Webinar: Strategies for Business Development in Law

Strategies for Business Development in Law Firms

Leopard Solutions concluded its series of three Women’s History Month webinars on March 27th with a candid conversation between Leopard CEO, Laura Leopard, and Alyssa A. Grikscheit, Partner, Sidley Austin LLP, about strategies for business development in law firms. The conversation was wide-ranging and offered practical guidance to empower female lawyers, drawing from Ms. Grikscheit’s illustrious career overseeing a diverse corporate practice. Ms. Leopard posed some thought-provoking questions and here are some highlights of the responses:  

What approaches have you found particularly effective in client acquisition?  

  • The foundation for growing a business is doing good work, but also not being afraid to follow up and ask for more work. Ms. Grikscheit advised not to be afraid to be direct and ask clients to send you a new deal. In that regard she said, “I think women in particular can be very shy,” but it’s important to realize it is “easier to develop business from existing relationships.”  
  • Put yourself in a setting where clients can tout your achievements to prospective clients in the room. This tees up an organic referral system “where it’s less about [one] presenting an RFP (Requests for Proposals) and a formal pitch and more about building relationships.” Industry association groups can be a good place to facilitate those interactions.  

What are some practical tips for nurturing and managing client relationships over the long term, ensuring client satisfaction and loyalty? 

  • “Recognize that client service is paramount” to keeping your business thriving. Many lawyers are vying for the same clients and taking clients for granted is a surefire way to lose out to a competitor.  
  • Cross-sell all your capabilities early on. Even if they are not needed in the short term, you are planting seeds for a potential windfall down the line. This includes selling the services provided by others at your firm, the collaborative gesture may also bear fruit in the future.  
  • Be true to your personality when planning client activities and the types of settings in which you would like to operate. For example, events ought not be limited to standard sports events. While those may be effective, one can get creative in order to engage a wider spectrum of clients. “We’ve had client events at a handbag showroom at a photography show.” The objective is to place oneself in a position to excel at networking.  
  • Understanding the competition and the range of their services ensures your ability to measure up. Nurture your existing client relationships to stay ahead of the curve and not just fall into “crisis management” mode when a situation arises.  

What unique challenges do women face in law firm business development, and how can these challenges be addressed effectively?   

  • Relationship building is key. Not just with senior client contacts, but juniors as well since “those people will grow up and be more important someday, and scatter to different places.” There are times to be all business, but it is also important to find those “micro-windows” to strike up conversations about personal life to forge those bonds. In-person meetings can be more conducive to these connection-building exchanges.  
  • Do not shy away from your womanhood. In an often male-dominated room sometimes touches like wearing a red dress can be advantageous when I client is trying to locate you in a room full of suits.  

How can law firms ensure their business development strategies are inclusive and offer equal opportunities for women?   

  • It must be impressed upon firms that inclusivity is not just to promote gender equality but is a sound business strategy. If you send a group of people from varied backgrounds and experiences into a room to pitch new business, there is a greater likelihood of that group being relatable to a wider audience, than were you to send a team of middle-aged white males. Some clients have DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) metrics they state in their mission, but even for those who don’t, appearing tone-deaf on a pitch will do you no favors.  
  • “It’s incumbent on [firms] to do some sort of monitoring of what teams are coming out, which teams are being successful, recognizing those successes internally, and creating a culture of access to clients that that isn’t just from the oldest, most experienced, most similar partners.” 

Networking for women in legal business development might look very different than for men. What strategies can they employ to overcome any barriers they might face?   

  • This boils down to personal preference. Some women may network more effectively with other women and others less so. Others might prefer to network in bar association groups. It comes down to identifying the environments where you can best speak to clients and putting yourself in a position to succeed. “This is all on top of your billable hours, so pick the things that you enjoy doing that aren’t a burden, because somebody will recognize whether or not you’re having a good time.” 

How do you stay attuned to the evolving needs of your clients, and how can attorneys ensure they are providing services that truly meet their clients’ expectations? Do you use any tools or data to help you develop your strategy to build your book of business?  

  • Spend as much time cultivating existing relationships as pursuing new ones. It is easier to market to existing clients because they already have that level of familiarity with your firm and your work. Subsequently, it is just a matter of figuring out what other types of law they might need assistance with.  
  • Do not shy away from dispensing free advice, for example: “here’s a new law that may be affecting your business. Here’s a conference we’re throwing for X and would love for you to come.”  

How do you distinguish your legal practice from others, and what advice do you have for attorneys looking to carve out a unique niche for themselves in the market?  

  • When you are new to practicing it helps to have a broad base of expertise and then as you hone your craft, you may pivot into more of a niche. You will want to retain that depth of knowledge to be able to broadly aid clients who ask you questions outside your realm of experience. Taking that time to learn other facets of the business will help you discover what you are passionate about and identify needs in the market. “I’ve known many women who end up in a practice area. That is what their mentor or their sponsor loved to do, and that mentor sponsor liked them, and they pushed them there because they said we’d love you to work on our stuff.” Suffice it to say, that is not a recipe for long-term fulfillment.  

For young associates, especially female associates, who are just starting to focus on business development, what foundational steps do you recommend they take to kickstart their efforts and build a successful practice within a law firm?  

  • Meet as many people as you can. That person you worked with as a fifth-year associate may eventually venture in-house, paving the way to an opportunity.  
  • Offer to do work for as many people as you can irrespective of seniority. “This is no longer a high school, where you’re a ninth grader and can only be friends with ninth graders and the twelfth graders don’t want to talk to you.”  It will also serve to build your internal network and raise your profile within the firm, which is important for getting promoted down the road.  

How can women balance the demands of business development with other professional and personal responsibilities?   

  • If you are going to choose a life partner, make sure you pick one that is supportive of your career and all the time that goes into it.  
  • Be stubborn and don’t give up. Many women hit a mid-career hump when perhaps they’re being overworked converges with a life event that makes things feel untenable. When that occurs, they should take a step back from the micro and look at the macro and before they know it, they will have seniority and be able to delegate more work.  
  • Maintain an interest or a hobby outside of work and family demands, not just to maintain sanity but to be able to converse on an array of topics and not come across as one-dimensional to prospective clients.  

Did you miss the third session of the webinar series? Watch the replay now.

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