Gerry Riskin, founder of Edge International, is a Canadian lawyer with a global reputation as an author and pioneer in legal firm economics and marketing. He reveals the most critical business-development mistakes law firms are making today, the most important trends that are shaping the legal marketplace, and how the smartest law firms are responding.

Why business development is a must Law firms are being forced to reimagine their approach to business development. “The equation has shifted. Until recently, law firms had more power than clients. Now clients hold the power. Simply put, law firms are competing in a tougher climate,” explains Gerry.

The most critical legal-marketing mistakes Even firms with the best intentions are susceptible to making common – and often harmful – mistakes in their approach to drumming up more business. In fact, many confuse traditional marketing tactics for business development. They pick up sponsorships, take out advertisements, and produce brochures and folders.

“An aggressive generic marketing campaign is not nearly as effective as meeting with prospective and existing clients,” says Gerry. Complicating matters is the tendency to take a broad-brush approach to developing new business. “Rather than figure out the ideal target client, most law firms blast information about themselves in numerous, random venues,” he continues.

The smartest way for law firms to respond A more strategic, effective approach is to zero in on a precise population – for example, entrepreneurs, firms of certain size, CEOs, a certain industry. In other words, by taking an account-based intelligence approach. “With that focus, firms can aim their marketing at the right audience to build brand recognition. That paves the way for business development efforts,” explains Gerry. Those activities can only occur when lawyers get out of the office for face-to-face meetings, he says.

But, he continues, “It’s a huge mistake to rely on so-called natural rainmakers, who only account for about 10% of the population in most firms. Everyone in the firm should be trained in client relations to ensure the highest success rates and client satisfaction levels.”

How to train for success What does the training look like?

“It’s behavioral modeling, about showing instead of telling. If we want Tiger Woods to help us play better golf, do we read his book or go out on the course with him and get his feedback? Firms should involve the lawyers who excel at business development as role models.”

Gerry recommends firms call upon different rainmakers at different times so as not to distract them too much from their own efforts to attract new business. Firms can further minimize the burden by assigning senior associates or newer partners to handle any preparations and facilitate interactions between the rainmakers and less-experienced lawyers.

He then advises that these successful business developers engage in role-playing sessions with younger lawyers and provide feedback on their approach. He also says they can debrief with less experienced lawyers to discuss how a call or meeting may have been handled differently.

One firm Gerry worked with incentivized its staff to participate in this type of training by offering a first-class trip for the winner and his or her spouse to anywhere of their choosing. Within 18 months, the participants in the training group increased annualized revenue by 55%. Four attorneys won the prize by increasing billings by $500,000 (one of which increased annualized billings by $1 million.

“While not everyone trained in business development will see such tremendous gains, firms can tap into huge revenue potential by embracing this approach,” Gerry concludes.

Find out how one of Canada’s leading law firms is addressing its business-development challenges with CRM automation.