Plotting the Route from New Partner to Rainmaker: Three Requirements for Your Business Development Plan

Making partner is often the apex of a lawyer’s career. Making partner means the late nights, long weekends, and countless billable hours have paid off. They have earned the respect of their peers, who have decided to put their trust in the new partner’s work ethic, leadership skills and origination potential.  Making partner means all those late nights, long weekends, and countless billable hours will only increase, along with their business development and mentoring requirements.

Whether a lawyer is promoted to partner from within the firm or makes a lateral move into a partnership, there is still a learning curve, particularly where business development and origination are concerned. At some firms, marketing only engages with the partnership, while other firms may provide marketing support at the associate level. No matter a lawyer’s past experience with marketing and business development, it is the role of the marketing team to develop a plan to empower the new partner to achieve their goals.  

It is up to marketing to create a strategic, actionable, and measureable business development plan. It sounds simple in one sentence, but a business development plan that meets all three requirements is easier said than done.

A new lawyer’s business development plan should be what is best for the individual lawyer, not what is best practice. It should be strategically planned around the lawyer’s skillset, what is realistic for his or her practice area, and what is feasible within the firm culture. For example, speaking engagements are a wonderful way to build a professional profile and establish relationships, but they should not be the cornerstone of a marketing plan if the lawyer is a poor speaker or unable to travel to conferences. A new partner may want to become a media fixture, but that may not be realistic if he or she practices in the same area as a more senior lawyer who is already established in the media. Have a candid conversation with the new partner about his or her strengths, weaknesses, and role within the firm.  Provide honest feedback and offer opportunities for growth, such as media training, public speaking training, or a social media and blogging seminar. Set your new partner up for success by providing the tools needed execute business development activities that capitalize on their existing skillset and are supported by the firm.

Once the overarching strategy is developed, set concrete goals for the new lawyer and check in regularly so business development does not get lost in the shuffle of billing and navigating new leadership roles. Not only can these goals keep the new partner accountable, they also provide milestones for the lawyer to reach and non-matter victories to celebrate. These goals could include writing six articles in a year, hosting three client dinners, or adding 100 new, meaningful contacts to the firm’s CRM.  Vague goals such as “Raise my profile among general counsel” or “Make connections in a new industry” are not actionable. These goals should focus on tactics that will open new doors for the firm while positioning the new partner as a leader in his or her practice.

Be sure to include a mixture of short-term and long-term goals in the initial business development plan. In law, many financially rewarding relationships are the result of slowly built relationships; the effort put in to building such relationship may not be reflected in timekeeping or billings for years to come. Money is one measure of success, but not the only one. Legal marketers should craft measureable goals, separate from financial goals for new partners, so they can demonstrate their commitment to business development even if they don’t bring in a high dollar client in their first several years. The concrete goals laid out in a business development plan should have a quantitative aspect or should be thoroughly operationalized – what does it mean to publish in a “top-tier” publication or add “meaningful contacts” to a CRM? At the end of a new partner’s first year, he or she should be able to prove to firm leadership their promotion was a good business decision, and you as a marketer should be able to clearly articulate how you added value to the firm.

Ashley Hollingsworth, Marketing Communications Specialist at Miller & Chevalier, for the January/February 2017 LMA Mid-Atlantic Region newsletter.

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