In a LinkedIn post under this title (minus the word "development"), HubSpot co-founder Dharmesh Shah uses quotes from "Moneyball," the baseball movie about Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane, who developed the data-driven scouting discipline later called "Moneyball," to illustrate lessons on business and entrepreneurship. They're truly insightful, and I encourage you to read the post. (Ignore the "19" in the title. As so many commenters observed, numbers 8, 9, 11, and 13 are missing. Shah doesn't explain why.)

With a nod to Mr. Shah, and borrowing liberally from his post, here's how I'd apply those movie quotes to business development for lawyers:

1. "He passes the 'eye candy' test. He's got the looks, he's great at playing the part."

A common mistake law firms make is investing in business development training for certain partners simply because "they seem like they'd be good at it," i.e., they look the part. Nobody's ever perfect, and many producers won't look right at all, especially when measured against these type of subjective, visceral criteria.  

You want people who can actually do the job. That partner with the Golden Rolodex who claims hundreds of hours of marketing time each year, yet is still a mist-maker instead of a rainmaker? Likely not worth it. He looks the part, and seems to have the activity level, but so far hasn't been able to deliver the goods. That potential lateral who claims to be able to bring $3 million worth of business with her? She's going to be expensive and, unless she's a complete outlier relative to most laterals' actual (vs. claimed) portable business, will bring about half the business she projected.

You're better off investing in senior associates or junior partners who've got a hunger to succeed. Instead of complaining about a lack of training, they're out there getting advice from experts and trying to apply it. Get good at seeing talent where others don't.

2. "You're not solving the problem. You're not even looking at the problem."

Identify your firm's fundamental revenue-generation problem and focus, focus, focus on solving it.  

  • Do your "sales-lawyers" lack quality sales opportunities, or do they have plenty of those but convert a poor percentage of them into paying clients?  
  • Are they pretty good at both lead-generation and -conversion, but their activity level is too low to produce big results?

Don't get distracted by all the the things that are swirling around the actual problem. Don't listen too closely to those that have deep industry expertise and are emotionally attached to the status quo—it's possible that they're part of the problem. Senior lawyers who made their bones during the 20-year legal service boom may argue that training and coaching aren't necessary, that "it's all about relationships." That statement is true on its face, but it ignores salient questions such as

  • Which relationships?  
  • Based on what?  
  • Sustained and advanced how? 
  • What's the optimal market for that lawyer? 
  • How should he or she be positioned within that market?

and many, many other questions that weren't necessary during the sellers' market boom, when demand for legal service was soaring, but are critical now in a hyper-competitive buyers' market.

Figure out what the actual issue is, and solve it.

3. We've got to think differently.

Like Moneyball's Oakland A's, your firm, too, is working under financial constraints. If you're trying to disrupt the "it's-all-about-relationships" status quo attitude and beat competitors that may be much bigger and better-funded, you're not going to do it by playing their game. You'll need to think differently. Playing the old way when you're at a disadvantage is a sure-fire way to lose.

For example, the status quo is to call on companies' Legal Departments, because they're the legal service purchasers, right? There are many problems with that approach.  Here are three that come readily to mind:

  • Hundreds of firms and lawyers are trying to sell to them, which means they're hard to get access to, and they're holding all the cards. You'll be slogging through a crowded field of equally undifferentiated competitors.
  • They've got "-ize fixation," i.e., they're motivated to standardize, rationalize, organize, normalize and economize. Because they're buying mature legal services that they've bought countless times, they don't need innovators or stars. They have the luxury of hiring from a huge pool of "good enough" qualified talent.   
  • They're bulk purchasers of such normalized, etc., services, so they expect to pay wholesale prices. The more firms and lawyers competing for the business, the more downward price pressure you'll be contributing to creating. You're bidding against your self-interest.

By contrast, if you follow the industry and identify operations or other processes that aren't working properly, and that have meaningful impact, you'll gain access to stakeholders who are living with that problem daily and are motivated to pursue creative solutions for this new problem. That's where you'll find what you really want: demand, pricing power and, after you've worked your legal magic, appreciation and referrals.

4. "First job in baseball? It's my first job anywhere."

Experience is often over-rated. Some of the most successful business developers lacked relevant experience when they began. What they lacked in experience, they more than made up for in sheer talent and hunger. One such securities litigator, who'd never previously brought in a nickel's worth of business, spotted a specific challenge in the financial industry,focused on it, and developed a $40 million book of business over about seven years.

Invest in (figurative) athletes, i.e., lawyers with raw talent and the drive and commitment to get things done. Don't resist investing in people who are relatively early in the business development part of their legal careers. You're looking for the future stars -- because you likely can't convince the current BD stars, those whose success is rooted in the boom times, to embrace training or change their approach.

5. "You shouldn't invest in business development activity; you should invest in business development wins."

I'm going to illustrate this point with a quick paraphrasing of a conversation I had with a law firm leader last year. It went roughly like this:

Me: What do you need?

Firm Leader: We need to establish a business development training program.

Me: No, what do you actually need, right now?

Firm Leader: Well, right now we need to hire a Chief BD officer.

Me. What for?

Firm Leader: Well, we need someone to head up our business development effort.

Me. No, you actually need to generate qualified opportunities and convert them into paying clients. You need to respond to target industry issues. You need to create skills and generate legitimate BD activity. You don't need a chief of anything, you need a "doer" of stuff that needs done. Don't think about titles—think about outcomes. Think about plugging gaping holes in the firm. Are your lawyers suddenly demanding more BD training and support than you can supply? Don't hire a CBDO; hire someone that helps you tackle the BD training and support issue. Someone who's maniacally committed to lawyer BD performance. They can become your CBDO some day. If nothing else, in the doing you'll learn what you really need.

6. At least some lawyers really need to embrace BD as their primary job.

A young Billy Beane was trying to decide between a full scholarship to Stanford and a career in Major League Baseball. Billy's mom asked if he could do both. The answer was, he couldn't. That's true in just about any hyper-competitive activity. You can't straddle the fence, because you will get your butt kicked by someone who's almost as good as you, but much more committed.

Lawyers see their primary job as practicing law. Some pursue business development on the side. In a competitive market, you can't survive, much less thrive, with a volunteer, part-time, untrained, amateur sales force. At least some of your lawyers have to pick: bill 2000 hours, or bring in $10 million? It's not an easy choice, but you have to pick.

Somebody's got to be committed to getting it done. If you can't get excited about it, don't try to sort-of do it. You'll get crushed and embarrassed by those who are serious about it. 

7. Why do you like him? Because he gets on base.

The legal field is filled with potential BD superstars who get overlooked or can't get included in the firm's training programs because they're "quirky" or otherwise don't fit preconceived norms of what someone thinks a person in a business development role should look and feel like. None of that matters.

A young partner in the small London office of a US firm definitely didn't look the part. He was a little rough around the edges, nowhere near as polished as his elegant US partners. However, he'd pick up on news items in the Financial Times, recognize the impact of the problem revealed in the news item, synthesize a solution, and approach a senior executive at the affected company. His US partners were aghast at what they saw as his brazenness. They couldn't argue with his results. He manufactured more than a million dollars of business (1995 dollars) out of whole cloth.

When recruiting business developers from among your lawyer ranks, find those that have high emotional IQ and care about truly understanding client businesses and problems--and about helping the group of stakeholders make an informed, sustainable decision about a solution, without regard to the seller's self-interest.

Figure out what success looks like for a given role, and ignore the irrelevant details, such as firm status, seniority, etc.

10. Hey, anything worth doing is hard. And we're gonna teach you.

Your ability to teach is one of the single biggest levers you have. Why? First, because it's one of the biggest benefits you can provide. Lawyers can get a higher salary somewhere else. But, at your firm, they can learn how to succeed. A recent ALM survey showed that a high percentage of pre-partnership lateral moves were motivated by the destination firm providing BD training and their current firm not offering it.

You're not going to find five-tool BD players sitting around your firm, undiscovered, or available in the lateral market. Even if you found them, you likely couldn't afford them. If you're willing to help people with a specific capability fill in gaps in their knowledge and experience, you'll create lots of value for them and for your firm.

12. It's day one of the first week. You can't judge just yet.

Be a little bit patient. Often, the best people take time to develop and shine. Don't judge too early. Determine the context. If someone's not cranking yet, is it because getting up to speed is hard? Everyone's too busy to show them the ropes? Their lack of early performance could be due to the context, so be patient.

But, don't be too patient. If someone isn't at least moderately productive in the first six months or so, it's unlikely they're going to be super-productive in the following year. The really great people tend to deliver value almost immediately. For this to work, though, you've got to define interim forms of value that are benchmarks of performance and progress. "Clients in the door" is a crude measurement that reflects cumulative accomplishment. It's a blunt instrument that's a trailing indicator rather than a leading indicator. By the time it's clear that there aren't enough new clients in the door, it's often too late to save someone who's been off the rails for so long. It's critical to understand the early indicators of BD progress.

14. Where on the field is the dollar I'm paying for soda?

It's good to be budget-conscious; it instills the right kind of discipline that will help long-term. But, don't be penny-wise and pound-foolish. There are little things that don't cost that much, but that make people happier.

You can supply a curated library of articles, blog posts, webinars, videos, etc., that will cost you little or nothing, but will enable every member of the firm who's interested to begin learning about BD on their own, either demonstrating that they recognize its importance or, conversely, that BD isn't for them. For those who satisfy whatever your standards are for consuming the free content, you can make small investments in technology-based training that can be less than the firm spends on coffee for that lawyer each month. Watch what they do with that modest investment, and use that as a guide to whether or not you'll make larger investments in them later.

15. These are hard rules to explain to people. Why is that a problem?

In one of the best segments in the movie, one character is troubled by how different what the A's are doing is, and why it's hard to get others to understand and accept it. But, the point was, when you're transforming something and making important change, not everyone is going to understand or agree. Humans resist change of any kind. The greater the change, the greater the resistance.

The important thing is to be right--and then make the change happen. The best way to convince lawyers that your theory was right is to be right and demonstrate results. Lawyers will never be convinced otherwise.

16. I'm not paying you for the player you used to be. I'm paying you for the player you are right now.

No one is impressed by the business a lawyer might have brought in. Many partners who brought in lots of business during the boom (what AmLaw called the Law Firm Golden Age) find that their books of business have shrunk, in some cases dramatically. They're still out there, trying to drum up business, but they're clinging to the methods that worked under market conditions that no longer exist. It's not working, but they're not willing to admit that they need new skills and methods that are better aligned with today's conditions. Yet, they still expect to be paid as the rainmakers they used to be. It's not a temporary slump; it's a permanent change to a fiercely competitive landscape that many call The New Normal. Unless they address it, their skill deficiency will be permanent, too.

17. That's my bar. My bar is here. My bar is to take this team to the championship.

Although many things can cause us to fall short of our revenue-generation goal, you still set a goal that will change your professional life in some meaningful way. Would having more challenging, gratifying work do that for you? A certain level of income? Making partner? Having greater stature or influence within your firm? Becoming an industry's "go-to" lawyer for a high-impact business problem?

Set a goal to reach a transformative level rather than some arbitrary, meaningless marginal improvement. There's no time for small changes that achieve small goals.

18. If we try to play like the Yankees in here, we will lose to the Yankees out there.

Don't play the game using your competitor's rule book--despite how successful they may or may not be. That's a losing strategy. If they wrote the rules, accept that they were written to favor them, not you.

This is especially true of all the law firms and lawyers who covet a market position or category of work now owned by larger, better-financed firms. If I had $100 for every lawyer who said, "We can do M&A work just as well as Skadden, at half the cost," or "We can do [type of litigation] as well as [big firm famous for it]," I could retire.

The same caution extends to big firms who lust after other firms' rainmakers. "If we could lure Ms. X here from [firm], we'd have the foothold we need in [city, or type of law]." You'll have to spend like the Yankees to get Ms. X, and she may not play as well on a different team.

Assess your own strengths and organize your market focus and outreach to exploit them consistently.

19. We're going to change the game.

This is what it's all about, especially now when the legal field is in the early stages of a structural and operational transformation, the nature and scale of which many can't even comprehend. It's about seeing the many things that are not quite right in your client's world, and deciding to fix one. There's no shortage of candidates. Every day, some survey, conference agenda or legal publication quotes clients about something they consider broken about legal service delivery, pricing, staffing, firm/client integration, attitude, or business knowledge. There are as few barriers to game-changing innovation now as there will ever be. Clients are clamoring for it, and most firms are either ignoring or resisting them.

For me, personally, it was recognizing that business development training is broken. Most lawyers hate BD because they mistakenly perceive certain unappetizing behaviors as necessary, or they perceive that it's too hard or too expensive to acquire the necessary skills, or that they'll have to commit too much time to a long-term program. We're transforming lawyer business development training into something lawyers love, find engaging and convenient, and can afford.

It's hugely ambitious, but I have this feeling, deep-down inside, that we're right.

Mike O'Horo

Learn more about RainmakerVT, the game-changing business development training for lawyers.