“Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” Lao TZU
BTI Consulting Group, a leader in legal industry research, recently released the results of a study that showed that despite deep budget cuts at large law firms, “business development is one of the few marketing areas where law firm executives are more willing to increase spending.” Of the firms interviewed, including firms of all sizes, “[n]early 70 percent said they planned to provide more marketing coaching to lawyers.” BTI’s Benchmarking Law Firm Marketing and Business Development Strategies, 2009. It seems that even in a tough economy these firms are taking the old adage, “teach a man to fish…” very seriously.
But teaching your attorneys to fish for new business is not just about making them more capable of taking care of themselves; it’s about maximizing the ability of the firm to generate business. No matter how great the few rainmakers at a firm are at generating business for the rest to feed on, the “two rainmaker business plan” will forever limit the growth of a firm by the talents, time, energy and health of those few rainmakers. This is not anything new. Most firms in this situation know it is a problem, but what are they doing about it?
To the rainmakers that built the firm business development is second nature. Yes it takes time, but it’s something so obvious and inherent to them that many just assume others should inherently know how to do it. They assume that the lack of business development is from a lack of motivation rather than know how. The associates are told they need to “network,” to go to some association meetings, etc. but they are given very little direction on how to be effective in doing so. (i.e. how to determine the associations they should be joining; what they should do once they join; how they should go about getting noticed, etc.) Perhaps it is less a lack a motivation and more a lack of knowledge and understanding of how to be effective. It’s like Mozart expecting others to just sit down and play the piano because that’s what he did. He looked at the piano and just knew how to play. But just because others can’t do what Mozart did, does not mean that they can’t be taught to play.
While coaching will not make someone the Mozart of rainmaking, it can make them pretty good at it, which can be enough to make a significant contribution to the firm as a whole. Apparently a good percentage of law firms realize this given the increased dollars they are devoting to business development coaching. Is it a lack of motivation or do they need to be taught how to fish? Either way, the right kind of coaching can provide the solution.
“If we don’t take care of our customers, someone else will.” Unknown
A recent BTI Consulting Group study revealed a startling finding: “87% of law firms have at least one major client relationship at risk. Yet few law firms are aware of their vulnerability – and even fewer are doing anything to change the landscape.” Legal Trends, Most Law Firms Have At Least One Major Client at Risk, by Marcia Borgal Shunk, Principal at BTI Consulting Group, April 9, 2009.
If you are a glass is half full sort of person you would immediately look at this and think, “Wow, what a great opportunity to pick up some new clients!” And that observation would be correct. If you are seeking to grow your business, this statistic illustrates an encouraging opportunity to win over some new business. Your next step should be to develop a strategy of how you are going to capitalize on that fluidity. But in developing that strategy, consider the glass is half empty sort of person who is worried about which client in their portfolio is on a possible exit. To figure out the best way to win clients from others, you should start with getting a clear understanding of why the clients would consider leaving. Figure it out, then offer what’s missing. And even better, make sure your own clients are getting what’s missing as well.
The focus of the study was not on how to win new clients from others, it was on what it takes to retain them. Obviously, winning clients while simultaneously losing others is not going to grow revenues. The study indicates that using aggressive client surveying to uncover client satisfaction is critical to gaining client loyalty and to becoming one of those rare 13% of the firms not at risk. I agree, but I also suggest that after you do your surveying not only should you use the information to keep your current client’s happy; you should use the information to design your next marketing campaign. You see? The glass is half full!
Samira Mery Lineberger, Esq.
“Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles; it empties today of its strengths.” Unknown
With the economy at its lowest point in decades, the legal industry is taking its share of the brunt. More and more firms are downsizing, some in drastic measures and still law schools are turning out new graduates in record numbers. So what’s a lawyer to do? Start an emergency fund and hunker down until things get better? That’s certainly an option. It’s all in how you look at it.
Economic turmoil is not pleasant, but with turmoil there is always opportunity, and the opportunity for small to mid-size firms to build their commercial business is better than ever. Companies are tightening their belts, looking for better, more affordable legal services. A recent study by BTI Consulting, a leader in legal industry research, suggests that now is the time for small to mid-size firms to ramp up their marketing efforts to go after big company legal business. According to BTI research, companies are moving away from big firm services in favor of the more affordable and flexible services offered by small to mid-size firms. In fact, the nation’s top 100 revenue generating law firms went from servicing 64% of the 550 large companies surveyed in 2007, to only 36% in 2008. The next 100 firms picked up some of the top 100 losses moving from 13% of the business in 2007 to 26% in 2008. But big gains in market share also went to those firms under the top 200, who went from 26% in 2007 to 38% in 2008. Why the shift? More and more companies are looking at innovative ways to stretch their legal dollars. Smaller firms not saddled by big associate salaries, heavy personnel infrastructures, and considerable overhead have the flexibility to offer more innovative billing practices, staffing and communication.
So what does this mean? There has never been a better chance for small to mid-size firms to break the glass ceiling and pick up some of that premium legal work. Not only does the recent economic crisis encourage large companies to look for cheaper alternatives now, it will also go a long way to breaking the pattern of many executives who feel compelled to go with the big name firms, if only to cover themselves should their hiring decision be questioned. Companies are no longer expected to stick with the big boys, and in fact, there is a shift in the mood toward greater appreciation of executives who are innovative and willing to make smarter legal service choices.
What should you do to capitalize on this opportunity? BTI research suggests that expensive marketing campaigns are not necessary. Turns out that the combination of traditional and cyber networking, expert positioning through association activity, speaking engagements and white paper publication can get you there… i.e. good old fashioned elbow grease. How’s that for a silver lining??