The legal market it appears has finally stopped holding its breath and is beginning to turn a corner. Strategic and pro-active recruitment, most notably Partner Hires and team moves is firmly back on the agenda. A number of firms have recently instructed us on specific key hires which in the next six months will become critical to the success of their business.
Managing Partners and recruiting managers whilst optimistic are cautiously so and the halcyon days of being a “known name” in the market are no more. Firms are looking for evidence of a genuine following and a solid business plan to enhance their bottom line and client base.
I am frequently seeing an increase in the number of requests for business plans from clients not just for Partners but also at Associate level. Employers are expecting more and more of their employees and are constantly on the look out for lawyers who will go the extra mile not only professionally but also in terms of networking and actively going to market to enhance their client portfolio.
The purpose of the business plan is to establish what you can offer a firm but also what the firm can offer to your clients. The business plan is not a document to be used to metaphorically hit you over the head with but can serve as a point of focus for the years ahead. My advice whether or not you are looking at a career move would be to sit down and look at writing your own business plan. Initially look at this as a three year project but then break your predictions into annual targets. This will ultimately help you clarify if your current employer can fulfil your career ambitions and also acts as a tool to shape your future development.
Realistically there are two main points your prospective employer will be looking for; the realistic revenue you will be able to generate and where this revenue will come from. Complex forecasts of what may arrive in the future and “finger in the wind” predictions are no longer satisfactory. Employers are looking for a business plan which states with clarity the figures you have previously generated (thus establishing your proven track record) clients with whom you have worked with in the past, the nature of these relationships and what work you realistically think you will be able to deliver at your new firm.
The key to a successful business plan is knowing your market and your clients inside out. If your clients are predominantly FTSE 250 clients it is likely that in order to follow you to your next firm they will need the support of a similar structure to your existing law firm. Clients whom instruct you in your particular discipline but also across other practice areas will look for an identical service to that which they receive now, therefore when preparing your business plan for a prospective employer it is crucial to look at the firm and the service they provide. The law of averages states that an International company is highly unlikely to be comfortable instructing a small high street firm on their matters.
Finally, the main question you need to ask yourself is how well do you actually know your clients, do you genuinely have a relationship with the people you call your clients or when you look objectively at the files you are working on would these clients be more accurately described as ‘firm clients’ whose files you merely manage. If it is the latter case then the reality is that it is highly unlikely these clients will not move as they have bought into the firm and have a relationship across a breadth of individuals.
A client you can genuinely call your own is one which you will have a personal relationship with. The client instructs you personally regardless of which firm you are working for. Over a period of time they will have returned to continue to instruct you and you will be their preferred supplier. Over time they will have introduced work to other areas of the firm but you will always remain the Client Partner who looks after this client.
Above all the most important rule in a business plan is that your client is King (or Queen.)
If you are reading this and thinking to yourself this all sounds very good, but I’m concerned I don’t have any clients my advice would be to sit down with your Line Manager and ask them for their support and advice. Ask for recommendations on networking groups across your regions and where the best opportunities for business development in your city would be. Marketing is now viewed as a serious activity and the sooner you start getting out there and networking the faster you will begin to develop your own client base.
Finally no-one knows what the economy holds for the future and therefore the best business plans are those which are frequently evaluated against their objectives and which are flexible and can reflect a growing economy.
Should you wish to discuss any of the above points or would like to have an initial confidential discussion about your career prospects whether you are an existing partner frustrated by challenges within your current practice, or an Associate looking towards a Partner move I would be more than happy to speak to you in complete confidence.