Law firms aren’t laggards in business development, says Jeanne Hammerstrom, the chief marketing officer at Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff LLP, which is headquartered in Cleveland and maintains seven offices including one in Shanghai. She points to the lengthening tenure of top marketing and business development leaders at law firms as evidence that things are going right.
Sure the legal market has evolved and trends have emerged – budget sensitivity or legal departments taking more work in-house – but Ms. Hammerstrom points out that smart law firms have adopted.
Ms. Hammerstrom will be speaking on a panel focus on building and retaining business development talent on the second day of the Go Pro 20/20 business development conference, June 25-26, 2015 in New York. We caught up with her to ask her about her views on the changing landscape in law firm marketing and business development.
1. How has law firm marketing and business development changed in the last several years?
JH: I think marketing/business development has changed because of the demand for top level service from our clients, and therefore the emphasis on having teams built around clients and focusing on their needs. The way we develop new business has changed tremendously. We actually talk to our clients before, during and after the pitch process. We aren’t afraid to ask questions so that we can give them what they need. Attorneys are realizing that with training and business development support they can have a competitive advantage.
2. What do you think are the biggest business development challenges going forward?
JH: It’s always been a time issue. Attorneys are still their own best sales force, but they also do the work and build the relationship. We also have generations who work differently and it doesn’t always include business development and relationship building – two key factors to being successful rainmakers. My team is doing more and more business analysis on clients, prospects and competitors. We went from 5-6 requests for information per month to 70-80. This information can be very valuable, but it’s all coming at such a fast pace that sometimes even our information becomes dated quickly. Speed of technology can also be very challenging.
3. How should large law firms differentiate themselves in the current market?
JH: By keeping up to date on trends in the clients’ industries; by delivering the best of the best in client service (including things like responsiveness, excellent work product, value adds); by becoming involved in the communities in which they work.
LexisNexis® InterAction® is a title sponsor of the Go Pro 20/20 conference, which is produced by Catapult Growth Partners. The event is being held in held at The Convene Midtown East and law firm marketers or business development professionals can receive a 10% discount by registering online or calling 646-807-8555, and using the code LN10.
4. How have economic conditions affected the way a firm monitors and measures client engagement?
JH: Law firms have learned (or should have learned) that they have to be very sensitive to client budgets and how they can work with them in getting great results, adding value, but still being paid for what they do. A lot of companies have beefed up their in-house departments, so that is challenging to outside counsel. We need to make sure that we understand not only the GC, but also other decision makers in the law department – they’re being held to budgets and outcomes and we are as well. We have found that yearly check-ins aren’t enough. We need to have trigger points whereby our relationship attorney reaches out to the client to get feedback. We have recently put into place a client on-boarding program, whereby we send a collateral piece that asks preferences (somewhat like the concierge service at a hotel – soft pillow, firm pillow, WSJ or NY Times, etc.). We want to make sure we’re on the same page with communication, technology and billing preferences from the get-go, so that we have the engagement with a client.
5. What factor does technology or new tools have on a law firm’s ability to deliver client value?
JH: It’s very important, but only as good as how and when it’s used. We have the extranets, view-a-bill, the smart plans for project management, etc., but the client has to value the efficiency and productivity of these tools to enhance their own goals. Law firms have become pretty nimble and open to investing in technology that helps with the delivery of service or a client request. But again, it’s like any industry, you’ve got to use it for it to make a difference.
6. Anything you’d like to add?
JH: Law firms continue to address the same challenges that other professional service firms do – competition is fierce and it’s a relationship built industry. I still hear people say we’re (legal industry) behind the accounting firms and banks when it comes to business development. I don’t believe that. We have some really innovative, client-focused initiatives throughout the industry that are above and beyond some other professional service firms. We’ve seen statistics that CMO/CBDOs are staying a lot longer than 2.5 years (more like 6+), so we must be doing something right in our firms. Law firm mergers will continue to grow – building the “ultimate,” top notch organization to serve our clients is what we all want to do and we are being driven to do. It’s an exciting, but sometimes challenging (some could say intimidating), time for legal marketers.
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