Investing in Business Development… A Law Firm’s Conundrum

When it comes to internal attorney growth, many law firms struggle to move the needle and help their senior associates and partners effectively grow their books of business.

Many firms invest millions of dollars a year developing teams of former attorneys and industry experts who truly desire to help their attorneys to get ahead, yet have little results to show from their investment.

Why is this?

The easiest way to explain a firm’s shortcomings around internal business development growth is to look at what it really takes to become a lawyer in the first place. Let me break it down for you.

As you know, to be a great lawyer you need to work hard as an undergrad and graduate with a solid GPA. Then you must excel in law school for three years, learn the theory of law and pass the bar. If that wasn’t enough, it takes years of experience to truly learn the law and how it applies to one or more practice areas. While I’m not an attorney myself, we can all agree that this isn’t easy and it doesn’t happen without a serious commitment.

Now, what does it take to become an effective business developer?

This may be the dirty little secret that law firm leaders do not want to hear. Becoming a rainmaker in 2016 can take a similar effort and formal education as becoming a successful lawyer. Really, though, why should it be different?

My entire day, every day, is working with attorneys who have no business to speak of and also attorneys who have million-dollar books. What do they have in common? No formal education in business development.

It really isn’t fair to assume that business development can be easily learned through trial and error. Imagine not going to law school and walking into a courtroom to try a case. That would be pretty crazy, right?

When time is money, making mistakes in business development can cost more than you would believe. One of my clients invested hundreds of hours a year into business development, never achieving the results that he desired.

He attended all the events and conferences, gave presentations all over the country and made enthusiastic pitches to prospective clients. All that, and the growth still wasn’t there. Without a formal education and coaching, it ‘s very difficult to become a great business developer.

Here are three suggestions to help law firms make better decisions on their business development initiatives:

Tip No. 1: Do your research

If you’re looking for programming that gets results, ask your peers and search online to find the coaches, trainers and consultants that have gotten real results for their clients. Results will not happen in a one-day retreat or seminar. Real results take time, energy and commitment to succeed.

Tip No. 2: Don’t invest in everyone the same way

While you want to be supportive and help everyone, there should be levels established to provide assistance where it’s appropriate. Before investing, consider the attorney’s seniority, potential, interest, and commitment when deciding what program to engage each attorney in.

For example, first-year attorneys need smaller programs that focus on networking and building relationships. More seasoned and coachable attorneys may need training and coaching that may be more intensive, sometimes ranging from six months to a year.

Time management, networking and selling legal services are all processes that can be learned over time. It might make sense to handpick some of your best and brightest and invest in them. They are the firm’s future and when done properly, grooming these folks can be a better investment than bringing over a lateral. Investing in a business can bring back to you a great monetary return, however, if you are not wanting to fully invest, you can always do fractional shares when investing to see how it goes and then you can make a decision on if you want to build onto your investment. Alternatively, you could consider buying stocks in the company. This would give you some say in the company, but you would ultimately just hold shares in the business. To learn more about investing in stocks, you could visit to ensure you completely understand stock markets.

Tip No. 3: Program development is critical to success

When searching out a resource for business development or developing a platform internally, the key to success can rest on the program’s ability to provide structure for the attorneys selected into the program.

As you know already, winging it is not a process. Attorneys need specific steps to follow and appropriate language to use to obtain real results. There should be materials and a sound curriculum to accompany the coaching and training to running a professional program.

Whether you select an outside resource or build something internally, be sure to use processes that have been proven in the legal space and that are up to date with the current state of the legal marketplace.

The harsh reality is that it ‘s the business of law, which means that business development education is now as fundamentally vital as being a great lawyer.

As you know, you can’t practice the law without clients to work with. The good news is that business development training and coaching is becoming more available and relevant than ever before.

If you begin to think about it more as an advanced education or degree that is necessary for success, it may be an easier pill to swallow.