Randy Vulakovich is the chief business development officer at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a larger U.S. law firm with a strong presence in government relations and other fields.
Vulakovich came to his current post some three years ago, and since then has worked closely with the lawyers and other professionals in the Pittsburgh-based firm.
It now has some 530 attorneys. Much of its recent growth came from a series of mergers. During the last decade, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney emerged from combination of several law firms. Some had diverse practices for business clients. They include Buchanan Ingersoll, which traces its history to 1850; Fowler White & Boggs, a Florida firm founded in 1943; and Klett Rooney Lieber & Schorling, a Pittsburgh-based firm since 1965. There was also Burns Doane Swecker & Mathis LLP, founded in 1936, (which was focused on international intellectual property) and Silverstein and Mullens, a Washington, D.C., firm founded in 1960 (which was focused on taxes and estate planning.)
It is a diverse mix of specialties, which prides itself on client service, and looks for innovative solutions for each individual case, project or transaction. It was named the "Client Service A-Team" for the eighth consecutive year in an independent survey conducted by market research and management consulting firm BTI.
The law firm has repeatedly been honored for the quality of its attorneys, as well. For instance, over 150 of its attorneys and specialists were recognized in The Best Lawyers in America 2014. It also has been recognized for its community service, such as when Superstorm Sandy hit the Northeast, and many of its lawyers from its Newark, New York and Philadelphia offices set up free legal clinics in storm-ravaged areas.
Into that environment and culture comes a team of business development and marketing pros. Vulakovich leads a group of 14 professionals who concentrate on business development and marketing. That includes a director of communications, business development managers and marketing staff. Each has various roles in supporting the firm’s lawyers and government relations professionals. He also works closely with the firms’ chief executive officer, chief operating officer and board of directors to meet the firm’s business goals on client service, marketing and revenue.
“We are focused on supporting our lawyers and professionals so that they can better serve their clients,” Vulakovich said in a recent statement to InsideCounsel. “Whether that means doing research on competitive intelligence, facilitating client feedback programs, assisting with responses to proposals, identifying potentials for market growth, supporting the firm’s brand through advertising and events, assisting in recruiting efforts … our primary goal is taking care of the projects that lead to increasing the value we deliver to clients.”
The law firm recently merged with Fowler White Boggs and the business development professionals had an important role to play in the process.
“Prior to the merger, our team collaborated with all departments and practice groups to identify synergies, opportunities and challenges associated with the merger,” he said. They also came up with marketing plan and business development plan. Then, after the merger, the plans were deployed. The plans touched on such subjects as updating website content, issuing press releases and branding campaigns. The firm also chose to continue its extensive client assessment program, which was started over two years ago.
But the law firm also wanted to ensure there was plenty of personal interaction as the firms merged.
“We held client receptions in three of our six Florida office locations,” Vulakovich said. In June we held a firm retreat in Baltimore to further facilitate integration between the lawyers and government relations professionals of our 19 offices, two of which – Denver and Charlotte—also opened within the past few years.”
Looking at the firm’s experiences, do other law firms need to undertake similar efforts in business development?
Vulakovich said he does not believe that a “one-size-fits-all approach is applicable in the legal space.”
“Each firm needs to understand their client base, geographic reach, ways in which they sell their services and capabilities, and then mirror the way their business development team markets those services to meet client needs,” he explained.
How they may approach business development will depend on such variables as client demands, attorney needs, firm size, location and other factors, he said.
Still, Vulakovich sees many benefits to having its business development professionals as full-time internal employees, rather than by using outside consultants.
“In a leadership role, you need to embed yourself with the firm culture to understand the personalities, experience and diverse capabilities of the individual lawyers and most importantly, its clients,” he explained. “Outside consultants are at a disadvantage where it comes to really being incorporated into the firm in this way, particularly if they are charged with leading a team.”
There is another more fundamental problem. Outside consultants working for several firms could face confidentiality issues and potential breaches of trust.
However, there are some functions that can be outsourced, such as public relations, graphic design, event planning, website developers and research. Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney has a combination of internal professionals who oversee these functions and also work with some outside consultants in these limited areas.
Prior to his current post, Vulakovich was a government affairs consultant. He also played a key role in the successful Pennsylvania gubernatorial campaign of Tom Corbett in 2010. So he understands broader trends in marketing and business development in different sectors of the economy.
Law firms, increasingly, will often need to use these kinds of methods to remain successful and undertake strategic planning.
“Law firm business development and marketing is on the increase, and these roles within the profession are becoming more and more defined,” Vulakovich said.