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The danger signs are here again: professional firms of all disciplines are busy busy busy. If there is a spare moment, usually at the end of a hectic day, the last thing the busy professional wants to do is to start a bout of business development. Does this matter? History suggests it does. With few exceptions law firms paid the price in the early nineties for neglecting business development in the busy part of the economic cycle. The downturn came and relationships and product development had been neglected. Most firms did not and do not have a sufficiently strong brand to tide them over. When the economy moves towards bust and the froth comes off, swathes of lawyers can be seen to have neglected one business fundamental — marketing. There is a saying worth noting: “what you do with your billable time determines your current income but what you do with your non-billable time determines your future.” So, a reminder of some basic propositions for your group of lawyers: Education and training are key tools in encouraging, nurturing and changing culture. You should ensure that the fee earners are being led through the maze of marketing options on a regular basis. Why is marketing important? What are you trying to achieve by marketing? What are the differences between the various elements of marketing? Which is the most appropriate element for fee earners to focus on at present? What specifically could they be doing? What are the hints and tips for doing it effectively? It is important that young fee earners learn about marketing and its significance at an early stage, and they should be encouraged to put it into practice and so develop confidence with clients and contacts. This should be a continuous and rolling program, particularly through the early and formative years of a legal career. The young should emerge from their early professional years as outgoing individuals who are able to attract the confidence of clients — from this confidence comes business. Work out how best to teach. Should you be taking young fee earners to meet contacts that you are trying to turn into clients? Are you creating opportunities for article writing and public speaking? Are enough social events with clients being arranged? The more events that are participated in the better. From this grows confidence and experience. Before long, these events and participation in them become second nature and you see the culture gradually change. No doubt there is room for traditional methods of teaching — but more often than not it is built on practical experience and learning from seeing the more experienced in operation. Each member of your group should be aware of the marketing plan and its strategic objectives, short- and medium-term. They should know a sufficient amount about the group’s business — who are the major clients, what are the specialties within the group, how is the group performing in relation to the fundamental business criteria — revenue growth, cash collection, working capital, profitability. Often it is overlooked how sophisticated, qualified and discerning the modern legal labor force is. To attract and retain high quality staff you need to be able to talk to them about what the business goal is and what the key elements of strategy are to achieve that goal. The more the group’s fee earners know about the business and feel part of it, the more they are likely to contribute personally to the group’s objectives and achieve success and professional satisfaction. PERFORMANCE MEASUREMENT There should be marketing and business development sections in any professional’s personal plan. Objectives should be set in these areas just as in the legal area. When it comes to review time, progress in these marketing areas should be reported on and discussed to allow an assessment to be made of performance. It should be recognized that the successful development of individuals involves balancing performance on the marketing side of the practice with that on the technical legal side. After appraisal, it is crucial to recognize and reward excellence in the marketing and client relationship management areas, as these are the people that will become your “rainmakers.” Award a marketing prize! You need to promote them as role models for others to copy. Show how it should be done or find the lawyers or marketing professionals who can. Explain when it’s worth sending “added value” information to clients. When is it worth arranging that meeting, lunch or dinner? When is it worth organizing a cocktail party or visiting a client to give in-house lectures? Explain that some clients will be much more valuable to the future of the firm than others and need to be handled in a different manner. Demonstrate through your behavior what is meant by superb client care and ensure that culture is fostered in your group. MAKE INTRODUCTIONS Look for new business opportunities in your clients where you can introduce lawyers with additional skills. Which clients and contacts can you introduce your staff to? Or are you going to jealously guard “your” contacts and block development? Have you identified which of your clients have junior members of staff who would prefer to work with your younger fee earners rather than you? This develops relationships more than anything — it strengthens the bonds with the firm and strengthens your role to serve the client. CELEBRATE SUCCESS Whenever any of your team makes a marketing breakthrough, take a break and celebrate. It may be for something big like the first piece of work from a target client that your team has been pursuing or the launch of a new area of your Web site or it may be something more modest like a glowing personal letter of thanks from a major client to one of your team after organizing a lunchtime seminar at its premises. Life is tough enough for lawyers, so have some fun when things go well with marketing. People in other service industries — such as advertising — are better at celebrating success than the average lawyer. Roger Parker is the head of the commercial disputes group for English firm Richards Butler, www.richardsbutler.com.

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