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Business Development

Showing up in a virtual world

How have large law firms survived and thrived in a remote working environment? The answer involves both going back to basics while also embracing new ways of doing business. A recent virtual gathering of legal industry experts discussed how law firm management and business development have evolved in a digital world.

Keeping the personal touch in a remote environment

“I spent a lot of time just showing up. If I show up at meetings repeatedly with pen in hand, taking notes, asking questions, sending a follow-up note, I am demonstrating through my acts and words that I care about this business. I want to get to know you, and if I do it over and over and over again, it will, in fact, build trust,” said Kimberly Rennick, Allen & Overy’s Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer.

So how can lawyers ‘show up’ in a virtual world?

Deborah Ruffins, Chief Marketing Officer at Perkins Coie, says, “Just call, call regularly, call to ask how somebody’s doing. Call at off hours that are more convenient for your clients who have children or other commitments, who are, like us all, struggling with the upheaval. Be personable, be real, be available, and also, of course, offer insights to help.”

Embrace technology to nurture key client relationships

“Rainmakers, who were used to walking the halls and organically developing relationships or collaborating with clients in their offices, sometimes struggled with how to adapt,” says Ruffins.

The rainmakers are not alone. According to Thomson Reuters Peer Monitor Insights, 77% of lawyers find business development more difficult in a virtual world.

Leveraging technology can be the answer. “We operate across more than 50 offices with about 4,000 lawyers,” says Caroline Rhys Jones, Global Director of Clients for Norton Rose Fulbright. “One of the biggest challenges for us is getting information we’ve just acquired out to all of those people in a consistent way so that they understand the market trends that we’re seeing with our clients. The technology to assist with that makes a virtual world more negotiable.”

Three areas of technology can bridge that gap between live and virtual worlds.

Data-driven insights: Your firm’s unique value-add

First, providing clients with critical data and insights gives attorneys an opportunity to reach out to clients with a value-added message. “Lawyers have kind of a new thirst for insights they could use and interpret and take to their clients. They have a reason, a useful reason, to get in touch,” says Rhys Jones.

“This is the underpinning of client development in the last decade,” says Nita Cumello, Global Client Director at Thomson Reuters. “We’ve transitioned from a landscape where the one with the expertise had privileged access to information, to a landscape of information itself really being accessible to anyone and everyone. It becomes incumbent upon those building individual and organizational books of business to bring clarity to people’s understanding. In other words, to separate the signal from the noise.”

Companies such as Thomson Reuters Acritas, a market analysis, research, and advisory services business, deliver market insights and thought leadership that benefits law firm clients. Expert analysts and advisors make recommendations to clients based on robust research insights. Those insights improve business performance and sharpen a firm’s competitive edge.

“We’ve tried to focus on bringing new life to all of the fantastic content and data that we have, including huge amounts of data that we use from Acritas,” says Rhys Jones. “We have matter feedback data that we have built up with Acritas over the last 10 years. Our real focus has been on pushing that out to the firm so that the partners and the lawyers have that insight into what our clients are looking for, what their needs are, and can actually have useful conversations that are going to assist those clients.”

Providing actionable insights to lawyers within the firm is half the battle. With decades of institutional knowledge in many large law firms, getting that data quickly and easily into the hands of clients can be a challenge.

Client portals: Give them (only) what they want

A customized customer portal may be the answer to many of the challenges surrounding information exchange.

“We give our clients a customized view into the insights and thought leadership that we have,” says Rhys Jones. “We’ve started to build bespoke client portals that house all sorts of different types of data and information that is specifically catered to their business needs. We align it according to their business segments, and we align it according to the markets they’re operating in. And we will have in-depth discussions with them to understand what they would find useful to be pushed through the portal. We do that through the HighQ platform.”

HighQ is a client engagement platform that takes institutional knowledge and packages it for clients. It provides custom workflows, shared calendars, document automation, and other features. Client portals like the ones built with HighQ allow forms to curate or create content and push it out to clients. “It’s really quite easy for us to do, but the benefit that it gives the clients is really considerable because they’re not rummaging through endless amounts of information that’s not that relevant to them. That’s one of the simple things that we started to offer our clients if they need it,” Rhys Jones concluded.

Using social media to stay connected

Finally, another area of technology that can help in a virtual office environment is social media. Developing or deepening relationships through LinkedIn, Twitter, or other channels is a way to reach out when face-to-face connections aren’t feasible.

“We have all of the social media channels available to us at Allen and Overy,” says Rennick. “I view all of those as tools in the toolbox. I always encourage our lawyers to find the method that is authentic to them that allows them to share their voice.”

For Ruffins, that means telling stories via digital channels. “We’ve got strong LinkedIn and Twitter channels and engagement is growing because we’re leveraging all that content through those channels. But we’ve also got people who are very good at being themselves in those channels. And it’s combining the theme content, the legal content, with who they are personally.”

She advises lawyers to be patient with their efforts. “Many times, our lawyers conflate all of marketing, profile raising, and business development as one big thing. If they post on LinkedIn and don’t immediately get a call from a client about new business, they might feel, ‘Well, that didn’t work.’ Perhaps that’s not how it works. A post is a profile-raising opportunity to put in the minds of your readers what your expertise is, what your voice is, or what’s authentic to you.

The purpose of any effort in business development is to get to the next step. It’s great if you get business from that interaction, but if you simply just built your expertise a bit more in the eyes of the person with whom you’re interacting, that wasn’t a loss, that was a win.”

Navigating the virtual environment

Empowering lawyers in a digital environment can stretch a firm’s comfort zone, but embracing the benefits of a virtual world can mean rewards that last longer than the pandemic. The work world may be operating fully remotely for some time, and it could become at least partially permanent in the future. In either case, the business practices that succeed today will be important to nurture and enhance in the months and years to come.

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