It takes 30,000 or 40,000 hours of practice to become an expert litigator, according to one large law firm partner. To date, including the very seminar that partner was attending, he had spent a grand total of just a few hours honing his business development skills.
If attorneys can accept that the practice of law is a skill that’s learned and improved over time, says Mo Bunnell, then the same is true of the skills require for effective law business development (BD).
“It’s a myth that business development can’t be taught,” said Mr. Bunnell in an interview at the office of the Bunnell Idea Group, Inc. The Atlanta-based consultancy teaches business development methods to professional services organizations. He recommends law firms begin thinking about BD as a “discipline and skill to be practiced.”
“It’s a myth that business development can’t be taught.” Business development is a “discipline and skill to be practiced.”
A Renewed Sense of BD Urgency
Mr. Bunnell not only believes that BD skills can be taught, but that teaching these skills is becoming a law firm imperative amid rising competition. Survey after survey demonstrates tighter competition is being converted into a renewed sense of urgency.
That sense of urgency is a useful incentive for marketing shops rolling out new law firm BD programs according to Mr. Bunnell.
“If BD doesn’t have a deadline, it will not have the same sense of urgency as the four client emails that attorney has on their phone,” he says. “It’s important the system and tools prompt the next activity or it will slip a day, and another day, and another.”
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Building a System for Law Firm BD
The word “system” is operative in the seminars Mr. Bunnell’s team presents because of the outsized benefits. The application of even a little process often generates quick wins in the interim – and makes a defining difference in the long term.
For example, during a coaching engagement with a law firm, the Bunnell Idea Group coached attorneys to achieve just one goal: Ask for your next meeting before the current meeting ends. As a result of that process, follow on BD meetings at the firm increased dramatically – from 54% to 96%.
Today, clients are “evaluating the firm as a whole” so not only does the firm have to be better, but “everyone has to be better in the same system.”
3 Law Firm BD Imperatives for 2016
1. Elevate Attorney BD Skills. The environment today requires law firms elevate both the importance of BD and individual attorney skillsets. Until the 2008 financial crisis, there was never a “real focus” on law firm BD; the current landscape has “created the perfect storm.”
2. Get the Entire Law Firm on the Same Page. Different practice areas often use various systems and processes to support BD. However today, clients are “evaluating the firm as a whole” so not only does the firm have to be better, but “everyone has to be better in the same system,” says Mr. Bunnell.
3. Mesh Marketing and BD. The conclusion of a public presentation or speech might be the end of a marketing process, but it ought to be the beginning of BD process: How does an attorney trigger a prospect to walk up and ask for a business card at the end? How does that business card exchange transform into a real conversation about legal problems that attorney and law firm can help solve?
Mr. Bunnell says this is the gap between marketing and BD that law firms must close. It’s not a question of law firm marketing vs. BD, but rather how these two functions can work better together.
It’s a learning process and it takes thousands of hours to hone expertise.
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Photo credit: Flickr, Blondinrikard Fröberg, Pyramid (CC BY 2.0)