Business Development – a guide for trainees

These days, being a lawyer requires more than knowing your contract from your tort. James Caulfield, head of business development at Goodman Derrick, explains…

You’ve made it! You’re finally sitting in your first seat, easing open Tolley’s Commercial Contracts, Transactions and Precedents, when you are asked to attend the latest Technology sector meeting. Apparently they’ll be “discussing how to realign their tech events to encourage more of the top 20 clients to attend: it’s key to the cross-selling initiative and you might have something fresh to add… you might even know how to use the new CRM System, ha ha.

You don’t. You’re a lawyer… law-yer. But you’ll need to.

With competition fierce, and firms finding it harder to stand out and to win highly-prized new client mandates, everyone is being asked to participate in the effort to develop the business.

As a trainee you will first want to help your partners and mentors, and as a good candidate you will want to demonstrate the all important yet hard to define quality of “commercial awareness.” Below is my short guide to a few of the most important business development topics, concepts and techniques that will help you navigate your first few months:

1. Clients

Clients come first, or something similar, is a common refrain in most companies. In law firms, where the best new accounts are valuable over a long period of time and where the market is increasingly buyer-driven, you will hear it regularly.

Do say: “I read your client’s annual report and I’m keen to get involved with the client team.

Don’t say: “I’m happy to help, what do they do?

2. Commercial awareness

The classic interview chestnut. Ultimately commercial clients exist to make money, so do commercial law firms.

Do say: “Adding value to our clients’ businesses by reducing legal risk in the short and long term is what they pay us for.

Don’t say: “Yes, have we considered TV advertising?

3. Client care and KAM

Most firms that work with complex commercial entities (i.e. most firms) will have a defined programme for managing their clients – and most will use a term like ‘Key Account Management’ to describe it.

Do say: “It’s important to carefully manage our client relationships and to understand why they continue to instruct us.

Don’t say: “Well, they’ve always instructed us and they’re unlikely to stop now.

4. Cross-selling

Cross-selling is about expanding existing relationships so that one-to-one relationships (e.g. employment partner to HR Director) become business-to-business relationships involving teams of people.

Do say: “Your contact might be able to introduce us to their property team: let’s attend their networking event.

Don’t say: “Let’s send your contact a brochure that describes what the property team do.

5. Sector approach

Going to market with a clear and convincing statement of your commitment to the industry which is backed up by clear evidence of experience and understanding is just more likely to result in project wins.

Do say: “I attend networking events in Tech City to better understand the technology sector and to get to know the players.

Don’t say: “They will buy from us because of the quality of our legal advice.

6. Thought-leadership and knowledge based marketing campaigns

At their core both of these marketing approaches are about demonstrating the firm’s knowledge to the outside world. The market-leading campaigns involve long-term commitment to a given subject that is normally evidenced by a history of advising and research.

Do say: “I’m very interested in the future of banking regulation, in fact I wrote a paper about it in my final year.

Don’t say: “I’ll come up with a tweet.

7. Reputation and brand

A wise man once said: “Your brand is best valued by the things that people say about you when you aren’t there.” Brand and reputation are almost inseparable in a law firm: one magic circle firm has recently dropped the word “brand” for the word “reputation.”

Do say: “The firm’s reputation is one of its most valuable assets.”

Don’t say: Whatever it is that the young trainee from a magic circle firm said, in front of TV cameras in Oxford, after giving his name. After six mojitos. Which has had 24,000 views on You Tube (search for “drunken trainee”). “The comments made are inappropriate and they are at odds with our principles and the professional standards we espouse as a firm,” said a spokesperson. Quite.

8. Business development

All of the above and more. Most firms have a business development team who pull all of the strands together. They will help the partners to shape and implement the strategy and will encourage focused actions from everyone else.

Do say: “Business development covers everything that our clients experience when working with this firm, from the first time we talk to a new prospect to delivering our advice.

Don’t say: “I think the BD team get us our new work, sales is so easy.

If you want to find out more then here are just a few of the best books on the theory that underpins the most effective business development programmes in the professional services sector:

  • The Trusted Advisor, David Maister
  • Managing the Professional Services Firm, David Maister
  • Marketing the Professional Services Firm, Laurie Young