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  • Business development is essential to a growing, healthy law practice.
  • Lawyers who rely exclusively on “doing good work and returning phone calls” are not engaged in business development.
  • Lawyers must identify productive vs. non-productive business development activities.
  • Lawyers must systematically do things in their practice that demonstrates they understand and are positioned to solve client problems.
  • The formula for business development is “Prospecting plus Value over Time.”


Learn the formula for effective business development and non productive business development.

There are many things that lawyers can do that eventually lead to business if done properly. But there is only one way that business people decide to hire lawyers. And here it is:

Business people hire lawyers whom
they believe will help their business succeed.

That’s it. At its most fundamental level, business development is no more complicated than applying the truth of that statement. The more your business development activities are aimed at showing specific business people that you can help their business succeed, the more successful you will be.

Of course, this principle’s corollary is that if you don’t show specific business people that you can add value to their business, they won’t hire you. In fact, you can know more than a Yale Law professor, be the best friend of the general counsel, and the godfather of the President’s daughter. But if you don’t show business people that you can add value to their business, they probably won’t hire you as their lawyer. Nor should they.

That’s not to say if you ignore this business truth you will never generate business. Even blind pigs stumble across acorns once in a while. But if you want to consistently squirrel away the “acorns” of new business, you mustsystematically do things to spend time with the business people and make them believe that you can add value to their specific business.
That’s it. Nothing else works consistently.

Let me go even further. You can invest in clever advertisements that run in The American Lawyer and on your local public radio station. You can hire a graphic design firm to create beautiful brochures. You can hire an expensive consultant to tell you how to be innovative in billing your clients. Although those marketing devices have their own value, none of them cause business people to pick up the telephone, dial your number, and say, ” Can you handle this transaction for our business?” That only happens when a business acknowledges that you understand its business and have values to offer.

This A’int Your Father’s Business Development Strategy

The ideas in this section are clearly contrary to the historical orthodoxy of growing a law practice. But the orthodoxy must be challenged because of the increasing commercialization and commodification of the big firm law practice.

To me that orthodoxy is represented by a wonderful lawyer whom I’ll call Charlie. When I was practicing law, Charlie would regularly speak at CLE functions about business development. Keep in mind that Charlie was a legend, one of a handful of the most reputable lawyers in the city, a “go to guy” when your business was in trouble.

And when Charlie discussed business development, here is what he would say, as best I can recall. To hear Charlie tell it, business development boils down to two rules.

Rule 1: “The most important rule for developing business is to do great work. Be a great lawyer. You’ll never get a following if you’re not someone who reliably turns out a great result for your clients.”
Rule 2: “Return all your telephone calls.”

That was it.

Do good work and return telephone calls.

Charlie would talk for a full hour. But that was the sum of it. And all across the country, senior lawyers tell young associates the same thing about business development. Develop a great reputation and be responsive. The business will come.

But the fact is that is not enough. In retrospect, I want to stand up and shout to Charlie, “That’s your business development advice?Really? Truly?”

Doing great work and returning telephone calls are certainly good general advice. And no doubt it worked for Charlie, who, as I mentioned was one of the top three or four lawyers in the city. His telephone rang off the hook because of a reputation developed over thirty years.
But for lawyers today, “Do good work and return phone calls” is ridiculously simplistic and misleading business development advice. I know dozens of lawyers who do wonderful, highly creative legal work and return every one of their telephone calls and yet have no clients of their own.

For example, I know a partner in a large firm — let’s call him Jim- who is considered a truly brilliant brief writer and lawyer. He gets great results for his clients. And he returns all of his telephone calls.

Get this. He actually takes Charlie’s advice one step further, doing better than “returning his calls.” Sometimes, he actually answers his telephone! You know, just picks up the thing when it rings (which I suppose might be considered innovative business development activity by some standards).

The problem is that Jim’s telephone never really “rings” — at least not in the way a good business developer’s phone rings: with clients calling asking for legal help. All of Jim’s clients calling asking for legal help were given to him by other partners, many of whom were not as good technical lawyers as Jim.

The reason for Jim’s failure to develop business is that Jim apparently has taken the advice of lawyers like Charlie. Rather than finding ways to get in front of decision-makers who can hire him (be it new prospects or firm clients who could be cross-sold), Jim waits for his telephone to ring.

You Can’t Wait for the Telephone to Ring

Waiting for your telephone to ring is terrible business development advice because today (apparently unlike the days when Charlie started practicing law), the telephone doesn’t just ring. There are too many lawyers doing great legal work today. I know a managing partner of a large law firm who says, “Legal work in the top firms is a commodity.” In other words, great lawyers are a dime a dozen.

What’s more, the lawyers who bring in business are often not the best practitioners. I know another lawyer, let’s call Freddie, with a large firm in Washington, D.C. He is renowned as a great “rainmaker.” So whenever he brings in a nice piece of complex corporate finance work, the finance wonks whisper, “He’s not actually going to do that work, is he?” And of course he doesn’t. He just palms the work off on others and goes out to get the next piece of work.

Of course, the difference between Jim and Freddie is that Freddie ignores the advice of lawyers like Charlie. Freddie writes a newsletter on topical issues in corporate finance. He is constantly finding excuses to meet with firm clients and prospective clients. In those meetings, Freddie doesn’t really talk much about himself or his legal qualifications. Rather, he focuses on understanding the business needs of the business leaders. And when he hears a need, he finds a way to solve the problem.

Doing great work is wonderful. But that’s just a “table stake” in today’s highly competitive world of law practice. Business wont look at you at all unless you do great legal work. Returning phone calls (and responding to faxes and e-mails) is nice too. It’ll certainly keep your existing clients from hating you. But if you want to develop business, you’re going to have to start positioning yourself with business leaders as someone who can understand business problems and solve those problems.


The simple key to winning business is convincing specific business people that you can add value to their specific businesses. Our simple Business Development Formula lays out a process that, if followed consistently, will bring you business by connecting with business people and showing them the value you can provide.

This formula doesn’t tell you exactly when the business will show up. And it doesn’t tell you exactly which business will hire you. But it does create an environment for business development to occur. It convinces business people to believe that you can add value to their business.

Follow this formula and you’ll develop business consistently. Ignore it and you wont. Here it is:

P + V = $
P= “Prospecting”, V= “Value”; T= “Time”
In other words, Prospecting plus Value over Time equals business development.

The old standbys:
Articles, Speeches, and Bar and Trade Associations


Non-productive business development activities

I’m amazed at the activities that many lawyers refer to as “business development” such as writing articles, giving speeches, and engaging in bar activities. I’m not opposed to these activities per se. They can be wonderful ways of contributing to the legal community. But because of the way these activities are undertaken by most lawyers they do not constitute business development.

Why is this true? Because these activities rarely lead to business! Surely, ” business development activity” ought to result in getting hired by actual clients who will pay actual dollars for actual legal work. Otherwise, the concept is misnomer.

When I was practicing law I knew a lawyer who would submit a scholarly article to a law publication every year. He would bill the time spent writing article as ‘business development.’ The articles looked great on his resume that is posted on his firm’s website. But this attorney would be hard-pressed to identify any work that has resulted from these articles.
Similarly I know an intellectual property lawyer who spoke at two or three IP conferences a year but has no new clients from these conferences. He counts these speeches toward his firms required “business development” hours. When he recently returned from speaking, I asked if he had any leads. No, he said.”The conference was mostly for other IP lawyers.”

And we all know people who are active in bar activities but get no business from their work.

Writing Articles To Get Business

Many lawyers write articles in the name of “business development”. And I often hear lawyers complain that, “I wrote that article and didn’t get anything out of it.” That’s because article writing is usually about “credentialing” not developing business.

But articles, once you’ve written them are fine for leveraging your way into a business relationship. Here’s how.

Step 1: Write anarticle that you know is a hot topic for your key prospects and have it published.
Step 2: Reproduce the article nicely and send it to your best prospects along with a personal note detailing how the law applies to each prospects specific company.
Step 3: Follow up with telephone calls offering to discuss, at no charge, how these issues apply to each prospects business .

And if you’re going to write articles, at least try to publish them in periodicals that your prospects might actually read.

I know a lawyer who focuses her practice on nursing homes. She publishes articles in trade publications aimed at the nursing home industry, and then sends the articles to her clients and prospects.

This lawyer’s focused approach has generated far more business than if she were to write purely legal analyses for bar journals that are read solely by other lawyers.

Leveraging Speeches

Speeches can be wonderful way to connect with prospects. But you can’t just give a speech and leave. You must also leverage the chance to connect with prospects.

One of the biggest missed opportunities for building relationships takes place before and after the speeches that lawyers give to bar associations, at industry conferences, and for CLE presentations. In any audience of fifty to 100 people, there are likely five to ten good prospects. If you don’t find some excuse to call them up and make contact just before or after you give your speech, you will be wasting an opportunity.

I recently worked with a patent lawyer who was giving a speech to an industry conference. He created and delivered an effective speech, and the attendees gave him the highest marks on the evaluation forms.

“So did you get any good contacts out of it?’ I asked.

He looked at me with a slightly puzzled expression. ” I met a few lawyers who used to be with our firm,” he said. But he had failed to contact any of the real prospects in the audience.
The real shame of the lawyer’s omissions is the sizeable potential of the missed opportunity.
What should he have done? The following two things.

  1. Obtain from the conference organizer a full list of all the participants and contact information, and then get in touch with some of them. Indeed many business developers refuse to speak at a conference unless, prior to the conference, the organizer provides a list of all attendees complete with email addresses and telephone numbers.

  2. Contact the best prospects either before or after the conference.

If you’re calling beforehand you can say, “I see that you’re attending my presentation next month. I’d love to speak to you when we get there. Is there anything that you’re particularly interested in that you’d like me to address?”
If you’re calling afterwards, you can say,”I see that you attended my presentation. I’d love to hear your view of the issues I discussed. I’d also like to learn about your business. Are you interested in a meeting next week?”

Many people give presentations and wonder why they don’t get much business as a result. But those lawyers don’t get new business because they do not realize that people won’t hire you unless and until they believe you can solve their business problems. When you give a speech, you are addressing a roomful of people who are already interested in what you have to say. If you do a good job, they will probably be that much more interested in following up by speaking with you. So pick up the telephone and try to connect with the people who could bring you business. What have you got to lose?

Bar Activities For Referrals

Too many people consider bar work to be business development when it’s nothing of the sort. The problem with bar activities from a business development standpoint is that most of the time you’re schmoozing with your competition not your prospects.

If you get businessthroughreferrals, then bar activities work great. Just make sure that you connect with people who can send you business.

If you have a niche practice in trusts and estates, connect with litigators who can send you their clients who need wills. Woo referral sources just as you would any other prospects, meeting with them and letting them know how you can help their clients and refer them business.


Reprinted with the permission of the publisher and copyright holder from Selling & Communication Skills for Lawyers, by Joey Asher, published by ALM Publishing and copyrighted by ALM Properties, Inc. All rights reserved. Copies of the complete work may be ordered online at

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