The Sustainable 2018 Resolution for Lawyers: Better Business Development

JD Supra Perspectives

It's that time again when we all have drive, ambition, and focus on what we are going to do better in the coming year - only to have the energy drained out of us by February. (Indeed, U.S. News reports that 80% of New Year's resolutions fail by the second week of February.)

Business development is an even harder sell than a treadmill, so how do you create and maintain momentum for a change that doesn't always have immediate results, takes some convincing to do, and requires the investment of consistent time and effort? 

The multiple, positive impacts of effective business development activities in small increments will pay dividends as time goes by. Through a sustainable change method I have created called P7, you can implement the standards of longterm, sustainable change management while also implementing the core tactics of business development to gain new clients and improving your client service levels with your current contacts.


Simply put, you're stuck. Your pipeline isn't as loaded as it usually is, your clients aren't giving you shining reviews and your year-end review was average. Start by acknowledging this truth. Each of the following steps requires identifying the problem and taking the steps to change the habits that got you to that point.


What has landed you in this spot? Likely, it's an apathetic approach to business development and client service. In today's market, these elements are beyond critical to your book of business. Your past approach may have worked before, but now there are lots of attorneys who provide the same legal services as you and are staying front of mind with clients in a variety of ways. This is where you need to change your mindset to match this competitive landscape.


Like any good change management, you need a plan. You have an abundance of resources around you, likely within your firm's walls, to assist your planning. From client services to marketing to business development and PR, you are supported by experts in their respective areas to help you fine tune your next year and set goals for you to hit. But like Jerry Maguire said, you have to help them help you. A personal trainer can't make you fit if you don't show up and do the workouts. 

Sit down and plan your year of activities with your business development team - everything from blocking dedicated time every week to accomplish a measureable business development goal (i.e. four calls to clients, 30 minutes of industry research, one hour of content development, etc.) to identifying your own key clients and booking monthly or quarterly meetings with them to understand their business objectives. Having these goals in writing and having the time blocked on your calendar throughout the year will help lay out the path to success.

Finally, envision what completing this process will look like for you. Do you see yourself in a year being a more networked, confident and revenue driving attorney? Or maybe it's the idea of standing on a stage at the top conference in your industry about to give a presentation. Visualize what success looks and feels like. This will keep you driven all year.


This is the step to jumpstart your efforts. It can be a key client meeting, taking the time to write your first article, or reaching out to another attorney in the firm for a potential cross-service conversation. Whatever it is, just get started! You can't run win a race if you don't take the first step and you sure can't change the trajectory of your practice without activating your plan. 

Mark down the first three activities you're going to accomplish, put a hard deadline on them and make it happen. The momentum you feel once you scratch those off your list will have you focused on the future.

There is no shame in making sure that the first three are easy to accomplish just to build a positive mindset. A great activity is to keep an eye on industry content that's relevant to your client. Find a timely article or a recent ruling and reach out to a key client to share your insights. You will be able to show your attention to their business goals and your ability to digest and share the relevant legal knowledge to get them there.


As I mentioned in the "Planning" phase, you should have set monthly, quarterly and annual goals for yourself. Put "Goal Check-In" on your calendar and share it with your business development or client service contact.

First, it will give you a checkpoint to find out where you stand and what's worked for you to this point. Second, by sharing it, you now invite accountability. If you haven't lived up to your end of the effort, you will likely feel a bit of shame. Remember, you've taken the time to engage an expert who is holding you accountable and is dedicating their time to support you and help you grow your book of business. You owe it to them to put in the effort and you owe it to yourself to become better at this craft of business development. 

Have your check-in meeting and compare your actuals to your goals. Have you made all your calls? Have you scheduled all of your meetings? How many attorneys have you introduced yourself to in other divisions? If you fell short in a category, add that missed call to your next set of goals. The most important thing is, this is a long term change. If you had a major case come up or a huge deal that sucked a lot of your time away, don't give up. There will always be time to make it up later on. Just keep plugging away and focusing on your goals.


The best feeling in the world is hitting a goal, crossing a finish line and knowing that you did something you may not have known you were capable of doing. The intrinsic bliss of success lives in all of us and there's a specific satisfaction that will come with completing your goals. 

Not that it's guaranteed, but if you have set attainable yet aggressive goals, it is highly likely that you have a new client onboard (or close to it) or you have been invited to meet another attorney's client for a cross-service conversation or you may have the opportunity to speak at an upcoming conference. No matter the finish line, celebrate and show gratitude to your resources who were involved in helping you get you there. 

Did you accomplish your vision that you developed in your "Planning" phase? If not, how far off are you from it and what do you need to do to accomplish the final steps? 

Take the time to have a summary conversation with your support team. What did you learn? What did you enjoy? What are your goals for next year? Your subjective success in this next year will surely build confidence in what you can do even better the following year.


How many times have you heard a story where someone lost a lot of weight, only to put it back on? They were not persistent with their actions and likely did not have a go-forward plan to build on the momentum of year one. They also likely did not have an understanding that what they were building should have been for a lifestyle of success, not a short term win. 

It is paramount to leverage the time, effort and learnings from year one and keep moving in year two. Maybe there was an activity you felt you could have done better in. Did you land that speaking gig, but did not do as well as you would have liked? Engage a speaking or presentation coach to help you maximize that next opportunity. Stretch your goals a bit from what you completed in year one. Now that you've learned the lifestyle change, it will be easier to implement moving forward to not only stay consistent for yourself, but for your firm and your clients. 

Imagine you stepped up your client service in year one, went to all four quarterly meetings with your client and provided a tremendous, value-added conversation. What do you think would happen in year two if you decided not to do that anymore? It is your responsibility to maintain the level of excellence and accomplishment that you obtained. 


Of course, you don't have to do any of this. It is much easier to do nothing and hope for the best. You may look good in red during holiday season, but I will bet that your numbers don't look as attractive in the same color.


[Rich Brackena Business Development Manager at Stinson Leonard Street, is an expert in providing creative approaches for retaining and developing new clients and advising on leadership and cultural opportunities. A self-proclaimed data nerd when it comes to marketing strategy, he also has a highly successful background in client service differentiation. He is also the co-chair of the Legal Marketing Association of Kansas City, a frequent blogger/speaker on leadership and self-improvement and a regular contributor on Fox 4 News in Kansas City. A self-proclaimed human jukebox, Rich is a music aficionado who can be found carrying on a concert in his car every day.]

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