Why Law Firm BD Is Changing for the Better
BD was always seen as unnecessary for a top-tier firm with a reputation that speaks for itself. Undoubtedly, we have moved on from this as most international law firms now have well-resourced and competent BD & Marketing functions.
However, many law firms have yet to full empower their BD teams and continue to treat them as staff serving purely to respond to the needs of partners.
Below experts at Wilbury Stratton explain why plenty of legal BD and marketing professionals still act as support staff rather than as leaders, answering some important questions such as: Why are BD teams so rarely utilised to their potential? And what changes have we started to notice?
I am not an administrator . . . I can do more than write pitches and brochures . . . I’m not just a glorified events planner . . . I don’t want partners to treat me as their staff . . . These are just a selection of comments from a series of conversations we recently conducted with senior BD and marketing professionals in the legal sector. Long regarded as part of a mere ‘support staff’, these individuals are beginning to claim greater influence. We think law firms would be well advised to take note.
The law firm CMO once seemed like a contradiction in terms – any credible firm, partners might tell you, has no need to market itself. The same logic was applied to BD, which was seen as unnecessary for a top-tier firm with a reputation that speaks for itself. We have undoubtedly moved on from this kind of thinking as most international law firms now have well-resourced and competent BD and marketing functions. Even so, many law firms have yet to fully empower their BD leaders.
Why is this? Our conversations with numerous senior BD professionals revealed a common and rather worrying theme: they are not trusted to do their jobs. Partners work hard to win their clients and are then reluctant to hand over the reins to BD teams. Refusing your BD function access to clients seem counterintuitive, but plenty of sources testify to the trend. Some partners, we were told, are reluctant even to pilot client feedback programmes.
Firms taking this approach are inevitably losing out on valuable interactions between clients and BD teams, who are often able to probe more deeply into client experience and obtain more honest feedback. BD professionals can also serve as excellent brand ambassadors, with knowledge spanning a firm’s full capabilities and a sharpened instinct for cross-selling.
Another opportunity cost shouldered by law firms unwilling to empower BD leaders relates to coaching. Sources suggest that successful BD strategy includes not just up-skilling BD and marketing teams, but upskilling fee-earners too. The vast majority of partners do not even role-play client pitches. The most forward-thinking law firm have therefore pioneered coaching programmes aimed at embedding effective BD habits among partners and associates via sessions led by BD professionals.
Lessons can be learned from the consulting sector which has historically taken a similar approach, elevating BD leaders to senior levels and engendering respect for the function across the partnership. Firms such as EY and Deloitte both offer partner grade roles to BD and marketing professionals, demonstrating the firms’ commitment to the function and the high esteem in which its practitioners are held.
This enlightened approach has certainly captured the attention of some law firms. Law firms are increasingly seeking out candidates from the Big Four and leading strategy houses in an effort to reinvigorate their approach to BD.
The legal market is getting crowded. Established law firms now face challenges from market disruptors and alternative legal service providers. In this demanding environment, we predict that law firms willing to overhaul the BD status quo will gain the edge on their more conservative competitors.