around the bar
December 26, 2012

Ring in 2013 With New Techniques to Bring in Business

As the new year draws near, now is the time to make business development resolutions for your law firm. Don’t know where to begin? A panel of 28 legal marketing professionals and consultants share their top business development techniques for 2013 in a recent issue of Law Practice Today, the monthly webzine of the _ Law Practice Management Section.

Chief among their suggestions is finding and developing niches. They advise positioning your firm to serve specific needs, just as products are branded to meet certain consumer demands (think Apple for innovation). Your specific brand can take many forms. You may be the top expert in a specific area of the law, or you may have a strong background in a particular industry. You may be a skillful networker and always help people around you. Whatever your asset is, understand it and then communicate it clearly to your target audience.

Growing your audience is also key, according to the panel. However, a big network alone is not enough. Your contacts must be high-value people who can either give or refer work to you and your firm.

Do a complete inventory of your contacts and look at the types you have: existing clients, former clients, referral sources, alumni from schools or your firm. Prioritize the people you know and cluster similar types into categories. Then, once you have good lists, you must work them. Stay in touch regularly in ways that are valued and welcomed. The panel suggested these techniques: asking for feedback on your performance and acting on it; offering in-house presentations; offering to review documents or policies; inviting a contact to be a co-presenter or co-author; inviting contacts to meals or social events; and offering to join them at their industry conferences.

Another way to work your list and potentially gain more business is to arrange meetings with clients, the panel said. But few lawyers actually plan to have meetings and measure the number of meetings they have. The solution is to simply have more meetings with the right people.

Once you have decided who you want to meet with, you need a good reason that the person would want to meet with you. You can capitalize on current events, the panel said. Perhaps you might say: “I noticed you are planning to open a new facility, and I wonder what you are doing about permitting and getting tax incentives?” Or maybe you target client goals: “Now that we’re coming up on year end, it would be a good time to review the work we’ve done for you and plan out your anticipated legal needs for the coming year.” You can also offer your services: “Would you be interested in receiving a free IP audit from one of our intellectual property planners?”

After scheduling a meeting, develop a plan to boost your chances of success, the panel said. Do your homework; know important facts about the client. Anticipate the client’s needs. Offer something they truly need, perhaps an alternative fee arrangement, specific expertise in a certain area, better responsiveness or diverse counsel.

Ask probing, open-ended questions, the panel advised. Let the client do most of the talking, and listen carefully to his or her needs.

Because most clients don’t give you business on the first meeting, have a reason to follow up. Think about a logical next interaction: an offer to review a document, an introduction to someone of value, an in-house presentation, the panel said. Ask if they’d like to take that next step.

Once the client does take that step, deliver extraordinary service, the panel said. Each client has his or her own idea of what great service means. Ask questions so you can serve the client better, such as, What does client service mean to you? How would you like me to communicate with you? What does responsive mean to you? What do you expect from a law firm?

Great service usually breaks down into five major areas, according to the panel. To deliver great service: know the client’s business; be highly responsive (underpromise and overdeliver); add value (provide something unexpected); be proactive; and manage the relationship. Managing the relationship means checking in to make sure everything is going as planned. When you wrap up the matter, get feedback to learn if the client had any difficulties and how to do better next time.

Finally, focus on making business development sustainable, the panel reminded. Develop a buddy system with someone who is energetic and similarly focused on business development and schedule regular meetings with that person. Or try establishing accountability groups. This is similar to the buddy system but with more people; this could be a practice group or networking group. Or use your personal assistant to help you organize contacts and schedule business development lunches.

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