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For most firms and lawyers, “BD training” is a catchall phrase that reflects a lack of awareness about learning and skill development. We see the same thing with firms misusing “business development” as a catchall for two distinct disciplines: marketing and sales.

For reliable skill development and consistent application leading to measurable results, unbundle the learning mission into three stages: Education, Training, and Coaching.


Education is knowledge transfer. It enables awareness, understanding, and context, and may shift attitudes and beliefs. However, it has limited effect on performance because it doesn’t involve “doing,” so no skills result from it. A good example is lawyers spending three years in law school and graduating with few practical skills.

Lawyers love education:

  • It’s intellectually stimulating
  • They’ve always succeeded at it
  • It doesn’t require action or risk
  • It rarely involves measurement or accountability
  • It allows them to feel like they’re “training”

However, many lawyers also apply a curriculum mentality, i.e., checking off items as completed without considering whether or not they’ve actually internalized the concepts to the point where they can be considered applicable knowledge that’s available on demand.

There’s no way to develop actual skill by reading about it, listening to podcasts, webinars, or watching video instruction. That requires Training, which means doing.


Training is the repeated doing and practicing of what you learn in Education; it yields capability and confidence. When athletes or musicians train, they don’t sit in a classroom and read about their craft. They perform the skill they’re trying to get good at -- over and over, practicing until it’s part of them. They form habits that let them perform reliably under pressure.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
— Aristotle

Too often, especially when firms offer only education, lawyers have no choice but to practice on real prospects and clients, with real business and reputations at risk. That’s pretty dangerous. Not only do they lower the odds of getting that business, but their lack of skill may also damage their firm’s or their own brand. Would you allow an inexperienced lawyer to take a critical role in an important matter or case?

It’s far better to practice and make mistakes off-camera, either in prep sessions with a coach, or in a virtual world, where you can simulate the activity.


Coaching actively helps lawyers apply to real-world situations what they learned via education and training. Until she develops experience, the lawyer relies on her Coach’s experience and ability to predict and prepare for what will happen during encounters with clients, prospects, or contacts. She also borrows the Coach’s words and stories until she develops her own. This conveys an immediate advantage and enables progress and confidence.

When in direct competition, a lawyer without a coach is limited to her amateur knowledge, skill, and context. Her chances of prevailing over a lawyer who has been prepared and coached by a professional are not good. Afterward, whatever the outcome of the initial encounter, the lawyer without a coach must figure out on her own what the next steps should be and how to execute them, whereas the coach shows her protege’ exactly what to do, and how to do it.

The Coach’s job is to:

  • provide structure and accountability, holding lawyers to their commitments, measuring activity, and celebrating progress
  • encourage and develop proactivity so lawyers learn to take control of their practice growth instead of waiting for something to happen
  • help lawyers form reliable habits, apply consistent effort, and avoid the start/stop, episodic activity that dooms most lawyers’ business pursuit efforts.
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Educating lawyers about how to earn and sustain relevance by immersing themselves into an industry, monitoring industry news to spot emerging issues, and commenting usefully about those as a means of associating yourself with them in buyers’ minds, is about the issue/problem, not about the author.

Training lawyers to apply their “lawyering” skills to deliver value before getting hired, by helping prospects make well-informed, self-interested decisions about problems or challenges, is something that all lawyers do after they’re hired. Why would it be less effective when applied before you get hired?

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This image from a business card I used years ago illustrates how lawyers apply proven, trusted “lawyering” behaviors before they get hired, as the way to get hired.

Coaching lawyers to apply all this stuff to specific opportunities, challenges and situations requires us to personalize the approach and language to align with each lawyer’s current ability, and comfort level.

There’s much more to this than meets the eye. If you haven’t done so, read What it takes to be a master rainmaker.

Mike O’Horo