Michelle Elstein is business development (BD) director at technology and media-focused firm Olswang.
Elstein is a former investment banker at Dresdner Kleinwort Benson, was previously head of BD in Linklaters’ corporate division and global business manager at Lehman Brothers in New York. Immediately prior to joining Olswang she held the client services director position at corporate communications business Bladonmore.
What insight do you benefit from, having been a client of law firms?
Having someone at the end of the phone whenever you needed them was one of the most important things for me as a client.
Knowing you could call someone and talk through deal-structuring issues and any potential impact was critical. It gave me the confidence to make recommendations internally and communicate with Olswang’s own clients.
I recall one occasion when I was leading on a new transaction at quite a young age, and I was reassured by the way that the team made me feel like I was their most important client. They were always my first port of call after that.
The insight from being on the client side has been incredibly valuable in helping partners and associates think about making a difference to clients on an individual, team and organisational basis.
What are the biggest differences between working in a partnership and working in a corporate environment?
I like both environments and think it’s helpful to have had exposure to both. In the corporate environment change and strategy can be implemented by edict from senior management, whereas in a partnership you realise quickly that building consensus and the ability to influence people is critical.
There are also differences between the people who play the roles of fee-earners in an investment bank and at a law firm. I found that bankers would take ideas to clients to create deal opportunities, whereas lawyers tend to wait for the clients to have created the opportunities.
At Olswang we try to help client teams be proactive and pre-empt what clients might need.
Can you describe the BD approach at Olswang?
In building the BD team we’ve been looking for people with new business experience and the ability to act as agents of change.
The team here is predominantly made up of people with entrepreneurial backgrounds who have not worked in law firms before. As a result, more formal BD incorporates creative approaches to drive behavioural change within the firm to help everyone make a difference to a client’s business.
What are the most significant contributions of the BD team to the firm?
At the same time as bringing the voice of the client into the firm, our BD team is probably more client-facing than any other. By the end of this financial year the team will have attended and/or led around 150 client meetings. We enjoy spending time with clients and asking some of the questions partners don’t want to.
We think about how we can help clients, for example by connecting them with mentors, organising general counsel dinners and helping them network. We’re also part of the pitch team, advising and contributing rather than administrating.
Some of our most significant contributions this year have been working to build a relationship with Vodafone and win a new role on their panel, being part of the pitch team for strategic work for Telefonica Digital and encouraging the firm to invest 575 hours in September in client listening and account planning.
It’s quite exciting to see the media and technology deals and clients we work with make headlines around the world and think: “We helped make that happen.”
Earnings per partner:£309,000
Profit per equity partner:£435,000
Revenue per lawyer:£257,000
Olswang’s international expansion strategy means that running a BD team is not always straightforward.
“The biggest challenge is respecting cultural differences when we open in a new market, balancing brand-building with strategic targeting and helping integrate new team members into our one-firm culture,” Elstein says. “It’s an area where BD works
hand-in-hand with other teams.”
DMS: Hummingbird (upgrading to Autonomy Worksite at year-end)
PMS: Lexis Nexis Artiion (upgrading to Elite 3E in summer)
Other: Desktop is XP (upgrading to Windows 7 and Office 2010 by year-end)