business development
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This article is written by Ramanuj Mukherjee and Suman Chatterjee Team LawSikho.

I had a long conversation with one of my lawyer friends the other day. He practices in Calcutta High Court and he has been working in a mid-tier law firm for the last five years.

Amid the funny WFH stories like how his newly found cooking skills amazes his in-laws and above all, his mother, or how he recently came to the realization that his wife is still a mystery to him after all these years of marriage… 

The conversation gradually came to a point where we started discussing the current state of the legal profession and how the market dynamics has changed all of a sudden since the lockdown. 

He is basically sitting idle at home at present. 

He is into civil litigation. His hands used to be full, but under this lockdown, he is mostly out of work. 

The firm he works in is apparently going through a dry phase, and he has no idea how long that may last. 

He is not alone. 

There are hundreds and thousands of lawyers who are suffering from the same plight as he is. 

Just when their chambers were starting to enjoy regular footfalls or perhaps the firm they were working for started delegating more work to them, the novel coronavirus popped out of nowhere and robbed them of their clients.

On the other hand, people like us have been talking about supposedly amazing work opportunities getting created for lawyers. Here are some links if you have missed:

https://blog.ipleaders.in/coronavirus-impact-health-finance-life/ 

https://blog.ipleaders.in/covid-19-puts-technology-contract-drafting/

https://blog.ipleaders.in/survive-thrive-lockdown/

https://blog.ipleaders.in/utilize-lockdown-days-get-ahead-career/

https://blog.ipleaders.in/lockdown-long-will-lockdowns-last-will-impact-indian-economy-work/

So the big question is how does one go about business development, aka landing new clients, in this environment. Let’s do a deep dive. 

Do we really need a special strategy for COVID situation? Why?

Ask yourself, can one do the same things for business development that lawyers usually do? 

Would they work during this COVID period? 

The answers to both the questions are the same. It’s a resounding NO!

The traditional ways of acquiring and interacting with clients have become ineffective and impossible—in a matter of a few days! At least temporarily. 

No one visits the chamber or the office of a law firm anymore … no in-person client meetings … no conferences to scout opportunities or network. Events stand cancelled indefinitely.

Offline ways of getting clients, as are lawyers wont to, can’t work right now. 

Some of you, especially if you are in the litigation field, might be thinking, “why search for clients anymore? The courts are shut down. Even law enforcement is refusing to take any new complaints these days. The judicial system is hearing only urgent matters. What’s the use?” 

Yes, the judicial system and how the legal industry works have gone through a massive change in the last few days. 

But what if I tell you that there are still lawyers who are working overtime in this market too, and struggling to meet the massive demand of emergency matters with great margin? 

Some lawyers are being flooded with more and more work every day.

Who are they? I will tell you about it in a bit. 

But what’s important to know is that they applied a special business development strategy for this crisis period. Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. 

We are going through tough times and the going might get even tougher in the near future. 

And still, there are tremendous opportunities lying underneath. Only if you care to look carefully. 

Let me give you an example. Lyft is a competitor of Uber in the US, an app-based cab company. People are not stepping out of their homes, so cab companies should be out of work.

But here is what Lyft did. They launched a new service quickly – they said our drivers will get you food, medicine, emergency supplies you need. You pay for the ride.

Senior citizens and sick people who are unable to step out of their homes to get necessities started calling Lyft for these deliveries. Lyft’s business is roaring.

We must see where we have unaddressed opportunities in this market and then cater to those.

We can also foresee what opportunities have not arisen yet but will do in a few months. For instance, there will be lots of competition commission investigations in times to come due to inflated prices of essentials such as hand sanitizer and face masks. Can you align yourself to take those opportunities?

E-commerce companies and food delivery companies need a lot of help at the ground level right now from lawyers – to get curfew passes and to rescue the delivery boys being picked up by lawyers.

In Delhi, and around India, thousands of cars and motorbikes have been seized by police under questionable circumstances from citizens trying to get food or medicine for not having curfew pass. Which lawyers are going to help with those cases to get those vehicles released when courts open for such work?

Many businesses with inadequate legal help have failed to issue force majeure  notices, meaning they can be held legally responsible for breach of contract irrespective of force majeure. You can still help those clients by sending force majeure notices on their behalf. And help others later on to either sue or defend in breach of contract cases. 

But will you get such work in sizable volume?

That depends on which lawyers are actively figuring out how to do the business development for that kind of work.

And that is why you would need a special strategy. 

A strategy that not only lets you prepare for this current COVID and even more so for the post-COVID period, and create a modus operandi to make the best of this incredible situation.

People need legal help, we just have to figure out where and how we can help them, and then how can we communicate the value we can generate for them. 

How are you going to do that? In this piece, we talk about how to communicate part. 

***

Want to break into a law firm as a litigation lawyer? Learn the background story of Sakshi Jaiswal and how she made the ultimate jump, landing a job in a law firm as she wished to.

***

Is it only about COVID, or is it more about the recession that we need a specific strategy?

Here’s what UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi said:

“The economic fallout from the shock is ongoing and increasingly difficult to predict, but there are clear indications that things will get much worse for developing economies before they get better.”

To lessen the economic fallout due to coronavirus outbreak, UNCTAD is also proposing the following steps:

  • A $1 trillion liquidity injection for those being left behind through reallocating existing special drawing rights at the International Monetary Fund. 
  • A debt jubilee for distressed economies under which another $1 trillion dollars of debts owed by developing countries should be cancelled this year. 
  • A $500 billion Marshall Plan for health recovery funded from some of the missing official development.

IMF’s managing director, Kristalina Georgieva, has recently said, “This is a crisis like no other. We have witnessed the world economy coming to a standstill. We are now in recession. It is way worse than the global financial crisis” of 2008-2009.

What about India?

While some are saying that India might be able to weather this crisis, Goldman Sachs forecasts that India’s growth rate would fall as low as 1.6 per cent in FY2021, the worst pace in the post-world war history. 

In the report, it wrote:

The 1.6% growth for FY21 would be deeper compared to widely perceived recessions India experienced in the 1970s, 1980s, and in 2009. Notably, as our global team has argued, the global COVID-19 crisis — or more precisely, the response to that crisis — represents a physical (as opposed to purely financial) constraint on economic activity that is unprecedented in postwar history.”

It goes without saying that the biggest crisis we are facing today is not the COVID-19 one but rather its economic aftermath. I truly believe that human species is not going extinct so soon. 

But the challenges lying ahead in terms of economy is stupendous.

What are the challenges lawyers are facing in terms of pipeline, mandates and billing in light of the crisis and potential recession?

The challenges of lawyers lie in terms of three areas: pipeline, mandates and billing. 

These three factors would define where you currently stand, economically speaking, and what kind of special strategy you might need to get out of this crisis, relatively unscathed.

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The first question is, do you still have enough existing clients or pending work? 

Say you are busy with lots of commercial litigation of complex nature. Of course, a recession will not impact you much because clients cannot pull out legal resources from an ongoing major commercial dispute. You are unlikely to see much difference in terms of work when courts open up or arbitration resumes, but new mandates coming in may slow down for some time. 

In that case, the shock of recession will be felt much later in your practice, and it would be a good idea to engage in some business development right now to make up for the slow down in client mandate rate.

An M&A deal which started last year and is still a work in progress may slow down now, but chances are that there will still be new work with respect to the same as parties re-assess their positions and try to renegotiate the deal. 

If you have a substantial amount of work in your pipeline, you probably would endure this unstable and confusing period much better than your counterparts. 

Strong pipeline of work will be the greatest asset of strong law firms and law practices at a time like this. 

The second question ties strongly with the first question. 

Existing clients in the pipeline is good, but if they do not offer you mandates—or, do not hire you for a particular project or work for a while as they are trying to cut down legal expenses—then, it does not turn into a real benefit for you. That is, you do not make money. 

If you are not getting any new work from your pipeline (or your existing clients), you need to figure out how you are going to get new clients. 

In which sector, do you imagine, clients are looking for lawyers and have so much undersupplied that they will be open to hiring you immediately? Is it possible for you to extend your practice in that direction?

The third question is about bills getting paid. It is inevitable that clients will delay payments, ask for discounts and request deferred payment plans before giving new matters. 

Let’s say, you have enough existing clients and you have enough work in your pipeline and some mandates are also coming, but do those clients have money to pay to you? 

If your current clients are cash-strapped or not ready to pay you right now, you have to look for greener pastures. (And there are aplenty!)

Our team speaks with hundreds of lawyers, legal professionals and law students every day, and the biggest issue that we have come across is that most lawyers are just frozen in fear or uncertainty. They are not adapting to the situation. They are not looking for opportunities. They are not mentally prepared for what is happening.

At LawSikho, we have been prepared for something like this. We didn’t think there would be an epidemic, but we have been anticipating a recession for a while now, which we thought would be triggered by a debt crisis around the world. 

We have been writing a lot about it since 2019. And we accordingly positioned ourselves too.

And when the COVID crisis hit, we responded by increased activities, more marketing, more courses, more webinars, more outreach, and helping our students to deal with what they are facing. And we know you can do the same too, whether or not you have been prepared. We are here to help.

And we are clear that the best way to ride out the situation is to ramp up your business development strategy and activities.

How?

What should be your top 3 priorities in terms of business development right now?

Let’s see. It’s relationships, relationships, relationships.

Relationship building with potential clients that you haven’t worked with so far.

Assisting existing clients with their newly emerging emergency level problems.

Creating trust and credibility with your target audience – it is not a one to one relationship, but your relationship with an entire sector, area of business, or even the people of a locality. 

Your highest priority should be to deepen your relationship with your existing clients. 

The rapport has already been built. 

The loyalty checkbox has been ticked. 

Money has already changed hands previously. 

Your existing clients are your ultimate treasure chest. 

You may not always get time to reach out to them, but this is the time. See what help they need. Give some free advice. Discuss how they are handling the situation and what could be the fall out of the situation on their business.

More you talk about what is going on in their business, and what could happen in the future, more you will know what the opportunities are to provide service. 

Make it a point to do some friendly, lightweight work for them without charging. Educate them about the work that may arise in the future or is already needed. They will be happy to give you paid work if it is of high priority right now and you can explain why. 

Send them emails that help them, send WhatsApp messages and even start a newsletter maybe to help them. Send them the notifications or rules being implemented by the government that they need to know, and lots of advice and ideas, as we do for you.

And then see business rolling in.

Priority number 2 is definitely to reach out to clients who you can help and have not have worked with before. You could drop them a mail with suggestions, relevant information or just an invite to get on a call to discuss more. 

Even in this case, sending them articles written by you, sharing videos and webinars that help them to learn more about the problems they are facing and possible solutions will go a long way. 

Try to convert online interactions to calls or one on one zoom meetings that lead to the exploration of potential work you can do for them. If not immediately, then things you can do a few weeks or months down the line. 

People have more time to speak to strangers now. They have more time to read the articles you share and join your webinars or watch your videos. This is a great time for content marketing. Do not let this opportunity pass by.

Priority number 3 is to build up your authority, brand and credibility in the market. That includes other lawyers, interns, law students, journalists, bloggers, influencers or anybody else who may not become your client but can refer others, talk about you positively to others, and amplify your message. This is how enduring brands are built. 

After all, what clients think about you even before they interact with you is determined by the quality of the conversations about you amongst other lawyers and others who may not hire you, ever.

Take this time to impact and build a relationship with these 3 categories of people.

How to spot the big opportunities ahead of time, so you can prepare and gear up to make the most of them?

Good question. 

To be honest, this is the hardest step of all.

Your success as a lawyer often depends less on the area of law you specialise in, and more on your ability to spot the right opportunities ahead of time, when demand is high and supply is low. 

It is like stock picking. You need to find unpopular stocks with great potential, which will go up in price later on, but other investors are yet to figure it out. 

You have to find client opportunities before other lawyers realise the potential in the same. 

For instance, early entrants in the VC and startup funding market grew leaps and bounds as the market grew. Later many lawyers and law firms tried to jump in, but it was much harder to make an impression when the market was already crowded, and early entrants had already entrenched themselves as top service providers.

When it comes to business development, many entrepreneurs and business owners are rather “blind”. 

They are able to see what is instead of what could be.

That is a big problem. 

So, what opportunities may open up during or after this COVID crisis? 

The answer will come from understanding and studying the business challenges of your existing/potential clients. 

Let’s assume that you are a practising lawyer and your potential client is anyone who would need legal advisory, litigatory or transactional support. 

Your corporate clients might need advisory and transactional support to re-draft and renegotiate a bunch of contracts that have been hit by the ongoing crisis. Force majeure impacted agreements where force majeure notices were not sent out can be another such opportunity for legal work. 

So, how to spot opportunities ahead of time?

Listen to your past leads and customers. Get in touch with them to figure out what challenges they are facing at this moment. Ask them what they are looking for. 

Talk to at least 20 people from your target market to understand what are their highest priority challenges. 

It is highly likely that all other businesses that are similarly situated will also face those problems. That is your target market.

Then figure out how you can provide cost-effective, competitive solutions for those problems.

Look for cross-selling opportunities. Your client might have been looking for help in GST matters. However, during this COVID crisis, he might also be looking for someone to help with exemptions in customs duty or advice about import credit. Or perhaps he needs your help to get curfew passes for his employees.

You need to figure out what are the possibilities and urgent requirements so that you can provide the services you are not providing currently. 

It may be possible to rope in other lawyers with expertise if you don’t have it provided you can get the work in the first place even if you don’t have that specific expertise.

Watch your competitors closely. What niches are they targeting? Which promotional methods are using these days? What is making their customers choose them over you? 

Looking out for your competition will enable you to look beyond your immediate strategy and figure out alternative methods. 

Don’t copy anyone blindly though! They might be on the wrong track altogether.

Keep yourself updated with industry trends. Not everyone can be a thought leader in an industry. But you can definitely follow the industry trends, read insights by other thought leaders and keep pace with the dynamic changes occurring every single day now. 

And then you can share these insights with your peers and clients even when you can’t share original content.

If you do these four steps properly, we guarantee that you would be able to recognize the opportunities before they even occur.

What are the opportunities that have already arisen for lawyers, where demand is outstripping supply?

Ramanuj already wrote a 5000-word piece on where the hottest opportunities lie during the COVID-19 crisis. 

I will summarize the same.

Many contracts would end up getting frustrated and would need to be novated or renegotiated. Contracts with force majeure clauses will take the forefront during the COVID period. Who redrafts and renegotiates these contracts? Of course, lawyers like you.

So, no ultimate solution could be arrived at even after all those redrafting and renegotiation? Perhaps, the next step is to resort to alternative dispute resolution methods like arbitration or mediation. 

Wondering how to conduct these under lockdown? Answer: video conferences. The whole legal community is slowly getting warmed up to this idea. It’s only a matter of time before it goes mainstream.

But the real question is, who will supervise the arbitration or who will represent the parties’ interests on behalf of them? Of course, lawyers like you.

If the lockdown is not lifted soon enough, many businesses will struggle to survive in adverse economic conditions. 

Corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions might gain prominence to help businesses sustain during this critical period. Who helps businesses raise funds? Lawyers like you.

Also, who prepares the documentation, mediates with government authorities and negotiates a takeover deal? Of course, lawyers like you.

For the businesses that find it hard to survive during this period, there will be a lot of NCLT matters requiring the expertise of insolvency and bankruptcy lawyers.

The insurance industry, with increasing claims arising out of coronavirus outbreak, might need to hire more lawyers for advisory and litigation purposes. 

Even as global MNCs later shift their manufacturing base from China to India—and it’s highly likely to happen, deals would be negotiated and greenfield projects would probably crop up in India in huge numbers. Who wins then? You lawyers, of course.

These are only a few opportunities. The list goes on. Enough work needs to be done, and only lawyers can do it accurately and efficiently.

So, how do you spot opportunities amidst this chaos?

By looking for business challenges. Big business problems always have big legal fallouts. And we will need lawyers there.

When you read the newspaper or listen to the news channels on TV, don’t forget to watch out for big business problems baking. Then you need to think of a few steps ahead – what could be the legal implication? 

Every dark dark business cloud has a silver lining of legal work. Can you spot it?

What opportunities have been created by lower input costs?

Lower input costs can be in terms of time and energy, or capital resources. The amount of whatever you are putting in is going to be much lower than it was required to be.

I will explain.

Let’s say, you had been trying to work with a senior advocate at the city high court for a long time. But you could never get his attention … until now. 

He is probably sitting idle at home with very little work to do. He is not being crowded by junior lawyers even. 

Don’t you think this is the perfect opportunity to get in touch with him and get his undivided attention? You don’t have to barge into his private chambers to do that. That also, with minimum input of time and effort on your part.

Why only that? 

Let’s say, you want to start a legal startup. During this critical period, hiring lawyers or coders will be cheaper. 

Many are incurring deep pay-cuts or have already been told of zero-paycheck days in the future. Some of them might have been laid off even. 

For the litigation lawyers, any option to earn money is probably welcome at the moment. 

Moreover, advertising costs have gone down too. You could acquire new customers by advertising – literally, pennies on the dollar – during the COVID period. 

Direct advertising is not legally allowed for lawyers. But startups selling other solutions could very well advertise.

Also, while you will not break the law by advertising legal services, but what if you promoted your awesome youtube channel or blog or even a free newsletter on a legal subject to your potential clients?

You can always advertise to acquire users for your content platforms (separate from your law firm website of course). And many of them could be educated about legal issues, benefitting your law practice in the future. I see no legal restriction on these educational activities. 

Have you ever seen what happens to the stock during a recession? Stocks worth over thousands of rupees might fall 10x in a day. It does not mean that those stocks are worthless. In fact, those stocks present a lucrative opportunity for those who know how to pick up these gems during these times. 

Similarly, know that prices of inputs are falling every day, and this might be a big opportunity to give birth to that startup you always dreamt of.

Once you know where the opportunities lie, the next step is to figure out how you can take advantage of them. 

And you have to wait for the next email to learn about that.

In the meantime, here are a few takeaways from this big-ass email.

  1. Look for business-related problems in the current crisis period. Big business problems equal to big legal fallouts—that is, money-making opportunities for you.
  2. Your top 3 priorities should be to build relationships with your existing clients, cold-reach out to new potential clients and establish your authority, trust and credibility in the legal niche you are specializing in.
  3. To spot opportunities ahead of time, talk to your clients, watch out your competition, look for cross-selling opportunities and stay updated with the latest industry trends.
  4. Contract redrafting and renegotiation, arbitration and mediation, corporate financing, mergers and acquisitions, greenfield projects, insolvency and recovery matters—these are some legal areas with the huge demand of lawyers right now. 

That’s it for today. Stay tuned for the second part of this email soon.

To your success.

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