Bloomberg Law
Feb. 27, 2023, 9:00 AM

How to Get the Most From Your Firm’s Business Development Team

Patrick McKenna
Patrick McKenna
McKenna Associates

A law firm leader recently approached me and shared that he was looking for a new marketing director, who would report to him. He admitted he didn’t completely understand what these marketing professionals do, or what direction he should provide.

Marketing and business development leaders often interact with partners who wonder, “What are those marketing people really contributing, other than increased costs?” Many business development professionals have told me they spend too much time having to justify their existence within the firm.

Reflecting on those different perspectives, I suggested that the law firm leader consider taking some specific, proactive actions to maximize business development resources and better collaborate on expectations with that department.

Keep the Bell Curve in Mind

In most firms, irrespective of size, you can place all partners across a bell curve. Ten percent originate the work, 80% do the work, and with the remaining 10%, you feed their work through the top of the door and pull it out the bottom, but never expose them to real clients.

Keeping in mind this power distribution, it’s important for business development leaders to regularly visit one-on-one with all equity partners twice a year, and ask each what activities they think this support professional should engage in—to support their efforts and add value.

It’s helpful for business development leaders to recognize that those top 10% represent the power in the firm. They must regularly ensure that they get them in their camp and understand their particular views and professional needs.

Learn from Rainmakers

A number of partners in the top 10% are older rainmakers nearing retirement. New marketing and business professionals should launch an initiative conducting a series of video interviews with those senior rainmakers to have them speak on camera, by way of a role play, about how they successfully handle various scenarios with prospects/clients.

Your marketing professionals can then use those videos to acknowledge the legacy of these rainmakers, and to train broader teams as they develop their skills.

Quantify Value

In most firms, money is the currency of respect. Another firm leader told me he and his internal technology professionals adopted a reasonable charge-out rate for the group’s services.

They instituted a mock charge-back system, placing a dollar value on the group’s activities when assisting different practice and industry groups, and issuing an account at the end of each month—as if they were an outside consultancy.

As this initiative progressed, the technology group developed its own engagement process, seeking interesting problems to solve and making innovative pitches—internally and to external start-up businesses potentially needing their kind of expertise—which turned into a legitimate revenue stream for the firm.

Gain Insights

This new support professional should make efforts beyond the ordinary. Encourage them to find ways to unlock new insights, not only for the various practice/industry groups served, but also for you and your executive committee.

They can track external trends and identify new market opportunities and developments that may impact clients, and provide you with competitive information on what other innovative firms are doing. If they can provide additional value, the response will be highly positive.

Regular Reports

Marketing and business development professionals operate as a support center in law firms, and not necessarily a revenue center. As a support service, they should be sensitive to justifying their existence, as power partners may periodically ask you what they are accomplishing.

Each Friday afternoon, they should send you a wrap-up, in bullet points, of their group’s core activities and accomplishments for that week, and prepare a monthly summary based on those weekly reports, which can also be folded into a quarterly synopsis and annual report.

These tasks will encourage the team to continually review their output, results, and initiatives, and will better equip you, the law firm leader, to speak to their performance to the executive committee.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg Industry Group, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.

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Author Information

Patrick J. McKenna is an author, lecturer, and strategist who has worked with some of the top 10-largest law firms in over a dozen countries. He is author or co-author of 12 books, including “Industry Specialization: Making Competitors Irrelevant.”

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