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What is the Difference Between Law Firm Marketing and Law Firm Business Development?

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Successful law firms must employ both marketing and business development to grow their practices, but many firms frequently (and incorrectly) use the terms interchangeably. While both marketing and business development contribute to growing your law firm’s bottom line, each has different and distinct responsibilities.

A marketing person can design a website and produce content, but the relationship your client is interested in paying for is not with them – it is with the lawyer they will ultimately trust with their case. Lawyers themselves must engage in business development.

What is Law Firm Marketing?

Law firm marketing departments support business development by learning about the marketplace, developing promotional materials, and positioning the entity appropriately. They identify key differentiating factors, develop messaging, and carve out your firm’s niche in the marketplace. Marketing attracts new clients by positioning your law firm well to its identified potential “client profile” and showcasing how you can meet their needs.  Marketing opens the door for business development.

A strategic marketing plan clearly establishes the firm’s selling points for each campaign or expenditure. Analyzing the success and feedback from your marketing campaigns is essential to understanding the wants and needs of your target market. This data can then be used to optimize your marketing campaigns for a larger return on investment (ROI). The marketing department establishes your firm’s branding, both in print collateral and within digital assets, ensuring that messaging and branding remain consistent across all media. 

While I have blogged about the essential duties of a law firm marketing director before, some sample law firm marketing duties can include:

  • Advertising
  • Promotion of an Event
  • Public Relations
  • Website Design
  • Website Content
  • Brochure Design
  • Logo, Messaging, and Branding

What is Law Firm Business Development? 

Business development is all about sales; making connections and building upon the law firm marketing to connect with potential clients and/or referral sources. Business development identifies prospects and new areas of business (potential joint ventures, new practice areas, etc.) and then converting them into clients or other valuable relationships. Business development begins after the law firm’s marketing plan is in place.

Extroverts like me go out and develop business naturally. For other, less chatty lawyers, business development can require formal training, coaching, and maybe even a Xanax. Business development will involve forming partnerships and strategic relationships in order to bring in new clients and/or developing new markets in different geographic areas. Business development specialists will join appropriate trade associations and attend trade shows, develop prospects, and arrange for the appropriate follow up.

A successful law firm business developer must know the industry dynamics, make personal connections easily, and be innovative and resourceful. I included many business development functions in my law firm marketing director blog series because at small to medium sized law firms, one person often is asked to do it all.

Law firm business development duties can include:

  • Attending Networking Events
  • Sponsorships
  • Targeted Events
  • Social Engagement with Prospects (lunch, happy hour, sporting events, etc.)

Marketing and Business Development: Not Interchangeable but Interconnected

Law firm business development strategy includes marketing as an essential component; and, marketing strategy ultimately helps the firm achieve its business development goals. Marketing and business development complement each other and depend upon each other.

The sales cycle for professional services, especially lawyers, is often very long, and requires long-term lead nurturing protocols to remain in the game. The marketing side of lead nurturing can include sharing valuable content via email marketing, targeted events, authorship in industry publications, and social media. Marketing will provide the lawyers undertaking business development with proposals, presentations, printed collateral (brochures, handouts, etc.), and holiday cards and gifts.  Business development with lead nurturing includes personal emails, phone calls, face-to-face meetings, and other appropriate social interactions.

At small to medium size law firms, generally one person is responsible for both law firm marketing and business development; however, if your law firm has separate departments for marketing and business development, the two must work together on items including:

  • Strategy and planning for each quarter
  • Hosted, sponsored, or events the lawyers will attend
  • Speaking and authorship/publication opportunities
  • Return on investment

In the end, law firm marketing and law firm business development contribute to your firm’s book of business. They work together to positively build the firm’s reputation and brand the entity consistently both online and offline. One cannot exist without the other; however, to be successful, it is important to understand the difference and have a strategy in place for both. 

Sidebar stacey e burke About Stacey Burke

Stacey E. Burke is both an experienced trial lawyer and law firm business consultant. She works with lawyers and law firms around the world to improve their business development, marketing, and infrastructures.


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