How can you really hit your fee income targets? Bringing in new business is a daunting prospect for lawyers of all levels. John Monks offers his advice on how to get the most out of business development training.
So much time and money is invested these days in helping lawyers to bring in new business. Much of the training and development involved brings about great results for law firms, when it is taken on board by fee-earners. However it is the ‘when taken on board’ part of this statement that poses a series of challenges to many firms.
A business development initiative in a law firm is inevitably part of a wider strategy. It may focus on increasing fee income and/or profitability. It might be to help a firm break into a new market. It may even be to maintain the status quo in difficult times. But how can law firms ensure such training helps to achieve the targets they have set themselves?
By their very nature, law firms are staffed by bright, highly independent individuals who chose to enter the profession to do legal work – not win business. There are those fee-earners who enjoy business development and are happy and very successful to spend most of their time in that role. However there are also colleagues who do not relish this part of the job. Putting lawyers – irrespective of their attitude to winning business – through a general business development programme can achieve some good results. However, we have also seen this approach result in frustration and a slower take up of the business development teachings.
Evolution of attitudes
Where business development training really works well (for example, brings in new business) is where law firms look beyond the training ‘event’. Instead, they view this as the first step in a longer learning evolution. They subsequently provide their fee-earners with a support structure that helps them build their confidence and put their newly found skills and knowledge into practice.
In essence, they give leadership to the business development responsibilities of their fee-earners. This sees them coaching, motivating and influencing their lawyers, according to each one’s unique set of attitudes and capabilities. In doing so, these firms are in a stronger position to achieve the best practice they aim for.
Much of the success here is dependent on really understanding the individuals whose approach to business development requires change. What are their real thoughts and attitudes to winning business? Unfortunately identifying these nuances isn’t as easy as it sounds. People are so complex that it is often difficult to ascertain where a resistance or lack of confidence to business development stems from. It could be from a number of different sources, such as what motivates them, the habits they have formed, their personality, their skills, knowledge and/or past experiences.
Some firms use performance reviews to illuminate this information, others use a variety of diagnostic/profiling tools. Increasingly though, law firms are developing the leadership and coaching abilities of particular fee-earners to address and support the individual business development approaches of their colleagues.
Those who excel at leading business development performance in this way tend to display 5 key attributes. Firstly
- They have a great track-record in managing the processes and performance when it comes to winning new business;
- They also have a clear direction of what they and the firm wants to achieve, and are in the habit of setting objectives in order to achieve it;
- They are inspirational and use the power of words to motivate and encourage others;
- They are exceptional at motivating teams to achieve particular goals and this is because they understand and use the different talents of the individuals they work with to the greatest effect.
By developing individuals as leaders of business development, these law firms are more active in offering their fee-earners support that is specific to their individual approach. They are also able to give this support at the time when the fee-earner most needs it. For some, this has led to establishing a regular coaching programme.
Coaching business development capabilities involves a deep understanding of the skills and processes involved and also the most effective coaching practices. The best coaches know that:
- You cannot motivate people unless you discover what makes them tick. Coaching requires that you think hard and long about peoples’ backgrounds and conduct appropriate personality profiling;
- You have to see in others more than they see in themselves. A coach has to identify and then develop the potential of individuals on their team;
- You have to demonstrate that you care about ‘their’ success if you want them to work hard for you. Not a ‘soft’ skill but a hard business fact of life;
- You have to learn how to recognise and celebrate success; and
- There is a lot more to recognising success than financial rewards
In addition to coaching and developing their fee-earners, some law firms have looked at their internal support systems. This has been to refocus what resources they have to actively support different business development efforts. Examples of this include the sharing of target client lists amongst the firm to amass greater knowledge about individual prospects. Some law firms have refocused their marketing initiatives to appeal to the interests of particular clients and prospective clients being targeted. Others have involved the firm’s market research team to identify the key decision makers, issues of importance, industry challenges etc of specific target clients. Many have also chosen to communicate, share and celebrate success to the firm as a whole – and in turn cultivate a greater awareness of the business the firm is pursuing.
Finally, a word about measuring business development training. Whilst it is important to measure the outcome of a lawyer’s development in winning business, it is better to set tangible measures right at the beginning of the evolution. In being realistic, law firms have to factor in all the other demands being placed on fee-earners. In firms where fee-earners are subjected to one new initiative after another, the likely success of yet another new development will be significantly lower. Lawyers simply do not have the time or energy to implement everything. Those firms that are successful in influencing their fee-earners to achieve greater things tend to be very specific about the results they want to achieve. They set out their definition of how they feel those results can be attained and actively help fee earners fit these targets into their day job. As part of their ongoing support they track the success of fee-earners in meeting these targets. In doing so they give them support along the way to overcome any obstacles.
Lawyers are becoming much more ‘savvy’ when it comes to winning business in the 21st century. Those that achieve great results for their firms, tend to have a great firm behind them leading their business development evolution. These firms look beyond that individual’s initial ‘training’ and put together a unique and ongoing support package that helps them go from strength to strength.
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