A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Collegiate culture: the Holy Grail for effective law firm cross-selling

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

By Alistair Marshall, Partner, Julian Midwinter & Associates

Throughout my nearly 30-year career in business development, it’s been undisputed that it is far easier (and much, much cheaper) to get revenue from clients who already know, like and trust you, than from strangers.

Cross-selling your services has a low cost of acquisition, and can deliver high returns. So why is it that only 20% of law firms track this key activity? This is what JMA’s recent research with ALPMA into referrals and cross selling revealed.

Firms have many opportunities to pick this low hanging fruit, but cross-selling remains a very under-used tactic to generate new business. Few law firms service clients across more than two practice areas, our research shows, so the potential for growth is huge.

Cross-selling is done, first and foremost, for the benefit of the client and therefore forms an integral part of your overall client service experience. It might be more helpful to think of it as “cross-serving”, and will no doubt require a cultural shift in some firms, and a mind-set shift for many lawyers.

Start with this in mind: your motivation should be the desire to make the life of your firm’s client easier. This will require a deep understanding of the client’s needs and wants, current challenges, objectives, long-term drivers and so on. And also your colleagues, how is what you offer of benefit to them and their clients? What problems can you help them solve?

Cross-serving is also about ring-fencing your valuable client relationships. If there are gaps in your firm’s service offerings, then your competitors will not be slow to take advantage.

I hear lawyers make excuses all the time about why they can’t – or don’t want to – cross-sell. If you can overcome the two biggest excuses, your firm will be well on the way to reaching the Holy Grail for law firm cross-selling: a collegiate culture.

Overcoming the two big excuses

Big Excuse 1: “But what’s in it for me?”

This year’s research showed that less than a third (28%) of firms reward or formally recognise lawyers for generating business via cross-selling.

Lawyers solely rewarded on their own billable hours have no incentive to cross-sell others’ capabilities, or indeed carry out any activity that is for the long-term health of the firm. Introduce reward programs to incentivise your team members and foster a collegiate culture.

Discussions around sharing “your” client with another colleague can be uncomfortable, and was identified as a barrier by research respondents who noted there tends to be a culture that the lawyer – not the firm – “owns” the client. As well as incentivising lawyers, make sure that senior lawyers are setting strong examples and acting as role models for positive behaviours by introducing their colleagues into their client relationships. Cultural change must start from the top.

Big Excuse 2: “I don’t know what my colleagues actually do”

Many lawyers in mid-sized firms have no idea who their colleagues represent, the types of legal issues they solve for them, or what types of trigger events represent a cross-selling opportunity. Practice groups often operate in silos, and there is no cross-pollination of ideas and knowledge.

One survey respondent lamented that “after a PI settlement, our client used the money to purchase a house, but didn’t use us because they didn’t realise we do conveyancing.” This is a real lost opportunity, and it could easily have been avoided in firm with a collegiate culture where these types of openings to do more for clients are not missed, but harnessed to the benefit of all as it is so obvious.

Build opportunities for lawyers to learn more about the wider firm through initiatives such as internal networking events, communicating key client wins and deals across the firm, and making cross-selling opportunities a fixed item on management and team meetings.

Organise inter-practice group meetings or informal lunches for team members to discuss who their top clients are, the types of legal work they may need, and who else from the client base they would welcome an introduction to. Many monthly partners meetings go for hours without ever having these critical discussions.

What now?

There are, of course, other barriers and challenges to improving cross-selling in your firm, a great place to start is reading the research report available for download here.

The report will help you benchmark your firm’s efforts and see what the most popular and effective cross-selling (and referral) techniques are in practice.

Another of my tips is to review the report’s comment pages – respondents share some simple and effective ideas on incentives and overcoming excuses that might be right for your firm to implement.

Editor's Note

JMA research downloadIf you want to learn more about how to generate more revenue from referrals and cross-selling at your firm, then register for the research webinar on Monday 28 November at 1pm (AEDST), where guest blogger Alistair Marshall, will discuss the most fruitful areas for firms to concentrate their referral and cross-selling efforts on and share ideas and practical tips to help you get positive behaviour change and results for your firm. Register now

You can also download the ALPMA/JMA 'Referrals and Cross-Selling in Practice' research report, read the media release and check out the  infographics summarising the results. 

About our Guest Blogger

Alistair Marshall
Alistair Marshall is a business development veteran with three decades experience in UK, Europe and since 2014 Australasia. He leads Julian Midwinter & Associates business development coaching and training practice and was ALPMA’s speaker of the year in 2015.

ALPMA and Julian Midwinter & Associates have conducted annual research benchmarking marketing and business development at Australasian law firms for the past three years. 

How to make your firm referral-worthy

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

By Amy Burton-Bradley, Partner, Julian Midwinter & Associates 

The results of ALPMA and Julian Midwinter & Associates’ marketing and business development research over the last two years are clear: the most successful and profitable law firms benefit hugely from referrals (both from individuals external to their firm, and from internal referrals or cross-selling that occurs in-firm).

Last year, 70% of respondents rated their referral relationships or networks as “highly effective” and the number one way their firm sourced new business.

JMA research

However, there’s a big difference between hoping to get some referrals and strategically planning and cultivating a successful referral program as part of a business development culture within your firm.

It’s helpful to remember of some of the referral fundamentals to stay on track.

Who do prospective clients turn to for referrals to legal services?

In the business world, referrals are typically obtained by prospective clients asking:

  • colleagues in their own firm (i.e. cross-referrals)
  • past colleagues, now in-house at other companies or firms
  • respected industry sources
  • indirect competitors considered to be at the leading edge
  • other legal experts.

And in the consumer-facing side of legal work, prospective clients mostly ask these trusted sources to recommend a lawyer:

  • family and friends
  • community sources (sporting groups, hairdressers, church parishioners)
  • other professional advisers (financial planners, accountants, doctors)
  • other service providers (mortgage brokers, real estate agents).

Understanding the 3 drivers of referrals

What causes a colleague, family member, industry contact, professional or competitor to make a referral to law firms?

In general, referrals to lawyers are driven by three factors (sometimes individually, but usually with elements of each co-mingling or overlapping in the mind of the referrer):

  • Direct experience of your firm’s superior service, and stand-out results or outcomes achieved by your lawyers.
  • Lawyers’ expertise in an industry or specialist field, when your lawyers have strong positions as credible and visible experts.
  • Firm reputation, standing, and profile – especially if it is strong in a narrow sphere or a distinct specialty.

How does your firm and lawyers’ appeal measure up against each of the three drivers? Are you strong in all three, or is one (or more) of those areas not as positive as it could be in the minds of referral sources?

Perhaps your lawyers’ service one-on-one to clients is amazing, but is not backed up by a professional and modern online web presence, so you do not amplifying your reputation beyond the immediate client interaction. How many referred prospects do you lose when they look at your website?

Or maybe your firm has been making great use of social media and a new website to amp up positive perceptions, but your processes and service style once a client is on board is resulting in client dissatisfaction. News of that negative experience may be shared with the original referral source.

Perhaps your firm is viewed within the wider legal profession as a ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’, making it difficult for potential referrers to define exactly what sort of work you do and how you could help. Referring a personal contact to your firm for complex or high-value work may be considered too risky, even if they regard you highly personally.

The number one way of propelling valuable referrals to your firm is to be worth referring to in the first place –appealing strongly across all three drivers is the winning trifecta.


What about when referrals stop?

It’s important to bear in mind that from most sources, referrals are intermittent – they ebb and flow with the cycle of business, busy-ness, and contact. But sometimes referrals slow down or, worse, stop completely and you are left wondering why.

Here are some of the most common reasons that referrals slow down, and what you can do in response:

  • You haven't acknowledged a referral. Don't expect another referral if you haven't shown your appreciation for the last.
  • You haven't kept the referrer in touch with what's going on. To feel completely comfortable, make sure they know how things are going.
  • You haven't given a referral the right treatment. Referrers put their reputations on the line – treat every referred client as a VIP.
  • You haven't reciprocated with a referral when you can. The most tangible sign of appreciation is to cross-refer a client, if you can.
  • Your referrer just doesn't have anything to refer right now. Any referral source, active or not, needs to be part of your "keep in touch" program, so they feel valued and appreciated. All the time. Not just when the referrals are flowing.
  • Your referrer has started referring elsewhere. Maybe someone else has earned share of mind, so you need to focus back on three drivers of referrals.

Think about these possibilities, explore these issues, and take corrective action to leverage all the possible referrals you can from valued sources.

Editor’s Note

Want to learn more about growing your firm through referrals? Participate now in the 2016 ALPMA/JMA Research “Referrals & Cross Selling In Practice”. The results of this study will help your firm understand what is 'best practice' for generating business from referrals and cross-selling, how your firm's referrals and cross-selling program compares to similar firms and opportunities to improve your program and generate additional revenue.

This research is now open for all Australasian law firms and participants will receive a complimentary copy of the research results. Complete the survey now!

About our Guest Blogger

Amy Burton-Bradley
Amy Burton-Bradley is an experienced business developer, marketer, and copy-writer who has worked with more law firms than she cares to remember! She is a Partner and Consulting Director at Julian Midwinter & Associates, a business development consultancy whose team has helped law firms attract, win, grow, and retain new clients and business since 1993.

Converting prospects to clients

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

By Amy Burton-Bradley, Partner at Julian Midwinter & Associates

In our joint 2015 research with ALPMA into Winning Work in a Digital World, we found referral networks were the biggest single source of new business enquiries (or leads) for Australasian law firms overall, selected by 43% of respondents, followed by word-of mouth/personal relationships (39%).

Generating new business leads is one thing; it’s quite another to convert that lead into an actual paying client. Although nearly a third of respondents (31%) reported their firm was highly effective at converting enquiries into paid work, the majority (57%) rated their firm as only somewhat effective at this. 


How to take advantage of referrals and word-of-mouth

As our survey results showed, many of your best business opportunities come from referrals or word-of-mouth (WOM). If you think back over your best clients, chances are that positive WOM put you in the frame.

When clients actively shop for a new expert professional, their usual first step will be to ask around among colleagues and contacts. Even for those who instantly Google search or LinkedIn stalk, there's still a high propensity to check out professional reputation with a trusted source via WOM. And for clients who embark on organised and formal selection processes, WOM is still a factor – many tender requests will ask for client referees.

Whatever the route that has brought a prospect to you, chances are that WOM will have at least some impact on that person’s buying decision.

How can you take advantage of this? 

Take a few moments to think about who in your circle are strong business influencers – perhaps consultants, investment bankers, industry analysts, clients (current, past or prospective). And for consumer facing law firms who are the connected influencers in your local community doctors, real estate agents, councillors, hairdressers? 
“WOM evangelists” will normally be active in their industry and professional circles or community and social spheres, and regarded as authorities in their fields. Think of them as your WOM salesforce. They will be in touch with scores of people of interest to you. Let them know you'd like to be in touch with those same people.

Your WOM salesforce will already be telling their contacts about you and what you do, so make sure they have current material on hand. Update them with information of value and interest to their contacts. Share and interact with them on social media. They'll pay attention to press coverage you receive, professional accolades, and other recognition – as long as you draw their attention to it. 
They will guard their status as trustworthy sources of information and recommendations to those in their circle. Do the right thing, and give them 100% correct information, pay warm and courteous attention to their referrals, treat their leads as important and do your best work for them. Most importantly, thank them when a referral comes your way. Depending on the size of the job, send an appropriate gift or acknowledgement of their contribution to your business.

If an opportunity or prospective client is to be converted into a new client, if a potential project is to be converted into an actual matter, it will involve some selling.

The sales process for lawyers goes something like this...

Sales is the process of converting a potential business opportunity into actual business, a prospective client into an actual client, possible work into actual matters.

No matter how good your WOM salesforce, it is ultimately you – the lawyer – who must show the prospect how you can add value and solve their problem. Today, personal marketing skills are a natural extension of delivering high quality legal service.

Identifying opportunities comes naturally to some, but with coaching, almost every professional can identify business opportunities and start business development conversations.

Techniques to establish credibility, like using the right terminology and looking and behaving like a clear and comfortable fit with the prospect, can be learned and developed through training and practice, practice, practice!

Skills in building consensus can also be developed, and are useful for establishing rapport around shared experience and shared values.

As we covered in our December webinar, an effective questioning technique is another useful skillset for lawyers. Combined with active listening, effective questioning is important to gain a proper understanding what potential clients are looking for, and is invaluable when it comes to scoping work and managing expectations. Harness your analytical skills to define the problem, and demonstrate how you will use your professional capabilities to satisfy client needs.

Sales success means converting those great opportunities generated through your networking and WOM referrals, into clients, and having a healthy, thriving workplace which can provide professionals reward, enjoyment, and recognition.

Are all prospects good prospects?

You can easily get swept up in the giddy whirlwind of what initially might seem a sure-thing prospect, perhaps referred by one of your WOM evangelists. This person or opportunity may be one of those nice, friendly “bottomless pits” which always feels like just a step or two away from converting into a client.

When you’ve invested lots of time, effort, energy, and money in a prospective client, it can be difficult to say “enough – time to call a halt”. Maybe just one more meeting, another lunch, a couple more invitations, the passage of a little more time, will be all it takes. But too often, these perennially luke-warm opportunities distract you from looking for better-fit prospects, and making headway with well-qualified opportunities.

Put each long-term prospect to these tests:

  • What have been obstacles to getting work from this source until now?

  • Have any of these obstacles shifted recently?

  • Does this person or organisation have what it takes – authority, budget, energy, inclination, motivation – to shift their work? 

  • If they do move the work, what’s the probability that it will be yours?

  • Has the prospective client invested real effort and resources in developing a professional relationship with you? Or have they just come along for the ride? 

  • What stands in your way of getting the business right now?

  • What difference will one more lunch/meeting/activity make?

Unless you get the right signals, call a halt.

That doesn’t mean that you never again waste a thought on them. Rather, restrict business development efforts in that direction to very low effort, background business development touch points to keep them in your circles – add them to the contact list for your blog, interact on LinkedIn, follow their Twitter account.

By dropping these perennial prospects who never quite morph into clients, you’ll be a whole lot more likely to put your business development energy and resource where it will produce results.

About our Guest Blogger

Amy Burton-Bradley
Amy Burton-Bradley is an experienced business developer, marketer, and copy-writer, who has worked with more law firm clients than she cares to remember!

She is a partner at Julian Midwinter & Associates, a business development consultancy that has helped law firms attract, win, grow, and retain new clients and business since 1993.

The 2015 Marketing and Business Development Report Card for Australasian Law Firms

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

By Amy Burton-Bradley, Partner at Julian Midwinter & Associates

Click here to download research

The newly-released 2015 ALPMA/JMA Winning Work in a Digital World research reveals that not a lot has changed for firms on the marketing and BD front since our 2014 study.

Firms are still grappling with the same big external and internal challenges:
  • competition for clients in a mature and saturated market – rated the single biggest challenge (21% of respondents)
  • firm differentiation (17%)
  • finding new sources of work (16%)
  • keeping up with online, digital, and social media (11%).
When asked about other challenges their firm faces, respondents reported a mix of internal issues around culture, strategy, and lack of resources, as well as external factors.

So where should firms focus to meet these challenges and thrive in a digital world?

Firm report card

The 2015 Marketing & Business Development Report Card for Australasian Law Firms (below), based on research results, highlights several critical success areas firms can focus on to improve results - and I have put together an action plan and some homework to help you address these issues at your firm.

1. Translate aspiration into action

“The major challenge is getting it all humming along in one meaningful, strategic direction. Saying no. Not being waylaid by Partner demands. Having enough hands on deck.” 

With competition for new work fierce in a mature and saturated legal market, it’s reassuring that 84% of respondents say marketing and BD is important to their firm. However, only 50% of firms have an overarching marketing and BD plan and only 32% agree their firm is strategic and disciplined in its approach to marketing and BD activities.

“[Our challenge is] coming up with a firm strategy and ensuring we adhere to it.”


Firms need to develop – and communicate – a clear marketing and BD plan. Communicating the plan will help with staff engagement and motivation. Remember to monitor the plan for effectiveness, and don’t be afraid to stop activities that are not working. For some simple tips on getting a plan together and sticking to it, click here.

2. Capitalise on client satisfaction

Clearly, a law firm can’t exist without clients, so it is encouraging that 77% of respondents agree their firm is focussed on client satisfaction. However, 64% do not obtain client satisfaction feedback in any systematic or formal way. 
This is a huge missed opportunity for firms. Collecting client data through a formal process can help you to:
  • keep your clients happy and make them feel special by asking for their opinion and feedback
  • give clients what they actually value (hint: it’s unlikely to be a 'latest news' section on your website)
  • head-off any grumbles before they become serious issues (like a bill dispute)
  • uncover what your clients’ changing needs are – giving you opportunities to design new services or refine your offerings
  • reward your lawyers and staff for a job well done, and to performance manage others
  • promote your firm using client data statistics and evaluations.


Set up a simple client feedback survey to ask your clients what they want and value. With a regular process in place, not only will you improve your attractiveness as provider of legal services, but you may also see improvements in client retention and satisfaction over time.  Learn more about the benefits of measuring client satisfaction. 

3. Win with in-person activities

Firms rated face-to-face marketing and BD activities as the most effective for generating new business enquiries. Research results showed that the top three most effective activities are: referral networks; events (such as seminars hosted by your firm); and client relationship management programs.

Strikingly, though, 56% of firms do not train their lawyers in critical marketing and BD skills, and we can see in the report card that more than half of firms do not have individual marketing and BD plans for their lawyers. As one respondent noted, their firm tends to rely on ‘passive’ marketing and BD activities, like referrals, to generate new business; ‘our staff are not comfortable with actively trying to market the business in more direct ways.’


Some ideas for developing younger lawyers’ skills and confidence include offering partner mentoring and opportunities to accompany partners to client meetings; encouraging attendance at client social and networking events; or engaging external BD coaches. Download JMA’s simple 10 minutes a day BD plan for lawyers (PDF) to help you get started.

4. Do more with digital

While a few firms indicate they do not use social media yet (‘fear of the unknown’), it is positive to learn 58% of respondents agree that their firm is prepared to be innovative and adopt new approaches to marketing and BD. 
The most popular activities firms are hoping to try in the coming 12 months include:
  • making use, or better use, of social media
  • upgrading website features and content
  • increasing client-focussed activities 
  • producing online video content. 
With few firms doing digital really well, there’s real scope for firms to extend their online presence and make smarter use of digital tools to differentiate and amplify messages in support of their in-person activities. Nearly all firms surveyed have a website, but only 13% of respondents rated their firm’s website as highly effective.


You can’t afford to ignore it any longer: 2015 is a digital world, and you must engage with it. Figure out where your audiences are, and investigate the right platforms and content to deploy in the battle to win new clients and more work in a digital world.  If you’re not sure where to start, our earlier blog post will give you some ideas.

You should also download the 2015 ALPMA/JMA Winning Work in A Digital World research report for free to see how your firm's approach to marketing and business development compares to other law firms in the competition for new business. 

Editor's note 

Interested readers can also register to attend for the Winning Work in a Digital World webinar on Tuesday 8  December at 1pm (AEDST), where Alistair Marshall, Julian Midwinter and Associates' resident business development expert, will talk more about the most fruitful areas for firms to concentrate their marketing and BD efforts on and share ideas and practical tips to help you get positive behavior change and results for your firm.  Register now.

If you have a particular question you would like addressed at the webinar, you can submit your question here, and we will endeavour to answer as many as possible.

About our Guest Blogger

Amy Burton-Bradley
Amy Burton-Bradley is an experienced business developer, marketer, and copy-writer, who has worked with more law firm clients than she cares to remember!

She is a partner at Julian Midwinter & Associates, a business development consultancy that has helped law firms attract, win, grow, and retain new clients and business since 1993.

Australasian law firms: Positioned to win in a digital world?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

By Amy Burton-Bradley, Partner, Julian Midwinter & Associates

As highlighted in LexisNexis’ recent study with ALPMA, Preparing Australasian Law for a Digital, Divergent, Differentiated Future, the perennial challenge for any law firm is finding new clients and unlocking more business from existing clients.  After all, without clients, a law firm won’t survive – no matter how proficient their lawyers are.

Is your firm lagging behind in online, digital and social media?

Many of the 'younger' clients with whom firms deal (and who are moving up in the ranks of decision-making) have never been without the internet or email. Think about that for a moment. 

With smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices rapidly overtaking desktop PCs and laptops as the primary way the internet is accessed, digital, social and mobile is less a trend than a way of life. Australian smartphone penetration is almost 90%, according to the latest Australian Mobile Phone Lifestyle Index findings.

But are law firms keeping up at a basic level? And how many are making the most of these new tools at a sophisticated level (e.g. developing their own apps)?

Firms will hopefully have addressed issues stemming from Google’s mobile search ranking changes earlier this year, and many firms expect to significantly ramp up their online presence through social media and digital lead generation strategies in the near future.  

For those firms that are not sure where to start, or who are not sure what to do next, I offer some advice and tips:

Where to start: your firm’s position and your website

If your firm is about to spend precious dollars, time, and effort attracting and enticing prospective clients and referral sources through social media, RSS feeds, blog and LinkedIn posts, I recommend you think before you Tweet!

I can’t stress enough the singular importance of housekeeping:  define your firm’s position first, then get your firm website in order, and only then consider expanding your online presence. 

Your website needs to be ready as an appealing landing place for visitors, whether they reach it through your social media channels, email campaigns, or traditional, “off-line” marketing.

Is your website positioned with a clearly articulated overarching value proposition?

This really has to be the first thing to focus on – I see far too many law firms without a clearly articulated position (see my article, Position your firm or die!). 

Beyond a clear position, your website needs to be able to answer the following questions for visitors: 

  • Who are you? 
  • What do you do? 
  • Can you solve my problem? 
Your content should be framed to respond to the way people search for and then absorb information.  That is, content should be rich with key words, terms, answers, and useful information helpful to prospective clients, referrers, and advocates.

The structure and presentation of your content is also crucial. Make sure your website pages are easy for users to discover (and easy for search bots to follow), with relevant page titles, headings and subheadings, and meta descriptions.

You might be an expert in section x of the Trade Practices Act, but is a non-lawyer likely to Google that precise term? Might they not instead search for “consumer law”, or “regulator problem”, or “trade practices legal problem”?

To see how effective your current website is, try Hubspot’s free website grader tool.  It will assess the crucial indicators of performance, mobile responsiveness, and security, and show you where you need to improve. 
If you score poorly, this assessment can be a great starting point to work through with your current website developer.

And if you conclude that visitors will arrive at your website and hit a dead end, it’s time for a content overhaul.

Expand your presence with social media

Once you’re confident that your firm’s website is up to scratch, you can start to develop your online presence through social media channels like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. These channels should ultimately lead visitors back to your website.

Don’t be tempted to rush in to social media by the relative ease and speed at which you can publish content. Firms should be aware of the risks of “digital sharecropping” – that is, publishing your content on sites that you don’t own (such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+). 

Your content is essentially owned by the platform, and not only are you subject to their guidelines and restrictions on what and how you can publish, but also you risk losing all of your content should the site disappear.

As Copyblogger advises, “spend most of your time and creative energy building assets that you control”. This is your firm website.

Editor's Note

In conjunction with ALPMA, Julian Midwinter & Associates is excited to kick-off  Winning work in a digital world, our second benchmarking study into Australasian law firms’ marketing and business development. 

The study will focus on how law firms are responding to their biggest challenges: acquisition of new clients and business; differentiation in a crowded market; and use of online, digital, and social media.

The online survey is open to all Australasian law firms until 6 October, 2015.  Participation is free, and all participants will receive a complimentary copy of the research results report.   The survey will take approximately 15 minutes to complete.  All information collected will remain strictly confidential and will be used for research purposes only.  No individual firms will be identified in any way.

Two lucky participants will also win a marketing and BD Benchmark Briefing session for their firm, facilitated by a consultant from Julian Midwinter & Associates (valued at $850).  

About our Guest Blogger

Amy Burton-Bradley is an experienced business developer, marketer, and copy-writer, who has worked with more law firm clients than she cares to remember! 

She is a Partner at Julian Midwinter & Associates, a business development consultancy that has helped law firms attract, win, grow, and retain new clients and business since 1993.

Seven marketing and business development musts for law firm prosperity in 2015

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

by Amy Burton-Bradley, Partner, Julian Midwinter & Associates

Our recent Taking the Pulse research with ALPMA found firms with “well-developed” or “sophisticated” marketing and BD functions firms were generally more successful and had a better financial outlook (51% reported fee revenues of $10M + a year, and 43% expected more than 10% revenue growth) than firms with less sophisticated, or “under-developed” marketing and business development (BD) functions.

In this post, we highlight the seven key BD and marketing characteristics of prosperous – i.e. “sophisticated” – law firms that you can start implementing in your own firm, regardless of whether you’re a small or large firm, or possess a small or unlimited budget.

Sophisticated and successful law firms...

1. Have an overarching marketing and business development plan 

88% of “sophisticated” firms surveyed had a marketing and BD plan in place, and 71% reported this plan was also tied to their firm’s wider strategic plan. By contrast, 69% of firms with an “under-developed” marketing and BD function did not have a plan at all.  

Takeaway:  It doesn’t need to be fancy or complicated, but you must have a plan.  Agreeing and documenting firm goals and how you will reach them can have a positive impact on how your firm develops business this year.

2. Have separate marketing and BD strategies for individual practice groups

Sophisticated firms were more likely to have separate marketing and BD strategies in place for individual practice groups (where relevant): 82% of respondents indicated their firms have strategies for some or all practice groups. A mere 30% of under-developed firms had strategies in place for some or all practice groups.  

: If your firm has multiple specialities with different target markets, you will need to develop separate plans for each practice group to support their growth and success – in addition to the firm-wide plan.

3. Measure the overall effectiveness of marketing and business development activities

97% of sophisticated firms measured the effectiveness of their activities – either all activities (54%) or some activities (43%).  Close to half of under-developed firms did not measure the effectiveness of their activities at all.

Under-developed firms who measured their marketing and BD activities tended to rely on traditional, quantitative measures (such as billings and number of new clients) and informal feedback, whereas sophisticated firms used a combination of qualitative and quantitative measures.

Takeaway: What gets monitored and measured gets done.  It is easy to fall into the trap of measuring only fees, and though fees are important (and easy to interpret), fee revenue alone is a narrow and "rear-view mirror" look at overall business health. 

Measure other success indicators (eg client satisfaction feedback and ratings) and you will get a very different – and better – business. 

4. Have individual marketing and BD targets/KPI's for their lawyers

60% of respondents from sophisticated firms reported that some or all lawyers have individual marketing and BD targets or KPIs.  Nearly 80% of under-developed firms reported there were no targets or KPIs for lawyers’ marketing and BD efforts.  

Takeaway:  If you want more of a particular behaviour or contribution from lawyers, make sure you notice it, then recognise and reward it.

5. Provide marketing and BD skills training for their lawyers

97% of firms indicated their firm’s growth strategy relies on the effectiveness of individual lawyers’ marketing and BD activities.   

But while nearly all respondents across the board recognised the importance of lawyers’ contribution to marketing and BD, only sophisticated firms really provided marketing and BD skills training for lawyers (71% of sophisticated firms).  Fewer than a third of under-developed firms invested in marketing and BD skills training for their professionals (29%).  

Takeaway: In the current marketplace, technical skills and experience alone are insufficient for lasting success – fee-earners working in professional services must also be credible, persuasive and effective business developers.  If your team struggles, invest in training.

6. Have a person or group dedicated to marketing and BD

Sophisticated firms were much more likely to have a person or group dedicated to marketing and BD than other firms. 86% of respondents from sophisticated firms said they had someone dedicated to marketing and BD, compared with only 31% of under-developed firms. 

Takeaway:  While business development is everybody’s business, it can certainly increase the impact if you have an experienced, full time resource supporting your lawyers. 

7. Communicate financial performance results to lawyers and staff 

And finally, sophisticated firms were more likely to communicate financial performance results to lawyers and staff (69% of sophisticated firms, compared with 38% of under-developed firms).  

Takeaway: Sharing results helps lawyers and staff understand the connection between their individual efforts and the overall goals of the firm.

Take heart: much of this can be fixed from the inside out!

As ALPMA President, Andrew Barnes noted, “

The fact that most barriers to improved effectiveness are internal (rather than external) is actually good news.  It means that the power to change lies directly within the control of most law firms - provided they choose to make this a strategic priority for the firm and invest the required resources accordingly.”

Quick marketing and BD success checklist

  • Plan it and communicate it;
  •  Measure more than just billings, and keep individual lawyers accountable
  •  Invest in your people (lawyers, and marketing and BD resources)
  •  Share and communicate successes with your teams so they understand and feel part of “the big picture”.

Editor's Note

Readers interested in learning more about the ALPMA/JMA Research can download a free copy of the report "Taking the Pulse on Business Development & Marketing at Australasian Law Firms".  You can also watch the webinar discussing the results findings and providing additional advice to law firms on-demand from the ALPMA On-Demand Learning Centre, free for ALPMA members or $99 for non-members.

About our Guest Blogger

Amy Burton-Bradley
Amy Burton-Bradley is a Partner with Julian Midwinter & Associates. Before making the move to consulting Amy worked in-house for two Australian law firms in rewarding but sometimes frustrating business development and marketing roles.  

Julian Midwinter & Associates has helped Australian and New Zealand lawyers attract, win, grow and retain desirable clients for 20 years through winning tenders and proposals, upskilling and coaching, and implementing achievable strategy.

Firms reveal their business development and marketing successes… and failures

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

By Amy Burton-Bradley, Partner, Julian Midwinter & Associates

Link to research page

Sneak peek of the ALPMA & Julian Midwinter & Associates 'Taking the Pulse' business development and marketing at law firms benchmarking study findings

One of my favourite things with research is drawing insights from open-ended responses.  And with the inaugural ALPMA/JMA 'Taking the Pulse' benchmarking study of marketing and business development at law firms, receiving 151 completed responses from law firms in Australia, New Zealand and even Fiji, we have an excellent sample size for analysis.  

Whilst hard data is great (and necessary with benchmarking), it’s the many qualitative top-of-mind comments that help colour the picture of the state of business development and marketing in law firms. 

We were very interested (and no doubt you will be too) in commentary firms offered on their most successful and least successful business development and marketing initiatives.  So read on for a sneak peek in advance of the formal report on results.  

Most unsuccessful initiatives

Advertising – hasn't worked for many

Many firms nominated advertising as their least successful activity.  Interestingly, nearly 40% of firms identified advertising as one of the five activities on which they spent most money.  

Firms’ unsuccessful advertising spanned all media: radio, print (newspapers and magazines), online and social media, and outdoor placements (including bus signage).  Firms stated these campaigns weren’t effective in generating new instructions, and that results of advertising were difficult to measure.

Of the tiny handful of firms that stated advertising had worked for them, Yellow Pages was considered a fruitful exercise, and one respondent noted local radio advertising had been their most successful initiative.

Overall, when it comes to a lack of success with advertising, we concur with one participant’s comment that advertising can be “impersonal, scattergun”.

JMA’s stance is that advertising can work if targeted correctly to reach the right market.  Good advertising sends exactly the right messages to the right audience at times you choose, to change attitudes and/or buying behaviour.  

But as the comments bear out, it’s incredibly hard to do well.  

As John Wanamaker said, "half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half." 

Sponsorships – money pit!

Just under a quarter of firms identified sponsorships (either business or sporting and socially-orientated) in their top five business development and marketing dollar investments.  

A similar number of firms expect to continue investing in sponsorships in future despite, as with advertising, being cited among their least successful initiatives.  

Respondents identified the lack of measurable return-on-investment and decision-making applied to sponsorship opportunities as problematic.  

What’s going on then?

In some cases, we suspect sponsorship is a “legacy issue” - one commenter noted their firm invested in “sponsorship of the same industry events just because’ we've done it every year”.

However, one firm stated “high profile sponsorship of sports and business awards” had been their firm’s most successful initiative.

Our view is that, like advertising, it’s more about choosing the right firm sponsorship opportunity to reach relevant targets, rather than sponsorship itself being the problem.

When it comes to evaluating sponsorship opportunities key questions to ask include: “Does this sponsorship help us build stronger relationships with our ‘ideal’ clients and/or reinforce our firm’s strategic positioning?”.  

If your answers are no, it’s time for a re-think.

Most successful initiatives

On a more positive note, different firms are finding a wide variety of marketing and business development activities do 'work' for them.  

It was hard to discern from the commentary a single initiative that trumped all others as a clear-cut success.  However, at a higher, more strategic level, it was apparent that whatever the activity, some approaches were clear winners.

Winning approach: Emphasis on existing clients

Many firms reported their greatest success was achieved through concentrating on existing clients through excellent service and expansion of relationships.  As one firm revealed, their success stemmed from “having a clear client focus”.

A huge variety of successful client-focused tactics were employed, including training lawyers in client service, client events and thank you gifts, education seminars, client satisfaction surveys, and employing a director of client relations.  

However, it’s far easier to leverage and grow existing client relationships than it is to develop business with those who don’t already know you.

The bigger challenge of course is winning fresh business with new clients.

Winning approach: Clear focus and careful targeting key

The other strong success theme to emerge from the research commentary were the benefits of clearly focused and carefully targeted effort.  

Another wide array of successful initiatives were nominated by firms, and in each, commenters were clear that their efforts were deliberate and targeted.  Approaches included targeting referees through seminars, targeted landing pages for websites and targeted face to face meetings.

As one respondent said, their greatest success had come from “selectively marketing [the] firm’s many points of difference.  Not run of the mill campaigns”.

Again, it seemed to be not so much that any one activity was the 'right' one, but that a focused or targeted approach applied to a well-chosen activity made the difference between success and failure.

Want more than a peek at the results?

If you’re eager for more analysis, commentary, and details on the research outcomes,  download full research findings for free!

You can also register for the webinar "The Path to Developing an Effective Marketing & Business Development Program at Your Firm" on Tuesday November 11 at 1pm AEDT, where Julian Midwinter & Associates and ALPMA will step you through the key take-outs of the research and discuss effective business development and marketing activities.  

About our Guest Blogger

Amy Burton-Bradley
Amy Burton-Bradley is a Partner with Julian Midwinter & Associates. Before making the move to consulting Amy worked in-house for two Australian law firms in rewarding but sometimes frustrating business development and marketing roles.  

Julian Midwinter & Associates has helped Australian and New Zealand lawyers attract, win, grow and retain desirable clients for 20 years through winning tenders and proposals, upskilling and coaching, and implementing achievable strategy.

Are you sophisticated?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

By Amy Burton-Bradley, Partner, Julian Midwinter and Associates

You’re probably already aware of the inaugural ALPMA and Julian Midwinter & Associates research, Taking the Pulse, that seeks to benchmark business development and marketing in Australasian law firms.

A key goal of the study is exploring the sophistication of business development and marketing in contemporary Australasian law firms.  

Law firm business development and marketing: truly sophisticated, or just mature?

By “sophisticated”, we mean a planned, measured and truly integrated business development and marketing function that supports and complements a firm’s growth strategy.  Or put another way: successful.

Firms that adopt this approach thrive through an integrated business development and marketing approach at macro and micro levels.  True sophistication (and success) is reached when your business development strategy, plans and activities link directly to your marketing strategy, plans and activities at the individual lawyer, client and firm levels to deliver on firm goals.

But, we’ve been doing it for years

Many firms we speak with consider they have a sophisticated business development and marketing function.  And for sure, they’ve been “doing” marketing for years, but it has been in isolation from business development.  “Mature”, rather than sophisticated might be a better way to describe these firms’ efforts.

They largely focus on un-strategic and disjointed activities at a tactical level: client entertainment, one-off promotions, events, sponsorships, directory listings, and purposeless networking.

In these firms, we typically see marketing as a centralised function run by a manager and perhaps one or two coordinators.  Business development isn’t really mentioned.  They do some planning, but tend to focus more on passive activities encompassing brand, website, publishing, research, brochures, events and some proposals.  Sometimes these marketers’ only client contact is handing out name badges at a breakfast seminar.  

Why is it so?

Historically this approach developed in response to individual partner needs (and in some cases, whims:  “we need a golf day!”).  Very often the success or progress of these activities is not consistently measured against lawyer, practice group or firm goals.  Or if measurement exists, it’s sporadic or superficial (“25 people attended the cocktail party”.  So what?).

No wonder many firms continue to struggle with growth, when marketing efforts are not clearly aligned and working hand in glove with their firm’s business development goals or wider growth strategy.

And of course, marketing can’t contribute anything meaningful when kept at a distance from, or locked out of, the “pointy end” of business development.  We see and feel their frustration time and again.  In many firms, the business development or “sales” aspect has traditionally been handled by partners, not marketers.  

And by “business development”, we mean referral relationships, prospective client cultivation, account or “relationship” management, cross-selling, service offering development, along with scoping and pricing of matters.

No investment, no impact, no growth

A related dimension of our study is establishing what percentage of revenue firms spend on business development and marketing.  

Our experience has been that, whilst the need for business development and marketing is now widely acknowledged, it is regularly treated as a “grudge” spend and thus languishes through chronic under-investment.

Research indicates that thriving business-to-business professional services firms, typically spend between 5% and 6% of revenue on business development and marketing.  And for business-to-consumer firms, the business development and marketing spend as a percentage of revenue sits between 11% and 13 %. 

Another research study found that greater business development and marketing investment correlated with greater firm growth. 

It is certainly food for thought. 

And to be clear we are by no means saying it’s all about spending up big.  It’s what a firm does with its investment of time and money that makes the biggest difference.  Low-cost can still be clever and effective, or sophisticated.  

What have we discovered so far?

At the time of writing, our preliminary results reveal nearly half of the respondents have self-rated their firm’s overall business development and marketing as “under-developed”.  

Within that group around 30% of firms either expect no revenue growth in the next 12 months, or expect revenue to decline.  

By comparison, all respondents who rated their firm as sophisticated are anticipating strong revenue growth.

So, do you know how your firm is faring compared with others?

Editor's Note:

The "Taking the Pulse - Benchmarking business development and marketing at Australasian law firms" research is free and open for participation by all law firms until Wednesday 1 October.  

If you haven’t done so already, please take 15 minutes now to participate in the online survey and benchmark your firm against others when the findings are released in early November.

About our Guest Blogger

Amy Burton-Bradley
Amy Burton-Bradley is a Partner with Julian Midwinter & Associates (JMA). 

Before making the move to consulting, Amy worked in-house for two Australian law firms in rewarding but sometimes frustrating marketing and business development roles.  

JMA has helped Australian and New Zealand lawyers attract, win, grow and retain desirable clients for 20 years through winning tenders and proposals, upskilling and coaching, and implementing achievable strategy.  

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