I would suggest one simple killer strategy that firms should being doing already, which is even more critical during tough economic times. Interview all your top clients and find out what issues are “keeping them up at night”. Then help your clients focus on these issues and resolve them. They’ll thank you for it with more work and market share. This strategy will also help you avoid losing your top clients to other hungry firms approaching them during this period.
Tough times like these lead to many opportunities for smart firms. Another great strategy is to pick up star partners from your competitors in lucrative practice areas you want to grow. These folks are available now since it’s slow, and not normally available in regular economic times. When the economy returns, your new star partners will help your firm dominate your market space and greatly enhance future profitability.
I have seen it done at one of the major accounting firms. They had a sales team of 3 people that followed up on target clients and made sales presentations directly to clients. That was over 10 years ago now. From everything I heard, it was quite successful and well-received by clients. I’ve also heard that some of the larger US law firms have sales teams in place.
Ideally, your attorneys should be doing the sales. However, most attorneys aren’t trained in sales and don’t do a good job of it. I have also seen law firm partners in action who spend virtually all their time on sales and networking activities and are the most highly paid partners in their firms if they get results. If you build the culture to allow this to happen, your young attorneys will recognize this and will be inspired to build their practices rapidly through standard sales techniques.
I know of one large US law firm that bought the rights to a generic sales training course, made only minor edits for law firm use, and now presents it as standard fare to all their attorneys. More firms are starting to recognize the need to develop their young attorneys’ business development and sales skills early on, given the increasing competition for clients in today’s rapidly changing legal environment.
If I had to pick one key skill which can have the most impact on the profitability of law firms, it would be Leadership. I distinguish leadership from management in that leadership involves inspiring and motivating others to do what’s best for the firm, while management focuses on execution and efficiency. Lawyers often confuse the two functions, and focus on counting pencils and cutting staff instead of leading others and dealing with key issues holding back the firm.
There are many good books and materials on the subject of leadership, so firms should start by building a leadership library now. Hold inhouse leadership seminars for all partners and associates and provide one-on-one leadership training for those in leadership positions. This is just a start, as much more can be done here.