Business Development for Litigators

Commercial and general litigators often feel they must work harder and smarter at business development. Their client relationships are often episodic, coming and going with a client’s need for representation. It can be tougher for these lawyers to develop expertise and recognition in a substantive area of the law or within a specific industry or business. As a result, they may struggle when branding themselves, and their business development efforts may be scattershot. Fortunately there’s a relatively simple method by which they can learn to identify target clients and focus their marketing efforts.

Somewhat paradoxically, it begins by having litigators look back in order to look forward. Litigators can start by opening a document (or taking a piece of paper) and making a table with three vertical columns on it. The columns will be labeled: Case/Matter, Nature of Dispute, and Client’s Industry/Business.

  • In the first column they will list the cases (not just trials) they have worked on in the past. Each case or matter will have its own row. How far back they go is up to them.
  • In the second column they will identify the nature of the dispute. For example, was it a partnership dispute, a business tort, or liability for a construction defect?
  • In the third column they will identify their client’s industry or business.

Once they have completed this inventory of past cases, they look for patterns and trends. They ask themselves if:

  • Their work focused on a certain industry or a certain kind of litigation?
  • There are areas of litigation or industries that have been more active than others?
  • It is likely that some of these areas will continue to be active or require more litigation?

They can then highlight the kinds of disputes they would like to handle in the future, and the businesses or industries from which they would like to draw their clients. In a similar fashion, they can cross out the industries and matters they would like to avoid in the future. From this exercise a picture of their target clients and the substantive areas and industries in which they would like to work will emerge.

Litigators can then get active in the trade associations of the specific industries and businesses that they have selected. Clients usually know which are the best organizations to join and meetings to attend for networking. Litigators can share their expertise with members of those organizations, whether by white papers, blog posts, or webinars. They can use their past experience to speak or write on topics that will be useful and valuable to the members of those organizations. In doing this, litigators will avoid taking too narrow of an approach to business development and personal branding.

Some litigators present themselves in a traditional manner as experts in managing and trying cases. While today’s clients respect that expertise, most are interested in avoiding costly litigation then engaging in it. Smart litigators will expand their brand and market themselves broadly as experts in legal risk management as well as litigation management. Although it may seem shortsighted for a litigator to help clients avoid litigation, this approach can actually create stronger client relationships and a more consistent flow of work. By taking more time to get to know prospective and actual clients’ business needs, smart litigators can reposition themselves so they are thought of as trusted advisors, not guns for hire.

Smart litigators can also make a mistake by focusing too narrowly on marketing only their individual services. For solo practitioners there is often no other option, but members of a firm can benefit by originating business for other lawyers in their firm. This in turn makes it easier to team with transactional lawyers in explaining to clients how to proactively deal with legal problems, avoid or minimize litigation, and succeed when litigation is the best option.

Commercial and general litigators can work smarter and overcome whatever business development challenges they may have by first taking a narrow approach in identifying target clients, matters and industries, and then being more collaborative in their marketing efforts. These two steps are keystones for litigators who want a strategic and systematic approach to client development that will save time and get results.

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