as a means of guaranteeing the future. After all, good legal work and happy clients are the cornerstones of success in the profession.
But excellent advice, exceptional service, and top-notch legal skills are mere table stakes in today’s competitive environment. Your future as a lawyer depends as much on your aptitude to market your practice as it does on your lawyering capabilities: clients and potential clients must know what you do, how you do it, and how you can help them solve their problems before they hire you.
And that’s not all: your future also depends on identifying and adapting to ever-changing client needs, developing relationships that lead to increased trust with clients and prospects alike, and effectively selling your services to the people who need them.
That’s why your growth strategy must include equal parts of business development, client development, and marketing. Like a three-legged stool, a business plan that balances finding new work, nurturing existing relationships, and communicating your strengths provides a steady foundation for the future of your practice.
In practice of course, these three elements are intertwined, so much so that it’s often difficult to speak of one without invoking the others. How you articulate the benefits you provide to a potential client, for example, depends as much as on the target as it does on your marketing abilities: even though you may be one of the top employment litigators in the country, if your prospects aren’t looking for help resolving HR disputes, there’s no use in touting that experience.
That said, it’s valuable to look individually at each element so that we can begin to identify best practices that will maximize the value of your efforts.
Business Development: Identify and Pursue New Prospects
Effective business development is as much about figuring out who to target as it is how to go after them.
Selecting a potential client is more complicated than picking a name from the phone book: you need to find companies and individuals whose legal needs align with your sweet spot, understand their pain points and how you might be able to ease them, craft a pitch that articulates not what you do but why they
should hire you.
Three ways to get the most of your efforts to identify and pursue work from new prospects:
1. Do Your Homework
Sometimes the new client calls you. Sometimes she gets your name from a peer. Sometime you meet her at a reception or a conference or even in a social setting. But not most of the time.
Most of the time, you get new clients because you’ve worked at turning acquaintances into clients. You’ve identified opportunities, established relationships, analyzed legal and business needs of new prospects, and determined how best to go after their business. You’ve taken executives to lunch, invited them to seminars, and sent them thought leadership on ways to solve the problems their company is facing.
In short, new work comes when in you do your homework.
2. Be Proactive
Good business development is built on anticipating the needs of targets, and offering solutions to the challenges they face. If you’re doing it right, you might even help them before they know they have a problem.
Maybe you offer to introduce a potential client to a colleague or peer who recently helped a client worked through the same issue as the one the prospect is struggling to resolve. Maybe you send her thought leadership with clear and practical hand-written recommendations for resolving the problems you know she has. Maybe you simply take her to lunch and ask questions about her business. However you connect with your targets, it’s critical to be proactive: you can no longer wait for business to come to you, you must go out and get it.
3. Set priorities
Successful business development requires focused effort and persistence. As much as you’d like, you can’t pursue every single opportunity you identify: you must prioritize, be realistic, and stop pursuing non-opportunities so that you can put your energies into developing meaningful relationships with those who are truly in a position to give you work.
At most you should have five true targets – two is probably a more realistic number – that you pursue with a focused plan tailored to each individual entity. If you think you can effectively pursue any more than that at the same time, you’re fooling yourself.
Client Development: Maximize the Value of Work Done for Existing Clients
The good thing about existing clients is that you don’t need to establish relationships and convince them that they can trust you before getting additional work. The bad thing? It can be a real challenge to initiate conversations around new opportunities when you’re so caught up doing the work they’ve already hired you to do.
But the people and companies you’re already representing offer such tremendous opportunity that you cannot afford to ignore the pursuit of additional work from existing clients.
So what to do? These three things, for starters:
1. Fully understand what your client needs
Knowing what your clients need requires more than assumptions. It takes time and effort to research their challenges and analyze their situation. Talking to them is a good place to start.
Ask about strategic plans and business challenges, about financial objectives and biggest concerns, and perhaps even about satisfaction with your services and what they like most about the other firms they’ve hired.
Other sources of information? What you’ve seen at (and done for) other clients facing the same issues. What you read in the business and legal press. What your peers and colleagues think about similar situations and solutions. In short: find out as much as you can about your clients and their situations, wherever you can and from whomever you can. It will make you a better counselor and advisor, and that’s a powerful selling point.
2. Know what the firm offers
Just as you need to understand exactly which services – beyond those you personally provide – your clients need, it’s essential for you to be familiar with the full range of services your colleagues can offer.
More to the point: it’s not enough to know that your partners can skillfully and efficiently resolve IP or real estate or immigration matters. You need to know things like the number and types of patent disputes they’ve resolved or the size and scope of the top ten biggest real estate acquisitions they’ve handled or the fact that they’re particularly good at getting work authorization visas for corporate clients but not for people on student visas. The more you know, the easier it is to connect their skills with the needs of your clients, to make introductions, to identify opportunities that you then pursue with your colleagues. And the more likely it is that they’ll do the same for you.
3. Focus on relationships
Business development opportunities with existing clients grow out of relationships as much as they do from legal skills.
It’s clear that you need to have the skills necessary for the new assignment, that you need to have already produced – more than once – meaningful results for your clients, and that you will be once again able to back up their favorable impression with quality legal advice.
What’s not always clear, however, is that clients generally don’t hand out new opportunities – an invitation to pitch for a project, a phone call from the HR Director for guidance on a particularly thorny personnel problem, a request for a presentation on real estate financing options – without pre-existing relationships.
Challenge yourself to learn more about the clients who offer meaningful probabilities of new work. Take them to lunch to ask them questions about business strategies and challenges. Find out the names of their spouse and children. Focus on the relationship as much as the work.
Marketing: Create and Deliver Value Through Content
The most effective law firm marketing is that which creates and delivers value to your clients and potential clients.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that other types of marketing are never worthwhile. Chambers and other directories, long-term advertising campaigns, and charity sponsorships are all useful ways to promote yourself and your firm even if they don’t directly benefit the people you’re trying to reach.
But it does mean that you cannot rely on promotional marketing alone to articulate your firm’s brand. Instead, you need content, in all its formats: articles and blog posts, speeches and presentations, interviews and videos. You need content that informs and educates your readers. You need content that confirms your ability to solve the very problems your targets are facing.
For example: do your articles discuss the dangers of non-compliance with the U.K. Bribery Act or do they propose ways to develop anti-corruption strategies without disrupting business operations around the globe? Do your presentations focus on the cost of counterfeiting and other IP theft around the world, or instead provide concrete examples of successful countermeasures and lessons learned? More to the point, do you talk about the problems clients already know they face, or do you identify specific ways to overcome those obstacles?
Your targets want more than a lawyer who understands the issues: they want one who proposes actionable solutions to the challenges they’re facing. Here are three ways to make sure your content does just that:
1. Write about issues that matter to readers
Like most lawyers, you probably have already identified a list of topics you could write about. The work you do every day – filing patents in the United States, preparing for a government investigation in China, terminating employees in France, and more – is good fodder for articles and blog posts, and of broad general interest to your audience.
But generic content about generic issues isn’t going to capture the attention of readers. More importantly, it’s not going to show them that you understand their challenges, that you know their industry, that you have actionable solutions.
For that, you need to identify and propose solutions around the issues that matter to your audience, that address the things that keep them up at night. Talk to your clients and prospects to enhance your understanding of their urgencies and the specific challenges they have today. Review the business and legal press to ensure you’re up to speed on economic trends and legislative developments. Identify one or two hot topics that seem to be top of mind for your audience, then look at how others are framing those issues and solutions.
In short: do your homework to ensure that you write about the issues that truly matter to readers, not about what you hope they care about or what you think they should care about.
2. Measure your results
If you’re producing content on a regular basis and pushing it out to your audience via email, social media, LinkedIn, and other free and paid channels, you’re generating data that can help you produce better content, content that is more relevant to your readers, content that helps you reach your goal.
Start measuring it. Start tracking how many people open your blog posts, how long they stay on the site, where they’re coming from, what terms they search for when they’ve finished reading the first article and want to know more. Start analyzing the data to see what’s resonating with readers, what’s leaving them indifferent, what’s prompting them to seek out more.
Patterns will form: topics that people avoid and ones they can’t seem to read enough about, days of the week when your audience doesn’t go online, keywords that catch their attention more than others, titles and distribution channels that work best. Let those patterns guide your future content.
3. Find the right formula
When you’re building a marketing and branding initiative around content, readers can seem pretty fickle. They’ll love one blog post on U.S. tax law while completely ignoring another. They’ll actively share an article on the pitfalls of short-term financing without reading the follow-up. That it might be because you haven’t yet hit on the right formula: the topics they’re most worried about, or the titles that catch their eye, the best times and places to share it online.
That’s why you need to track data, to see when your audience is reading your work, to find out where they are going to get it, to understand what interests them the most. And that’s also why you need to experiment, to shake things up, to see how changes you can control – where you publish your work and when you share it, for example – influence readership. So that you can do more of the things that do work, and less of those that don’t.
Does featuring an article on your firm’s home page lead to more page views? How many more readers do you get when you double or triple the number of times you share it on Twitter? What’s the effect of adding your email address in the text? How about using an alternate title when sharing a piece on LinkedIn or on Facebook?
The bottom line? Content marketing success depends on how well you understand what’s keeping your clients and potential clients up at night and on your ability to articulate practical solutions to those problems. But whether or not content marketing works for you also depends on your ability to get people to read your written work. That’s why you need to experiment until you find a formula that works, and then experiment so more to see if you can’t make it better.
About the Author
Lance Godard is the owner of The Godard Group, a marketing communications and business development strategy firm for the legal profession. For the past three decades, he has helped lawyers and law firms articulate value and benefits, set objectives and strategies, and grow their practices and businesses.
Lance cut his legal marketing and business development teeth at one of the world’s largest firms, where he lived and worked in France, Hong Kong, and the United States, and helped the firm grow its international practice from about 75 lawyers in 10 offices to more than 500 in nearly 20 locations. Over the course of his career, he’s worked with lawyers from across the globe – Asia, Europe, North America, and South America – to identify and set clear and achievable marketing and BD objectives, then design and execute initiatives to meet their financial, practice, and strategic goals.
For more information on how Lance can help you, visit The Godard Group, or contact him at email@example.com