One Shift That Will Improve Business Development Results and Make Life Easier for Lawyers

by JD Supra Perspectives

Business development needn’t be complicated, difficult, or distressing. However, for many lawyers it’s all of that. Most of that can be eliminated by a single shift in perspective.

Lawyers devote about 150-200 business development hours per year. In no particular order, their four most prevalent business development activities are:

  • Networking
  • Writing articles
  • Public speaking/presentations
  • Prospect meetings

Let’s look at how you go about those four activities, and the one shift that will make it all more effective, and simplify this part of your life.

Writing articles, blog posts, and LinkedIn posts takes time, and it’s hard to come up with fresh ideas. Too often, you’re met with silence. Too few people comment, respond, share, or follow you. 

Networking events take lots of time, and make you uncomfortable. You collect business cards, but get no business. What you get is a relationship-building burden that isn’t sustainable. (This article shows the cost of the relationship-building approach.)

Public speaking takes lots of prep time, and often requires travel. Bad weather and other forces beyond your control may prevent a large chunk of your registered audience from attending. Your remarks may produce little audience response, and while those who approach afterward compliment you, they don’t discuss how your topic affects their company (the bridge to a sales conversation).

Legitimate prospect meetings are hard to get. Your email doesn’t trigger an invitation to call. Voicemails don’t get returned. Calls get cancelled or postponed frequently. Even when they happen, the prospect goes dark afterward, triggering uncomfortable follow-up. So-called Prospects languish in your pipeline, requiring perpetual follow-up, but yield no results. 

Clients are no easier. You do great work, get high marks for client service, invest in relationships, yet too often learn about opportunities after the fact. Why?

Most lawyers have no focus

When asked who their market is, lawyers say, “I can help anyone.” True, but only after you’ve been found and chosen. You can’t market to “anyone.” 

With no specific market focus, you’re not relevant to anyone. Prospects are only interested in what’s relevant to their industry, company, department, and team, and their career advancement.

If you’re not relevant, you don’t exist

There’s no reason to engage with you, or even remember you. You’ll never have the right audience for your article, speech, or networking, because you have no selection criteria. If you don’t have the right audience, you have the wrong one, which guarantees that nobody will respond.

It doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It means you’re doing the wrong things, applying methods that are guaranteed to fail. No amount of effort or skill can make the wrong things work.

Shift to Relevance

Whether or not you intend it, your communication is probably mostly about you. It’s focused on your experience, your expertise, your accomplishments, your firm. It’s not that people don’t believe your claims. It’s that they can’t afford to care because you haven’t made yourself relevant.

Lack of relevance is the source of your frustrations. Until your experience, expertise, accomplishments, and firm are relevant to your prospects’ world, those assets don’t exist. 

Consider the four-rung Impact Ladder:

  • Indispensable
  • Valuable
  • Useful
  • Relevant

The top rung, Indispensable, is the brass ring. It’s what most lawyers aspire to. However, the bottom rung, Relevance, is the only one you can directly influence. 

If you’re perceived as Relevant, people pay attention to what you say, read your articles, subscribe to your blog or email communications, and follow you on social media. They share your thoughts with others, becoming part of your idea-distribution team. They’ll move you up a rung by giving you a chance to be useful and help them.

If your help results in positive impact, you move up another rung, to Valuable. Over time, if you’re consistently Relevant, Useful, and Valuable, you might just become Indispensable.

Let’s revisit our BD challenges, this time through the lens of Relevance.

Networking: You’re now hunting, screening for people who have your demand- triggering problem, who want to be cultivated because you’re relevant to their world. 

Articles: You’re always writing a slightly different iteration of the same problem, simply by telling different stories about its impact, and painting different images of how things can be if the problem is addressed as you suggest. You’re not creating completely new content each time. 

Public speaking: It’s easier for people to recognize that they want to attend your session. Your remarks prove the need for them to consult with someone with your understanding of the problem and their world. Those who approach you want to discuss how your industry-specific problem affects their company. 

Associate yourself with a business problem that can’t be ignored

Relevance guarantees that you interact only with those who are most opportune for you.

Achieving relevance is straightforward. Associate yourself with a business problem that can’t be ignored, that requires a decision, action, and investment, thereby driving demand for your service. (Your “demand trigger” is also a door-opener, literally opening prospects’ doors to you.) 

Here’s a concrete example that revealed this concept and its power to me. 

A partner from the Banking practice asked to speak for a few minutes at the beginning of another group’s meeting to share what the Banking group was doing. He described his group’s initiatives, expecting his partners to respond with, “Oh, I should introduce you to Client X.” It didn’t happen. The Banking partner’s remarks were met with uncomfortable silence, like when a comedian bombs. I was sitting next to the Banking partner, and asked an innocent question. “I’m not a lawyer. How would I recognize who needs your group’s help?”

For my benefit, the Banking partner rattled off some situations that triggered demand for Banking services. The chatter started around the table. “Oh, I should introduce you to Client X, or Y!” His partners hadn’t heard their clients using Banking practice terminology. They had heard clients talking about the cost of capital, bridge financing while awaiting project approval, and converting debt to equity to preserve cash. The Banking lawyer’s first remarks weren’t relevant. His second most definitely were, and produced the desired response. 

One easy way to choose a Door-Opener is to examine the most gratifying client or matter that you’ve had in the past year or two. 

  • The matter that you found challenging, that made you bring your 'A' game.
  • Where your client paid in full, on time, without haggling.
  • Where the client showed appreciation for your skill, dedication, effort, and judgment.

Legal matters don’t spring up, whole, like mushrooms. They derive from situations, behaviors, decisions, attitudes, and interactions. Where did this matter originate? Reverse engineer your matter all the way back to the first behavioral domino in the causal chain. Unless that problem is an outlier, you may have found your Demand Trigger, and a reliable basis for relevance. To make this your best year ever, commit to Relevance.


[Mike O'Horo is the co-founder of RainmakerVT and has trained 7,000 lawyers in firms of all sizes and types, in virtually every practice type. They attribute $1.5 billion in additional business to their collaboration. His latest innovation, Dezurve, reduces firms’ business development training investment risks by identifying which lawyers are serious about learning BD.]

Written by:

JD Supra Perspectives

JD Supra Perspectives on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.