As the law firm landscape continues to grow more competitive than ever, 2014 is starting off to be an exciting year. Industry professionals are noting distinct marketing and business development trends, with law firms investing in specific internal resources as well as new technology to aid their clients’ ever evolving needs.
“The biggest overarching trend is an enhanced focus on business development. Law firms of all sizes are investing in resources, both internal and external, to train, coach and advise attorneys on how to be better business developers,” said Marcie Borgal Shunk, a senior consultant with LawVision Group LLC. “The impact can be sizable—I have seen partners boost their book of business an average of 20 percent to 30 percent, and some individually upwards of 100 percent. A great example of what can be accomplished with focused effort.”
Firms are investing in their attorneys by giving them the building blocks to become rainmakers. While many firms have business development positions, more and more firms are emphasizing individual, one-on-one interactions by their professional staff or outside experts and their attorneys. After all, an attorney first markets themselves on their value proposition with the client, then the firm.
“My experience on the business development side has been ‘full steam ahead,’ and I anticipate a continuation of that momentum for the next few years,” noted Rebecca Wissler, business development manager at Adam and Reese LLP. “As pressures increase on in-house legal departments, firms like mine have found big opportunities to demonstrate our efficiency. We can add even more value by becoming a source of information through our communications and by simple responsiveness. It is a very exciting time to be part of a mid-size firm.”
Another important trend within law firms is the hiring of lateral attorneys. “Laterals, laterals, laterals,” says Beth Marie Cuzzone, director of client service & business development at Goulston & Storrs. “Several recent industry studies report that most law firms have prioritized ‘acquiring laterals’ as part of its growth plans in the next two years. So, the trend of lateral integration from a marketing and business development perspective has followed. Acquiring a lateral is the easy part, integrating them is more difficult. I also caution—the most challenging proposition for firms will be integrating the client, not just the attorneys. I believe marketing and business departments will drive much of the strategy and implementation.”
When a lateral comes on board, a strategic business development plan is needed to successfully integrate their clients as well as cross-market the firm’s existing clients. Such a process occurs over time, but it is crucial that the internal business development professionals develop a short- and long-term plan for client integration along with follow-up throughout the first and subsequent year the lateral is at the firm.
Externally, hot trends in law firm marketing and business development are focused around development and deployment of client-facing technology and tools to create business-generating opportunities. In recent years, law firms and individual attorneys have launched industry-specific blogs to attract the attention of prospective clients and garner internet traffic. While blogs and mobile sites are very effective and continue to sprout up everywhere you look, some firms are taking technology to the next level by embracing social media and developing their own mobile apps to set them apart.
For example, in January 2014 Bracewell & Giuliani released a mobile app called ShalePlay, taking the niche industry of shale energy and aggregating a variety of resources to give users a “one-stop-shop for shale-related content” says Paul Grabowski, chief marketing officer of Bracewell. The ShalePlay app includes a host of information from legislation/regulation to shale studies as well as an interactive map of shale plays. The key to a mobile app is getting it in front of the right audience, which includes current and prospective clients, and finding an untapped niche.
Another trend seen throughout firms in the last several years is that clients are consistently asking for a budget. How firms address the question of cost is a new trend in itself. Now more than ever, clients want to avoid litigation, control costs and manage risk. General counsels and business owners are looking to a firm to provide a budget and a real estimate of the cost. While early assessment tools are in play in the market place, Duane Morris’ new early assessment tool, called Dispute Navigation AnalyticsSM (DNA), is taking technology to a new level by incorporating a decade worth of organic case studies and real data from the firm’s array of cases throughout multiple jurisdictions globally. When asked how this software differs from competitors, Matt Taylor, Head of the Trial Practice Group at Duane Morris stated, “I specifically asked our team, do not go research what other firms are doing. I wanted to make sure that we had a tool to meet the needs of our clients. Clients are demanding higher and more sophisticated cost estimations and budgets.” DNA is currently being used with existing as well as potential clients. The DNA software is continually updated internally within Duane Morris, which saves the firm’s attorneys time and provides them a leg up in their marketing efforts.
Marketing and business development professionals as well as industry specialists are playing a crucial role in taking law firms to the next level in 2014’s competitive landscape. However, with all of the investments in resources and new technologies, it is important to remember the basics when it comes to serving clients. The concept of delivering value to your clients will always remain a consistent theme for professional service firms. “Whether you are a large, mid-sized or small firm, clients are looking for the same thing: value. You can have lower rates, but weak bench strength; you can have top lawyers, but lack an understanding of the clients business or industry…that is not value. Every lawyer who does work for a client needs to be thinking about how they can help a client (or prospective client) save money, make money, look good or sleep better – that is value,” states Jim Durham, chief marketing and business development officer at Littler Mendelson, and author of The Essential Little Book of Great Lawyering.
Aria K. Antonopoulos is a legal marketing consultant. She can be reached at (610) 952-1949.