Business Development Training and Retention

Lawyer training programs that work

I have two questions for my readers:  How many training seminars have you attended that were fundamentally a waste of time?  How often have you attended a business development or marketing training session where you actually learned something that you then put into practice?

Learning is achieved most often through our mistakes.  As a young legal marketer working in-house I organized countless lunch and learn seminars for lawyers on topics ranging from networking, to business development, to how to give an effective presentation.  Most often these seminars resulted only in an “in one ear, out the other” experience for the attendees.  I learned.  It takes more than an hour long presentation over lunch to teach new skills and behaviours.

What does it take to get training that works?  Listening, learning, putting learning into action, and feedback.  Training programs require more than just the seminar component.  They require action assignments and the opportunity to debrief with colleagues and a coach or mentor after the event. 

The LMA International recently hosted a Webinar on business development for associates with the US legal marketing group Ingenuity Marketing.  They concluded that training programs should involve small groups of associates who work together for a minimum period of 12 months.  Here’s their recommendation for the best set-up for a training program:

¢ Monthly meetings for at least 12 months
¢ Reporting on results each month
¢ StrengthsFinder Assessments
¢ Fairly well-organized curriculum but open to
group needs
¢ Group bonding time
¢ Track results

I would add that is important to frame the meetings around a monthly seminar/reading component, followed by individual or group assignments and reporting. 

The difficulty is that these kinds of programs take time and effort to set up, but the rewards are substantial:

  • A training program with measurable ROI
  • Generation of a team of lawyers who all business develop
  • Associates appreciate genuine training opportunities

There is in fact some urgency now to getting training right.  In the Hildebrandt report Why Associates Leave one of the number one reasons associates leave law firms is because of the lack of training and mentorship programs:

Too many associates cite the lack of formal and informal training, mentoring, and development programs available within law firms. Over the last 10 years this has been the single most common factor cited by departing associates, yet few law firms respond with meaningful programs. Many increase their budgets for outside CLE or offer additional seminars, but continue to hear ongoing complaints about insufficient training and development. The absence of effective training, mentoring, and development not only limits an associate’s substantive and professional growth, but also inhibits the associate from forming a longer-term relationship with the firm.

This report is a real call to action to law firms to take the time and make the investment in training programs that succeed.  Programs that teach the participants new skills, encourage new behaviours and have measurable goals and results.

About the author

Allison Wolf

I am the founder of AWAL and one of the most senior coaches for lawyers in North America. I have helped countless clients over the past fifteen years, develop thriving legal practices and before that served as director of marketing for award-winning law firms. My specialty is uncovering the thinking traps and gaps holding clients back and helping them acquire the mindsets, skills, and habits for growing successful and rewarding legal careers. After a career in legal marketing and business development with law firms in Beijing, New York, and Vancouver, I was trained as a coach in 2004 at Royal Roads University and now coach clients from across North America. You can reach me at or learn more about my coaching practice from the coaching section of the Attorney With A Life Website.