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5 Ways BigLaw Can Help Young Lawyers Bring In Business

In a fiercely competitive marketplace, firms are facing increasing pressure to ramp up business development, and attorneys are likewise expected to contribute to a firm’s bottom line earlier in their careers.
However, business development is not yet a core focus at most law schools, and it’s not always obvious to law students that a big part of what lawyers do is sales, experts say.
"When you’re a young lawyer, you’re smart obviously," said Linda Myers, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP. "Critical thinking is a skill that you have, you can figure out problems, but you haven’t learned that you’ve got to sell that product, if you will, to someone."
Many BigLaw firms have begun to pick up on this need, establishing dedicated business development teams that, together with senior partners, offer training programs for associates. These programs vary widely among BigLaw firms as they continually experiment with ways to set their associates up for success.
Law360 spoke with several experts to learn what training techniques have netted tangible results. Here are five proven ways BigLaw firms can help their young attorneys get a leg up on business development.
Engage Them
While several BigLaw firms already provide a variety of teaching tools such as conferences, webinars and lunch-and-learn sessions, business development teams and senior attorneys developing these programs should be mindful that today’s crop of new lawyers is used to absorbing information in brief snippets, and typically on their mobile devices.
That advice comes from Business Development Inc.’s managing director Julie Savarino, an attorney and marketing expert who coaches lawyers on business development and taught one of the first law school courses on client relations.
“In order to effectively develop talent in this market, there has to be a range of available development tools for each lawyer, and it has to be [accessible] and mobile,” Savarino said. “We can’t necessarily do what we used to do — throw a consultant in a room and have them listen for three hours.”
The really forward-thinking firms are using apps that walk attorneys through a checklist of how to prepare for and network at events such as bar meetings or seminars, as well as apps that research clients and their cases, Savarino said.
Gregory Fleischmann, Baker & McKenzie LLP’s director of global marketing, said that both online learning tools and live-training sessions must be interactive to be truly engaging. His firm, for example, offers what he calls “live fire exercises,” in which partners pose as clients and associates have to pitch to them in front of an audience.
In these large-group exercises, associates are able to learn from each other and partners are able to directly assess associates' pitching skills, with the discernable result that more “associates [are] capable of being directly involved in business generation activities,” Fleischmann said.
Give Them Face Time With Clients
Senior lawyers who have built up a trusting relationship with their clients are careful about who they introduce their clients to and can be reluctant to take associates to client meetings, experts say.
However, interactions with clients provide myriad opportunities such as learning foundational communication skills, pitching and presentation skills, professionalism, client management and relationship building that are crucial to business development, according to Adam Severson, chief marketing and business development officer at Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz PC.
“[Meeting clients] is a learning tool in and of itself because frequently if associates are working solely on matters and not interacting with clients, they don’t necessarily understand the business implications of what they’re working on,” said Severson, who is also a past president of the International Legal Marketing Association.
Clients may also express their desire to meet the lawyers working on their files, and allowing those interactions develops trust, according to Savarino. However, senior attorneys should be aware that clients are unlikely to agree to being billed for the time a firm invests in coaching its younger counsel, she said.
Give Them a Budget
Business development is ultimately about growing the bottom line, but it really boils down to building solid client relationships — and that requires an investment of both time and money.
Kirkland's Myers said her firm began giving budgets to associates scaled according to seniority following suggestions that came out of associates’ committee meetings in 2012.
Not only do associates learn to be responsible with the funds entrusted to them, but they also gain the freedom to go to professional or recreational events with their clients or buy them gifts on special occasions, which lets clients know that their business is at the top of the attorney’s mind, Myers said.
“At the end of the day, lawyering is a people business,” she said. “People use business development budgets in different ways, but generally speaking, the basic proposition is that you’re spending some money to facilitate connections and you’re networking with people.”
Some BigLaw firms also walk their junior attorneys through alternative fee arrangements and pricing negotiations.
“It’s all a part of business development because it’s how you close a piece of business, how you win business and then also just how you build a trusted relationship with clients,” Fleischmann said.
Give Them Credit for Non-Billable Office Hours
Just as business development costs money, associates also need to invest time in activities that are neither transactional nor billable, and it can be daunting for fresh-faced law school graduates to find that time while also cutting their teeth in the industry and learning to navigating firm culture, experts say.
“People feel like they have to work completely overtime,” Fleischmann said. “That’s not the right way to think about it, but that is how they feel about it. That is the challenge for senior leadership.”
Myers echoed that sentiment and said firms’ senior leaders must be creative about the incentives and compensation they provide to junior associates for time spent on business development. Credit for a portion of those hours could be rolled into annual bonuses, for example, she said.
Mentor, But Mentor Effectively
Mentorship programs should be formalized to incorporate a business development component that's an expectation, not an option, experts said.
To this end, firms can establish goals for young lawyers, whether by setting a number of hours associates must spend on business development each month or by evaluating them on business development activities in annual reviews.
While mentoring is commonplace, Savarino said it's not always done well, as firms often lack a formal reporting process to ensure the goals of mentoring are being met. Firms should identify specific skills that mentors can teach junior lawyers and then follow up to ensure that those skills are improving each year, she said.
“It creates accountability,” Savarino said. “This all goes to the bottom line. … It will increase the chances of a firm being successful and more profitable.”