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Six Business Development Strategies for Lawyers

By Sally J. Schmidt

The usual lawyer business development tactics changed during the pandemic, but there are always things you can do to stay in the game. 

lawyer business development

Most lawyers generate business by building relationships, usually through personal contact. Unfortunately, many opportunities for contact — from entertaining to visiting to attending conferences — were off the table during the pandemic or vastly changed.

Yet clients were still hiring lawyers — and still are. While the edge may go to the incumbent in times of upheaval or economic stress, there remain things you can do to put yourself in a position to generate new business. Here are six strategies to consider in challenging times.

1. Cross-Sell

Any conversation about lawyer business development should start with existing relationships: Are there opportunities to do more work for the clients or referral sources you already have? Start by preparing a “gap analysis” for a specific client, reflecting past representation (both substantive and geographic) as well as areas where you have not represented the client. Then put together a client team that includes people who can cover the services and jurisdictions that are blank on the chart. For example, if the client doesn’t use your firm for HR matters, brainstorm with an employment law colleague on ways that person can be introduced to the client (e.g., a gratis Zoom call on RIFs).

2. Be Visible

As the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.” If you want to be on the shortlist for new files or referrals, you will need to be top of mind. Send out substantive information and helpful tools to prospects on a regular basis. If you do this more than your competition, you will have an edge. People are more likely to contact someone they haven’t worked with before if their current lawyers are not providing the same useful content.

3. Make Proactive Pitches

Many companies use times of upheaval — economic, political, societal — as an opportunity to reassess their legal needs and relationships (read: budgets). This could be a great time to see if you can throw your name in the hat. Ask for an opportunity to submit a proposal or make a virtual pitch for new business. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

4. Expand Institutional Relationships

When lawyers were traveling more, attending conferences, or entertaining contacts, it usually meant that attention was focused on one or a small number of people from the targeted entity. Since most contact is virtual now, you can involve more people. For example, offer to provide a webinar for a company’s entire legal department or host a virtual roundtable for all the workout officers at a bank you’d like to represent. You can expand your network even when working from home.

5. Respond Immediately to Inquiries

If you receive a request for a proposal or invitation to pitch, or even a simple inquiry about an issue, a prompt response may be the thing that puts you at the top of the list for the business.

6. Set Up Conversations

Finally, do your best to connect with people and have conversations. Plan a virtual meeting with some contacts from a specific industry; share intel on what you’re hearing or what you’re seeing in their space and invite them to talk to one another. Pull some referral sources into a Zoom happy hour to talk about how their practices have been affected by current events and where they see opportunities. Better yet, now that socially distant get-togethers aren’t the only way to socialize, conduct some of these meetings in person.

Stay Vigilant With Lawyer Business Development Efforts

I know it’s hard to imagine how you can implement lawyer business development efforts when your usual practices are constrained. But there are ways to develop relationships and new business despite the challenges. Be persistent, be helpful, and stay vigilant with your efforts.

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Sally J. Schmidt Sally J. Schmidt

Sally Schmidt, President of Schmidt Marketing, Inc., helps lawyers and law firms grow their practices. She was a founder and the first President of the Legal Marketing Association, is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and was one of the first inductees to LMA’s Hall of Fame. Known for her practical advice, she is the author of two books, “Marketing the Law Firm: Business Development Techniques” and “Business Development for Lawyers: Strategies for Getting and Keeping Clients.” Follow her @SallySchmidt.

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