Published in Landslide® magazine, Volume 12, Number 5, a publication of the ABA Section of Intellectual Property Law (ABA-IPL), ©2020 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.
This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.
raditionally, business development hasn’t played
a huge part in intellectual property (IP). Clients found
their attorneys through recommendation, reputation,
or geography, and, as long as they were looked after,
the client would stay with that rm and the relation-
ship would be passed down to the next generation
when a partner retired.
Today, things are very different. Clients are more cost-sen-
sitive than ever (a trend that means many IP rms are now
having to tender just to keep their clients) and increasingly
aware they can demand more and more value from their attor-
neys. In addition, as the legal profession has now well and
truly woken up to business development, your competitors are
almost certainly actively targeting and courting your clients.
And the pressure is just as great internally. Most rms
have set themselves ambitious growth targets, and the
increased billing expectations being passed on to attorneys
to meet those objectives means it’s now vital you put more
structure around your marketing and business development.
Moreover, if that structure is going to yield the highest return,
every attorney needs to be comfortable with what they’ll have
to do to make the required contribution.
Admittedly this is where we tend to lose people. The vast
majority of the attorneys we’ve worked with over the last
15 years don’t want to market themselves; they didn’t enter
the profession to be salespeople, and even if they had, client
demands eat up the time they’d need to do it. However, expe-
rience has taught us that much of this resistance comes down
to attorneys’ perception—or rather misperception—of what
business development actually is. It is those misperceptions
I’d like to address here.
The rst—and, I’d argue, most important—myth to bust is
the view that business development is all about winning new
clients. It isn’t. It’s about winning new work. We are con-
stantly being told by both our clients and our contacts that
around 85 percent of the new work they (or in the case of our
contacts, their clients) are winning comes from people they
already know. With that in mind, there are two questions I’d
suggest attorneys looking to put together a more effective
personal business development plan ask themselves.
Who Are My Most Important Clients?
With regard to your clients, “most important” should be
looked at in three ways:
1. Those you bill the highest (i.e., if they were to walk or
even share their work with other rms, they’d leave a
tough hole to ll)
2. Those who you believe have high growth potential (i.e.,
they will generate more work as they grow, acquire, or
3. Those who are strategically important to the future of
your practice (i.e., those who will allow you to build
marketable credentials in specic areas or make intro-
ductions to new market entrants and/or inuential
gures in your key sectors)
Once you have your shortlist of the clients you want to
really invest in (and there will probably only be three or
four), put together a very simple one-page plan identifying
how and why you plan to see them each quarter.
Again, this can be a suggestion we often get pushback
on. Your clients are too busy to see you, you’re already talk-
ing to them on a daily basis when you are working on a case,
etc., but are these quality conversations? How much time do
you get to talk about their plans and what else they need from
you? Do you have an opportunity to nd out who else they
could put you in touch with?
Your clients are by far the most likely source of new work
so, if you are serious about growing your book of business,
they must be your priority. If you’re nervous about ask-
ing for time with them, please don’t be. We are continually
interviewing our clients’ clients, and the one thing almost
everyone tells us is how much value they derive from just
having time to chew the fat at their ofces or over lunch a
few times a year and how they wish their attorney would nd
more time for those conversations.
When you are putting your plans together, we’ve found
there are two things that make plans easier to write, easier to
implement, and therefore more successful.
There is very little point investing huge amounts of time com-
pleting comprehensive due diligence or SWOT (strengths,
weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analyses of the clients
in question; after all, the purpose of the meeting is to nd out
what they’re up to and what they’ve planned for the future,
so just ask when you get there! Instead, just split a piece of
paper into four and use each quarter to represent one quarter
of the coming year. You can then jot down how you plan to
contact them during that quarter.
If you dissect the rationale for appointing any professional
adviser, it tends to split into two: you have the required tech-
nical skills, and you can get on with them—after all, you’ll
have to have difcult and challenging conversations down the
line, so you need to be comfortable in their company. This
means your interactions with your key clients need to rein-
force both the technical and the personal side during the year,
so our model is to alternate the “formal” with the “social.”
Your formal interactions could be inviting clients into your
ofces at the end of their nancial year to review their port-
folio to make sure it still meets the demands of their business
plan, or it could involve you visiting their plant or ofces to
see what they’re doing rsthand. It could be that you invite
them to a seminar you are running or as your guest to a con-
ference on their particular scientic area.
Your social interactions could be invitations to play or watch
the sport they like (two European patent attorneys we work
with organized a mountain bike trail with some of the overseas
attorneys they work with regularly, and it generated signicant
Douglas H. McPherson is one of the directors of Size 10½ Boots,
a specialist business development agency that works with law, IP,
and accountancy rms all over the world, helping them refresh the
way they take their practices to market and achieve their growth
objectives. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.