Business development for lawyers: Where can you win work from?

As complicated as some people try to make marketing and business development, for a solicitor there are only three sources of new work.

1. You can win work from your/your firm’s current clients

2. You can win work via referrals from your professional and social contacts

3. You can win brand new clients

The order in which you approach these will depend on the practice area you work in.  For example, for private client or family solicitors the majority of your new work will probably come from networking with your professional contacts or from making sure your family and friends (i.e. your social contacts) know what you do so they can drop your name if and when the opportunity arises.

If you are a commercial solicitor it may be more about new business. If you have either built up experience of working within a specific geography or industry sector, identifying new prospects within those parameters (and then identifying the right way to get yourself on front of those prospects) is a fairly straightforward task.

Meanwhile if you are involved in employment, tax or commercial property – all of which are integral to a successful client business – courting your colleagues to facilitate referrals and introductions could be the most productive source of new work for you.

But the route you choose should not be solely dependent on the legal side. You also need to take into consideration your own skills and preferences.

If you are not a natural extrovert you may not feel totally comfortable walking into a formal networking event or offering to speak at an industry conference. You may however be much more at ease in smaller groups made up of people you know which would mean your clientbase and personal professional network will probably be much more attractive options for you. And if the very thought of spending time with anyone outside the firm fills you with dread, internal networking could be the answer.

When it comes to constructing your personal approach to business development, the most important thing to remember is that although the ratio of your marketing time you employ on the different strands will be inextricably linked to what works best for you and your practice, a successful plan must cover two if not all three these areas. When it comes to winning work success is dependent on building a viable pipeline and that task immediately becomes more difficult if you are closing off potential sources.

However as a solicitor you do only have a limited time to devote to marketing and business development so when it comes to your second and third strings, you need to be smart.

Use the time you spend in the kitchen or walking around the office to start conversations with colleagues who may be able to take you to client meetings or invite you along to interesting events. Use the social events your firm organises to meet people in other departments rather than sticking to the people in your department. Volunteer to get involved with committees, charity initiatives and client-focused activities like training or seminars. Volunteer to help with blogs or newsletters and then use that content to boost your profile via social media.

All of these things will increase your visibility and increased visibility will make it more likely that your colleagues will take you along to meet their clients and professional contacts or take you to the types of events that will put you in touch with prospective new clients which, as we’ve just covered, are the only three sources of work open to you.

Douglas McPherson is director of Size 10 1/2 Boots, a BD agency that specialises in the professional services.

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