Don’t distance yourself

So you think you need an overseas office to land overseas clients? Think again. By John Grimley

Conventional wisdom among legal professionals is that, in order to develop business out of a foreign country or region, you have to open an office in that region. This is simply not the case.

In today’s modern world of legal business development, one of the most effective ways to develop lucrative foreign business is a simple one: commit to visiting the region once every few months for targeted meetings with pre-selected potential clients who know you will be talking representation and remuneration, and make sure each visit is well researched so as to maximise the potential of leaving with a new client or clients.

It may sound simple, perhaps even fanciful. However, it is eminently doable. First, know your practice and what unique opportunities (or dangers) exist in your marketplace for potential clients in the foreign land in question. A myriad of opportunities in the US, Europe and Asia exist for foreign companies doing business or seeking to do business in each of these markets.

Approaching a potential client with an opportunity it probably did not know about will get its attention and may just land you with a meeting. With enough research and direct contact with potential clients, you will have found enough prospects to put together a two to three-day trip where one-to-one meetings with potential clients is all you will be doing – save for getting to and from the airport and getting over jetlag, of course.

In my experience of representing legal professionals in foreign markets, I am constantly amazed at how very few legal professionals pursue foreign business, because they either don’t believe it is possible to do it, or they don’t know how to do it effectively.

In a nutshell, any legal professional with a willingness to work hard to bring opportunities to potential foreign clients is quite capable of developing a stable of solid foreign clients they never would have thought they could have landed.

Another fact that might persuade you to start focusing more directly abroad is this: your competitors in other firms probably aren’t pursuing these clients, or probably aren’t pursuing them effectively. Therefore, you have an opportunity to be the only effective messenger of unique opportunities on the block.

Armed with these opportunities, you should research who may be a potential client, contacting them with news of the opportunity and some dates when you will be in their country, and suggest a face-to-face meeting. The relative ease and lower cost of international phone, internet and email services make doing business in a foreign land easier and more cost-effective than ever.

Essential after any meeting is consistent follow-up, possible return trips and a willingness to be patient. Alternative billing options (monthly retainers and incentive bonuses for successful work are just a couple) and an understanding and appreciation of the business climate and culture of the potential client can make prospects more amenable to retaining your services.

A drive to succeed and a desire to seek out opportunity where others may believe the challenges are too daunting could lead you to a very lucrative foreign client base that you might not have previously thought possible.

John Grimley is a senior consultant at Patton Boggs specialising in overseas business development for legal professionals.