Lawyers “markedly” worse at business development than other professionals

Hands up: only 58% of lawyers who should be doing BD actually are

Law firms are “markedly” worse at business development and client management than other professional services practices, research has found.

The study also revealed that just 58% of lawyers who should be involved in business development at their firms actually are, far lower than accountancy, engineering and property professionals.

The survey by business development specialist PACE Partners, which looked at what processes were in place and how effective they were across the four disciplines, said that just a fifth of those lawyers who were supposed to be involved in business development were perceived as either good or excellent at it, compared to half of accountants.

Although law firms considered business development to be very important, their performance was lower than all other disciplines. For example, while 80% of fee-earners at law firms were meant to be involved in business development, PACE discovered that just 46% of them are. Key client management was seen by lawyers as a particular weakness, although they thought their strengths included targeting and developing new clients, client service/client care processes, and bid/proposal processes.

The survey found that lawyers considered aligning business development with reward and recognition to be far more important than the other disciplines. “This suggests that incongruent recognition and reward systems are, or would be, much higher barriers to the introduction of good business development processes than elsewhere,” it said.

PACE founder Paul Denvir, author of the report, said he was not surprised by the results: “Law firms started focusing on their business development only relatively recently and have spent far less time doing it than other businesses.” He indentified “a greater sense of individuality” among fee-earners as a particular problem for law firms.

Mr Denvir said that businesses generally improved by focusing their efforts into managing business development and supporting the individual. He added that word of mouth and the help of partners and peers were also necessary to help a firm evolve.

The research found that firms which have implemented business development processes describe “significant benefits”. But in order to do so, firms have had to overcome a range of barriers, including unwillingness to change, complex structures with a number of disparate practice areas, lack of time and other resources, lack of strong management and leadership, and a lack of skills in fee-earners and/or the business development team.

It added: “The experience of the respondents makes it clear that the secrets of success in overcoming these barriers include strong, supportive, committed leadership by senior management, a small number of influential champions, robust leadership of the implementation of the new processes, a focus on maintaining momentum and commitment, strong leadership of and by the BD team and training. Interestingly five of those six ‘secrets of success’ involve leadership.”

    Readers Comments

  • “Why should I bust a gut, I’m not a legal partner
    so I ain’t gonna earn more out of doing this!”

    That’s something you hear in all firms.

    It made me think of the “up or out” system within law firms.

    If you are good enough you make partner and share in the success.

    If not, you’re part of the “rest”.

    At least that’s how it seems to many people that work as lawyers.

    If there’s a “them and us” culture in your firm it means that people are not co-operating.

    It’s more likely that they are competing.

    Many people assume wrongly that competition brings out the best in people.

    And the Darwinian “survival of the fittest” is often
    used as a scientific justification of this type of approach.

    But does competition really help your law firm internally?

    When someone wins – someone loses. And 99% of people have been taught they
    if they are not winners they are losers.

    And if you lose how does it affect you and your staff?

    If the answer is negatively then you are duty bound to find an alternative.

    And that is co-operation. Co-operation is win/win.
    It’s coaching staff so that you can transfer knowledge

    It’s finding best practise and disseminating it,

    It’s scheduling work so that everyone gets interesting things to work on.

    It’s not having favourites

    It’s saying someone is different not better,

    It’s helping not hindering.

    Think about how Amazon allows co-operation between store owners and buyers.

    Or how Linux allows programmers to co-operate on open source software.

    Or how Betfair lets punters bet against each other.

    There’s an old football saying that there is no i in team.

    So if you aren’t referring internally, working with business as partners
    or simply taking the time to help each other then you are probably over-competing.

    Try a bit of un-learning.

    Try a bit more co-operation in your law firm.

    Put on your next management meeting the words.
    How Can We Co-operate More In Our Firm
    And Externally With Partners To Make Our Business Win Win?

    And make sure you invite all staff to contribute with
    their ideas as to how you can market your solicitors firm better.

    PS It is not the case that Darwin coined the term “survival of the fittest”.
    When you think about it, his theories demonstrated that by co-operating
    in distinct niches animals had the best chance of surviving.
    It was the exploitation of these niches that was observed.

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