Blog/Podcast: How to Create the Legal Business Development Job You Want

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Some jobs aren’t hired for; they’re created. Such is the case with the majority of client-facing business development professionals in law firms, many of whom started out as marketers and expanded their roles over time.

The client-facing aspect of Dawn Sheiker’s job as Director of Client Relations at Delaware-based Morris James continues to grow and become even more vital to her firm’s business. She joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast to discuss her journey and offer her advice for legal professionals looking to move into a more client-facing role.

How marketing and business development complement each other

With marketing and business development so closely linked, the division between these roles can become fuzzy. Many law firm marketers are tasked with everything under the marketing and business development umbrella, including branding, client service, strategic planning and public relations. But these roles are fundamentally different, and it’s becoming more common for firms to split them up, especially among Am Law 100 and Am Law 200 members. It’s no wonder why: separating these roles frees up every professional to focus on what they do best.

When this system works perfectly, it allows marketers to build awareness through branding and marketing campaigns, which in turn generates leads. These leads are passed on to business development professionals to qualify, manage, strengthen, and move them down the sales pipeline to the appropriate lawyer.

This not only generates more quality clients (and more revenue), it also ensures clients get better service. A good business development professional will make sure that every client is connected to the correct lawyer, not only in terms of service, but also in terms of budget, industry knowledge and approach. What firm wouldn’t want a system that’s beneficial for clients and attorneys alike?

Easing resistance from lawyers

Unsurprisingly, many lawyers are resistant to putting potential clients in the hands of another person. But there are ways for client service professionals to gain the trust of their attorneys.

Dawn does this by approaching her lawyers in the same way she wants them to approach their clients. She takes the time to understand their practice at a deep level, including how they talk to their clients, what their response time is, what their books look like now and what they want them to look like in the future. She even asks them what their communication style is and whether they prefer to be contacted by email, phone or a stop by their office.

This builds a strong, mutually beneficial relationship with lawyers, and models good client service. It’s not enough for lawyers to know the legal needs of their clients; they need to understand their clients’ business objectives, their communication preferences and their industry outlook. When Dawn models this behavior, it demonstrates that there’s a lot of value in truly getting to know clients.

Of course, even with all of this effort, not everyone will be on board right away. That’s why it’s important to start with the people who are open to business development and sales, and keep them happy. Once they have a few wins, they become champions for it and pass the message on to other attorneys. Through this process, eventually, you’ll be able to reach lawyers who had no interest in it at first.

How marketers can expand their roles into client service

First and foremost, anyone interested in moving into client sales needs to understand the role. Clients hire lawyers, not business development professionals, so it’s important to recognize that the goal isn’t to close the sale, but to generate warm leads and bring them to the right people to finish the job.

This is an important distinction to make, because many attorneys are concerned about sales professionals somehow poaching or controlling their business. If you want the go-ahead to incorporate more sales into your job, you’ll need to demonstrate that you’re not going to step on any toes. Start by asking to attend industry seminars and conferences, where you can build your own relationships and begin generating leads. Then, you can go back to lawyers with the names and information of potential clients that they weren’t able to connect with on their own. Eventually, lawyers will recognize the usefulness of this arrangement and will start inviting you to events unprompted. By that point, you’ll have built sales into your job naturally, without having to ask for permission first—and you can bring this to your managing partner as proof of the value of a larger or separate business development function.

Click here to download/subscribe to the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast.

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