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Business Development Skills

Given the competitive nature of the legal market, firms are constantly having to adapt and expand their business in order to retain current clients and attract new ones. To ensure that this is done in an effective manner, business development strategies will set out how the firm aims to grow by winning new clients, increasing brand recognition and identifying potential areas for growth (such as new locations, types of client or areas of law).

Business development is therefore becoming an increasingly important area for firms. As a trainee you are provided with many opportunities to get involved with the firm’s business development and practice your own business skills in preparation for qualification.

  1. Local networking groups

In Exeter we are fortunate to have a number of local networking groups in which we can participate. From trampolining dodgeball with XYBC to the JLD end of summer ball, networking events are a chance to let your hair down with work colleagues and catch up with peers at other companies.

Networking events are an important forum to share experiences and discuss recent developments. You can often meet people from other areas of the legal and commercial world, such as barristers representing the local chambers and accountants from the regional firms. They are a good, relatively stress-free way to practice introducing yourself and the firm to new people in a professional context. Although peer networks are important for support throughout the training contract, building up business contacts during this time will also be a valuable resource throughout a career.

  1. Commercial awareness

“Commercial awareness” is a phrase you hear a lot when it comes to training contract applications and interviews. Firms want to ensure that the trainees they invest in have an understanding of the wider commercial world and how it can impact the legal work they do. However, commercial awareness isn’t something to forget once you have that all important training contract.

From meeting and engaging with clients, I have observed how important it is to understand the pressures and commercial concerns that a client operates in. Demonstrating knowledge of the commercial market helps to build a good rapport with the client, as they trust that you understand their business and as a result, trust that the work you do will be in their best interest. For Ashfords, demonstrating such commercial awareness ultimately helps to represent the firm’s reputation as lawyers for the real world.

To improve my commercial awareness, I signed up to a number of online magazine and I use social media platforms to follow businesses, practitioners and law journals. This provides me with regular updates and keeps me informed of any major developments. On a local level, you can also listen to local news bulletins or read local newspapers so that you keep informed as to what’s going on in the area that may affect more regional clients.

  1. The firm

All firms will have business objectives that they want to achieve, from increasing departmental revenue to improving time-recording statistics. As a trainee, I’ve found it helpful to review the information the firm provides in relation to these targets. Knowledge of the business plan will help develop an understanding as to where the firm might be heading, the opportunities that might open up as a result and how you can help further these goals in your own work.

Another key reason for knowing the firm’s wider business plan is that clients are interested to hear our news. They often ask about the firm and will comment on any big announcements, such as a merger, recent reported case or appointment to a new legal panel. Knowing how to answer these questions helps to show that you’re engaged with the firm and its growth.

Client-focused events are opportunities to market the firm and create new business. By assisting at events (for example property forums or area-focused seminars) you get to meet a wide range of attendees from a diverse number of backgrounds. These events are therefore a great way to practice your networking and communication skills in a professional setting. These sessions are also very informative and help to improve your knowledge of particular areas of interest to clients.

I’ve also found getting involved in firm-wide activities, such as a charity netball event or a local hockey league, are excellent ways to meet and network with people from across the firm. Getting to know people in different departments broadens you understanding of the range of services available to clients and ultimately helps to improve your ability to cross-refer.

  1. Article writing & social media

Due to the competition in the legal market, firms are having to find new ways to market their services to potential clients and employees. Using social media platforms, such as Twitter, and keeping up-to-date blogs are a good way to generate interest and internet traffic to the firm’s site.

As a trainee you are given responsibility to participate in article writing and maintain social media pages. Not only can is this help improve your written style, it’s a tangible and creative way to help contribute to the firm’s business development.

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