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Law firms turn to developers to help sell services

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Kara Graham's job is to "touch the money."

Graham is the business development manager for the District of Columbia office of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, the Pittsburgh-based law firm with about 500 attorneys in the United States. Her main purpose is to have a hand in helping the firm's 60-some lobbyists, tax lawyers, and food and drug attorneys land new work. To do it, she's started some unorthodox projects, including a radio segment that once led to the firm signing $153,000 in new business from one of the show's guests.

A generation ago, the idea of marketing legal services was viewed as unseemly — and largely unnecessary — and jobs like Graham's rarely existed inside law firms. But that is changing. The economic recession that began in 2008 forced law firms' biggest clients, corporate legal departments, to slash their spending dramatically, forcing many lawyers to become salespeople as well as legal technicians. Graham steps in to help them sell themselves.

It's not a science and, like many jobs, it involves lots of meetings and paperwork. Last week, for example, she drafted a request for proposal to send to a potential client, a transportation agency in Washington state that the firm is trying to win federal lobbying work for. The same day, she sat down with one of the firm's health care lobbyists, Tim Costa, and worked with the firm's graphics designer to come up with visuals for a Power Point presentation Costa was about to make before a group of legislative staffers and trade group officials.

"It's a visibility effort for him," Graham said. "Maybe someone will see the presentation. I tangentially help make him look better."

Graham estimates that during the first 10 months of 2013, she helped drive about $1.6 million in new business to the firm, either through facilitating meetings among the firm's attorneys and lobbyists to expand on work they do for existing clients, or by helping attorneys and lobbyists market themselves to the outside world at conferences and events.

One of the more unusual initiatives is the radio show Graham helps coordinate, Executive Leaders Radio, a business radio segment that airs in several states, including Virginia, Maryland and the District. Buchanan Ingersoll sponsors the show and, every other month, hosts its taping — the producers bring in their own recording equipment, but Graham is in charge of booking the guests, typically local business leaders who are often clients of the firm. Last fall, Graham invited the then-chief executive of pharmaceutical manufacturer Wockhardt as a guest on the show; soon after, the firm snagged $153,000 in legal fees doing regulatory work for the company. The taping provides a way to get face time with clients, said Ed Allera, a senior attorney at the firm who works with Graham on the radio show.

"It's a nice client relations tool because it makes them feel good to talk about themselves," he said.

Graham joined Buchanan Ingersoll seven years ago as a business development coordinator and was promoted to manager a year later. Three years ago, the firm amped up its business development efforts by putting Randy Vulakovich, a former federal lobbyist at the firm, in charge of the department. Vulakovich oversees Graham, the business development manager for the Washington office; she has counterparts in the firm's other offices in Alexandria, Virginia, and Tampa, Florida.

The department is now working to smooth out the firm's recent merger with Tampa-based law firm Fowler White Boggs, which became official in March. They're coordinating meetings among lawyers from both firms, in hopes that getting them face time with one another will lead to them referring business back and forth.

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Information from: The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com

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