Nine Strategies for legal business development in 2020

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Itzik Amiel
THE SWITCH, Amsterdam



We see an interesting change in the business development of the legal market. This change is based on the wide, direct access that many clients have nowadays to lawyers globally. Macro trends indicate that clients have made fundamental changes to the ways they purchase professional services, which has driven lawyers to embrace new approaches to business development. What do these strategies mean for your practice? Here are some of the key implications:

• the days of trying to be ‘everything to everyone’ are numbered. The newer strategies favour specialist lawyers;

• as a lawyer, you need to combine both online and offline business development strategies. Do not ignore either area; and

• professional competence and excellent client service are no longer enough: these are merely the cost of entry. Your firm must develop a robust business development capability if it is to compete effectively.

We are certain that the lawyers who best adapt their strategies to these market conditions and execute the well-defined strategies we share in this short article will make the most progress in maturing their business development evolution in 2020 and beyond.


Alice asked: ‘I was just wondering if you could help me find my way.’

Cheshire Cat replied: ‘Well that depends on where you want to get to.’

Alice answered: ‘It doesn’t matter.’

And then the cat said:  ‘Then it really doesn’t matter which way you go.’

(paraphrased from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland)


When it comes to your practice’s business development, this adage is nevertheless still accurate.

Whether your business involves individual professionals or is a large practice, you need to plan its development activities. This is well known.

Business development strategies for lawyers are changing. Old strategies, that have worked for many years, are losing their effectiveness and force.

New strategies, that can bring exciting opportunities for lawyers and help them grow their practices faster, are being favoured.

In the legal business world, the calibre of a business development strategy is essential. New tools (and their rapid evolution) have an increasing impact on the ways in which lawyers and law firms develop their practice.

Here are the top nine strategic opportunities that you may want to consider, in order to boost and switch your legal practice business development in 2020:

1. Identify and separate business development and marketing

It seems that many more lawyers and law firms understand the importance of business development for growing their legal practice.

Many have started to separate and switch the business development responsibilities out of the hands of marketing personnel, into the hands of a special business development manager and even partly (or completely) back to the hands of the lawyers.

This is an interesting development (and unique in some jurisdictions). It is to be encouraged because professional business development (and international business development) demands a completely different skill-set and mind-set to that required by marketing.

When we deal with business development, we speak about building and nurturing relationships with potential clients, referral sources, strategic alliances and so on. On the other hand, the core efforts of marketing centre on being found in one’s professional capacity (both offline and online).

This explains why, nowadays, joining a professional network as a lawyer is insufficient. A network can, in the best cases, help lawyers with the marketing efforts (assuming that those managing the network have marketing experience).

However, in many cases these marketing efforts do not lead to actual work. In order for this to be the case, such efforts should be supported by business development, within the professional network or within the professional legal practice. This demands a dedicated personnel to develop and nurture relationships with the potential clients.

Based on discussions with many lawyers, from 2020 even more lawyers will switch from traditional marketing to a relationships-centred, marketing-business development approach that helps them boost their practice growth.

2. Insert business development into the client engagement process

This is an opportunity for lawyers to use business development as an important part of client relationships and the client engagement process.

As you learn more about a prospect, your interaction with that prospect should be increasingly tailored and personal.

For example, you could invite them to a special event organised by you for like-minded prospects. Alternatively, you could send an item of value to them – for example, an interesting book that might provide some useful insights; an invitation for them to join you at a seminar, and so on.

In this way, your business development efforts will not only be more efficient, but will also be an easier and more pleasant part of your day-to-day operations. Moreover, you will continue to be at the forefront of their minds.

3. Create a niche for your practice and your business development efforts

In this ultra-competitive legal marketplace, lawyers are realising that a more effective approach to business development is focusing on a narrower group of prospects to guarantee success.

From a practical point of view, it will also be more efficient to invest your time in building relationships with a specific group of potential clients. 

It has been proven that individuals are only able to sustain a limited number of stable or meaningful social relationships. This is usually considered to be roughly 150 and is called ‘Dunbar’s number’. It is better to construct a focused and deep approach to business development, than to build one that is wide and shallow.

4. Know your business development ROI numbers

It seems that many lawyers cannot point to the direct results of and accurate return on investment (ROI) from each business development initiative within their practice.

It is time to change this. You need to learn to change practices based on these measurements. Why?

First, these measurements will help you reveal what works and what doesn’t. You will be able to intensify successful practices and stop business development projects that bring no (or little) ROI to you and your practice. Within a legal practice, ROI should not only be measured within monetary parameters (but that subject is for another article).

Second, the successful growth of your practice will result from knowing your numbers. The ROI for your business development efforts is very a important part of your legal practice numbers.

Lawyers who know their business development ROI numbers have a tremendous advantage over those who do not. The business development ROI numbers tell a story: understanding the story behind your numbers can be one of the most important ingredients for long-term business development success.

5. Stand out and differentiate

What are you known for? What is your law firm known for? Are you aware of your sustainable advantage?

You need to learn to stand out and differentiate your firm also by its innovative business development approach.

Focusing your business development efforts will also to help you stand out in the market place and receive the right exposure, attract new clients and gain global industry recognition.

6. Implement ‘attention leadership’

Today, there are many demands on our time and attention.

While marketing is all about ‘getting attention’, business development is more about ‘giving attention’.

As content has grown increasingly abundant and immediately available, attention becomes a limiting factor in the consumption of information by your prospects and connections.

As a leader of your legal practice, you should learn to practice ‘attention leadership’ as part of the business development of your practice. This means learning to give attention to your connections in order to stand out. Such attention will be used by your connections to filter out the most important information from a much larger pool of digital information (including information produced by your competitors, who also want your connections’ attention).

This approach will also stimulate the participation of various lawyers in your practice who will need to ‘pay attention’.

7. Switch from practice-focused to client-focused

Many lawyers get the opportunity to make proposals to clients with complex matters in their area of expertise.

This is a great opportunity for you, as a professional, to boost your practice’s business development, by taking a more strategic approach to these projects.

In other words, instead of pitching on only your specific capabilities, also include your strategic approach to dealing with client matters and serving their needs. Convey that you understand complex client problems and share how you’ve resolved issues for similar clients.

This, again, involves switching from focusing just on your practice (the ‘getting attention’ approach) — a mistake that many lawyers make — to showcasing client issues or case studies (the ‘giving attention’ approach), which is more client-focused.

8. Create a systems approach

Increasingly, a number of professionals are looking at ways of generating new clients leads and prospects for their practice.

Many lawyers see this task as being at the heart of their business development approach.

This coming year will mark a significant switch in the way lawyers address this need. Many of the professional firms to whom we have provided our services over the last two years have chosen to adopt and implement a lead generation system as part of their business development.

This system includes generating contacts through content distribution in the right channels (not only online but also offline), tracking activities with key prospects, measuring the results in different stages of the client engagement process and analysing data to identify potential clients.

These are important tasks that will become more useful and give the lawyers who use them a significant advantage over their competitors.

9. Look for new revenue opportunities

Many of your connections — people in your network that like and trust you — are willing to pay you money now for sharing with them your knowledge, experience and ideas. We have proven this again and again in recent years, with many lawyers.

You can learn (and we believe you should learn) how to effectively turn a cost centre in your practice into a new profit centre. The only thing you need to be able to succeed here is to have an open mind-set.


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