Conversation between colleagues

To BD or not to BD? That is the question...!

A trainee's perspective on Business Development

Well not so much a question as a vague attempt at a witty strap line; the answer of course should be obvious...to BD!

Business Development (BD) is an increasingly important part of every lawyer's life. It is a major part of the building blocks of a successful firm and, in the ever more competitive legal market, is vital to all law firms.

Although I believe it is diminishing, there is a stereotypical view that BD is reserved for the upper echelons of a law firm; the Partnership. Whilst it is likely that the partners at a firm will do the lion's share of BD, it is just as important for fee earners at all levels, trainees included, to be actively involved in BD, not only to benefit the firm but for personal development as well.

It is therefore important to be aware of BD opportunities from day one of deciding to apply for training contracts.

BD opportunities come in many forms, so, based on my past experience in sales and my journey to the end of my first year as a trainee, I have set out below some possible BD opportunities to have in mind whilst you progress through the process of qualifying as a solicitor:

Your peers

Whilst you're engrossed in attending seminars, writing essays and partaking in negotiation exercises during your studies for life in the legal profession, it may be hard to see how you could be undertaking potential BD for your future firm. It is however one of the first opportunities you are likely to be presented with. Your peers may be looking to follow the same route as you or may be looking to get into other professions such as accountancy, banking or general business and may become clients in the future. Strong relationships at the grass roots of your career may reap rewards further down the line when you and your respective peers are in decision making positions at the business you work in. At this point these friendships could very well turn into instructions; something your firm will be very pleased about.

Family and friends

Whilst nobody in your immediate family or friends may have the slightest interest in becoming a lawyer, they may have useful connections that you could explore. Do any of them work for businesses that could be clients of your firm? If so, make an effort to talk to the relevant people and talk about your firm to them. A word of caution though; don't be too pushy! BD is often a long game and, at times, is about raising the profile of your firm in the minds of those that matter.

Referrer networks

These networks, offered by a number of regulatory bodies, societies and a number of businesses themselves are great opportunities to meet people across a range of industries that are keen to share ideas, experiences and most importantly the opportunity of work, if and when the need arises. At TLT we have 'TLT Connect', where junior solicitors and trainees have the opportunity to invite other professionals to come to events organised at our offices. These events often contain presentations from partners who are experts in the relevant topic for that event. They are great opportunities for attendees to receive updates on laws that may affect their line of business. It also offers them the chance to see what TLT and its employees can offer to them and their businesses. In turn, many TLT employees are then invited to similar events and can build up a strong network of connections.

Secondments

They say actions speak louder than words and this is particularly true when it comes to BD. If you have the opportunity to take a secondment with an existing client of the firm, this can be a great opportunity to spot ways that you and your firm can better use your experience to support them.

Clearly, one of the primary ways to business develop during a secondment is to work hard and to the best of your ability in order to impress the client. This will hopefully raise the profile of your firm in the eyes of the in-house lawyers as they will see the calibre of lawyers your firm employs, hopefully leading to more instructions. You should also try to listen out for any potential opportunities that may arise. Your firm may have a particular specialism that could be perfect for the situation or a matter could arise where you know your firm could assist the client quickly and in the most effective manner.

Importantly, make sure you are not pushy in your BD approach if you are on secondment. Opportunities should grow and appear organically. It is for you to be aware of these opportunities as they arise and to support your client in the correct way. This will usually mean working closely with your supervisor on the most appropriate action to take.

Conclusion

Whilst not the be all and end all of a successful career in law, BD is important and it looks like it will only become more so in the future. Some people are much more comfortable than others at undertaking BD and this is fine. BD methods and opportunities, as seen above, can range from the very basic, such as making friends with the right people, to the more complex such as really knowing the ins and outs of your firm and being able to actively promote any unique selling points to relevant people.

There is no set formula for successful BD and nor should there be, as everyone's approach is different. It is however, important that throughout your career you are keeping your eyes open for ways that you can use your experience to support your contacts. Such opportunities may arise infrequently, but if they do and you can help, you should hopefully be doing wonders for your development as a solicitor.

Oliver

Oliver joined us as a trainee in our London office in September 2013. He studied Law at the University of East Anglia.