DLA Piper – whose revenue grew 14.6% last year as the firm rose to become the second highest grossing law firm in America – maintains a dedicated sales division – and so can yours.

Formed in 2005 by a merger between three firms: San Diego-based Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich LLP, Chicago-based Piper Rudnick LLP and London-based DLA LLP, DLA Piper has 77 offices in 31 countries across Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australasia and Europe.  As of May 2011, it was the largest law firm in the world by number of attorneys.

What makes DLA Piper stand out is that it maintains a dedicated sales division, which invariably must be credited with helping take the firm to near the pinnacle of the US AM Law 100 and it’s high revenue growth – even in a sluggish economy.

Jayne Navarre recently interviewed Catherine Zinn, Senior Client Development Executive at DLA Piper, for Virtual Marketing Officer Blog, where she reported that “Formal sales departments are still relatively new for law firms, and non-existent in most”, but that “Sales Professionals Are Integrated Throughout [DLA Piper]”.  Ms Zinn cited “[DLA Piper’s] approach[ing] the business of law with an entrepreneurial philosophy” as integral to the firms success.

How lawyers and law firms can emulate the success of DLA Piper

Whether you are an individual practitioner, a practice group leader, a managing partner – in a small, medium-sized or AM Law 100 law firm – you can establish and maintain a sales operation which will increase firm revenue.

A law firms sales division will include the following efforts, among others:

  • Identification of saleable services from within your practice areas
  • Development and use of custom new prospective client lead lists
  • Tailoring sales pitches to appeal to a potential clients commercial objectives
  • Individual lawyers establish personal and portable business development plans
  • Law firms can establish overseas representative sales offices
  • Become a Resource for Overseas Companies Entering Your Market
  • Write Effective Proposals that Win New Clients

What is the future of law firms sales?

Some successfull and growing law firms are now using sales efforts to help secure new business.  However, some believe strategic decisions such as law firm mergers are perhaps a better answer to law firm profitability challenges.  Many rely on referrals alone.

Jordan Furlong wrote recently in Law21 Blog on what mergers can’t achieve:  “The fatal flaw of all market incumbents is a failure of imagination, the inability to perceive that what they currently do could be done differently and better by someone else. Many law firms eager to merge and expand seem to believe they’re still competing against other law firms in a market suffering a temporary downturn, and that size and reach are the cures for what ails them. I think they’re mistaken. They’re actually competing against new models, new approaches and new attitudes, in a market that has started to evolve beyond them. Size and reach alone simply aren’t going to be adequate responses to that.”  I believe these sentiments also apply to other traditional efforts law firms make to develop business, including dependence on referrals.

Mark Smith at Intelligent Challenge Blog noted last year: “I absolutely believe that the firms that invest in a highly skilled sales force, whether it’s lawyers, sales professionals or a mixture of the two, can really grow market share and win some serious business”

As the legal profession enters the uncharted and apparently permanent new waters of increased global competition, alternative business structures (ABS), the increasing commoditization of many services traditionally provided by law firms and the downward pressure on legal fees, to name a few, discussions about what the recipe is for law firm profitability and the attractiveness of sales divisions for law firms will I believe increase.

Law firm leaders may now wish to emulate DLA Pipers’ tremendous success in challenging times — and also establish dedicated sales operations to grow their practices.

Posted by John Grimley

John Grimley edits and publishes Asia Law Portal. An independent writer & editor, he's the author of: A Comprehensive Guide to the Asia-Pacific Legal Markets (Ark Group 2014).

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