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Lawyers’ scarcest business development resource is time. Most allocate only an hour or two per week to it, if that. And almost all of that is wasted doing things they’ve inherited, i.e., they do them simply because other lawyers do them.

What are some of these unproductive things you’re probably doing that you could eliminate, saving valuable time that can be applied to more beneficial pursuits?

Pitch meetings with no plan

"That seemed to go well." This is what lawyers say to each other when they leave a pitch meeting. It often translates as "They were gracious, seemed to be paying attention, and said they found it informative." Good for you. You chose gracious, attentive people to pitch to. Now what?

Most of the time, it's "now, nothing." A few weeks later I'll get a call from you, telling me that, despite the positive reception, you've heard nothing from the prospect, and you want to know what you should do next. You'll acknowledge that you probably should have called me before the meeting, but now that you're stuck, how do you get un-stuck?

You're not stuck. "Stuck" implies that there was previous movement that stopped. That's rarely the case with pitch meetings. Most of these are merely variations on a theme, i.e., "Here's how skilled and experienced we are, and we'd like you to reallocate your existing legal spend to carve out a slice for us."

“Relationship-building” with Suspects

"It's all about relationships." This is the dogmatic mantra of legal business development. It refers to the universal belief that, before someone will hire you, you must first invest in developing a personal relationship with them. To which I say, "That's backwards."

First, let's define Suspects. Suspects satisfy the lowest level of qualification for even the minimum investment from you: Someone (person or organization) who, because of membership in a class or group (for example, an industry) you have objective reasons to suspect that they now experience the Door-Opener problem that drives demand for your service, or their circumstances make it likely that they will in the future. All potential buyers begin life as Suspects. Whether they progress depends on your ability to anchor your interactions with a problem whose consequences (Cost of Doing Nothing), once fully understood and appreciated, constitute an imperative to act.

Indiscriminately allow anyone into your sales pipeline

Too many lawyers take the "fogameer" approach to prospecting and sales investment. They'll let anyone into their sales pipeline who can fog a mirror.

Managing your sales pipeline is very similar to hosting a party, i.e., by letting someone in, you take on obligations. In the party context, that means spending time with them, interacting, and paying attention -- even if you discover that you have nothing in common and that they're not the kind of person you'd choose to associate with. Then, you have to find a graceful way to get them out of your house.

The sales context isn't much different. If you let someone into your pipeline, you take on obligations. You have to stay in touch, continue to check on progress or the lack of it, and generally "follow up" (the most meaningless expression I can think of).

Network indiscriminately

Seldom have so many put in so much time and effort and gotten so little out of it. For most lawyers, that about sums up their view of networking. I’ve seen no statistics, but I’d be willing to bet that attending networking events eats up the largest chunk of the time lawyers spend trying to get business. For most lawyers, the thought of hanging around at yet another networking event, making small talk but not knowing how to get anything out of it, is discouraging.

The label we use to describe these events -- networking events” -- establishes the idea that we’re there to meet a lot of people to initiate relationships that will somehow, by means unknown, become clients or lead to referrals.

Where did these habits come from?

Do you remember ever making a conscious decision to do any of these things, based on any type of analysis of their effectiveness? “I’ve thought through it, and hanging around at events, meeting people, collecting business cards, then wracking my brain to come up with ways to justify frequent enough contact with them over many months, possibly years, in the hope that somehow, by means unknown, they’ll decide to do business with me.” Probably not. In fact, put that way, you’d probably reject the idea out of hand as completely irrational.

More likely, you observed successful senior lawyers doing all these things, and you copied them. The problem is, those lawyers formed those habits under radically different conditions than you (and they) face now. Those behaviors made sense when demand for legal services was robust and growing. Now, though, demand for traditional legal services is flat at best, and is effectively shrunk by the advent of many new forms of competitors, not least of which is your clients, who are servicing a greater percentage of their needs internally than ever before.

So, don’t feel bad because you’re following the wrong business development leaders. But, do resolve to change to methods that are not only better aligned with a competitive market, but that are simpler and less time consuming, too.

Mike O’Horo

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