Business Development for Lawyers: What are You Really Investing In?


At the Bloomberg BNA Big Law Business Marketing Roundtable in May 2016, law firm leaders and those tracking trends in the business of law took a look at how law firms – and law firm attorneys – need to change to survive and flourish in today's environment. In "Optimizing ROI in Business Development," James W. Jones, Senior Fellow, the Center for the Study of the Legal Profession at Georgetown Law, talks about "what you're investing in, not how well you're getting a return on it." Using the traditional cautionary tale of Kodak – which invented, and then chose to ignore, the very revolutionary technology that led to its demise – Jones talks about how law firms continue to ignore threats to its business model.

Prior to 2008-ish, Jones says, the legal services market was a seller's market, where law firms determined how legal services were staffed, structured, delivered, and priced. Since 2008, among the changes in the legal market is a fundamental shift to a buyer's market where general counsel (for routine matters, rather than bet the company matters) demand efficiency, predictability, and effectiveness, in addition to quality.

The change from a seller's market to a buyer's market requires shift in thinking for lawyers as they think about developing business – and developing their legal careers – and think about what investments they need to make in order to develop business. Those investments include building on the traditional law firm five-year strategic plan model, which focuses on clients to be served, markets to be in, and what practice areas to have. Today, Jones argues, lawyers also need to think about service delivery model, pricing models, work processes (including technological and infrastructure support), and talent models (including outsourcing and use of contract attorneys).

Law firms – and law firm lawyers – who get this are doing better financial than those that don't. So if you're looking to advance your career in a law firm – particularly if you're one of the lawyers who isn't so close to retirement that she can afford to take a short-term view – then take a peek at this talk. The audio on this is pretty dismal, so turn your volume way up.