2022 has been another banner year for most law firms in the US. Despite COVID and the related fallout, every firm I have spoken or worked with over the last year has had more work than they could handle. Great news, right? Yes…but with a caveat. The first thing to fall off every lawyer’s agenda when they are swamped with client work is business development. After all, growing one’s practice is the last thing on anyone’s mind when you’re barely keeping your head above water with your current workload. With a recession rumored to be just around the corner, firms must adjust this mindset if they want to remain profitable.
As contradictory as this may sound, the best time to plant the seeds and stoke the coals of new opportunities is when our schedules are full. There are three reasons for this:
- Success breeds success. When we are successful, we give off an air of confidence, and we can’t make rain without a healthy dose of “I’ve got it going on”.
- We are forced to be more intentional about managing our bandwidth when we are in demand, and this naturally conveys our value to potential clients and makes them both eager and willing to wait to work with us.
- When we are hungry for new business we reek of desperation, which is not a particularly good look for lawyers (or anyone else). If we wait until our pipeline of opportunities begins to dry up, we will become consumed with the pressure to originate, and this is never a good approach for attracting new clients.
As firms begin to get nervous about the financial implications of a recession, we will start to see a big push toward digital marketing and the mass joining of networking groups across the country. Many of these efforts will be haphazard, disorganized, and expensive.
The firms that take the time to be more strategic in their business development efforts will reap the benefits not only in 2023 but for years to come.
Here are 4 recession-proof business development tactics your firm can – and should – start employing now:
- Communicate firm vision
- Set goals
- Engage and train potential rainmakers
- Create a plan for measuring progress
Communicate Your Firm's vision
If it’s been a minute since your firm’s leadership has clearly defined and communicated where you’re headed, how you’ll get there, why you’re doing what you do, and who the stewards of success will be, you need to do so now. Your firm’s growth does not lie solely in the hands of your rainmakers. The efforts of the entire firm, from the receptionist to the managing partner, will determine the path to success.
Many law firms struggle with setting definitive goals. Outside of minimum billable or realization requirements, lawyers often do not think about the kind of clients they want to attract, the brand/reputation they want to establish, or the bench of referral sources they should aspire to create. When it comes to business development, goals are everything. If we don’t set goals, we can’t measure progress (see tip #4). Goals should be determined at the firm, practice group, and individual attorney levels, and they can include things like number of clients, industry verticals, minimum revenue generation, or depth of referral source relationships.
ENGAGE AND TRAIN RAINMAKERS
Just because an attorney is well-known in the community, a top-notch golfer at the local country club, or is very active in their church or synagogue, does not automatically make them a star rainmaker. Knowing a lot of people is certainly advantageous, but without a thoughtful and disciplined approach, origination becomes more of a luck of the draw. If your firm expects its lawyers to bring in business, it must be prepared to train them on how to do so through an individualized development program.
Metrics are everything to a business, and law firms are no exception. The best laid plans and intentions are worthless without an established system for measuring progress. The winning recipe is: Establish strategy, set goals, assign tasks, execute on tasks, measure outcomes, and repeat.
If your firm is committed to steady, sustainable, and smart growth, it’s time to incorporate a healthy dose of strategic planning in your business development efforts. The best way to stave off the threat of a recession is to be prepared with a flexible, but structured plan for success.