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How Cross-Department Collaboration Can Help Business Development Efforts

By Scott Pacheco posted 10-06-2021 08:26


By Nicole Steckman and Aileen Hinsch, senior managers of business development at Crowell & Moring

The day-to-day routine of many law firm business development professionals includes a barrage of urgent to-dos – RFPs to write, client alerts to publish, competitive intelligence reports to analyze – the list goes on. If we take a step back and look beyond our immediate daily tasks, we can find opportunities to provide broader, more impactful support to enhance our business development efforts. Just as we coach attorneys to look for opportunities to collaborate with peers outside their practice groups, reaching out to departments beyond our own can offer new ways to advance our department's marketing and business development efforts without significantly increasing our workload.

Practice Management. It’s tempting to leave the financials and utilization reports to the practice management team to review, but these reports can provide a wealth of valuable information. As they say, numbers never lie.  

When reviewing revenue numbers, look for trends or patterns. For example, does a client consistently have higher billing numbers early in the year and decline as the year progresses? If so, this might present an opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with your client to learn more about their budget process and expectations. What you learn could lead to a win-win solution, such as an alternative fee arrangement that spreads the work and billing equally over 12 months. This approach also could provide the client and your firm with budget certainty and keep the team actively engaged with the client all year. And, of course, just taking time to listen to your client’s budget needs and expectations builds the relationship and goodwill.

When you notice a downward trajectory in revenue, have a conversation with the key attorneys. Did a major piece of litigation resolve? Was there a change within the in-house department?  If you are not aware of possible explanations, a client service issue that requires attention may go unresolved. Knowing why the numbers have dropped can help you provide the right business development advice to the relationship attorneys and perhaps reverse the trend.

Utilization reports share how utilized, or busy, your attorneys are. By having regular conversations with your practice management team, you can learn which attorneys might benefit from additional support to increase their visibility both inside and outside the firm. This information also provides insight on which attorneys have experience relevant to a proposal or particular client opportunity, but who may not be as visible, and therefore, not necessarily top of mind when putting together a team. 

Professional Development and Training. A fundamental understanding of core business development concepts and best practices fosters greater success for a group’s business development efforts. Of course, creating a training program can be a time-consuming undertaking. This is where your firm’s professional development team can help. 

Oftentimes, business development and professional development teams work on parallel paths, without recognizing how their efforts can easily align. After our professional development team learned about a four-part business development training series we led for our respective practice groups, they asked us to do a similar, one-time session for associates and counsel across the firm. The work we put into developing our original program was easily repurposed into the shorter session, and our professional development team was spared the effort of creating their own program and duplicating efforts. Later in the year, when looking for an engaging program for a practice group retreat, the professional development team came to the rescue. They arranged for a top-notch speaker to present at the retreat, which was a huge time-saver for the business development team.

Diversity and Inclusion. D&I goals often involve raising the profiles of key lawyers and client development initiatives that mirror business development activities. Asking your D&I team to share access to an individual attorney’s D&I goals creates an opportunity for the two departments to work together to help that attorney achieve his/her goals. For example, knowing that a diverse associate has a goal to broaden relationships with specific partners can inform several business development activities. The D&I team can foster introductions. The business development team can pair the associate with the identified partners to collaborate on thought leadership, participate in client service teams, and propose adding the associate to a partner’s team on current and prospective client engagements that align with the associate’s experience, thus providing an opportunity to collaborate.

Additionally, D&I professionals are invaluable when responding to diversity requests from clients. Rather than relying on boilerplate language, ask your D&I team for assistance with crafting diversity language for an RFP. They have the most up-to-date knowledge of the firm’s diversity numbers as well as current programs and professional development efforts.

Legal Project Management. Clients expect efficiency in the delivery of legal services and their expectations have only increased as technology has evolved. Working closely with your legal project management (LPM) team will help you deliver more efficient client service, which in turn helps to maintain and grow client relationships. After a successful proposal, bring in the LPM team to facilitate conversations with the responsible partner and the client. The partner will learn the client’s expectations about the budget and the client will learn from the partner how the case will be handled. Your LPM team often can establish routine reporting that further enhances the client’s experience, including metrics on where the team stands against budget or big picture milestones. 

By looking for opportunities to collaborate with other professionals in your firm, you can add another arrow to your quiver to enhance your practice group’s business development efforts. It also is rewarding to grow your internal network and meet new colleagues.