A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Seven marketing and business development musts for law firm prosperity in 2015

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

by Amy Burton-Bradley, Partner, Julian Midwinter & Associates

Our recent Taking the Pulse research with ALPMA found firms with “well-developed” or “sophisticated” marketing and BD functions firms were generally more successful and had a better financial outlook (51% reported fee revenues of $10M + a year, and 43% expected more than 10% revenue growth) than firms with less sophisticated, or “under-developed” marketing and business development (BD) functions.

In this post, we highlight the seven key BD and marketing characteristics of prosperous – i.e. “sophisticated” – law firms that you can start implementing in your own firm, regardless of whether you’re a small or large firm, or possess a small or unlimited budget.

Sophisticated and successful law firms...

1. Have an overarching marketing and business development plan 

88% of “sophisticated” firms surveyed had a marketing and BD plan in place, and 71% reported this plan was also tied to their firm’s wider strategic plan. By contrast, 69% of firms with an “under-developed” marketing and BD function did not have a plan at all.  

Takeaway:  It doesn’t need to be fancy or complicated, but you must have a plan.  Agreeing and documenting firm goals and how you will reach them can have a positive impact on how your firm develops business this year.

2. Have separate marketing and BD strategies for individual practice groups

Sophisticated firms were more likely to have separate marketing and BD strategies in place for individual practice groups (where relevant): 82% of respondents indicated their firms have strategies for some or all practice groups. A mere 30% of under-developed firms had strategies in place for some or all practice groups.  

Takeaway
: If your firm has multiple specialities with different target markets, you will need to develop separate plans for each practice group to support their growth and success – in addition to the firm-wide plan.

3. Measure the overall effectiveness of marketing and business development activities

97% of sophisticated firms measured the effectiveness of their activities – either all activities (54%) or some activities (43%).  Close to half of under-developed firms did not measure the effectiveness of their activities at all.

Under-developed firms who measured their marketing and BD activities tended to rely on traditional, quantitative measures (such as billings and number of new clients) and informal feedback, whereas sophisticated firms used a combination of qualitative and quantitative measures.

Takeaway: What gets monitored and measured gets done.  It is easy to fall into the trap of measuring only fees, and though fees are important (and easy to interpret), fee revenue alone is a narrow and "rear-view mirror" look at overall business health. 

Measure other success indicators (eg client satisfaction feedback and ratings) and you will get a very different – and better – business. 

4. Have individual marketing and BD targets/KPI's for their lawyers

60% of respondents from sophisticated firms reported that some or all lawyers have individual marketing and BD targets or KPIs.  Nearly 80% of under-developed firms reported there were no targets or KPIs for lawyers’ marketing and BD efforts.  

Takeaway:  If you want more of a particular behaviour or contribution from lawyers, make sure you notice it, then recognise and reward it.

5. Provide marketing and BD skills training for their lawyers

97% of firms indicated their firm’s growth strategy relies on the effectiveness of individual lawyers’ marketing and BD activities.   

But while nearly all respondents across the board recognised the importance of lawyers’ contribution to marketing and BD, only sophisticated firms really provided marketing and BD skills training for lawyers (71% of sophisticated firms).  Fewer than a third of under-developed firms invested in marketing and BD skills training for their professionals (29%).  

Takeaway: In the current marketplace, technical skills and experience alone are insufficient for lasting success – fee-earners working in professional services must also be credible, persuasive and effective business developers.  If your team struggles, invest in training.

6. Have a person or group dedicated to marketing and BD

Sophisticated firms were much more likely to have a person or group dedicated to marketing and BD than other firms. 86% of respondents from sophisticated firms said they had someone dedicated to marketing and BD, compared with only 31% of under-developed firms. 

Takeaway:  While business development is everybody’s business, it can certainly increase the impact if you have an experienced, full time resource supporting your lawyers. 

7. Communicate financial performance results to lawyers and staff 

And finally, sophisticated firms were more likely to communicate financial performance results to lawyers and staff (69% of sophisticated firms, compared with 38% of under-developed firms).  


Takeaway: Sharing results helps lawyers and staff understand the connection between their individual efforts and the overall goals of the firm.

Take heart: much of this can be fixed from the inside out!

As ALPMA President, Andrew Barnes noted, “

The fact that most barriers to improved effectiveness are internal (rather than external) is actually good news.  It means that the power to change lies directly within the control of most law firms - provided they choose to make this a strategic priority for the firm and invest the required resources accordingly.”

Quick marketing and BD success checklist

  • Plan it and communicate it;
  •  Measure more than just billings, and keep individual lawyers accountable
  •  Invest in your people (lawyers, and marketing and BD resources)
  •  Share and communicate successes with your teams so they understand and feel part of “the big picture”.

Editor's Note

Readers interested in learning more about the ALPMA/JMA Research can download a free copy of the report "Taking the Pulse on Business Development & Marketing at Australasian Law Firms".  You can also watch the webinar discussing the results findings and providing additional advice to law firms on-demand from the ALPMA On-Demand Learning Centre, free for ALPMA members or $99 for non-members.

About our Guest Blogger


Amy Burton-Bradley
Amy Burton-Bradley is a Partner with Julian Midwinter & Associates. Before making the move to consulting Amy worked in-house for two Australian law firms in rewarding but sometimes frustrating business development and marketing roles.  

Julian Midwinter & Associates has helped Australian and New Zealand lawyers attract, win, grow and retain desirable clients for 20 years through winning tenders and proposals, upskilling and coaching, and implementing achievable strategy.
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