Jan 14 '13
Law firms need to change. That’s the prognosis we’ve heard over and over again. Lawyers now work in a deeply challenging environment: a post-2008 world where clients expectations have changed, technology is growing, markets are shrinking, economic uncertainty prevails and new regulations compound existing difficulties.
And so as lawyers stand in the face of these large-scale adjustments, one solution abides: they too must adapt and change.
But despite the need for change the want for change isn’t often there. This was confirmed by a recent survey published by NatWest and Haithwaite Legal in late 2012.
The survey asked law firm partners who were present at a series of legal conferences in autumn 2012 where business development stood in their list of priorities. The results were disappointing and found that UK lawyers continue to “shy away” from business development despite a drop in the client-base and falling workloads.
Of the 127 partner sample, 31% said they were motivated to dedicate time to business development and only 65% said that their return on time invested on business development was reasonably effective.
These results clash with the sub-zero growth environment in which law operates. We no longer live in a pre-2008 world where clients just come walking off the street and repeat business is a near surety. Lawyers now need to know sales and be literate in the business development process so that they can grow their business.
No longer can lawyers be law-only technocrats, however to many lawyers the terms and practices such as business development are just management speak. But ultimately this is a speak that lawyers will need to become literate in if they are to remain relevant and expand business.
Going forward law firms cannot afford to keep a roster of lawyers who don’t know the sales process and so they must begin to invest the time and resources into up-skilling and broadening the competency base of their fee-earners to include business development.
We’ve already seen dramatically how un-recession proof the law industry is: Dewey LeBoeuf is the law industry’s Lehman Brothers and between May and November of 2012 the number of firms in England and Wales fell by over 450.
Business development isn’t the silver bullet that will silence all the pressures facing law firms but it should be seen as a core strand in a broader strategy for growth. Early in 2012 we provided a A to Z guide on the business development cycle and then not long after we went a little deeper on the sales tool.
Undoubtedly these are extremely testing times but for the law firm who dares and takes on business development, the rewards will come.