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Based on behaviors I’ve observed over the past 25 years, I might be forgiven if I concluded that lawyers believe that business development success is either a) based on innate skills, or b) merely a matter of showing up and talking with prospects. Otherwise, how can we explain the apparent lack of preparation and skill development that’s so common?

Today’s title is a quote from Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, describing the dogged, behind-the-scenes hard work that has accounted for each of the improbable steps in his career — from lightly recruited unknown at Holland Christian (MI) High to Michigan State, where he worked his way from fifth on the depth chart to three-year starter and team captain; and from fourth-round NFL draft pick installed as a backup from Day One to the league’s most sought-after quarterback the moment he hit free agency. Oh, and the $24 million per year contract that he just signed.

"Championships are built on a thousand invisible mornings, and we built this championship when no one was watching."

Cousins’s remark refers to the invisible mornings of studying film, poring over his own mistakes and retooling his body and mind to be ready for the next opportunity. He even “doubled-down on brain-training exercises to steady his mind under pressure.” It reminds me of a similar extraordinary-measures story about NBA superstar Michael Jordan who, having had a rebound ripped out of his hands by an opponent, vowed “never again,” and hired a special trainer to strengthen his hands to prevent recurrence.

Can you imagine yourself or your colleagues going to similar lengths, investing that much time and effort to be great at business development? Probably not, but why not?

For one thing, it’s harder for lawyers to draw a direct correlation between preparation, effort, and BD success. But that may simply be because there are no publicized examples of lawyers whose preparation and effort produced dramatic rewards, or of lawyers whose lack of same demonstrably limited them.

Or, it may be the product of lawyers not being hungry enough. After all, unlike solos, lawyers in successful firms are well compensated whether or not they bring in business, so they may not be really hungry to succeed at BD. In law firms, BD results are a huge plus, and generously rewarded, but the lack of business generation won’t put you on the breadline. Contrast that with commission salespeople who operate on a modest salary or draw, or none at all, and must make their money based on results.

One other factor is desire, or lack. Many lawyers just want to practice law, and don’t want anything to do with BD. They accept that they’ll never make the big bucks, but are OK with that tradeoff. Good for them. (Unfortunately, serious flaws in the traditional law firm business model results in them being pressured to contribute to BD, but that’s a topic for another day.)

I’m speaking only to lawyers who claim to aspire to BD success, even greatness. My message is that great results require great skills, and great skills require study, effort, practice, feedback, more practice, and commitment to continuous improvement.

Greatness is achieved on Game Day, but it's earned during the off-hours. How good do you really want to be? To enable that, what are you willing to do, on your own, when nobody's watching?

Mike O'Horo


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