Law Firm Business Development: Arthur G. Levin

Arthur G. Levin, Founder and President of AGL ASSOCIATES

Arthur G. Levin is the founder and President of AGL ASSOCIATES, a firm specializing in Law Firm Consulting, Lawyer Business Development Training and working with companies on how to sell products and services to law firms. Prior to his current endeavor, Mr. Levin was the Managing Director, for three major law firms. Based on his many years of law firm experience he has developed and demonstrated the ability to attract law firm business, simplify operations, reduce costs, increase production, improve managerial services and increase law firm profits.

Here, Mr. Levin shares with us his unique industry insights on marketing strategies available to law firms who are looking to develop their business.

The vast majority of law firms have three levels of lawyer business development; the “Rainmakers” who bring in the majority of the firm’s new business, a group of partners who bring in no business and never will and the remaining partners who represent the, “Middle Tier”, who bring in occasional business and/or at least have the potential and the desire to generate business.

Most law firms pay little or no attention to the untapped potential of this middle tier of partners. In today’s economic environment a firm must use all of its resources to develop business and the Middle Tier is probably the one remaining untapped resource for additional business.

The question has always been, how do you make these partners at least somewhat productive? This article will strive to give you an idea on how you may answer that question. 

Partners in this Middle Tier are intelligent, socially adept people who tend to live in upper middle class or upper class communities and generally send their children to local schools. In fact, other than other lawyers and their immediate family members, most of the lawyer’s friends consist of the parents of their children’s friends. Who are these parents? Where do they work? Are they a potential source of business or a good referral source? How do you make a productive business development contact? What do you say?  What do you do?

Most lawyers are pretty good at putting themselves in situations that are potentially good for business development but often don’t know what to do once they are there.

What should a firm do about this? Here are some suggestions:

1. Generate an Internal Questionnaire 

I suggest that the first step, if you do not already have one, is the preparation and distribution of a comprehensive lawyer questionnaire that is sent to all lawyers in the firm. The questionnaire is designed to find out as much information as possible about the lawyer’s background, family, associations and scope of contacts. This is a necessary first step in gathering the information that is required to establish an individual marketing strategic plan for each lawyer. 

In order for this to be successful, the firm has to look at this incremental, non-traditional, business development as a cooperative firm wide endeavor. This will require strong firm management backing and the backing of the existing Rainmakers. These firm Rainmakers have to realize that it is in their own best interest to spread the business development process among additional partners and that this is not a threat to their own firm power base but a further building of the firm’s business base. If nothing else, the recent economic downturn has shown that in order for a firm to survive and prosper it must have a diverse and profitable client base and this requires the efforts of as many lawyers as possible. This process also encourages the development of a firm wide business development culture where every one who works for the firm has a part to play in the process and the additional monetary value produced inures to everyone’s benefit.  

2. Establish Strategic Marketing Coordinators 

Once the questionnaires are completed (often after continuous management pressure), the pivotal point of this process begins. Lawyers who are proven to be adept at the strategic business development process and are willing to devote their time and effort to this firm wide initiative most be selected and bought into this program. I call them, “Strategic Marketing Coordinators” and their job would be to review the answers to the questionnaire with each lawyer and to identify where business development potential lies and work out specific strategies for each of these potential opportunities. This creative strategy development process is crucial to the program and the selection of the lawyer (s) to fill this role has to be non-political and carefully thought through. Please note that the firm must have a plan in place to properly compensate the Strategic Marketing Coordinator for his/her contribution to this business development initiative.   

3. Identify Individual Business Development Opportunities 

The strategy will require not only a review of the questionnaire by the Strategic Marketing Coordinator but perhaps personal intervention to work along with the Middle Tier lawyer to help to take the best advantage of the specific business development opportunity.  The strategies developed have to be specific for each opportunity identified, planned so that the Middle Tier lawyer is comfortable and secure with the plan.  Specific actionable opportunities should be limited to two to three opportunities per lawyer or the task will become overwhelming and will not get done.

Many business development opportunities are non-traditional.  A few examples of strategies that I have used; the first was a very simple situation where a real estate lawyer, who happened to be an excellent baker, now sends a small box of hand baked cookies to each client at the conclusion of a matter and as a result has increased “buzz” about her and doubled her business. There was another lawyer, who also had an interest in food and knowledge of the food services business, and we established a strategy for him to get involved in the improvement of the food service at his social club. His club was a place where he was socially comfortable, and as a result of his increased visibility he brought in three significant pieces of business from fellow club members. Other lawyers have rekindled relationships with judges for whom they clerked and were able to significantly increase the number of potential business development referrals they were able to generate. Family relationships, religious and civic associations, sport related activities, hobbies, social contacts, etc. The possibilities are endless and in many cases just being able to identify real potential opportunities lead almost automatically to winning strategies.

The strategies do not have to follow any historic business development methodology but require a creative mind and a clear understanding of how the lawyer can take his/her skill set and offer it to those people who will benefit most. It is looking at business development as a way to give of yourself and your expertise for the benefit of others which will in turn create business for you.

4. Tracking Progress 

As this is a firm wide effort it requires firm wide control. For each of these opportunities, an outline of the strategy to be employed and an estimated time line of the planned activities should be developed and forwarded to a designated senior lawyer or senior administrative person in the firm whose job it is to monitor and to keep track of progress of each agreed upon business development activity and to encourage implementation of the plan. The value of the program also has to be tracked financially. An ongoing analysis of the return on investment of time and dollars has to be monitored and modifications have to be made where necessary. Those strategies that are not working have to be terminated and those that are working have to be expanded.

A series of monthly partner meetings should be established at which the progress of the various business development strategies are reviewed and discussed for possible strategy modification. Again, this program has to become an accepted firm wide activity.

5. In Conclusion 

At first, implementation of the program will be somewhat arduous and time consuming. But with success, and higher firm income, long term acceptance will come.

The Middle Tier of partners is in many firms the only remaining area for potential new business growth. To ignore this potential does not make good economic sense. 

The views of the authors of these articles do not necessarily represent the views of First Republic Bank.