BigLaw Business Development Secrets for Small Firms

Deborah Grabein offers BigLaw business development tips for small law firms.
Deborah Grabein

I met Deborah Grabein in 2005, when she joined the firm now known as Andrews Kurth Kenyon to head up their marketing department and I was working with the firm as a consultant. I was instantly charmed by her warmth and approachability. But that quickly morphed into admiration and respect for her razor-sharp intellect and expertise in legal marketing and business development.

Deborah has worked in legal marketing for decades, building and rebuilding marketing and business development departments at some of the best-known law firms in Texas, including in her current position as Director of Business Development at Andrews Kurth Kenyon. I asked Deborah what BigLaw secrets she could share for lawyers at small firms and solo shops. She definitely delivered.

This week and next, I’ll publish her answers. 

Q. As someone with many years of experience in large law firm marketing, what BigLaw business development secrets can you offer to small firms and solos?

A. There are some things that every attorney needs to do, no matterTexas Bar Today what size their firm is. Business development is about cultivating and maintaining relationships, a process, and a plan. And then it’s executing, tracking and measuring results. Plans change based on industry and market changes, and at the end of the day, nothing happens unless you execute and follow up.

A good rule to remember: If you aren’t in front of your clients, be assured that another lawyer is.

Here are a few suggestions for every lawyer to consider:

Create a plan for developing business

It should not be long and complicated. Rather, a one-page outline is all that is needed. The plan serves as the roadmap for everything you do regarding business development. The first step is to assess your skills and experiences. What do you do well? What do you like to do? What do you want to do? A plan should include:

  • The types of clients and industries to target. Do they align with your skills?
  • An assessment of trends in those industries and a needs assessment of the clients. Client interviews are a great tool to help gather the information for the plan.
  • Organizations to join. Make sure it’s an organization that is valuable and one in which you are interested. Industry and trade organizations are better than bar associations for networking and business development opportunities.

Make time for networking

It’s so critical today to stay connected with colleagues, referral sources, clients, prospective clients, etc. It’s also important to meet people who can help teach you something new, such as a client in a technology company who can provide insights about new tools that allow you to work more efficiently. A network is also a good way to help others connect and that ultimately helps you. A good rule to remember is to give first. Don’t expect someone to immediately help you first. (For more on this topic, check out “Getting Past the ‘Ick’ Factor in Legal Marketing.”)

No random acts of business development

Be sure that all of the activities in which you are involved have an objective. Plan for each of those activities by setting three goals for every lunch, meeting, etc. Just as you conduct discovery for trial and due diligence for transactions, the same is true for business development. Planning is key to success. Be sure to follow up on every meeting. If you promised to do something for someone, do it. Tip: Want to stand out? Send a handwritten note on personal stationery. It will make an impression.

Communication is critical

Be responsive to every email and phone call with every client and prospective client. Establish a communications guideline that is shared with the client. Show up to every meeting prepared. These small things are helpful in a world that is connected 24×7.

Conduct an end-of-matter review

Clients appreciate hearing from you after a matter has concluded. These meetings can be quick, perhaps over coffee, and off the clock. Ask two questions: “What did you like that we did?” “What do you wish we had done differently?” And on the next matter, make sure to incorporate any recommendations received from your client.

Know your client’s business

Not only do clients need a lawyer to problem-solve for them, they also need a lawyer who understands their company, their industry and the needs of the business. Offer up introductions to others who may have the skills needed to help with other aspects of their business, such as an accountant or tax expert.

Remember the client’s family

Clients are invited to so many events, including dinners, sports events, receptions, etc. Everyone’s time is so precious these days, so think about something that includes your family and the client’s family. Clients appreciate the consideration given when their family is included. Make sure your event has something age-appropriate for everyone.BigLaw #LegalMarketing tip from @DGrabein: Don't forget your clients' families in your business development efforts. Offering family-friendly marketing events can be win/win for lawyers and clients. Click To Tweet


Q. What systems/processes/tools have you found to be the most helpful in your work?

A: As the daughter of a work systems analyst and efficiency expert, I grew up in a home that ran very efficiently. We had lists, schedules and expectations. While that may seem a bit harsh, it actually was somewhat liberating in that we knew the expectations and what we needed to accomplish each day. Creating a business development framework (plan) enables you to do the things that really matter and not always have to reinvent the wheel. You can always adjust and change things as needed, but having a starting point enables you to stay focused.

Here are a few things that anyone can do to help develop new business:

Calendar one business development activity every day

Use Outlook Calendar or Tasks to ensure you do what you say you will. These activities can be as simple as making a follow-up phone call or a reminder to send a note. Whatever it is, science tells us that we are more apt to do something if we write it down. Hint: When making a note in your calendar or in Outlook Tasks, make sure you include the email address/phone number, if you are contacting someone, as well as the purpose of the activity. You have all the information you need in one place, including a record of your activity so you can track your progress.

Prepare for every meeting with a client or prospective client

From a lunch to a networking event, identify what needs to happen. Do you need to talk about a legal update? Does the prospect have a need that you might help them with? Do you need to make an introduction? Whatever it is, prepare and follow through. Hint: Social media can help you gather information about the prospect. Use LinkedIn and Twitter as well as the company’s website.

Keep an updated contacts list

Outlook is an easy way to keep your contacts’ information current. Set aside time every month to update the information. Hint: Your paralegal or assistant can help you with this by serving as part of your business development team.BigLaw #LegalMarketing tip from @DGrabein: Your contact list is one of your most important business development assets. Set aside time each month to keep it current. Click To Tweet

Keep an experience (transactions or cases) list

When you have a new opportunity, clients will ask for previous experience. They want to know what you’ve done, for whom you have done it (type of clients), the result and how much it costs. When you update your list, you can then update your website bio with this information (make sure you follow your state bar guidelines for advertising.) Having a complete list will make it much easier when developing a proposal for a new client. Hint: Make this part of your process when closing out files.

Don’t go alone

It’s easier and more fun to attend networking events with a colleague. Think about taking someone in your office, a referral source, or even a client to attend networking events with you. It always helps to have someone to help with the conversations as well as introductions to people at the event. Hint: After the event, follow up with a handwritten note within 48 hours to the top three people you met. Whether they represent a business opportunity or someone that you just enjoyed meeting, this is a good way to stay in front of them.

Embrace technology

Take the time to learn how to use the basics – Excel, Word and PowerPoint. There are tools that also help with managing contacts, notes of meetings, etc. Keep the information on your website current, especially your biography. The first thing a client or prospective client will review will be your bio.


Deborah Roth Grabein is a seasoned strategic marketing, communications and business development executive. Throughout her 28+ year career, she has earned a reputation as a go-to leader in the legal field for her industry knowledge, aptitude for strategic thinking, and successful employee development. At Andrews Kurth Kenyon since 2005, Deborah works with firm management and lawyers at every level to steer, implement and promote the strategic goals of the firm, its offices, practices and attorneys. She specializes in applying critical oversight to the collection and analysis of competitive intelligence and market research, and translating that data into practical, applicable and unique firm initiatives. Deborah serves on the Marketing Steering Committee, the Women’s Initiative Committee, the Strategic Planning Committee and the Diversity Committee. She can be reached at deborahgrabein@andrewskurthkenyon.com.



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