IT HAS BEEN only two years, yet it feels like forever since lawyers have been able to attend networking events in person. By this point, it’s a colossal understatement to say that the pandemic has changed traditional networking and business development. Lawyers have had to think of creative ways to “be out there” and emphasize their presence and knowledge; marketing teams have had to navigate greater demand for immediate pitch presentations; and firms have had to adapt to the “great resignation” of their attorneys and think of ways to attract new lawyers while also promoting and retaining existing top talent.
Armstrong Teasdale, an Am Law 200 firm with more than 370 practicing attorneys across 15 offices nationally and internationally, has responded quickly and efficiently to the changes caused by the pandemic. Throughout, the firm has managed remote work and the technology needed to make it happen; provided an environment that fosters work-life balance, health and safety to its attorneys and staff; grappled with the increased demand for attorneys; and much more. It has also had to adapt to and overcome many changes related to business development and the collaboration that accompanies it.
One of the most frequently used words within the workforce the past two years is hybrid. It of course refers to going into the office a few days a week and working remotely the rest. For Armstrong Teasdale attorneys, though, it has also become their go-to word to describe how they go about business development. They use personal connection, electronic communication, social media, Zoom, LinkedIn and more to collaborate, to pitch and to land clients.
One of us, Crystal L. Howard, a partner in the firm’s Corporate Services practice group (CSG) whose work focuses on a wide range of complex business transactions, tax structuring and the like, joined the firm in February 2020 at the outset of the pandemic. Howard thrives by helping all business owners meet their goals, but she especially loves counseling women business leaders to achieve their ambitions. As the pandemic wore on, she adapted to using Zoom to meet her colleagues throughout Armstrong Teasdale’s offices as well as to continue building professional relationships and notching business-development wins. Several of these victories came via using a digital platform to keep the conversation going; what had formerly been a meeting over coffee or lunch became a Zoom call with a new business owner seeking to expand her business and solve a tax problem.
The other writer of this piece, Lizl Leonardo, an associate in the firm’s Financial and Real Estate Services practice group (FRE) who is licensed in Illinois, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., joined Armstrong Teasdale eight months ago. While associates are not technically required to bring in new clients, she has already successfully opened matters under her name since she came aboard thanks to her longstanding connections in the Filipino community, particularly in New York, the Philippines and Singapore. These clients were either direct contacts, friends of friends or simply referrals from friends on social media.
Most recently, despite being in different firm groups and physical offices, Howard and Leonardo unleashed their collaborative power to promote each other while pitching their services to a prospective client. One of Leonardo’s connections recommended her to an organization that posted to LinkedIn that it was looking for outside counsel doing corporate transactional and nonprofit work in Pennsylvania. The outfit, a tax-exempt entity, was founded and is led by a woman, with a mission to provide innovative solutions for women balancing being a mom, a day job and everything in between.
While Leonardo practices corporate work in Pennsylvania, she needed someone who could handle a niche area: the ins and outs of nonprofit mergers and governance. She reached out to a few partners in the CSG and FRE groups, asking if they had such experience and would be willing to lead the project if the firm were hired. That’s how she and Howard first connected. Howard regularly uses her tax knowledge to counsel tax-exempt groups on a variety of matters, and with Leonardo’s Pennsylvania connections and strong corporate experience, the two could provide the right mix of legal support and authentic connection the prospective client needed.
The duo knew each other from when they were staffed on large business transactions but had not worked directly together. It took just a few emails for them to conclude they’d make a great team to pitch, particularly because they share strong beliefs regarding the organization’s mission. They soon began collaborating with the marketing and business-development teams (also in other offices) to come up with a short yet personal presentation they could provide to the prospective client before their formal conversation three days hence.
That conversation took place over Zoom, during which Howard and Leonardo learned more about the prospect’s business and legal needs. They were able to answer the corporate-related questions and emphasize that they’d be able to find the right people at Armstrong Teasdale to handle non-corporate matters if needed. Most importantly, they were relatable and supportive of the organization’s mission, seeking to build a trusted relationship while empowering the founder of the group and the clients it serves.
Though it has been disorienting at times, the pandemic also served as a fantastic reminder that our networks are bigger than we realize and that when women support one another, they can build business and seize opportunity. Through the power of LinkedIn and Zoom—but also personal connections to other female lawyers throughout the country—Howard and Leonardo successfully connected with new clients. They worked across offices to pitch the right expertise to prospective clients while using social media, digital technology and local outreach to their benefit.
While successful business development will always rely on building client relationships, the pandemic has taught us all new methods of communication to do so. This “hybrid” mix of digital presence and local connection is likely to continue as we all foster relationships in new and diverse ways.
Crystal Howard is a Partner at Armstrong Teasdale LLP and a skilled corporate and tax attorney in the firm’s Corporate Services practice group. She concentrates her legal practice in mergers and acquisitions, general corporate issues, emerging companies and corporate governance, helping business owners with a growth mindset accomplish their business goals and minimize their taxes.
Lizl Leonardo is an Associate at Armstrong Teasdale LLP. She is a skilled corporate and real estate attorney. Leonardo has represented domestic and international clients on numerous legal matters involving mergers and acquisitions, commercial real estate transactions, franchise matters and other general corporate transactions.