Law firms have become very effective in establishing functional marketing departments staffed by highly qualified and motivated personnel. All the usual categories can be ticked – communications, publications, client relationship management, events and social media. Why is it then that one is still left with the feeling that something is not quite right, something is not quite gelling? There is unrealised potential.

Getting partners or groups of partners in practice or industry sector groups working together to build practice areas, industry sector specialties or build interaction and relationships with clients can be the most powerful business building a firm does. It also has many off-shoot benefits. (Sean Larkan – Edge International)

Quite understandably, most marketing and business development efforts are focused externally – functions, publications, client visitations, media, relationship management and so on. However, as is so often the case , there remains real potential within.

Due to the nature of the profession and the professionals who people it, we tend to be competitive, individualistic and not natural sharers. We are usually of a fixed mindset disposition and to win is everything and we have an abject fear of failure. We play our cards close to our chest. But right here, amongst this partner group, lies the greatest potential to kick-start your marketing and business building efforts. Getting those self-same partners to start working together, sharing, swapping ideas, helping one another succeed.

Getting partners and groups of partners in practice areas or industry sector areas to start working together and to do so strategically and actively is not easy. But back in the time I was helping to run large corporate law firms this is where we got the most mileage. In in some cases it was startlingly successful. The good thing was that this success did not come from the leadership group – it came from the efforts and leadership of practice and industry sector heads. But, not alone, rather in conjunction with colleagues in other groups or sectors.

How to go about this? There are obviously various ways to tackle this but I have found the following framework helps things along:

  1. get partners in similar practice areas or industry sectors talking and meeting and in time they may be working together e.g. planning and environment with property; mining with oil & gas; education with dispute resolution, and so on;
  2. in regard to the groups you start with it helps to choose areas where the partners are ‘mates’ or respect one another;
  3. try to pick one or two to work with first and work closely with them to get things going – follow up to make sure they keep the pot boiling;
  4. encourage them to start small – just a few key people – they can always expand the group later;
  5. note all successes, however small – quietly get the word around. Get the partners to talk about these at meetings where other partners are present;
  6. where possible identify financial benefits that have flowed from these successful interactions and spread the word;
  7. last, but arguably most important, get marketing staff involved – ideally appoint one person to support each interactive group of partners – have them attend all meetings of the joint group and keep notes and follow up and assist the group. It enhances their roles and the groups benefit enormously. Over time these become ‘partnerships’ caste in stone.

What are the benefits?

  1. you get partners working together and often ‘hunting in pairs’ which quells nervousness about out and out marketing or business building;
  2. partners who would otherwise be nervous about business building activities find they can tackle these exercises in a secure, private world and work with others in doing so. This grows confidence;
  3. partners start behaving like leaders and thinking strategically, thinking beyond the square;
  4. success doesn’t come overnight – wins are often subtle and slowly crop up – this teaches partners that with most things in this sphere success takes persistence and consistency over time;
  5. other partners start noting successes and can be more easily persuaded to take similar steps;
  6. this builds confidence for other more ‘out there’ business building efforts.

When I talk to law firm leaders about growth strategies to kick-start their firms I usually pose a few questions for them – one is ‘what are the sources of unrealised potential within your firm?’ There are about a dozen that we end up agreeing on. However, it is surprising, always, how few pick them.

What we have been discussing in this post is definitely one of them. Most firms do this reasonably well or have at least attempted it. Too many don’t realise its potential or give up after struggling to get partners to interact, share and work together to a common goal. It is truly worth the effort, I promise you. Give it a go or give it another go if you have tried it before and it never worked.

Sean Larkan, Partner, Edge International.