The time for business development in law firms is now


Debra Filippin

COVID-19 has dramatically impacted our lives. While some professions have suffered, others have flourished. But each has felt some pain in some way, and what is common among all is the adjustments that have had to happen.

Law firm marketing and business development is no different. A profession that started basically from the law firm’s desire to publish marketing material, over the years our roles have become increasingly focused on nurturing client relationships to ultimately impact the bottom line.

In my almost 20 years working in business development positions for global law firms, I have witnessed a lot of change in this industry. Terribly slow, incremental change in these engines has provided many a tale for futurists and consultants alike, while those operating within these corridors learn the reasons why change takes so long, and why that is not always a bad thing. But that is for another article.

Change Has Been Accelerated

The guidance, advice and innovation that business development leaders have been providing for decades is being heard, and implemented, with clear results. We have never been more in demand.

Never have I thought that the role of a BD professional in a law firm has been more important. I have been feeling this for a while now as I have watched law firms struggle to adapt in a buyer’s world. Innovation has been the buzz word of the decade, and it has been a scramble for many firms to work out how that fits – is it technology, pricing, moving away from traditional ways of billing? All of the above, and tonnes more, depending on what the client needs.

Business Development vs. Marketing

I was trained in a more business development way of thinking, rather than a marketing one. Not that I dismiss the importance of marketing, but a discussion about flyers, breakfast briefings and branded merchandise bores me. We can leave those things where they belong, in the 1990s. The focus for anyone in these roles should always have been about delivering the best service to a client. That’s a lot easier to achieve if that service is completely on target to that client’s need, ie advice on what to do in that situation we know is hurting you, versus in a roundabout lazy way, ie here is a marketing brochure about everything we do to read in all of that time you [do not] have.

I am embracing the end of breakfast briefings and welcoming the new ways of talking to clients about how to navigate a COVID-19 world, so they walk away reassured that we can help them through it. I am soon to present to our leaders in the Asia Pacific region some good examples of our lawyers connecting with clients in this peculiar time. The examples, which include a webinar that was attended by over 5,000 people, a snappy video that contained nothing about the law, and an article that led to new work because it was explained over the phone, are not radical or groundbreaking in any way. They are demonstrations that in this time, clients need help, but help that stands out in a mass of articles and free webinars being hurled at them hundreds of times a week. It is easy to be meaningful when you know what the search is.

Final Thoughts

Alongside all of this, I am steering the ship for a team that is ready for the new law firm that emerges from this pandemic. We were already a close, regional team, but now more than ever we have closed any cultural gaps as we’ve gathered around almost daily Teams catch ups to laugh, cry, share recipes and feel happy about interrupting pets, partners and children. We are focused more than ever on adding value, and delivering the best solution for our clients, while continuing to think about the elements of our brand that are standing out to the market and to our clients right now. It’s an exciting time full of opportunities and that change we have all been waiting for is finally here.

about the author

Debra is the Head of Business Development Asia Pacific at Pinsent Masons. She has 20 years of experience driving business development at leading law firms. Never before has the role of business development been more in focus and Debra believes it is an exciting time full of opportunities.

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