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Lawyers need structured approaches to grow a practice

In today’s complex and competitive legal marketplace, lawyers are best served by following clear business development strategies to help them grow their practices, writes Ben Paul.

user iconBen Paul 27 July 2023 SME Law
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With economic downturns, the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), the proliferation of online (rather than face-to-face) meetings, and the increasing/ever-changing nature of legal competitors – there is a huge amount happening in the legal sector, and a greater number of firms vying for the attention of your clients and prospects.

This means it is harder than ever to remain relevant and top of mind. Many legal professionals find that what used to work for them no longer hits the mark. The old notion of “simply doing good work, and the next matter will come” is quickly falling by the wayside. Now clients have a plethora of choices, and for larger corporates, multinationals, or government organisations, procurement is actively involved – creating barriers between the general counsel, legal teams, and firms looking to build relationships with them.

With all this in mind, many lawyers are discovering they lack the necessary knowledge and skills to attract and retain clients in today’s dynamic marketplace. But beyond any knowledge or skills, what is really lacking is a clear plan for building and developing better client relationships.


This is where a well-structured business development (BD) playbook comes in handy. Below are some of the key aspects for lawyers to consider when creating their own BD playbook.

Efficient time and resource allocation

It is important for lawyers to plan around the time they have available to do outreach and BD. We know lawyers face time constraints due to high demands and the need to prioritise client work/commitments. But, by building a plan around their available time (even if it’s only 15 to 30 minutes per week), lawyers can focus their efforts on activities with the highest return on investment. This enables them to achieve sustainable growth, without sacrificing their billable work or legal practice.

Understanding clients, referrers, and targets

Lawyers need to collate their list of contacts and categorise them into buckets, such as “clients”, “referrers”, and “targets”. That way, in their allotted weekly BD time, they can reach out to these contacts, engage with them, and ideally meet with them – either online or face-to-face. Each category of contacts will require a slightly different approach.

With clients, finding a reason to meet up outside of a matter is key. This requires understanding what is important to each client and reaching out to help them with their thinking. Most referrers will have shared or common interests with lawyers, which makes it easier to initiate conversations with them. Lastly, pursuing targets will take the most amount of time and planning. Lawyers will need to map out the challenges and opportunities their targets face, and who in their firm or network might know them, which helps determine the best path forward.

Strategic client acquisition and retention

Having categorised their contacts, following a BD playbook will equip lawyers with the methods and tools to effectively acquire and retain clients. This means lawyers can ensure consistent pre- and post-meeting communications with their clients, most typically via email. It also helps lawyers to prepare, think about the right questions to ask, build rapport, qualify potential opportunities, and ultimately generate agreed outcomes from each meeting.

By implementing a systematic approach, lawyers can enhance their networking skills, develop compelling value propositions, and differentiate themselves from competitors. A well-designed BD playbook ensures lawyers are ready to deliver exceptional client experiences and build long-term client relationships that lead to repeat business and referrals.


In today’s complex and competitive legal marketplace, lawyers are best served by following clear business development strategies to help them grow their practices. A structured BD playbook provides lawyers with the necessary framework and tools to adapt to the changing legal landscape, acquire and retain clients, manage their brand and reputation, and allocate their time and resources effectively. In the current climate, whatever got lawyers to where they are now, will not necessarily get them to where they want to be – in the short term, or even further afield.

Ben Paul is the chief executive of The BD Ladder.

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