In recent weeks, the subject of international business development for smaller law firms has received a good deal of attention.  In one case, Melissa Davis, Managing Director of London-based MD Communications, published an article about how lawyers in smaller firms can build an international client base as a follow-up to her recent appearance on the same subject in New York at the American Bar Association Spring Meeting.

ABA Law Practice Today also published another article on the same subject by Robert Bata of Warwick Place Legal.  As both authors point out – the opportunities for law firms to build an international client base have never been better – but the strategic choices firms need to make to do so – are vital for success.

With these new articles on the subject in mind, I thought I’d write a new post to follow-up a recent post entitled: 3 compelling reasons to build an international client base.  In that post I point out that, should lawyers want to diversify their income stream and make their life more interesting – then following rising foreign direct investment flows to generate more business for their practice – is a wise use of their business development and marketing time.

In this post, I’m about to outline what 4 major mistakes to avoid in embarking upon any international business development effort.  And here they are:

Travelling as a first step, not a last step –  Before ever thinking about booking a flight to a foreign capital in order to generate new revenue – lawyers must first lay the groundwork for making those efforts pay off.  Travelling is the final, not the first step, in a productive international business development initiative for any lawyer.

Not doing your research first – Research, not travel, is the first step in the process of building an international client base.  Determining which markets you will focus on and why – as well as what services offers you will seek to lead with to build that international client base – are essential.  Once the basics are in place – it’s then important to develop client-centric, well researched efforts around commercial objectives clients are seeking to secure in your market.  This takes rarefied understanding of how to match client objectives with legal services offers to maximize interest among ideal potential clients.

Not establishing an effective social media presence first — In an increasingly interconnected international marketplace – I’ve noticed that lawyers who maintain law blogs – are becoming more and more identified as nearly synonymous with their respective international jurisdictions. By blogging about legal issues in their markets – they have become well-known far beyond their borders – and are often regarded as a “go-to” person for their market.  Before you ever travel – build a credible social media presence.  That way you’ll be well-known by ideal referral sources and some potential clients – before you ever step on a plane.

Not keeping track of your efforts – Before you begin the process of international business development – do something – even something simple – to track your efforts.  For solo practitioners or small law firms – simply make sure to keep a list of the companies and referral sources you’re planning to contact.  For large international law firms – a CRM system well implemented – can be very helpful.  Either way – tracking your efforts – is essential for maximum return on investment.

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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