Marketing Partner Forum Recap: Junior Partner Investment Takes a Delicate Touch & Psychological Understanding

How law firms invest in junior partners and associates is a balance of planning, coaching, monitoring and handling the different psychological make-up of lawyers at the firms.

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A panel, entitled "Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been? Investing in Junior & Income Partners for Business Development" at last week's 23rd Annual Marketing Partner Forum, took up these questions, fielding ideas about business development, talent advancement and dealing with the difference between the different levels of maturity and seniority within a law firm.

The panel was comprised of law firm leaders from firms with varied business development cultures, including Louis Britt, Managing Partner of the Memphis office at Ford & Harrison; Samir Gandhi, Partner and Co-Practice Leader of the Corporate Group at Sidley Austin; and Jason Grunfeld, Partner and Head of Business Development at Kleinberg, Kaplan, Wolff & Cohen. The panel members brought perspectives from a global, national and regional firm. While there are commonly shared challenges, one key take-away is that one business development model doesn't fit all.

For example, the panel spent some time discussing business development at law firms and how best to involve lawyers of all talent levels and experience in the process. And while business development plans can be formal with metrics to measure, or informal and handled through conversations, planning is indispensable. Also, business development in whatever form it takes should be a requirement of all lawyers - not just the rainmakers. Such planning should start early with associates who will need training and coaching, sometimes at a very granular level.

Recognizing the Differences

However, given the diverse make-up of today's law firms, business development has to recognize generational differences. More experienced attorneys know how to listen, which is important to solidifying relationships; while the younger attorneys are adept at connecting (but not necessarily at phone or other oral communications) and listening. Law firms should recognize and coach on these differences, the panel suggested.

"As we recognize that not all attorneys will be rainmakers and many young attorneys do not want to invest personal time in business development, firms must clearly communicate business development expectations by using business plans or providing training," said panelist Louis Britt, adding that firms must focus on identifying the attorneys who have the skill set and desire, and then work with them to help them reach their potential through training, mentoring and coaching. "It is just as critical, and maybe more so, to develop the junior partners to ensure that they can be effective in growing and developing business from existing clients."

The panel also agreed that accountability and follow-up are key to business development success and that cultivating and maintaining relationships takes work and is very personal.

Just as important, when creating business development plans and strategies, law firms need to understand the psychological makeup of the individual attorneys within their firm because one plan does not fit all. The rainmakers get it; the mist-makers might get it with training; and some lawyers who are strong service partners who may never bring in business, may get it too. However, law firms need to handle each of these personality types and their unique psychological make-up differently and decide what works best for the firm.

The panel also emphasized that effective business development best practices may seem obvious, but still need to be reinforced, including:

  • Follow-up with contacts; 
  • Be personal with clients, including writing individual notes;
  • Know your clients' interests so you can stand out with personal attention which builds strong relationships;
  • Listen and learn a client's business - on-site visits (without billing for them) is an effective exercise; and
  • Adopt and institutionalize business development activities into the weekly work flow.

"Even though firms have differing approaches, I think we all agree that it is critical for firms to invest in the senior associates and junior partners by providing training and the tools to help those attorneys improve their business development skills," Britt said. "Law schools have done little if anything to prepare lawyers for the business of the law profession, and thus it falls on the firms to educate young attorneys about the business side." 

Written by Publisher Cindy Larson