Writing an Effective Business Development Plan

Writing an Effective Business Development Plan

An effective business development plan lays out exactly how the potential lateral lawyer will advance the target firm’s strategic plan, most commonly through expanding its client base. Moreover, it demonstrates that the candidate has that “It Factor” to justify the firm’s investing the time and money necessary to complete the hire and execute the plan.

A business development plan differs from the LPQ (lateral partner questionnaire), which virtually all law firms use to gather information about lateral candidates’ billings, rates, collections, client names, compensation, etc. The LPQ provides the lawyer’s past history and a snapshot of the present while the business development plan weaves that data into a narrative showing how the candidate expects to get from the current point to the desired future.

Hiring authorities often complain that business plans simply say: “These are my contacts. Who are yours? Put them together and 1+1=3”. That doesn’t go far enough; potential employers want evidence of sophisticated thinking about how the candidate intends to make that envisioned expansion happen.

The candidate must show solid existing connections with strong growth potential in the new firm’s environment. Thus, a good business plan provides answers to these questions:

  • Who are the candidate’s specific contacts at the clients?
  • Are they the people who give out business?
  • What happens if there is a change in personnel at the client? Are there back-up contacts?
  • How long has the candidate worked with the client?
  • Who originally brought the client to the firm?
  • Do other attorneys at the firm work on the client’s matters?
  • When was the last time the candidate got work from the client?
  • Does the client send business regularly?
  • What kind of work does the candidate get from the client?
  • What other kinds of legal work does the client have that the candidate does not currently service? Who/what firm(s) currently handle that work?
  • What other skill sets does the candidate need to more fully service the client?
  • Does the potentially acquiring firm have those skill sets, or will it necessitate adding other practice areas?
  • Is the candidate targeting a particular industry or practice niche? If so, what is its growth potential?
  • Do the candidate’s client base, industry focus, and practice area fit the target firm’s strategic growth plan?
  • Why does the candidate want to move?
  • Why does the candidate think he/she can build his/her practice at the target firm as opposed to the current firm?

An effective plan also answers these ultimate questions:

  • If I were a client, would I hire this lawyer?
  • Would I follow the candidate to another firm?

While most firms hire lateral partners for their existing books of business, some hire high-profile lawyers primarily for their reputation and marquee appeal. In those cases, the firm must ask:

  • Is hiring the particular lateral attorney a coup that generates buzz?
  • Does it add cachet to one of the firm’s existing strong practice areas where there is excess work or particular growth potential?
  • Will the candidate attract business just by being here?

In addition to providing information regarding client contacts, an effective business development plan also describes the “It Factor” or intangible qualities that help predict the candidate’s likelihood of success in building business. In a written plan, qualities such as ambition, regard in the profession, and external focus are communicated by listing awards, community/civic/bar activity, and leadership roles. High billable and non-billable hours numbers demonstrate high energy and a strong work ethic. Involvement in management, mentorship, and committee membership show firm citizenship. Publications, teaching roles, and speaking engagements indicate expertise and scholarship.

Candidates should describe ways they demonstrated entrepreneurial spirit and the willingness to push the envelope, and as well as how they provided excellent value to clients. Compared to the target firm’s existing partners, the candidate must add something new to the firm and stand out from the crowd. Hiring a lateral can be perceived by some of the firm’s current partners as a threat to their opportunity for advancement, so the potential benefit must outweigh the firm’s risk of internal disruption.

Often, candidates start by writing a “general” plan at the outset of interviews, which is expanded and fleshed out as the parties learn more about cross-selling opportunities and synergies between the candidate’s and firm’s practices and clients. Done right, as a collaborative process between the candidate and the firm during the interviewing process, the business development plan evolves into an integration plan which delineates what the parties will do once the candidate arrives at the firm. It becomes a roadmap to success.

Valerie Fontaine
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