Business Development for lawyers: Why an interest in BD is vital to a successful legal career

One of the lines I lean on most when I’m working with solicitors is “I know you didn’t enter the legal profession to be a salesperson but…”

As with all sentences that end with a ‘but’, what follows is actually the important bit. While I know you didn’t become a solicitor to sell, the truth is that if you are going to be a successful 21st Century lawyer, the ability to generate work will be as crucial as your legal skills. 

If you are serious about progressing through your (or any other) firm, the ability to bring in work is now a prerequisite for partnership selection. It is also a skill that will only grow in importance as the legal market becomes more commercial and more competitive and the real impact of ABS and the Legal Services Act finally becomes clear. 

Business development was once seen as the preserve of the partners. They’d go out and wine and dine or play golf or go to the rugby and the work would come in.  Once the client was through the door the majority of client retention strategies were based on little more than “doing a good job is all the marketing I need to do”.  Client development was whispered about but never discussed in any meaningful way. 

This is no longer the case.  

Not only has there been a significant increase in the number of lawyers a client can choose, the internet has also revolutionised the promotion and delivery of legal advice and increasingly intelligent business models have revolutionised its packaging and pricing.  Meanwhile clients themselves have become more demanding and more promiscuous in their buying behaviours. They know that if their demands for quality of advice and quality of service aren’t met, there is an alternative that would be all too keen to meet their requirements.        

However the good news is that the fact clients recognise there is an alternative means that those firms – and, more specifically, those solicitors – who recognise the market has changed will also recognise that if they position and sell themselves correctly, greater long-term commercial success can and will be achieved.  

This is where smarter business development and marketing will be crucial. If you can embrace this side of the profession early you can begin to develop the work-winning model that suits you best and start building the confidence you’ll need to implement that model productively for the remainder of your career.    

The good news is I have seen a sea change over the last couple of years. More and more solicitors at the younger end of the profession recognise the importance of business development. More importantly, they recognise the need to get involved and develop a blueprint that will work for them long into their career. 

In the next article I will look at the first stages of putting that blueprint together. 

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