Business development skills are critical in the law
Business development skills are integral to being a successful corporate lawyer. In a fee-earning environment where you will eventually be expected to find and retain your own clients, acquiring skills that will help you to do so will ensure that as you climb the ranks to partnership, you will always have a range of happy clients. Candidate attorneys should develop business development skills early on in their careers
“Business development is about developing and implementing growth opportunities within and between organizations. In the legal sector, it includes strengthening ties with existing clients as well as identifying new business opportunities and potential new clients.”
This is according to Monique Du Preez, Director, Knowledge Management Africa at DLA Piper Africa, who says that while you may not be expected, at this early stage of your career, to develop your own practice and or to identify new business opportunities, you should get ready to do so and hone your skills.
“In this regard, you can go a long way towards honing your business development skills by making the most of networking opportunities, and trying to really understand your client's business and needs. This means not only focusing on the legal aspects of their business, but all of it. This is the first step in becoming a trusted advisor/partner.
“For example, if you act for a client setting up wind farms, make an effort to understand more about the energy sector, processes and relevant terminology. The same applies to other industries, for example, agriculture, banking and finance, construction, hospitality and leisure, media, sport and entertainment, mining and minerals, technology, etc.,” Du Preez advises.
Shesnee Naidoo, Graduate Recruitment Manager at Werksmans Attorneys, says that for CAs with a vision of growing within the professional legal service industry, business development is one of the critical skills necessary to run a successful practice.
“To grow these skills, it is important to build up an internal client base within the firm. Internal clients are as important as external clients, you cannot build an external client base until you have the confidence and support of your internal clients. This will also ensure the constant flow of a variety of work,” she says.
“In addition, you should anticipate your clients' needs and be proactive in your approach to assist them. Also, always try to make a good impression during client consults and meetings. Contribute meaningfully and appropriately on matters without overstepping your principal or seniors,” Naidoo notes.
Naidoo says that it is also important to observe and learn the tricks of the trade from your principal and the other lawyers around you. This might include asking for opportunities to present to clients or to take the lead on a matter.
“Always deliver quality work on time, all the time,” she says.
“As you settle in to life as a CA, make sure you are developing a solid reputation within the industry and building on your specialist expertise. Be confident in your abilities, because clients will give their business to those they can trust. This is why it is important to establish long lasting relationships with clients, earn their respect and always be available to them. You should always go the extra mile for clients.
“In addition, stay in touch and keep up to date with changes within law. This means keeping abreast of current affairs and building on your commercial awareness.
“It is also important to take time to host and attend client lunches, dinners, socials and networking events. This will allow you to make connections and build a database of contacts,” Naidoo advises.
Shane Johnson, Head of Graduate Recruitment at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr agrees, "It is important to bear in mind that Articles of Clerkship is a training period and CAs are usually not expected to attract business or clients to the law firm at which they are employed.
"However, it is important for CAs to observe attorneys in action and acquire necessary business development skills which they will use once they are qualified attorneys. These kinds of skills take time to acquire and refine," he notes.
Lee-Ann Greyling, group learning manager at the Bowman Gilfillan Africa Group adds,"In order for our firm to achieve our business strategy it is critical that we ensure our lawyers have adequate business development skills. A focus on these business advisor skills allows us to better equip our lawyers with the know-how and tools needed to not only develop new client relationships but to nurture and maintain existing ones."
"Junior lawyers typically join the firm with good technical knowledge. However, they may need to develop their soft skills and experience needed for a corporate role. Our coaching programme works with our lawyers and business service professionals, teaching them the personal mastery and business development skills they need as their careers develop."