Tips to Flex Your Business Development Muscles as a Young Practitioner
As a legal business development and marketing professional in a past life, I picked up a few tips that most junior practitioners may not know or may not have the confidence to implement early in their careers. I am using these tips in my own practice and hope that they will help other young practitioners to build their networks and their businesses.
1. It’s never too early to start
No one is expecting newly called associates to bring clients into the firm, but starting to practice the skill of networking early will help you to be more at ease with it over your career.
Start today! Join a professional committee or sign up for an event. Staying connected to the practice area you work in through events, committees, speaking engagements or membership in organizations will help you to stay on top of potential changes in law and procedures related to your practice, and also keep you top of mind for other practitioners and firms that may have conflicts for IP work which they could send out to you. This is one way for your firm to get new work.
2. Build your brand
What type of work do you want to be doing in 5 years? Start to market yourself and focus your efforts now with that goal in mind. Review your goals regularly (at least yearly).
Be sure to keep up to date in your area of practice. Write articles or blog posts displaying your expertise and commenting on case law or legislative changes. Use social media to provide your opinion, showcase expertise, connect with contacts and build new relationships. Tag people in your posts who you think might be interested in what you have to say. Be sure that members of your firm are familiar with your practice area(s) of interest so they can give work to you.
3. Invest in relationships
As a first-year associate, I don’t recommend cold calling the CEO of a Fortune 500 company to have a beer. Instead, build relationships with people around your own age or year of call. Although they may not be in a decision-making capacity now (likely neither are you!), hopefully as you move up, so will your peers. Building up connections happens through regular involvement over time so remember to follow up and continue to reach out to these connections often.
It is also a good idea to start to network inside your own firm. The more lawyers that know and like you inside your firm, the more likely you are to get work assigned to you. Maintaining relationships with lawyers who leave your firm is also a good idea. They could refer work to you in the future in cases of conflict or a need for your subject matter expertise.
People like to work with people they like. The Canadian bar is not that big, and you can come up against the same lawyers and firms over and over throughout your career. Make sure you behave professionally and with a friendly attitude in all situations (while at the same time putting your client’s interests forward), because you never know when a past or current opponent can become a future coworker or could refer work.
4. Show me the money
Whether you’re at a an established multi-disciplinary firm or are a sole practitioner, every firm should have a budget for business development initiatives. Find out if any of it is allocated to you, and if not, put together a short business case for why some of the budget should be allocated to you. Be sure to include responses to questions like: how much do you need, what will you use it for, what will you get out of it, what will the firm get out of it, and how will you leverage your current involvement in the future?
You may not be heading to a huge conference in Australia or Shanghai this year with what you have available to you, but you could have enough budget to become a member of a local industry organization, take a junior from a client’s office or business acquaintance to an event, or ask someone you met in a business capacity to join a team, run a race for charity, or attend a relevant speaking session together. You can also look into what firmwide association memberships your firm may already have purchased. Sometimes you can get involved for free!
Another suggestion is to take someone out for a coffee or to lunch, as these are more affordable options than dinner or drinks. You also have a short and defined amount of time to talk (sixty to ninety minutes) so you won’t have to worry about awkward silences.
Finally, do the best you can with what you have. Good is good enough, so try to use the budget effectively. If you don’t get to do everything you want in the first year, there is always next year.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
There are lots of available resources out there to help you build your network. If you’re looking to focus on a particular industry, you can ask your library, if your firm has one, or do some research yourself online on local events and organizations and start getting involved.
If you have a marketing person, ask him/her for a short meeting to discuss how you can build a short- and long-term business development plan for yourself. You may also want to ask your marketing professional how you can get involved in initiatives that are already organized or paid for by the firm.
It is also advisable to speak with your mentor for tips on business development strategies.
Going to an event by yourself? Don’t be afraid to walk up to someone and say hello. Chances are, if they aren’t doing the same today, they have done so in the past.
I hope some or all of these tips will help you to get more comfortable with the idea of business development in your own career. Above all, remember to be yourself and try your best! The rest will follow.