‘Without a business case, you’re not making Partner.’
The importance of business development as a skillset is often under-emphasised in the earlier stages of the ‘legal education timeline’ of a lawyer.
However, given that firms are ultimately businesses like any other, it’s absolutely critical to understand how to:
- Build, develop and demonstrate a client following
- Show yourself as the face of the firm at events
- Be comfortable conversing with clients and winning new business
- Leverage your financials and revenue as you progress internally
For this episode of the #morefromlaw podcast, I spoke to Luke Thompson, who climbed the ranks to Equity Partner before changing his trade to legal recruitment. Throughout the episode, Luke and I discuss some of the talking points above and how understanding your role in driving a firm’s business alongside commercial awareness are critical to progress in a legal career.
An essential listen for both aspiring and currently practicing lawyers at any level PQE.
Show Notes and Further Resources
What is business development in relation to law?
– The legal profession is now very much a business, so ‘business development’ refers to your own personal branding. It is essential that you are known within your area, so that clients will come to you as an individual, as opposed to the firm as a brand. Lacking a personal brand will prevent you from building up a following and will therefore limit the amount of bills you produce.
Do you need to be commercially aware for law?
– Having a sense of commercial awareness is essential. You must understand how the firm works as a business, how this relates to the client relationship and how this relates to your work.
– For example, firms are concerned about the annual revenue that their team or department are producing, so they will want to know what value you can add. It is therefore vital that you maintain a record of your billing and of your competitor’s billing, and have knowledge of the workings of a business, accounts and how profit and loss sheets work.
Underestimating the importance of commercial awareness and business development
– A lack of appreciation for the business side of law can develop at University – the academic focus can overshadow the necessity of acquiring legal skills. Whilst it is essential to be writing articles and winning awards, you must also be hitting your numbers and maintaining a client following. The top two hundred law firms are ranked in terms of their turnover, for instance.
– Aim to be both the front of house lawyer and the back-office lawyer – someone who can work hard, be relied upon and is willing to be the face of the firm. This must begin when you start your training contract or paralegal role. Make an effort to attend events and watch how the senior partners work the room – look at their body language, for example.
Improving your networking abilities
– Networking can be nerve wracking, so it is important to expose yourself to quell your fears and learn about the process.
– Attend networking events as a pair. Find someone in your office that you trust and work with well and ask to attend some events with them. Watch how they engage with people, especially if they are more confident than you.
– Engage with people who also seem nervous. You will feel less pressured during the conversation and both parties will relax and connect.
– Consider joining a local amateur dramatics group, which will help you to improve your confidence and public speaking abilities.
– Set up or join a networking group to establish yourself in your industry and geographical area.
– Utilise social media platforms and online experiences, such as webinars, podcasts, and Q&As.
How to succeed as a junior lawyer
– Stand firm with what you want to do and learn. Trainees can be easily pressured into doing seats that they do not want to do due to department numbers and an inability to say no. Try to choose your seats before starting your training contract, and decline seat extensions if you would rather move on.
– Have the confidence to confide in supervisors and partners. If you find yourself working with an individual who is not investing enough time into your training contract, then you must take the necessary steps to get this changed.
– Build relationships within the firm and be a team player. Find a more senior member of the team that you can relate to and ask them to be your mentor.
– In terms of business development, volunteer for things as much as you can.
– Be accurate with billing. Perform well, avoid mistakes, and file your bills on time.
Partnership is not for everyone
– You do not have to become a partner in order to have ‘made it’ in law. There are numerous other rewarding and high-ranking positions, such as legal director, legal counsel, and senior associate, which perhaps evade the managerial and liable pressures that come with partnership. You are also expected to be a high biller and the face of the team or department, which can be demanding.
Moving towards partnership
– Some of the most difficult candidates to place are between eight and twelve years PQE and are senior associate level, but do not appear to be on track for partnership. Recruitment will usually be asked, “Why are they not a partner?” when such a candidate is put forward for an interview. There is an immediate shadow of doubt that appears over their CV.
– You must therefore be aware of the right time to approach partnership. This is usually around eight PQE – leaving it to ten or eleven PQE will make the process difficult, as there is an assumption that something has gone wrong and you still have to build a business case.
– It is also important to remain conscious of what life was like as a junior.
Building your business case
– Having a client following is essential to achieving partnership and is built by having a strong personal brand. It is the amount of work that you could potentially bring with you if you were to join a firm.
– Your personal clients (that you will have billing figures for) have followed your legal journey and only want to work with you. The firm’s clients can be a grey area: you must seek legal advice through the firm you are joining to ensure that you are not breaching any restrictive covenants in counting them. You will also have referrers, who are not necessarily clients but refer work to you.
– You must calculate what percentage of work you get from all three and convert this into billable hours to form your business case.