Thursday, November 6, 2014

Business Development Questions All Laterals Should Ask

Many of the questions laterals should ask of a prospective new firm are obvious and include concerns regarding compensation, client and practice fit and the firm's culture. But an important and often neglected area of discussion is how well the firm is organized for, and committed to, business development.

All firms say they are committed to business development. But on deeper inspection, many firms do not invest in and support it at the level necessary to compete successfully in today's intensely competitive legal marketplace. Understanding the degree to which a firm supports business development should be a key consideration in the lateral's decision to move to a new firm.

There are no hard and fast rules for the types and amounts of investment that should be made in law firm business development. But a discussion regarding the scope of activities, the resources available and how deeply business development is embedded in the culture of the firm will go a long way to revealing the likelihood the firm will remain competitive over the long run. Here are two main areas of inquiry to address, along with the questions you should ask your prospective employer.

1. Determine if the firm is well equipped for business development.

Budgets: You want to determine how the firm allocates dollars for individual and group business development initiatives. What is the approval process? How are decisions made for the amount of money available for budgets and individual initiatives? How are client-development investments evaluated?

Technology: Here the goal is to discover what kinds of research tools are available. Does the firm have a client relationship management, or CRM, system? Does the firm have client financial analysis software?

Planning: Find out how much planning is done in the firm. Does the firm have a strategic growth plan? A marketing plan? Practice group plans? Industry plans? Top client plans? Individual attorney plans? Is there a written integration plan for laterals? How often are these plans updated and how are the plans managed?

Support Staff: You need to know what kind of backup you'll have before you move. Does the firm have professional business development staff, as opposed to just marketing staff? Are they assigned to practice areas, industry groups or client teams? How involved are they in each attorney's practice plan?

Training: You want to know what types of business development training are offered and how often. Does the firm provide access to business development coaches? Does the firm maintain a library of business development literature and guides?

Public Relations: An important consideration is if the firm provides PR and media relations support. How is that service accessed? Is the support in-house or provided by outside experts? Does the firm primarily focus on local, regional or national media, or all three? Does the firm target its clients' industry trade publications as well as legal journals?

2. Find out if the firm is demonstrably committed to business development.

Communications: You want to know how well the firm communicates internally about business development opportunities, successes and failures as well as upcoming pursuits. Do meetings in the firm regularly feature updates on business development and marketing, new clients, new matters and practice group updates? And importantly, are the business development professionals in the firm participating in the major strategic decisions of the law firm?

Client Interviews: First, you want to determine if the firm conducts client interviews. Who conducts them? Are comments shared only with the relationship attorney or are those comments shared broadly in the firm? Does the firm conduct post-mortems on RFPs? How are those results shared?

Client Teams: You should ask if the firm has client service teams in place. How are the teams organized and how effective are they? Who selects which clients will have a team? Who determines the team members? Are there incentives or rewards for managing client service teams separate from origination or other compensation metrics?

Social Media: Evaluate the strength of the firm's social media presence. Does the firm have active blogs? How are those blogs promoted, maintained and supported? Does the firm encourage use of social media like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook? How many of the attorneys have LinkedIn profiles and how many are actively using LinkedIn and participating in groups?

Content Marketing: You should know if the firm encourages the development of thought leadership, not just client alerts or newsletters. Does the firm provide support for content creation including ghost writers or hours dedicated to associate research time? Does the firm use a content distribution service such as JD Supra? Does the firm distribute its materials through a variety of channels, in addition to its website, like through blogs or micro sites, through LinkedIn, by email and through content distributors?

There are several other areas to evaluate to better understand the firm's commitment to business development. Look at charity and community involvement, advertising and sponsorships, events and client entertainment.
Generally, the size of the firm will dictate the resources available. But size has little to do with the depth of the firm's commitment to business development. A deep, embedded commitment to supporting every attorney's practice is what laterals should be looking for in their new law firm platform.

This article originally ran in The Recorder on November 4, 2014  

Eric Dewey is managing principal of Group Dewey Consulting, focusing his practice on business development coaching and lateral acquisition support services. He writes the Lawyer Up! blog. He is based in Northern California and can be reached at or 502-693-4731.


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