Business development is serious work. The success of your practice and your private practice career may hinge, at least to some degree, on your ability to secure new work. The process demands care and strategic attention.
I have long believed that being a leader is critical to succeeding in business development. For more on why that’s true, check this 2009 post.
Michael Hyatt’s recent blog post The 5 Marks of Authentic Leadership outlines five key aspects of leadership, which include:
While Hyatt’s post does not focus on the intersection of leadership and the ability to generate new business, each of his five marks reflects a capacity that is necessary for successful business development. For example, Hyatt describes a leader’s insight in this way:
Leaders need wisdom and discernment for the present. They need to be able to look at complex situations, gain clarity, and determine a course of action.
This insight is, of course, a foundational skill for success in practice, but it applies equally well to business development. Effective business generation tactics will include a display of this wisdom and discernment whether in person-to-person conversation, in which case the comments will be at least somewhat specific to the potential client, or in an article or presentation, in which case the comments will focus more generally on a specific legal issue or on a particular client profile. Your legal and, where applicable, business insight is valuable for clients and for developing new business.
Read Hyatt’s post and ask yourself whether and how your business development activity reflects each of his 5 Marks of Authentic Leadership. Which do you need to amplify?
I’ve found some interesting articles to share with you this week.
- The skills new lawyers need right away The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System has published a report of the skills necessary for a new lawyer’s success in practice based on a survey of over 24,000 American attorneys. The survey responses identified the skills necessary for short-term success, necessary for long-term success, not necessary but advantageous, or not relevant to success. The results are fascinating, but my eye was drawn to the responses to “Business Development and Relations.”
While “generate new business” was deemed necessary by 63.3% of respondents and advantageous by an additional 14.4%, “engage in appropriate marketing or fundraising” was deemed necessary by only 43.8% of respondents, advantageous by another 31.4%, and not relevant by the remaining 24.8%. While it’s likely that these responses are skewed somewhat by in-house counsel respondents who are not responsible for generating new business, the disparity makes me wonder what we’re teaching new lawyers and what the “we” represented by these survey respondents believes about our own business development skills. Check out all the business development skill ratings here.
- Make yourself important! Mark Herrmann’s column in Above the Law is always a favorite, and his recent column responding to Business Development Gripes does not disappoint. It’s all useful (especially for lawyers concerned about competing with colleagues who have better credentials), but this comment hits home: “And, of course, you could always make yourself important by speaking and writing and developing a reputation. I admit that’s hard, but wallowing in self-pity ain’t a barrel of laughs, either.”
- Gaining the Power of Metrics Means Looking At More than Just Legal Spend (registration required) This article addresses the use of data not just to manage legal costs but also to identify and avoid issues that might arise for your clients. This approach also speaks to creating additional value for your clients. Depending on your clientele and practice setting, “data” and “metrics” may feel out of reach for you, but the lessons adhere equally when it comes to studying trends among your clients, in their industry, and in the law as it relates to their interests.
How do you know when your business development plan is well designed? It may be an easy answer when you have new business flooding in (as long as that flood is due to your effort rather than good luck), but when you’re working and you don’t see new business as an immediate result, what should you ask yourself? Try these questions:
I read an interesting article this week titled Law Firm Leaders Still Aren’t Listening. You no doubt know where the article is going based on the headline alone, but here are a couple of excerpts:
On the one hand, [law firm leaders] admit that client demand is shaky, there are too many lawyers, the delivery of legal services is creakingly inefficient and firms are unwilling to change. But at the same time, they remain content to simply let the future just happen.
. . .
Mostly, law firms are playing with fees yet only 33-percent of firms surveyed are instituting strategic changes to their pricing structure.
. . .
More law firm leaders need to look for where the puck is going when it comes to planning for the future of their organization.
Especially if you aren’t a law firm leader, you may be asking, so what? A few tasks every lawyer should be taking on right now:
- Clarify what your clients (and potential clients) do and don’t want. Most answers will be specific to legal representation, but the better you know your clients, the better you will be able to tailor your services.
- Innovate. Other industries and other practices can spark ideas, but meaningful change will be driven almost exclusively by what your clients view as valuable. Change for the sake of change does nothing.
- Distinguish yourself and distinguish your firm. When you’ve made a meaningful change, make it loud. There’s always a risk of a misstep, but if you look like everyone else, others will assume that’s how you act, too.
Read the full post, and then ask yourself… Are you listening to the trends? More importantly, are you responding?