Commercial law firms provide legal and business advice to their client in return for a profit. But how does a law firm attract and retain its clients? How does it ensure that it’s marketing itself to the right organisations and standing out from its competition? This is where the role of a Business Development (BD) professional comes in.
In this article, our co-founder Leen Kayali speaks with Stephanie Fletcher and Rosie Draper, two BD specialists at a magic circle firm, who share their insights into what it’s like to work in BD and what you can do to get there.
Tell us a bit about yourself, and what drove you to pursue a career in business development at a commercial law firm?
Steph: My name is Steph Fletcher and I am head of the London Corporate Client and Market Development function here at Clifford Chance. I have been with the Firm for just over six years. Before joining CC, I held BD and Marketing roles at other law firms and retail organisations.
I wouldn’t necessarily say I “pursued” a career in BD in the legal industry from the outset; to be truthful, I sort of fell into it through a family connection. I studied Business and Marketing at Loughborough University, and have always known that I wanted to do something related to marketing. My degree had a placement year which saw me join a marketing team of a major UK retailer. It was a fantastic experience which led to being invited to join its graduate scheme. From there, I made the move to London and interviewed at another law firm. At that point, I had no idea what the “magic circle” was or what it meant to work in a partnership structure. But it’s safe to say, I have never looked back.
Rosie: My name is Rosie Draper and I am a Senior Business Development Executive in the London Corporate team at Clifford Chance. I have been with the firm for nearly 15 years, however I have only been in the Client and Market Development function for just over 7 years.
I started my journey at Clifford Chance as a Legal Support Secretary in the London office, working in the corporate team. I then moved to our Dubai office for a few years and this is where I started to get more involved with the business development team, primarily because a close friend had recently made a similar transition and I thought “that sounds like fun”. At the same time as deciding to move back to London, a co-ordinator role became available in the London Corporate Client and Market Development function so I decided to go for it and have worked my way up from there.
What does a typical day as a business development professional look like?
Steph: No day is the same! Which is why I love my job. A typical day will involve everything from leading on a global panel response or a pitch for strategic opportunity, to leading sector/market or client development calls which will generally discuss ideas, developments and products we can take to market. For me, it may also include a catch-up call with one of my team and/or supporting other colleagues in helping take forward ideas and initiatives. Collaboration is key in making what we do a success.
Rosie: There isn’t a “typical day” in this role. You can login in the morning thinking you need to do x, y and z today and your day can then turn out to be completely different. This was quite challenging to adapt to at first but now it’s probably what I enjoy most about my role – it keeps me on my toes! A typical day may include: preparing a pitch document; identify potential opportunities in the market; hosting sector/market or client development calls, alongside organising events, drafting directory/award submissions and responding to adhoc queries. This role really does enable you to get involved in a range of activities and working for a commercial law firm means there are endless opportunities to get involved.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
Steph: Where to start? The variety and fast-paced nature of my role is something that I really enjoy. No two days are the same – one minute we can be advising on a ‘go to market’ strategy, the next we can be drawn into a global pitch opportunity. I also really enjoy the account management side to my role. I lead one of the Firm’s global strategic client accounts. It’s wonderful to work on an account where you can get to know the client and drive forward opportunities.
Another aspect of my role, which I really enjoy, is being able to work with so many fantastic people. My team, in particular, are wonderful. None of this would be possible without them – for me they embody true team spirit and professionalism… with a sprinkle of fun mixed in. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to be working with me to support the Practice. We have a collaborative and down-to-earth culture, which makes coming to work every day a joy. Team CC is at the cutting edge of the market and it’s wonderful being able to work shoulder to shoulder with some of the brightest minds in the market.
Rosie: This is an easy question… being able to work and learn from some truly fantastic and creative people. I have learnt so much in the last 7 years and this is largely credited to the people I work with and the opportunities they have given me. There is a real “teamwork” ethos and everyone is always willing to offer you support or advice, no matter how busy they are.
As I previously mentioned, I also really enjoy the variety of work – no two days are the same and you are always being drawn into different projects. At times you can be up against quite tight deadlines, but I thrive off that and enjoy the juggling act.
In your opinion, what skills and attributes are necessary to succeed in a career in business development?
Steph: It’s hard to summarise what these attributes might look like, but for me, there are eight attributes that make a Business Development & Marketing professional stand out and succeed in a law firm environment:
- A natural curiosity. Curiosity begs us to ask what, why, who, when, where and how to get at the deeper answer to bring about change. This can mean anything from spotting market opportunities right through to simply asking the right questions at the right time. It’s better to ask and get it wrong than it is to never ask at all – an entrepreneurial mindset is important.
- Thinking beyond your ‘borders’. Inevitably we are all aligned to a practice, sector, geography or client, and in many instances a combination of these. Those who are most effective and seen as most collaborative are constantly transcending their borders – i.e. joining the dots, communicating and working across teams to deliver results and insights for their respective clients, groups and/or sectors. A successful business developer will have a strong network of contacts across the organisation ready and willing to help.
- Challenging the ‘norm’. Asking questions and challenging well-versed approaches can be daunting, but don’t be afraid to be creative. Quite often our thoughts can be the catalyst that sparks new conversations and ideas that lead to new avenues. It’s not about reinventing the wheel, but changing the way in which the wheel works for us.
- Embracing change. We are often the team at the forefront of ideas and processes, pioneering for continual development and being one step ahead. Letting things stagnate is not something that appeals or comes naturally to us. Being alert to how you can stay ahead of the game is a crucial part of success.
- Flexing to influence key stakeholders. Understanding what motivates and is important to your clients (whether internal or external) is important, but being able to adapt, empathise and alter your approach and communication style is critical. Knowing your audience is an important skill, and accounting for what will appeal is crucial if you are to achieve everything that you need to.
- Contributing to the conversation. Each time ask yourself a series of questions in preparing for meetings: Do you know your audience? What will appeal to them? What do you want to get out of the meeting? What are people expecting from you? What do you need to communicate to get everyone onto the same page? Have you prepared sufficiently? How will you make sure that everyone is clear on the actions? The list is endless – and put simply, these questions aren’t thought about enough. Preparation and communication are key.
- Adding value. A phrase used all too often, but something which is paramount if you want to be seen as an adviser. Think about what’s important to your stakeholders. Think about what the information in front of you means, what’s the opportunity for the organisation, who should you involve, how can it be taken forward? Don’t be the middle person, be the change agent.
- Exceptional at multitasking. Often, we have 101 ‘to dos’ (projects, enquiries, pitches, submissions and reviews) with competing deadlines at any given time. Those that excel ensure that their stakeholders are assured and feel like their only client. One person might only work with you on the tip of your iceberg of priorities, but your ability to prioritise and keep the ball rolling on everything is essential.
If you want to know more, check out an article we wrote last year – it can be accessed here.
Rosie: Having a career in business development requires a wide range of skills given the diverse nature of the role, however some key skills / attributes which I would consider necessary to help you succeed include:
- Multitasking – we are often working on multiple projects at the same time so the ability to juggle these in a professional manner where the stakeholder is made to think you are solely working for them is a skill that is truly valuable in this role.
- Teamwork – the projects we work on often require collaboration with global and cross practice teams and therefore it’s incredibly important to build an excellent working relationship with the team and to share your knowledge and insights. The more you contribute to the team, the more you get back.
- Thinking outside the box – always challenging ideas and thinking “who else could this be relevant for?”
Do you have to come from a certain background or degree of study to land a position in business development?
Steph: Absolutely not. As proven by my career history you can move from out of sector into the legal profession. There are plenty of transferable skills acquired through work experience in other sectors, which are relevant and helpful in the context of marketing and business development in a law firm. It is also very helpful to have a fresh perspective and new thinking, so hiring out of sector can be beneficial in that regard.
I have several people in my team who have moved across from other functions within the Firm. Again, you don’t always need a marketing and business development background to make your career a success.
Rosie: Not at all, everyone in my team has come from a different walk in life and it’s this range of skills and experience that makes such a fantastic team. So many of the skills that help you develop in this career can be obtained from working in other industries and in different roles. It can be a real benefit to the team bringing in someone from a different sector as they bring new ideas and a different perspective.
What advice can you give to students and graduates contemplating a career in business development?
Steph: Please do consider it as a career. It’s an incredibly rewarding field to work in. If you like variety and being able to work across the business, getting to know clients and leading projects, it’s an ideal role for you.
My advice would be to spend some time reading up on what Business Development in law firms means. It’s not your conventional sales-type role that you might find in other sectors. Business Development in a law firm consists of a mix of revenue-generating activities, alongside marketing and communications. My other piece of advice would be to reach out to a BD professional on LinkedIn. We’re always happy to talk and help others understand a bit more about what we do.
Rosie: Working in the business development team of a law firm really is such a dynamic career path; one that can open you up to endless opportunities. The skills and experiences you obtain can be transferred in many different ways. I would therefore strongly recommend anyone who is interested in a career in business development to give it a go. As Steph mentioned, spend some time reading up on what Business Development in law firms means and more importantly reach out to a BD professional on LinkedIn. We’re always happy to talk and help others understand a bit more about what we do.
A special thanks to Steph and Rosie for sharing your insights on our platform!