5 Business Development Tips for Lawyers

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Your learning and development don't stop after passing the bar exam or qualifying through the SQE. Building a successful legal career requires a new set of skills, including business development (BD) which is often overlooked in legal education.

With competition for business among firms intensifying, our recent SME Law Firm research report reinforces just how important this core skill is with 57% of firms citing business development as one of the biggest gaps within their organisations.  

At BARBRI, we have over 50 years of experience empowering legal professionals, and we understand that law firms and their clients want well-rounded legal professionals who are equipped with the right skills and behaviours to meet industry and professional expectations.  

Today's lawyers must not only think like a lawyer, but also like a business person.

Why mastering business development skills matters

The legal landscape is no longer solely about exemplary legal expertise - success in today's market requires more. Law firms are increasingly looking to hire legal professionals who can attract clients and generate revenue, so demonstrating strong BD skills will make you more attractive as an employee,  and open the door to promotion

Business development can also help you to hone valuable skills such as public speaking and presentation skills, communication, relationship building and negotiation skills. These skills are essential not only for client acquisition, but also for building strong working relationships throughout your legal career.

With this in mind, mastering business development skills should be part of your personal development plan no matter what stage in your career. We all have different strengths that we can build on and areas we can improve – the key is to be aware and spend some time figuring out where you need to focus.  It can often feel like a lot, with the demands of study, work and life in general, but these skills will not only complement your legal expertise but also empower you to actively contribute to a firm’s  growth and success. But where to start?

5 ways to build your business development skills

1. Grow your network 

Networking is the foundation of business development, helping to establish connections and a client base while also formingtrusted partnerships with peers and business partners who can support your career development - and vice versa. According to LinkedIn, 85% of jobs are filled through networking, so it’s important for your own personal progression beyond the firm you currently work for too.

You can make connections at legal conferences, industry events, membership bodies and on platforms like LinkedIn -– take the time to map out where your time is best spent and who you want to connect with. Your communication skills will really come into play in these scenarios, helping you to engage in meaningful conversations and leave a lasting impression.Effective networking goes beyond collecting business cards; it’s about building and nurturing genuine relationships and demonstrating your value to others. We are all human and everyone has interests beyond work, so don’t feel like you can’t broach broader topics of conversation. Engaging on a human level will help you make more authentic connections. 

2. Effective communication 

Building trust and loyalty require effective communication, which comes naturally for some, but not for all. So if you are looking to boost your communication skills, start by actively listening and taking time to understand who the other person is and where they come from, and make mental notes to remember touch points you can use in follow-up conversations. 

You’ll also need to hone your communication skills to ensure you manage client relationships effectively to retain their clientele. Here, it is important to listen carefully to understand what is being asked of you, what needs to be done, and how best to respond. Be empathetic and consider other people's perspectives, especially when you have multiple client contacts. Treat people as individuals. 

Something that is easily forgotten is that not everyone knows legalese or the acronyms used in legal documentation and processes, so try to articulate legal matters in plain English where possible. A recent study from MIT confirmed that even lawyers found simplified legal documents easier to understand and more appealing, so it’s worth considering this approach, especially when dealing with clients who may have limited experience with legal terminology.

Non-verbal cues like body language, facial expressions and hand gestures also play a big part in effective communication.  These cues can significantly impact how messages are perceived and can help with conveying empathy, understanding and sincerity without words. Throughout your career you’ll navigate complex and emotional client situations daily, so mastering non-verbal communication can be a way to enhance your ability to build rapport and reinforce trust.

3. Personal branding 

“A personal brand is your promise to the marketplace and the world. Since everyone makes a promise to the world, one does not have a choice of having or not having a personal brand. Everyone has one,”  writes Tom Peters in his article What a ‘Personal Brand’ Is Not (certainly worth reading).

So if we all have a personal brand, it’s important that you take charge of yours. It’s effectively your reputation and the impression you make when people meet you, or what they see when they search for you online. Ensuring it reflects your true self – your values, strengths, skills, experiences and weaknesses – is important, and it can help you stand out in a crowded market for the right reasons. What’s more, authenticity has become a rare and valuable commodity in an age where digital identities and images are carefully curated and crafted for likes and follows, so reflect on who you truly are and ensure  that your external image and your internal values align. 

A strong personal brand is a powerful business development tool. Sharing insightful content on relevant platforms can help to position you as a thought leader, while engaging in online discussions or speaking at relevant events can also demonstrate your industry knowledge and help to build connections and trust with potential clients. Ultimately, a well-developed personal brand can attract the right attention and bolster your ability to build lasting relationships. 

4. Client relationship management 

Building strong client relationships is important for long-term success (and repeat business), whether you're a lawyer or not. It's about going beyond legal expertise to consistently exceed expectations and understand each client's unique preferences. Do they prefer phone calls or emails? Are they detail-oriented or not? Admittedly there will be times when certain formats of documentation will be required, but it’s worth noting that effective client management starts with a personalised approach that prioritises proactive communication, and the ability to demonstrate that you understand the client, their business and what they are aiming to achieve. By effectively managing client relationships and delivering positive experiences, you are more likely to secure future business opportunities and referrals. 

Client management relies heavily on technology, and the ability to leverage it effectively is essential across all departments of a law firm (we'll delve into AI specifically in another blog). Aside from email and messaging apps, many law firms use client relationship management (CRM) systems to streamline communication, track interactions, manage critical deadlines, and handle prospective client relationships for business development. These systems integrate technology to optimise workflows, predict client needs, and provide timely, well-informed responses, so getting to grips with new technology in client relationship management is a skill that all lawyers will need to keep up to date with.

5. Be business savvy 

Business acumen is a combination of knowledge, skills and experience that enables you to understand business situations, make sound decisions, and drive successful outcomes. It is also one of the most significant skills gaps (59%) that we identified in our recent SME Law Firm research report, so building your commercial awareness and the ability to see the bigger business picture can help set you apart. Lawyers are increasingly being seen as strategic advisors and being able to fully understand how your firm and clients' businesses run, as well as having an awareness of the wider social, political, technological and economic issues that may affect them, will help you to provide pragmatic, business-focused legal advice.  

So making time to understand your current or prospective clients and looking for opportunities to add value is a good place to start. Learn more about their industry, their operations, what challenges they face and keep an eye out for (and share) key trends in their sector or legislation updates that may impact them. A good way to do this is to ask the client directly and set Google Alerts and block out a recurring diary date/time to read up about industries and build your business knowledge on an ongoing basis. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and speak to colleagues to find out more too – knowledge is power after all! The more you understand about your firm’s business, as well as your clients’ and their sector, the better you will be able to connect and build trust, and shape effective business development strategies to grow key client accounts and win new business.

By continually improving your business development skills, you're setting yourself up for a successful career by ensuring you have a broader skillset that you can draw upon. Remember, developing these skills takes time and a willingness to learn and adapt. Don't be discouraged by setbacks – see them as opportunities to grow and refine your approach. With persistence and consistency, you'll establish yourself as a valuable asset to your firm and contribute to building a thriving legal practice.

Investing in Your Future with BARBRI's Online Courses

Building a successful legal career requires a strong foundation and equipping yourself with these business development skills doesn't have to be overwhelming. BARBRI offers a range of affordable, on-demand online courses including business development skills for legal professionals as part of our #LegalLifeSkills programme. 

  • Flexible learning: Our courses are designed for busy schedules. They're short, on-demand, and packed with practical tips and real-world examples you can put into action immediately.
  • Expert-led instruction: Our courses are developed and delivered by legal professionals with extensive industry experience.
  • Cost-effective: Compared to traditional in-person training, our online courses offer a cost-effective way to advance your business development skills.
  • Convenient access: Learn from anywhere, anytime at your own pace. All you need is an internet connection.

To find out more, enrol today or request a call back visit: Legal Life Skills | BARBRI 

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