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SHARES

Many law firms are playing catch-up when it comes to business development and those that don’t embrace it will be left behind. That’s the personal view of Julie Norris, a solicitor and non-practising barrister, who is in the regulatory team and has responsibility for business development (BD) at Kingsley Napley – a firm that has been making waves in the market with impressive growth, a clear strategy and by being named as one of the Sunday Times Best 100 Companies to Work For.

“Many law firms are way behind other professional services providers. There has to be greater focus on practical business development. Clients are becoming more savvy and discerning, and the industry must respond,” she told the BDLN in a recent interview.

We couldn’t agree more at the BDLN and it is refreshing to hear a lawyer talk about business development with such passion.

“I personally believe law firms that stick with the traditional lawyer-only model won’t keep up,” she said. “Of course lawyers must keep on lawyering but those who are interested in business development must be encouraged. And in order to galvanise BD lawyers – and ensure that BD strategy is seen through – I believe you need non-lawyers within leadership teams. Greater responsibility for running law firms should be given to strategic directors, directors of operations and marketing professionals.”

Greater responsibility for running law firms should be given to strategic directors, directors of operations and marketing professionals

Kingsley Napley is a great example of how a law firm can successfully embrace BD while staying true to its raison d’etre; that of providing high-quality fee-winning legal services. As Julie explained: “I spend more than 50 per cent of my time strategising BD and fulfilling client-facing BD responsibilities. It’s vitally important that you carry on doing the day job if you’re looking to talk authoritatively about your business, and if you want to understand the market and the environment in which your clients work. So I split my time between the two and it ebbs and flows – depending on need. The firm is supportive of this stance and recognises that there will be fallow times for fee earning. They appreciate that if you fee earn all the time there’s no time for thinking, strategising and networking, so nothing improves.”

As good BD professionals know, effective business development is about never resting on your laurels. And the aim shouldn’t only be to win new clients but to retain and develop the ones you’ve got. When we touched upon this idea in the interview, Julie said: “We’ve stopped looking inwards and started looking at what our competitors are doing and what our clients want. It’s no good relying on your relationships with your current clients and assuming they will stay cordial forever. There is always a competitor who is able to offer something as good, probably more cheaply and in more attractive packaging. If you don’t continually work on the client relationship and maintain that edge, your competitors will steal the march on you.”

It’s no good relying on your relationships with your current clients and assuming they will stay cordial forever. There is always a competitor who is able to offer something as good, probably more cheaply and in more attractive packaging

Beyond that, Julie targets new business, but she never uses sales-heavy techniques, as her ambition is simply to grow her network in a positive manner. By doing that, new business follows naturally. “Networking is the most important part of BD for us,” she said. “‘Marketing’ is not a word we use. It’s the networks you create and maintain that drive high quality work. We’ll attend an event with no particular objective and while we’re there an opportunity will arise. You will meet someone new, introduce someone to a contact, and quickly your circle of contacts begins to know each other. That virtuous circle enables work to be driven into the team.”

But to network effectively you have to be in the right mindset. “My advice to lawyers who want to do more business development is to start small. Be natural, be a good listener and don’t take on a persona. If you go out with a particular objective, a spiel or a sell that you are determined to offload then you will be hugely unsuccessful. Keep your level of self-interest low, almost to vanishing point. The brilliant thing about BD is that you learn fascinating things about other people, other industries and other businesses. If you network with that in mind – rather than thinking ‘I’m going to sell’ – you’ll be successful and you’ll enjoy yourself more. Approach other people thinking: ‘I’m interested in finding out about you and your business. I want to know how I can help you and I want to then be able introduce you to useful contacts.’ Even simple icebreakers like, ‘where did you go on holiday?’ are OK. Just find out about that person as if they were a friend, and you will have success. But if you go with a script, you’ll feel awkward and they’ll find it uncomfortable too.

If you go out with a particular objective, a spiel or a sell that you are determined to offload then you will be hugely unsuccessful. Keep your level of self-interest low, almost to vanishing point

“And you must follow up,” she continued. “It isn’t enough to have a meaningful conversation with someone and leave. You must follow up with them every month so that they become a regular connection.”

More law firms would do well to follow Julie’s infectiously enthusiastic approach to business development. BD is too often viewed as a chore or as an unnecessary expense – as something several notches below the noble calling of legal practice. Julie told us it’s “flabbergasting” that barristers are “given so little help and preparation with business development”. We agree. It’s high time the law industry embraced the art of business development and fully grasped the need to give its young professionals the tools to flourish in this crucial area. As Julie said: “During training you learn everything about the professional skills of law but no-one ever mentions BD, networking, or how you begin to run your own business.”

That gaping hole makes no sense in today’s market and it needs fixing.