Business Development for Associates
Even a Small Fish Can Reel In a Choice Catch
Associates often see partners at their own firm as presenting the biggest hurdle to an associates’ business development potential. After all, almost all the work they do is for clients of the partners – often long standing clients – and if associates make networking efforts in the business community, prospective clients are likely to be more impressed with a law firm partner than a law firm associate. What’s to be done?
First of all associates need to get a clear idea of what the actual business development expectations are at the firm. Sometimes there are written guidelines and sometimes the same information can be found by talking to several partners. Either way, the challenge becomes more manageable if it can be measured. In fact, most large firms look for business development capability in associates, but not necessarily results. The first setting where they can find evidence of marketing potential is how associates service and manage existing clients.
Servicing existing clients is where many associates play their first role in generating business. By providing excellent service to clients, associates can assist in obtaining new work from that client – and sometimes have it referred directly to them as opposed to the partner. That's business development. Remember, in many cases the senior partner who "owns" the client once inherited the business from a partner who is now retired. As an associate, your goal is to become the next "go to" person, both in the client's and the senior partner's mind.
How can an associate impress a client? Start by demonstrating a genuine interest and knowledge of the client’s business and industry. Read the industry publications clients read and be familiar with the business issues they face. Take advantage of MCLE courses that cover their specific concerns. Attend industry association events that add to your knowledge and provide good networking opportunities. Clients like to hire experts, lawyers who know their company and their industry. Become an expert.
Remember too that large corporations have many levels of management. It may not be appropriate for you to be talking to the CEO or the general counsel, but there are many junior executives who are intent on climbing the ladder. They are the ones you should be in touch with to make connections. They may end up at the top of the organization or may move to another company. Either way, when they are in a position to hire a lawyer, they will likely hire someone they know and feel comfortable with.
Start by choosing two or three people within a client's organization who roughly parallel your state of career development. Get to know them better. Use firm sports tickets or entertainment dollars to socialize and discover their goals. Learn about their company. And always be on the lookout for new people to add to your circle. The network you build now will be your client base in the future.