Firms look within to generate more business Idea was modeled after speed dating events

By Patrick Thornton Dolan Media Newswires MINNEAPOLIS, MN -- For a few hours after work one night, a group of attorneys at Lindquist & Vennum took part in an event with a straightforward agenda: Get to know your colleagues. The business development idea was modeled after speed dating events popular among young professionals. Attorneys wore name tags and rotated between high-top tables in a conference room at the firm. On the table were a series of questions written on note cards. Some were serious practice based queries, others were more conversational like where is a good place you have been out to eat recently? After five minutes of talking the attendees moved to a new table. The goal of the event, explained Shelly Gertgen, the director of communications at the firm, was to get the attorneys talking about areas where they have had success working for clients and then to identify other potential avenues for business among existing clients. "We have found that not a lot of attorneys know much about each other's practices or clients," Gertgen said. "So we decided to try to network with each other and uncover some of those hidden opportunities where they could be introductions or inroads made with the existing client base. Basically, does one of our labor clients need to meet with our private equity group?" In Minnesota, it's not unusual for larger companies to work with several law firms: one for employment benefits and another for litigation and so on. Firms are constantly trying to convince their existing clients to use the firm for more work. Dean Harakas, the chief marketing officer at Lindquist & Vennum, said one of the barriers to landing more business from an existing client is that attorneys don't know what's going on down the hall. With the pressures of billing time and working on the matter of the day, cross marketing -- promoting the firm's other practice groups -- is not always a priority, especially if it's on a legal matter that is foreign to an attorney. But cross marketing should be because it's much quicker to get more business from an existing client in a tight economy than it is to go out and find a new client, Harakas said. "[Existing clients] are the most untapped resource within a firm for business development," Harakas said. "People in business always want solutions, but they may not know about every new problem or development in the law. The more you know about your colleagues, the better armed you are to ask the right questions or you end up learning about a hot trend or a new issue and expertise the firm may have." At Zelle Hofmann Voelbel & Mason, a group of the women attorneys started a blog as a way to find out what was going on with each other's practice and to connect with other women attorneys. The blog -- -- launched about a year ago and has contributors from the firm's five U.S. offices. Using the Internet, the blog's contributors and readers don't have to be down the hall from each other to find new developments in the law that can help them market to their client base. "We wanted to connect with women more broadly in the legal community, and we wanted the blog to be a helpful tool for women in litigation -- a place to read articles or see new developments," said Elizabeth Kniffen, an attorney at the firm's Minneapolis office. "This was a great chance for me to connect with other women in senior leadership roles and to get involved in a project in a substantive way." The contributors write profiles of different women in leadership positions or share personal experiences in and out of the law. They promoted the blog with their clients, colleagues and attorneys at other firms to draw in readers and to share ideas. Kniffen said that so far the feedback has been positive Anne Olsen, a partner at Lindquist & Vennum's real estate practice, said she went in to the marketing event with the goal of talking to people she didn't know. One of her first talks was with Jim Lodoen, a partner in the firm's bankruptcy division. Based on the five-minute chat she had with the Lodoen she got an idea she could offer to one of her clients. She followed up with the client the next day and landed a new matter. "[The event] gets you thinking how might we add value to both of our clients," she said. "We serve Fortune 500 companies and then individuals, and they all have specialized needs. Our job is to make them as successful as possible. That means if you are a real estate lawyer, you might need to find your client's expertise on private equity financing, even if it's not from you." The reality is most clients are constantly looking for ways to save money on outside legal costs, so keeping them aware of the other services your firm provides can also help attorneys hold on to their current book of business, Harakas said. "The more services you provide a client the better," he said. "Sometimes it's more of a defensive opportunity for a law firm and not always an offensive one. Which firm is easier to replace, the one that provides five services or the one that is providing one?" Published: Fri, Jul 22, 2011