“Over the past three years, Baker & McKenzie‘s North American business development operations have grown 20 percent, to more than 40 people, according to Louise Muldoon, the unit’s Chicago-based director.”  according to a report this week by Steven R. Strahler in Crane’s Chicago Business.  And the highlight of that effort, as Strahler outlines, is Baker & McKenzie’s move to institutionalize a sales force.

“Law firms are rushing to embrace something truly radical: a sales culture nurtured by non-lawyers like Gregory FleischmannStrahler reports.  “Just over a year ago, Baker & McKenzie LLP tapped Mr. Fleischmann to be director of global marketing in its Chicago office, luring him from Deloitte LLP, where he led marketing for the Big Four accounting firm’s health care consulting practice.”

And just last year, UK’s Lawyer magazine held its inaugural Lawyer Management Awards: where: “In the Best Business Development Team category the judges were impressed by the quality displayed by the likes of Baker & McKenzie, where Julia Hayhoe’s team’s adoption of a “sales pipeline” approach has helped boost revenue in the London office.”  Indeed, Hayhoe was named The Law Firm Management Individual of the Year at the awards ceremony.

Why are law firm sales now being conspicuously embraced?

DLA Piper and other law firms are and have previously maintained sales-pipeline business development operations, however as Strahler reports: “law firms are [now] rushing to embrace…a sales culture.”  Yes, sales pipelines in AmLaw 100 and other global law firms have been here for more than a decade, but are now just beginning to gain some recognition in the legal and business press.  I’d argue the reason is simple.  They are the most effective means by which to generate new top-line revenue for law firms – at a time when top-line revenue generation is by far the biggest concern of law firm leaders. (According to a study last year by legal management consultants Altman Weil. increasing revenue is the biggest challenge facing law firms over the next two years).

Challenges to adoption of sales divisions in law firms

As Heather Morse, Chief Marketing Officer of Los Angeles law firm Barger & Wolen LLP and author of The Legal Watercooler Blog wrote in response to the Crane’s Chicago Business story: “Rarely, just rarely, is the business development or marketing team forward facing in bringing in the business. In most firms, the partners, and usually just the senior partners, are bringing in the business and forward facing to the client.”  Morse compares accurately the role of a forward facing business development professional to “Pete”, the fictional character in the US television series Mad Men – whose role is to identify, pursue and capture new business for an ad agency.  Morse concludes that the focus on the skills and importance of client-facing business development professionals is increasing among those in the business-side of the equation in law firms, and outlines a series of barriers in place to greater acceptance of this type of professional role becoming more accepted within law firms.

Time will tell to what degree law firm sales divisions become institutionalized within firms.  The fact that Baker & McKenzie has taken such a pronounced public step toward making it integral to their firm culture is likely to see the practice emulated by more firms.  In the past firms that have had this institutional presence have to my knowledge kept the roles far in the background.  Fine too.   But it should be understood that this concept isn’t new.  It’s been in use before, and with great success for firms that have used it

Posted by John Grimley

John Grimley edits and publishes Asia Law Portal

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