Before anything else, I want to start with a quote from the late, great Peter Drucker when he was the strategic consultant to GE. He said to the incoming Chairman, Jack Welch, back in 1981: “Think of GE as a green-field project. If you were to start from scratch, would you create this as a company in the way it is presently configured – and if not, why not?”

This is a great question that would be valuable for you to ponder for a moment. “If the law firm you are currently working for is a green field project – would you start it, and if not, why not?”

It is a very pertinent question for GE itself right now as the company is constantly in the news, and not in a positive way. One analyst in a Financial Times article published in 2018 quoted as saying: “GE confused the current size of the market with the future growth of the market.”

What does this mean? In GE’s case, the analyst went on to explain that in her view GE had about nine years ago over-expanded in their most profitable business of the time – coal-fired turbines – and hence missed the rise of alternative energy, such as fracking, wind, and solar energy. The old mistake of believing that the past is a reliable indicator of the present and future means that GE is now facing an uphill battle to achieve the lustre it once enjoyed under Jack Welch. It also goes to prove that even the best companies with the best systems and advisors can get the macro-economic market wrong.

What does this have to do with legal practice? The lessons of history are applicable to the situation of anyone within a partnership law firm who is helping manage and drive revenue for the firm. My contention is that we may already at that inflection point that Richard Susskind talked about. He gave the approximate date of 2020 as his latest estimate of when the tipping point for traditional law firms will occur, when AI is really going to bite as far as law services are concerned, both in terms of the appetite by law firms and by general counsel. With the launch of ChatGPT in November 2022, we can see that Richard is surely correct.

But, as Richard often says, “the future is here: it is just not evenly distributed”.  However, it is in my view folly for the business managers of law firms to look to the immediate past as an indicator for planning for the present and the future. There are several reasons why I believe this: they include the seismic shift that is currently taking place in geopolitics, the impact of technology (and the new emphasis of streamlining legal processes), the growth of the in-house counsel community, and competition – especially the new non-partnership legal providers that are increasingly assertive in the market.

Axiom, is an example of the latter. Twenty-odd years ago, the Co-Founder Mark Harris was an overworked junior associate working late in the West coast office of a Biglaw firm and one late night too many, while totting up his billing hours, he formed the opinion that neither he nor the clients were getting a good deal out of the arrangement: only the partners were benefiting. He vowed to change the model – and Axiom is now just one of the US alternative legal service provider industry (ALSPs) that, according to a Businesswire report of April 2023  “is expected to reach US$23.04 billion by 2028 from US$7.37 billion in 2022, growing at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of approximately 21%.”

Although arguably a new phenomenon to the Legal Industry, ALSP disruptors like Axiom come from a long line of companies that have broken the mould. The legal advice and even the process they provide are not new – but the organizational infrastructure and client-focused philosophy are indeed new. It is not new ideas that change markets, but more efficient ways of doing the same thing. One example we all know is Henry Ford and the manufacturing – not the invention – of cars. Previously, the likes of Bentley, Rolls Royce, and Mercedes used artisan, bespoke stage coach manufacturing. Henry Ford applied assembly line processes to manufacture the Model T Ford at a fraction of the cost. An interesting parallel to the legal industry as there remains both Ford and Bentley at the mid-range and top range of today’s car market – but a whole host of other marques in that uncomfortable middle market that have fallen into the scrap yard of history. Remember the Hillman Imp, anyone? Or my father’s old car, the Sunbeam Rapier? Or a Chinese Hongqi?

The fact remains that the partnership structure and traditional law firm approach are taking a nineteenth-century approach to twenty-first-century issues. As David Tang, the Asia Managing Partner of K&L Gates and former Chair of the San Francisco Federal Reserve, says: “The law is a mature profession and an immature business.”

Q: Why do you, as business development and marketing professionals, need ‘The 7 Steps’?

To paraphrase: a bad plan is better than no plan at all. And having a plan and then working with the partners and associates to implement it can also help prevent some of the more ridiculous abuses of the marketing and business development function that I have witnessed over the years. Examples are legion and include: a partner in SE Asia with the bad habit of ploughing through back copies of the Financial Times and insisting on presenting pitches to parties involved in an announced IPO under the naive assumption that somehow the legal teams were not already firmly in place. Or another young partner insisting we produce a pitch within 40 minutes for a power plant proposal on St. Lucia (believe me, if the client is asking you for a pitch with less than a one-hour deadline, yours is not likely to be the first one to be drawn out of the pile). “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”, as ex-heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson aptly put it.

There are indeed some tough people that one comes across when working for an international partnership. None tougher in my experience than the then managing partner of one of my former employer’s Prague office during the 1990s. Frustrated by the marketing department’s obsession with what he considered frivolous colour coding and brand imaging, he began his address to the partnership and said Chief Marketing Officer in his hometown of Prague with the words “the streets are stained with the blood of marketing professionals that could not step up to make a real difference to the revenue line”. You can’t accuse him of mincing his words, at least.

Initially, I devised ‘The 7 Steps’ for my own survival and personal career orientation towards business development at Shearman & Sterling in 2000.  Honestly speaking, though, my role at the firm was mainly focusing on what I knew best at the time and also what the firm recognized as the role of marketing, that of rankings, profile in the media (especially the legal media) and the like. It was only when I moved to White & Case in 2004 where I had a more full-on Business Development role and a regional team that ‘The 7 Steps’ became a strategy through which we would coral our efforts. From hence ‘The 7 Steps’ became gradually something more than a personal modus operandi.

In fact, it was only when Gail Jaffa, Managing Partner of the Professional Services Marketing Group in London, kindly invited me to speak about the business of law in Asia and the Middle East in 2018 that I realized that ‘The 7 Steps’ had a potential to help guide others beyond my immediate horizon. Gail told me “the most important takeaway for this group will be guidance towards their own personal strategy as the partners invariably pull them in every possible direction.” I also came to realize through implementation that ‘The 7 Steps’ Program is scalable and can equally apply to an individual partner’s business plan, a legal practice, or a whole firm.

So here it is: ‘The 7 Steps’, which will provide law firms with a logical and proven framework to address the topic of business development and marketing in your law firms:

Step 1: Macroeconomics

The first principle of the 7 Steps is Getting business OUT There to Inside the Law firm, and so first you need to work out what is OUT THERE in the way of Potential Legal Business. To do that you need to be aware of the general business factors that are affecting your clients and potential clients; so the first step of the 7 steps involves analysing key macro-economic factors. Being a scholar of history, this seemed obvious to me. But I rarely witness either partners or business development professionals with the relevant knowledge or propensity to go from first principals.  To state the obvious: the macro-economic situation has undertaken a paradigm shift over the past six years with the partial fragmentation of what has become known as ‘globalization’.  I first became aware of the possibility of this through the work of a Taiwanese artist and sculptor Li Chen* in the summer of 2017 (artists in my view see the future: in my experience most lawyers look at the world through their rear mirror).  His enormous installation of a near life size pagoda in a dramatic collision with a facsimile of the Empire State Building which occupied a whole floor of ‘The Museum of Contemporary Art’ in Taipei could not have made the point more eloquently.

Having recently moved to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), I am constantly aware and manoeuvring our business development plan to engage with the opportunities raised by the shifting trade patterns which result from geopolitics, the diversification of ties with the US and deepening relationships with Asian powers – particularly China, India and Japan, coupled with Abu Dhabi’s ambition to become a world financial centre and hub for Africa, Europe and the global south. It requires careful footwork and constant engagement in these shifting sands.

Step 2: Evaluation of market opportunity

After you’ve analysed the key macro-economic factors, you must ask: “What impact does the above have on the firm’s practice areas and business generally?” Remember – not all macro-economic change heralds business opportunities in the international and domestic law firm space.

Step 3: Matching your firm’s strengths to market needs

Then the firm must objectively assess its ability to match its strengths to market needs. Certain firms have declined to even enter particularly competitive or commoditized sectors, which is a viable strategy. Many businesses fail by trying to be all things to all clients and also to have too much coverage without ample cost controls (witness: the fate of Coudert Brothers).  

The ‘build it and they will come’ syndrome is also especially unhelpful and potentially ruinous as a strategy when expanding into new markets – but has been is surprisingly prevalent even among the best firms.

Step 4: Defining your Firm’s key competitive advantage

How does a law firm differentiate itself in the market and what are the key messages that it wants a client or potential client to know about it?

The top management of the firm needs to create its narrative, its tagline, and then believe it, get everyone in the firm to believe it and then articulate that convincingly to the legal marketplace. Chairman Mao’s theory of ‘Democratic Centralism’ – neither democratic in nature nor central in application – can assist here. Law firms are not by nature democratic, after all!

Competitive strategy goes back into antiquity and is best collated and explained in Sir James Frazer’s ‘The Golden Bough’. For a more up-to-date adaption, the model employed by the consultants McKinsey will prove helpful with their definitions of ‘Market Leader’, ‘Market Contender’, and ‘Market Follower’, which are useful to use in this context. The external evidence provided by third-party sources such as Chambers & Partners are also helpful tools.

It is also important to realize that a firm can change this dynamic. As an example, look at the way that Latham & Watkins expanded into New York and have built an intelligent and ambitious strategy around the world; or more recently, the advance of Eversheds Sutherland by taking their focus to clients, process, technology, grown-up business discussions about legal budgets and their recently announced strategic alliance with Beijing head-quartered  behemoth King & Wood Mallesons.

Now more than ever before, successful legal service providers need to find a competitive advantage to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace. There are thousands of really smart lawyers; so many in fact that providing quality legal services is merely a given. It is expected by clients and it does not of itself differentiate the firm, in my opinion (although others very vocally differ).

Step 5: Identifying and targeting key clients and potential clients

When selling a product, it is essential that you know what the buying points of your potential clients are. And it is essential to listen to them and ask them what services they require and then match what you have to their needs. There are 12 reasons why law firms’ clients buy legal services: • Experience in a specific area • Reputation of the law firm • Branding • The firm’s reputation and experience with clients • Personal relationships • Local knowledge and local expertise • Resources • Availability • Responsiveness • Fees • Failure of the other party • Third-party advisor (and deliverer of hard truths).

Step 6: Relaying the message

The purpose of marketing is to be in your client’s mind in a positive way as often as possible. You need to include the following when you are relaying the message about your firm – in any media:

(i) What are the important buying criteria for external clients? (ii) What is your narrative? (iii) What are your strengths? (iv) What differentiates you?

To my mind, there are three important arms to marketing and a proper and strategic marketing strategy should have all three:  

Existing Clients – and an in-house client satisfaction program.  

Direct Marketing – which is target-specific.  

Big Picture marketing – using external media (including social media intelligently.

Step 7: Getting the Business

All of the above 6 Steps now apply to how the firm articulates its buying points to its clients and to the market generally.  Nowadays, a partner at a law firm needs to be a revenue producer for that firm as well as a legal expert. And in my opinion, the client development and marketing professionals need to be actively engaged with direct client development – to call that by its proper name: Sales.

However, it is important that at the centre of what the firm produces is its legal expertise. Clients may buy a partner’s patter, but they will come back for her legal advice and integrity. If that does not appeal, then lawyers can pitch up to the Axioms of this world, who employ professional salespeople so that the lawyers can engage one hundred percent in what they do best – legal work.

It does mean that both lawyers and the business development people they employ need to equip themselves with the armoury to go out and do battle. You cannot outsource this to an outside marketing department.


The attractiveness of legal marketing for me as a non-lawyer marketing professional is the fact that it was both a BRAND and also an INDIVIDUAL that we were selling.  

The ultimate goal of the ‘The 7 steps’ is to align your firm’s marketing message with the firm’s services and for those services to seamlessly match your clients and potential clients’ legal needs within the context of a constantly shifting macro-economic milieu.  

And finally I will leave you as I started with a quote from Peter Drucker: “Courtesy is the lubricating oil of an organization”. An obvious point perhaps – but one that is often forgotten in law firms and hence sometimes reflected out towards the service industry that is part of the legal industry. Please do remember to always apply the very best of manners in all your dealings as after all, we do all have to rub along somehow.  

*Photograph(s) by Patrick M Dransfield

Patrick M Dransfield is a published author, photographer and senior executive in the area of law firm management.  He is currently based in Abu Dhabi and works as Client Relations Director of the Emirati law firm Alsuwaidi & Company.   He is also the co-founder of the Managing Partners’ Club (MPC):

Work experience includes being the Marketing Director for Asia for Shearman & Sterling and White & Case; Managing Director of Asia Law & Practice, Asia Publisher of IFLR, and board member of Euromoney (Jersey) Limited,  a director of Pacific Business Press.  His career began with Haymarket Publishing.  Patrick is included in Asia Law Portal’s 30 people to watch in the business of law in Asia in 2019.  Speaking engagements relating to the business of law include: International Bar Association (IBA), American Bar Association (ABA); In-House Community events organized by Pacific Business Press across Asia, Middle East and UK, the Shanghai Bar Association, ICON, and PSMG.

Patrick majored in English and History of Art at Leeds University and holds a Masters in Chinese History from the School of Oriental & African Studies.

Patrick’s published work includes a recently launched and self-narrated historical audio novel ‘The Inner Circle Wu Xing: Duel of the Sorcerers’ which is available on Audible:  and a published book of 1986 China photographs comprising ‘Track of Time: Moments of Transition’, as featured in the Financial Times HTSPI magazine:


“Patrick Dransfield is an old friend, a business partner, and also has proved to be a helpful pilot for many Chinese corporate lawyers, including me, as we attempted to integrate into the international business of law. It is only recently, that I have been introduced to another Patrick Dransfield – the writer and photographer – and I consider it a great honor to write down some of my own impressions and musings on this recently discovered Patrick for his book, “Track of Time: Moments of Transition”. Patrick, himself, is also an active participant, as well as a recorder, of the modernization of China. We Chinese should thank Patrick for what he recorded for posterity in 1986, and remember who we were, and are.Xiao Chen, Beijing-based corporate lawyer.

‘“The Inner Circle Wu Xing” has plenty of atmosphere which is quite an achievement. I read all the footnotes because I thought they would be more revealing.  This is the first time I have read footnotes. A lot to think about. You have a good style, amazingly sharp and aesthetic, and an ability to build up suspense – important techniques for a writer.” Philip Wood, CBE

“We are all the luckier for seeing these pictures through the deeply empathetic lens that Patrick Dransfield brought to Beijing in 1986.” Rana Mitter OBE FBA, Professor of the History & Politics of Modern China, Oxford University

“Three years several emails and one pandemic later Patrick’s lost hoard of photographs has finally made it into the October 17 edition of the Financial Times’ How to Spend It magazine. ‘My Beijing Spring’ traces his observations as a young but enthusiastic amateur photographer, and offers a fascinating portrait of a way of life that has since immeasurably changed.” Jo Ellison, Editor, How To Spend It.

“History, mystery, and Scouser sorcery – all come together in an intriguing tale that brings Chinese philosophy and adventure together with style and verve.” Rana Mitter, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China, University of Oxford

“’The Inner Circle Wu Xing: Duel of the Sorcerers’  is a truly remarkable book.
Patrick Dransfield has conjured a cosmopolitan adventure of mystical and secular forces let loose against a meticulously researched European historical narrative and reflects the author’s deep knowledge of and respect for Chinese culture, philosophy and tales of the supernatural. The central mission is part of the seemingly endless fight of good against evil. The story has pace, twists and turns, time travel and other surprises. It will delight those who enjoy tales of the esoterica and a ripping yarn told well, alike.”
Stefan Gannon, author of “The Green Door”.

“On behalf of the Royal Geographical Society, thank you very much for your excellent talk in July 2023, which was much appreciated by all attendees. The audience especially appreciated that you presented such an interesting and passionate description of your amazing photographs of your early days in China. It was great to see so vividly how the country was then.  Thank you again.”   Rupert McCowan Director  Royal Geographical Society, Hong Kong SAR  

Posted by Patrick Dransfield

Patrick M. Dransfield is Client Relations Director at Alsuwaidi & Company, Principal of Clearway Communications and Co-Founder of the Managing Partners’ Club.

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