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Budget Essentials for Law Firm Business Development


By Deborah C. Scaringi           

What do law firm business development pros put at the top of their budget "must haves"? Deb Scaringi polled some industry leaders to determine what tops their list of indispensable budget line items.

budgetA dedicated budget for business development is the most important component of an active, successful strategic plan. It is more crucial than ever to identify specific, effective initiatives to fund. Law firm marketing directors and consultants have been tracking return on investment for years, distilling the broad spectrum of possible activities down to the essentials. Of course, one could argue that a full-bodied approach is preferred, but what if your budget has been cut or must remain flat? Where do you focus your limited resources?

I reached out to several leaders in the industry to see what they place at the top of their list when developing the annual business development budgets. Not surprising, the pattern is very clear. The ‘must-have’ items in their budgets always place attorneys in front of the firm’s clients in a variety of settings. This strategy has proven to be effective time and time again. Being top of mind, providing useful information and continually building relationships with clients always produces more work. Specifically, what are law firms focusing their spending on? Here is the short list:

1. Client Visits

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to see your clients in person. Make the time to go to them. Talk with them about issues that are pressing to their business. Help them make connections, invite them to attend events and make a personal bond. A client visit program is essential to building long-standing, loyal relationships. Face-to face meetings where you talk with clients about how they are doing and what you can do to help them will always translate to more business.

2. Client Interviews

In addition to personally visiting clients, arranging for a qualified third party to speak with them shows you value their business and the mutual relationship. Client interviews do not need to be complicated or large scale. They only need to be well thought out, consistent and include follow-up as part of the process. In fact, many firms start with a few clients and expand when they are comfortable. Using a third party interviewer will reap the most honest feedback for the firm. By engaging clients in a discussion about how the firm is doing, which marketing activities are appreciated, what other law firms are working with them and if they are happy with the service you provide will give you a great place to begin in planning your future business development activities.

3. Client Service

Providing personalized service to your clients enhances their overall experience with your firm. Consistent client service helps to build loyalty. If clients feel well cared for, and enjoy the process of conducting business with you and your firm, then they will continue to send business to you. Additionally, they may refer you to someone else because they trust that the person they referred will be taken care of. There are so many ways to build client service experiences, but start with budgeting for training attorneys and staff on basic, consistent service procedures.

4. In-house Programming

Show clients you are alert to what is happening in the field. Develop programming to highlight your knowledge around topics that are important to clients. Use this tool to build your reputation as a thought-leader and you will simultaneously establish trust in your client relationships. People like to feel confident that their attorneys are knowledgeable in their areas of law.

5. Board and Committee Involvement

Becoming part of a committee or a member of a board of directors will allow you to play a hands-on role with a group of people bound by a common interest. Select an organization that is central to the knowledge required of your practice, or in an area that you are passionate about. Most importantly, make a meaningful contribution to the organization with your time, network and financial support. Committing to make a difference in one organization is far better than just showing up to many. Diligent participation gives people a chance to see you in action—a test drive of your abilities. If they like what they see, they may either use your services personally or refer you out to someone else.

6. Public Appearances

Attending, speaking and moderating at conferences and events is an important component to round out the must-do business development initiatives list. Gain important visibility as a helpful, knowledgeable contributor to the industry while simultaneously networking with potential referral sources or clients. After the programs, be sure to follow-up with the people you met to start building a relationship.


There are so many worthwhile business development initiatives attorneys may opt to participate in. Wherever you are in your budget cycle, be flexible and take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves. To be successful and stay within budget, scrutinize the options and undertake those that bring the most long-term benefit. Incorporate client-focused programs into your annual plans and supplement these programs with lower cost marketing activities. Soon you will find yourself making great progress in your business development goals.

October 2010.

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