Already an IBA member? Sign in for a better website experience

Returning to in-person business development? Business Development and Marketing Subcommittee guide, August 2021

Wednesday 15 September 2021

Katherine Hutchinson
Bennett Jones, Toronto
hutchinsonk@bennettjones.com

Philip Allen
Ogier, Jersey
​​​​​​​philip.allen@ogier.com
 

Introduction

Over the past 18 months, most of the legal profession has adapted to conducting business development activities remotely, by video conference, using blogs and social media and by email and telephone calls. As some jurisdictions start returning to their offices (while some never really left), and others rethink back-to-the-office plans in the face of third, fourth or fifth waves, we examine the prospect of returning to in-person business development.

What needs to be considered?

  • Firms should ensure that they follow all local government guidelines with respect to Covid-19. These may include limits on the number of individuals, social distancing measures, use of masks, health screening and contact tracing.
  • When planning in-person business development activities, be aware that Covid-19 rules may change at short notice, and firms should consider contingencies, especially for larger and more costly events.
  • Consider the comfort level of attendees, both internal and external, as well as those not directly involved in the activity but also impacted (such as reception staff). Some jurisdictions allow for the requirement of vaccine certificates, passports or attestations and in some countries completing a health-screening questionnaire in advance has become standard. Determine a firm policy on what measures will be required for in-person meetings, and share that information with lawyers, staff and clients. Be prepared to answer questions about measures you have implemented and about your own health in advance of a meeting.
  • When looking at venues for business development activities, consider outdoor or partially open spaces when appropriate. If using indoor options, allow additional space for distancing. Determine food and drink offerings bearing in mind local comfort levels with regards to buffets and shared items.
  • Plan alternatives to hard copy materials including business cards. An electronic QR code, or sending information by email after the meeting minimises touch points. Also consider whether handshakes are appropriate in the current climate.
  • Consider where your clients are working. Many companies are working remotely, or in a hybrid arrangement and may not find it convenient to meet downtown for coffee or a meal, if they are now working from their homes some distance away from the office area. Additionally, some companies have implemented their own rules around in-person meetings both on and off their premises.

Should all business development return to in-person?

Firms have seen considerable success conducting some business development activities virtually. Webinars have been a great way to increase the audience attending a seminar beyond the traditional geographic confines, and on-demand video recordings extend an even further reach across time zones and allow clients to consume content at a time that suits them. Enabling clients to share recordings within their organisation broadens the potential viewership even further.

Written content from law firms saw a huge surge in Q2 and Q3 of 2020 as people were deprived of their usual manner of client communication and scrambled to find alternatives. Authoring blog posts, posting updates to firm web pages and contributing articles to third-party websites increased at a pace never before seen and forced writers to improve their skills to stand out from the crowd. More targeted communication to tighter distribution lists ensures that clients are not bombarded with irrelevant information while staying informed about topics important to them. Using sites such as LinkedIn further allows clients to choose when to engage with you and your content on their own terms.

A word on travel

International travel restrictions are changing rapidly, with countries using traffic light systems, advisory levels and implementing vaccine and/or testing requirements as the current situation dictates. Quarantine periods may be in effect and could extend the duration of a trip considerably. It may be useful to implement a firm policy for business travel to avoid situations that could cause disruption to your business and ensure that those who do travel have access to healthcare in their destination if needed.

Many conferences have moved to virtual or hybrid models for the balance of 2021, and plans remain fluid for 2022 in many areas. In considering whether to travel for business development activities it is important to remain abreast of current government recommendations on travel, and ensure plans can be changed, sometimes at the last minute, if the situation changes. Always ensure that your business development targets are comfortable meeting with those from outside of the country before making plans.

Conclusion

We continue to operate in challenging circumstances, but it is important that we all continue to engage in business development activities in ways that are appropriate. Consider developing firm policies around in-person meetings and travel to provide clarity to firm members and your clients. If in doubt about whether it is appropriate to engage in in-person activities, consult with your firm business development professionals and/or management team.