Don’t Wait to Start Developing Business

It is never too early to start developing clients.  This may seem obvious, but it is amazing how many attorneys fail to act upon this modern truism of law practice until it is too late. 

During an attorney’s first three years of practice at the larger firms, he or she is expected to develop the skills of a practitioner. Business development activities may be seen as a distraction. The associate who chases after business before learning his or her craft may be perceived as impatient or lacking in substance. While these considerations cannot be ignored, an associate, nonetheless, needs to find the time to start the business development process. 

During an attorney’s fourth, fifth and sixth years of practice, a new factor assumes greater importance on his or her evaluation form: demonstrated aptitude for developing new business. The associate is not necessarily expected to have brought in significant business, but a demonstrated or perceived aptitude for it may be crucial in the partnership determination. 

By the end of an associate’s partnership track (the seventh or eighth years), if he or she has not demonstrated the aptitude for business development, that often negatively impacts partnership prospects. An excellent senior associate – like an excellent partner – masters the juggling act of servicing existing clients while cultivating new ones. 

Business prospects can have a gestation period of years before they materialize into new clients.  It is, therefore, wise for an associate to start business development early.  An attorney with portable business or well developed prospects is not only more likely to succeed at his or her current firm, but if partnership promotion is unavailable (or the firm does not survive or thrive) a lateral move is much easier. 

After all, law is a business. Unless there is excess work that the existing partners cannot handle (less seen in today’s sluggish economy), a core partnership responsibility is to grow the top line revenues in order to share in the bottom line profits. 

Listed below are some business development activities to pursue (the dividing lines by year are somewhat arbitrary): 

A junior (first, second and third year) associate can: 

  • Join a bar association for easy networking with attorneys outside of your firm.
  • Create a contact list and keep it updated over the years. It can include friends, relatives, professors, former classmates and inevitably clients.
  • Continue to develop strong relationships with them. One day they may be in a position to send business.
  • Observe and learn as much as he or she can about the firm’s strategic direction, the rainmakers, the marketing department’s role in business development and how the law firm functions as a profitable business.
  • Co-write an article with his or her partners, senior attorneys, and comparably positioned prospects or clients.

A mid-level (fourth, fifth and sixth year) associate can: 

  • Join professional associations and trade groups to which his or her prospects’ and clients’ belong. Leadership roles will increase visibility.
  • Start a blog or contribute articles to his or her firm’s blog.
  • Take on speaking engagements.
  • Assist partners to prepare and teach CLE courses and invite prospects and clients.
  • Assist partners and senior attorneys with new business development pitches.

A senior (seventh and eighth year) and beyond associate can: 

  • Create a business development plan with revenue goals.
  • Develop an elevator pitch, which is a succinct “branding” statement and value-add.
  • Hire a business development coach. A good business development coach will teach an associate how to market and sell (essential for rainmaking), plus keep him or her accountable in order to achieve revenue goals.
  • Support his or her prospects’ and clients’ favorite charities.
  • Increase the frequency of interactions with his or prospects and clients by taking them to breakfast, lunch, dinner, and events.
  • Continue to find ways to be helpful to his or her prospects and clients, both professionally and personally.

There is no better time than the present to start cultivating client.  Start when you are junior, and, eventually, your business development efforts will pay off. 

Written by Sheryl A. Odentz who is the Founder and President of Progress in Work LLC, a career management firm for attorneys.  She can be reached at  This article was published in the September, 2012 issue of the New York City Bar’s – The Lawyers Connect E-Newsletter.