Amid pervasive technological innovation in the legal space, business development training remains the profession's orphan stepchild, stuck in a world that lawyers’ clients left behind decades ago.  

Much is written about “e-lawyering.” While we're not seeing adoption of Internet technologies on the scale or pace of many other sectors, recent trends are encouraging.

Two decades ago companies in the demonstrative-evidence and litigation support industry pioneered the use of technology to improve litigators' work product and reduce the cost of telling a compelling story to a jury. Technology transformed discovery, allowing firms to manage document- or data-intensive cases faster and cheaper.

Internet-based technology now frees firms from owning operating infrastructure. SaaS-based accounting, project management, HR, CRM and other functions are like utilities, and there are companies that set up an entire law practice infrastructure, letting attorneys hang out a shingle with no investment, paying only a monthly subscription fee for their practice-support tools.  

BD training has been left out

In most areas, the old way of “lawyering” is giving way to newer electronic methods. One function, however, is conspicuously absent from this rapid technological progress:  business development (BD) training.

It’s partly due to firms not being all that serious about BD training in any form; another cause is structural limitations of instructor-led training:

  1. Scalability: No matter how skilled and effective the trainer, she’s limited in the number of lawyers she can train in a reasonable time. For twenty years as a one-to-one sales coach for senior lawyers, I heard the refrain, “Mike, you're producing terrific results, but you can’t train 500 lawyers.”

  2. Cost: Skilled sales coaches, like skilled lawyers, command significant fees. My clients loved our ROI, but they choked on the cost of training hundreds of lawyers, even though they knew they'd make lots of money from well-trained lawyers' business generation.

  3. Lawyer availability: With instructor-led training, the trainer is present in real-time, either in person or by phone or video. Too often, lawyers and coaches can't both be available.

An iterative process

Skill development requires education, training (the actual doing), coaching and feedback. It can't happen in one session, but occurs by iterative application over time – for which instructor-led training is ill suited.

Lawyers tolerate these limitations despite virtual training having been standard in most industries for decades (most visibly in aviation, where every flight you're on is piloted by someone who learned on a simulator).  

Virtual training and coaching via simulation is infinitely scalable and available. It allows lawyers to learn whenever they're available, in short, single-topic sessions that measure effectiveness -- anytime, anywhere.

Scalability means training for a fraction of previous cost; firms can afford to train all their lawyers, which conveys advantages in recruiting and retaining lawyers, who know that their future depends on their ability to generate business. 

What does “affordable” mean? Top-tier individual training/coaching programs cost many thousands of dollars per lawyer. By contrast, the cost of a simulation-driven virtual BD training program is roughly equivalent to coffee money.

Lawyers' current BD struggles are not due solely to the macroeconomic conditions, but are also the product of law maturing as a service category. In previous such occurrences (telephony, IT, banking, accounting) the winners were those who recognized the criticality of one's ability to market and sell.  Fortunately, today's learning tools are easier, faster, cheaper and universally available.

Mike O'Horo is a serial innovator in the law business.  His current venture, RainmakerVT, is the world's first interactive online rainmaking training for lawyers, by which lawyers learn how to attract the right kind of clients without leaving their desks. 

For almost 30 years, Mike has been known by lawyers everywhere as The Coach. He trained more than 5000 of them, generating $1.5 billion in new business.  Mike can be reached at