Don’t Quarantine Your Business/Practice Development Strategy!

04.02.20 | Susan Duncan

Please contact us at sduncan@rainmakingoasis.com if you or your practice group is interested in reviewing or recharging your personal business development or practice group plan. This is a good time to assess and modify your strategy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a major impediment for lawyers who were actively engaged in a personal or practice group strategies to develop new business, growing revenue and expand their practice. Working remotely, not being able to attend conferences or entertain clients and prospects over lunch or drinks, not being able to walk down the hallway to run a marketing or BD idea by a colleague and not being able to conduct CLEs and pitches live, where personal interaction helps build trust and relationships, are all contributing to a sense that business and practice development have come to a halt until we can reengage in-person again. On top of that, the economy is in a tailspin, clients are concerned about their own survival and law firm leaders are extremely nervous about the impact this will have on their firms’ finances.

Much of what is required at a time like this is for us all to be nimble and flexible, to take one day at a time and attend to the needs of clients one at a time. This does not, however, mean you should abandon structured planning and execution. In fact, now more than ever you should review your practice and business development strategies, modify them and relentlessly execute on them. As market conditions and clients’ needs change, this is a time to reassess where your practice is, where it will be in six months and how to stay visible/on the radar, relevant, appreciated and in demand.

 

Step 1: Assess the Market and Trends – Consider How COVID-19 Will Impact Your Practice in the Short and Long Term

Clients and Marketplace:

Now is a time to stay really close to clients, not just on matters you are working on but on their worries, their assessment about the impact of the pandemic both short term and long term on their companies or organizations, their employees, whether they need extra hands, legal help or otherwise. Help talk through and anticipate their future needs and challenges.

In all crises, there usually are winners and losers when it comes to type of business or industry impacted. This is certainly true in the current crisis. There is a long list of segments that have been especially hard hit: airlines, hotels, cruise lines, gaming/casinos, retail, auto makers, restaurants and food service, conventions, shipping, film and theatre, live sports, tourism and theme parks, oil and gas, tech, gyms/fitness and construction.

Other industry segments seem to be thriving and hiring: eCommerce, videoconferencing (think Zoom,) medical devices and pharma (especially those who can pivot to help develop drugs and devices to combat the virus,) pharmacies, big box stores and supermarkets, remote learning and digital companies, fast food and take-out food establishments, meal kit and food delivery companies, trucking and distribution companies and call centers. But many small businesses will not survive even with the $2 trillion relief bill passed by Congress last week and other recent legislation.

In your assessment of the marketplace and trends, you need to consider whether to more actively reach out to and provide help to industries that are hurting as their needs are great for advice and support (even if much of it may be “off the clock” for now), but also look to get involved in those industries whose growth is exploding due to the crisis. They too will need more hands and help than anticipated.

Practice:

With the disruption occurring at all levels of business and finance globally, almost every practice area is affected in some way. The impacts of this pandemic and financial instability can be observed in the inquiries and work that is being generated in law firm practice groups. Firms that have been out front have developed multiple cross-disciplinary COVID-19 task forces and resource portals that track legislation and activity by state and federally. More importantly, they galvanize internal expertise across a company’s legal needs in addressing the effects.

It is important to be able to react to the current needs of the market with your areas of expertise but also think ahead to where the needs will be in six to twelve months once the initial crisis has passed. And if your practice is likely to be hit hard, be thinking about how you will retool or pivot to a related area that is currently in demand. Examples of practices and issues that are seeing high demand from clients now include:

  • Employment and Employee Benefits, e.g., Paid Family and Medical Leave Act mandates, Paid Sick Leave and Long-term Leave, remote working; union bargaining issues; Families First Coronavirus Response Act; layoffs/RIs/furloughs
  • Litigation, e.g., force majeure, contracts litigation (although with Courts closed, there may be a short-term slow down)
  • False Claims Act, e.g., government contracts with businesses not properly vetted
  • Healthcare, e.g., HIPPA, Medicaid waivers for states
  • FDA, e.g., new guidelines on hand-sanitizers, protecting food supply
  • Immigration, e.g., Flexibility Form I-9 Compliance
  • Insurance Recovery, e.g., business interruption, supply chain and event cancellation coverage
  • Privacy and Data Security, e.g., Telephonic Consumer Protection Act, GDPR suspension, data security risks associated with a remote workforce (though in longer run, there may be a slowdown in privacy counseling work)
  • Tax, e.g., state and federal relief
  • Antitrust, e.g., business cooperation
  • Environmental, e.g., EPA Viral Pathogen Guidance
  • Bankruptcy and restructuring, refinancing

As is true in most economic downturns, practice areas that likely will see a slowdown are M&A, transactions generally, tech deals, IP prosecution and transactional, real estate, finance including asset-based lending, mortgage lending, structured transactions, broker-dealer and investment management generally. The lawyers in firms that have aggressively formed and practice through industry teams will also be impacted positively or negatively depending upon the industry focus. However, even in these practices there will be opportunity to help clients through special loan assistance programs, new lending tools, relaxed regulations, etc.

 

Step 2: Revisit Your Goals and Narrow or Shift Your Focus and Priorities

Given the changing landscape, you likely may need to modify your objectives for this year, change some and perhaps add new ones with modified timelines. You may decide to enhance your skills in a few substantive niche areas or penetrate a few specific industries. You may focus on some internal marketing and collaboration or more formally establish a co-marketing plan with a good referral source. In some cases, the shifting marketplace may call for you to retool and become an expert in a new practice area (or one you used to be active in but haven’t for many years). Finally, you may decide that this is the time for you to become much more well-versed and skilled in competencies related to innovation and legal ops, e.g., pricing, project management, the use of AI, budgeting and scoping, etc.

Your goals should always include financial and quantifiable goals (number of billable hours, new client origination, cross-selling and so forth) and other practice development and marketing goals (increasing skills in a niche, broadening the referral source base, becoming active in a specific civic activity and the like). Make sure they are “SMART”: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-specific.

 

Step 3: Develop and Execute Your Strategy

Every step you take, person you call and event you attend (even if virtually for now) should have some direct relationship to your goals. If you want to build business with a specific industry sector, for example, you can target your efforts at reaching clients and prospects in that industry through trade or special interest business groups, publications and conferences. (If you don’t know which groups or publications to target, ask your clients.) Even if you are worried about having enough business in the coming months due to the current disruption, you still need to be focused and intentional about how you spend your time, money and energy (see our prior blog post on Be Intentional about Your Personal Marketing and Business Development).

There are many approaches that might work for you as you devise your plan. Here are strategies to consider.

Client development and retention. For the next several months, this will focus on being helpful to clients, supporting them through the coronavirus pandemic (see our last blog Be Trustworthy to Clients through the COVID-19 Crisis.) Once the crisis has subsided, this involves efforts to improve service to and communication with clients to ensure satisfaction, expand representation, ensure repeat business and facilitate cross-selling. It may include entertainment, communications, client satisfaction surveys and making connections for clients.

Internal marketing. Your plan most likely should include marketing to and with colleagues. With COVID-19, the needs clients have are multi-faceted and will require insights from lawyers with expertise in employment law, tax, privacy, insurance recovery, etc. Find out what your partners are doing to help clients and see if you can collaborate or offer to help them in some way.

Prospect and referral-source targeting. It is more difficult to network with prospects and referral sources at a time when you are prevented from in-person contact. But you can still communicate and provide resources and value remotely. You also should be using this time to gear up for when the “quarantine” guidelines are lifted, and business begins to return to normal.

Visibility and reputation building. Clients and prospects still need and want good information and resources. Whether by webinars, one-on-one communications, published articles and eventually through speaking engagements at events, you’ll want to be known internally and externally as the expert, or the “go-to” person, on a specific issue. This will be particularly important if you have modified or upgraded your skills and knowledge in a particular area or industry. Make and follow a plan for how you will become visible and known in these areas.

RainMaking Oasis provides consulting, training and coaching services to law firms and lawyers in the areas of business development and growth strategy, innovation, client retention and expansion, succession planning and leadership and personal effectiveness skills. Please contact Susan Duncan at sduncan@rainmakingoasis.com.