Teaching Lawyers to Embrace a Business Development Mindset Across Cultures

Teaching Lawyers to Embrace a Business Development Mindset Across Cultures

By Lindsay Griffiths
November 30, 2022 | 7-minute read
Business Development Business Development Coaching/Training Content Type Article
Business of Law
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Legal marketing and business development professionals serve a crucial role in helping attorneys obtain the skills that will help them cultivate relationships and win business. Key to this coaching is considering each attorney’s unique background. Does business development differ based on where you’re located? Yes … and no.

In 18 years of working internationally, one thing that always surprises my lawyers, no matter where they’re from, is how similar the challenges are that firms face. This proved true when speaking with my clients in Brazil, Chile, Cyprus and Mexico for this piece. The following themes emerged for how to instill a business development mindset among lawyers around the world.

Think Like a Business Partner

We’ve heard for many years that clients want more than a lawyer — they want a business partner. Juan Pablo Schwencke from PAGBAM |Schwencke in Santiago, Chile, confirms, “The client must feel that [they are] advised, not only from a mere legal perspective, but as a counselor, who can contribute to the decision making. We should get in the shoes of our client and develop empathy. It is very important to exchange ideas with the client, to know what [they are] thinking. The fact that we are lawyers is not an obstacle to share an opinion from a business perspective. Though we should be careful [when] expressing opinions, insights or recommendations, we should not be afraid to take a place next to the driver’s seat.”

This was echoed by Melissa Kanô at KLA Advogados in São Paulo, Brazil, who said, “We all need to know our client´s business so we understand what they need and what would be the best solution for them.” She took it a step further, saying not only do lawyers need to understand their clients, but “it is also important to know what our firm can offer and what our client could benefit from.” That’s for the benefit of the client but also for the firm and your colleagues.

Foster a Business Development Culture as a Firm

Alina Crisu, PR and communication associate at Cypriot firm, LLPO Law Firm, takes the broad view that it is incumbent on the firm to foster a business development culture, despite the age-old complaint that lawyers doing good work should be enough to promote a firm.

Crisu encourages patience when undertaking these efforts. “It takes time to develop a business mindset. It doesn't just fall from the sky,” she said. Most projects within a law firm take two years to take hold, and you need a strong champion to convince the attorney that they came up with the idea first.

It’s essential to create this mindset. “This will expand the organization’s vision and values to each individual by implementing behavioral and policy changes that will benefit the firm and those it serves, including partners, employees, clients and the community,” Crisu said. She recommends starting with team building meetings and events under the guidance of a business development and marketing professional.

If there is no business development or marketing professional in place just yet, firms should consider looking to organizations like the International Lawyer’s Network to gain tips and insights.

Part of fostering a business development culture includes how firms train their younger lawyers. “The message to young attorneys and the center of our mentoring should be different,” Schwencke said. “We must deliver another message. Limited legal opinions — what is directly required from us — should be understood as the minimum advice to be given to our clients. A practitioner should also be a business partner to [their] clients. [They] must be prepared in matters not only encompassing the law, but also basic finance, accounting, etc.” We know that none of those things are taught in law school (or rarely), so the broad education of the lawyer must be accomplished by firms.

“Partners need to involve more junior associates with clients from the beginning,” Luis Lavalle of Martinez Abogados in Monterrey, Mexico, shared. “They need to start making them feel important in meetings or have a relationship with clients. That’s the first thing — relationships. At the end of the day, we are selling our legal services. And clients need to be able to trust you — so the [priority] is the relationship...”

This involvement, he explains, can also include younger lawyers joining negotiations and doing proposals. “[They] need to be involved in that process, so they understand what you [as a senior partner are] thinking, how you’re structuring it, how a budget works, how the negotiation process happens,” he said. “Then they know it’s more than just [understanding] the law; they know it’s about convincing the client that you’re the best option for them.”

Practice Those Skills!

There are countless skills firms can nurture among lawyers trying to develop a business development aptitude, but without practice it’s difficult to know if they’re successful. Here are a few skills these lawyers and marketers have homed in on:

From Alina Crisu:

  • Networking: Whether you join a formal networking organization or attend events, this is a great opportunity to practice your business development skills. It provides a way to stay up to date on practice and industry trends and offers fodder for conversation at team events in the future.
  • Getting Feedback: Each lawyer will have their strengths — writing, speaking, joining a podcast, etc. — but they may still need help refining their process. Whether that comes from the internal team or a consultant, it can be useful to get feedback. Many firms outside the U.S. still don’t have a full-time marketing or BD team, depending on the size of the firm; this is something firms may want to consider.
  • Nurturing Existing Clients: It’s easier to keep an existing client than develop a new one. Having knowledge of everything the firm offers and being intentional in reaching out to existing clients is a fantastic way to develop business without finding new clients.

From Melissa Kanô:

She has adopted Rich Bracken’s golden rules of client service, summarized here: 

  • Client Service: Treat your clients as you would want to be treated.
  • Business Guidance: Speak plainly and avoid “legalese.”
  • Transparency: Keep your clients informed regularly so they’re not hearing from you only when you invoice them.
  • Engage: Talk to your clients so they’re hearing from you and not your competitors.
  • The Client Journey: Make it easy for your clients to work with you.
  • Solution Provider: Be more than their lawyer; be their solution provider.
  • Empathy Over Ego: Know that sometimes fear and vulnerability are part of communication from your client, so show empathy to them.

Incentivize Business Development

Although controversial for some, incentivizing business development is the way forward, given that the legal profession still operates on the basis that time is money. While the billable hour has continued to hang on by the skin of its teeth, the one thing we have not seen give any leeway is the dreaded time sheet.

Lavalle points out that it’s challenging to get to know people and create those necessary relationships when it’s not incentivized. For him, he started with previous relationships from high school, university, sports clubs and mixing with other professionals. But when young lawyers are working impossibly long days without the ability to be paid to develop business as part of their workday, how can they develop a book of business if the firm isn’t somehow supporting it?

“They want you working from nine-to-nine and to bill twelve to fourteen hours a day. How do you create those relationships then? Unless senior lawyers involve you with clients and instruct you about the selling legal services or incentivizing business development, it’s impossible.”

Lindsay Griffiths
International Lawyers Network

Lindsay Griffiths is the executive director for the International Lawyers Network. She is a dynamic, influential international executive and marketing thought leader with a passion for relationship development and authoring impactful content. Griffiths is a driven, strategic leader who implements creative initiatives to achieve the goals of a global professional services network. She manages all major aspects of the Network, including recruitment, member retention and providing exceptional client service to an international membership base.