2021 is just around the corner and there is a lot to consider in terms of business development inside law firms. That’s why we held a webinar, Legal2021: The New Growth Imperative, to see how our panelists of legal marketing and BD professionals are keeping an eye on growth opportunities for next year.
We were joined by:
- Zena Applebaum, Director, Professional Firm & Corporate Segments at Thomson Reuters
- Christa Crane, Chief Client Development and Marketing Officer at Loeb & Loeb LLP
- Barbaros Karaahmet, Chief Operating Officer at Herrick Feinstein LLP
- Mariana Loose, Chief Marketing Officer at Jackson Lewis P.C.
Impact of COVID on 2020 marketing/BD
The discussion began with different vantage points from inside firms and how they juggled their priorities at the start of the pandemic.
Christa shared how attorneys at Loeb & Loeb focused on staying close to clients and found creative ways to do so as soon as they went remote. Phone calls, Zoom meetings and, most importantly, planning for the long-term was critical to moving forward. Her team worked with attorneys to stay one step ahead and keep things interesting to avoid things such as Zoom fatigue. They leaned in on digital strategies, virtual events, and reimagined thought leadership programs.
Mariana added that attorneys showing empathy during a time of crisis was also important when it came to connecting with clients. She emphasized that “reaching out in bad times is also equally important”, despite how uncomfortable it may be. There doesn’t need to be something to sell to touch base with a client. Reminding clients that the attorneys are there for support was one of the first things Jackson Lewis centered on in their BD activities and client interactions.
Content generation as outreach
With most traditional modes of BD halted by the pandemic, many firms amped up content generation to stay engaged with the marketplace, clients and prospects.
Barbaros used content in the form of COVID resource pages at Herrick to inform clients of how the pandemic impacted legal contracts and how their firm can help. But eventually, every firm was distributing the same content and so Barbaros needed to reevaluate their approach. His team turned their efforts to existing clients and asked “How can we help you more in different departments of the firm?” They concentrated on supporting their existing client base as opposed to chasing new clients.
From the external perspective, Zena started to see firms as content creators and publishers. Lawyers naturally understand risk mitigation and scenario planning which made it very easy for them to produce content that outlines what could happen in certain situations and potential for litigation. She also noted how marketing and BD teams were helping attorneys be more resilient and use their technology better. This spawned conversations and knowledge sharing between departments, allowing attorneys to raise issues and topics to address and having their marketing and BD colleagues provide their insights on how firms and clients can enhance their operations. This proved to be an opportunity for firms to showcase their ability to speak on various subjects.
Mariana observed patterns from the content her team created around COVID. Routine questions prompted them to develop online products that empowered clients to have as much information at their fingertips. For example, a COVID advisor was built which enabled multi-state employers or clients that worked in multiple jurisdictions to view closure orders, restrictions, and other COVID information by state.
Growing business in 2021
With in-person events gone, firms had to find ways to replace face to face connections. Zena noticed hosted events that were more family-friendly since everyone is situated at home. From virtual magic shows to wine and cheese tastings, these were some of the clever ways of reaching a captive audience. This shift to figure out how to connect with clients in their current environment demonstrated that firms understood their clients’ needs and relationships. The engagement across new avenues solidified relationships and established ground for business in 2021.
Calling back to Barbaros’ comments on strengthening existing client relationships, Zena predicted that many firms will be “doubling down on their data”, looking at key account management, utilizing key performance metrics and key performance indicators to understand more about their relationships and see where they can improve upon them.
Christa echoed that statement and pointed out how Loeb & Loeb is “leaning in heavily on the web analytics front.” Realizing how their efforts are performing and who is reading their content has helped her team fine-tune strategies for specific industry groups or practices. She also mentioned the “idea of really doing your diligence in advance.” A group of lawyers and senior administrators at her firm are working on what the post-pandemic world would look like and what opportunities lie ahead for a firm like theirs. Identifying, fully understanding, and pursuing those options are critical from a client development and competitive standpoint.
The same applies to Mariana at Jackson Lewis. They are also looking forward and reimagining their marketing and BD activities. They are intentional around what they are trying to achieve—listening to clients, being thoughtful about the environment in which everyone is working in right now and bringing forth projects that will fulfill their needs and expectations.
For her, it is more than taking an in-person event and replicating it into a digital format. It is taking a look at the things her firm normally does, seeing what works, and recalibrating it to thrive in today’s landscape. For example, early on in the crisis, she realized people didn’t have much time to dedicate to learn new things. So her team created a 20-minute briefing webinar at the same hour each day. New developments that emerged over the last 24 hours were distributed during the online event. Not only did this keep people informed, but it also created a forum for attendees to ask questions and get answers to their questions.
BD innovation within the firm
One of the things Mariana learned from this year is supplying information to clients quickly. Data visualization is a simple yet effective way of delivering information in an easy to digest format that allows clients to make business decisions instantly. Her team is constantly thinking, “How do we regroup and look at what we’re hearing from all of these different clients in pockets? How do we turn that into something that’s more than just a piece of static content? How do we make that something live and useful?”
At Herrick, Barbaros saw this year as an opportunity to pause and review what their firm had in terms of data and points of contacts with clients. As he mentioned before, they used this information to reconnect with current clients and support them in different ways. It was a chance for upselling, cross-selling, and making introductions to collaborate with other departments.
Two things Zena noted were firms 1) going “digital and the move to work from anywhere” and 2) investing more towards technology and collaboration. She says many firms will need to think about how to use tools as a vehicle for digital marketing, collaboration and to “be where your clients are when you need them to be there” as we continue working remotely.
With limited staff and resources, Christa says the right mix of team members can also go a long way. Her team has “people that have stretched into very different roles than what they would normally do.” Especially her events team which they’ve repurposed their project management and communication skills to use for internal communications.
What lies ahead next year
The playing field has moved online, but the panel is in agreement that there are immense BD opportunities in the market. Ultimately, it comes down to recognizing your goals, understanding what business you’re trying to get out of a particular opportunity, and being creative on how you go about achieving them.
Internal communication will be a vital factor for success. Everyone will need to know what the purpose is and what is happening throughout and around the firm. This has been an ongoing challenge, and an even bigger one now, given the distributed workforce. But firms cannot lose sight of it. Information is key to fully prepare for what comes next.
Missed the webinar?
Watch the full recording here.