The Docketing Department’s Role in Business Development
Since the Great Recession, companies continue to pare down their business with outside law firms that provide legal services and instead use their in-house counsel for legal work. Their legal budgets are decreasing and they need to find ways to provide the same support at a lower cost.
Law firms have taken drastic measures to meet the financial demands of their clients and still make a profit. Alternative fee arrangements, hiring groups of lawyers to bolster or create new practice areas, mergers, staff layoffs and outsourcing are just a few of the examples. The landscape has changed and firms are increasingly looking for ways to get the competitive advantage and gain the business. One such way is to utilize the docket department as a business development resource.
The docket professional is an important part of the business development process when it comes to gathering internal and external information. What better way to determine how many cases a firm has handled in federal court that went to trial, or how may foreign trademark applications were filed each year than to ask the docket professional? Not only should the docket specialist be able to mine the data in the firm’s docketing software, but he or she can also use external resources.
In a large law firm where I was employed, the docket staff monitored local and national law suits filed against their firm clients. They used several paid legal resources to monitor new cases. Once, a docket specialist found a new lawsuit filed against an important client and brought that case and a copy of the complaint to the attention of the responsible partner. That partner notified the client and the firm was retained as counsel. In just three years, the firm billed the client well over $2 million and the case was still pending. That’s a lot of revenue that was generated by an unexpected source — the docket professional.
It’s well known that docketing is critical to risk-management practices. But what firms may not realize is that the support docketing specialists provide relates directly to the billable hour and the bottom line. Attorneys can bill more time and concentrate on other legal work rather than routine and mundane tasks.
THE MARKETING RELATIONSHIP
The process of relying on non-attorneys to drive the business is more important now than ever before. For example, marketing departments have become a vital part of the sales and business development process, and firms have increased the number of marketing professionals to better service their attorneys. Docketing professionals can help here as well.
When pitching for new business related to a request for information (RFI), the marketing department has to gather as much information about the areas of expertise of their attorneys and the capabilities of the firm. They not only use external resources to evaluate the competition, but also internal information such as attorney bios, the CRM system (customer relationship management), and measurable data to represent their success in the area of support sought by the potential client.
In just three years, the firm billed the client well over $2 million and the case was still pending. That’s a lot of revenue that was generated by an unexpected source, the docket professional.
When a pitch for business represents the expertise of the firm’s litigation practice area, the marketing specialists have to seek as much information from their attorneys. That is typically a difficult process. Sometimes sending out mass emails asking for information is not possible, as there could be ethical walls that they need to consider.
The data must also accurately reflect the required information. With litigation, sometimes that includes how many cases went to trial, judgments that were achieved on behalf of the firm’s clients, and summary judgment motions filed and won. With intellectual property, the information sought could include how many U.S. trademark applications does the firm file each year, how many patent applications were drafted, and the firm’s success rate in getting patents through the patent office efficiently.
When a firm neglects to use the docket department as a business development tool, they can miss out on possibilities to generate more revenue for the firm. The docket professional is and should be a vital component to the business development process in conjunction with the marketing department’s efforts to generate business for the firm.
In this turbulent time of law firm survival, docket professionals need to do more than just calendar and track critical deadlines. They need to become a valuable resource in helping develop business for the firm.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Gierymski is the Editor-in-Chief at Docket Life blog. He is a demonstrated leader with more than 25 years of experience supporting attorneys and law firms with a focus on risk management and leveraging technology to meet their docketing needs and goals. He served as Founding Member and Past President of the National Docketing Association (NDA), and has published several articles and white papers related to docketing topics.Email