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Legal BD & Marketing Industry - Important things you need to know

Legal BD & Marketing Industry - Important things you need to know

Elaine Fung Business Development, Market Insight, Marketing & Communication...

BD & Marketing in the legal industry has always been a line of work that is fascinating to the rest of the marketing industry. It has a unique setup that works behind the scenes of Partners and fee earners, no other industry has the same unique way of operation as a law firm. Being in such a niche industry, it is vitally important to be aware of any recent movements and potential career paths you can take.

When partners are thinking about generating revenue, the first thing will be to increase the BD and marketing activities – this makes BD & Marketing the vital organ of a law firm. However, it is still seen as the ‘support’ function and the team’s productivity is based on the partners’ demands and requests. This belief sometimes has a negative effect on BD & marketing departments and creates a misconception of their value to the firm, making employees feel as an outsider or merely a support function. A lot of employees feel their capacity of personal development is limited and unclear, which subsequently has been one of the most common reasons why BD & Marketing employees start to look outside of the legal industry.

While it makes perfect sense that law firms measure their triumph on billable hours, client success and revenue, a large portion of the work fee earners receive, are in fact created from the efforts of the BD & marketing department. In fact it is fair to say lawyers were not trained to be a revenue generators during law school, and that BD & Marketing teams should also be considered to be one of the key contributors to revenue and client success.

The good news is that many senior BD & Marketing managers have recognised these challenges within the law firm environment. There is a lot of evidence across 2018-19 showing that most firms are now fighting for changes to recognising the work of BD & Marketing a lot more.

China Market

Without a doubt the influx of Chinese markets has shifted the ways many business’s approach, law firms are no exceptions. Native Mandarin speakers have been the most sought-after candidates in recent years across all functions, and the demand of expat legal professionals has decreased significantly. Without Mandarin skills it is hard to engage Chinese companies, while no firms have made Mandarin skills mandatory, it is still to be preferred and will likely win you the race.

Firms that have practice group specific areas within the BD & Marketing team especially ECM, DCM, M&A and CM have a strong China focus and a pitch heavy role. The silver lining is this change of recruitment has opened more doors for candidates who may not have any legal working experience in the past.

Furthermore, digital marketing (especially WeChat) has been another key focus in recruitment across International and local law firms. Candidates from commercial based industries are now being considered for roles, with the most apparent being candidates moving from other partnership led companies such as Property and Consultancy companies.

Specialised BD roles – Key Client Development

Having new talent pools joining the legal BD workforce has brought new direction for personal career development within BD & Marketing teams. It seems that Law firms have finally answered the cry of the workforce and are now offering different career path options by offering specialization of roles - this could be the by-product of the shift seen in China market.

Traditionally, firms will have a team of ‘generalists’ who will have duties across Pitching, BD, Marketing, PR and Comms work. If employees see a negative opportunity for personal growth and development within the firm in the early stages of their career, it tends to drive curiosity of a switch or even looking out for other industries. Having recognised this issue, firms have turned into ‘specialist’ roles where one person is solely responsible for looking at the PR & Comms piece, one person in CRM, and a few in BD and pitch work etc. This has created a dynamic team environment; employees are able to focus on their passion and expertise and in return a higher quality of work is produced.

Another change we should take note of is that, as the global economy slows down, rather than winning new businesses, law firms are more concerned in retaining their existing clients and how they can provide top quality service. While Key Client Development programmes are embedded in most BD managers or above, many firms are looking to form a team of 1-3 senior employees to solely focus on Key Client Development in order to maximum their revenue and account growth.

This change has proven to be very popular and triggered the interest of candidates who have been yearning a higher degree in influence and business strategy in a law firm. Consequently, displaying an extra career path junior employees can strive for.

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In the past year or so, there has been a positive reaction to the changes in the market and this has worked in the BD professional’s favour. However, there is still a new wave of adaptation that law firms will need to accommodate in the future. How will the rise of FinTech continue to affect the legal industry? Furthermore, will the rise of LegalTech which is now upon us, alter the way fee earners operate? Will the BD & marketing departments have a stronger influence internally because of these new changes? Only time will tell.

If you are looking for a new role or needing more information on the Legal BD, Marketing and communications industry, or looking to expand your team, please contact me here, or check out the jobs we currently have available.