Of course you’re frustrated.
For years, lawyers have complained to me that, while the legal industry media is flooded with articles and blog posts about business development, little of it is useful to them because most tell lawyers what to do, but not how to do it. Worse, most of the “what” is similar, and adds little to the conversation.
Decades ago, Steve Martin did a great routine on Saturday Night Live that brilliantly captured the trivialization of “how.” Click on the video above to enjoy Steve's brilliance, but here’s the relevant dialogue:
Steve: “You can be a millionaire, and never pay taxes.”
Alter ego: “But, Steve, how can I do that?”
Steve: “First, get a million dollars.”
The following article excerpt (below, in italics) is the poster child for “what” advice that implies that the "how" is either as obvious or simple as Steve Martin's. In [bracketed bold] following each bullet point, I've inserted your voice.
To build your book of business and make the most of your limited time, consider the following tips:
- Schedule specific and recurring times to spend on business development activities. [Sounds great. How do I do that when I have to bill 36 hours per week?]
- Develop a personal business plan that incorporates both action items and metrics to track your progress. [I don’t know how to create a business plan like that. How do I do it?]
- Use your existing network to your best advantage by:
- tracking your contacts with potential clients and following up on initial conversations, and using customer relationship management or business intelligence software tools; [What should I say in those “initial conversations?” I don't even know what CRM is. Which CRM or BI tools should I use? How do I use them for this?]
- seizing opportunities to communicate with potential clients, including, for example, by proactively alerting contacts of new legislation, regulations, or cases that will impact their industry or business; [Don’t they get alerts about legislation, regulations, and cases from every lawyer they know?]
- cross-selling your colleagues’ expertise, where you lack the experience needed for a representation or where a client would benefit from preventative counseling in another field. [How do you cross-sell?]
- Ensure that client pitches reflect your deep understanding of the client’s business and pain points, and highlight innovative or outside-the-box strategies that you can use to address those challenges, including your adoption of project management or process improvement methods. [How do I acquire that “deep understanding of the client’s business and pain points”?]
- Negotiate customized pricing solutions, including using alternative fee arrangements (AFAs), to better align your incentives with your client’s objectives. [I have no experience with AFAs. How do I align my incentives with my client’s objectives?]
- Research and test new legal technologies that can streamline your practice and differentiate your skills from other litigators. [Really? How do I fit this unfamiliar research into my schedule? I don't even know how to get started.]
You get the idea. “What” advice assumes that you already know, and have the skills to implement, the critical “how.” This is what frustrates lawyers, justifiably.
Let’s say I’m in a dispute with a business partner over who owns IP that we jointly created, and a lawyer tells me:
- Look up and cite the legal precedents that would show your adversary why his claim is unfounded.
- Write a concise brief showing how your position is legally defensible.
- Create a legal structure that allows each of you to use the IP in question in a way that doesn’t harm the other.
How the heck do I do any of those things? Would I be frustrated? You bet. Without the “how,” the "what" is downright irritating.
Most article authors include their email address or other contact info at the bottom of the article. Contact them and ask them how to do what their article advises. It will be interesting to see if they’ve simply withheld it, or don’t know it.