Business Development and Change

If one new business development strategy doesn’t work out, don’t give up; just move on to the next

THE LEGAL LANDSCAPE is changing; all of the variables that factor into a firm’s or an individual lawyer’s marketing strategy are changing at a rate that is accelerating, and that will continue to accelerate for as far ahead as we can see.

In response to this, business development strategy is something that should be constantly changing over time. What was effective yesterday won’t be effective today, and today’s best strategy will no longer be optimal tomorrow.

With change comes opportunity, but opportunity only benefits those willing to embrace change and willing to explore new ways of doing things, and those who are willing to accept uncertainty and assume risk.

Unfortunately, lawyers are notoriously poor at dealing with change, uncertainty and risk. What that ultimately means is that as a profession and as individuals, lawyers are inclined to back away from the opportunities associated with a constantly changing legal landscape, and they instead get trapped in habitual ways of thinking and doing.

Looking to the Past

In attempting to predict the future, people tend to look to the past. That tendency is even more deeply pronounced among members of the legal profession, perhaps by nature and training both. Looking to the past in order to make decisions about the present and the future is an approach that may serve a lawyer well in client matters, but not so when it comes to the development of a successful practice. Nevertheless, when it comes to marketing, most lawyers seem to think that whatever was responsible for their success to date will be responsible for their continuing success.

For example, if a lawyer has met with success by focusing on a particular client market, or developing a specialized expertise in a narrowly defined area of practice, the natural tendency of that successful lawyer will be to continue to focus on the same markets, and to offer the same services that have led to his or her current success.

However, in order to meet with continuing success it is important to stay up to the moment in your client markets. It may be that you have built your career around serving a particular kind of client, or dealing with a particular kind of issue, but if your markets are declining or shrinking, or the issues that you have specialized in become issues of the past, you must be able to pivot and address new markets that offer greater future potential.

Planning for the Future

When your markets change, and/or the services that you are providing change, it becomes necessary to entirely rework your marketing. In developing new business development strategy, here are some of things you should keep in mind:

First and foremost, consider changes in client needs, demands, expectations and changes in what clients value. After all, what you decide to offer by way of legal services, and the marketing that you build around your services, should be driven entirely by the market.

In marketing your services, consider changes in the ways in which firms and lawyers are being selected, used and evaluated. This will help to inform the way in which you develop new marketing strategy, new positioning and messaging, and the design of new communications strategies.

Other things to factor into your analysis and planning include the growth of fee -based competition, and diminished client loyalty. The market for legal services is becoming more and more competitive, and at the same time, there is less and less work available to go around (due in part to more work staying in-house, and more being outsourced to non-lawyers).

It is important to keep in mind that change isn’t easy, particularly for those so inherently adverse to it. The experts tell us that only 10 to 15% of change initiatives in business are successful, and while that may be discouraging, that’s no reason to avoid changing. Rather, it’s a reason not to give up if any one new strategy doesn’t work out. Just move on to the next.

Donna Wannop, LLB, MBA, is a practice development coach who has worked exclusively with the legal profession for over 30 years. Donna has written a Marketing column for Lexpert Magazine since not long after its launch in 1999, and is retiring with this column. Reach her at donna@donnawannop.com; donnawannop.com.