Business Development for the Lawyers Who Hate It

I’m sitting here this morning at a Discount Tire in Mount Prospect waiting for my car to receive four shiny new tires. The problem? My lease is up in two months. There’s a bad taste in my mouth today knowing that my money is shortly going down the drain. I also need new back brakes, which just adds insult to injury.

The reason to share these complaints with you is because it’s important to understand where my priorities are– the safety of my family, myself and others on the road. Protecting myself and others from an unsafe vehicle is necessary even when it seems unfair or costly. Let’s move this metaphor to the topic you know me for so well, legal business development. As you may recall from previous articles, my father practiced law for over 35 years and NEVER had to do any business development other than just being a great lawyer, which he was. That was the past and that ship has sailed. Ask any legal recruiter, “How do I change firms,” and the answer will not alter. “What’s your book of business?”

If you’re serious about longevity and sustainability in your legal career, having your own book of business is the key. Here are the top five reasons lawyers hate doing business development and what I hear every day. Use these points to overcome those feelings that, quite frankly, may be holding you back from growing your book and even enjoying the process along the way.

Hate point #1. “Business development is a waste of time.” I agree! Business development can be an incredible time suck if you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s the equivalent of me walking into a courtroom and trying a case without a law degree or any experience in litigation. Get it together! Read a book, listen to a podcast, talk with a rainmaker you know. Do something, anything to move the needle. Sometimes just taking the first step is everything.

Hate point #2. “My firm won’t give me money for learning business development.” BOO-HOO! Did your firm give you money for going to law school to then come and work for them? While the firm may end up being the recipient of your rainmaking efforts, ultimately you will be the one with control over your destiny, which includes financial security and a seat at the table within your firm. Consider investing in yourself and not holding the firm responsible for your career decisions.

Hate point #3. “I’m too busy to do business development.” You may be right, particularly (or especially) if you’re doing everyone else’s work. That being said, if you lose a big client, or your “feeder” rainmaker leaves the firm or, heaven forbid, a recession occurs (like NOW), you’re in a bit of a pickle. One of the first things I teach lawyers is time management, to ensure they can create time that didn’t exist before. It’s amazing what can be found when I have a client track his/her day or week. In some instances we find upwards of two hours a day that is wasted on tasks that could be delegated or done off-hours to ensure business development is a part of each day/week.

Hate point #4. “I really can’t market because of COVID.” That’s like thinking, I can’t be bothered swimming when in the middle of the ocean with sharks swimming towards you. Right now is THE time to get going on your business development efforts. Get creative by writing for publications, speaking on Zoom events, or simply reaching out to network with other lawyers or, here’s a crazy idea… your clients. There are too many uncertainties to just do nothing at this time.

Hate point #5. “Why would I want to develop business for my firm, I’m not even happy here.” While that’s an unfortunate scenario, it’s cutting off your nose to spite your face. You may not be able to leave your firm for a different one, or even go out on your own, without having the portable book that actually allows you to make those positive decisions. I know this is a hard one but consider the importance of having your own clients that see you as their counsel. If you take care of them, they will follow you.

Whatever the self-hate talk may be around marketing your practice, consider working through these negative feelings and excuses to create your own book and successful future. Like with my tires and brakes, sometimes we have to do things that we don’t want to do. As David Goggins says about mindset, “Embrace the suck,” and take on the challenge head on. I hope you can, too, during these unprecedented times. To learn business development for free, just go to my website at to read my blog, watch my videos, or listen to my BE THAT LAWYER podcast.