What’s Hot In Legal Business Development

June 25, 2014

Business people working in groupAs the conference season winds down for the summer, it is worth reflecting on how far legal business development has come over these past several months.  In celebration of this progress, allow me to share a few takeaways on this season’s hottest business development trends.


If you attended at least one conference this year, it is likely you ran into the topic of client interviews and surveys.  If you attended more than one, you know this is one of the hottest trends of the year.  (For those who follow me on Twitter, @RachelMMaggs, you know I am positively obsessed.)  Clients say: “We want to give you feedback” and “We’re more likely to stay if you ask us for feedback and really listen.”  Despite this, I’ve heard corporate counsel at Fortune 500 companies say they are positively “stunned” at how infrequently feedback is requested.  Knowing this, business development professionals everywhere are trying on the idea of instituting client interviews or surveys.

As with everything in legal business development, just because clients say they want something, does not mean that law firms are ready to make it happen.  Here are some client-interview specific takeaways from leaders in the field to help set your firm up for success:

  • Attain buy-in from a managing partner or other firm leader.  Really sell him or her on the idea.  (Focusing on the likely return on investment – increased retention and referrals – may help, depending on your audience.)  Allow them some ownership or sponsorship over the idea.
  • Start with simple relationships.  Avoid your “top client list” or complex relationships with many players.  Ensure the attorneys involved are open to the idea.
  • Choose only a few of these simpler relationships to populate your pilot group.
  • Request feedback of clients shortly after a matter concludes when thoughts are fresh.  According to client panels, waiting until the end of the year when they may be inundated with other requests is less effective (and less appreciated).
  • Hold hands where needed.  Coach where welcome.  Provide sample questions.
  • Celebrate successes and congratulate the participants regardless of outcome.


Should we sponsor that event again this year?  Does it make sense to send that partner to that conference?  Should we continue to invest in that practice area?  Does that lateral hire have the book of business he or she thinks?  Is it portable?

In the not-so-distant past, these decisions were often made based on gut reactions, partner pressure and to maintain the status quo.  These days, with restricted budgets and the need to plan strategically, more and more firms are using data to assess the ROI of these activities and others.  Not surprisingly, the availability of competitive intelligence (CI) and technology to synthesize this information has enabled even those with the smallest departments to execute educated decision making.

If you are looking to implement or advance competitive intelligence/data-driven decision making, here are a few creative ways law firms are using CI tools to make educated decisions on where to invest limited resources:

  • To increase ROI on events, assess industry trends.  Look to which industries have a growing need for representation within the firm’s footprint (region, practice areas, etc.).  Invest in events that attract the target audience based on this assessment, then send the firm representative best suited for these conversations with a list of potential client attendees.
  • To increase likelihood of ROI on lateral hires, assess a potential lateral’s book of business in terms of trends in representation.  Compare the client’s changing needs over time with the strength of the potential lateral’s relationship, as well as other relationships within the firm (to learn the portability of his/her clients).
  • Develop larger firm strategy moving forward.  Which industries and practice areas are growing, and which are shrinking?  Determine what is driving the change and shift the firm’s resources and focus accordingly


A consistent challenge faced by business development and marketing professionals is how to get relevant information into the hands of (and more importantly, the heads of) attorneys.

Portal pages offer a 24-hour information dashboard that avoids many of the traditional barriers to attorney access (passwords, resource confusion, multiple entry-points, etc.).  With client and industry pages on the firm’s intranet, business development and marketing teams can tightly tailor the information to only that of most interest to attorneys and client teams.  Include anything from news feeds and competitive intelligence widgets, links to firm and client contact points, relationships and documents.  These pages can reduce the number of last-minute information requests, freeing up business development and marketing professionals to assess strategy (as in Trend 2), implement a client interview program (as in Trend 1), or execute any number of the other excellent hot trends in Business Development.

Good luck out there!