It’s inevitable. If you spend enough time around successful attorneys, you’re going to hear it said, “I’m too busy for marketing. I can’t take on more work.” The problem with this statement is that it creates a false narrative and it slows down potential future work.

And just like that, they’re done putting in any extra thinking into business development. The need for business development doesn’t actually end, nor does your job (legal marketer) of helping attorneys bring in work. 

I was recently at a client party where a very successful attorney told me he didn’t want my help with business development (BD) because he was just too busy with work. Right now, his book is full and there is no room for new work nor BD activities.  We discussed a handful of previous activities that worked for him in the past but he wasn’t willing to actively seek out work today.

And there lies problem.  Business development (or marketing if you’d prefer that term) isn’t one small activity or even a serious of activities done over the short term. Business development is a series of activities (often including trial and error) done consistently over long periods of time.

And there it is. The big problem. The limited beliefs about BD. These are the 3 most common mis-beliefs I hear:

#1 I can always drum up more business when I need it

My example attorney, (Let’s call him Ted… I don’t think I actually know a Ted so that seems safe. ), Ted, is currently maxed out on the work he can manage in a day. He knows that BD is important and he’s willing to put in extra work once he’s back to a more manageable work load.

At first glance, there’s no issue with this thought process. However, that’s not necessarily true. If you’re working in the real estate industry and the real estate market crashes, you’re looking at significantly less work to be had. You’re picking work from a smaller pie.

It is important to always be working on building your book of business and maintaining visibility within your network. If you’re consistent in your efforts, you’ll be able to pick off larger slices of the smaller pie. (Also, see problem #3 below.)

#2 Marketing/Business development activities take up too much time

This belief that marketing or business development is time consuming is a dangerous one. On one hand, it is time that usually is non-billable and can frequently occur after business hours.

On the other hand, I’ve never seen a truly successful attorney who didn’t make it a point to market themselves or their firm. Attending events (like Ted’s client event) where you mix and mingle to strengthen relationships with current clients (or possibly meet new clients) is one of many ways to do it and not all BD tactics take up a 4-hour chuck of time.

If your attorneys are pressed for time, suggest alternative ways they can participate in BD activities:

  • Create events at the office where your attorneys can enjoy lunch or happy hour close by
  • Work with them to create a target coffee or lunch list for clients or potential clients (everybody’s gotta eat, right?)
  • Encourage your attorneys to use social media channels like LinkedIn to “check in” on their clients and stay up to speed
  • Consider offering your attorneys a blog. (I’m writing this blog at home, in my sweatpants, with mug o’ tea because I am also busy)

#3 If I can’t take on new work, then there’s no point in building up business

This belief is not only wrong, it can be damaging for a firm. The best marketing an attorney (or marketing team) can create is the kind that sells the team over the lone rock star.

Mike O’Horo addresses this issue in his post, My Clients Say They Only Want Me. It’s an older post but still relevant and I reference it frequently when working with attorneys who believe that business development activities can only mean new work for them.

In today’s market, clients aren’t looking for the solo rainmaker, the lone ranger or the singular rock star. They’re looking for trustworthy partners and that trust starts with building up the team capacity.

Putting it all together for busy attorneys

Of course, attorneys get busy. And that’s a great sign for us as legal marketers. Busy doesn’t mean that good attorneys should stop working on building their book though.

I don’t mean to imply that attorneys should just work more. Nor do I think actively trying to bring in new clients while also being maxed out on work is productive, but successful attorneys can’t just cut BD if they’re busy… or else there’s a good chance they won’t stay busy for too long.

Our role in the firm is to keep the attorneys motivated to bring in more work, to keep them thinking about how to acquire future work and to help the attorney see all the business development/marketing opportunities in a new light.

Are there any mis-beliefs I missed? Any questions I can address?


Photo credit: Flickr user ALISTAIR