Do you ever wonder how law firms turning 50, 75 and even 100 years old make it to these significant milestones? To have longevity, they likely do many things well. These law firms, however, are exceptional at one critical aspect of their business that seems to escape many others. They ensure growth and succession by nurturing their young professionals from before day one to be marketing and business development rock stars. Yes, it begins before an employment offer is ever made.

Establish clear expectations from the beginning.According to Joel Rosen, managing partner of High Swartz, a Norristown, Pa.-based law firm turning 100 years old in 2014, “During the interview process, we discuss the importance of marketing and business development and make it clear that making partner is contingent upon his or her ability to build a book of business.” This may seem a bit daunting to new lawyers entering the workforce, which is why it’s important to have a formal process in place to build skills and confidence.

There are always individuals who are natural at doing certain things, including rainmaking. But for many attorneys, marketing and business development activities don’t feel comfortable. The good news is that these are skills that can be learned and practiced. Like most things in life, the earlier the training begins, the easier it will be to master.

Commit to a formal mentoring program.Most law firms want their young professionals to be active when it comes to marketing and business development, and some mandate it. Given this desire and expectation, it’s surprising how many law firms do not have formal mentoring programs in place.

Philadelphia-based intellectual property boutique law firm Volpe and Koenig is in the process of developing a formal mentoring program that will roll out in November. Wesley McMichael, an associate at the firm, said, “This is a big priority for Volpe and Koenig. Our formal mentoring program is for every professional in the firm, but will be much more intensive for attorneys in the first three years of their careers. All young professionals will meet regularly with their mentors, and this relationship will continue all the way through their careers until they become shareholders. Mentors will help coach associates through developing marketing and business skills and setting and measuring goals.”

While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to marketing and business development mentoring programs, here’s some insight as to what your law firm might want to include at each level of experience.

The Early Years (1-2)

Assess marketing/business development skills.During the first six months of employment, have your young lawyers complete a brief e-survey so you have an understanding of their aptitude and comfort level with:

Blogging;

Networking;

Social media;

Content curation; and

One-on-one meetings.

It’s always easier to have professionals start with an area of strength.

Assign a Mentor. Young professionals should have an experienced mentor to coach, encourage and help them prioritize their marketing and business development activities.

Give a firm overview. Ensure your young lawyers have a deep understanding of your firm, including its history, ideal clients, core values, target sectors, marketing plan, strategic plan and more.

Develop an Individual Marketing Plan Template. Using the results from the skills assessment, work with your young professionals to complete their first individual marketing and business development plans. Help them to dip their toes into a number of activities and set achievable goals. Individual marketing plans should be completed annually.

Review Their LinkedIn Profiles. LinkedIn profiles are an extension of your firm’s brand. Give your young attorneys guidance on setting up their profiles so they are genuine but professional. Ensure they have professional headshots.

The Growth Years (3-5)

Encourage attendance at networking events. There are many young professional networking events and meet-ups. This is a terrific time to begin forming relationships as people are looking to expand their spheres of influence.

Ramp Up LinkedIn Activities. Young professionals should be aggressively building their networks online as well as offline. Have your marketing team or an outside consultant provide LinkedIn training so that your rising stars are maximizing all that this robust social media platform has to offer.

Assign Blog Posts. Content marketing is here to stay in the professional services world. The sooner your young lawyers learn how to write authentically helpful and relevant online content, the better for them and your law firm.

The Mature Years (6-plus)

Set Goals for Referral and Prospect Meetings. By this point, your attorneys have been networking for years and should feel comfortable asking for and giving referrals, as well as cultivating relationships with prospects. They may not be at a point where they can close business, but qualifying a lead should come naturally.

Discuss trade association involvement. Most law firms target one or more industry sectors. Mature attorneys will likely have gravitated toward one of these areas. Trade association involvement (e.g., committee participation, events, speaking and writing, etc.) helps your firm to raise its awareness, develop key relationships and further penetrate target markets. It’s also an effective method for professionals to begin building their books of business.

Provide sales/business development training. Going for “the close” and winning business is a tough area for many lawyers to tackle. In order to provide growth and firm succession, law firms need to ensure that all their maturing attorneys have the natural or learned skills to bring in new business.

As your firm’s attorneys progress through their careers, the amount of time they devote to marketing and business development should increase substantially. They are moving from simply being lawyers working in the business to future business owners working on the business. Law firms that are dedicated to formally mentoring, encouraging and developing future leaders will one day be celebrating their milestone anniversaries, if they haven’t already. •