I Slipped. Now What?

Occasionally, I’ll talk with a junior lawyer who just doesn’t understand that business development is critical to his success. (Just as a matter of interest, I find that these are typically younger lawyers as well as junior ones; second-career lawyers most often start thinking about rainmaking long before they finish law school.)

The top objections (with my responses in italics) are:

  • “But I’m not sure I want to make partner.”  Ok, but do you want to stay employed?
  • “I’ll never want to open my own practice.”  Fine, but do you really want to be at the mercy of someone else who gets to determine what kind of work you do, what clients you do (and don’t) serve, how and where and when you work, and so on?
  • “I’m going to produce top-notch work, and clients will flock to me.”  Super!  But how will they know you exist?
  • “I’d rather focus on client service, not client development.”  Don’t you think your clients would appreciate knowing about cutting-edge legal issues that affect them?  Get out there and write articles, or speak, or just attend some key CLE seminars!
  • “It just doesn’t matter that much to me if I’m a rainmaker.”  Huh?

That’s the objection that stops me in my tracks.  Rainmaking brings so many benefits: continued employment, increased career opportunities, greater opportunities for advancement, the ability to choose the kind of work you do and the clients for whom you do that work, more influence in your firm and legal community, and the opportunity to serve your clients better — just to name a few!  If that doesn’t matter to someone, what else is there to say?

But I’m  preaching to the choir here, right? If you’re reading this article, you already know that business development is a critical skill for lawyers.  But are you acting on that knowledge and accepting no excuses?

How often have you hit “pause” on your rainmaking plans because you got busy with billable work?  How often have you let business development activity slide because you didn’t know quite what to do or how to do it?  Let’s face it:  we all drop the ball sometime, even when we know deep down that the ball we’re dropping is an important one. That’s true, and yet it is not ok.  (That’s why I help my one-on-one clients to develop a standard for their Minimal Effective Rainmaker Activity.)

Occasionally, you may hit something more difficult, more protracted, with no end in sight:  the rainmaker doldrums. A lawyer enters the doldrums because she’s lost sight of what really matters or, more commonly, she’s just plain discouraged.  Perhaps she worked hard to woo a client and thought everything was going beautifully, right up until the client said thanks but no thanks.  Whatever the direct cause, the internal voice has one single message, “You’re no rainmaker.  I knew you couldn’t do it.”

The doldrums are the resting point of the cycle of business development failure.

What’s the route of the doldrums? To some degree, it requires an individual exit strategy.  However, I’ve noticed that two things are almost always effective:  Accountability to someone else and a shock to the system.

A recent post by Seth Godin provides a shock in The Taskmaster Premium. “Work for a coal mine and make minimum wage.  Discover a coal mine and never need to work again.”  Your job, whether it’s working in a large firm or in your own solo practice, isn’t a coal mine, but if you can’t bring in business consistently, it might as well be.

So, what keeps you moving forward with business development? Give this some thought as we enter the summer, when you may find even more demands on your time than usual.  You may find a seductive voice telling you that it’s summer, everyone is on vacation, it’s too hot to be bothered and you can pick up again in the Fall.  You might also hear another voice, one urging you to keep pedaling, to work every opportunity you can now so that you’ll have even more when Fall comes.  Which voice will you listen to?

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