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September 19, 2012

Business development: What’s different for litigators?

When I spent nearly two decades training and coaching salespeople, I often said that selling is the hardest work you can do in a suit. It can take years to close large complex sales, and the salesperson’s day-to-day life throughout that period is a roller coaster of near success, delay, confusion, and rejection.

Then I started working with lawyers, and learned that their marketing challenge was even greater. The professional salespeople I had coached spent 40 or 60 or 80 hours per week living, breathing, and acting on sales. The lawyers we work with these days often struggle to find a few hours per week that they can devote to business development on a consistent and predictable basis.

Legal selling is the hardest job around, and litigators face the hardest challenge within this group. The time demands of an active case can be overwhelming. Far worse, for many types of litigation there is no repeat business. As one consultant put it, a litigator is like a person whose job it is to remove thorns from a lion’s paw. First they have to find a lion that stepped on a thorn. Then they have to pull out the thorn without getting mangled. Then the lion walks away, and never looks back. The litigator needs to somehow find another lion that stepped on a thorn.

It all starts with strategy, focusing on a manageable sub-category of clients to pursue. (See the section on Planning on page 146 of my Legal Business Development Quick Reference Guide.)  In all honesty, this is a problem for many litigators. As consultant Ross Fishman, a former litigator himself put it:

Litigators often have trouble identifying specific audiences or targets, because almost any company could get sued, and for anything. Therefore, they tend to market broadly. “General commercial litigation” targeting almost any company is inefficient. It’s so unfocused that it doesn’t work, and gets frustrating quickly.

Once a litigator identifies her particular specialty, the next challenge is to gain visibility within that audience, so that when people need a lawyer, they will think of you. (See the sections on Speaking p. 176, Publishing p. 155 and The Zen of selling by not selling , p 188.)

According to Natasha Chetty, a legal marketing consultant and former Marketing Director at Harper Grey:

Sometimes litigators can benefit from having a lot of promotional tools working for them in the background while they are in trial. It doesn’t replace the hard work of building client trust and face-to-face business development, but it can help sustain their reputations. If litigators enlist their marketing department’s help, promotional tools can keep the firm and the lawyer top-of-mind with a larger audience and enhance name recognition when opportunities arise.

Many litigators get much of their business through referrals, so that is another tactic that applies to all lawyers, but is especially important for litigators. (See Referrals, p. 163.)

These days, there is also more emphasis on providing value in litigation than in other specialties. Predicting and controlling costs are important to clients, so it also makes sense to put effort into this area.  (See Project management, p. 153.)

The time demands on litigators also vary more widely than for transactional lawyers, so in terms of free time it is much more “feast or famine.” This makes it more of a challenge to follow up consistently, and makes it more desirable to have some sort of system in place so that your assistant can maintain regular contact in your name, even when you don’t have time to think about exactly what to do. (See Follow-up p. 102.)

Note that these ideas apply to all lawyers, as do the basic principles of marketing. What’s different is the way litigators need to prioritize tactics, and what comes first. For transactional lawyers, strengthening relationships with current clients is usually at the top of the marketing list. For litigators, the highest priority is typically on referral sources, and on visibility.

This post was adapted from the Legal Business Development Quick Reference Guide.


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Business development is all about three things -- relationships, value and timing. Today, we're going to discuss timing. Deals have their own pace. To bring one to life, you have to figure out what that pace is, and match it. If you try to push it faster, you're going to alienate the person on the other side of the table. If you're too slow, or unresponsive, you're going to have the same result. The trick is to get it right.

Being a litigator is not joke. It's not easy to be in risk. It is like in business development. We need to have anumber of tasks and processes generally aiming at developing and implementing growth opportunities.

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