Over the past couple of years, law and other professional services firms have emerged from the darkness of recession, squinting into the light. A brave new world- tough and competitive, with ever more demanding clients and price pressures- is what lies beneath the azure sky. A common theme in this new landscape is that business development is no longer down only to the partners. Most law firms now expect their associates to be out there developing relationships with contacts and clients and drumming up business.
At Kissing With Confidence everyone is in business development, is client focused and has some skin in the game.
As a broad strategy this is spot-on. When I was a partner in a law firm it always struck me as daft to keep associates away from BD for the first decade of their careers only suddenly to demand that they become great rainmakers because of a change of job title: would that work if their title suddenly changed to “Clarinettist”? So it is now the case that going out and making the grass grow is part of the job. This is fine, but I observe a vast disparity in approach amongst law firms who expect their associates to be busy on the BD front in the extent to which they provide them with encouragement, support and training.
Now you would expect me to advocate that firms pepper BD skills training programmes all over their schedules, given that I spend a large percentage of my time delivering such programmes. And I do believe that a well thought out and facilitated BD skills programme for your associates, many of whom are the future partners of your firm, is vital. But there’s also a lot that firms can do themselves to help support those you expect to part fund your retirement by buying in when you check out.
So, at the risk of doing myself out of a gig or two, when did you last sit down one-to-one with your associates and offer them your help in relation to developing their BD skills? Here are a few ideas for that chat:
- Ask them what they’re afraid of and find hardest about BD; making time for it, being seen as pushy and rejection will feature.
- Tell them about some of your BD mistakes over the years to make you seem more human
- Share some of the things you do that keep on top of your BD activity
- Bounce about some practical ways to get and keep in touch with contacts and clients and come up ones that they are comfortable with
Do a lot of listening, empathising and reassuring.
Business development isn’t rocket science, but many young lawyers - and a heck of a lot of older ones - find business development daunting. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.
They need supported and nurtured: don’t rain on their parade if they can’t play Mozart by Monday afternoon.
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about the author
Michael Fleming is our Head of KWC Legal. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop him an email and we will be in touch.