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Although business development is a priority at every law firm, the legal industry is one of only a few industries that does not yet routinely incorporate traditional sales activities as a part of its business culture. In the past, attorneys have equated business development with “schmoozing” or, worse yet, selling, and have been reluctant to take an active part in developing their practice. Today, online legal research tools can take some of the pain out of business development. Readily available Internet resources offer a gold mine of information about prospective clients and their needs. Attorneys and their staff can now use online tools to quickly identify prospective clients, arm themselves with valuable information about the clients and their industries, and be conversant in the legal history and current legal issues facing the client’s company. In short, you can develop a persuasive argument for convincing a prospective client to use your law firm’s services in minutes, without leaving your desk. IDENTIFY COMPANIES With a few Internet searches, you can identify companies in a specific region with legal issues in a particular practice area. Start with an online docket service and run a list of recent civil cases in your practice areas and court district. First, check to see if any of your firm’s current clients appear on the list unexpectedly. (It happens often: Current clients are not always aware of the scope of services a firm offers, so they may not call your firm to handle a different type of legal matter. Usually, a partner can arrange an introduction for you.) Review the list. No doubt you will find companies — possibly entire industries — where your legal expertise is in demand. Note the companies and issues involved. Be aware that it is usually easier to develop business in a particular industry (e.g., manufacturing, financial services, etc.) than a geographic region. With an industry approach, the same background information can be used in discussions with numerous companies. With a regional approach, issues will differ widely across businesses, and your research efforts will multiply accordingly. MAJOR ISSUES Next, learn about the major legal issues facing the companies in the industry. Trade publications run overviews and updates on legal issues facing an industry, and many publications are online with all but the very latest issue. Use services such as NewsDirectory.com to get a list of publications by trade. Next, hone in on the companies whose legal needs most closely match your own legal interests. Hoover’s Online ( www.hoovers.com) and other resources can help you learn about the companies and determine their competitors — companies that also can be prospective clients. Many companies have their annual report online, and many of those annual reports contain synopses of competitive and legal issues facing the company as a matter of public disclosure. For the companies you decide to pursue, go back to the online docket database and review their recent cases. Order a brief or a final ruling to gain greater insight into the legal issue and the type of legal representation the company currently employs. Set up a client “watch” for companies you decide to track, so you will be notified via e-mail whenever the company is named in a new case filing. Finally, run a general search on the company, using search tools to locate recent press releases and articles about the company’s legal issues. Try search engines such as Google ( www.google.com), Yahoo ( www.yahoo.com) or Northern Light ( www.northernlight.com). Armed with this background information, a business development/sales meeting can be more client-focused — which takes the spotlight off you and places it on the client’s business. You can meet with a company’s general counsel and discuss current issues, raise questions and, in general, show your knowledge and understanding of the matters most important to the company’s legal department. You now have the start of a business relationship. To maintain the relationship, take a few minutes each month to recheck your Internet sources for new reasons to contact the GC. Send an e-mail to congratulate the GC on winning a case or speaking before a conference, or send a link to an article or news report on a topic of interest. Such expressions of interest will keep your name in front of the GC so your firm will be on “the short list” when he or she seeks outside counsel. Make sure the GC knows you are available should the need for new counsel arise. With the availability of online legal research, business development at law firms has changed dramatically, for the better. Now you can use online search tools not only to track current cases and clients, but also to scope out new clients, educate yourself about target industries, and contact potential clients armed with valuable information before the competition has a chance to do so. Christopher Hayes is CEO of CourtEXPRESS, an online legal research company based in Washington, D.C. E-mail: [email protected]. Web: www.courtexpress.com.

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