Digital: The evolution of business development for corporate lawyers

By Colm Hannon, managing director, eSocialMedia

Colm Hannon
Colm Hannon

Last August, the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) released the results of a survey of more than 1,900 B2B customers which showed that 60% of a typical purchasing decision (researching solutions, ranking options, setting requirements, benchmarking pricing etc) is complete before having a conversation with a supplier. So if you are a corporate lawyer operating in the B2B space you should consider that the first thing a potential client might do is go online and check you out to validate the word of mouth recommendation they may have already received about you.

Try and find yourself online and on your company website and ask yourself, ‘What would I think of me if I was a potential client looking for a lawyer to trust?’ Compare yourself to the competition and see how, or indeed if, you are differentiating yourself.

Lawyers in the offshore energy team at Clyde & Co have gone the extra mile with their online profiles and have added 30 second intro videos to their blog author profiles in order to be more personable and more approachable online. They also display the articles they have written under their online profiles to demonstrate their expertise and have links to their LinkedIn profiles beside their pictures so that clients can connect and communicate with them on LinkedIn and can also see if they have any contacts in common.

Tom Chapman, legal director in the team says about online profiles, ‘A few months ago we recognised that if you were a client looking at us online for the first time then the extent of our knowledge and expertise was not reflected as well as we’d have liked by our online profiles. We have since invested significant time and resources into improving our profiles on our site and on LinkedIn, effort well spent it would seem because we are getting excellent feedback from new and existing clients and suppliers which just goes to show that people do research us, whatever the level of relationship.’

Interestingly the Clyde & Co offshore energy legal team regularly creates industry related articles, videos and presentations that demonstrate their knowledge of the offshore energy sector. This content is used by the lawyers to tease out online conversations on industry forums and blogs and relevant LinkedIn groups.

We’re even seeing content savvy law firms align their content schedule with their tendering processes. For example, if a prospective client has verbalised that a certain area of expertise is important to them when choosing their lawyers then the firms will create relevant online articles demonstrating their proficiency and share those articles with their clients online in order to build trust and confidence. I’ve seen firms receive instructions because the client said that they successfully differentiated themselves from the competition throughout the tendering process, which included their online content on specific subject matter.

As most of us have read, LinkedIn now has over 200 million professionals as members, 11 million of which are based in the UK. LinkedIn is free at a basic entry level but lawyers can use a subscription version which includes advanced search and internal message capabilities (‘inmails’). These inmails allow the user to search for and communicate with their target clients via LinkedIn, including messaging people they don’t necessarily know, including GC’s and CXO’s. Currently, you can get 25 inmails per month for less than £50 per month, which presents a fantastic opportunity to the initiated.

It is at this point of contact via inmail where it is most important for lawyers to use the right etiquette and content. Most recruiters, for example, find people on LinkedIn that they want to place and simply wade in asking ‘Do you want a job?’. Don’t be like that person. Instead, lawyers are using their inmails to add value and demonstrate their expertise to their target audience. So, when you find the person you want to communicate with on LinkedIn, be sure to add value and be genuinely helpful and considerate just as you would be in the real world. It’s a fantastic tool that requires just a small amount of training to get to grips with for business development purposes.

To give you an example, two years ago we helped a sector specific team of lawyers at an international law firm. The lawyers didn’t believe that their target audience of GC’s and CXO’s were on social media and so we were instructed to carry out a detailed survey. The results were startling. 79% of the target audience of GC’s and CXO’s in the researched sector were already on LinkedIn and, more importantly, 89% of the 353 targets who responded said that they would be prepared to join a private LinkedIn Group and contribute to industry discussions so long as the group was private and populated by their peers. That was two years ago. The lawyers were more than convinced after reading those results that although it would never replace the face-to-face meetings, online was a good place to engage. It also reinforced that their clients were using LinkedIn and other social media to discuss issues but the law firms were not and this presented a real opportunity for the lawyers in question to get involved.

Social media monitoring is also used regularly by most international law firms to monitor online public discussions and updates. Social media monitoring technology can be free at an entry level and it shows you what your competitors and target clients are talking about online and what they are interested in. If you want you could even monitor your main competitors so that you can stay ahead of them.

Social media monitoring allows you to be alerted to breaking news or to be alerted to when potential clients ask certain questions about policy or law. Many law firms today receive social media monitoring reports and updates so that they are armed with the latest news and insights before they go into meetings or negotiations. Barney O’Kelly, the senior communications manager at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, recently said, ‘We recently invested in social media monitoring technology. Listening is the first step of any online engagement process and if you are not listening then it is much harder to understand what’s important to your intended audience and participate in relevant conversations in an authentic and natural way..’

From how lawyers present their profiles online, to how they demonstrate their expertise through blogs and online content, to how they find and interact with clients online; the message here is clear. The Internet and business development methods for lawyers is evolving. It’s time for lawyers to get educated and get online, or risk falling behind.