Several years ago, a law firm asked me to coach a female partner who was not doing well at business development. Given her expertise and personality, the firm thought she had the potential to be a significant rainmaker. In our first conversations, she indicated that she was hesitant to pursue biz dev opportunities until she became the “perfect lawyer.” When I asked what she meant by that, she said the perfect lawyer is “a tall white guy in a suit.” Given that she was a relatively short Hispanic woman, we both realized that this skewed definition was not helpful to her practice. During the course of her coaching program, she came to appreciate that she had unique qualities that allowed her to connect with clients. She was more extroverted than the average lawyer and was committed to a high level of client service. Over time, she realized she could use her natural ability at relationship building to connect with clients and referral sources. Even more important, she realized that many of her clients preferred working with someone who didn’t fit her original definition of the perfect lawyer.
This tendency to avoid biz dev because of some perceived imperfection is common among many of the lawyers I coach. Many of my clients are sure that biz dev is easier for other lawyers for any number of reasons: they went to a better law school; they are taller or thinner or better looking; they have a better personality type; they are in a relationship or not in a relationship; they have an easier commute; they have a practice area that is in demand in any economy.
The list goes on, of course, and for many of my diverse clients, there is a concern that not being a tall white guy in a suit means that they won’t have the same opportunities. What many of my clients come to realize is that each lawyer has his or her own strengths. The marketing plan that works for someone else in your firm is not likely to be the one that works for you. Even within the same practice group, you will find that each lawyer has different goals and a different approach to generating business. Your task is to clarify your practice goals and to identify your ideal client. Remember that clients hire you because of the relationship you develop with them. They hire you because they trust you, not because you fit some ideal description of what a lawyer “should” look like.
Does Practice Make Perfect?
If you are one of those lawyers who is concerned with all of the factors that need improvement in your life, I will deliver the bad news now: perfection is not likely in this lifetime. The good news is that excellence is a strong possibility, particularly in the realm of business development. The reason is simple: we become what we practice. If you invest time and effort into the development of skills, you will most certainly see results.
I know you’ll tell me that you have very little time for engaging in biz dev. It may help you to know that the latest studies suggest that spending 15 minutes a day on any new skill is preferable to spending two or three hours once a week. For those of you who ever learned to play a musical instrument or a new sport, you know that it takes time and regular practice to achieve a level of success. The same model of learning works for your biz dev efforts.
As you work on your marketing plans for this year, here are a few things to remember.
- Don’t wait to become your idea of the perfect lawyer before you engage in biz dev. Focus on the strengths you have now and how you can use them to your advantage.
- Develop the biz dev habit by setting aside small blocks of time daily and by tracking your activities throughout the year. You may be surprised to learn how much you can accomplish by committing to 15-minute segments.
- Ask a friend to support your biz dev efforts. When you are accountable to someone else, it’s easier to meet your deadlines.
As always, I welcome your questions about business development.