Many lawyers are uncomfortable with the notion of business development. They express their distaste for “selling,” yet acknowledge its important link to their career success. Reluctantly, they agree to engage a business development coach to illustrate their willingness to try.
It has been my experience as a coach that whenever anyone approaches any activity with a “have to” or “I’ll try” mindset, they have limited success. “Have to” attitudes are shroud in negative energy that creates needless stress, depleting mental resources needed to complete other important legal tasks. This approach fails to serve the attorney, the Firm or the client.
Shifting a busy attorney from a “have to/I’ll try” mindset to a “want to/can do” mindset is no easy feat, yet it can be done by focusing on two intertwined issues: learning tactical strategies (a.k.a. the “how”) and examining limiting beliefs (a.k.a “the obstacles”).
Typically, when people are resistant to take action, it is because don’t really know how to be successful at the task. A seasoned business development coach engages lawyers by focusing on tactical action steps first because those are tangible and follow a linear and logical process that resonates with most attorneys. At same time, a trained coach subtly explores the internal belief system that creates the perceived obstacles. By breaking the overwhelming “business development” concept into small, manageable action items that are aligned with each attorney’s specific skills, personality traits and values, lawyers can begin to visualize themselves actually doing it.
The pace of law practice, and life in general, tends to limit the amount of time busy lawyers have to pause and reflect on exactly what their specific skills, personality traits and values are, let alone their unconscious limiting beliefs. Coaching provides a systematic approach so they can begin to understand the impact these factors are likely to have on their business development efforts and take action to address them.
To begin to build an action paradigm, I pose 5 key questions.
- What is your business development goal?
- Why is that your Goal?
- What do you have to do to achieve that Goal?
- What resources are available to assist you?
- What can stop you?
Sounds simple enough, yet like most things, the devil is in the details. The power of coaching lives in the follow-up questions the coach asks based on the unique responses from the individual attorney to these questions. It is in that deep dive that we can begin to identify the person’s comfort zone as it relates to business development and help them take two steps outside of it.
Armed with a tangible goal, the next step is to develop a sustainable action plan to move forward. The reality is that while there are best practices to developing legal business effectively, lawyers must feel free to adapt those practices in a way that is aligned with their personal strengths and talents. As attorneys begin to see what is possible (and only a little uncomfortable) they become more open to exploring the fears/beliefs behind what has been keeping them stuck in the “have to” mindset. An on-going coaching relationship is designed to keep the attorney on track and address recurring internal or external blocks that may be impeding progress.
Organizations that insist attorneys follow one business development model are not likely to yield the results they desire. A coach can help attorneys develop a specific goal(s) that excites and motivates them, is simple and realistic as well as aligned with the Firm’s goals. Firms can also help to build a business development mindset early in a lawyer’s career, dispelling the idea of “selling” legal services and instead foster the notion of positioning themselves as a “resource” for legal services. It is important to help associates at every level understand that while providing superior legal work is the baseline for developing business, they must also learn how to intentionally nurture client relationships throughout their careers.
Successful business development depends on a multitude of variables including the lawyer’s seniority level, personality traits, skills, practice area, type of clients, etc. A coach can help develop a systematic and intentional process to help attorneys build their professional brand and strengthen their network at every stage of their careers in a way that is consistent with Firm practices and aligned with individual skills, talents and values.
Kathleen Brady is Director of Coaching at Preferred Transition Resources, a coaching and consulting firm specializing in the legal profession.