From 2001 – mid-2007 annual growth for law firm revenue and profits per partner was at near double-digit levels and firms enjoyed unprecedented growth, according to Hildebrandt’s 2009 Legal Study. In the 2006-2007 class, women made up 46.9% of law school students. According to a 2006 survey by the National Association of Women Lawyers, of the nation’s 200 largest law firms, women represent 30% of of-counsel, 26% non-equity partners and almost 16% of equity partners. Catalyst estimates women will not achieve parity with men in law firm partnerships until 2088.
What’s a woman attorney to do?
Business development is the lifeblood of a law firm’s sustainability and viability, particularly in light of the recent economic challenges. Many law firms are recognizing that a critical element of business development is ensuring that relationships are being built within the right target markets and that law firms are bringing real value and real solutions to business problems, even when there is no immediate legal problem at hand. Additionally, many firms have also launched organized Women’s Initiatives that are seeing an increased interest in transitioning from pure affinity groups to become more focused on business development. These initiatives are moving away from “monthly lunches with the ladies” into more substantive vehicles to increase firm revenue, talent pools, etc. with greater accountability to results. A number of firms are investing in leadership development and business development training to assist with the “lunch transition.”
Many Women’s Initiatives are seeking to network with other professional women’s groups outside of law firms as a means to drive relationship building that could lead to business. As such, most of these efforts are centered on “meet-n-greets” without a defined goal or objective that would create more meaningful follow-up. The best “meet-n-greets” are built around prep/planning/strategy to ensure that the right people are in the room with clear goals for follow-up. Business development through Women’s Initiatives can also create a target market to develop business specifically with women prospects/clients.
With budgets tightening, more Executive Committees are asking the tough questions about return on investment (ROI). The most progressive Women’s Initiatives are creating regular reporting (internal selling communication) to the ECs as to what’s happening and seek to quantify results, even if they are anecdotal results.
Adopt A Business Development Process
Before a Women’s Initiative embarks upon a business development program, it would be wise to adopt a general business development process to guide accurate expectations and appropriate activities to determine how and when an effort will generate an ROI. One effective approach is represented in the process diagram below that accounts for the importance of clearly targeting contacts and building authentic relationships that with time may transition into a legal business development opportunity.
Approaches and Alternatives for Business Development Initiatives
There are a number of approaches and alternatives for business development initiatives. A number of firms are shifting attention from simply building business development skills to building business development agility. To successfully evolve to strategy and agility, attorneys must have a common set of the fundamental skills, language, tools, etc.
Given the current economic climate together with clients requesting alternative-billing arrangements, Women’s Initiatives have an opportunity to demonstrate resourcefulness and out-of-the-box thinking to increase revenue during a downturn. Law firm leaders do not have the roadmap since the legal market has not experienced anything like the current recession for the last 17 years or longer.
Economists predict that a broad recovery is not likely to occur before 2010 and some see an even longer road. One bright spot is highlighted in a recent Hildebrandt Study that states since the legal industry is a critical part of the economic infrastructure, law firms are generally fairing better than other businesses and the demand for legal services will rebound as the economy begins to recover.
The following diagram demonstrates four fundamental approaches to consider when launching a business development initiative.
The typical positives for each approach are that awareness and skill-based programs are generally less expensive to implement, focus on the individual and don’t necessarily require the firm’s culture to change. Strategic and agility based programs can generate a more substantive ROI, positively impact the firm culture and deliver firm-wide improvement in client service and talent retention.
The typical downsides for each approach are that awareness and skill-based programs may lose momentum and accountability for long term change or results and may have difficulty realizing the full ROI if the firm culture is unreceptive to change. Strategic and agility based programs can be more expensive to implement and require organizational patience and resolve to see full results.
Winning Business Development Strategies for Women
Regardless of the selected business development approach, there are a number of strategies and best practices for individuals and firms as a whole. A few of these best practices are highlighted below:
• Segmenting contacts to focus on “A” level relationships – professional and personal
• Turning client relationships into connectors
• Finding a dedicated business development rhythm that works with time management constraints
• Looking at invitations, education and contacts as currency for business development
• Leveraging 3-for-1 payback on any investment of effort
• Setting definitive next steps to ensure regular, timely follow-up
• Finding lunch, drink and sports alternatives for staying in touch
• Leveraging engagement reviews
• Education offers that have CLE accreditation
• Education offers that focus leadership development
• Education offers that focus on change management
• Engage in “special project teams” with clients
• Engage in best practice briefings
• Establish regular communication protocol with clients and teams
• Hosting family friendly events with a prep and follow-up plan
• Hosting gender neutral events with a prep and follow-up plan
• Hosting selective ‘women only’ events with a prep and follow-up plan
An organized Women’s business development initiative provides for greater structure and professionalism in the business development approach and can help women attorneys have a distinct advantage in the market place. Firms will realize a greater ROI as the business development approach evolves from awareness and skill building to strategic thinking and agility in business development. Sustainability in revenue generation happens when individuals and groups execute best practices and strategies with consistency and accountability. The current market and economic climate presents a tremendous opportunity for women to take a leadership role in revenue generation and pave the way for innovation in client relationship building.