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| 21 minutes read

CMO Series EP35 - David Bruns of Farella, Braun + Martel on the process of getting to the legal BD win

Success in legal Business Development sometimes happens by accident, but the days when firms could get by without an effective BD strategy are long gone.

Someone who is pushing the envelope when it comes to developing legal BD best practice is David Bruns, Director of Client Services at Farella, Braun + Martel. Alistair Bone is lucky to be joined by David on this episode of the CMO Series podcast to hear his insights on how to get to the legal BD win.

David discusses his approach to BD and the importance of understanding and celebrating the little wins throughout the journey.

Tune in as Ali and David cover: 

  • What it means to get a win in terms of BD
  • How David’s approach and philosophy around BD has evolved throughout his career
  • Why a process for BD is so important for lawyers
  • What a typical BD process looks like 
  • Where to turn to for best practice on how to build a BD plan, how to adapt that best practice to fit the needs of the firm
  • How do you guide your team along the stages of your BD plan
  • The BD successes that showcase why having a process is critical for a firm
  • Why BD as a function has grown in influence throughout the legal industry
  • Advice for those reassessing their own BD approach


Intro: Welcome to the Passle Podcast CMO series. 

Ali: Welcome to the Passle CMO Series podcast. My name is Ali and we're here to discuss all things professional services, business development, and marketing. As many listening today know, on rare occasions, success in legal business development happens by accident, but the days when firms could get away with this are long gone. This means that an effective approach to BD is far more important. And with us today to discuss this is someone who has pushed the envelope to develop legal business development best practice at his firm. He is currently director of client services at Farella, Braun and Martel. David Bruns, welcome!

David: Welcome, Ali. I'm excited to have this conversation. 

Ali: It's great to have you on. I know, chatting with you before this, just hearing how busy you are, and actually it sounds like there's some exciting things happening at the firm in terms of a little bit of consulting and business development, and despite being rather an expert yourself, you're always continuing to leverage things.

David: I think that's one of the areas we're probably going to dive into. But evolving your own knowledge and skill set is vital to this. I think in our roles as we move into that kind of trusted advisor or that really trusted consultant to the lawyers that we have to be constantly evolving. I'm always looking both inside and outside the legal industry. 

Ali: I have no doubt always trying to leverage those expertise. And actually that kind of really leads us nicely to the start. And actually one of the things I wanted to do before getting into the details, sort of step back. And beforehand we spoke a little bit about how the BD function has grown in influence throughout the legal industry. Why do you think that's the case? 

David: I think foundationally there's thousands of lawyers out there that can solve a client's needs. The competitive marketplace is pretty intense. But business development is a process that really helps lawyers get above the market or shine better, create more opportunity for themselves and draw people into you right. It's a process that you can walk through, and I think that is really helpful. It's taking away what we used to call random acts of marketing and trying to make things very structured. And recently two studies came out that I think are right on point with this. One was the PTI State of the Industry report which said that in-house counsel go to their primary law firm 31% of the time. The second study is Wicker Park recently came out and said in house Counsel received excellent service only 11% of the time. Right. So that means one study saying 70% of the time there's opportunity, the other one saying 90% of the time there's opportunity. And both of those data points, I think, are really hitting the nail on the head of how in-house counsel are not generally happy with outside counsel. And I think through business development, in helping lawyers understand client service and client expectations, they can increase their productivity and their success rates exponentially. 

Ali: Certainly those stats are really pretty significant. And when you start to think about them, I think it leads neatly into really where the opportunity is. And actually something that we've spoken a lot about is that process of getting the legal BD win. And actually with that, it would be great to understand a little bit more about what you kind of define that kind of legal BD win as. 

David: Right. I talk about wins a lot. I think that's really important. And I also think that most lawyers perceive a win as a new matter. Right. And that's really the penultimate win. There's a lot of little wins and little small wins that help move that relationship forward and help move somebody through the pipeline process or a business development process. However, you really want to think about it. For example, meeting the right person at a conference, you're going to a conference, and hopefully you've preselected a few companies or some people that you want to meet and you've actually met them and you got their card. And maybe there's some follow up activity that is happening, or maybe you just have someone, you had a meeting and you were able to create a next step. Right. That's a little win, the ability to move that relationship forward. Or perhaps you're talking to somebody. And this happened to us recently where our key client contact was for the matter that we had. But to expand the relationship, we needed him to introduce us to a few other contacts at the company. And we were able to do that recently and get his approval to do that. And now that process is moving forward. So I think you have lots of little steps that get to that big win of getting the matter and understanding and celebrating those little wins or how you keep that process moving forward. 

Ali: I think actually for anybody listening, it doesn't always matter what industry. And it's that kind of looking at it as a step on the ladder to getting over to that overall when it's each little small win contributes to it. And that's really interesting to hear some of the recent examples that you're able to get there. I think actually kind of leading on that. I mean, that's obviously an overall view that you've taken. But also how has your approach and philosophy around BD evolved throughout your career?

David:  As I said earlier, evolution is vital to business development. Things that we were doing in the 80s, we're not doing now. Things that were even to the point of some tools that we have now, like social media didn't exist previously. Right. Even email. You've got to kind of rethink your process based on the tools and kind of the tactics and the shift really where in-house Counsel have a little more power than outside Counsel. That was a big tactical shift. Right. And we had to really figure out how to do that for me. I was lucky enough when I was early in my career. I worked with a couple of great consultants. One was Bill Flannery of the Flannery Institute. Another one was Jim Durham. Right. And they really put that structure in place that then I could grow from. Right. So it was really getting kind of some good foundational information learning that I could then transition into what I do now and what we do today. I also think lawyers have different comfort levels with business development, and so you're going to have to be a little bit flexible. We talk about it from a communication style standpoint. We will talk a little bit later from a change assessment standpoint. So having this need to evolve is really important. And I think that's key. And I think if you look at the industry and you look at my peer group, those of us that are really successful have that ability to be almost a little like Gumby. Right. You're kind of always flexible, and you're trying to figure out the best way to meet the objective and get to the next step in the business development process. 

Ali: As you alluded to at the very start as well, you're looking at sort of some outside consultants to bring in around that business development process. So again, continually evolving. I know that will obviously be for your team and the lawyers. But also you mentioned how you've been on this evolution, and it's very evident how lawyers are kind of on that evolution at the moment. So I'll just be interested to understand sort of why you think there's a process for BD that is such an important thing for lawyers. 

David: Well, I think it boils down to their job, really. Right. If you think of lawyers, everything they do is based on precedent, so they're always doing something that's always kind of been done before. And so I think that's why the process is really so important, because everything that a lawyer does is based on process. And so creating a business development process creates a comfort zone for them to actually move that process forward. And three years ago, we did at our partner retreat, it was called the Change Assessment. We had a consultant come in and help us, and it was incredibly eye opening to me. Right. Because as we're sitting there and he's telling us all about the results, and we all had to take that. It was an assessment kind of thing. And then at one point he had us all stand up on our number, and it was zero to 10 or 60 to 60. I was on the extreme end of change. I'm really accepting of it, it doesn't bother me at all. I'm pretty comfortable with change, whereas almost all the lawyers were not in that space. And some were extremely on the polar end of it. What I learned is that looking at a few of the lawyers that I was working with at that time period is that I kind of engineered the process. I'm really comfortable. We want to go over to point a right, or we want to nail this client. Well, let's start walking in that direction. And if we hit a wall, you have a conversation about, do we care if the wall is there? How do we get around the wall? Do I climb over it? Do I go around it? And ultimately I get to where I want to be and we land that client, whereas the lawyers reverse engineer everything. Right. They know what their end goal is, and then they walk backwards to where they are today. And that could be a piece of litigation, it could be an appeal. And in this context, in the business development context. Right. And so just that shift in my mindset from I'm really comfortable just going without necessarily having a plan to the lawyers are not comfortable with that. They need that plan was very vital to me and my growth. And I think my success at the firm. And I've got an example here. One of the lawyers that I work with or was working with at the time, he was a former AUSA. He's a white collar guy, and he gets all of his work from former AUSA. They kind of share. One of them gets the company client, then they have to funnel out the individuals. So it's this kind of incestuous group that's kind of constantly sharing work. And I was like, hey, what I want you to do is set up a dinner meeting and not to socialise, but to talk about the work that's on your plate. And he looked at me like I was crazy. And then the next month he came back, we had a monthly meeting. And the next month he comes back and says, my wife really thinks that's a great idea. Can you tell me more? Right. So we talked a little bit more. And then the next meeting we had to talk about who to invite and how does he limit who he wants to invite? And there was one person that he didn't want to invite. And how does he handle that then? Is this a phone call? Is this an email? Who pays each step of the process? Right. We had to have a fairly detailed conversation. And what I realised is if I would have just developed a process document, we could have cut that time in half or more to get him on board because he ended up doing it. It was very successful. He's been doing it, even did it through covet. So giving them the process helps them understand where they're going and takes away some of their fear and that fear factor that they have as it relates to business development because it's not something that most of them want to do. 

Ali: It is interesting. It's one of those things that actually lawyers get that sort of senior position as partners and expect to do business development. They've never really been given any opportunity previously to be able to do it. So understandably, you can say they start sort of reverse engineering. They know the ultimate outcome, but they're not able to kind of work out the small steps to get there. And that was a fantastic example, but kind of maybe building on it, I know you mentioned you kind of put a process in place. So it'd be good to understand what that kind of typical BD process looks like. And building on that, is it something that is the same firm wide, or is it specific to the lawyers or something that you construct around certain firms or accounts? It would be good to kind of delve into that little bit further. 

David: Sales is a process. Right. And there's a proven way in which to do it. There's a number of books you could go to speakers, webinars. There's a lot of ways to get to the nuts and bolts of what the sales is from a process standpoint. But I think that when you flip from kind of the corporate environment to the legal environment, you find out that lawyers don't really want to be salespeople. Right. They want to be lawyers. They didn't go into the law to be salespeople. They didn't go into the law to be tracked like in a sales context. Right. You're pretty quick to put all your information into a CRM system. Employers may or may not be willing to do that. They may or may not even really want to share. And so you've got to kind of work through that a little bit and help them understand the process, help them understand how they fit in. They may really like to just sit in the corner and write, well, that's great. Within the context of how we are going to market strategy. There's a place for the writer, there's a place for the speaker. There's a place for the guy that wants to go to every conference and shake everyone's hand and find a bunch of contacts. That way it's creating the opportunity for the lawyer individually to fit within the larger whole. So we do a lot of work with what we call pursuit teams that have three or four lawyers working together. Generally, they're cross practice targeting a single client, and they're sharing information. Some of them might be better to say, hey, I'll write this article so that we can get it published, so that we can send it to them because it's directly on point with the conversation you just had. Right. And so they work as a team and put that team together so they're not necessarily isolated or working by themselves with that. David, is there a particular approach out of that? I mean, you've obviously mentioned about the kind of the individual staff. Also a pursuit team. Is there one that works best or is it actually kind of really does come on the individual basis? I think it's pretty much on an individual basis, but I think there's a lot that you can use the word crib from, like you don't have to reinvent the wheel every time. You may be at a different point in the process. So what I mean by that is you don't always have to start at A and end at C. And I think that's something that gets back to how lawyers engineer, reverse engineer. And I'm engineering. Right. Sometimes you go A to Q to B to T in your process. It's still kind of the same thing you want them to go through and you're trying to capture the same information. But individually, I think that process can be non linear. And I think that's one issue that is really difficult for lawyers because they really want things to be linear. Right. As we talked about, they've reversed engineered where they are, and they know that path. Business development throws curveballs at you. And so you've got to be able to deal with that and figure out what that curveball is going to mean. Usually it's an opportunity, but you have to figure out how to deal with that opportunity. 

Ali: That makes perfect sense. And actually, once you've built that plan, how do you guide your team along the various stages within it? 

David: Yeah. So I build pretty simple plans. It kind of starts with a vision. Who do you want to be? And that could be at the individual level. It could be at a practice level, it could be an industry group level. What is it that you're trying to accomplish here and that leads into goals. Right. So what does success look like? And that can be as simple as I want to increase the size of my pipeline, or it could be something a little more complex where I really want to increase my brand in the marketplace, or I want to jump into this new area of law and this new industry, and I don't have any contacts there. Right. So you could have different goal sets there, those roll into action. So what are the exact things you're going to do to achieve those goals? And then you have metrics. Right. So then what are you measuring and trying to understand what's important? And when you're looking at metrics, I think you need both leading metrics and trailing metrics. And examples would give the number of contacts added to a pipeline. I think that could be considered a leading metric. Right. Because the building exercise, whereas the number of new matters, which is, as we talked about earlier, is kind of the penultimate goal, is really a trailing metric. Right. Because that's work that's been brought in the door. So I would call that a pretty simple plan, but I don't know if everybody would think that way, but those four areas I think are really key. And then with each one of those really drives what the next step is, if that makes sense. Right. I think we spend a lot of time in action and what are we going to do? And we have fewer meetings around. We did this and we learned some information. Now how are we going to use that information to move that person through our pipeline? 

Ali: That makes a lot of sense. It's funny, I was going to use a phrase from when I used to play sports, playing rugby, simple things done well. And that's exactly what you're saying. That actually if you can do those simple things and you can execute on them, then actually the bigger picture will actually kind of fall into place and you kind of work your way up the ladder to ensure the success. And actually with success, it would be great to hear whether there have been any sort of particular successes that you're able to share with us to sort of help explain why having a process is critical for the firm. 

David: I'd say that my biggest success is one of our largest clients. When I started working with the lawyer, and that was about 13 years ago, it was roughly about $100,000 a year client, and now it's north of $10 million. And that was just truly working with the lawyer and the client to find out what the clients' needs were and giving the client exactly what they wanted. And over time. And that was, let's say that's an eight year process to get to where we are today. So I think also helping to understand that time is really important. A few other things that I would say is communication really is really important and also celebrating successes. One of the things that we had talked about a little bit was the importance of celebrating those little successes so that you can celebrate that big success. Another thing that I think is really important is the flip side of your question, fail fast, right. If something's not working, figure out why it's not working and either stop because it's not working or change or process change, what's going on. So really it's okay to fail. And that's something that lawyers, I think, have an incredibly hard time internalising. Right. Because their job is to be perfect 100% of the time. Business development is a messy environment, and you might fail. You might have something that doesn't really work very well. An example there had a pursuit team around a client. And the one lawyer that said he had the best relationship, we found out he didn't. His relationship was stale. So we kind of put a hold on it. Right. We're like, okay, this is clearly not something we should be going down, honestly. Two weeks later, three weeks later a different lawyer got a call from that same client because they were sued. Right. Serendipity the fact that they needed to now address this lawsuit, they reached out to us and we just had a meeting, two meetings where we introduced six different services to them in areas of law that they told us they wanted to learn more about. And so kind of through that fail fast, we actually succeeded exponentially more than our wildest dream. 

Ali:It just sort of shows you the ability to recognise a failure, but then going to turn that into success. And it's interesting that you mentioned sort of the depth of relationships, because when I was fortunate enough to be recently at the Marketing Partners forum down in Florida, that was fantastic talk from a couple of lawyers who were sitting alongside an in-house counsel. And they were saying that just to your point there for them as an in house Counsel, what's so important is to have a depth of relationship with multiple people. It's not just that one person, because actually maybe they don't particularly like that person or actually they don't feel they can talk to them in the same way or get what they want out of them. Actually, it's so important to have that breadth of and depth of relationships across the firm. So it's interesting there to actually bring up an example where you've experienced that at your firm. And I don't know whether I was going to kind of touch upon it a little bit because you mentioned it. The importance of failing fast whether there were any examples you might be able to give where from a BD perspective, you tried to implement something and it didn't work. I don't know whether there's anything you might be able to think of as a good example. It would always be interesting to hear. 

David: I'm constantly trying to get increased communication because I think that's where you learn things about people. You learn things of that nature. And so we've tried a few times to put a lunch bunch together or a group of clients together to have a conversation. And while the clients tell me and my client interviews that that's exactly something that they want. I'm having a hard time getting the lawyers to get on board with getting their clients to communicate with each other, even though we know clients are communicating with each other all the time, whether that's in their professional associations or groups in their LinkedIn communications, we know that clients communicate all the time. And so formalising, that seems like it makes a lot of sense. It's something that I have three or four different groups that I can go have a conversation with and get some advice or get some recommendations. And it's the same thing that our clients are looking for. But I'm having a hard time for the lawyers to see the value in that. And so that's something that I haven't, it's on the tip of my tongue. I talk about it all the time. I've put together some programs around it. But I haven't quite been able to get a lawyer or a team of lawyers to really pull a trigger or something along those lines, even though I think that it would be fantastic.

Ali:  I'm sure all of these things it takes one person to do and see success, and that kind of opens up the flight gates and people will follow. And as you're mentioning earlier, unfortunately, lawyers don't necessarily like change. So sometimes it's a bit of an upward battle in terms of trying to get them to achieve that. So thank you very much for sharing, David. Finally, I just wanted to actually ask if you had one takeaway, is there one piece of advice for assessing or for those assessing their own BD approach, and what would it be? 

David: I absolutely do. And I would say it's find your joy. It seems kind of soft, but I think if you can define where you find joy, it's going to be where you're most happiest. Right. And when you're most happy, you end up, you'll engage in that environment, you meet more people, you'll be your best self. Really. Right. And so I think happiness and finding joy is key to really thinking about that. And I don't know very many lawyers that find a lot of joy going to an ADA meeting, but I do know a lot of lawyers that find a ton of joy riding their bike or going like to a ski trip or taking a really great vacation or reading books because they're into a book club. Right. It doesn't matter what joy is for you. If you can define where your joy is, that's where you're going to find the best pool of contacts, because you already are starting from a place of commonality. When you're starting to build that relationship, that joy could be your kids and their sports. And I have a perfect example of that. My daughter is on a mobile team, and she's a really good skier. All of the parents are Uber professionals that could use legal services. Now I don't walk in the door and say, hey, I work for lawyers, and you should start using my firm. But two of them have already come into the door, come to me and say, hey, I've got an issue in your firm. Help me with that. Right. So it's in that environment, I'm not necessarily hyper selling, but I'm letting them know that I have the ability to help them. And for some of them, I've added them to mailing lists and things like that with their permission because they wanted to start getting that content from us. And so in my space of joy, which is my kids mobile team, I'm able to start building a network of people that can potentially be clients of the firm. So, yes, I think the one take away I would give is help your lawyers find where they define joy and push them into that as their kind of place in which to start to build a network. 

Ali: That's incredibly insightful and something that I don't think probably people ever necessarily think about and I certainly haven't thought about in the same way myself. So I really appreciate you sharing that and actually look, David, thanks for sharing so much invaluable knowledge. I mean, it's clear what an expert you are in this realm and how you've kind of evolved over the years and really taking the best parts that you've learned and putting those all together and being able to share some of that with us. So thank you very much for that. 

David: Yeah. Well, I appreciate you reaching out and asking me to do this. It was a lot of fun and it was enjoyable getting to know you. I appreciate you reaching out and allowing me to share my thoughts on business development for lawyers. 

Ali: Thanks very much for joining, David.

There's a lot of little wins that help move that relationship forward, and help move somebody through the pipeline process, or the business development process.


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