‘It’s showing you’re part of the eco-system’: law firm BDOs on how their firm gets ahead

Business development chiefs from Mintz and Goodwin among those to share their top tips in this round-up from Passle’s CMO podcast series
Red paper aeroplane flying ahead of white paper aeroplanes


In the hugely competitive legal space, the success or failure of a firm can depend on its ability to attract and retain top clients and top talent.

Firms are increasingly turning to their marketing and business development chiefs to supply the competitive advantage in the race for preeminent position in the market.

From content marketing to data mining to good old-fashioned client satisfaction calls, the brains behind some of the most well-known global firms share their insights in our ‘CMO Series’ podcast.

Here, some of our guests reveal the secrets of their success.

Create the best client experience you can and the rest will fall into place, says Carolyn Manning, chief marketing and business development officer at Mintz.

The firm is constantly reviewing and refining its interactions with clients, some of whom are visited by the managing partner himself to check they’re happy with the service received.

It also collects and analyses data from multiple sources, such as its website and social media traffic, to help build a more detailed picture of potential clients and what they need.

Key to this, says Manning, is identifying where you are before deciding where you’d like to be.

“If you want to get fit and stay in shape, you’ve got to step on the scales, take your measurement, see where your baseline is.”

Successful firms need to go further than simply demonstrating their understanding of the market by becoming part of the eco-system, according to Lee Garfinkle, chief client development and relationship officer at Goodwin.

“Take the tech market, for example. We know the investors, the entrepreneurs, the accelerators, the incubators, the serial entrepreneurs, the sources of capital and we can make those connections.

“I think that’s how you really demonstrate your knowledge of an industry. It’s showing that you are part of the eco-system, you know the right people. You have been there before, so you know the challenges people in those industries have and you know in advance how to solve those problems.”

To become a trusted advisor, you also need to let clients know your door is open for business and operational problems as well as legal issues, he adds.

Data can provide valuable insights about your business and the wider market, but many firms are still getting to grips with it says Kalisha Crawford, director of marketing and business development at Ropers Majeski.

She acknowledges it can be difficult for smaller firms with less information and fewer resources, but suggests starting small, with whatever data you have and on a spreadsheet if necessary.

“If you are starting to see a lot of a new kind of case… that’s an early opportunity to get in front of that, train your team, put out some thought leadership, so you can create your own opportunities from the data as you’re seeing it.”

Technology is transforming the legal sector, but often firms get hung up on the details and risk being left behind says Kevin Iredell, chief marketing officer at Lowenstein Sandler.

He cites the principle of “good enough” in software and systems design, meaning that consumers will generally use products that do the job despite more advanced technology being available.

“You can always go back and tweak it later but getting out the door and getting a solution in place is sometimes a lot more beneficial than trying to make it perfect and being five years behind everybody else,” Iredell says.

The pandemic was a good example of this, forcing businesses onto platforms like Zoom and Webex without time to worry about customising them for their clients.

Marketing and business development may not be billable, but there are ways to measure the return on investment according to James Stapleton, chief business development and marketing officer at Blank Rome.

One example is non-chargeable client visits which almost always result in new work, he says.

The firm has continued to run its webinar programme after finding it was attracting double the number of attendees, on average, than its in-person events.

To demonstrate ROI, James adds: “We measure the amount of revenue generated in the 90 days prior to the event and compare it to the amount of revenue generated from the attendees and their clients in the 90 days subsequent to the event and it’s almost always extremely positive.”

Successful law firms of the future will be those that give their marketing and business development leaders seats in the boardroom, predicts Clark Hill’s chief marketing and business development officer Susan Ahern.

She says many law firms still have little understanding of marketing beyond having “a nice website” but need to recognise the important role it can play in setting and achieving strategic goals.

By using data to back up decisions and being able to demonstrate the return on investment, marketeers can start to command the respect they deserve.

Clark Hill now operates an online system which captures the details of every sponsorship request centrally rather than in disconnected silos. The result? It allows them to have a complete overview of requests and to stress-test the value of each.

Ahern says this has saved a considerable amount over the last couple of years alone by “challenging habitual investment that may in reality be of little or no value to the firm.”

The legal services market has changed exponentially over the last few years. Giving away expertise for free, for example in the form of online blogs and videos, was once considered alien but is now commonplace as firms attempt to stand out to prospective clients by positioning themselves as the authoritative voice.

Marketing and business development functions have become integral to helping firms understand and deliver what is needed to be successful in the market. Those who fail to recognise the value of their marketing functions will get left behind.

This article was written by James Barclay, CEO of Passle, an Oxford-based digital marketing platform for professional services. 

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