4 Simple Steps For Law Firm Business Development Success

By John Hogg


legal marketing law firm business development

Law firm business development can sometimes be a haphazard affair.

With my apologies to those who do it well, it would be my observation that there are far more questions about law firm business development out there than there are answers. 

First off, what actually is business development in law firms? In fact, whilst we are on the subject what is marketing? What is practice development? 

The truth is different people hold so many different points of view so no matter what the accurate definitions are - if you believe strongly in one view, who am I to argue? 

What I would rather do today is to look at how we cut through some of the hype and develop a series of activities to help you win work and grow your bottom line.

This blog post will therefore take a quick look through some of the key activites your practice should engage in to maximise the return from your law firm business development initiatives.

Call It What You Like, I Want To Win New Work

Before we get started with any business development activities we like to break the sources of new work into four distinct categories. If you think about it this isn't rocket science but by breaking things down from "How Do We Win New Work" to looking at what activities you can do for each of these categories it begins to simplify things and make things more focused.

  • New Clients:  how do you win new work from new clients?
  • Existing Clients:  how do you win new work from existing clients?
  • Referrals:  how do you maximise your referrals of work from other sources?
  • New Practice Areas:  are there other practice areas your firm could introduce?

This approach is quite self-explanatory. You can win new work for your law firm by winning new clients, getting more work from existing clients, receiving referral work from contacts outside the firm or by introducing new practice areas.

We all want to focus on winning new clients but don't forget about the other three areas as a focused approach here can reap dividends for your firm.

1.  Winning New Clients For Your Law Firm

So, where are you going to find new opportunities to win new work? A few of the easiest ways to do this are by:

  • Networking
  • Tenders
  • Website

Is networking sporadic and only done by some lawyers at your firm? Are you on all the right tender lists and do you have a structured approach to their completion, or is it always a manic affair working until 4am in the morning to get things finished? And finally, is your law firm's website generating leads or does it just sit there and rarely change?


Do you have target lists and target sectors? To have any chance of success you need to know which sectors you are focusing on and have some sort of idea of the types of company you want to win new work from. If you don't have a targeted approach anything you do will have a much lesser chance of success. Effective business development happens when you know the types of company you want to do business with and then go out and try to find them.


Law firms typically expect a lot from their staff, however, when it comes to business development there will be naturals and there will also be others will hide their head in their hands. Always remember that a rising tide lifts all boats so make sure your staff have the necessary skills to become effective business developers.

For example, do they need training on how to make effective presentations, have they ever had a session on how to network a room, or could they really benefit from some training on how to close a deal? These are all very important business development skills and should not be overlooked or taken for granted.


Finally, do you have any form of process to track opportunities, wins, losses, etc. Without any form of measurement how do you know how you are doing? Do you meet regularly to discuss business development and if you do is it a rambling update meeting where each person simply reports on what they have (and haven't) done? Set up some form of process to record this information, circulate it in advance of your meeting and notice how the meetings can now become a bit more energetic as everyone begins to share information about potential clients along with what has worked for them in the past.

2.  How Do You Increase Billings With Existing clients

Quite often one of the most succesful places to start with Business Development is your existing clients. You are probably working very closely with these clients already and hopefully as well as you learning more about them they will also be getting to know you and your capabilities.  In time this will hopefully lead to more new work as the relationship develops.

Two very successful initiatives you should consider to maximise the potential of this actually happening is i) through client nurturing, and ii) through the development of client service plans. Of course, client entertaining and hospitality can also have a very large bearing on winning new work from existing clients, however, as we get busier we can't always rely on wining and dining everyone we do business with. We need proper systems and processes in place to help us stay on top of things.

Client Nurturing

What are we doing to nurture clients? I suppose this very term conjures up all sorts of mental images but if we take a moment and look at our marketing activities how could we nurture our existing clients so that they hear from us on a semi-regular basis in a non-salesy manner?

One great way to do this is through a client newsletter. Email newsletters can be an excellent way to have your name pop up in your clients' mailbox on a regular basis about something other than an assignment or billing. OK, they might not always read it but they will still see your name and at least know you're trying!

If you have any form of content plan for your law firm this will allow you to generate a newsletter very quickly from each of your recent articles. Pull these together into a monthly newsletter and in a few relatively quick steps you now have a newsletter to help nurture your existing clients.

Whilst your newsletter will be low key and non-salesly, this doesn't mean you can't have relevant calls-to-action within it to try and get your existing clients to click on to find out more. In a sense, this is allowing your clients to self-segment themselves as you now know what it is they are interested in and can focus on these areas in the future.

The purpose of Client Nurturing in your law firm should be about trying to stay top of mind with your clients until they are ready to do business. We need to remind ourselves that just because we are out looking to develop new business doesn't mean that our prospects (new clients and existing clients) are ready to do business with us. By developing various measures, such as a client newsletter, to nurture your clients this will help to keep your firm top of mind and let them know that you are there for them when they are ready to do business.

Client Service Plans

Quick question: do you know the top 10%, or even 20%, of clients at your law firm and if you do do you have a Client Service Plan in place to manage all that you do for them? A Client Service Plan shouldn't be a frightening prospect, it should be a simple way to gather as much information into a very short report that can be referred to by your team on a regular basis. 

The type of information you would want to include in your Client Service Plan would be something along the lines of the following suggestions:

  • Your primary contact, plus other important contacts at the firm
  • Work completed in the last 3 years and by whom
  • A list of your team members who help service your clients
  • Rheir Interests, Any Pains / Challenges they currently suffer/ Potential Opportunities in the future
  • List any cross departmental links 
  • Record any hospitality or entertainment in the recent past

This is only a snapshot of the type of information you would want to include in your Client Service Plan. If you are interested I have a pro-forma I use when completing Client Service Plans for my clients. If you would like a copy please feel free to drop me a line and I will email you a copy.

With your Client Service Plan in place you will need to hold regular meetings with you the client service team to review where you are and what you might be able to do to develop your relationship with this client. See your Client Service Plan as a 'living document' and one that you are continually adding to and developing.

Managing your top clients proactively in this way, having a Client Service Plan and holding regular meetings about them, can only be a good thing and will help to drive both client satisfaction and revenue for your practice in the long run.

3.  Referrals

Ask a Lawyer who they refer work to and it’s quite often a short list. Ask them who refers work to their legal practice and quite often the names will be quite different.

For obvious reasons this isn’t sustainable and another reason why you need to record and measure your business development activities.

If you identify a person, or a firm, referring a lot of work to your practice and you in turn are referring to a competitor of theirs without giving anything them back, something needs to change as this is not sustainable in the long run.

There are two important phrases we like to consider whenever we think of referrals, the first is ‘you need to give to get’ and the second one is ‘you need to ask for it if you want it’.

So if you are aware of somebody who has a lot of work that could potentially be referred to your firm think about what you might be able to refer to them, get in touch, meet with them and during the meeting simply ask for it.

4.  New Practice Areas

This is often a difficult element to influence and one that doesn't just happen over night. Introducing a new practice area to your law firm can also involve considerable expense as it is often said that it can take a good ten years for a new practice area to really take hold.

So are there currently any gaps in your proposition which you could plug quite easily, whether this is through existing resource or through  new hire? Obviously, a new area which complements and extends an existing area of expertise is the most logical place to start though make sure you have done your research to make sure there is a market and take soundings from those closest to the area, including potential new clients?

Obviously, the introduction of a new practice area for your law firm isn't a decision to be taken lightly and needs to fit into the overall strategic direction of your practice. You will need to involve and convince senior management that the business case stacks up.

If you are currently thinking about your law firm business development break it down into these four main areas. This will help to reduce the over-whelm you may be feeling about where to start. Next, look at each of these areas and plan your activities for each. Before you know it you will be well on your way to developing a business development plan for your law firm.

The key to success for business development with lawyers isn’t that it is a sole effort by those people who are naturals at it, business development is a team sport and one that needs a proper system and process. Build your law firm business development in this way and you can measure what is working and what isn’t.

Now it is time to stop reading this blog and go out and actually do something, but before you do this we would love to hear from you and find out what is working for your law firm and what isn’t. Feel free to add your comments below and if you would like to find out more about business development in law firms check out our blog "Marketing & Business Development In Law Firms - What's The Difference?".

You might also like to check out our Free Template To Develop A Law Firm Marketing and Business Development Plan to get you on your way or help you manage the ongoing marketing and business development activities at your Law Firm.

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John Hogg Enlighten IC

John Hogg

John is managing director of Enlighten IC and has been involved in legal marketing and technology marketing for over 25 years. He is passionate about how an inbound approach to marketing can help firms to drive leads and grow their business.

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