Written by Norman Clark
Published: 28 October 2015
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trees along a volcanic fault line

As legal markets become even more competitive over the next ten years, commercial law firms[1] will need to reconsider many of their long-held assumptions and practices about marketing and business development. Some firms will negotiate the coming seismic shift well and continue to succeed. Others will not.

the declining value of traditional law firm marketing

Some traditional marketing activities, many of which already have only limited value for most commercial law firms, will become even less productive.  This might be uncomfortable for some law firm partners and their marketing advisors.

Here are a few examples of currently popular law firm marketing tactics that probably will produce ever-diminishing returns in the future:

This is not to say that any of these examples will be utterly irrelevant or worthless in the future; but their return on investment -- especially of partner time -- will decline to a point at which most law firms will no longer consider them to be priorities.

Other traditional marketing tactics will need to be executed in better-focused ways. For example:

from increased visibility to more intense client focus

The better strategy for commercial law firms of the future will be to focus on building client loyalty and engaging new profitable work from existing clients. Instead of working hard to try to attract new clients, the most successful firms will focus most of their resources and efforts on cementing and expanding their relationships with the good clients that they already have.

This will be a seismic shift for many of today's law firms, and many of them will not make a successful transition. Business development in the legal market of 2025 will require more astute people, not high-tech, glossy marketing tools. The firms that will make this transition, from the visibility-oriented marketing of legal services today to the precisely targeted business development that will be most successful ten years from now, will have three critical characteristics not frequently observed in law firms today:

Being "Big Law" will not be enough.

This most emphatically does not mean that the world's legal markets are destined to be dominated by a small number of "Big Law" service providers, with the rest of us being relegated to scurrying in the shadows for whatever work we can find.

Large law firms do not possess any inherent advantages with respect to any of these three critical attributes. An ability to anticipate shifts in the legal marketplace and in the needs and expectations of clients, and the willingness to make fundamental changes in long-held assumptions about the business of practicing law, can overcome a relative lack of financial and staff resources compared to those of large firms. In fact, a small firm with well-developed change management skills might have an advantage over larger ones, because of the relative speed and agility with which they sometimes can execute significant changes in their strategic direction.

Alertness and agility, not size and resources, will make the difference.

Norman Clark


Business Development Book


To learn more about business development in the fast-changing legal markets of the next 10 years, order your copy of Business Development: A Practical Handbook for Lawyers, to be published in early 2016 by Globe Law and Business.  Click here for more information.




[1] "Commercial" law firms generally offer sophisticated corporate and commercial services to corporations, government agencies, and high net-worth individuals. Most large law firms and many midsize firms today can be characterized as commercial law firms.  By contrast, "retail" law firms tend to be smaller practices, including most solo practices. They usually focus on a limited number of legal services and products delivered primarily to individual clients and small businesses. Of course, there are many exceptions and "hybrids," but most law firms in the world today are influenced toward one of these two "centers of gravity," describing their most profitable legal services and client sectors.