Despite the constant drumbeat in the legal press and within law firms, emphasizing the criticality of business development now -- no longer merely as the path to success, but now for mere survival -- too high a percentage of lawyers don’t take advantage of training and coaching offered by their firms. One theory that’s making sense to me is “delusions of adequacy.”

Recently, I read a terrifically-written article, My legal tech invention: the Magic Money Machine, in which author Casey Flaherty explores the obstacles to innovation in the law business. He begins with the empathetic,

“It is rational for someone who has been wildly successful doing something a certain way to keep doing it that way, especially when the odds appear favorable that they will continue to be successful. Most people don’t exit their comfort zone without a compelling reason. This is doubly true of many high-status experts.” These words echo those of David Maister, a prescient observer of the legal profession: “How do you tell a room full of people making a million dollars a year that they are wrong?“

Flaherty continues,

“The curse of ignorance is that we don’t know what we don’t know and therefore labor under delusions of adequacy. The curse of knowledge is that once we know something, it is hard to imagine not knowing it. The resulting mistakes about shared assumptions can be invisible barriers to change.

A major impediment to innovation is autonomy-loving professionals resisting reasonable recommendations to modify their behavior for the benefit of their clients.”


My focus is business development, but let’s use an example of law firm resistance to changes that clients are demanding. Here’s a snippet from the 2018 Altman-Weil survey. Setting aside “Clients aren’t asking for it,” mightn’t we get the other three of these top-four answers if we asked why lawyers don’t take advantage of BD training?

How significant is the problem of lawyers not using the BD training/coaching provided? I interviewed 100 law firm CMOs, BDOs, and other leaders, and asked that. Their estimates ranged from 30% to 90%, with a huge concentration at 80%. In preparation for my presentation at an ALA meeting, that organization polled its law firm administrator members, with almost identical results.

“Delusions of adequacy”

Could it be that lawyers believe that generating business is purely a matter of effort, that their current skills are adequate to the task, and if they just committed more time to it, they’d be successful?

That would be understandable because, when it comes to any new idea, we all begin at Unconscious Incompetence, which is the first of the Four Stages of Competence. It means we don’t know what we don’t know. The problem is that this blindness makes us unable to recognize a skill deficiency. In fact one of the characteristics of this first stage is unjustified overconfidence in our innate ability to do whatever it is. If we're not deficient, and our innate capability is adequate, why would we seek training, coaching, or help of any kind? Delusions of adequacy, indeed.

Unconscious incompetence isn't unique to lawyers or to business generation. It's a universal experience. I guess that's why so many of us must learn almost everything through the School of Hard Knocks.

It’s also a reasonable explanation for why so many lawyers persist in the belief that a personal relationship is predicate to doing business, and so waste countless hours investing in building relationships with people who never hire them. Could it be that lawyers cling to relationship-building (which usually means cultivating personal friendships) because that IS innate, and doesn’t require training?

Marketing and Sales are learned, not innate

Unfortunately, the only sales skills that are innate are the ones that are counterproductive, such as pitching, persuading, closing, and all the other verbs that connote acting upon the prospect rather than with her, and to which modern prospects react negatively. I can understand not wanting to spend time learning techniques that produce rejection.

Lawyers don’t know that, with the exception of certain high-pressure environments such as timeshare sales and boiler-room telemarketing, those practices have generally fallen from favor, and are almost unheard of in professional services.

When lawyers come to me for coaching, the most common situation I encounter is a combination of:

  • Pipeline empty; no opportunities to sell due to lack of marketing
  • No idea what drives demand for their primary service due to lack of business awareness
  • No understanding of the future trend for demand for that service
  • An orientation toward inefficient 1:1 relationship-building because that’s what rainmakers always did in years past
  • No understanding of the issues that will drive future demand within current clients

If marketing and sales were innate, no lawyer would be in this situation. If this describes you at all, it’s time to acknowledge that:

  • Business generation requires an array of skills that you don’t have, and may not even know exist
  • You’re not going to devine them on your own
  • You have to allocate meaningful time to BD
  • Spending more time doing the wrong things won’t change anything


What you should do now

If your firm provides training or coaching, request to be included, now. Make it a priority and stick with it. Change your attitude about making time for BD, and commit time every day. Yes, every day. Abandon the relationship-building mantra in favor of a focus on demand drivers.

If your firm doesn’t offer anything, go find online training, or a coach, and pay for it yourself.

Related article: To get value out of business development coach put the quick fix out of your mind

Mike O’Horo

Acquiring and mastering business development skill is a three-part mission: Education, Training, and Coaching. Each produces a different outcome, and should be accomplished using different tools at appropriate cost.

Education produces understanding, awareness, context, but no skills. Like law school. The Dezurve content library lets you accomplish this easily, conveniently, and at trivial cost.

Training is the actual doing. It produces practical skills available to you when you need them in the real world. RainmakerVT online simulations and video courses let you learn and make your mistakes privately in our virtual world, at modest cost.

Coaching produces tangible success by guiding you to apply successfully the skills you learned.

Click on the links to learn more about each component. Contact me to discuss your situation and options.