Successful Law Firm Marketing & Business Development — Do Something Different from the Rest...

So how do lawyers separate themselves from the herd? How do they successfully market and sell themselves in a crowded market of sameness?

Successful Law Firm Marketing & Business Development - Do Something Different From the Rest...



Lawyers are trained to follow precedent. If you’re a litigator you follow case precedent. If you’re a transactional lawyer, you follow customs and practices in the business arena that have been tried, maybe even litigated and thus are safe bets for your client. Lawyers are not trained to be risk takers. They are trained to be risk avoiders and that’s what clients pay them big money for. Protection. Because clients are not in the business of litigating or seeking out disputes. They’re in the business of being successful business people.

So how do lawyers separate themselves from the herd? How do they successfully market and sell themselves in a crowded marketplace of sameness?

The smart ones bring in outside help. Professionals with sales and marketing experience. Moreover, professionals who can venture “out of the box.” Not just more of the same. Not just marketing staff who are reactive, who simply “fill the orders” of whatever a lawyer asks of them, who simply “make sure the trains run on time.” But professionals who add value and new ideas to the mix. 

Case Example

When I was head of marketing and business development at an AmLaw100 firm, our largest banking client who had for many years been the acquirer of other banks was then bought by a mega-huge financial institution. Many of our internal contacts, our inside legal counsel and business executives, were “reorged out.” Our revenues from that client plummeted by almost 60% as the new owner sought to economize by reducing the number of outside law firms. 

Sound familiar? I’m sure many of you have encountered similar situations both before the 2008 downturn and especially since then.

Our firm quickly developed a strategy to recover that lost business and grow more business from that client. As part of that strategy, I was brought in and introduced to all of the inside contacts who remained from the predecessor organization as well as the new counterparts. In that process, we each began to develop and deepen our business relationships with those contacts.

“Give Something of Value for Free”

One of the “12 Mantras of Legal Sales” that I have taught to my lawyers for years is “Give something of value for free.” That means something of value business-wise, or personally — it does not matter. We are in the relationship building business. And relationships span the full range from business to personal. To be effective, you must get the client to “know you, trust you, like you.”

So, on one of my meetings to the bank, I sat alone with the Deputy General Counsel whose responsibility it was to manage all outside law firms. We chatted about her family, her daughter’s fairly new yet burgeoning business creating unusual handbags for women. And I asked her what was new in her world, in her business world at the bank. It turns out the GC had just added a new duty to her list — diversity. She was to increase the usage of diverse attorneys by outside law firms on their bank work. And she and her direct reports would be held accountable via their respective performance bonuses on how well they accomplished this. So she and I brainstormed ideas on how to do that. 

One of the ideas that we successfully implemented in our firm on behalf of that specific objective with that Deputy General Counsel was to have one of our sixth-year associates seconded at one of the bank’s offices. Sounds like the perfect win-win, right? And it was. However, it took a number of meetings both within the bank and within our law firm, as well as with the specific associate in order to accomplish this. The Associate General Counsel at the local office needed to be convinced that our associate was of course competent to do the work that he needed her to do, so interviews were set up. And the associate, who happened to be a single mother, needed special accommodations both scheduling-wise and transportation-wise in order to get her to the bank’s office on time for work given that it was a 40-minute train commute to a nearby state. And of course the firm had to approve the duration and compensation arrangement with the various parties. 

In the end, the program was a terrific success, and was a contributing reason that revenues from that one client increased by 40% that year. 

This sort of “out-of-the-box” thinking that a savvy business developer brings to the law firm mix is what will help set your law firm apart from the herd. The key is to be able to switch hats and think like each of the constituencies involved in the business relationship — look at the situation from their perspective (what’s in it for them?), and come up with practical ideas that can meet those varying interests. 

Where is the proverbial “overlap of the Venn diagram”? That is the sweet spot. That is where you need to focus your energies.

That is where success lives.


  • Kelvin H. Chin has had a 30-year career in professional sales and marketing. In the early 2000’s he was one of the first sales professionals ever hired full-time by an AmLaw100 firm, becoming its first Chief Business Development and Marketing Officer. After law school, he was an associate at Choate Hall & Stewart, then later as its Regional Vice President created the American Arbitration Association’s first sales team in its 70-year history, supervising a staff of 50 and 1,000 lawyer-arbitrators in its largest regional office in Los Angeles, leading to the turnaround of this $20 million operation. He is a graduate of Dartmouth, Yale, and Boston College Law. He can be reached at