Wednesday, February 4, 2009

GP returns: bus development tips

Building a Book -A few of you have asked for guidance on business development. GP believes that unless you are a fifth or sixth year associate, you should not be worrying about generating business. Focus on your work, focus on your realtionships with your colleagues, participate in firm events, especially training and CLE type events and try to get some unique experience under your belt.

I have been around long enough to know that some of you will ignore my advice, so for those of you still reading, here are a few thoughts. First, in my experience the best way of building business relationships in a firm is perhaps the most obvious - work with someone who already has a significant client relationship. Not just any client though, a client that you believe can lead to further (litigation, corporate, real estate) matters in your lifetime. This is not necessarily confined to Fortune 100 companies, many firms have emerging companies as clients and often times such clients can become a source of significant firm revenue. If you do not know who your office's or firm's largest clients are, you have work to do! Most firms provide their client lists to both attorneys and staff, study it and target clients of interest to you and target the partners doing work for those clients. (Networking with colleagues at other firms or speaking and writing engagements can lead to new opportunities too, but in my experience the returns on such investments are low. You are at a firm with an active client base, build from that base). Second, once you have identified such a client, try to find the right moment to spend some personal time (coffee during a deposition break, lunch after a real estate or corporate closing) with a client contact - not necessarily the CEO or GC, but someone like you who is likely to be promoted to a position of responsibility. (As HP would say, no stalking!) It may take time and the right instincts to find the right moment to schedule such an event, just be patient. Relationships take years to develop. Recognize that you have a tremendous opportunity every time you interact with a client representative or when your work product gets in front of a client representative.Third, for those of you who do not have a partner or mentor providing interactive opportunities to clients, I again suggest patience. However, if it becomes clear to you that you will not be provided opportunities to interact with clients you either have identified the wrong client or you need to work for a different mentor and partner. If that is the case, get out of the relationship while you can, use whatever available firm resources (e.g. Associate Relations Partner) to get work from a partner who you can grow with. (And before you make that request, do some homework - find out who has the client relationships you can help build, determine whether that partner's existing team of helpers has room for you and determine whether working for that partner will be tolerable!) Don't be intimidated by the economy and associate lay offs - time spent with a partner who doesn't provide you opportunties to meet clients (and impress clients), is wasted time!

Finally, and I risk the wrath of the anonymous posters who will make fun of me for this piece of advice, none of the above pieces of advice will replace quality work and work completed on time. Clients, and partners of course, above all want excellent work and want results. Make sure your name is equated with quality and excellence. If you can make that happen, I promise you will have the client's attention and you will be on your way - again, assuming you have identified the right client and have taken advantage of the right opportunties to interact with that client - to building a valuable client relationship.Okay, posters, I await your comments and questions! Fire away.


f-3 said...

GP - thank you very much for this post. I've been waiting for this topic!

Follow-up question - I had significant business development responsibilities in my job before law school. However, in a law firm setting, I'm an entry-level associate. If I spot business opportunities, what is the correct protocol? From your perspective and experiences, do partners feel threatened when a lower-level associate uncovers potential business? Are associates supposed to turn things over to the partner? And at what point is it OK to start building your own book of business without anyone feeling like you're stepping out of line, or stepping on partners' toes?

Thank you in advance for your advice.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to know how to tread the careful line between finding business and solicitation. For example, I was at the mechanic today and overheard someone saying they needed a lawyer. I was tempted to say oh - I work for one, call so and so (I'm still in law school and not yet a lawyer) but at the same time I know my state has really strict solicitation rules. What would be a proper response in that situation?

Hiring Partner said...


These are such great questions. (You always have interesting insights). I dont think partners feel threatened, but I do hear your instinct on this and it is the right one. You need to be careful with developing business for a lot of reasons and partner egos is one such reason. But also consider billing issues. Can the client pay? On time? Will this become a headache for you? Will this generate fees sufficient to justify you not taking other work and not getting the experience of working with others? My advice, and again based on your disclosed entry level status, if - and only if - the client truly might develop into a lifetime client, raise it with a parter or counsel you trust. Please make sure you do not haggle over origination credit and the like. Please get a retainer so it does not turn into a nightmare. Otherwise, say no, but do consider the benefits of referring the client to someone else you know in the field who at the very minimum will then owe you one. Hope that helps.


f-3 said...

GP - thank you for your quick response and advice. I completely neglected to think about the billing angle, and I'm glad you pointed it out.

Thanks much - this was very helpful.


Anonymous said...

This is off topic from the parent-post but I've never been able to find any advice on it elsewhere so it would be great if HP/GP could provide some input.

I'm at a top 30 law school in the Midwest and after my first semester I'm in roughly the top 10-15% of my class and got the highest score in two of my classes and I am very confident I can repeat this performance this semester. Problem is, I came from a lame public ugrad that isn't taken very seriously but that's because it was cheap and I worked full time throughout my time there to afford it without taking any loans, which seemed like a good idea at the time.

What, if any, effect will my underwhelming ugrad have on my interviews during OCI this coming August and what can I do to offset that disadvantage?

Thank you so much!

Anonymous said...

12:05--The good news is that your ugrad doesnt matter. Employers only care about law school gpa.

The bad news is that at a T30, top 10-15% grades may not be good enough to get a BIGLAW job in the current downturn. You should apply EA to GULC, and if you keep the GPA up, try to transfer to a V10, where you will be guaranteed a good job, even in the downturn.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see a post about summer associate's selection of practice areas. Is this entirely subjective firm to firm?

Would it be prudent to accept work from many different practice groups over the summer to remain flexible in one's choices? Or if one does good work and picks a practice group that continues to tank (i.e. corporate) will they simply transfer you to a different department if you are a junior associate?

The flip side, would it be unwise to pick bankruptcy, since it is booming, because in a few years the demand will decrease (hopefully) and then I'll be out of a job?

Any insight into being strategic in practice group selection to attempt to ensure long lasting employment is appreciated.

Anonymous said...

3:02pm, a V10 offer does not guarentee employment in a downturn. Everyone is without a book of active business is at risk in a downturn. You are fooling yourself to think otherwise.

Anonymous said...

6:18--Sorry, i meant to write T10.