A recent news article shared by Australia-based legal business development professional Richard Smith (@RWS_01) in the LinkedIn Group Asia Law Portal, highlights a not uncommon occurrence in the world of legal business development:  One government lobbying another government for access to lucrative government contracting opportunities.  The relationship to legal business development revolves around what firms might — but more often — don’t do, don’t consider doing, or don’t know how to do – to secure work around a diplomatic initiative aimed at carving out opportunity for one nations private sector within another nations public sector.

A Thailand infrastructure opportunity

In the case at hand, as the Bangkok Post reported: UK ambassador to Thailand Mark Kent (@KentBKK) met with Thailand, Transport Minister Prajin Juntong last week “to express UK interest in investing in several projects, including track improvement, Suvarnabhumi airport and deep-sea ports.”  Thailand infrastructure needs are part of a wider Southeast Asia infrastructure boom that McKinsey & Company estimated in 2011 to be worth $8 trillion (USD) during the course of this decade “to remedy historical underinvestment and accommodate the explosion in demand.”  A clearly profound opportunity for law firms seeking to serve the legal needs of those companies who might secure the work associated with this infrastructure boom.

Government initiatives require private sector follow-through

Initiatives like the one Ambassador Kent has undertaken on behalf of the UK are frequently within the portfolio of foreign diplomats seeking to secure opportunity for home-nation industry.  But what is also essential in most of these initiatives — is informed and robust follow-up by the private sector to secure these opportunities, law firms included.

The role for law firms

Many if not most within the legal services sector might see this set of circumstances as a place where global law firms with a footprint in Asia, or UK Magic Circle firms, or local Thai boutiques – would be placing this opportunity in a “to-do” list for future action when and if their existing clients 

or network of relationships within industries likely to bid – have tendered for and secured this work.  Beyond that – firms might monitor these developments and host seminars associated with the opportunity.  Perhaps even writing articles about them for trade publications or a firm blog with an aim of being thought of when and if UK firms secure tenders.  And while this is a good legal business development focus – it only scratches the surface of what law firms might do to secure work around this and other Southeast Asian infrastructure development.

The backdrop: Asia’s competitive legal services market

As has been widely reported – foreign law firms and regional domestic law firms – as well as alternative legal services providers – are all now competing for work in the Asia-Pacific legal markets.  The opportunity which is the subject of this post – will now possibly be on the radar screen of not only the traditional incumbent competitor law firms I’ve enumerated above – but also the Big4 accounting firms, other consulting practices capable of deploying legal talent to serve corporates competing to secure infrastructure work, and other foreign and regional domestic law firms.

What law firms might do differently to win the business

Given the enormity of  Southeast Asia’s infrastructure opportunity and the competitive pressures being brought to bear by all seeking to secure a piece of the proverbial legal services pie in Asia – law firms might consider a far more sophisticated, scientific and systematic business development effort aimed at securing infrastructure work.  This effort would be characterized by seeking to identify infrastructure opportunities and the companies (whether clients or not) who might seek to bid on the work – then proactively seeking to engage these firms around discussions where, armed with tendering opportunities you’ve identified – your firm essentially becomes a conduit to opportunity, catapulting itself over your law firm competitors and becoming perhaps the sole bearer of newly actionable opportunity in Southeast Asia infrastructure opportunity for your clients and ideal prospective clients.

I have written at some length about this type of process – which would include a law firm establishing a specialized on-the-ground Competitive Intelligence (CI) initiative devoted to Asia infrastructure – sitting within your overall business development effort.  I call this effort Demand Creation for law firms, which I have also written about at length previously.

Match profound opportunity with profound effort

At the end of the day – the opportunity for law firms in Asian infrastructure is profound, but the competitive pressures associated with securing legal work around it are already increasing and bound to increase more. Hence, law firms seeking to secure work around this opportunity would be wise to deploy a sophisticated, informed and proactive effort.

Interested in improving your law firm’s business development efforts?  Contact John Grimley, Editor & Publisher of Asia Law Portal, for a discussion:

Posted by John Grimley

John Grimley edits and publishes Asia Law Portal and is the author of A Comprehensive Guide to the Asia-Pacific Legal Markets. He specializes in providing writing, editing, research and strategy services to the corporate and professional services sectors. Between 2002 and 2008, he established and directed the European representative business development office of US AmLaw 100 law and public policy firm Patton Boggs LLP. At the inception of his career, he served as a writer to the President of the United States in the White House. A licensed American lawyer, he holds a Juris Doctor from the University of San Diego School of Law.

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