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New Partner Guidance in a Recession

Sept. 30, 2022, 8:00 AM

With economic uncertainty on the horizon and curtailed lateral movement of partners, law firm leaders are turning their attention back to individual partners and their ability to produce revenue.

If the last few years were about working from home and wellness, the next few will shift to a focus on individual business plans, practice strategies, and revenue generation.

So if you are leading a firm or happen to be a new partner, get ready, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride. However, with proper planning and the right mindset, you can ride out the rough roads ahead.

Determine Your Objectives

There are many new vehicles and tactics that can lay the groundwork for lawyers to build their professional brands and gain clients. The question to ask is, “What do you want to be well-known for?”

Developing one or two areas where you want to focus your practice is an essential first step. You should ask yourself what value you can provide to a client that stands out among other lawyers and is in demand by the market, and what are your unique qualifications?

Only when you have answers to these questions and clear objectives in mind, should you turn to the tactics of developing a practice. Unless you know what area or skill set you want to be known for, it’s impossible to take the steps to achieve this goal.

Write a Plan

Be brave and put down in writing one or two objectives you have for your practice.

For example, do you want to be known as a great securities litigator? Are you interested in developing an IP practice within the film industry?

Once you commit in writing, you’ll be able to map out the various steps necessary to take, and identify the resources to make it happen.

Know That It’s Personal

Business development from a law firm used to be considered a business-to-business framework. But now we understand that it’s much more person-to-person.

Developing your network by strengthening the personal connections with whom you already have contact is vital. But take a look back and connect with those whom you knew in college, law school, or may have met during deals or on the other side of the table during a negotiation. Then take the steps to create your future network by thinking about who you admire or would like within your circle of influence.

Having a strong network will allow you to build your reputation, increase your referrals, and have a first-row seat to be alerted to changes in your industry or practice.

Understand Your Weaknesses

As with any product launch, a good marketing manager is going to think about a product’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

When marketing yourself as a lawyer, you should begin the process by thinking about not only about your strengths, but also your weaknesses. Until you understand your shortcomings, you won’t be able to improve on them.

There are countless ways to overcome a weak skill set. For example, if you’re not great at developing a business plan, hire a coach to work with you. If you’re not comfortable giving speaking engagements, consider starting out by volunteering for a few internal CLE programs at your own firm.

Identifying weaknesses is an important way to take the first steps in learning a new skill.

Use Social Media

In a 2021 American Bar Association study, 81% of lawyers surveyed were using social media, and 90% of those were using LinkedIn.

As with any type of marketing, it’s important for the person selling a good or service to meet their customer or client where they are located. In this case, according to the in-house counsel with whom I’ve worked, the client is on LinkedIn.

There are some LinkedIn basics that every lawyer should know. Having a strong profile, including an accurate personal description, an interesting “About” section, and a purposeful set of keywords in mind to help others to be able to find you, should be a central part of any lawyer’s marketing.

I stress to my clients that they consider their LinkedIn page as a personal website, focused on their capabilities and what unique service they can provide to clients. Ensure that the content clearly reflects your practice and update it and add posts on a regular basis.

Take a Long View

You won’t become a business developer overnight—it takes time. And it’s a learning experience.

Becoming a business developer means approaching business development like learning a new skill that involves repeating your efforts and practicing, over and over again. It’s not a skill that one is born with or that’s taught in law school.

Practicing it also requires accepting that occasionally you won’t succeed. Know that there is a chance that at times, you won’t get hired for an assignment, but know that it’s not the end of the world. If you take the long view, pitching a piece of business is a learning experience.

Sometimes a client paired with you or your firm may not be the right match, or another lawyer was hired for a reason that may not be obvious. It may just mean you end up spending your time on something much more valuable and interesting.

With objectives, a good plan, and a commitment to growing a network, you can develop a practice that brings both revenue and personal satisfaction.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.

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Author Information

Deborah B. Farone is founder of Farone Advisors. She is a consultant and coach to law firms and other professional services, a public speaker, and author of “Best Practices in Law Firm Business Development and Marketing.” She is the former CMO of Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Debevoise & Plimpton, where she was responsible for building the firms’ marketing departments.