Do law firms understand the importance of business development, and execute it well?
Here, Neil Quantick gives his view on the good, the bad, and the beautiful!
When I first qualified, I couldn’t quite work out why I was perplexed, but I nonetheless was, with the end of month table banging. “How much have you billed this month” must ring up and down the corridors of many firms?
The reason it perplexed me was that I had always billed everything I could, from the work that I had on. I quickly realised that the reason that it perplexed me was that I wasn’t trained, or encouraged to get out there and help get more work in for the firm. That’s what the table banging is really all about – wanting more out of a team in terms of fee income.
No bad thing
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that’s a bad aspiration for any business! But, in my view, law firms, small and large, fail to engage their teams in what every business should make their priority – putting work on the table. Work is fees, fees are cash, and cash is the lifeblood of every business.
From what I’ve seen over the years, many if not most lawyers see anything but client work as wrong. It’s bizarre. I just can’t get my head around it. It leaves everything to chance, and the last few years have proved just how dangerous that can be to businesses.
Empower your team
So, when we set up Quanticks 5 years ago, we put a simple mantra at the heart of how we intended to run the business – “get work in, do the work well”. It works. And, our team has grown steadily, even through the recession. We’re all focused on making sure we do our bit to bring work in, and once we have, to deliver a service that is as good as we possibly can. Do that, and everything else follows – including fee income! And, it puts a business in charge of its own success. Switching the team’s mindset to “how much new work have I got in this month” (from “how much have I billed”) makes a surprising shift in perceived priorities. And, healthy billing follows as a natural consequence of having secured work. Simples!
In my experience, the marketing efforts of law firms are done with a tick box mentality – “I’ve done some marketing so I’ve done some marketing”. It’s done without any real goal, or any assessment of whether that goal was achieved – ie did it work?!
I love the beautiful simplicity of marketing (so much so I have a degree in it – woo woo!). Marketing/business development is ultimately about putting food on the table – end of! That’s not to say that every marketing activity will achieve that immediately, it won’t. And, you will influence different people in different ways to chose one firm over another. But, we can influence.
Give a reason
Ultimately, in persuading businesses and private individuals to choose us over the next firm, we need to give them a reason. Most marketing academics agree that broadly those reasons will be amongst the broad concepts of PRICE, PRODUCT, and PLACE, and they will be communicated through PROMOTION. Those who don’t understand marketing imagine it (marketing) to be the last one. In fact, all that should be is the communication of the real bits that will (or will not) set us apart from others. It comes back to the tick box mentality I fear. An advert (promotion) is a local magazine is pointless unless it has a purpose, a message, and a likely result. Without that, it’s a waste of money.
Choose your tool carefully
Rightly or wrongly, I firmly believe that good business development starts with the goal. But, all too often it starts the wrong way around. Correct – I want to increase the volume of wills we’re drafting. OK, how are we going to get to people who may want a will? Can we persuade people that don’t even know they need a will that they need a will?! What will motivate them? What might stop them? We need to understand their ‘buttons’ and push them! And, we need to remember that we’re persuading (hopefully) people to choose us over others. So, give them the reason they need to make that choice!
Interestingly, even for a small provincial practice like Quanticks, the reasons people chose us can vary wildly and perhaps do so from one practice area to the next. Clients dealing with our family lawyers are almost always local and value the very hands on personal service offered. Conveyancing seems to be (across the profession) a much more transactional process that increasingly clients are happy to do at arm’s length. And, businesses, of course, will be looking for very different things in the law firm they chose. There are times when size does matter – and its generally where a critical mass of lawyers is needed due to the sheer volume of work that needs to be done.
What is I believe is misunderstood is that size matters to Jo Public. There is undoubtedly an idiotic obsession within the profession that there is a direct link between size, and quality of service/legal advice. Rubbish. The public is far too sophisticated to be blinded by that.