I was chatting with a lawyer friend over breakfast this morning and she recalled for me, with a shudder, a business development torture session from her days as a first year securities lawyer. She was told to attend a basketball game with a group of stockbrokers. I can’t stand basketball, and the stockbrokers were appalling. I couldn’t understand why I was there. All I got out of the experience was being asked out on a date that I didn’t want to go on.
What was wrong with this picture?
Alignment. Business development is effective when the lawyer’s goals, values, interests, and strengths are in alignment with the business development activity. In my friend’s case there was no fit beyond the fact that she was a securities lawyer and those were securities clients. This was a case of the classic rainmaker turn off.
One associates basketball horror story would be another’s great night at the game.
Sometimes you get just one chance.
So often when we are introducing marketing and business development to associates we really only get one chance. As soon as you make the mistake of sending the wrong person to the basketball game you are sending a powerful message to that lawyer. The message they get is:
Business development is a painful and useless activity.
This is not me.
I don’t do this.
Business development becomes something other people do.
Values are important. I have found that the clearest statements on personal values come from lawyers when you are trying to get them to do some business development activity that is in conflict with their values.
For example, one associate told me he couldn’t stand going to a particular industry networking event. There always seemed to be more lawyers than potential clients and it appeared to him that the non-lawyers in the room were surrounded by a pack of lawyers with carefully prepared elevator speeches and business cards at the ready.
So does this mean this associate is not a rainmaker? Does it mean that he is going to have to get over his inhibitions and jump into the fray?
No. In further conversation it became apparent that he values relationships. He values sincerity. He is truly interested in the industry and is interested in getting meaningfully involved. It’s simply a question of developing opportunities for him to meet with people from the industry that support his own further education and give him a chance to interact with the potential clients in a different setting. We found just the thing for him but as it is still in progress I can’t reveal more!
All of this is to say that there are many different paths to business development.
One partner I know in Victoria got involved in a cooperative daycare program when she had her first child. She got to know all the parents, contributed her one day a week at the centre, and no surprise, the parents who chose to trust their children to her care naturally decided to trust her to handle their legal affairs as well.
There are as many unique paths to developing business as there are individuals. The key is to support lawyers in building an approach to business development that aligns with their own goals, distinct skills, interests, and values.
Ban meaningless acts of business development. If it turns your stomach or makes your skin crawl you know that it is not for you. Instead, discover what is for you, and set it in motion.