question markFor quite a while now I keep telling attorneys in my firm that we need a Pete. For those of you who do not watch Mad Men, Pete Campbell is the head of accounts and a partner at Sterling, Cooper, Draper and the other guy. His job is to go out, find the business, wine and dine (and throw in a whore house or two) the clients. He is not an ad man. He’s a BD (business development) guy. Client services professional. And his role to the firm is key in their success:

  1. He finds the client.
  2. He is a bridge between the client and the creative team.
  3. He keeps the client happy and coming back for more.

Once Pete interests a client in the firm, he then introduces them to Don Draper, one of the agency’s partners and senior creative directors. Don then starts to get the potential client interested in the pizazz of what an advertising campaign run by him would look like. Once they get the green light to prepare a formal pitch, Don then brings his team together. Peggy, the head copy writer, and on her way to becoming a partner, along with the media buyers, art directors, and junior copywriters. They then work together to pull the pitch together and present to the client.

We need a Pete
Advertising Agency – New Business Flow Chart

Nothing about this flow chart is unique. Accounting and other professional services businesses are run this way. They all have a Pete.

Law firms? For the most part, we don’t have a Pete. And our flow charts for new business doesn’t look like their process at all.

Law Firm Flow Chart
Flow Chart: Law Firm Business Development

Rarely, just rarely, is the business development or marketing team forward facing in bringing in the business. In most firms, the partners, and usually just the senior partners, are bringing in the business and forward facing to the client. The “service” partners, associates, paralegals and other team members are in the office, sight unseen with the client. The marketing professionals, responsible for pulling together the pitches, spend more time herding the cats in the office to complete the pitch materials (RFP response, client dossiers, slide presentations, handouts/leave behinds) than interacting with the clients.

Yes, there are a few firms out there with business development professionals working to establish new relationships and bring in new clients. Client service professionals keeping those clients happy and engaged. But are they a Pete?

An article in Crain’s Chicago Business highlighted some of them in Why law firms are turning to non-lawyers for sales help. I want to know how many of these business development professionals are non-practicing attorneys? And how are they compensated? There are several barriers that need to be torn down before having a Pete becomes a business of law norm:

  • The nostalgia that the practice of law is at its best when seen as a profession, not as a business.
  • The legal ethics that prohibit fee sharing by “non-lawyers” needs to be removed. Including the prohibition of ownership of law firms by “non-lawyers.”
  • The eat what you kill compensation structures needs to be eradicated.
  • The billable hour mentality (why should s/he get paid for work I am going to do) needs to be shattered.
  • Who is the client needs to evolve.
  • The fallacy of who “owns” the client needs to be smashed.
  • And the term “non-lawyer” needs to be removed from the lexicon of the legal industry.

Having a Pete would allow attorneys who despise business development to partner with a true professional who does not. THESE ARE TWO DIFFERENT SKILL SETS. The Pete is not there to give legal advice, but establish a business relationship. He’s not there to work the files, but make sure that the client’s service needs are met. Pete is not responding to an RFI, but identifying and developing the relationship that leads to the business coming in the door. And staying there.

I have seen law firms embrace a business development director, only to have the person leave the firm because they are so underpaid compared to other industries. The Pete is not given the respect amongst the partners as being an equal member of the team. The resentment of having to share fees with someone who doesn’t “work” the file creates hostility between the BD professional and the partners. The administrative staff resents the high salaries the BD makes, and therefore undermines their success. And, sadly, the best in class business development professionals are not flocking to the legal industry when a position does become available because of the above mentioned bullet points.

Timothy Corcoran wrote a short piece this week, Evolve or Perish: Leading your firm in an increasingly competitive market, announcing his presentation at the upcoming Managing Partner Forum where his “remarks will focus less on the challenges posed by the economic and structural disruptions facing the legal profession and more on the compelling opportunities such changes present.” Specifically, he mentions the idea that private practice lawyers have of the “nobility” of the profession v. the in-house counsel’s view of it as a “commercial endeavor”:

To this I say: Really? Are you under the impression that clients have heretofore been completely satisfied with your work and your rates? Do you believe that businesses hiring you in the past were primarily concerned with the expansion of the rule of law as a noble societal goal rather than furthering their own commercial interests? For those working in-house, do you recall your CEO asking you to eliminate all business risk, and take as long as you’d like, and spend whatever you wish to achieve this outcome?

Those of us on the business side of the practice of law are having these conversations. We’re watching the signs and wondering when those barriers will break, because there are professionals waiting just “over there” to step in and take the lead. To be your Pete.

  • Good article, Heather. I am a Mad Men fan and agree with you that law firms need Pete. I even think his personality would mesh well with attorneys. 🙂

  • Kathryn Whitaker

    I am not sure all these barriers must come down before this function is fully functional (ha!) in law firms. It is already happening. Certainly there is always room for improvement, but I do think lawyers and firms are recognizing the benefits of sales professionals. Market conditions ensure we will continue to see a rise in the number of folks with sales responsibility.

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  • Terrific article! I am always looking for insightful content regarding business development in the legal industry and I appreciate the mad men example here.

  • Excellent article, Heather. Although you don’t address it directly, your article suggests that their may be a disconnect (on the law firm side) between “perception” and “reality” as it relates to the value a lawyer/law firm provides to a business. I’ve never met any purchaser of legal services who loves the thought of having to hire legal counsel to ensure the continuation of their business. Whether the client is made whole by a lawyer or a “Pete” is irrelevant to the client–they just want their legal issue(s) to go away. Therefore, let’s leverage professionals for the specific skills they bring to the table. If you are likeable and good at relationship building and client development, make rain. If you’re a brilliant mind with legal expertise in a specific area, focus on that. The combined result is a happy client.

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  • Great post, Heather. Coincidentally, I’ve been writing a “We need a Don Draper” post! My premise is that most branding and web-development companies don’t understand that you need the Big Idea guy to develop the powerful strategy and unique message. Instead they just have designers who make things visually appealing. And that’s not the same thing.

    Here’s a fun post using a hilariously painful scene from “Mad Men” to show what we all go through in law firms when pitching a creative product or new ideas. Poor Peggy….

    • I love the idea of giving them a 20 lesson on what they need to understand before critiquing a marketing campaign. Brilliant (and, of course, I’d love to see it sometime ;-).

  • In my experience, there are two fundamental challenges in developing an effective marketing or branding campaign (this includes websites):

    (1) Too many marketers and web developers believe that “eye catching” is the same thing as “strategic.” Therefore, it becomes more about finding a few visually interesting (i.e. expensive) photos, rather than about developing a strategy that will really help the firm succeed. And THEN finding a way to execute that with great design.

    (2) Clients are not sufficiently educated to be able to make a good decision – which is the problem Peggy was experiencing in the Mad Men clip. Without teaching the committee about marketing and advertising, they could not be expected to make a good decision, which means they’ll simply rely on their inexpert but firmly held personal opinions.