14 October 2020

Business development teams still face challenge to prove their value to law firm leaders

Function needs to be better defined and understood, say panellists at Law Firm Marketing Summit

Business development professionals need to focus on developing insights into clients that lawyers might not know if they want to be more relevant in the eyes of law firm leaders, according to panellists at yesterday's Law Firm Marketing Summit.

That challenge of being relevant was one of a number of issues facing business development teams that were discussed on the panel ‘Ensuring a place at the table: Influencing skills for business professionals’. Part of the challenge is that the business development function often remains undefined and under appreciated, with some law firm partners blind to the contribution business development professionals are making.

Former Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer partner Stephen Revell, who is now a consultant at the magic circle firm, said: “There are lots of very frustrated business development professionals, they’re being given the wrong tasks for their skills sets.”

Revell believes that law firms need to rethink the role of the business development function and better understand what they want from it so that it becomes more effective in supporting lawyers and delivering results.

“We need to see clients as assets of the firm, not as assets of individuals, and business development can help drive that principle and ensure that business development is actually coordinated across the firm and not left to individuals rowing their own boat in a way that isn’t consistent with the overall goal of the firm,” he said.

To improve their credibility with law firm leaders, business development professionals need to seize the initiative to get noticed.

Michelle Michaels, chief marketing officer at Hinshaw & Culbertson, said: “[Business development professionals need to ask themselves] what value do you bring? Do you have insights or information that you can provide to attorneys that they might not know? [Attorneys] have the relationship, but do they have the big picture of the organisation? Demonstrate that you have info that is valuable and can help them.”

It is also important that business development teams understand the market and what their competitors are doing so they know what is going on and can provide informed opinions, said Matilde Mello Cabral, chief operating officer at Portuguese firm Abreu.

“The worst thing that can happen is to sit in front of a partner who has only 10 minutes to spare and not being prepared,” she said.

Business development professionals should also be data-driven if they want to speak the same language as their lawyers, said Matthew Fuller, head of business development for the Americas and EMEA at White & Case.

“Lawyers are very evidence based in the way they are trained and the way they think, that’s what they like to see – the more data you can use to help support your argument or advice, that will go a long way,” Fuller said.

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