How do you establish trust?

You’ve probably heard some version of Bob Burg’s statement that, “All things being equal, people will do business with and refer business to, those people they know, like and trust.”

We tend to focus on getting known, we work to communicate in a way that increases the chances of being liked, but how do you build trust? I like this perspective:

Trust is built in very small moments.

What does this mean in the context of business development and the practice of law? Ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that everything you do increases (or at least doesn’t decrease) your trustworthiness. For example:

  • Return calls and emails within a reasonable time. (Extra points for letting your contacts know when they should expect to hear from you.)
  • If you say you’ll do something (whether it’s billable work or following up on a conversation), do it at the time and in the way you said you would.
  • If you send a newsletter, send it consistently.
  • If you’re asked a question and you don’t know the answer, say so and promise a follow-up—and then follow up when you said you would or sooner.
  • If you’re wrong about something or you make a mistake, own up to it. Explain if necessary, but don’t make excuses.
  • Be findable in the groups and publications where someone in your field would ordinarily be found. (If you’re an elder law attorney, for example, you might be a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.)
  • Have a professional presence both offline and online that fits your practice. (Your “vibe” will be likely different if you work with musicians than if you serve Fortune 100 companies, for instance.)

These are just a few examples of how you might do your part to appear and be trustworthy. What opportunities do you see in your own practice?

Don’t make assumptions.

I ran across this quote recently:

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So true, isn’t it? And yet, we all tend to make assumptions.

  • That client is thrilled with our engagement; this one isn’t.
  • That target client is represented and has no interest in moving; that one understands the legal situation that’s cropped up but can’t (or won’t) spend the money to resolve it.
  • That contact knows what kind of work I do and knows I’d like to get referrals.

What assumptions are you making that may affect your business development success? How can you test them?


What can law schools teach you now?

I recently paged through the Vanderbilt University alumni magazine and ran across a story titled Law 2.0: Vanderbilt Law School Innovates to Stay Ahead. The article provides a nice summary of the practice a law in the years leading up to the Great Recession, the shifts that the economic crisis created, and the efforts to adapt. Little of that, of course, is news at this late date, but several quotes jumped out at me:

  • “Some commentators call this the ‘new normal.’ I call it the ‘post-normal.’ We don’t know what the new normal is yet for law firms, but we know there’s no going back to how it was.” J.B. Ruhl, David Daniels Allen Distinguished Professor of Law at Vanderbilt
  • “The billable hours don’t indicate value at all. The firm that I hire really needs to help me reach a business result, and that business result is not 1,000 hours.” Julie Ortmeier, vice president, general counsel and secretary for Carfax
  • “Succeeding at a law firm today is more about forging an entrepreneurial, business-oriented path than simply executing good legal work.” Andy Bayman, partner at King & Spalding
  • Daniel Reed, CEO of UnitedLex, a global consulting and legal services firm that offers comprehensive technological solutions for law firms, corporations and law schools, believes the technological revolution in law is only just beginning. “If this is a baseball game,” he says, “we are probably still in the first inning of change.”


The article also describes the Program on Law and Innovation, Vanderbilt Law’s response to all of the changes in the legal profession, providing core training in e-discovery, legal project management, law and technology, and legal futurism. Although other programs are not discussed in this article, other schools are also working to identify the skills and new disciplines that law students need to master to be competitive. (See, for example, the regrettably defunct Law School Innovation blog, the Legal Tech & Innovation Concentration at Suffolk University Law School, and the Technology, Innovation, and Law Practice Seminar at Georgetown Law School.)

For those already in practice, so what? While I believe it’s too early to call these new topics and programs required, some programs seem to have been launched at least in part in response to the criticisms about the value of law school and the ease and profitability of entering the practice of law. It would not be surprising to find that new lawyers who have completed them have a leg up if only because taking part in these programs indicates an understanding of the importance of the business of law, which is now a key client focus. You need not adopt the new approaches fully, but failing to be aware of and fluent concerning them may in time mark you as a legal dinosaur—hardly a competitive advantage.

Tracking which topics and programs are successful also allows you to make a call about legal fads versus legal futures. When you see the basis for program initiation and the response, you have an opportunity to be an early adopter of the trends that will speak most directly to your clients.

And if you’re feeling off the hook because you don’t work in a large firm—not so fast; small firm practitioners may have a better opportunity to innovate simply because you usually have to cut through less red tape to implement new ideas.

Here’s the bottom line: you need not go back to law school to learn about today’s innovations, but you can’t afford to quit studying.

Two keys to biz dev perseverance and success.

Have you ever had the wind knocked out of your business development sails? That can happen when you expect to land some new business and it doesn’t happen, when you hit a few closed doors in a row, or even when you lay out your business development plan and feel exhausted just looking at it. Nobody said building a book of business is easy or fast.

Here’s what makes it less frustrating: doing business development activity on a consistent basis and tracking what you do and your results. When you act consistently and build a track record to look back on, you’ll find it easier to keep on keeping on.

I’ve written extensively about the need for consistency. In talking with several clients recently who were slammed with billable work and leaving business development work on the back burner as a result, I suggested this:

  1. Determine, with all the clear-eyed realism you can muster, how much time you can make available for business development activity on a daily basis.
  2. Block that amount of time on your daily calendar.

  3. Categorize your task list based on the type of activity (contexts, to use Getting Things Done language) and on the amount of time necessary for completion.
  4. Work on one “chunk” of activity each day. If your tasks take less time than you have available, cross a couple of items off your list. If they take more time than you have available, define and complete one step toward the task.

You probably won’t keep your scheduled block every single day, but if the blocks are on your calendar, you have a much better chance of making consistent progress than if you only have one block of time set aside per week.


I’ve also written about parallels between business development and going to the gym. Last month, I shifted from a small local gym to my neighborhood YMCA, and I discovered a new parallel: tracking matters!

My new gym features Fitlinxx®, small screens that show the proper settings for each machine and connect to an online program that tracks participants’ activity. Through Fitlinxx®, I can see historical data about what machines I used, how much weight I lifted, and how much cardio or other activity I performed, along with my standings among other FitLinxx® members. I not only stay motivated (right now, I’m #8 among women in my age range in my gym, and I’m just over 200 points behind the #5 position—hello, competition with myself to move up!) but I can also correlate how I performed with how I’m feeling, how I’m sleeping, and so on. All of this data is measurable and meaningful to me, and I can use it to help me improve.

So too with tracking your business development activity and results. When you track what you did and what happened as a result, you’ll get data that will tell you what you can and should do to improve your results. (Do more of what works well and eliminate what doesn’t work, and use the data to tell you which is which.) You may also find that tracking your activity is motivating in itself, and if you share it with an accountability partner (a peer or a coach) you’ll likely find that you do more activity and work to do better.

Here’s the bottom line on tracking:

Where performance is measured, performance improves. Where performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates.

You can find more information on how to track your results in Chapter 3 of The Reluctant Rainmaker, and you may download a sample tracking sheet here.

How will you build consistency and tracking into your business development approach?

Why status quo is dangerous.

What’s wrong with status quo? Maybe nothing. But here’s what you need to keep in mind when you’re considering whether to make a shift of some sort:

Status quo doesn’t get attention.

Status quo doesn’t delight anyone.

Status quo doesn’t get talked about.

Status quo doesn’t feel fresh or tailored.

Status quo… just IS.

Maintaining status quo

In a world that is moving forward, staying the same gives your competitors an advantage. They need not make a big change, and they need not even make a change that offers a substantial advantage: any change offers a point of distinction.

Should you make a change solely for the sake of making a change? No. But you should never stop asking whether a change is warranted to better serve your clients, to better position your practice, or to work more efficiently.

If nothing else, a change may get your own creative juices going. If you’re trying to solve a difficult problem, try standing up or working in a different location. Even driving to work in a new way may stimulate new ideas.

If you’re feeling stuck in status quo, what might you change?