How to run a great meeting

Too high a percentage of the meetings we attend are largely a waste of time. So say the lawyers, CMOs, BDOs and COOs with whom I’ve spoken about the topic. If it helps at all, the law biz is not alone in that experience and perception; the whole world suffers from “death by meeting.” Here’s how to make life better for everyone, every time.

Do your BizDev coaching sessions feel like “Groundhog Day”?

groundhog day.jpg

This past Saturday was Groundhog Day in the US. What does that have to do with lawyer business development?

In the 1993 comedy, Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character awakens each morning to repeat the previous day. Many lawyers create pretty much the same experience with their biz dev coaches.

They fail to get the maximum value out of coaching, or waste it outright by not being fully committed and engaged, instead merely going through the motions every week.

How can you tell if you’re doing that?

Groundhog Day indicators

Here’s the lawyer’s biz dev version of Groundhog Day. Week after week,

  • You report or discuss the same suspects and prospects

  • Your pipeline remains largely unchanged

  • You haven’t sent the emails, or made the calls, or completed the steps that were in your plan

  • Have few or no new people in your network

  • Haven’t written a new blog post, or posted anything to social media

  • You talk about how busy you’ve been with billable work

  • You make the same promises

  • You seek remedial advice about unsuccessful actions you took without seeking coaching beforehand

These are the canaries in your BD coal mine, alerting you to the toxic risk these habits pose for your book of business.

Mike O’Horo

Want to halt progress on your sale? Send information about your capabilities

How many times have you ended a call with someone you’re trying to cultivate as a prospect with them asking you to send materials describing your firm’s capabilities in a broad practice area, e.g., IP litigation? How many times has an email exchange ended with this same next step? If your answer is “too often,” here’s what to do instead.

"Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

Lawyers detest creating business development plans. They delay and resist as long as possible, and when their firm finally brings down the hammer, too often they create something pro forma that lets them check the required box, but is of little practical use, and never gets looked at again. Here’s why you should view this differently.

No more to-do lists (reading time 5 mins)

The biggest business development obstacle that the lawyers I coach report to me is finding time for it. Too often, our weekly progress calls feature a rehashing of action items from the previous week that weren’t completed due to lack of time. In response, we make To-Do lists. They’re easy. Too easy, and mostly useless. Here’s a better way.

The importance of January 2-4, 2019

Many lawyers see the final two weeks of December as a business development Dead Zone. Prospects and clients are scrambling to meet year-end deadlines, and are distracted by professional- and family obligations related to the holidays. While this reasoning is understandable, the danger of shutting down your BD effort completely is that two dark weeks turns into four, or six, or more. Here's what to do instead.

Dig the well before you're thirsty

Lots of lawyers experience what’s called the “sell/do” cycle. That means that they’re either selling the work, or doing it. While they have it, they focus on billable work exclusively, ignoring marketing and sales entirely. “No time for biz dev. Too busy. Gotta get this work done.” Here’s how to break that cycle and become more consistent.

“Holiday Marketing” vs. Strategic December Business Development

About this time each year, law industry publications are rife with advice about “holiday marketing.” The advice tends to be about gift-giving protocols and using social events to network and create relationships. Here’s a much better way to use the last few weeks of the year.

What are you doing to improve your BD skills?

Today’s fiercely competitive legal service market requires far greater marketing and sales skills than ever before. Couple that with a dizzying rate of change in every aspect of business, and it becomes clear that standing pat on one’s skills is a path to failure. Here’s what to do.

The only 3 things partners need to develop business: Who, What, Why

Despite law firm management’s vociferous declarations that those with no business are in peril, out in the capillaries lawyers behave as if they still believe that billable tasks obviate what should be a survival-driven focus on finding a way to make some type of contribution to revenue generation. Here’s how to get your biz dev effort to the hygiene level.

The importance of “BD activity ratios”

How much time do you have to commit to marketing and sales activity to be successful? Unless you’ve established ratios, you don’t know, and it’s easy to tell yourself that whatever you’re doing is good enough. Here’s how.

I meant to brush my teeth, but I was too busy (reading time: 3 mins.)

Despite law firm management’s vociferous declarations that those with no business are in peril, out in the capillaries lawyers behave as if they still believe that billable tasks obviate what should be a survival-driven focus on finding a way to make some type of contribution to revenue generation. Here’s how to get your biz dev effort to the hygiene level.

Only 27% of a rainmaker's book is portable. So what?

Earlier this year, my friend Jordan Furlong published a post in his excellent Law21 blog: How Powerful Are Rainmakers Really? In it, he shared data that suggests that the rainmakers whom firms fear as 900-lb gorillas, and treat as divas, may weigh a more manageable 225 lbs.

Why would this matter to lawyers who aren’t on their firms’ Compensation- or Management committees? Because the data shows that even very successful lawyers’ books of business are more precarious than they might think, and therefore there’s no room for complacency.

Make it easy for prospects to recognize that they need you


How do those who buy what you sell recognize that they need you, that you’re relevant to their world and might just know something that would help them and make some part of their professional life better?

The easy part is identifying what won’t do that: Legal-service nouns. You know, the ones you identify yourself with without thinking. “Litigation.” “M&A.” “Corporate.” “Employment.” And so on.

A concrete example

Many years ago, I was working with the Products Liability practice of a big firm. At the outset of one of our meetings, a partner from the Banking and Finance practice stopped by and asked if he could take a few minutes to let them know what B&F was working on these days.

This was an attempt at cross-selling. I’m sure his expectation was that when he explained his group’s current focus, his partners would respond with suggestions of clients they should connect him with.

Instead, when he concluded his summary of current activity and focus, he got crickets. Nada. Silence. To me, it was an awkward moment, like when a comedian’s joke falls flat.

Triggering relevance

I happened to be sitting right beside him, and I was feeling for him. I said, “I’m not a product liability lawyer, and I’m not a banking/finance lawyer. In fact, I’m not any kind of lawyer. How would I recognize who needs you?”

He graciously answered me, offering examples of situations and problems that companies face acquiring capital and operating funds. “Well, Mike, when a company’s short-term borrowing surpasses 20% of their outstanding debt, to control capital cost they need to restructure the debt to…” He gave three or four different examples of situations that drove demand for B&F services.

Flipping the switch

It was like a switch had been flipped. Suddenly, the chatter started around the table, with his partners saying, “Oh, yeah, I should introduce you to Client XYZ.” And so forth. In just a few minutes, they produced a pretty impressive list of perceived opportunities they were confident it was worth exploring together.

Gone was the introduction-reluctance that’s too often an obstacle to cross-selling. These lawyers had heard their clients talking about those situations, challenges and problems. They recognized that their B&F colleague was relevant to their clients, that the introduction would reliably be welcome.

A pitch vs. help

Consider the difference in the traditional approach: “Hey, Ms. Client, I’d love for you to meet my Litigation partners. They’re really top-drawer.” What did the client hear? That you want her to put up with your colleague pitching for work. Nobody wants to hear a pitch. Should there be any surprise that colleagues don’t want to do make those lame introductions?

Now, think about the difference when you approach your electric utility client with, “It seems like utilities with nuclear generation facilities are facing an acute shortage of nuclear workers due to the shrinking of the nuclear Navy, which has been the primary training ground for those skills for decades. Is that something that your company is wrestling with?”

Unless this client is an outlier, she knows that this is a real issue that has real ramifications. Most people in her position would welcome speaking with a lawyer who offers fresh thinking about ways to deal with the problem.

Now, think of how your partner’s former reluctance to introduce you is replaced by eagerness as he anticipates the client thanking him for the introduction. This is the power of relevance.

Your action item

Think about what 80% of your work looks like. Now, engineer backward from the legal issues to the prime movers, the underlying business situations or problems that drove demand for that legal service. Replace your habitual use of legal service identifiers with those words. Begin identifying yourself as the person who solves those specific problems.

Think about how different your introductions and networking exchanges will sound, and how people will react. Instead of, “I’m an Employment lawyer,” consigning yourself to membership in a club of tens of thousands, you say, “I help utilities deal with the problem of a shrinking nuclear workforce.”

Your referral sources now know who to connect you with, and why. They, too, will be more willing, anticipating a positive reception.

Now, instead of “matter” being a noun, it’s a verb, as in, “You matter.” That’s how easy your life can become.

Mike O’Horo

Your biz dev coach is your “accountability partner” (reading time 3 mins.)

The biggest obstacle lawyers must overcome to achieve their business-generation goals is the ease of abandoning a BD-activity commitment in favor of non-BD responsibilities, e.g., billable work, firm demands, etc. It turns out that a couple of simple mechanisms can make a big difference to honoring our commitments to ourselves.

Your first sale should be "clarity" (reading time: 2 mins)

When selling, lawyers get anxious about how to obtain a sufficient understanding of a prospective client’s problem, and share enough of their knowledge to motivate her to hire them, without giving away the store or over-investing in what could turn out to be a dry hole.

Based on how often I’ve been asked this question by lawyers throughout my decades in BD coaching, this seems a pretty universal problem. Here’s how to make lemonade out of those lemons.

Nail that meeting with your prospective client

A prospective client has identified three lawyers whom she believes possess the expertise and standing to solve her problem. The good news is that you’re one of them, and 10 minutes from now she’ll be sitting in your office to interview you.

The less-good news? You don’t know much about her beyond whatever dry information a Google search and her LinkedIn profile revealed. Here’s how to raise the odds in your favor.