Proven, practical, and effective ways to increase organic growth in law firms
Powered By LawFuel –JD Supra – In this era of accelerated change within the legal market, one thing remains constant: the lawyers and law firms that successfully maintain and grow client relationships organically over time are those that consistently provide, at a reasonable price, bona fide and creative legal representation and advice, responsiveness, and efficient case and matter management – and they are skilled at communicating these strengths effectively.
To be effective, any strategy or tactic designed to grow a law firm or practice area must involve the right mix of:
- People (both lawyers and staff),
- Processes/procedures (who will do what and when), and
- Technology (efficiently access, track and report data and information).
Organic growth is defined as additional income received from existing clients, accounts, or markets, or from brand-new clients and markets. But, to date, most law firms have relied mainly on top-down, management-led acquisition and consolidation growth strategies, where they create and implement (often well-organized and funded) programs, strategies, and tactics designed to identify appropriate laterals to hire, other firms to absorb, or potential merger partners.
This top-down, management-led growth has vastly increased the average size and scope of AmLaw 200 firms.
On the other hand, to be effective organic growth strategies require buy-in and effort from many lawyers in the firm, not just those serving in firm management roles.
Common obstacles to implementing effective organic growth programs within law firms include:
- The current size and scale of most major law firms allow firm lawyers very little time to devote to proactive, organic growth initiatives,
- Billable hour, nonbillable hour, and work-life time demands,
- Credit issues, including origination, willingness to share, and which firm lawyer “owns” the relationship,
- Lawyers’ natural skepticism, their autonomous and independent natures, and their general resistance to adaptation or change.
Some leading firms have been able to overcome these common obstacles and have created and are implementing successful, organized, organic growth programs – each involving the right mix of people, processes, and technology.
What are some proven organic growth strategies and tactics being used in leading law firms?
1. Putting Annual Plans on Blast
For years, most firms have required that every firm partner, lawyer, practice group, or department write an annual business or business development plan. Yet in most firms, these plans sit on a shelf and are rarely used and rarely referred to except around compensation time.
Now, with the increased size and scale of many leading firms, these plans are increasingly being automated, tied to appropriate customer relationship management (CRM) programs (for example, SalesForce and OnePlace), experience databases (Intapp), or other AI or tracking technologies (sometimes as simple as Excel). All these programs are supported by firm staff members whose job is to help lawyers and groups accomplish the actions listed in their development plans and to regularly report efforts and results to firm leaders.
This is one example of the effective use of people, processes, and technology to create and implement a strategic, results-oriented organic growth program.
2. Supercharged Key Client/Account Teams
Many leading firms have had key client or key account teams in operation for years where the firm’s top 10-20% of clients are identified, and cross-functional groups of lawyers who serve those clients meet on a regular basis to discuss the status of the relationships, developments, and ways to enhance and add value. In practice, however, many such teams are less than effective or even stalled.
So, in recent years, firms have supercharged their key account management programs by putting written key account annual plans on blast (see above), by reconfiguring the staff support dedicated to key accounts, or by expanding hires (see below). Other firms are expanding their key account programs to include clients who are not necessarily the largest clients of the firm, but are clients who are growing, acquiring, consolidating, or are going through other phases in the business life cycle.
This is being accomplished by including relevant questions in required annual plans and hiring qualified staff to support these organic growth initiatives (see below).
3. Faster Formalization of Industry/Niche Groups and Teams
The accelerated rate at which information flows has dramatically reduced the average business life cycle, i.e., the amount of time it takes for companies to be created, grow, consolidate, and die.
In response, many law firms are much quicker to identify trends and internally coordinate the lawyers and staff with the experience to serve the industries or businesses involved.
Recent examples include firms creating organized, cross-functional teams to meet, market to, respond to, and serve clients in the cannabis industry and those involved in the opioid and vaping crises, among others.
4. Strategically Expanding Staff Support
To organize, drive, and support the strategies described above and other related support needs, many leading firms have hired or are hiring different types of experienced executives and specialists. Examples include:
- New C-Suite Positions – New kinds of C-suite executives and director-level positions include chief client experience or client service officers, chief pricing officers, chief legal process management officers, and chief practice management or operations officers.
- More Business Development (BD) Specialists – Many firms and CMBDOs are hiring BD specialists to provide the dedicated, needed support for client/account teams and industry/niche groups. Most BD specialist roles are primarily focused on doing the massive amounts of work needed to enable business development by generating new business opportunities using mainly seminars, events, sponsorships, writing, and speaking. Many BD Specialists also work to provide lawyers and practice groups with sales support and coaching to help bring in new work and clients, but most BD Specialists are lacking the time to fully devote to sales, lead generation and client development (which is – in and of itself – a full-time job).
- Seasoned BD/Sales/Client Development Executives – Compared with BD specialists, BD executive positions are much more client and potential-client facing on a day-to-day basis. These executive-level roles are being filled by lawyers and others who have an executive presence; an existing network of law firm clients, such as general counsel, in-house counsel, and other buyers of outside legal services; and have significant experience in successful client development and service with professional services firms.
Organic growth strategies are the least risky to implement, and they are proven to strengthen a firm’s profitability, market position, and competitive advantages. Yet too few major law firms have strategic and effective organic growth programs in place. To grow, most major law firms are still relying mainly on the top-down, management-driven alternatives described above.
Julie Savarino holds an MBA, a JD, and is a licensed attorney. Over her 30+ year career, she has built a reputation as a leading international, award-winning client service, business and client development coach and strategist for lawyers, law firms, and other professional services providers and firms. She has successfully served in-house for the law firms of Dickinson Wright and Butzel Long and for the accounting firm Grant Thornton. Contact Julie at +1 (734) 668-7008, Julie@BusDevInc.com. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter @JulieSavarino.
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