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New Year’s Resolutions for Law Firm Business Development

by Peter Johnson, M.Ed., J.D.

When the calendar turns over to January we all want to become our best selves. For anyone responsible for business development in a law firm (including attorneys) that should include taking proactive steps to renew relationships, initiate new connections, create opportunities, and attract clients to your firm. With the seismic changes wrought by the pandemic now a part of everyday life, you may need to learn some new skills. But as more and more businesses return to in-person operations it is also a good idea to brush up on some tried-and-true methods for use in face-to-face communications.

Here are six practices you should resolve to try, test, learn – or relearn – in 2023.

    1. Networking in person – One of the most effective ways to make an impact on an individual is to engage them in conversation. In-person networking holds a huge advantage over the “wide net” cast by social media platforms like LinkedIn, or the video chats facilitated by Zoom or Teams. Taking the measure of the other individual – body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, speaking pattern – gives you the best clue to how receptive they are to your message.

Seek out or create opportunities to meet people who can be referral sources or (even better) the decision makers within an organization with which you are trying to engage. Of course, new contacts are not the only people you should be meeting in person. Now is a good time to catch up with existing clients, and former clients, and develop a face-to-face relationship with your LinkedIn connections.

This could require attendance at networking-oriented events, setting lunch meetings, and even picking up a telephone to call the person you want to meet. Be prepared when the time comes by studying your “target” and their organization ahead of time, understand what is happening in their industry vertical so you can talk sensibly, and know what services and experience your firm has that might align with their needs.

2. Be a source of information – You may have heard the terms “content marketing” and “thought leadership.” What they really mean is this: You should be someone people turn to and trust for helpful information and guidance on important topics. The best way to reach that exalted position is to produce good and relevant content on a consistent basis. Write articles and publish them as blogs on the firm website. Send out email alerts on key decisions or changes in the law. Apply what you (or your firm) know about specific industries to issues related to that market. Keep plying the world with knowledge and you will become the expert you want to be.

While you will undoubtedly be publishing articles on the firm’s website and promoting it on LinkedIn, you should go one step further by delivering your thought leadership to selected clients and prospects personally. Send them an email with a personal note about the article, explaining why specific passages may be relevant to their interests. Then ask for a meeting or phone call to discuss the topic in more depth.

3. Know thyself and thy firm – Be confident, be competent. Do you know the full scope of services available from the law firm you represent? Have you met and had a conversation with new attorneys, paralegals and support staff to learn what skills and experience they bring? Are you fully invested in the firm’s stated business goals, and are your B.D. efforts in alignment with those goals? Take time every month to explore your firm to discover what is new and different, and what you may be able to include in your next conversation with a prospective client. You need to be up to date on all you can offer.

4. Become a better listener – Most people listen to respond, which means they are formulating their next statement instead of paying attention to what they are hearing. Instead, practice “active listening,” which is listening to understand. Try this: Rather than being eager to come up with a clever response, listen with the intent of asking another question. What is there in the conversation you are hearing that you’d like to know more about?

This attitude requires focused attention and it demonstrates your clear interest.  You’ll get more out of the conversation and show more respect for the speaker.

5. Use the clock to your advantage – Many people fall into the habit of communicating with clients and prospects when they have a break in their day. This schedule may suit the caller but won’t necessarily be well received by the prospect. You efforts are likely to get lost amid a mid-morning flurry of phone calls, or post-lunch barrage of emails. But proactively scheduling activities will help you avoid “ad hoc acts of business development” by being more intentional in planning your efforts.

Shake things up a bit. Instead of scheduling a lunch meeting, ask a prospect to meet you for an early breakfast. Rather than calling a client about a new project in the middle of the day, dial the phone early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Anything you can do to stand out amid the day’s clutter will help you get your message through.

6. Polish your USP (unique service proposition) – By now you may have perfected an “elevator pitch” to summarize your firm to prospects. But changing circumstances demand that you revise the script to meet the new conditions. Make sure to include in your pitch an idea of what makes your firm different from the dozens of others competing for the same clients.

For example, with dozens of law firms able to do the same work as you, why should a potential client choose to engage your firm? What differentiates you? You need to be ready with just the right response to this question.

One technique I teach attorneys is to shift the answer to credible third parties – their firm’s clients. Share what your clients say about your work, and their experience and the results with your firm. Another person’s opinion can attest to your value.

The business of law has undergone tremendous changes over the past several years and continues to evolve rapidly. Make it your business to adjust to the shift, anticipate new needs, and adopt or adapt approaches to business development that have the best potential to deliver new clients or new work from existing clients. The right attitude will help make 2023 your best year yet.