Mpls Law Firms Tap Non-Lawyer Sales Professionals

Non-attorneys are helping drum up work.

Law firms have always relied on well-connected partners to serve as rainmakers to bring in business. But more and more firms are hiring new business pros from non-attorney ranks to build their books of business.

“It’s very much like starting a company,” says Robert Gibson, director of business development at Fredrikson & Byron, a full-service firm that is among the largest in the state. “You do a 360 review and you look at opportunities and challenges and capabilities, and then you put together a strategic plan. It’s not about cold-calling. It’s about networks. It’s about establishing a brand.”

Gibson, who was in investment banking and wealth management before coming to Fredrikson, points to the firm’s private equity group. Not long ago it was a blip. But lately it’s been pulling in work from well-heeled East Coast equity funds such as Lindsay Goldberg and Audax, for which it did 35 transactions for last year.

Gibson figures he knows why.

“High-quality practice of law, of course, but also the relationships we’ve built. It takes time, but it’s the best way to grow business.”

It’s the same songbook John Crouch has brought to Bowman and Brooke, a midsize Minneapolis firm that specializes in product liability defense. Like Gibson, he comes from a metrics background, with 15 years at Ernst & Young.

Crouch has been on the job for a year, and his mantra from day one has been to persuade members of practice areas to act as teams and integrate them into clients’ legal departments. He seeks to build out specialties that provide added value and invest in relationships and, again, treat each practice area as its own business.

“The thinking is this: The legal departments of our clients are being asked by their CEOs to become more deeply connected with the business units. They’re expected to have forecasts, budgets, costs, forecast exposure, risks, that kind of thing. So how can we help them?

“There are a lot of law firms who think, ‘We’re the gods at doing this, we don’t need to change. We just need to talk louder in the megaphone,’ ” Crouch continues. “That just doesn’t work anymore.”

—Adam Wahlberg