Office Space is a great flick, if you haven’t seen it. In one of my favorite scenes, Tom, a programmer at an IT firm, is being interviewed by “the Bobs,” two purported efficiency and process management experts attempting to cut dead weight:
The reasons I love this quote are threefold:
- Tom’s delivery is honest, pithy and spot-on. The scene is almost as angst-filled as when they move Milton’s desk down to Storage B and misplace his red stapler.
- Tom’s sentiment embodies a lot of what we, as legal marketing and business development professionals, bring to the table ourselves, in client-facing roles, or strive to impart unto our attorneys.
- Tom is asked to describe his value-add to the company, a task which those of us in non-billable roles within a law firm often struggle with accurately describing or proving.
Let’s just get the term out there so we can shun it together: “non-lawyer.” Shudder. I hate it just as much as you do. You would never hear a medical professional referred to as a “non-doctor,” and every patient knows that a hospital could not run without everyone working as a team, regardless of how they are compensated. As time goes by and the structure of law firms evolves, the line between staff and timekeepers continues to blur, but let’s face it: those of us who do not bill time feel a constant need to substantiate our existence and the value we bring to the bottom line. The legal arena is a unique industry: in traditional corporate structures, a team member whose focus is to ultimately bring business to the door typically exists towards the top of the food chain. Unfortunately, that is often not an accurate depiction of our world.
Perhaps it stems from the fact that traditional “salespeople” are not typically owners in the company as our attorneys are in our firms—that, in and of itself, begets a shift in power and perception of value. Our attorneys are interfacing with clients every day. Behind the scenes (except for the very few of us in client-facing roles), the marketing and business development teams put in countless hours strategizing, coaching, researching, analyzing, and acting on what they deem to be the most effective way to help the firm’s attorneys keep their current clients happy and attract the best new prospects to become clients of the firm. The ways in which this is handled vary from firm-to-firm, from department-to-department, but the end goal remains the same. We should be setting metrics and measuring what we can, even if it is loosely, to show the tangible value of those efforts. We should always do more than is asked of us.
This, again, brings us to the constant evolution of the law firm model: gone are the days of law firms of any size being able to avoid actively branding themselves in increasingly saturated markets, or to dodge developing business goals and strategies on an ongoing basis. Just as Tom eluded to, every business is, at its root, a people game. Our value within our firm should be multifaceted, yet relatively easy to define: we are business professionals who are attempting to equip those within the firm who can bring in the business with the right tools to bring in more of it. More from current clients, more from new clients, more from future clients.
Depending on the size of the firm, we may wear many hats, or have a more narrow focus. Regardless of the job description, we bring real value to the firm. We are charged with ensuring that the needs of the clients are paramount. Whether that role is defined as elevating the firm’s overarching brand through PR or communications; coordinating a bespoke event that results in current clients mingling with top prospects; helping attorneys to stay accountable and suggesting ways in which they can further their core client relationships; working until the wee hours of the morning on an RFP and then coaching the pitch team in order to impress the right CEO which results in a new engagement; or suggesting a new niche or approach to developing business for an attorney that pans out: we add significant value to the firms we work for, based solely on our common goal of doing our parts in running a law firm as a business. Because, it is just that.