It was the lawyers that effectively divorced the meaning of the words “develop business” from the word “sell.” Lawyers as a whole have always hated the “S” word. It’s true (and you know who you are). Lawyers demonized and banished the “S” word from their vernacular so effectively, so successfully that at most, you’d typically hear a vague acknowledgement of a far-off day when one might have to develop business. But not sell anything.
Until now, that is. As everyone is only too painfully aware to be reminded (but I’m going to do it again anyway), the legal profession in particular was singled out by the hand of the Great Recession for its very own, very special smack-down. And it’s been pretty slow in getting back on its feet, with or without its white shoes. For the past several years, fewer billable hours of work were being created than were evaporating into thin air – but the number of attorneys vying for them was at an all-time high.
As we pull out of the Recession, it has become very clear that the practice of law can be done increasingly efficiently and effectively – many would argue better – than before, with less support staff and fewer attorneys. New efficiencies, along with partners needing to rebuild their devalued books of business, are taking up any slack in new hours that would have been doled out to new-hire associates in days past. With competition for work at an all-time high, the chance of advancing to partner without a book of business has become increasingly slim for most.
You know this. You like being a lawyer (most of the time). You like the work (most of the time). You like working hard (most of the time). You want to be an associate or in a support role forever and not worry about advancing to partner (pretty much all the time), but you know you can’t. Sure, you might be one of the lucky few to be hand-picked by a senior partner to be her anointed successor in her role as, “Holy Herder of the Sacred Cow Clients of the Firm,” a title bestowed upon her by her predecessor. Remember Bill Lumbergh from the movie, “Office Space”?
Change has come
Now more than ever, whether you stay at the firm or go, even a modest book of business is the best hedge against no work, or having to put out a shingle without the benefit of your firm’s brand and platform. Whether you have to do that or want to do that, if you have your own clients, you won’t be starting from zero. And if you remember only one thing from reading this article, remember this:
Outside the Big Firm, senior associates and attorneys of any seniority with books of business get placed before those without.
You have to sell. The “S” word is a bad word no longer
So let’s talk about selling. It is not just a skill, it’s an art. For many, it comes naturally but for most, it can be taught, and that means it can be learned – but you have to want it.
So take note: For starters, in the legal world, selling is largely relationship-driven, helped by visibility among peers and potential clients that drive your practice area. Relationships develop into new business, and new business drives new relationships. The rest, that’s up to you. You’re the driver.
A Business Plan (or, Business Development Plan if you want to kick it old-school) is essential. It’s not just the thing you put together last minute as a snapshot of current and potential clients when you are ready to leave a firm (you know, that unspecified firm at some nebulous point in a future life you are way too busy to think about?). It’s a valuable tool to use while you are still an associate, of counsel or partner at your firm right now. Why? Because ultimately, selling is a numbers game. The more you sell the more business you get. The earlier you start, the more you sell, and the more business you get. And how do you plan and keep track of all this selling? A Business Plan.
Your historical success in selling has to be documented, should you move to another firm. How do you keep track of all this success? A Business Plan.
Where do I start, you ask?
Well, that’s a good question and I think you know where I’m going with this because there is no better resource to help you with your Business Plan than a reputable recruiter.
Whether you have a well-established book of business or are just starting out with, ahem, “business development activity” (and are thinking about making a move), Parker + Lynch Legal can help you with that Business Plan.
Oh, and your search of course.
At Parker + Lynch, our knowledge of the legal profession is unparalleled. We align top employers with top-of-the-line professionals in legal industry.