K&L Gates is a first mover with full-time client development professionals

K&L Gates is a first mover with full-time client development professionals is a Q&A between K&L Gates Chief Marketing Officer, Jeff Berardi, and John Grimley, a regular Contributor to Dialogue. The interview explains why and how K&L Gates is leading the way with full-time client development professionals. 

In March 2017, international BigLaw firm K&L Gates established a client-facing business development initiative staffed by full-time client development professionals. In Dialogue on Remaking Law Firms’ continuing coverage of the development of sales practices (used up until now largely by Big4 firms) within BigLaw firms, Jeff Berardi and John Grimley explore this initiative.

K&L Gates recently adopted a client-facing business development initiative. Traditional BigLaw BD tends to be exclusively in support of lawyers’ business development efforts. The most autonomous client-facing BigLaw business development initiatives place client identification, pursuit and capture in the hands of BD professionals. 

Jeff (pictured), where do the K&L Gates initiatives fit in this spectrum?

Prior to just a couple years ago, I would say we would have fitted more along the lines of primarily supporting our lawyers in their BD efforts. More recently, however, a subset of our BD professionals has been engaging in direct client-facing activities with the goal of strengthening and growing relationships with existing and potential clients. In order to support such activities within the broader marketing/BD department, I established our first formal client development function in early 2017.  The client development function works in conjunction with our other departmental functions (Marketing Communications and BD Strategy & Operations) and is involved in account management and client expansion initiatives. In essence, these professionals serve as a sales team with tools, processes, and systems to bolster the activities of our BD team members and our lawyers.  Examples of typical activities include lead generation/identification, pursuit management, tracking and measuring client growth, and key client feedback interviews, to name just a few. It has been really exciting and fulfilling to see our client development team members work in a collaborative fashion with the other members of the marketing and BD team on various strategic growth campaigns.

Do you find that some practice areas are a better fit for help from client-facing BD help?  If so, which ones and why?

I believe that all of our practice areas can benefit to some degree from client-facing BD help but certainly, we have found some practice areas to be a better fit than others.  Where we have seen some of the greatest traction is with a few of our industry-focused groups such as our financial services (including FinTech), private equity, and healthcare practice areas.   That said, our client development members are really good at understanding the vast capabilities and expertise of our global firm, and any of our dozens of firmwide practice groups can benefit if we find that there is a client need for such services.

Is your client-facing BD effort something which lawyers can opt-in to as an adjunct to their existing efforts?

Yes, absolutely.  We have deliberately made this an opt-in model rather than something that is forced upon our lawyers without their consent.  Our firm has a particularly entrepreneurial and innovative partnership, and I’ve found in my nearly 15 years with the firm that we are often more successful when we allow people to self-select into new initiatives rather than enacting a strict top-down policy.  One of the things that our team has learned to do is to identify those partners who are interested in working with our team and focus on those opportunities, rather than trying to go this alone without support from the partners who maintain the primary client relationship.  There are plenty of opportunities to go around and we don’t want to get caught in the internal politics that can inevitably accompany change of this sort.  Of course, when our team has identified and sourced new clients with whom the firm had no previous relationship, invariably the barriers to success are fewer.

What professional experience does your client-facing BD team possess?

Most of my team members have prior BD experience within a law firm or other professional services organization.  Several have previous experience in accounting/consulting, industries which have embraced the client-facing BD professional role more quickly than law firms.  The common element, however, is that they all have a strong desire to show that a sales function within a law firm can be successful, and the net result is that they are making great progress.  I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in a relatively short amount of time.  Furthermore, we are training people within the BD Strategy & Operations team to become more client-facing, so that some may have the skills to transition into our client development function in the future.

Are firm lawyers pleased with this initiative, and has it show a profitable return on investment?

I can honestly say that those lawyers who have worked with our client development team members are among the biggest advocates and cheerleaders for this initiative.  Once they begin to see the value and the results of the services we can provide to our lawyers and to the firm, we actually have experienced situations where we’ve had to put limits on how much time we can spend with individual partners or groups.  On the other side, however, there are a number of people who are unaware of what we are doing because we have a relatively small team and speaking generally, many partners haven’t yet had a chance to experience it first-hand.  With respect to our return on investment, I can say unequivocally that it has demonstrated a positive ROI as we have been tracking and measuring our success and on that front, the results speak for themselves.  Ultimately, I think it is hard to argue with the benefits of the initiative.

Among the issues sometimes discussed in client facing BD initiatives – is the ability for these initiatives to begin conversations with the GC and greater C-Suite so early, that it can effectively take a firm out of the competitive tender process for some work the law firm might perform for the prospective client – because they are engaging the client before they’ve seen the need for legal assistance and have introduced them to opportunities or challenges they might not have known about were it not for this early engagement by a client-facing BD team.  Are you seeing this in any of the conversations your client-facing BD professionals are having with prospective clients?

That’s an excellent point and yes, I do agree that early engagement often allows us to identify client needs prior to RFPs being issued or other competitive bid situations.  When we have conversations with clients or potential clients about their business operations and we identify the sort of issues they are facing at the current time or in the future, we are more naturally able to have productive discussions about how we may be able to assist in solving those problems.  Those conversations may occur well before the client even realizes that they have a defined need.  That is a great way to think about the value we are offering to both the firm and to our clients.

Are you deploying client-facing BD professionals throughout your international network of offices – and have you deployed any independent consultants to the firm acting in the same capacity?

We are a fairly small and focused team at the moment, but it is important to note that we do not feel that we are geographically limited.  Our client development professionals primarily support the U.S., Europe, and Australia, as those are the regions where we see the most benefit to our investment in this function.  We do not currently use independent consultants in this capacity as I believe we need to have a robust link to our firm and department goals as well as a clear management structure and direction.  Indeed, we have experimented with using consultants in sales roles in the past and the results have been mixed.

What is the overall response to the initiative by the firm and what do you see as the future for the initiative?

The overall response has been quite positive and I am bullish on the future for this initiative.  We are learning and evolving as we go and I believe we will only improve the process and the system over time.

Is there anything else you’d like to add that I haven’t covered?

One piece that I haven’t discussed is our client development training program for lawyers.  I tend to view our efforts as a two-pronged strategy: there are the client-facing activities of our team members described above, but equally important, there is the training that we provide to our partners and associates.  Over the past 18 months, I have been focused on developing a sales training system which has been rolled out to varying degrees to our lawyers in our offices around the globe.  With respect to delivering the message, I frequently travel to different offices and conduct client development workshops and we have introduced various client development concepts at recent partner retreats.  We also have e-learning programs and webinars which are available to lawyers on a remote basis.  The purpose of the training is to provide our partners and other lawyers with clearer pathways to business development success, using a dedicated sales system that has been successful in other professional services organizations.  This is an area that I’m really excited about since the feedback and engagement from our partners and associates has been very good so far.  We are looking to expand upon these sales training activities in 2019 and beyond.

Thank you Jeff and John

For bringing K&L Gates is a first mover with full-time business development professionals to public attention.

More on this topic

To build a BigLaw sales force, start small’ is another thoughtful piece by John Grimley, one of our long-time Contributors to Dialogue. John critiques and elaborates on an article in The American Lawyer by long-time Chief Marketing Officer for K&L Gates Jeffrey Berardi.

In “BigLaw sales debate in the spotlight again” John Grimley bounces off an article in Bloomberg BigLaw Business, Aric Press, former Editor-in-Chief of The American Lawyer, partner at PP&C Consulting, and also a regular Contributor to Dialogue. Aric raised the important question about how the sales function is organized and resourced in BigLaw firms. This question is a theme on Dialogue and is a major feature in Chapter 8 of Remaking Law Firms: Why & How.

Interviewer / Author

John Grimley is the founder and publisher of Asia Law Portal. John provides custom communications services to professional services firms operating in international markets, including writing and editing, research, social media, business development and media relations strategy and management. John IMO is advocate-in-chief for BigLaw Firms to embrace professional sales forces.

John is also the author of A Comprehensive Guide to the Asia-Pacific Legal Markets, a hallmark publication that defines John as a leading authority on all things related to services in the Asia-Pacific.



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