What does it take to create a winning law firm? Professionals coming out of law school and study programs are equipped with vast legal knowledge. However, for most people, law firm business development wasn’t a key part of the curriculum.
While knowing the intricacies of the law is at the heart of the legal profession, knowing how to successfully handle law firm business development is, respectively, at the heart of running a winning business.
Whether you want to expand the client base of your solo practice or grow a larger firm, you need to nail down the foundations of business development.
This includes gaining the essential knowhow, crafting a plan, and working with a laser focus to achieve the goals you’ve set in it.
According to the 2018 Business Development Trends Across Law Firm Demographics study of Ackert, Inc., the most effective business development and marketing strategies for generating revenue include:
- Internal coaching for legal teams
- Solidifying and expanding client relations
- Networking through event attendance and thought leadership
Thus, some of the most useful tactics that law firm principals should focus on as part of business development efforts include training, networking, and branding and marketing.
In this guide, you can get acquainted with the basics of business development for law firms so that you kickstart your growth with the right skills.
Don’t forget to check out our guide to managing a law firm, which can help you further refine your firm’s growth strategy.
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What is law firm business development?
First, let’s lay the groundwork. Legal business development relates to all activities that you undertake in order to expand your potential client base, as well as to solidify your internal practices, with the goal of bringing your business to a prominent position on the market.
For many legal professionals, the quest to enriching their business development strategies starts with simple questions like:
- How to get cases as a lawyer? (for solo practitioners)
- How to get new clients for my law firm? (for law company owners)
We’ll focus on both in this guide.
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How to get new clients for your law firm
While this may be the initial motivation, there are numerous additional benefits that successful business development can provide. The American Bar Association keeps an up-to-date list of resources that can help you start growing the business side of your legal practice.
The approaches are different for small vs. larger firms, but ultimately, the right mixture of strategies can truly fuel your law practice’s expansion. Big law firm business development would typically entail having internal team members work on client relations and retention, marketing, and sales.
Small law firm business development is, naturally, more modest.
If you’re just starting your business, you might have to take care of diverse tasks on your own. Or, you can hire external contractors to help you with marketing, sales, and other essential development activities.
The essential tactics for business development for lawyers
What are the most effective approaches to law firm business development?
From training to planning, from marketing to networking, here are the essential tips for your legal business.
1. Obtain relevant business development training for lawyers
The first step to consider is joining a business development workshop or course specifically targeting lawyers.
Such training programs are designed with the legal profession in mind, so they can teach you the most important aspects of running a successful law firm.
These continuing education opportunities can include legal business management, human resources, accounting, marketing, branding, and networking, among others.
It may be also worthwhile to attend sales training for lawyers so that you gain specific insight into lead generation and client retention.
Business development coaching for your team is the top revenue-generating tactic according to the Ackert study mentioned earlier.
There are also various training resources that you can reference, such as books, guides, and online sources.
They can inspire your business development efforts with concrete examples and tactics.
One prominent book on the topic is Business Development for Lawyers: Strategies for Getting and Keeping Clients by Sally Schmidt.
However, you can also find other information outlets that fit your special interest or niche. Prominent trade publications can also be a source of guidance.
In addition to the knowledge that you can obtain from training and resources at the startup stage, it’s also important to keep up with the developments in the field consistently.
Many courses can count as continuing education credits, so it is worthwhile to seek such training and add them to your schedule.
They can be a positive sign for your clients that you stay up-to-date with the hottest trends in the industry, which indicates you are a good partner.
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2. Craft your law firm business development plan
Having a solid business plan is a must for any attorney that wants to start or grow a practice.
The plan should contain both general and specific objectives of the business. Typically, it involves a careful analysis of your market and competitors, as well as data-based positioning of the new firm in this setting.
The Small Business Administration offers a tool for crafting a business plan, which you may find useful in the initial stages.
In addition, it’s a good idea to conduct a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). By having all the details on paper, you can better identify the paths to growth for your law firm.
Together with your business development plan, you can further create a solid basis for your business by deciding on the major initiatives to take on.
This entails selecting the software that you will use, such as project management and time tracking, that help you stay on top of deadlines and accountability.
The more details you can define in advance, the easier it will be to launch your law firm strategies, and the more prepared you will be for expansion.
3. Explore the power of marketing
Among the essential business development tactics that you need to employ is effective marketing.
In 2019, it is imperative to use professional services for the creation and maintenance of a functional and modern-looking website. You should also consider investing in search engine optimization (SEO), as this is a proven way to ensure a strong online presence and attract new clients.
It is also a good idea to explore innovative law firm social media ideas.
Having profiles on the most popular social networks is a must. However, you should also ensure that you or somebody on your team takes enough time to keep them updated, and engage followers with relevant content.
Creating smart, helpful content around your expertise and sharing it with potential clients is a great lead generation and brand awareness tool.
Do not forget about the potential of industry events, as well.
They are an excellent opportunity to get your business noticed through presentations, sponsorship, or participation in discussion panels. You can consider developing a profile as a conference speaker so that you establish your presence as an expert with valuable knowledge.
For larger businesses, you can also consider hiring a law firm marketing agency. Outsourcing marketing and public relations is a great way to get expert help and free up your own time for client work.
When you’re ready to take on legal marketing at your firm, don’t miss this guide on our top law firm marketing strategies.
4. Expand your network
Having a wide network of contacts is crucial for developing any kind of business in today’s saturated markets.
In the legal world, this is essential. Building lasting relationships with business partners, fellow attorneys, and clients is the only way to succeed.
There are a number of ways in which you can expand your network. One of the most common and easiest ones to join relevant professional organizations.
These can be focused on legal professionals or can be more specific ones, such as the Legal Marketing Association.
As with marketing efforts, attending industry events and forums is a good idea for meeting fellow-minded colleagues and bringing higher levels of exposure for your business. You never know who you might meet, or who could refer you clients in the future.
Trade association and conference attendance, along with boards and networking group membership, are some of the most effective business development tactics outlined in the Ackert study.
Last but not least, your network of good leads will grow with the level of satisfaction of your current clients.
As in most businesses, a happy client is the most effective ad for your law firm.
Thus, it is worth investing consistently in top-notch client service, relationship-building, expectations management, and a thorough knowledge of your clients.
Even in the digital age, word of mouth is one of the most powerful ways of expanding your potential client base.
5. Consider working with law firm consultants
While most efforts can come from within your firm, especially if you’re running a solo or small practice, there are many external services that you can use to boost your company’s performance.
In particular, law firm business development consultants can directly contribute to your efforts with rich insights and practical guidance.
Consultants specialize in the business side of running a law firm. They can provide you with advice on your business plan, internal processes, client strategies, case management, and communication and marketing approaches.
These specialists can also help you with model cost-benefit analysis, operational metrics and reporting, and team development and training strategies.
You can also seek their assistance with pricing, profitability and project management, as well as procurement. In addition, law firm consultants can also turn out to be a good source of new clients for both budding and established businesses.
The other benefit to consider is that they’ve worked with other law firms in the past, and have proven approaches to recommend.
Launch your law firm business development efforts
In the current market, it is (unfortunately) not enough to be an outstanding legal professional.
You also have to acquire the necessary skills to lead your business, just like any business owner, with growth and success in mind. That’s why it’s worth investing time and effort in your law firm business development tactics. The more developed your approach is, the more abundant results you can expect.
Ready to start your development efforts? Try out the essential tips in this guide, and share your insights in the comments below.