Practice Development Counsel

Phyllis weiss haserot
Phyllis weiss haserot

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Articles: Strategic Business Development Archives

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Experience Appropriate Marketing

With the need and desire for associates to play an expanding role in marketing, it is time for a more detailed focus on the subject to guide both firms and individual associates to maximize their effectiveness.

For the individual associates on their climb from inexperienced lawyers toward the common goal of partnership and building of their own client base, business development success gives leverage to control their own destiny. It is their ticket not only to substantial contribution to the firm, but also for their future in a profession which no longer offers (automatic) security.Generating a client base and the responsibility of servicing self-generated clients is a key part of maturing as a professional.



There are a number of valuable and feasible actions for associates to perform within the framework of a marketing program. Associates can be directed to:

  • Tactfully probe for problems and additional service needs of current clients with whom they work;
  • Help to determine the firm's public profile and reputation by tuning in to colleagues', clients', and others' perceptions and reporting them back to the firm;
  • Contribute their views on how they would like to see the firm progress in the next ten years, why, and how to get there;
  • Inform the firm members about how their particular individual skills (legal and other) can be used to provide new and better services and market the firm;
  • Contribute to the preparation of written marketing materials;
  • Prepare new business proposals under the supervision of the appropriate partner(s);
  • Make direct contacts and set meetings with their acquaintances to further the marketing objectives of the firm;
  • Keep an ear out for competitive information, and report it back through regular, designated channels (rather than the often self-defeating grapevine).

Associates can provide their own contacts and their own younger, less entrenched perspective on where the need for legal services is developing. They can provide their views, again based on their world and their contacts, on what the firm might do to capitalize on future opportunities, as well as how their own individual skills and talents might best be utilized. Because they recognize that a good part of their future success depends on marketing, associates may be more attuned to developing trends that can lead to new service and product ideas than more senior partners. Because they are still learning so much in order to grow as
attorneys and counselors, they may be more open to exploring new ideas, new techniques and approaches.

Increasing Sophistication

While I have seen young associates in their early years dive in enthusiastically and successfully to participate in business development, it is usually the more senior associates who take on greater responsibilities in the business development process. A reasonable progression for associates in marketing and selling the firm's services follows.

Junior Associates

Junior associates need to focus primarily on learning to be excellent lawyers. Part of that education and professional development is to acquire good client relationship skills and get to know clients assigned increasingly well. “Marketing” at this point is predominantly demonstrating expertise, promptness and reliability to clients and listening for opportunities to expand the range of help provided.

The second role for junior associates is to keep in touch with school classmates and other acquaintances – to maintain and build a network of referral sources and prospects. With work and family time pressures, this often is neglected, but it is vitally important to ultimate business development success.

Beyond existing acquaintances and business contacts, young associates can join trade, professional and community organizations to meet future prospects and referral sources, look for opportunities to demonstrate expertise, and join committees.

As the junior members of a service delivery team and, in some respects, apprentice lawyers in a specialty areas, young associates should welcome opportunities to work with partners on research and ideas for articles for external publications or the firm's website and for speeches to audiences of potential clients.

Middle Level to Senior Associates

All of the above also applies to mid-level and senior associates except that they can make contributions of a higher level. In addition, their contacts will be moving up in seniority and decision-making authority and will be useful for making introductions to decision-makers.

By this time in their careers, the associates will have developed substantial expertise in their areas and probably will have managed entire matters and cases. It is appropriate that they work as a team with partners on business development, help write proposals, and attend new business presentations when their expertise is a key part of the service being sold

Client relationship building becomes a significant part of the associates role at this point. It is crucial to get thoroughly familiar with clients' businesses and needs. As the major “minders” and “grinders” on client matters, associates should expend considerable effort on deepening client relationships. They can be largely responsible for expanding work from clients by the excellence of their client service. They can proactively identify business opportunities with clients or translate needs identified to a larger client base.

Mid to senior level associates would be wise to develop personal marketing plans that help them organize their business development efforts and commit themselves to regular follow up. This is also the time to start building a reputation in the legal community and/or the marketplace both for expertise in a substantive area and as a person who gets things done.

Senior Associates and Counsel

Attorneys at these levels should build on the base described above. At these more senior levels, they can begin to develop their own client base as their contacts assume decision-making positions, including starting their own businesses, or have personal legal needs to fulfill. Attorneys at this level can start peer networks of non-competitive professionals and business people to exchange information and leads and help each other in whatever way to succeed. These activities should continue into partnership status.

From mid-level associate on up, attorneys should participate in business development training courses.

Associate Satisfaction

Just as firms should do regular client satisfaction interviews and, when the unfortunate circumstance occurs, exit interviews if clients leave the firm for representation by another, associates should be treated the same way. Whether or not combined with a performance evaluation meeting, firm management should solicit feedback from associates about their satisfaction with their professional development, support from the firm, communication of expectations from partners and marketing opportunities. Partners will learn a lot and have concrete input to fix problems and make the firm a better place for people at all levels to thrive.

Just as with client interviews, there should be structure to the discussion, focusing on specific points, with the intention to address any problems constructively. It never should be allowed to turn into a gripe session.

Here are some specific thoughts intended to improve firm/associate satisfaction
gathered from partner-track associates.

  • Increase the information associates get about marketing. The power of information should not be held by partners alone, but rather sharing of information all around should be encouraged.
  • Share information with associates on the history of the relationship with a client. As “minders” as well as “grinders,” associates will be able to do a better job servicing the client as well as looking for areas in which to expand the business. Being more fully informed is bound to increase the stake the associate feels in the client relationship.
  • Include associates on marketing or business development committees and on business development teams.
  • Make the teamwork real. Not only work together as a team with each person, partner or associate having a specific role, but also sit down as a team to rehash and make suggestions on areas to improve after the conclusion of every matter.
  • Encourage associates to market, to be developers of new business. This means creating a culture in which associates are given the time to pursue business as long as they make existing client deadlines and assure that the associate-generated clients will be serviced adequately. Training in rainmaking and client service skills will be necessary, whether conducted by partners, a marketing director or an outside consultant. Follow up sessions can be scheduled for coaching particularly marketing-oriented associates to support their involvement in the marketing process. Rather than these talented associates taking clients away as some firms fear, they are likely to feel more loyal and work harder.

Many firms have yet to give their associates sufficient attention as “the future of their firms.” Associate years are significant not only for legal skill development, but also for client relationship skill development. From mid-level through senior associate and counsel status, lawyers need to be sowing the seeds, farming and harvesting, ultimately to produce a steady flow of business.


© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 1998.

This article contains excerpts from the 1998 Supplement to THE RAINMAKING MACHINE. (West Group)

This article appeared in The Legal Intelligencer (A Publication of American Lawyer Media), August 17, 1998.